#110 San Jose State Spartans





HEAD COACH: Ron Caragher, 9-15 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Al Borges | DEF. COORDINATOR: Greg Robinson

The Spartans are looking to take a big step forward in Ron Caragher's third season. He has a lot of young talent to build upon but it may take time for this roster to come into its own. San Jose State has a tough schedule in the Mountain West and big holes to plug on defense and under center.

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Previewing San Jose’s Offense for 2015  

To say that the Spartans offense sputtered late last season is to give them a pass. San Jose State lost its last six games of 2014, scoring only 14 points in their last three games. Quarterback play was a major contributor to the problem. Senior Blake Jurich won the job but then lost it to Joe Gray, who then lost it to Mitch Ravizza, who then lost it to Gray.

Gray has claim to the job in 2015, but with two junior college transfers (Kenny Potter and Malik Watson) behind him, his leash will likely be short. Last year, he threw for 2,305 yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Gray will have a young but experienced offensive line in front of him and a bevy of playmakers around him to help find cohesion under new offensive coordinator Al Borges.

Tyler Ervin is the Spartans’ most interesting weapon. On a team with a nice stable of running backs and a load of possession receivers, Ervin carries the most big-play potential. He averaged 5.6 yards on his 158 rushing attempts (888 yards) and also caught 29 passes.

The Spartans also signed one of the best recruiting classes — if not the single best — among mid-major schools, punching way above their weight, especially with players on the outside of the field. If the Spartans offense isn’t clicking heading into conference play, there could be a flood of young, talented players injected into the depth chart.

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 National College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing San Jose’s Defense for 2015 

Last season, the Spartans had one of the nation’s best pass defenses and worst run defenses. That makes losses on an already bad defensive line especially concerning. But it’s also possible that the turnover is good for the Spartans on the line — the guys up front weren’t getting it done last season, allowing 239 rushing yards per game while amassing only 46 tackles for a loss (123rd nationally).

The linebacking corps looks to be a strength, especially with the return of Christian Tago and Hawaii transfer Jared Leaf, who sat out last year. Freshman Frank Ginda has the potential to make an immediate impact.

But the linebackers pale in comparison to the real strength of the Spartans defense — the secondary — as if the run/pass disparity from last year didn’t make that already known. Supremely talented, the secondary is also young. It’s led by sophomore safety Maurice McKnight, who had five pass breakups, accounted for nearly 10 percent of the team’s tackles and had two sacks in his rookie campaign. With corners Jimmy Pruitt and Cleveland Wallace (combined 21 pass breakups last year) and senior free safety Simon Connette, there’s not much ground that won’t be covered. If anyone passes on the Spartans, that is.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing San Jose’s Specialists for 2015  

Recruiting prowess should shore up the Spartans coverage units, which is a major point of concern last season. If they can make space, Ervin’s presence in the return game can bear more fruit. Last season the open-field playmaker was able to return only one punt for a touchdown. 

Final Analysis

This year is setting up to be a bridge between the old and new for San Jose State. The Spartans’ tremendous recruiting class will filter its way onto the field throughout the year; but while those players find their footing, there are questions at quarterback and on the defensive line that will likely hold the Spartans back. Add in a tough schedule, and bowl eligibility looks like it will be a major accomplishment in 2015. But with youth at strength positions, and the best infusion of youth the program has ever known ready to fill the gaps, the future looks bright in 2016 and beyond. 


#108 South Alabama Jaguars





HEAD COACH: Joey Jones, 37-28 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bryant Vincent | DEF. COORDINATOR: Travis Pearson

Joey Jones has done excellent work at South Alabama. The transition to the highest level of college football has been pretty smooth, considering the Jaguars have already reached a bowl game. However, a bizarre injection of game-ready players from defunct UAB could make summer camp interesting in Mobile.

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Previewing South Alabama’s Offense for 2015  

To help restock an offense that returns only three starters, South Alabama snatched up instantly eligible UAB players after that program disbanded. And as a bonus, UAB offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent, a former USA quarterbacks coach, followed some of his players to Mobile to call plays for the Jaguars.

Quarterback Cody Clements, slot receiver D.J. Vinson and guard Cameron Blankenship, all UAB transfers, should start immediately. Clements, who sat out spring practice due to an injury, passed for 2,227 yards and 14 TDs last season. Vinson, an all-purpose threat, rushed for 670 yards at running back at UAB, but his services are needed more as a receiver at USA.

Blankenship is already among USA’s top linemen, and more UAB transfers could contribute or even start.

“Not only are they good players, but they have been in the system we’re running because of (Vincent) coming here,” USA coach Joey Jones says. “The learning curve is good for them, and they could be a good plus for our offense.”

Running back should be strong, as the returning duo of Terrance Timmons (403 yards) and Xavier Johnson (438 yards) is supplemented by junior college All-American Tyreis Thomas.

Right tackle Chris May is a returning anchor on the offensive line, but there are otherwise experience and depth concerns up front. Similarly, the wide receiving corps must develop role players into standouts.

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 National College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing South Alabama’s Defense for 2015 

USA’s defense returns only two starters in safeties Roman Buchanan (74 tackles) and Antonio Carter (54 tackles). And six USA defensive players who earned some type of All-Sun Belt honors last season have graduated.

The secondary could be solid, but only if two cornerbacks and a nickel spot can be solidified. E.J. May should fill one of the cornerback roles well, but freshmen and junior college transfers will take turns trying to fill the rest. Texas Tech transfer Blake Dees and UAB transfer Kalen Jackson may be the best options at linebacker. Both have talent.

Defensive end Jimmie Gipson returns as a proven edge rusher after recording 6.5 tackles for a loss and a team-high seven QB hurries last season. But questions are stacked high up front, especially in the interior line, where Tre Alford and Caleb Butler, both backups as freshmen, enter the season as the best options amid an inexperienced group.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing South Alabama’s Specialists for 2015  

Placekicker Aleem Sunanon and punter Brandon McKee are both back, providing a little relief for a roster with plenty of unknowns. Sunanon is the Sun Belt’s most accurate returning placekicker, making 15-of-18 field goals last season. Filling the kick returner and punt returner roles may be trial and error early on.

Final Analysis

The young USA program broke through last season with its first bowl appearance, but its evolution takes a curious turn with the instant influx of UAB transfers. Quick fixes will impact what would have otherwise been a rebuilding year. But Jones knows talent alone will not win games. “This will be a different year than we’ve had. We’ve lost 55 players (to graduation) over the last two years,” Jones says. “Some of our veteran guys are not here anymore. We probably have more talent now. But with so many new guys, we have to mold this thing together pretty quickly.”

Three straight September non-conference games — against Nebraska, San Diego State and NC State — could challenge a team lacking chemistry. Eight straight Sun Belt games follow to finish the year. If the Jaguars have any chance at snagging another bowl bid, they’ll have to make some noise in the league race again.


#107 FAU Owls





HEAD COACH: Charlie Partridge, 3-9 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brian Wright | DEF. COORDINATOR: Roc Bellantoni

There are some things to get excited about at FAU for second-year coach Charlie Partridge. His offense has an identity and it should give them a chance to compete in most games in Conference USA. Quarterback Jaquez Johnson also returns for his senior campaign. But the Owls will have to overcome significant losses on defense if FAU wants to reach a bowl game.

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Previewing FAU’s Offense for 2015  

FAU did something strange last season: Despite hiring Arkansas assistant Charlie Partridge as head coach, they retained offensive coordinator and one-time interim head coach Brian Wright. So it wasn’t that surprising that the offense showed many of the same poor traits from Wright’s first two seasons.

The Owls were inconsistent last year, never quite figuring out what kind of spread offense they wanted to be. That indecision likely stemmed from the fact that for the second straight fall camp, the Owls had a quarterback battle. Jaquez Johnson beat out Greg Hankerson for the starting gig last summer, and for better or worse, he should win the battle a third time in 2015.

The Owls will be forced to run more frequently as more than half of their receiving production has departed. That shouldn’t be a problem with Johnson under center running the read-option game with backs Jay Warren and Greg “Buddy” Howell. Despite poor blocking at times last season, Warren and Howell were dependable (combined 1,084 yards on 241 carries) and should have plenty left in the tank for 2015.

Top receivers Lucky Whitehead and William Dukes have graduated, as has tight end Alex DeLeon, meaning that one-time walk-on Jenson Stoshak will be the Owls’ top receiving target in 2015. Sophomore scatback Henry Bussey should take on Whitehead’s starting slot receiver job after catching just four passes for 88 yards last season.

Partridge revamped the Owls’ offensive line last season, setting it up for a big 2015. FAU’s front had a better 2014 season than the statistics show, but with experience and a better understanding of scheme, it should be even better in 2015. 


Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 National College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing FAU’s Defense for 2015 

The Owls lost their three best defensive players to graduation in linebacker Andrae Kirk, cornerback D’Joun Smith and safety Damian Parms. Senior tackle Brandin Bryant missed a big part of the 2014 season and is set to return, which could have a trickle-down effect. A healthy Bryant next to the steady Trevon Coley will close up some of the holes in a line that was atrocious against the run in 2014. If that duo can return to 2013 form, it could free up end Trey Hendrickson to have a breakout year.

FAU’s base defense is the nickel, putting more pressure on the two linebackers on the field. With Kirk gone, all eyes are on Robert Relf to improve his play and get into the backfield more often.

The Owls enter 2015 with plenty of faith in their corners — the physical Cre’von LeBlanc and crafty Raekwon Williams, who made a strong contribution as a true freshman. FAU has recruited defensive backs as well as anyone in Conference USA, but with the loss of both safeties, Parms and Christian Milstead, that recruiting will be put to the test. Top prospect Rodrick Archer and redshirt freshman Marquese Dudley-Gordon could see major playing time at the safety positions.
Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing FAU’s Specialists for 2015  

The loss of Whitehead as a returner will be huge. LeBlanc, Bussey and corner Reggie Brown will likely get a crack at replacing him. The Owls can expect another strong year from the kicking specialists, though. Placekicker Greg Joseph returns after making 14-of-20 field goals and all but one PAT. Punter Dalton Schomp brings back his impressive 45.4-yard average. 

Final Analysis

Losing the team’s three best defensive players and the offense’s top big-play threat will make improvement difficult for FAU in 2015. The Owls’ running game is strong enough that they should be able to play with Conference USA opponents and expect to win at home. That would keep bowl hopes on the table, but Partridge will need to have his young squad ready to impress out of the gate.  


#105 Buffalo Bulls





HEAD COACH: Lance Leipold, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Andy Kotelnicki | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brian Borland

Lance Leipold joins the top rank of college football after winning at an elite level at Wisconsin-Water in Division III. He has some nice pieces at Buffalo to compete in the MAC, but he needs to prove his winning system can succeed at the FBS level.

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Previewing Buffalo’s Offense for 2015  

First-year head coach Lance Leipold’s transition from Division III to the FBS will be eased by the presence of two productive seniors in quarterback Joe Licata and tailback Anthone Taylor.

Licata, a fourth-year starter who is cool in the pocket and fundamentally sound, already holds the school record for touchdown passes (60), ranks third in career completions (543) and fourth in career passing yardage (6,516).

Taylor had huge shoes to fill in replacing Branden Oliver, the school’s career rushing leader. But when he received his shot as the primary back, he flourished by finishing with 1,403 yards, the second-highest mark in Buffalo history. Local product Jordan Johnson and versatile senior Devin Campbell, who will see time at slot receiver, will also be part of the running game.

There are enough experienced receivers at Licata’s disposal in Ron Willoughby, Jacob Martinez and Marcus McGill, not to mention tight end Matt Weiser and newcomer Collin Lisa, who transferred in from UAB. The Bulls tied for No. 3 in the MAC in total offense and should be extremely balanced once again.

The offensive line was hit hard by graduation with the loss of veterans Trevor Sales, Andre Davis and Jake Silas, and the returning players have done plenty of shuffling. Right tackle John Kling returns, while right guard Robert Blodgett has moved to left tackle. Brandon Manosalvas has moved from center to left guard and will be replaced in the middle by redshirt freshman James O’Hagan. Senior Dillon Guy gets the nod at right guard.

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 National College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 128 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Buffalo’s Defense for 2015 

The Bulls, who shift from a 3-3-5 to a 4-3, return only three starters on defense. The defensive line has to be mostly rebuilt, although it returns Brandon Crawford and Max Perisse, who are moving inside from end. Sophomores Demone Harris and Solomon Jackson look to fill the vacant end spots.

There are also questions at linebacker, where Jake Stockman and Lee Skinner must be replaced. Jarrett Franklin is back, while Okezie Alozie moves from safety to linebacker. The two are the team’s top returning tacklers with 49 apiece.

Marqus Baker and Boise Ross are locks at cornerback. Baker missed seven games 2014 with an illness, which forced Ross to convert from wide receiver to fill in at corner. Although Baker has experience, he’s starting for the first time in his career. Buffalo needs to find a pair of safeties and will miss All-MAC selection Adam Redden. Andrews Dadeboe has played extended minutes, while Ryan Williamson played in all 11 games as a true freshman. Jordan Collier, another UAB transfer, figures to be in the mix at safety.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing Buffalo’s Specialists for 2015  

The Bulls have to replace Patrick Clarke, who ranks second in program history in field goals. Adam Mitcheson, who redshirted as a freshman, assumes Clarke’s role, while Tyler Grassman is back for his fourth season at punter. Campbell is just 80 yards shy of the school record in career kick return yardage and could see time at punt returner as well.

Final Analysis

It was a surprise to see the abrupt ending to the Jeff Quinn era, especially one season removed from the second bowl appearance in school history. Replacing Quinn with Leipold was equally unforeseen, but the former Wisconsin-Whitewater coach was without peer on the Division III level (109–6 in eight seasons). There will be an adjustment period for the defense, which has to learn a new scheme and must replace several key contributors. But the offense, led by the serene Licata, is as good as any in the MAC. The schedule is not easy, but the Bulls are certainly capable of being a factor in the MAC East Division.

UAB Reinstates Football Team

The Blazers are coming back.
UAB Reinstates Football Team for 2016

Just six months after UAB announced its football team would be disbanded following the 2014 season, the Blazers are set to return to FBS competition.


School president Ray Watts announced the decision to reinstate the football program on Monday afternoon, but it’s uncertain when UAB will return to the gridiron.


NASCAR Sprint Cup Drivers’ Meeting Overshadows Jimmie Johnson's Dover Win

Tom Bowles goes “Through the Gears” following Johnson’s historic 10th victory at the Monster Mile
NASCAR Sprint Cup Drivers’ Meeting Overshadows Jimmie Johnson's Dover Win

The Monster Mile was known just as much for a monstrous meeting this weekend as it was for on-track competition. Saturday night, NASCAR spoke with nine drivers privately, a constructive conversation but facing the reality they’ve got the closest formation to some sort of driver’s union since those movements were shut down by force in the late 1960s.


Ranking the Big 12's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2015

Who has the toughest schedule in the Big 12 this fall?
Ranking the Big 12's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2015

When putting together Athlon Sports' college football magazine and preseason Top 25 each year, a huge part of the process is scheduling. Non-conference games, crossovers, home-road splits and timing all play a role in determining order of finish.


And don’t forget that the College Football Playoff Committee made it very clear in its first season that it values scheduling.


College Football 2015 Rankings and Predictions: #81-100

Athlon releases its 2015 ranks for No. 81-100.
College Football 2015 Rankings and Predictions: #81-100

The 2015 college football season is still a few months away, but it’s never too early to project how the upcoming year will play out on the field. Athlon Sports has released its top 25 for this season and continues the countdown to September with a look at the teams ranked No. 26-128.