#85 Syracuse Orange





HEAD COACH: Scott Shafer, 10-15 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tim Lester | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chuck Bullough

Syracuse took a couple of steps backwards in Scott Shafer's second season, as the Orange won just three games. If any bounce back occurs this fall it will have to happen with a new offensive coordinator in place and very little starting experience returning on either side of the ball. The Orange could have a tough time climbing out of the basement in the ACC Atlantic Division.

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Previewing Syracuse’s Offense for 2015


Fifth-year senior quarterback Terrel Hunt is one of the few steady figures on the roster despite fracturing his fibula midway through last season. Hunt likely will be Syracuse’s best running threat, but he is working to develop as a pocket passer with the ability to use his feet, much like Seattle’s Russell Wilson. That aligns with offensive coordinator Tim Lester’s system, which will feature more downfield routes and simpler terminology.

The Orange lose more than 67 percent of their running back production to graduation. And with Erv Philips sliding to the H-back position, juniors Devante McFarlane and George Morris II are expected to take the majority of carries by true running backs. Philips and senior Ashton Broyld, arguably the team’s two most dynamic playmakers, will take handoffs both between the tackles and on the perimeter from the H-back position.

Steve Ishmael is the only proven entity at wide receiver after starring as a true freshman. Lining up opposite him is junior Alvin Cornelius, who recorded as many tackles as receptions last season (three), but was a standout player in the spring. Junior Brisly Estime may be SU’s fastest skill-position player, but ankle and foot injuries derailed his 2014 season and carried into the spring.

With Sean Hickey off to the NFL, Syracuse has a three-year starter to replace at left tackle. The leading candidate is senior Ivan Foy, who has played primarily at right tackle the last two seasons. Rob Trudo, a two-year starter at left guard, is likely to replace center John Miller. The biggest question facing the unit: Can it stay healthy? SU played 10 offensive linemen last season.

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

Previewing Syracuse’s Defense for 2015

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

The good news for the front four is that junior Ron Thompson, once a four-star tight end recruit, returns to his natural defensive position on the end of the line. The bad news? Senior defensive tackle Wayne Williams was the next-most-productive returner after a nine-tackle season in 2014, and he decided to transfer in late June. New faces will be relied on to produce immediately, including 23-year-old Luke Arciniega, who was granted two additional years of eligibility by the NCAA in March.

Possibly the strongest position on the team last year, the linebacker corps loses NFL hopefuls Cameron Lynch and Dyshawn Davis. Sophomore middle backer Zaire Franklin steps in as the unit’s leader. He’s smart, savvy and well respected by his teammates. Marqez Hodge will slide to the weak-side spot in 2015, while sophomore Parris Bennett has the inside track for the strong-side spot.

Cornerback Julian Whigham returns from what he described as a “wasted” junior year as the secondary’s most experienced player. Wayne Morgan is expected to line up opposite Whigham. There is little experience at safety, where sophomores Chauncey Scissum and Rodney Williams are the expected starters.

Previewing Syracuse’s Specialists for 2015


Senior punter Riley Dixon is one of the team’s most talented players, and he got more than his fair share of work last season. After winning the starting placekicking job last year as a true freshman, walk-on Cole Murphy will have to defend his spot against two scholarship kickers in senior Ryan Norton and incoming freshman Sterling Hofrichter. In the return game, McFarlane and Philips are the likely choices for kickoffs, while Estime brings experience returning punts.

Final Analysis


Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer has his work cut out to improve on a 3–9 season. Margin for error will be slim with a new offensive system and eight new defensive starters. And with (now former) athletic director Daryl Gross choosing to “take on new challenges” following the NCAA’s handing down of sanctions in March, Shafer could be coaching for his job.


#84 Purdue Boilermakers



Big Ten West Division PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Darrell Hazell, 4-20 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: John Shoop | DEF. COORDINATOR: Greg Hudson

Purdue showed improvement in its second season under Darrell Hazell. Unfortunately, the end result is still just four victories overall and none at home in Big Ten play in Hazell's two seasons leading the Boilermakers. Sixteen starters return, giving Hazell plenty of experience to work with, but it's probably too much to expect this Purdue team to climb out of the cellar in the Big Ten West Division.

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Previewing Purdue’s Offense for 2015

Junior quarterback Austin Appleby, who started the 2014 season’s final seven games and led the Boilermakers to their only Big Ten victory in coach Darrell Hazell’s two seasons at Purdue, returns but will have to improve after an ugly November in which he completed at least 50 percent of his passes in only two of four games. If he struggles early, redshirt freshman David Blough or true freshman Elijah Sindelar will be waiting in the wings.

The Boilermakers must replace their top two running backs — Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert — but have promising freshman Markell Jones, Indiana’s 2014 Mr. Football who rushed for 60 touchdowns as a high school senior, and sophomore Keyante Green, who rushed for 199 yards as a backup in 2014.

Led by senior center Robert Kugler, the entire starting line returns, and senior wide receiver Danny Anthrop will give the Boilermakers one of the Big Ten’s top targets if he is 100 percent after undergoing knee surgery in early December. Anthrop caught 38 passes for 616 yards in only nine games, suffering a knee injury at Nebraska in Week 10.

Previewing Purdue’s Defense for 2015

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

Eight of Purdue’s 12 opponents in 2014 scored 30 points or more against a defense that was feeling its way while playing a bunch of freshmen and sophomores. Middle linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, now a sophomore, will anchor the 2015 defense after making 76 tackles as a freshman. Junior linebacker Jimmy Herman made 56 tackles a year ago, and sophomore Danny Ezechukwu also is a returning starter.

Junior Evan Panfil and sophomore Gelen Robinson will step into the starting end slots to replace Ryan Russell and Jalani Phillips. Junior Jake Replogle returns as a starting tackle, but this unit knows it must improve after finishing 10th in total defense in the Big Ten.

Frankie Williams will be the focal point of the secondary after making 74 tackles and intercepting three passes as a junior, earning All-Big Ten second-team accolades from the league’s coaches. He can play corner or safety. Senior Anthony Brown will start at one corner after making 54 tackles last season, and hard-hitting junior Robert Gregory likely will start at one of the safety positions. If Hazell decides to play Williams at safety with Gregory, junior Leroy Clark probably will start at the corner opposite Brown.

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

Previewing Purdue’s Specialists for 2015

With senior kicker Paul Griggs and senior punter Thomas Meadows both back as starters, special teams should be a Boilermaker strength. Griggs made 16-of-20 field-goal attempts as a junior along with 32-of-33 extra points. Meadows punted 58 times for a 39.8-yard average, including 15 that rolled to a stop inside the 20-yard line and seven of 50 yards or more. Williams returned 10 punts for a 17.1-yard average, and Anthrop is the likely candidate to replace Mostert as Purdue’s kickoff return specialist.

Final Analysis

Having yet to win a Big Ten home game in Hazell’s first two seasons and having failed to win any game after the first week of October, Purdue needs to take a big step in 2015 to placate a fan base that is grumbling after a November free fall that included losing to rival Indiana for a second consecutive season. The defense has a chance to be much better, and the offensive line is sound with six players back who started at least six games in 2014. But other than Anthrop, the Boilermakers are lacking in proven playmakers — and he is coming off a torn ACL.

Finding a way to get out of the Big Ten West basement will be quite a challenge.


#100 UTEP Miners





HEAD COACH: Sean Kugler, 9-16 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Patrick Higgins | DEF. COORDINATOR: Scott Stoker

UTEP got to a bowl game in Sean Kugler's second season at his alma mater, finishing the campaign with seven wins. With Kugler's imprint fully established on the program, the Miners loo to replicate last season's success behind one of Conference USA's most productive running games and an opportunistic defense.

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Previewing UTEP’s Offense for 2015

The one big question that surrounds a UTEP team that returns key personnel on both sides of the ball is what it will do in the passing game, particularly at quarterback.

Sophomore Mack Leftwich, the son of offensive line coach Spencer Leftwich, redshirted last season after starting at the end of the 2013 season and will likely emerge from a three-way battle to take over from the graduated Jameill Showers. It will be new group of receivers as well, but UTEP wasn’t particularly good in the passing game last season and still went 7–6.

The good news is that four returning offensive linemen, led by C-USA All-Freshman guards Derek Elmendorff and Will Hernandez, and fullback Darrin Laufasa will be protecting Leftwich. More important, they will be opening holes for star running back Aaron Jones in an attack that starts and ends with power rushing. Jones was second-team all-conference last year after rushing for 1,321 yards and 11 touchdowns. He had 237 in the opener against New Mexico and also had 144 against Big 12 opponent Texas Tech.

When UTEP does throw, the big targets will be Autrey Golden, who switched from tailback to featured receiver in the middle of last year, and tight end M.J. McFarland, who started four games for Texas in 2014 before graduating and transferring. Beyond that, UTEP has virtually no pass-catching experience. Tyler Batson, Donovan Walker and Jaquan White lead the chase for the second receiver role, while transfer Hayden Plinke also figures to be a big target as a backup tight end.

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

Previewing UTEP’s Defense for 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.

After struggling horribly on the this side of the ball for most of a decade, UTEP built its surprising winning season in 2014 around its defense. Five key members of the front six in the 4-2-5 defense return — linemen Roy Robertson-Harris, Nick Usher and Gino Bresolin as well as linebackers Jimmy Musgrave and Alvin Jones. Safeties Da’Shone Smith and Devin Cockrell are also back.

Even at corner, where UTEP lost both starters from last year, there is a deep group of players with significant experience, led by Ishmael Harrison and Traun Roberson.

After a brief midseason swoon last year, the defense rallied and played better down the stretch to help the Miners get to a bowl. This group only figures to get better in the third year of defensive coordinator Scott Stoker’s system. After forcing just 12 turnovers in 2013, the Miners got 21 last season and ranked third in the league in turnover margin (+0.69 per game).

Previewing UTEP’s Specialists for 2015

Golden is a player to watch, as his six career kickoff return touchdowns are one short of the NCAA record. Junior college transfer Terry Juniel was brought in to address an anemic punt return game. UTEP had all sorts of gaffes when it was punting the ball last year but largely fixed the issue at midseason when placekicker Jay Mattox took over the punting duties. UTEP’s net improved by almost 10 yards per punt after the move, and Mattox should again handle all kicking duties. 

Final Analysis

In just three springs, coach Sean Kugler has built exactly the team he wants at his alma mater: An offense that pounds the ball up the middle, a stout defense that makes plays and a squad that avoids penalties and turnovers. UTEP’s problems have come when it runs into teams with a similar mentality and better personnel, which happened in four of the six losses last season and figures to happen in the first game of the season at Arkansas. These Miners, though, should be better than last year, and for the first time since 2006, they’re building off a winning season.


#86 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs





HEAD COACH: Skip Holtz, 13-13 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tony Petersen | DEF. COORDINATOR: Blake Baker

Louisiana Tech went from 4-8 in 2014 to 9-5 and Conference USA West Division champions in Year 2 under Skip Holtz. This season, the Bulldogs are the favorites to repeat as division champions, as the offense returns most of its skill position players and one of C-USA's toughest defenses returns six starters. Another bowl berth should be expected, but can Louisiana Tech emerge as the team to beat in C-USA?

Related: Conference USA 2015 Predictions

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Previewing Louisiana Tech’s Offense for 2015

The Bulldogs are looking to duplicate last year’s formula of having a fifth-year transfer quarterback come in and take control of the offense. Last year, Iowa transfer Cody Sokol enjoyed a phenomenal season with 3,436 yards and 30 touchdowns as he led an unexpected turnaround that culminated with a Heart of Dallas Bowl win.

This year, Jeff Driskel, the former No. 1-rated pro-style QB by Rivals in 2011, is coming in from Florida for his final season of eligibility. He battled Ryan Higgins for first-team status in the spring, but Driskel is the safe bet to land the job in the fall. The 6'4", 234-pounder has a strong arm and the ability to run when needed (he ran for more than 50 yards in a game five times in his Florida career).

Driskel is stepping into an offense long on skill position players. Senior running back Kenneth Dixon had 1,684 total yards and 28 touchdowns, and wide receivers Paul Turner (a former LSU transfer) and Trent Taylor should be All-C-USA players. Speedy Carlos Henderson will also be a deep threat on the outside.

The Bulldogs will feature a veteran offensive line that likely will start three juniors and two seniors. The new left guard, David Mahaffey, started the C-USA Championship Game and the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

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

Previewing Louisiana Tech’s Defense for 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.

The name of Louisiana Tech’s game in 2014 was taking the ball away, as the Bulldogs led the nation in turnovers and were tied for the national lead in interceptions. Three starters return in the secondary looking for more thievery in 2015. Safety Xavier Woods did it all last season (six interceptions, two TDs, three forced fumble, one blocked kick) and will be an All-America candidate as a junior. Fellow safety standout Kentrell Brice is another big playmaker who should be All-C-USA, and corner Adairius Barnes (five interceptions) is another who will contend for all-league honors.

The defensive line returns two solid pieces in end Vontarrius Dora and tackle Vernon Butler, two seniors who stood out on a defense that was 17th against the rush a year ago under now-departed coordinator Manny Diaz. If there are questions on defense, they are at linebacker, where three new starters will be coming into the fold with little depth behind them. Nick Thomason should be solid in the middle, with fifth-year senior Beau Fitte on one side and either C.J. Cleveland or Russell Farris on the other.

Previewing Louisiana Tech’s Specialists for 2015

Louisiana Tech’s return game is in good shape, with the speedy Henderson back to return kicks after averaging 25.9 yards last year, including a 96-yard touchdown. Taylor is again expected to handle punt return duties after a solid season as a sophomore. Jonathan Barnes and Kyle Fischer combined to miss three extra points last season and were 10-of-20 on field goals from beyond 30 yards, so placekicking is an issue. Logan McPherson is back to punt after an inconsistent season. 

Final Analysis

The Bulldogs are expected to repeat as C-USA West champs, though their two most challenging league games — Western Kentucky and Rice — are both on the road. Two other significant road challenges will come at Kansas State (9–4 in 2014) and Mississippi State (10–3), although coach Skip Holtz should plan on another bowl trip this holiday season. Driskel’s acclimation to his new offense is the key. He has plenty of skill pieces in place to propel him to the consistent level of success he never enjoyed at Florida. The defense is again loaded with playmakers, but linebackers must emerge if it wants to be one of the league’s best units. This should be another fun season in Ruston.


#99 South Florida Bulls



American Athletic PREDICTION


HEAD COACH: Willie Taggart, 6-18 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Willie Taggart | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tom Allen

South Florida has yet to enjoy much success in the American Athletic Conference under Willie Taggart. The third-year coach will try and snap the Bulls' postseason drought in 2015, but only has eight returning starters to help him to accomplish this. South Florida also will have new coordinators in place on both sides of the ball in what could be a make-or-break season for its head coach.

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Previewing South Florida’s Offense for 2015

After struggling for two seasons under Willie Taggart’s smash-mouth style, the South Florida Bulls have changed to an up-tempo attack, heavy on spread principles and getting their skill players open in space. But who will run the show? After the transfer of drop-back quarterback Mike White, sophomore Quinton Flowers seems the best candidate because of his quick feet, improved accuracy and quick thinking. Senior Steven Bench could figure into the equation, but he has been mistake-prone.

Consistency would be welcomed. Taggart has used five different starting quarterbacks in two seasons.

The quarterback’s biggest job will be to get the ball to running back Marlon Mack, the American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year in 2014. Mack galloped to 1,041 yards and nine TDs, including a program-record 275 yards in his debut. Mack is an electrifying open-field runner, but he’s more impressive in displaying patience to read his blocks and aggressiveness in hitting the hole.

Opportunities abound at wide receiver, where junior Rodney Adams has the most experience and sophomore Ryeshene Bronson displays the most potential. Meanwhile, it’s the last chance for senior tight end Sean Price, a former four-star recruit who has fallen short of his potential due to injuries and inconsistency.

There are spots to fill along the offensive line, especially at center as three-year starter Austin Reiter has departed. The rapid-fire offensive pace will also be an adjustment for the guys up front.

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

Previewing South Florida’s Defense for 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.

After South Florida’s defense plunged to a No. 69 national ranking and twice allowed 589 yards in a game, there’s a new look with former Ole Miss linebackers coach Tom Allen taking over as coordinator. Allen has implemented a 4-2-5 formation, transforming a linebacker into a hybrid position and creating better chances to counter spread offenses.

The Bulls have playmakers in junior linebacker Nigel Harris, who led the nation in forced fumbles per game, and senior linebacker Tashon Whitehurst, who had a monster spring game (19 tackles), along with a steady leader in sophomore linebacker Auggie Sanchez. Big things are expected from redshirt freshman linebacker Jimmy Bayes.

Defensive backs are prevalent. Allen likes the aggressiveness of senior safety Jamie Byrd and the improvement of sophomore cornerback Tajee Fullwood, while sophomore cornerback Devin Abraham could be a future star.

The Bulls desperately need a better pass rush up front. Senior Eric Lee is the most experienced defensive end, while highly recruited big men junior Derrick Calloway and sophomore Deadrin Senat are expected to man the interior.

Previewing South Florida’s Specialists for 2015

The Bulls have one of the nation’s top punters in senior Mattias Ciabatti, who averaged a school-record 44.4 yards with 18 kicks of 50-plus yards and 22 downed inside the 20. Sophomore Emilio Nadelman will get first look at placekicker and must replace reliable Marvin Kloss, who was a Lou Groza Award finalist in 2013.

Final Analysis  

It has the look of a produce-or-else season for Taggart, who is 6–18 with the Bulls and must avoid the program’s fifth straight season without a bowl appearance. Taggart fired three assistant coaches immediately after last season, including both coordinators. He changed the offensive style of play, shocking observers who said Taggart was too stubborn.

Mack is a wonderful weapon. There are some building blocks on defense. But the schedule is formidable, and the Bulls must make a big jump to reach the postseason. The offense may be picking up the pace, but Taggart is running out of time.


#98 Ohio Bobcats





HEAD COACH: Frank Solich, 72-56 (10 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tim Albin, Scott Isphording | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jimmy Burrow

Ohio won six games last season, but the Bobcats weren't always competitive in 2014. This season should be different, however as Frank Solich welcomes back starters from last year's team that experienced its share of growing pains. Bowl eligibility should be one of the goals for 2015, as Ohio is poised to be a factor in the MAC East race once again.

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Previewing Ohio’s Offense for 2015

The Bobcats should be much more proficient this fall as nearly every piece of their 2014 offense returns.

Senior Derrius Vick should be the starting quarterback. Because of injury, Vick split last season with junior JD Sprague. Vick had the better numbers and should get the official nod in fall camp. Both are aggressive runners, critical in Ohio’s one-back offense.

Up front, Ohio returns all five starters from last season and its top seven linemen overall. A strong left side — with seniors in left tackle Mike McQueen, left guard Mike Lucas and center Lucas Powell — will serve as an anchor. Ohio at times played four true freshmen last season. One, Jake Pruehs, started every game at right guard but is being groomed to be the center of the future.

Running back A.J. Ouellette had the second-highest rushing total for a freshman in Ohio history last season (785 yards) and begins this fall as the clear-cut No. 1 option. He averaged 126 yards in his final three games, highlighted by a 155-yard, two-touchdown performance in a win against Buffalo. Senior Daz Patterson and redshirt freshman Papi White are change-of-pace backs who can double in the slot. Sophomore Dorian Brown and redshirt freshman Maleek Irons will push Ouellette in camp, with Irons a threat to get red-zone touches.

The one spot where Ohio needs more development is at wide receiver. None of the Bobcats’ returning receivers posted big numbers, but juniors Sebastian Smith and Jordan Reid have the size and experience to emerge.

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

Previewing Ohio’s Defense for 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.

If Ohio can find suitable replacements in a couple of key areas, the Bobcats could have a nasty defense. The biggest question marks are in the middle, where defensive tackles Cam McLeod and Antwan Crutcher held up well at the point of attack last year. Seniors Brandon Purdum and Watson Tautuiaki and junior Casey Sayles — who will play at end — will have to fill that void. On the edge, junior Tarell Basham was underwhelming last season as he saw a steady diet of double-teams, but he remains one of the best pass rushers in the MAC.

Ohio has solid options at linebacker, cornerback and safety. Senior Jovon Johnson and junior Blair Brown are two speedy playmakers at outside linebacker, and Quentin Poling was sensational last year as a redshirt freshman in the middle.

Ohio returns three corners who started games last fall. Senior Ian Wells might be the Bobcats’ best pro prospect on one side, while Brett Layton eventually supplanted Devin Bass on the other side last season. They don’t have that kind of depth at safety, however. Senior Devin Jones returns, but injuries — three potential starters at safety all missed spring camp — leave the position a bit thin. Sophomore Kylan Nelson, a former corner, has moved to free safety, and three of Ohio’s 2015 recruits are expected to get a shot at playing time.

Previewing Ohio’s Specialists for 2015

Josiah Yazdani is back for his third season at kicker and has developed into a dependable weapon. Last season, he won two games with field goals on the last play of regulation. There’s also no question that Mitch Bonnstetter will be the punter again. Bonnstetter’s average was pedestrian, but his quick release helped after punt blocks were a major issue in 2013.

Final Analysis

Coming off a 6–6 season in which the Bobcats were blown out several times, Ohio should rebound nicely in 2015. With experienced depth across the board, an aggressive, quick defense, and an emerging star in Ouellette, the Bobcats won’t be learning on the fly like they were in 2014. Ohio will be a factor in the MAC East, and a bump in wins and a bowl berth should be the expectation.


#97 Akron Zips





HEAD COACH: Terry Bowden, 11-25 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: A.J. Milwee | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chuck Amato

After consecutive 5-7 showings, Akron needs to show signs of improvement in Terry Bowden's fourth season at the school. With an experienced quarterback leading the way on offense and several key transfers getting on the field, the Zips could be in position to make some noise in the MAC East this season.

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Previewing Akron’s Offense for 2015


Senior quarterback Kyle Pohl is a two-year starter with no guarantees of earning a third year at the helm. Pohl’s inconsistency was one of the reasons Akron went 5–7 in 2013 and ’14. Over those two seasons, he completed 55 percent of his passes with 23 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. In 2014, Akron was last in the MAC and 118th nationally in passing efficiency. This fall, if Akron is to have its first winning record since 2005, improved play from the quarterback is a priority. If Pohl struggles, coach Terry Bowden could use athletic sophomore Tra’Von Chapman (a former Pitt signee) or 2014 backup Tommy Woodson.

The Zips have a hole to fill at running back after the departure of Jawon Chisholm, the team’s leading rusher in four consecutive seasons. However, Chisholm never reached the 1,000-yard mark, and his replacements may be an upgrade. Colorado State transfer Donnell Alexander, an inside power runner, and Conor Hundley, an instinctive slasher, could provide a chain-moving 1-2 punch. Manny Morgan and Hakeem Lawrence also could contribute.

The receiving corps in recent years has been high on potential and low on productivity. The two top pass catchers are gone, and coordinator A.J. Milwee is looking for the likes of Austin Wolf, Mykel Traylor-Bennett, Imani Davis, Andrew Pratt and Fransohn Bickley to emerge as reliable and consistent threats.

Bowden and his staff have worked hard to build up the depth and quality of the line, and it paid off in 2014. Three starters from that group return, and the feeling is that Akron will be able to use more wrinkles on offense because of the line’s experience.

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

Previewing Akron’s Defense for 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.

Akron returns six starters and many reserves and welcomes several key transfers to a defense that was second in the MAC in yards allowed per game (371.1) and first in points allowed per game (23.1). The anchors of the defense are nose guard Cody Grice and linebacker Jatavis Brown, both of whom were first-team All-MAC in 2014. Grice, who also was used as a short-yardage fullback, had 31 tackles last season. Brown led the Zips in both tackles (99) and tackles for a loss (14.5).

The defensive front also includes Se’Von Pittman, a former Ohio State Buckeye who had 36 tackles last season. Two other transfers, tackle Rodney Coe (Iowa State) and end Jamal Marcus (Ohio State), could start.

At linebacker, the two positions opposite Brown are unsettled because of the loss of Justin March and C.J. Mizell, who were second and third in tackles, respectively. Washington State transfer Darryl Monroe is being counted on to help.

The secondary is in a state of flux with the loss of the two starting safeties and their backups. The hope is that highly touted sophomore Jerome Lane — the son of former Pittsburgh basketball star “Send it in Jerome” Lane — will continue his growth at strong safety and starting cornerback Bryce Cheek can make the transition to free safety. Miami transfer Larry Hope and returning starter DeAndre Scott, who led the team in pass breakups in 2014, are ahead of the competition at cornerback. 

Previewing Akron’s Specialists for 2015


The Zips feature two of the best specialists in the conference in seniors Zach Paul and Robert Stein. Paul was a second-team All-MAC punter after averaging 42.5 yards per kick. Stein connected on 13-of-16 field goals.

Final Analysis

The third year of the Bowden era was a major disappointment as the Zips finished with a second straight 5–7 record. Led by some key returnees and a host of talented transfers, Akron should take a step forward in 2015 and contend in the MAC East Division. Anything short of a winning record will be considered a disappointment. 


#96 New Mexico Lobos





HEAD COACH: Bob Davie, 11-26 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bob DeBesse | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Cosgrove

A favorable schedule could help New Mexico get to six wins and a possible bowl invite. The key for the Lobos is whether the offense can continue to pile up the rushing yards and if the defense can get a little stinger when it comes to points allowed. If everything comes together, Bob Davie's team could go bowling for the first time since 2007.

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Previewing New Mexico’s Offense for 2015  

When there are questions at quarterback, it seldom bodes well. For New Mexico, however, the consequences of not having a locked-in starter might not be as damaging as for most teams, thanks to a rushing attack that averaged over 300 yards per game last season. Four offensive linemen with starting experience return, as does 1,000-yard rusher Jhurell Pressley.

The challenge for coach Bob Davie is to complement the option-oriented attack from the Pistol formation with a passing game that can be counted on. Lamar Jordan started the final four games of 2014 and played in seven others, and his ability to run (612 yards, 5.1 yards per carry) is superior to his ability to throw (53 percent completions, six TDs, five INTs). Still, Davie likes Jordan’s competitiveness, which showed itself in the two fourth-quarter road comebacks he engineered.

Jordan’s competition is Austin Apodaca, a junior college transfer who originally signed with Washington State. Apodaca is a pure passer who has never run much. At Mesa Community College in 2014, he threw for more yards (2,534) and touchdowns (27) than New Mexico has in the past two seasons combined. The hope is that one of the two quarterbacks gives an untested receiving corps more opportunity to shine and gives the offense a chance to stretch the field and convert more on third down.

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 New Mexico’s Defense for 2015 

In an effort to aid a pass defense that was ranked 92nd in the nation last season, New Mexico is switching to a 3-3-5 base formation. The fifth defensive back, or “Lobo,” will be manned by either Ricky Bennett (who saw action in all 11 games as a backup in 2014) or Lee Crosby (who redshirted after a two-year stint in junior college). Both are physical defensive backs who should be able to provide ample run support.

Corners Cranston Jones and Jadon Boatwright both have starting experience, and Isaiah Brown has shown flashes. Safety Markel Byrd is a returning starter but is behind Ryan Santos on the depth chart. The defense’s best player, linebacker Dakota Cox, is hoping to be ready for the season-opener after tearing his ACL in November. Cox led the nation in tackles per game (12.9) as a sophomore before his injury. Returning starters Kimmie Carson and Donnie White will fill out the other two linebacker spots as New Mexico goes from starting four to three.

The defensive line welcomes back some experience. End Nik D’Avanzo is the top player on the line, while William Udeh and Cole Juarez form a strong nose tackle combo.

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

Previewing New Mexico’s Specialists for 2015  

Kickoff returns have been a specialty for New Mexico since Davie took over. The Lobos have returned seven for scores in the last three years, including two last season. Speedy Ridge Jones and Carlos Wiggins figure to man those duties. Zack Rogers handled punting (42.6-yard average) and field goal duties (5-for-8) last season. Kickoff specialist Jason Sanders appears ready to take over field-goal duties, which would allow Rogers to focus on punting.

Final Analysis
New Mexico faces five teams that won four or fewer games last season, plus FCS member Mississippi Valley State, so getting to six wins is not an impossible task. Should Apodaca adjust to the running portion of the offense and create a legitimate passing attack, New Mexico is going to score enough to win some games.

Defensively, the team gave up more than 28 points per game against unranked opponents, a number that simply has to come down. A bowl game is the ceiling for this year’s team, but it is a ceiling that at least appears to be reachable for the first time in the Davie era.


#95 Wyoming Cowboys





HEAD COACH: Craig Bohl, 4-8 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brent Vigen | DEF. COORDINATOR: Steve Stanard

For the first time in five seasons, a Craig Bohl-coached team did not finish with a winning record. Now with a year under his belt at Wyoming and in FBS, Bohl will try to improve upon the four wins the Cowboys picked up in 2014. Familiarity with the coaching staff and playbook should help, but Wyoming returns just nine starters and is probably at least one more season away from earning bowl eligibility, let alone being a legitimate threat in the Mountain West.

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Previewing Wyoming’s Offense for 2015  

There should be more familiarity on offense as coach Craig Bohl enters his second season, but there will be a new quarterback. Senior Cameron Coffman was named the starter after the Cowboys’ first scrimmage of spring drills. The Indiana transfer completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 2,734 yards with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as a sophomore with the Hoosiers in 2012 but played in only three games as a junior.

Wyoming may have the top running back duo in the Mountain West in senior Shaun Wick and sophomore Brian Hill. Wick missed most of four games, but the pair combined for 1,549 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. The Cowboys also use fullbacks, and the top two are sophomore Drew Van Maanen and junior Jordan Ellis.

Juniors Tanner Gentry and Jake Maulhardt are the Cowboys’ leading returning receivers. The duo combined for 53 catches for 709 yards and three touchdowns in 2014. Wyoming needs more depth, and that will have to come from players who are new to the college game. Junior Jacob Hollister, a former quarterback, led all tight ends last season with 17 catches for 244 yards and two touchdowns.

Three starting offensive linemen return, led by junior guard Chase Roullier, an honorable mention All-Mountain West pick last season.

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 Wyoming’s Defense for 2015 

The front four looks to be the strength of a unit that allowed 32.8 points and 430.8 yards per game last season. Senior defensive end Eddie Yarbrough was a first-team All-MW selection after leading the way with 10.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks. Senior Siaosi Hala’api’api mans the other defensive end spot, and juniors Uso Olive and Chase Appleby figure to be the top two guys inside.

Bohl says Wyoming is “almost starting at ground zero” at linebacker. Junior Lucas Wacha is the only experienced player on the roster. The younger brother of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha has 140 tackles in the last two years. Wacha could play in the middle or outside but is undersized at about 220 pounds. Senior Malkaam Muhammad dislocated his elbow last season and missed most of spring with an injured shoulder. Others in the mix are playing the position for the first time. Former safeties Will Tutein and Tim Kamana both figure to play outside. Junior Eric Nzeocha was moved from tight end and could play in the middle, as could senior walk-on Devin McKenna.

The secondary also has plenty of uncertainty. Senior cornerback Tyran Finley led the team with only two interceptions, both in the same game. Sophomore Robert Priester likely will be the other starting corner despite undergoing offseason knee surgery. The two safety spots will be manned by new faces. Redshirt freshmen Chavez Pownell Jr. and Adam Pilapil (a walk-on) had good springs. Senior Chad Reese, who returned after a year away, and former running back D.J. May are also in the mix.

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

Previewing Wyoming’s Specialists for 2015  

Junior punter Ethan Wood enters his third season on the job and averaged 41.4 yards last season. Who will handle the kicking duties is uncertain. Junior Justin Martin is in the mix, and true freshman walk-on Tristan Bailey should compete for the job in fall camp. Wick, Hill, May and Priester all will compete to be Wyoming’s kickoff and punt returners.

Final Analysis

Wyoming is still a work in progress after switching offensive and defensive philosophies when Bohl was hired. More development should occur this season with a more manageable schedule, but the Cowboys are still a couple of years away from being serious contenders in the Mountain West. 


#94 Ball State Cardinals





HEAD COACH: Pete Lembo, 30-20 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Joey Lynch | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kevin Kelly

Ball State returns 17 starters from last season's team that finished strong, winning four of its final six games. The Cardinals hope to be a factor in the MAC West again, but will have to do so without its top playmaker from a year ago. Pete Lembo will rely on a veteran offensive line and improving defense as Ball State looks to get back to a bowl game this season.

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Previewing Ball State’s Offense for 2015


For the second year in a row, Ball State must adjust after losing one of its all-time great skill-position players. While the Cardinals struggled last season to find a successor for quarterback Keith Wenning, they’re in a better position this fall to handle the graduation of tailback Jahwan Edwards (4,558 career rushing yards, 51 TDs).

Coach Pete Lembo believes the tag team of bulked-up junior Teddy Williamson, scatback sophomore Darian Green and prized freshman James Gilbert will handle the load, even though they’ve combined for 328 yards and one touchdown to date. “We’ve got a veteran offensive line and tight ends,” Lembo says. “We expect our running backs to step in and be productive.”

Not only do the Cardinals welcome back all of their starting linemen and top three tight ends, they also retain the two quarterbacks who split last season and all of their wide receivers. Sophomore Jack Milas began last season as junior Ozzie Mann’s backup, but the coaches decided to make a change at quarterback after Ball State’s 1–4 start. Milas jumped in and threw for 326 yards and four scores in his first start. But he endured some growing pains, as well as literal pain when he broke his wrist in Week 11. Mann led the Cards to a season-ending win at Bowling Green, but Milas keeps the starting job. He has two All-MAC receivers in Jordan Williams (second team) and KeVonn Mabon (third team), but don’t be surprised if sophomores Corey Lacanaria and Jordan Hogue produce just as much.

Center Jacob Richard, a third-team all-league pick the last two seasons, spearheads a line that boasts 101 career starts.

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

Previewing Ball State’s Defense for 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.

During league play last season, Ball State’s defense ranked among the MAC’s bottom four in all the major categories. While the Cardinals dealt with some extenuating circumstances — free safety Dae’Shaun Hurley tore his ACL in Week 1, third-team All-MAC cornerback Eric Patterson went out for the year in Week 9 — it’s fair to say injuries weren’t the sole cause of their relative ineffectiveness.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Lembo says. “We started off pretty solid. Once the injuries started piling up, it really took its toll on us. A lot of guys were thrown in ahead of their time.”

Ball State welcomes back seven starters, including all but one member of the front seven. The Cardinals managed just 16 sacks last year, so they’re looking for more from senior defensive tackle Darnell Smith (4.0 sacks) and senior rush end Michael Ayers (2.0 sacks).

Senior weak-side linebacker Ben Ingle was a second-team all-league pick in 2013 but produced 29 fewer tackles last fall and received no honors. He and junior middle linebacker Zack Ryan have the capability to deliver more. Hurley’s solid rehab suggests he’ll be ready at free safety, while sophomore Dedrick Cromartie, who stepped up after the injuries, shifts to strong safety.

“The key here is to build more depth and more cohesiveness,” Lembo says.

Previewing Ball State’s Specialists for 2015


MAC Special Teams Player of the Year Scott Secor has graduated, leaving true freshman Morgan Hagee and junior walk-on Alex Egan battling to be the kicker. Junior punter Kyle Schmidt posted a 41.5-yard average in his first two years.

Final Analysis


Blessed with 17 returning starters from a group that won four of its final six games, Ball State ought to be able to shrug off last year’s step back and be a factor in the tough MAC West. The key is how Milas grows into the starting quarterback role. “I’m not going to say he has arrived by any means,” Lembo says, “but he’s more comfortable out there.”