News

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#19 LSU Tigers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#19

SEC West PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Les Miles, 95-24 (9 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Cam Cameron | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Chavis

LSU has won at least 10 games in each of the last four years, but that streak could be in jeopardy in 2014. The Tigers return 12 starters from last year’s 10-3 team and have one of the top offensive lines in the SEC. However, quarterback play is a concern with the departure of Zach Mettenberger, while receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry will be playing on Sundays next year. The defense should be solid, but question marks exist at defensive tackle and at linebacker. Additionally, the brutal SEC West doesn’t provide for many breaks on the schedule in 2014.

Follow the top 25 on Twitter @AthlonSports and join the debate at #Athlon25.
 

Previewing LSU’s Offense for 2014:

LSU’s leading passer (Zach Mettenberger), leading rusher (Jeremy Hill) and three leading receivers (Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Hill) from 2013 will be playing on Sundays in 2014, so the Tigers will have to lean heavily on their dominant offensive line and stingy defense early.

It’s been awhile since LSU had a full-blown quarterback battle, and the competition between sophomore Anthony Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris could extend into the regular season. Regardless, it’s been awhile since LSU was this young at quarterback, and both players are likely to see snaps this season. Jennings and Harris offer vastly different skill sets than Mettenberger, a pure drop-back passer who excelled last season under coordinator Cam Cameron’s tutelage. Jennings and Harris are skilled athletes who do their best work on the move.

Heralded running back recruit Leonard Fournette is too talented to sit for long. By midseason, he should see the majority of carries. The receiver corps is talented but woefully inexperienced. The Tigers desperately need either sophomore Travin Dural or newcomers John Diarse, Trey Quinn and Malachi Dupre to emerge as a playmaker.
With so little experience at the skill positions, look for the Tigers to lean heavily on their talented, experienced offensive line. Senior left tackle La’el Collins leads four returning starters.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast previews the LSU Tigers for 2014:

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 SEC Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing LSU’s Defense for 2014: 

The Tigers must replace several key players who bolted early for the NFL Draft, but there’s more than enough returning talent and experience to once again rank among the SEC’s stingiest units.

In terms of depth and sheer athleticism, few teams anywhere can match the Tigers across the front four. Ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco will give the Tigers two of the top edge-rushers in the SEC if they can become more consistent. The playmaking Hunter (6'6") appears primed for a breakout season. Defensive tackle remains a question mark, but Quentin Thomas, Chris LaCouture and a trio of talented redshirt freshmen in Maquedius Bain, Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron could provide answers.

The linebacker play was below LSU’s standards last season, so coordinator John Chavis shook up the ranks in the offseason by switching several players to new positions. The six returning lettermen combined to produce just one takeaway, so there’s room and need for major improvement. The staff is waiting for the light bulb to turn on for Kendell Beckwith, a former star recruit with size, speed and explosiveness to dominate on the second level.

The secondary is led by promising sophomore cornerbacks ­Tre’Davious White and Rashard Robinson. Both are former top recruits who should uphold the school’s tradition of outstanding secondary play. Safety is a question mark.

Previewing LSU’s Specialists for 2014:

Big improvement is expected from punter Jamie Keehn. His leg isn’t quite as strong as fellow Australian and former LSU punter Brad Wing, but he might be more consistent in the end. Colby Delahoussaye is solid if unspectacular on kicks. The Tigers must find a replacement for Beckham on returns. Dural and White will get the first crack.

Final Analysis

In many ways, this team should resemble the 2011 team that rode a power rushing attack and dominant defense to the BCS title game. If Les Miles’ heralded recruiting class lives up to expectations — particularly explosive offensive playmakers like Fournette, Quinn and Dupre — the Tigers should be capable of posting another 10-win season. But with so many new faces at key positions, it would be surprising if LSU could unseat Alabama or Auburn for supremacy in the brutally tough SEC West.

Download a LSU wallpaper for your mobile device: Android, iPhone Home and iPhone Lock.

Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking LSU at No. 19:

1. No shortage of talent
Despite the loss of a handful of key starters from last year’s team, LSU still has a ton of talent on the roster. The Tigers have signed four top-10 recruiting classes over the last five years, including the No. 2 class in 2014. The roster boasts plenty of future stars, including freshman running back Leonard Fournette. How quickly can this talent reach its potential?

2. Quarterback uncertainty
Will it be Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris taking the first snap of the season for LSU? It’s a question not expected to be answered until deep into fall practice. Jennings received limited snaps last year and struggled in the bowl win over Iowa. Harris – a true freshman – enrolled in time to compete in spring practice. Even though the quarterback position is a concern, LSU can lean on a solid offensive line and rushing attack to win games.

3. The front seven on defense
LSU’s defense is a factory for NFL talent, but question marks remain about the front seven going into 2014. Both starting tackles (Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson) must be replaced, and the Tigers need more from starting ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter. Coordinator John Chavis also has work to do at linebacker. LSU did not boast a vintage defense last year, allowing 5.7 yards per play in SEC games (ranked seventh in the conference). Talent certainly isn’t an issue, but the front seven needs a lot of work before this team can contend for the West Division title.

4. Who steps up at receiver?
With Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry both departing for the NFL, LSU’s receiving corps is thin on proven options. Travin Dural and Quantavius Leslie are the top returning statistical receivers, but the Tigers will count on a group of young players to contribute, including true freshman Malachi Dupre and redshirt freshmen Avery Peterson and John Diarse. Combine the uncertainty at quarterback with the lack of experience at receiver, and it’s clear LSU will need some time to develop its passing attack.

5. Best offensive line in the SEC?
Four starters return from an offensive line that was one of the best in the SEC last year. The Tigers need to replace guard Trai Turner, but Hoko Fanaika is a proven option. Tackle La’El Collins could push for All-American honors, and guard Vadal Alexander is one of the best in the SEC. With the uncertainty at quarterback and receiver, the Tigers need to lean on this unit in 2014.

The Debate

Ole Miss or LSU: Which Team Finishes Higher in the SEC West in 2014?

Click here to join the debate.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#20 Kansas State Wildcats

NATIONAL FORECAST

#20

Big 12 PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Bill Snyder, 178-90-1 (22 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dana Dimel, Del Miller | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tom Hayes

With Bill Snyder on the sidelines, never count out Kansas State in the Big 12 title mix. Despite a handful of key personnel departures, the Wildcats finished 8-5 overall and 5-4 in conference play last season. Most of Kansas State’s core is back for 2014, including quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett. The Wildcats have to find a new running back and replace standout safety Ty Zimmerman, but this team should be in the mix for a spot among the top-four teams in the Big 12 this year.

Follow the top 25 on Twitter @AthlonSports and join the debate at #Athlon25.
 

Previewing Kansas State’s Offense for 2014:

Take a look back at coach Bill Snyder’s best seasons. For the most part, they all occurred when he had the opportunity to work with a veteran quarterback he could trust. That will once again be the case this season, with Jake Waters returning for what could be a special senior year. He completed 159-of-260 passes while throwing for 2,469 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. He also developed a strong rapport with top receiver Tyler Lockett that should continue to blossom. Last season, Waters’ development was slowed by a position battle with Daniel Sams. But he took control of the job and is now the unquestioned starter, while Sams moved to receiver in the spring. However, Sams decided to transfer in early May.

With a strong core of offensive linemen returning in senior center B.J. Finney and juniors Cody Whitehair and Boston Stiverson, blocking shouldn’t be a problem. Give Waters time, and he will have ample options to choose from in the passing game. The Wildcats are loaded at wide receiver. Lockett, a senior, returns as one of the nation’s top playmakers, but there is more to the position. Curry Sexton caught 39 passes for 446 yards last year, and sophomore Deante Burton seems poised to take on a starting role. Kyle Klein and Andre Davis should both also see the field.

The biggest question mark on offense is at running back. John Hubert, a three-year starter and the No. 2 rusher in program history, has played his last game. That means an unproven runner will take his place. DeMarcus Robinson, a senior and former four-star recruit out of Wichita, figures to be the favorite, but sophomores Jarvis Leverett and Charles Jones aren’t far behind. Freshman Dalvin Warmack could also get carries as the season goes along.

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Big 12 Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 10 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Kansas State’s Defense for 2014:

Ryan Mueller was an unknown last season. This year, he will be at the top of every opposing team’s scouting report. After bursting onto the scene as a junior with 11.5 sacks, which tied the program record for a season, he is now expected to anchor K-State’s defensive line with his pass-rushing skills. He will have to deliver. Though the Wildcats have lots of promising young talent on defense, Mueller is one of the unit’s few proven playmakers.

Travis Britz is back for another year in the middle of K-State’s defensive line, Dante Barnett will highlight the secondary at safety, and cornerback Randall Evans and linebacker Jonathan Truman have starting experience. But the rest of the defense will be filled with new faces. A pair of touted junior college transfers could slide seamlessly into the Wildcats’ defensive plans. Terrell Clinkscales is talented enough to play immediately at defensive tackle, and D’Vonta Derricott should start at linebacker. Still, they lack experience on the FBS level.

A year ago, K-State’s defense relied on veterans such as Blake Slaughter and Ty Zimmerman to lead the way. The Wildcats may be more talented this season, but they will need new leadership from players like Mueller.

Previewing Kansas State’s Specialists for 2014: 

Jack Cantele had a strong debut season as K-State’s kicker, connecting on 11-of-13 field goals. He seems ready for more this year. Lockett will once again lead the way at kick returner. He has been one of the most explosive return men in the nation the past few seasons, scoring four touchdowns.

Final Analysis 

K-State finished 2013 strong by winning six of seven. The Wildcats will need to take advantage of that momentum with an early trip to Iowa State and a home game with Auburn looming before October. If they do, it could be a special season in Manhattan.

Download a Kansas State wallpaper for your mobile device: Android, iPhone Home and iPhone Lock.

Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Kansas State No. 20:

1. Finished 2013 by winning six out of their last seven games
Kansas State started 2-4 last year, but there was no shame in losing to North Dakota State, Texas, Oklahoma State or Baylor. The Wildcats played better over the final seven contests, finishing with six victories in that span, with the only loss coming against Oklahoma. With 10 starters back, Kansas State has a chance to build off that total in 2014.

2. Jake Waters development at quarterback
In his first season at Kansas State, Waters quietly had an impressive debut. In 13 games, Waters threw for 2,469 yards, 18 touchdowns and completed 61.2 percent of his throws. He ranked No. 2 in the Big 12 in quarterback rating and averaged 15.5 yards per completion. With an offseason to work as the No. 1 quarterback, look for Waters to take the next step in his development in 2014.

3. Loaded receiving corps
Kansas State should have one of the Big 12’s top receiving corps in 2014. Tyler Lockett returns after catching 81 passes for 1,262 yards and 11 scores last year. Joining Lockett as key contributors will be Curry Sexton, Kyle Klein and junior college recruit Andre Davis.

4. Strength in the trenches
The defense returns only four starters, so there are some holes to fill, but coach Bill Snyder has to like what returns up front. The Wildcats return end Ryan Mueller and defensive tackle Travis Britz, and junior college recruit Terrell Clinkscales is expected to make an immediate impact. The offensive line is also among the best in the Big 12. Center B.J. Finney could be an All-American in 2014, and tackle Cody Whitehair is expected to be a first-team All-Big 12 player.

5. Challenging Big 12 schedule
Kansas State hosts Texas in a key conference swing game, but the Wildcats have five road Big 12 contests in 2014. Bill Snyder’s team plays at Iowa State, Oklahoma, TCU, West Virginia and Baylor. This team has enough talent to exceed last year’s win total, but the schedule could prevent Kansas State from reaching 10 victories or challenging for the No. 1 spot in the conference.

The Debate

Kansas State or Texas: Which Team Finishes Higher in the Big 12 in 2014?

Click here to join the debate.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#21 Clemson Tigers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#21

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Dabo Swinney, 51-23 (5+ years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Chad Morris | DEF. COORDINATOR: Marion Hobby, Brent Venables

Clemson is coming off its best three-year stretch in school history, recording 32 wins and an Orange Bowl victory during that span. The Tigers have to rebuild on offense with the departure of quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, but there is enough returning on both sides of the ball to expect another top-25 team. New quarterback Cole Stoudt has experience, and the defense is loaded with talent. And it certainly doesn’t hurt Clemson has a favorable schedule, which could allow it to win 10 games once again in 2014.

Follow the top 25 on Twitter @AthlonSports and join the debate at #Athlon25.

Previewing Clemson’s Offense for 2014:

This fall, change is the biggest constant for Clemson’s offense. Sure, offensive coordinator Chad Morris, the man behind the hurry-up, no-huddle, high-tempo system that averaged 40.2 points and 5

07.7 yards per game in 2013, is back for his fourth season running the Tigers’ offense. But most of the key weapons that fueled that run are gone. Quarterback Tajh Boyd, the ACC’s second-leading all-time passer, graduat

ed. Gamebreaking wideout Sammy Watkins left early for the NFL, and standout deep threat Martavis Bryant followed. Rod McDowell, a 1,000-yard rusher, also graduated, leaving the Tigers in the unenviable position of replacing their top passer, rusher and top two receivers.

However, Clemson has recruited well and believes in reloading, not rebuilding. Steady senior quarterback Cole Stoudt (79.7 percent completion rate in 2013) ended spring leading true freshman DeShaun Watson in the race to replace Boyd. That followed Chad Kelly’s post-spring dismissal after a spring-game sideline blowup, the last straw in what coach Dabo Swinney called “a pattern of behavior that was not consistent with the values of our program.”

Sophomore wideout Mike Williams has drawn comparisons to former NFL first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins, and senior Adam Humphries is a steady presence. Coaches are high on a trio of freshman early enrollees: Demarre Kitt, Kyrin Priester and Artavis Scott.
If a lead back can emerge from the pack of junior Zac Brooks, senior D.J. Howard and redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman, and the new receivers are capable, the Tigers will be dangerous.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the Clemson Tigers for 2014:

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 ACC Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.
Previewing Clemson’s Defense for 2014:

Entering his third season, defensive co-coordinator Brent Venables has turned Clemson’s defense from a liability into a strength. Venables’ defense is smart and aggressive and knows its assignments.

The core of that defense returns, highlighted by most of the defensive line two-deep. Senior end Vic Beasley (13 sacks as a junior) is one of the nation’s top pass-rushers, a consensus All-American who turned down a chance to enter the NFL Draft. Senior defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is a run-stuffer and underrated talent.

The Tigers’ linebackers are also deeper than when Venables arrived three years ago. Senior Stephone Anthony is the leading returning tackler, with 131 tackles (13.5 for loss) and four sacks. He rebounded from a disappointing sophomore year to become a defensive leader, fierce tackler and impressive presence in the middle of the field. Former five-star recruit Tony Steward appears primed to step in for graduated senior Spencer Shuey (119 tackles in 2013).

In the secondary, Clemson will miss junior cornerback Bashaud Breeland, a gritty player who left early for the NFL Draft. But senior Martin Jenkins showed toughness in playing through wrist and shoulder injuries and is an excellent cover man, and touted redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander appears primed for a breakthrough.

Previewing Clemson’s Specialists for 2014:

With the departure of kicker Chandler Catanzaro, Clemson must replace the ACC’s No. 2 all-time scorer. Junior Ammon Lakip, who left the program briefly last summer, has a strong leg and is the favorite to replace Catanzaro. Junior Bradley Pinion is consistent and has a booming leg.

Final Analysis 

Clemson has established itself as one of the nation’s most consistent programs with three consecutive 10-win seasons and back-to-back 11-win seasons. But the Tigers have yet to solve rivals Florida State and South Carolina, going 0–4 against them in the past two years. Swinney and Co. have a stingy, improving defense and the talent to replace major offensive losses, but it’s hard to see how this group could take the leap from consistent program to national title contender this fall.

Download a Clemson wallpaper for your mobile device: Android, iPhone Home and iPhone Lock.

Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Clemson No. 21

1. Chad Morris back as the team’s offensive coordinator
Despite receiving interest from programs to be a head coach, Morris is back in Death Valley for 2014. Morris is regarded as one of the top offensive minds in college football, and his return should ensure Clemson’s offense doesn’t suffer too much despite the loss of quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins.

2. Best defensive line in the ACC
It’s hard to pick against Florida State at any position, but Clemson’s defensive line could be among the nation’s best in 2014. End Vic Beasley is back after recording 23 tackles for a loss, while tackle Grady Jarrett should be one of the top interior linemen in the ACC. There’s also quality depth, and this unit registered nearly three sacks a game in 2013 (2.9).

3. Favorable schedule
Yes, the opener at Georgia, the finale against South Carolina and ACC games against Florida State and North Carolina in September are a challenge, but Clemson has enough winnable games on the 2014 slate to push for 10 wins. Louisville is a key swing game for the Tigers, but the Cardinals have to come to Death Valley.

4. Offensive line concerns
Clemson’s roster doesn’t have many holes, but the line is a concern with the departure of tackle Brandon Thomas and guard Tyler Shatley. Center Ryan Norton is the anchor, and there’s talent returning with Isaiah Battle, David Beasley, Shaq Anthony and Kalon Davis. But how quickly will this unit mesh with Beasley and Anthony suspended for the opener?

5. Cole Stoudt should be solid at quarterback
Tajh Boyd leaves big shoes to fill at Clemson, but Stoudt appears to be a capable replacement. In relief work last year, Stoudt completed 47 of 59 passes for 415 yards and five touchdowns. Asking Stoudt to replicate Boyd’s numbers is a tough assignment. However, with experience, mobility and a good grasp of the offense, Stoudt should have a solid senior year.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#22 Penn State Nittany Lions

NATIONAL FORECAST

#22

Big Ten East PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: James Franklin, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: John Donovan | DEF. COORDINATOR: Bob Shoop

James Franklin takes over at Penn State after a successful three-year stint at Vanderbilt. Franklin raised the bar for the Commodores, guiding the program to three bowl appearances and back-to-back nine-win seasons. The Nittany Lions are still under NCAA sanctions, so depth is an issue and there’s no postseason possibility. However, with a rising star at quarterback, combined with one of the top coaching staffs in the nation, Penn State could push for 10 wins this year.

Follow the top 25 on Twitter @AthlonSports and join the debate at #Athlon25.
 

Previewing Penn State’s Offense for 2014:

New Lions coach James Franklin has said that he and his staff are going to play to the strengths they inherited rather than asking players to fit into schemes for which they weren’t recruited. And right now, the offense’s primary strength is sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who broke 11 school records and finished third in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (246.3) as a true freshman. Hackenberg added about 15 pounds of muscle during the off-season and now stands 6'4", 234 pounds. He should vie for All-Big Ten honors if the rest of the offense comes together. But that’s no sure thing.

The Lions are thin up front, with junior left tackle Donovan Smith the only healthy returning starter on the line. None of the other first-team hopefuls — tackles Andrew Nelson and Brendan Mahon, centers Angelo Mangiro and Wendy Laurent, guards Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia — has started a single game. Likewise, the receiver corps is being restocked following Allen Robinson’s decision to forgo his senior year. The key returnee is Geno Lewis, who came on strong at the end of last season, catching seven passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns in the team’s last three games. After Lewis, the depth chart is a jumble.

The one area that survived graduation day unscathed is the backfield. Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak and Akeel Lynch are all back after combining for 2,150 rushing yards last season, led by Zwinak’s 989 yards.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast previews the Penn State Nittany Lions for 2014:

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 Big Ten Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Penn State’s Defense for 2014:

Three defensive linemen with starting experience are back — ends Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan and tackle Austin Johnson — so the Nittany Lions should be able to withstand the loss of All-Big Ten defensive tackle DaQuan Jones. In fact, this is one of the few position groups at which they appear to have real depth. The Lions also have some experience in the secondary with cornerback Jordan Lucas, safety Ryan Keiser and cornerback-turned-safety Adrian Amos.

The biggest changes on defense are at linebacker, where Mike Hull is moving inside after starting at an outside spot last year. Hull doesn’t have prototypical middle-linebacker size (6'0", 227), but he’s a big hitter with sideline-to-sideline range and enough experience to ensure that the defense is properly aligned. Flanking Hull will be Nyeem Wartman and most likely Brandon Bell. Wartman started eight games last year, while Bell shined at the end of his freshman season.

Previewing Penn State’s Specialists for 2014:

The new coaching staff has talked a lot about making special teams a priority. The Lions finished eighth in the Big Ten in punt returns and dead last in kickoff returns a year ago, but now they have a dedicated special teams coach in Charles Huff. They also have a talented freshman return man in De’Andre Thompkins, who could make an impact. Penn State looks to be solid at kicker, with Sam Ficken back after hitting 15-of-23 field goal attempts as a junior. Ficken also practiced at punter in the spring, but that job will most likely go to walk-on Chris Gulla. 

Final Analysis

Things are looking up at Penn State following the NCAA’s decision last fall to reduce its scholarship penalties. But until they get their numbers back up, the Nittany Lions will have to improvise. They raided their defensive line this spring to patch holes on the offensive front, and even with the extra manpower, the unit looks precariously thin. The Lions also lack experience at wideout and depth at linebacker. The freshman class will help when it arrives this summer, but there’s no quick fix for the problems Penn State is facing this fall. Says Franklin, “I think we’ve got really good football players and great kids here. We just don’t have enough of them. That’s the reality.”

Download a Penn State wallpaper for your mobile device: Android, iPhone Home and iPhone Lock.

Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Penn State No. 22:

1. James Franklin is one of the top coaching hires for 2014
Bill O’Brien stabilized Penn State’s program through some turmoil, but James Franklin is the right coach to take the Nittany Lions to the next level. Franklin maximized his talent at Vanderbilt and will do the same in Happy Valley. And if you need any evidence about the future of Penn State, take a look at the recruiting rankings for 2015.

2. Christian Hackenberg’s development
As a true freshman in 2013, Hackenberg threw for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns. Top receiver Allen Robinson must be replaced, but Hackenberg should take the next step in his development under Franklin’s watch.

3. Offensive line concerns
Line coach Herb Hand is one of the best in the nation, but he will have his hands full this fall. Guard Miles Dieffenbach suffered a torn ACL in the spring and is expected to miss 2014. With Dieffenbach out, left tackle Donovan Smith is the only returning starter on the line. Depth is also a concern for this unit.

4. Six starters back on defense
2013 was not a vintage year for Penn State’s defense, as the Nittany Lions allowed 5.7 yards per play in conference games. But with six starters back, along with the addition of coordinator Bob Shoop, Penn State is primed for a turnaround on defense. Ends Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan, linebacker Mike Hull, cornerback Jordan Lucas and safety Adrian Amos could be All-Big Ten performers in 2014.

5. Favorable schedule
Penn State could be favored to win at least nine games in 2014. Road trips to Michigan and home dates against Michigan State and Ohio State are swing contests, but with a favorable schedule, the Nittany Lions could finish 10-2 this year.

The Debate

How Many Games Will Penn State Win in 2014?

Click here to join the debate.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2014 PRESEASON TOP 25

#23 Florida Gators

NATIONAL FORECAST

#23

SEC East PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Will Muschamp, 22-16 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kurt Roper | DEF. COORDINATOR: D.J. Durkin

2013 was a year to forget in Gainesville. Florida finished 4-8 overall and won just three games in SEC play. The Gators finished last season on a seven-game losing streak, largely due to anemic offense. Coach Will Muschamp is on the hot seat entering 2014 and needs to get this program back on track. New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has a significant task ahead in order to fix Florida’s offense, but the Gators should have one of the top defenses in the SEC.

Follow the top 25 on Twitter @AthlonSports and join the debate at #Athlon25.
 

Previewing Florida’s Offense for 2014:

One sure sign that Florida football is in a dire situation: The Gators are looking to a Duke coach to boost the confidence of the offense. The arrival of Kurt Roper from the Duke staff means that a now-healthy Jeff Driskel will run a system featuring more shotgun snaps, more plays hinging on his mobility and more no-huddle. “We’re more comfortable in the gun,” Florida coach Will Muschamp says. “That’s why Kurt Roper is here.”

Even though Florida returns the same cast of characters, Muschamp says the receiver and running back group is the most complete he’s had in his time in Gainesville. Kelvin Taylor, the son of former Florida running back Fred Taylor, emerged in the second half as a feature back who can thrive in open space. Leading rusher Mack Brown returns as well. He can be an effective runner inside the tackles.

The leading returning receiver, Quinton Dunbar, has proved to be reliable, but the key to the receivers is Demarcus Robinson. He was a standout in spring last season but caught only five passes in the regular season. The 6'2", 201-pound sophomore is Florida’s most athletic receiver. The Gators received a post-spring boost at tight end with the addition of Virginia transfer Jake McGee (43 receptions with the Cavaliers in 2013).

Florida lost two linemen who started a combined 84 career games, but the Gators hope to have two healthy starting tackles, D.J. Humphries and Chaz Green, who were limited by injuries last season. Max Garcia, who started at left guard and left tackle last season, will play center.

Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the Florida Gators for 2014:

 Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 SEC Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Florida’s Defense for 2014:

Dante Fowler Jr. is the key figure if Florida is going to improve its sack numbers. The Gators ranked 11th in the SEC in sacks per game last season (1.6) and haven’t ranked higher than sixth since 2009. Fowler’s 2013 season, though, took a turn after tackle Dominique Easley was lost for the season in September, and now Easley is gone for good.

At linebacker, Antonio Morrison appeared to be on track as an impact player as a sophomore in 2013, but the linebacker was inconsistent for eight games before a knee injury ended his season. Also in the linebacker corps, fifth-year senior Mike Taylor emerged in spring as a rock-solid leader, and sophomore Jarrad Davis looked like he could be a rising star.

Beyond cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, talent in the secondary is unproven. Hargreaves quickly became one of the top players in the conference as a freshman and could be one of the nation’s best cornerbacks in 2014. Even after starter Cody Riggs transferred to Notre Dame, safety will be a more veteran position, comparatively, with senior Jabari Gorman and sophomores Keanu Neal and Marcus Maye.

Previewing Florida’s Specialists for 2014:

Florida must find answers to fix an atrocious kicking game. The Gators benched 2012 Ray Guy finalist Kyle Christy as they finished 10th in the SEC in net punting. Christy will try to reclaim the job from Johnny Townsend. Meanwhile, Florida kickers went 12-of-22 on field goals. Sophomore Austin Hardin hit 4-of-12. Andre Debose, a rising star whose career has been derailed by injuries and off-field issues, could be a wild card on special teams if he returns healthy and in Muschamp’s good graces.

Final Analysis

Muschamp enters the most critical season of his tenure with his third offensive coordinator in three seasons in Gainesville. It’s not a stretch to say that hiring Roper is the most important move Muschamp has made. The Gators are coming off their first losing season since 1979, the low point a 26–20 loss to Georgia Southern. Muschamp needs Roper to rebuild the confidence on offense. If not, Florida may be looking for more than an offensive coordinator.

Download a Florida wallpaper for your mobile device: Android, iPhone Home and iPhone Lock.

 

 

 

Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Florida No. 23:

1. No shortage of talent in Gainesville
Despite last year’s 4-8 record, Florida isn’t hurting for talent. According to recruiting rankings, the Gators have the No. 2 roster in the SEC. With better luck in the health department, Florida should easily improve its win total.

2. Changes on the coaching staff
With Will Muschamp squarely on the hot seat, changes had to be made after a dismal 2013 season. Kurt Roper was hired as the team’s new offensive coordinator, and Mike Summers was picked as the new offensive line coach. Both hires should be upgrades for Florida, with Roper making a huge difference in the development of Jeff Driskel.

3. Favorable schedule
Florida has to play Alabama and LSU in crossover play, but the Gators host Missouri and South Carolina – two of its main contenders in the SEC East – and should be 3-1 in non-conference play. Even if the Gators lose two games against the West, the home slate could be favorable enough to rebound to eight wins in 2014.

4. Six starters back on defense
For all of the problems on offense last year, the defense was still one of the best in the SEC. In eight SEC games, Florida ranked No. 1 among defenses in the conference by allowing just 5.09 yards per play. This unit needs more from its pass rushers, but six starters are back, including end Dante Fowler, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard.

5. Improving weapons on offense?
In order for Florida’s offense to take the next step in 2014, its running backs and receivers have to provide more production. Sophomore Kelvin Taylor could push for 1,000 rushing yards if the offensive line is better, while the receiving corps gets a boost from the return of Andre Debose from injury. If players like Demarcus Robinson and Taylor can take the next step in their development, the Gators will have solid playmakers for quarterback Jeff Driskel.

The Debate

Who Leads the SEC in Rushing in 2014?

Click here to join the debate.




Pages