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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#121 Miami-Ohio RedHawks

NATIONAL FORECAST

#121

MAC East PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Chuck Martin, 2-10 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: George Barnett, Eric Koehler | DEF. COORDINATOR: Matt Pawlowski

Progress has been slow for Miami (Ohio), but Chuck Martin hopes to see more of it in his  second season. The RedHawks lost 10 games last season, but lost five games by one possession (Eastern Kentucky, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Central Michigan and Ohio). The offense must be rebuilt with three starters, but eight returning starters on defense at least gives Miami an experienced starting point.
 

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Previewing Miami’s Offense for 2015 
 

When your most experienced quarterback now lines up at defensive end, that’s a concern. Junior Austin Gearing threw 54 passes and added 145 rushes as Miami’s starter in 2013, but he switched sides of the ball last season after being supplanted by Notre Dame transfer Andrew Hendrix, who has exhausted his eligibility. Redshirt freshman Gus Ragland possesses the same combination of running and throwing talent displayed by Hendrix on his way to being named third-team All-MAC. But senior Drew Kummer has the experience edge on Ragland; Kummer has thrown 58 passes and rushed 31 times with the RedHawks. Ragland has yet to step on the field.

The situation at running back isn’t much better. Junior Spencer McInnis and sophomore Damon Washington are the only returning players with experience, and they combined for 261 yards last season. That might not be enough to hold off redshirt freshmen Kenny Young and Alonzo Smith.

Junior wide receiver Jared Murphy is Miami’s top returning pass catcher, but he was being pushed by sophomore Sam Martin and junior Fred McRae IV, who also earned third-team all-conference honors as a punt returner. The offensive line also needs refurbishing after losing three starters.

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 Miami’s Defense for 2015 
 

Even with the loss to graduation of cornerback Quinten Rollins, who was named the MAC’s Defensive Player of the Year in his only season on the gridiron after finishing up his basketball career, the RedHawks’ defense looks strong once again. 

All four starters return on the line, led by senior Bryson Albright, who led Miami with 6.0 sacks, just ahead of junior J’Terius Jones’ five quarterback collars. Senior Joe Donlan, one of two returning starters at linebacker, ranked second on the team in tackles with 77. The other returning starter, senior Kent Kern, was a second-team All-MAC pick in 2013 and is itching to get back after missing the final three games of the 2014 season.

Junior Heath Harding, who led the RedHawks with 98 tackles as a safety in 2014, has moved to cornerback, joining returning starter Marshall Taylor. You could say the defensive backfield has three returning starters, as senior safety Brison Burris is back after missing all of last season with an injury. Burris started 11 of 12 games in 2012 and all 12 in 2013, but he’ll have to hold off junior Buchi Okafor for the job.

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

Previewing Miami’s Specialists for 2015 
 

Senior Kaleb Patterson is back for his fourth season as Miami’s placekicker. Patterson has attempted 42 field goals in his RedHawks career and made 31, including a career-long 52-yarder last season. Senior Christian Koch waited for his turn and is back for his second season as Miami’s punter. Koch averaged 40.1 yards per punt last season.

Final Analysis
 

Coach Chuck Martin, a former Notre Dame assistant, sees progress in his quest to drag Miami football away from the dregs of a school-record 21-game losing streak, including an 0–12 2013, and closer to the tradition that includes 15 MAC championships. 

Miami has opened an indoor practice facility, placing it on the same level as MAC teams such as Northern Illinois, which has played in the last five league championship games.

Martin and his coaching staff spent less time in his second spring camp teaching the RedHawks how to practice and more time on what to practice. That made it easier to make decisions on position battles, allowing more time to focus on preparing for the upcoming season. This program is still a year away from being a factor in the MAC East, but there is finally some positive momentum in Oxford.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#118 Troy Trojans

NATIONAL FORECAST

#118

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#8

HEAD COACH: Neal Brown, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kenny Edenfield, Matt Moore | DEF. COORDINATOR: Vic Koenning

For the first time since 1990, someone other than Larry Blakeney will coach Troy. Blakeney’s tenure, which coincided with the Trojans’ move to major college football, included five Sun Belt titles and five bowl games. He’ll be tough to replace, but Troy turns to a familiar face to replace Blakeney and — the Trojans hope — revitalize the program. 

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Previewing Troy’s Offense for 2015 
 

Old habits die hard, so it will come as little surprise that first-year Troy coach Neal Brown, a former offensive coordinator for the Trojans before moving on to the same job at Texas Tech and Kentucky, plans to continue calling plays in his new role. The offense will have his stamp on it, which means an emphasis on a faster pace of play and less rotation of players.

Brown’s task won’t be easy. While there are several starters returning, there are also holes that must be filled and, more important, consistency that must be established. The Trojans were 10th in the Sun Belt in both scoring offense and total offense last year.

Brown appears to have his quarterback in place, which is a nice start. Brandon Silvers set the NCAA record for pass completion percentage (70.5) by a freshman, but he was up and down. One positive: He threw only three interceptions in 271 attempts. Dallas Tidwell and perhaps incoming freshman Gardner Minshew will try to impress the new staff in the fall, but the job appears to be Silvers’ to lose.

Running back is perhaps the deepest position on the offense, though Brandon Burks and Jordan Chunn combined to barely top 1,000 yards rushing in 2014. Josh Anderson, a 260-pound fullback, should have an impact. 

Bryan Holmes, K.D. Edenfield and Teddy Ruben return to the receiving corps, and if Brown has his way, the group should be far more productive this fall. 

The offensive line will be led by Antonio Garcia and Dalton Bennett, but improvement is needed there as well. This group will have to adjust to the faster pace of play that Brown intends to implement.

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 Troy’s Defense for 2015
 

In effect, the Trojans’ defense is being rebuilt from scratch. Brown hired Vic Koenning as defensive coordinator, a position he held at the school from 2003-04. The Trojans ranked near the bottom of the league in most key defensive categories in 2014, and they gave up at least 40 points five times in 12 games. 

Koenning will technically run a 4-2-5 alignment but will often switch the alignments in an effort to catch the opponent off guard. The aim is to use a swarming attack that takes advantage of speed and quickness off the edge. 

Up front, Troy has Tyler Roberts and former Arkansas Razorback Lonnie Gosha leading the way, with some expected added talent also set to contribute. At linebacker, junior college signees William Lloyd and Justin Lucas are expected to step in and play big roles right away. In the secondary, newcomers Jalen Rountree and LaMarcus Farmer should add experience and talent. Troy ranked a respectable fifth in the Sun Belt in passing defense last season.

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

Previewing Troy’s Specialists for 2015 
 

The placekicking duties are wide open, and the competition will continue right up until the start of the season. Ryan Kay will return as the team’s punter. The Trojans were average at best in the return game last season.

Final Analysis 
 

In many ways, this is a complete rebuild for Brown and his coaching staff. The once-proud Troy program had fallen on hard times in recent years; the Trojans have missed a bowl in four straight seasons after playing in the postseason four times from 2006-10.

A bowl game isn’t likely this fall, either. The Trojans have a difficult non-conference schedule that includes trips to NC State, Wisconsin and Mississippi State, and they play Sun Belt heavyweights Appalachian State and UL-Lafayette on the road.

Anything close to six wins should be considered a big success in Year 1 of the Brown era. 




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#125 Idaho Vandals

NATIONAL FORECAST

#125

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#10

HEAD COACH: Paul Petrino, 2-21 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kris Cinkovich | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Breske

Idaho finished 2014 with its third consecutive one-win season, but, believe it or not, the Vandals made progress. Idaho was outscored by only 135 points in 2014. That sounds bad, but consider that the Vandals were outscored by 343 points in 2013 and 319 in 2011. For a team that’s lost 42 games in four seasons, any sign of real progress is notable.

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Previewing Idaho’s Offense for 2015
 

Coach Paul Petrino welcomes back the top rusher and passer from an offense that averaged 25 points and 417.5 yards per game, and the third-year coach is expecting even better numbers this season.

Quarterback Matt Linehan had his ups and downs during his redshirt freshman season when he started all 11 games and completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 2,540 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also threw 18 interceptions, a number that will need to dwindle if the Vandals are to show the improvement Petrino predicts.

The return of wide receiver Dezmon Epps should help the passing game. Epps was Idaho’s leading receiver in 2013 when he caught 79 passes for 980 yards and four touchdowns. He was kicked off the team last summer for an off-the-field incident and didn’t play last season. The senior received a second chance from Petrino for staying in good academic standing. Between Epps and junior tight end Deon Watson (37 catches in 2014), Linehan has two athletic playmakers at his disposal.

Senior running back Elijhaa Penny led Idaho with 589 yards and 12 touchdowns, and the 6'2", 254-pound bruiser is expected to spearhead the ground game again. Sophomore Aaron Duckworth is the speedier, change-of-pace back.

The biggest question comes up front. Petrino must replace four-year starter Mike Marboe at center and rebuild a unit that yielded 41 sacks. Junior Steven Matlock assumes the center spot and will anchor a young unit that has only one senior starter — guard Dallas Sandberg. If the O-line jells and can protect Linehan, Idaho’s offense should improve.

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 Idaho's Defense for 2015
 

After being one of the worst FBS defenses last year, the Vandals are changing to a 3-4 scheme designed to get more speed on the field. Idaho allowed 462.7 yards and 37.3 points per game, prompting Petrino to bring in five defensive backs in the offseason to help fortify the pass defense.

Senior cornerback Jayshawn Jordan (62 tackles) and junior safety Russell Siavii (52 tackles) are the top defensive backs returning, but competition will be fierce in the back end.

End Quinton Bradley (six sacks) and tackle Ryan Edwards (19 tackles) are the best up front. Linebacker Marc Millan led the team with 102 tackles last season, and several other contributors are back at that spot, but Petrino is very high on grayshirt Kaden Elliss, the son of former NFL Pro Bowler Luther Elliss.

Bottom line: For this unit to improve, it will have to generate more than the 18 sacks and 17 takeaways it did last season.

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

Previewing Idaho’s Specialists for 2015 
 

The kicking game is solid with junior Austin Rehkow, who handles the placekicking and punting duties. Rehkow is accurate from inside 40 yards but inconsistent from long range. As a punter, he’s averaged better than 47 yards on 119 career punts. The return of Epps solidifies the return teams, which haven’t produced a touchdown of any kind since 2012.

Final Analysis
 

Perhaps the best news since the end of last season was the NCAA lifting a bowl ban and sanctions limiting practice time because of poor APR scores. The Vandals need every bit of practice to try to become competitive and put together their first winning season since 2009.

The offense should be improved now that Linehan has a year under his belt and some proven playmakers. The real key for Idaho will be on defense. In Idaho’s 10 losses last season, it gave up 34 or more points. If the Vandals can slow down the opposition and give their offense a chance, this team can make a move in the Sun Belt.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#123 UTSA Roadrunners

NATIONAL FORECAST

#123

C-USA West PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Larry Coker, 23-23 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Brown | DEF. COORDINATOR: Neal Neathery

UTSA was a pleasant surprise last season — for about two weeks. The Roadrunners upset Houston and came close to doing the same to Arizona in the first two games of the season. Larry Coker’s veteran team couldn’t keep it up and finished 4-8. Now, all those veterans are gone — no, really. UTSA returns three starters, all on defense.

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Previewing UTSA’s Offense for 2015
 

The biggest reason UTSA saw its scoring output drop by 8.5 points per game in 2014 was the play at quarterback, where four players labored through injuries and inexperience to compile a combined passer rating that ranked No. 119 in the nation. 

The position was open during the spring, but the smart money is on Blake Bogenschutz to win the job in the fall. Bogenschutz was the No. 2 quarterback last season and filled in for injured starter Tucker Carter early before breaking his hand and seeing his season end in September. Bogenschutz appeared in three games (starting one) and completed 56 percent of his passes with no touchdown passes and two interceptions. Michigan transfer Russell Bellomy is eligible immediately after seeing little playing time in four years in Ann Arbor and is a wild card candidate who will compete for the job. 

Whoever plays quarterback will at least have some help at running back, where the explosive Jarveon Williams should own the job after sharing it in his first two seasons. The offensive line, however, is undergoing a complete makeover and is expected to take its lumps.  

Tight end David Morgan II might be the Roadrunners’ most talented offensive player and will be a focal point of the passing game if he can stay healthy, which has been an issue. Wide receiver Kenny Bias appears to have his off-field issues resolved and could have a big season as a senior alongside dependable slot receiver Aaron Grubb.

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 UTSA’s Defense for 2015  
 

The inexperience on the defensive side isn’t quite as bad as on offense, but only three starters return to a unit that ranked 54th nationally in points allowed. The front four will have to be replaced, though three players who were in the two-deep rotation will step into starting roles. Senior Jason Neill will be a leader at defensive end and should be stronger another year removed from ACL surgery. Defensive tackle Brian Price sat out the spring as a precaution but will be counted on as he assumes a larger role. 

Linebacker Drew Douglas is the defense’s best player and will be an All-C-USA candidate. He was third on the team in tackles a year ago and plays a vital role in the Roadrunners’ 4-2-5 scheme. 

The secondary struggled at times, but the hope is that improvement will be made in this area. Former Oklahoma transfer Bennett Okotcha is the No. 1 corner and looks primed for a breakout senior season. At safety, Michael Egwuagu beat out Chase Dahlquist, although both should play. At the other two safety slots, athletic Nate Gaines, Baylor transfer Austin Jupe and returning starter Mauricio Sanchez will battle for time and solidify the back line.

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

Previewing UTSA’s Specialists for 2015  
 

The question marks that run rampant throughout the Roadrunners’ two-deep don’t stop when it comes to the specialists. Kicker Daniel Portillo and punter Yannis Routsas, a freshman, are both untested. Aaron Grubb is slated to handle both kickoff and punt return duties.

Final Analysis 
 

UTSA fell far short of expectations in 2014 when it welcomed back 19 starters from a 7–5 team. This year, the Roadrunners will not have to worry about the bar being set too high. With inexperience up and down the depth chart, serious questions at quarterback and a brutal non-conference slate that includes four bowl teams, coach Larry Coker is facing a steep challenge. UTSA is in only its fifth season as a Division-I program, but this could feel like Year 1 all over again unless several players step up and make big strides.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#111 Central Michigan Chippewas

NATIONAL FORECAST

#111

MAC West PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: John Bonamego, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Morris Watts | DEF. COORDINATOR: Greg Colby

John Bonamego steps onto Central Michigan's campus with a clean slate to work with after Dan Enos' departure. This team won seven games last year but only returns 10 starters and faces a much improved MAC schedule. Reaching a bowl game will be a tall ask.

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Previewing Central Michigan’s Offense for 2015  


Junior Cooper Rush, last seen throwing an FBS bowl-record seven touchdown passes in the Bahamas Bowl, is back at the helm for his third season as Central Michigan’s starting quarterback. He is poised for a stellar season as long as he gets enough help from the talent around him.

Lost to graduation is four-year star wide receiver Titus Davis, so figuring out who can replace his production on the outside is a must. Candidates include senior Jesse Kroll (36 catches, 582 yards, four TDs) and junior Anthony Rice (30 catches, 321 yards), as they are the returnees with the most on-field experience and have familiarity with Rush. But watch out for a trio of sophomores in Mark Chapman, Corey Willis and Eric Cooper; all three are athletic wide receivers with big-play potential.

The running back spot will feature a battle among senior Saylor Lavallii, junior Martez Walker and sophomore Devon Spalding. If a clear-cut starter emerges, it might be Spalding as he had a couple impressive efforts toward the end of 2014 and finished the campaign with 371 rushing yards on 73 attempts plus four TDs.

Central Michigan must replace starters at left guard and right tackle, but the Chippewas have the benefit of senior left tackle Ramadan Ahmeti and senior center Nick Beamish entering their third seasons as starters.

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 Central Michigan’s Defense for 2015 


Central Michigan used a 4-2-5 defensive scheme the past three years but will return to a 4-3-4 base under new coordinator Greg Colby. After the Chippewas finished first in the MAC in total defense a year ago (355.5 yards per game), there will be some turnover in personnel, but there’s also a core of returning starters who should allow for a fairly seamless transition with Colby in charge.

The Chippewas should be strong on the defensive line, which will be anchored on the outside by senior end Blake Serpa (four sacks last year) and junior Joe Ostman. That duo combined for 22.5 tackles for a loss.

A big question mark for CMU will be at the linebacker spots as senior Tim Hamilton (37 tackles) takes over as the leader of that group. There is inexperience aplenty when figuring out who is going to fill the other two starting spots.

Two seniors return in the secondary, with Central Michigan being particularly steady at safety. Senior Kavon Frazier and junior Tony Annese both have a nose for the football and a lot of games under their belts.


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

Previewing Central Michigan’s Specialists for 2015  
 

Brian Eavey (8-of-9 field goals) resumes his duties after taking over for the injured Ron Coluzzi in Week 2 of the 2014 campaign. Although Coluzzi returned two weeks later, he stuck with only punting (37.6-yard average) after handling both prior to his injury. But if Eavey falters in the kicking game, the Chippewas can feel confident in having the strong-legged Coluzzi as a backup plan. Redshirt freshman Cooper Mojsiejenko, the son of a former NFL punter, could also challenge for punting duties. Amari Coleman, Willis and Chapman are candidates to be used in the return game.

Final Analysis
 

Following five seasons of mostly mediocre results under previous coach Dan Enos, the slate is clean for John Bonamego to put his stamp on the job for years to come. The biggest key will be finding enough production at wide receiver to give the very talented Rush a chance to put up the big numbers of which he is capable. With some proven and promising talent on board, Central Michigan has a chance to surprise people. But a middle-of-the-pack finish in the MAC West Division is most likely.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#103 Kansas Jayhawks

NATIONAL FORECAST

#103

Big 12 PREDICTION

#10

HEAD COACH: David Beaty, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Rob Likens | DEF. COORDINATOR: Clint Bowen, Kenny Perry

David Beaty was hired at Kansas because the Jayhawks know they need to recruit better. From the look of the worst roster in the Big 12, Beaty has a lot of work ahead of him. And with just five starters back, his only victories this fall may come on the recruiting trail.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing Kansas’ Offense in 2015 


The quarterback competition should be settled in the fall as new coach David Beaty and offensive coordinator Rob Likens seek to find the best fit for their new Air Raid offense. The incumbent is 5'10" senior Michael Cummings, who gave KU some much-needed consistency while starting the final seven games in 2014 and shared the Jayhawks’ Offensive Player of the Year award. Cummings, however, went down with a knee injury in the spring game in late April, and his availability for the fall is in doubt. Dual-threat Montell Cozart is back, and two true freshmen also should be in the mix: late find Carter Stanley and in-state talent Ryan Willis.

The running back position should be KU’s deepest position group. Top returning rusher Corey Avery was dismissed from the team in early June, but the Jayhawks return seniors De’Andre Mann and Taylor Cox. Two newcomers — junior college transfer Ke’aun Kinner and freshman Taylor Martin — also should provide KU with additional quickness.

KU’s offensive line will be rebuilding after losing three starters. Left tackle Jordan Shelley-Smith was one of the highlights of the offseason, as he added 34 pounds to get to 296 after making the full-time transition from tight end to offensive lineman.

The Jayhawks will be inexperienced at receiver, as their returners combined for just seven catches a season ago. Senior Tre’ Parmalee — son of longtime NFL running back Bernie — could provide some stability in the slot. KU also should have two reliable options at tight end in sophomore Ben Johnson and junior Kent Taylor, who was a top-ranked recruit out of high school.

Order a copy of Athlon's 2015 Big 12 College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 10 conference teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

Previewing Kansas’ Defense in 2015 
 

Beaty said early in spring practices that the strength of his team was its defensive line. KU does have some talent returning, starting with Ben Goodman, who will be asked to be more of a vocal leader. Former walk-on T.J. Semke is an assignment-sound player. Andrew Bolton was expected to give KU some potential at defensive tackle after an up-and-down junior season. However, Bolton left the team in July.

Linebackers coach Kevin Kane didn’t yet have the depth he was hoping for in spring practices, but he did feel confident about his top guys. However, Jake Love - one of Kansas' top contenders for All-Big 12 honors in 2015 - decided to retire in early June. Love's absence will be felt on a defense with just two returning starters. Oft-injured Schyler Miles has shown a natural awareness at middle linebacker, while Courtney Arnick has some versatility after posting 45 tackles a season ago.

The Jayhawks lost both starting cornerbacks and safeties from last season, meaning this year’s group will be a work in progress. At cornerback, KU’s most reliable player might be a newcomer, as Brandon Stewart impressed in spring practices while getting first-team reps. Juniors Fish Smithson, Bazie Bates IV and Greg Allen are the top candidates to play at safety.

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

Previewing Kansas’ Specialists in 2015 
 

The Jayhawks have major questions following the graduation of All-Big 12 punter Trevor Pardula. Two-year kicker Matthew Wyman returns, though his 9-of-15 accuracy on field goals leaves room for improvement. At punter, Eric Kahn and Andrew Yoxall will compete to start with no kicks between them.

Final Analysis
 

Though Beaty hopes to start the process of rebuilding a winning football program in Lawrence, it definitely won’t be easy right away. The Jayhawks have suffered through a string of unsuccessful campaigns since an Orange Bowl victory in 2008 — KU has won a total of 12 games in its last five seasons — and this year’s roster seems as depleted as any in the last decade. Following the departure of a rash of junior college players — signed by previous coach Charlie Weis as he tried to quick-fix the program — KU’s numbers are down, and Beaty’s challenge in 2015 should be immense. 

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#116 Southern Miss Golden Eagles

NATIONAL FORECAST

#116

C-USA West PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Todd Monken, 4-20 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Chip Lindsey | DEF. COORDINATOR: David Duggan

Todd Monken saw improvement at Southern Miss in his second season. However, the talent level for the Eagles simply wasn't good enough for Monken to compete in Conference USA. However, seven starters are back on offense and he is slowly beginning to restock the roster with depth. But is it enough for Southern Miss to reach a bowl game or compete in the C-USA West Division?

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing Southern Miss’ Offense for 2015  
 

Todd Monken begins his third season at Southern Miss hoping to keep the Golden Eagles trending back toward their successful past. USM enters the fall having improved from a disastrous 0–12 in 2012 to 1–11 in 2013 and 3–9 in 2014. The last time Southern Miss endured three straight losing seasons was 1929-31. Monken may get the Golden Eagles winning again by creating healthy competition at the quarterback position. He returns Nick Mullens, who has started 16 games, and adds TCU transfer Tyler Matthews, who was recruited by Monken to Oklahoma State when he was the Big 12 school’s offensive coordinator. Matthews, a better runner than Mullens, will be familiar with the USM offense. Mullens passed for 2,470 yards and 12 touchdowns last year despite missing several games with a foot injury.

At running back, 5'9" Ito Smith is back after leading the Golden Eagles with 536 rushing yards. George Payne, solid in short-yardage situations, has scored most of the team’s rushing touchdowns the past two seasons, while sophomore Tez Parks is USM’s most powerful back and averaged 5.6 yards per carry last year. Southern Miss needs much more production from its backs after the rushing offense ranked last in Conference USA.

Monken beefed up the Golden Eagles’ offensive line in his latest recruiting class, including four mid-year transfers who participated in spring workouts. USM finds itself with its best depth up front since Monken arrived, as four starters return.

Sure-handed Casey Martin is a possession receiver who led the Golden Eagles with 55 catches a year ago. Outside receiver Michael Thomas also was one of Mullens’ top targets with 592 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

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 Southern Miss’ Defense for 2015 


Known for their stout defensive reputation, the Golden Eagles have fallen in recent seasons. They ranked ninth in the league in total defense, 10th in rushing defense and 11th in scoring defense. USM also ranked last in the league in turnover margin, losing 26 and gaining only 16.

It doesn’t help the Golden Eagles that defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches left after his junior season to make himself eligible for the NFL Draft or that the top three tacklers — safeties Jacorius Cotton and Emmanuel Johnson and linebacker Alan Howze — completed their eligibility.

Senior linebacker Brian Anderson, the top returning tackler, is back to provide leadership along with Elijah Parker. D’Nerius Antoine, a midyear signee, quickly established himself at a hybrid linebacker/defensive back spot in the spring.

In the secondary, there’s not a better name in the league than Picasso Nelson Jr., who may move from cornerback to safety this fall. Junior college transfers Deshadrick Truly and Devonta Foster could step in and be factors, too.  

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

Previewing Southern Miss’ Specialists for 2015  
 

The Golden Eagles must find a replacement for kicker Corey Acosta, who made 19-of-25 attempts last year, including a 52-yarder. Among those competing for the spot is UAB transfer Nick Vogel, who redshirted last fall, and Parker Shaunfield. Punter Tyler Sarrazin is back after averaging 39.5 yards on 66 kicks. 

Final Analysis
 

With September games against Mississippi State and Nebraska, the early season schedule will be daunting for a rebuilding program that has only four wins the past three years. But Monken is moving toward opening up his offense as he adds depth. Matthews, the TCU transfer at quarterback, could be an interesting addition on offense if he beats out Mullens. Regardless, the offense must improve. The Golden Eagles scored only 23 touchdowns, which ranked 12th among the league’s 13 schools, and averaged only 19.0 points per game. 




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#115 ULM Warhawks

NATIONAL FORECAST

#115

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Todd Berry, 27-34 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Todd Berry | DEF. COORDINATOR: Travis Niekamp, Adam Waugh

Todd Berry and the Warhawks have eight starters back on a veteran defense and five starters back on a questionable offense. The team should be more balanced in 2015 and with 13 games (including Hawaii), ULM could find itself in the postseason. Contending for a Sun Belt title, however, may be a much taller order.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing ULM's Offense for 2015  
 

ULM will try to reboot its offense with head coach Todd Berry taking over play-calling duties after a lopsided performance in 2014: The Warhawks led the Sun Belt in passing but ranked dead last in rushing, total offense and scoring.

Stability at quarterback is needed. Senior Brayle Brown has some experience (29 games, two starts) and a deep understanding of the scheme, but he is also injury-prone. Redshirt freshman Garrett Smith is rougher around the edges for now, but he touts an upside as a dual-threat quarterback.

Don’t be surprised if the competition stretches into the season, but the starter will be able to lean heavily on wideouts Rashon Ceaser and Ajalen Holley, the most productive returning receiver duo in the conference (134 receptions, 1,735 yards in 2014).

Sophomore Kaylon Watson and senior DeVontae McNeal, who missed last season with an injury, will share time at running back. It’s an inexperienced pair with only 57 career rushing attempts combined. Neither the ground game nor the new quarterback will be effective if ULM doesn’t answer lingering questions on the offensive line.

“We didn’t play well up front last year, just static and not productive, and we still have some challenges there,” Berry says. “So that quarterback has to have the ability of doing some special things and handle the tempo to help our offensive line.”

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 ULM’s Defense for 2015 
 

Six of ULM’s top seven tacklers from last season return to a unit that should come of age in 2015. And there are no discernible weak spots.

Nose tackle Gerrand Johnson, the first defensive lineman to lead ULM in tackles since 1980, will man the interior of the front. At linebacker, Hunter Kissinger was a first-team all-league performer last season, and Michael Johnson is the Sun Belt’s returning sack leader. Mitch Lane, another first-team All-Sun Belt selection, leads the secondary at the Hawk position of ULM’s 3-3-5 scheme.

“This is a senior-laden group that’s been in a lot of ball games,” Berry says. “Our linebacking corps is as good as any I’ve been around in a long time.”

The defense more than doubled its sack total over the last two seasons, and expect another increase in pressure with an athletic, experienced group coming back.

 

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

Previewing ULM's Specialists for 2015  
 

The graduation of Justin Manton, an all-conference kicker and punter, leaves a large vacancy. Redshirt freshman Craig Ford will take over placekicking duties, while true freshman Chris Qualls will battle Ford at punter. Ceaser’s 9.5-yard average on punt returns would have led the Sun Belt had he had enough attempts to qualify. Speedster Tyler Cain is also back to return kicks.

Final Analysis
 

An NCAA scheduling exemption allows ULM to play a 13-game schedule because it involves a trip to Hawaii. That could increase the Warhawks’ bowl possibilities, but only if the veteran group weathers non-conference contests at Georgia and Alabama and 10 straight games without a bye week.

ULM has only five home games, but Berry’s teams have overcome the school’s scheduling challenges before with 6–6 and 8–5 seasons during the past three years. The Warhawks’ final five losses last season were each by seven points or fewer, and the same slim margin should be there again.

Expect ULM’s defense to be among the Sun Belt’s best, but the team will go only as far as the offense and a new starting quarterback can take it. Berry is an imaginative offensive coach with a knack for getting the best out of his quarterbacks, and his expertise will be tested in 2015.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#114 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors

NATIONAL FORECAST

#114

MW West PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Norm Chow, 8-29 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Don Bailey | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tom Mason

Norm Chow has seemingly been on the hot seat since arriving at Hawaii. However, this appears to be his most talented team in his four-year stint with the Warriors. With a challenging non-conference schedule and a crossover game in league play against Boise State, Chow will have to prove his 12 returning starters will be enough for him to keep his job on the Islands.

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Previewing Hawaii’s Offense for 2015  
 

The only constant in Hawaii’s offense, it seems, has been change. This year, change comes in the form of yet another offensive play caller and, potentially, a fifth different starting quarterback to open the season in the past five years.

This time, the keys have been handed to up-tempo coordinator Don Bailey, who comes over from Idaho State. His Bengals topped the FCS in passing yards per game (348.1) in 2014.

Ikaika Woolsey has started 14 games over two seasons at quarterback, but the battle for the job with senior USC transfer Max Wittek may go well into the summer. Former Colorado State signee Beau Reilly is also in the mix.

The quarterback will operate behind an experienced line that includes 59 starts among Ben Clarke, Dejon Allen, Brenden Urban, Elijah Tupai and John Wa’a. Clarke, the team’s best and most versatile lineman, has double-digit starts at both center and tackle.

Steven Lakalaka, who held down the running back position during Joey Iosefa’s absences the last two seasons, has the opportunity to take over full time with Iosefa’s departure. Pereese Joas and Diocemy Saint Juste provide speedy alternatives to the power running of Lakalaka and junior college transfer Melvin Davis.

If pass catchers Vasquez Haynes and Devan Stubblefield are able to return to health after missing 2014, the Warriors will be set at receiver. Quinton Pedroza and Marcus Kemp had 115 receptions and six touchdowns between them in 2014.

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 Hawaii’s Defense for 2015 
 

The Warriors lost the teeth of their defense — the front seven — from last season, and regaining some of that bite in a hurry is job one for new defensive coordinator Tom Mason. The mission is given additional urgency by a schedule that sends UH on the road against three very physical top-25 teams — Ohio State, Wisconsin and Boise State — in an early four-week stretch.

Kennedy Tulimasealii is poised for a breakout year, and Luke Shawley should thrive in Mason’s scheme of relentless blitzes. But the Warriors need to find a space-eating plug in the middle from among Penitito Faalologo, Kory Rasmussen and incoming transfer Nikko Taylor, as well as depth across the line.

Simon Poti, the Warriors’ leading returner in tackles (63), joins Lance Williams and Benetton Fonua in anchoring the linebacking corps.

The Warriors’ deepest position appears to be safety, where Trayvon Henderson, Marrell Jackson and Daniel Lewis have 31 career starts among them, and redshirt freshman Dany Mulanga had an eye-opening spring. Returning starters at cornerback Ne’Quan Phillips and Nick Nelson make this a strong secondary

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

Previewing Hawaii’s Specialists for 2015  
 

Hawaii will find out just how valuable its two-time team MVP, do-it-all Scott Harding, really was. Harding handled punting, punt returns, was a receiver and also served as a holder for a time. Freshman Alexander Trifonovitch figures to wind up with the punting job, while Aaron Novoa gets first shot at plackekicker. Paul Harris, Keelan Ewaliko, Saint Juste and Joas will compete for the return duties.

Final Analysis
 

This shapes up as the most talented team in head coach Norm Chow’s four seasons in the islands, but the Warriors’ shaky depth will be sorely tested in a 13-game schedule that is bereft of an open date and includes Colorado, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Boise State in the first five weeks. If they can survive that gauntlet in relative health, there is an outside shot at ending the Warriors’ streak of four consecutive losing seasons. If not, then Chow, who is 8–29 in his first head coaching job and has a $200,000 buy-out clause in his contract, likely won’t be around to finish his five-year assignment.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#117 North Texas Mean Green

NATIONAL FORECAST

#117

C-USA West PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Dan McCarney, 22-27 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Canales | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chris Cosh

Dan McCarney has a bit of a roller coaster ride at North Texas, posting nine wins two years ago but just four last fall. He's got a new coordinator and will increase the tempo on offense in an effort to rebuild his squad in the C-USA West Division. With only nine starters back, McCarney has his work is cut out for him in 2015.

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Previewing North Texas’ Offense for 2015  
 

North Texas ranked 114th nationally in total offense last season. There are still quarterback questions, and the previous strength, a veteran offensive line, has mostly graduated. Four new starters will be up front. “It’s a major void,” coach Dan McCarney says. “Those new guys have come together and developed, but four new starters is still four new starters.”

UNT has settled on Andrew McNulty as its quarterback after other contenders did not impress. McNulty started six games last season, passing for 1,295 yards, six TDs and seven interceptions. McCarney says McNulty’s offseason progress reminds him of the same growth former standout Derek Thompson made heading into his senior season. UNT should be so fortunate.

Wideout Carlos Harris, already with 136 career catches, enters his senior season on pace to finish as one of the program’s most productive receivers. Tight end Marcus Smith led the team with six TD catches last season. But Harris and Smith are possession receivers in need of a big-play partner. Redshirt freshman Tee Goree, one of the team’s top recruits a year ago, could fill that role.

UNT should remain a run-first team with the return of leading rusher Antoinne Jimmerson (589 yards), but look for Jeffrey Wilson (224 yards) to get more carries.

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 North Texas’ Defense for 2015 
 

The defensive line was completely rebuilt a year ago, and now it must be a strength as other units break in new starters. Defensive ends Chad Polk and Tillman Johnson accounted for 10.5 of the team’s 33 sacks last season and are part of a rotation at end. Also, Jareid Combs, who had 17 sacks in junior college last season, joins the mix. But the line needs more than a pass rush. “I think we can get into a nine to 10-man rotation of quality players on the line,” McCarney says. “So I feel a lot better about that than I did a year ago.”

In the back seven, two all-league players must be replaced, including linebacker Derek Akunne, Conference USA’s leader in tackles per game last season. To shake up the group, returning starter Fred Scott moves from middle to outside linebacker, and Buffalo transfer Blake Bean steps into the middle.

Kenny Buyers is a team captain and dependable cornerback, but the other cornerback spot may be fluid. Free safety Kishawn McClain returns after earning C-USA All-Freshman honors, but he must move into a leading role amid an inexperienced secondary. 

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

Previewing North Texas’ Specialists for 2015  
 

Placekicker Trevor Moore is back after a Freshman All-America season in which he made 15-of-17 field goals. Eric Keena ranked second in C-USA in punting average (44.8), and UNT returns key parts of a unit that ranked fifth nationally in kick return coverage.

Final Analysis
 

In 2013, McCarney finished a three-year plan with a senior-laden squad that went 9–4. After going 4–8 last season and still carrying several concerns, this team looks to be in the middle of that three-year cycle, at best. The offense will try to go more up-tempo to mask inexperience on the line. The defense will attempt to reload under new coordinator Chris Cosh. And McCarney will throw some young talent on the field in hopes of finding the next wave of standout players.

UNT’s quirky schedule offers no favors. After a Week 1 off date, it plays 12 straight weeks with no bye and only five home games. Trips to Tennessee and Iowa highlight the non-conference slate. And C-USA cross-division opponents include Marshall (13–1 in 2014), Western Kentucky (8–5) and Middle Tennessee (6–6).

“That schedule is why everyone has so much urgency around here,” McCarney says. “We want to win and not just show up, but we are a team in development right now.” 




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