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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#10 Georgia Bulldogs

NATIONAL FORECAST

#10

SEC East PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Mark Richt, 136-48 (14 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brian Schottenheimer | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jeremy Pruitt

Georgia opens 2015 as the favorite to win the SEC East title. The Bulldogs finished spring without an answer under center, but the offense will revolve around a heavy dose of talented sophomore running back Nick Chubb. And until the passing game is sorted out, Georgia should be able to lean on Chubb and one of the SEC’s top defenses. With games against Auburn and Alabama, the Bulldogs also have one of the SEC’s toughest crossover schedules.

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Previewing Georgia’s Offense for 2015
 

It’s a season of change and uncertainty for Georgia’s offense, which has been among the nation’s most prolific this decade. The only constant is the running game. Nick Chubb rushed for 1,547 yards as a true freshman, and he backed up Todd Gurley for five games. Chubb is back, as is fellow sophomore Sony Michel and junior Keith Marshall, both of whom battled injuries last year. Georgia leaned heavily on its running game last year, and there’s no reason to think it won’t again, so Chubb could make a run at the Heisman.

It also helps that four starters are back from an offensive line that emerged as a strength last season.

Those are the knowns. The unknown is Georgia’s new offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, and how his NFL breeding will translate to the college game. Another unknown is at quarterback, where for the first time in nearly a decade Georgia entered the summer without knowing who the starter would be.

Sophomore Brice Ramsey has the strongest arm, while junior Faton Bauta offers mobility and better accuracy. The competition could carry well into the preseason. The receiver spot is also a concern, with injury-plagued senior Malcolm Mitchell the only proven commodity. So for plenty of reasons, the passing game in general is a concern heading into 2015.

Previewing Georgia’s Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 SEC College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Georgia’s defense saw marked improvement last year under a revamped coaching staff, and coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was rewarded with a raise up to $1.3 million annually. But there’s still plenty of work for Pruitt to do.

The cause was helped when outside linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins elected to return for one more year. That gives Georgia one of the best pairs of outside rushers in the country. Throw in Lorenzo Carter, the dynamic sophomore, and it’s a fearsome trio.

Trent Thompson, rated the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit by 247Sports, should bolster a defensive line that has been solid but lacked star power. If Thompson lives up to his potential right away, Georgia could have one of the best front sevens in the country.

The questions are at inside linebacker and cornerback, where longtime starters graduated. If playmakers can emerge there, Pruitt will be ecstatic. Otherwise he’s just hoping for dependability.

The past few years, Georgia could have been a national contender with a better defense. The talent on this side of the ball is starting to catch up with Georgia’s offense. It’s not quite enough on paper to make this a preseason top-10 defense, but the potential is there.

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

Previewing Georgia’s Specialists for 2015


Isaiah McKenzie was recruited to give Georgia a home-run threat on special teams, and the 5'8" speedster delivered as a freshman last year. He returned two punts and one kickoff for touchdowns and will be a threat to equal or exceed that this season. Marshall Morgan also gives Georgia one of the better kickers in the country, as he’s converted 84 percent of his field-goal attempts the past two seasons. The question is at punter, where senior Collin Barber (career average of 41.5 yards) has been inconsistent.

Final Analysis


Once again, Georgia has the talent to make a run at the SEC title and the College Football Playoff. The question is whether the offense can be as good despite the changes, and whether the defense continues to improve. If both happen, the Bulldogs will have a special season. If not, the Bulldogs should still have enough to have a solid season. But that will do little to allay a fan base that has tired of being good, but not great. 

The Debate

Is Mark Richt the Best Coach in the SEC East?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#8 Oregon Ducks

NATIONAL FORECAST

#8

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Mark Helfrich, 24-4 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Scott Frost | DEF. COORDINATOR: Don Pellum

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich has guided the Ducks to 24 wins over the last two seasons and a No. 2 finish after last year’s defeat to Ohio State in the national championship game. Helfrich has Oregon poised to win the Pac-12 North once again, but it won’t be easy replacing standout quarterback Marcus Mariota. Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams is expected to win the job, and the senior will be surrounded by a deep group of skill players.

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Previewing Oregon’s Offense for 2015 


Oregon enters a new era after the loss of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota, who led the FBS with a passer rating of 181.75 and averaged 9.01 yards per play of total offense. To replace him, the Ducks signed fifth-year transfer Vernon Adams — who led the FCS with a passing rating of 183.13 and averaged 9.0 yards per play of total offense. Adams wasn’t on hand for spring drills, however, giving a big head start to his primary challenger, returning junior Jeff Lockie. The bulk of Lockie’s experience came in mop-up duty the last two years. Coaches have expressed confidence in Lockie’s experience and decision-making, but Adams is far more proven as a playmaker.

As usual, there’s an embarrassment of riches at the skill positions. Running back Royce Freeman is drawing Heisman buzz, after teaming with junior Thomas Tyner to rush for nearly 2,000 yards last season. The receiving corps, led by Byron Marshall and Dwayne Stanford, welcomes Bralon Addison back into the fold after a knee injury. But sophomores Devon Allen (ACL surgery) and Darren Carrington (suspension) are question marks entering the fall, as is tight end Pharaoh Brown due to a knee injury.

The offensive line needs to replace four-year starting center Hroniss Grasu; one candidate is former walk-on Matt Pierson, pressed into action last season and now considered a dependable veteran.

Previewing Oregon’s Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Pac-12 College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 12 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The Ducks got a big boost when defensive end DeForest Buckner opted to return for his senior season. He was easily the most disruptive player in the front seven last season, even more so than Arik Armstead, who left early for the NFL.

The linebackers hope to make this year’s defense more well- rounded up front. Senior inside backer Rodney Hardrick and Joe Walker need to find their way into the backfield more often, and outside backers Tyson Coleman and Christian French want to boost their sack totals. Defensive coordinator Don Pellum was criticized at times in 2014 for rushing as few as three players, and the Ducks intend to be more aggressive in 2015.

That said, they may have to protect a secondary that’s young at the cornerback spots. Sophomore Chris Seisay replaced the injured Ifo Ekpre-Olomu in the postseason last year and held up well, but he’s far from a proven commodity. Sophomore Arrion Springs, true freshman Ugo Amadi and converted receiver Charles Nelson also will compete for time at corner, supported by two solid safeties in Reggie Daniels and Tyree Robinson.

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

Previewing Oregon’s Specialists for 2015 


The good news: Oregon returns both specialists, kicker Aidan Schneider and punter Ian Wheeler. The bad news: Both joined the Ducks as walk-ons and beat out scholarship players for reps. Schneider was a pleasant surprise as a true freshman, making 11-of-12 attempts, but Wheeler battled inconsistency. The return game will be bolstered by the return of Addison, who averaged 14.1 yards per punt return in 2013. All of last season’s top kick returners are back.

Final Analysis 


“It’s a new day in Oregon football,” offensive coordinator Scott Frost acknowledged during the first week of spring practice. The upcoming season will be one of major transition after the graduation of a group of seniors who led the program to four postseason victories, two in the Rose Bowl. In 2014, the Ducks debuted a number of future stars in the freshman class: Freeman, Allen, Carrington, offensive lineman Tyrell Crosby and defensive backs Seisay, Nelson and Robinson. How quickly they can reach their potential — and what kind of quarterback play the Ducks get from a couple of intriguing candidates — could determine whether Oregon’s run of success continues to 2015, or if this fall merely serves as a bridge to 2016. 

The Debate

Is Royce Freeman the Best Running Back in the Pac-12?

Click here to join the debate.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#9 Florida State Seminoles

NATIONAL FORECAST

#9

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Jimbo Fisher, 58-11 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jimbo Fisher | DEF. COORDINATOR: Charles Kelly

Florida State has a few holes to fill in 2015, but the Seminoles are loaded for another run at the ACC title. Replacing quarterback Jameis Winston is coach Jimbo Fisher’s biggest task, while the defense has to improve after giving up 5.5 yards per play in 2014. Running back Dalvin Cook headlines a deep group of young talent that’s ready to keep Florida State among the nation’s best.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing Florida State’s Offense for 2015 


When he met with reporters in February at the NFL Scouting Combine, quarterback Jameis Winston was asked how difficult it was to leave Florida State and declare for the draft. Winston responded by pointing out that his top receiver, top tight end, four offensive linemen and a senior running back were invited to the Combine as well. “If you were playing quarterback at Florida State, what would you do?” Winston asked with a smile.

That sums up the challenge for the Seminoles. Not only did they lose Winston but also record-setting receiver Rashad Greene, record-setting tight end Nick O’Leary (the 2014 Mackey Award winner) and four seniors on the line. What’s left is a group that is talented but unproven.

Tailback Dalvin Cook, who rushed for 1,008 yards as a freshman, likely will be the workhorse. But who will he take handoffs from? Sean Maguire distanced himself from the competition in the spring, but the Seminoles landed Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson on May 19. Maguire’s lone college start came under emergency circumstances last September when Winston was suspended for the Clemson game. Although he passed for 304 yards and the Seminoles pulled out the win in overtime, Maguire completed just 21-of-39 passes, was intercepted twice and sacked five times. Golson has more experience than Maguire, but how quickly can he learn the offense?

If the offensive line, which will be fortified by a pair of junior college transfers who sat out last season, can provide protection, Maguire will have plenty of weapons to target. Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane are coming off impressive freshman campaigns (51 receptions for 822 yards and five touchdowns combined), and juniors Jesus “Bobo” Wilson and Kermit Whitfield are looking for bigger years after struggling with consistency in 2014.

Previewing Florida State’s Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 ACC College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Despite losing two junior starters to the NFL — tackle Eddie Goldman and end Mario Edwards Jr. — FSU again will have exceptional depth in the trenches. Senior nose tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample returns after missing nearly all of last year with a chest injury, and the Seminoles have five other interior linemen with previous playing experience. A major priority this offseason has been breathing life into the pass rush, which generated just 17 sacks in 2014.

Second-year coordinator Charles Kelly will look for major improvement from the back seven, which also lost two juniors to the draft. Junior Jalen Ramsey, who earned All-America honors at safety, moved to boundary cornerback in the spring and drew rave reviews. That opened the door for talented sophomore Trey Marshall to claim the “Star” nickel back position, and he will be joined by returning safeties Tyler Hunter and Nate Andrews.

Linebacker could be a sore spot again. Terrance Smith and Reggie Northrup will start if healthy, but both are recovering from injuries, and neither was outstanding last season. Northrup, who tore his ACL vs. Oregon, can be an effective run-stuffer but sometimes struggles in space. Smith was slowed by injuries throughout his junior year and missed much of the spring with turf toe. 

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

Previewing Florida State’s Specialists for 2015
 

Junior Roberto Aguayo has been so spectacular the past two seasons that he seriously considered entering the NFL Draft. Senior punter Cason Beatty was solid in 2014, and the Seminoles’ coverage units are always very good. Great improvement is needed in the kickoff return game, where FSU averaged less than 20 yards per attempt.

Final Analysis
 

FSU had won 29 consecutive games before falling to Oregon in the Rose Bowl, so expectations will remain high in 2015. But an extremely young offense and a retooling defense likely will keep the Seminoles out of title contention. A run at a fourth-straight ACC crown would be an achievement. 

The Debate

Is Jimbo Fisher the ACC's Best Coach?

Click here to join the debate.




Ranking the ACC's Offensive Triplets for 2015

Pittsburgh takes the No. 2 spot.
Ranking the ACC's Offensive Triplets for 2015

The ACC is losing some offensive star power with the departure of Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Miami’s Duke Johnson to the NFL. But there’s a talented group of young players ready to step up this season, starting with Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Cal Football's New (Rumored) White Helmets Are Awesome

Will the Golden Bears wear these in 2015?
Cal Football's New (Rumored) White Helmets Are Awesome

Cal’s blue and gold traditional uniforms could have some extra company in 2015. Pictures of a new white helmet have started to circulate recently, which features the school’s new logo instead of the “Cal” script.

 

Four Potential Trade Suitors for the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki

It is only a matter of time before the slugging shortstop is donning another team's ball cap
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Four Potential Trade Suitors for the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki

When healthy, Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is one of baseball’s most complete and exciting players. The problem is Tulowitzki is hardly healthy. When Tulo is on the diamond, he is one of the elite, five-tool players in the game and potentially one of the faces of baseball. 

 

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#11 Ole Miss Rebels

NATIONAL FORECAST

#11

SEC West PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Hugh Freeze, 24-15 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Matt Luke, Dan Werner | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jason Jones, Dave Wommack

Ole Miss has increased its win total in each of coach Hugh Freeze’s three years in Oxford, and the 2015 edition of the Rebels could be even better than the 9-4 squad from last season. The quarterback position has uncertainty, but the receiving corps is among the nation’s best, and the offensive line is improving. Leading the way for Ole Miss should be a strong defense, which is headlined by defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing Ole Miss’ Offense for 2015


Hugh Freeze was hired because of his offense, but Ole Miss was less than dynamic on that side of the ball last year. While the Rebels led the nation in scoring defense, they were just No. 67 in scoring offense. That could change this year if a more experienced offensive line is more productive, and if Chad Kelly, the nation’s No. 1 junior college quarterback, plays with passion and focus and moves away from issues that led to his dismissal at Clemson last spring and an arrest in the winter.

No quarterback starter was named in the spring as Kelly competed with third-year sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade. Kelly’s arm strength, accuracy and mobility make him the favorite. Understanding this is likely his last opportunity to lead a major college football team may make him more focused.

All five starters return on the offensive line. Most of the time that’s a good thing. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil is a likely top NFL Draft pick, but the Rebels couldn’t gain consistency around him last year. Freshman Javon Patterson, rated the nation’s No. 3 guard by 247Sports, should help on the interior. There is potential among other young players, but a handful of linemen will have to work their way back from offseason injuries, including Tunsil, who sustained a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle in the Rebels’ Peach Bowl loss to TCU.

Also coming back from injury is wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, another potential top-10 NFL Draft pick.

Previewing Ole Miss’ Defense for 2015

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 SEC College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The Rebels lost two All-Americans in the secondary, but defensive coordinator Dave Wommack was so impressed with new corners Tony Bridges and Tee Shepard that he moved returning starter Mike Hilton to safety before the start of spring drills. Bridges and Sheperd are both tall, long and physical. 

Veteran Trae Elston moves from strong safety to free where he’ll help tutor a talented sophomore, C.J. Hampton.

Robert Nkemdiche, another All-American, is back at defensive tackle. Like Tunsil and Treadwell, Nkemdiche is expected to exit the draft board quickly next spring. Unlike Tunsil and Treadwell, he heads into August camp injury-free and in great condition.

He’ll get an assist this season from junior college transfer D.J. Jones, an athletic 300-pounder who should provide both mass and quickness to help stiffen a run defense that wasn’t as dominant as the Rebs’ pass defense in 2014. Nkemdiche gets the headlines for this unit, and deservedly so.

The hidden gem is safety Tony Conner, the fifth defensive back in the 4-2-5.  He plays usually near the line of scrimmage and is a sure tackler with good coverage skills.

Middle linebacker is a position to watch. C.J. Johnson will get a lot of work there, but not so much on third downs, and the position will have a committee feel.

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


Previewing Ole Miss’ Specialists for 2015


Will Gleeson at punter and Gary Wunderlich at placekicker are both returning starters. Gleeson often punts on the run to get extended roll. He pinned opponents inside the 20 on 24 of 58 punts last year. The Rebels must replace Will Denny, a four-year long snapper.

Final Analysis 


This may be Freeze’s last chance to do something big with the vaunted 2013 signing class. Barring the unforeseen, Tunsil, Nkemdiche and Treadwell will likely be gone after this season. Conner may join them.

There are questions on offense, but Kelly should make a seamless transition. Freeze helped the lightly recruited Bo Wallace become a three-year starter and tie Eli Manning with 24 career wins.

The defensive line is strong, and if the corners play as well as expected, Ole Miss will again be a factor in the SEC West.

The Debate

Where Does Hugh Freeze Rank Among SEC Coaches for 2015?

Click here to join the debate.




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