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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#45 Minnesota Golden Gophers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#45

Big Ten West Division PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Jerry Kill, 25-26 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Matt Limegrover | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tracy Claeys

Few coaches get more out of their team than Jerry Kill at Minnesota. It's easy to forget that the Golden Gophers were one half away from winning the Big Ten West Division last fall. With just four starters back on offense, Kill knows his offense has some work to do this summer. Luckily, the defense brings back seven starters, so expect Minnesota to win low-scoring games early in the year while the offense gets up to speed.

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Previewing Minnesota’s Offense for 2015


Minnesota has steadily improved in each of Jerry Kill’s four seasons, but to take the next step, the passing game must improve. Junior quarterback Mitch Leidner returns to a passing attack that ranked 119th nationally last year.

The Gophers need to replace their two best playmakers on offense, as running back David Cobb and tight end Maxx Williams are both headed to the NFL. Minnesota installed a new, no-huddle offense this spring and worked extensively on its short passing game. The goal is to get the ball out of Leidner’s hands more quickly.

“We can’t lose our identity of who we are,” Kill says. “We’re going to run the football. But I think we win two or three more games last year if we throw it a little bit better. That’s our fault (as coaches), not the kids’ fault.”

The battle for the 300-plus carries that went to Cobb last year starts with senior Rodrick Williams and redshirt freshman Rodney Smith. The receiving corps needs a boost, and the Gophers hope for big things from four redshirt freshmen — Jeff Jones, Isaiah Gentry, Desmond Gant and Melvin Holland Jr.

Previewing Minnesota’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.

Defense has been a strength under Kill, and this could be defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys’ stingiest bunch yet. The Gophers will start four seniors in the secondary, including All-Big Ten cornerbacks Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Eric Murray. Boddy-Calhoun had five interceptions last year, compared to one for Murray, but that’s because teams often avoid Murray altogether.

After ranking ninth in the Big Ten in sacks last year (2.08 per game), the Gophers should have a better pass rush. Defensive end Hank Ekpe, who was limited with a severe sinus infection last year, was one of the most impressive players in spring camp. Another defensive end, Theiren Cockran, had 7.5 sacks in 2013. The Gophers must replace middle linebacker Damien Wilson, but Claeys felt like the linebackers were the most pleasant surprise this spring. It’s unclear who will start in Wilson’s place — Cody Poock or Everett Williams — but Claeys likes both options.


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

Previewing Minnesota’s Specialists for 2015


Kill’s teams are usually strong on special teams, and this unit could be one of his best. Senior Peter Mortell was the Big Ten Punter of the Year last season, leading the conference with a 45.2-yard average. Sophomore kicker Ryan Santoso hit a 56-yard field goal in the spring game. Craig James was the Big Ten’s fifth-leading punt returner last year, and Jalen Myrick was the conference’s second-leading kickoff returner.

Final Analysis

Kill was named Big Ten Coach of the Year last season, and he’ll need to work more magic this year against a schedule that includes TCU and Ohio State. The coaches are confident they have enough running back talent to replace Cobb, but there’s no substitute for a dynamic tight end like Williams. Leidner was instrumental in all five Big Ten wins last year. He needs to be more consistent. If the offense finds a way, this won’t be a fun team to play.

“We’ve got a chance to be a really, really good football team,” Kill says. “We’re very athletic on both sides of the ball.”

The Gophers were picked to finish fifth in the Big Ten West last year but wound up pushing Wisconsin to a final-week showdown for the division title. The Gophers landed their first New Year’s Day bowl appearance since 1962, and more than 20,000 of their fans turned out to watch them play Missouri in the Citrus Bowl.

The fans want more. The Gophers haven’t defeated Wisconsin since 2003 and haven’t won a bowl game since 2004. If Kill can get those things done, his popularity will continue to soar.

The Debate

Where Does Jerry Kill Rank Among Big Ten Coaches?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#44 Kansas State Wildcats

NATIONAL FORECAST

#44

Big 12 PREDICTION

#7

HEAD COACH: Bill Snyder, 187-94-1 (23 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dana Dimel, Del Miller | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tom Hayes

As long as Bill Snyder is the head coach in Manhattan, Kansas State will always be a contender in the Big 12. After another nine-win season last year — Snyder's 13th with the Wildcats — KSU enters the '15 season with some big holes to plug. Kansas State needs to find a leader at quarterback, replace stars at wide receiver and fill major voids in the front seven on defense if the Cats want to compete for a Big 12 crown.

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Previewing Kansas State’s Offense for 2015


Bill Snyder’s teams are at their best when he has a returning quarterback he trusts throwing passes. This season, he will try to prove he can win with a new quarterback, too. And when we say new, we mean brand, spanking new. The frontrunner, Joe Hubener, has never started a football game at any level at quarterback. The junior from Cheney, Kan., played other positions in high school and walked on at K-State as an athlete. He has since worked his way up to scholarship status and served behind Jake Waters as the team’s backup quarterback a year ago. He spent the spring battling with sophomore Jesse Ertz and freshman Alex Delton but says the job is his to lose.

No matter who ends up claiming the prize, K-State’s offense will look very different next season. While Waters was a gifted passer, his potential replacements are better runners.

Running will be key behind an offensive line that returns everyone other than center B.J. Finney. But the Wildcats will need better production from their running backs, none of whom exceeded 76 yards in a game last season. Charles Jones returns as the presumptive starter after rushing for 540 yards and 13 touchdowns a year ago.

The Wildcats lose star receivers Tyler Lockett and slot expert Curry Sexton and will look to an untested group of receivers to take their place.

Previewing Kansas State’s Defense for 2015

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

Dante Barnett is understandably confident about K-State’s secondary. Allow the senior defensive back to explain why: “We are so experienced. We have the talent. We have a physical corner and a speed corner. That is big.” Barnett has started 28 games at safety, and he is ready to lead K-State’s defense as a senior, especially with fellow seniors Danzel McDaniel and Morgan Burns returning at corner. McDaniel covers short passes as well as anyone, and Burns has eye-popping speed.

That trio should help the Wildcats as they try to improve their front seven after the loss of leading tackler Jonathan Truman. Linebacker Elijah Lee did not make as many stops as most of his teammates while playing regularly as a true freshman, but he had as many highlight hits as anyone. Lee finished his first college season with 19 tackles, including 4.5 sacks. He did all that while playing mostly on third downs as a standup pass rusher. Now, K-State hopes he can do more in an expanded role, joining Will Davis in the middle of K-State’s defense.

Up front, all-conference defensive tackle Travis Britz should lead the way, while Marquel Bryant and Jordan Willis try to replace Ryan Mueller’s production at defensive end.


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

Previewing Kansas State’s Specialists for 2015


Placekicker Matthew McCrane had a fantastic freshman campaign, connecting on 18-of-19 field goals. He will provide a steady foot in the kicking game, while Nick Walsh returns as punter. At specialist, the main question is: Who will replace Lockett? The do-everything player was hard to catch a year ago. Morgan Burns returned a kickoff for a touchdown last season, so he should slide into that role.

Final Analysis

On paper, Kansas State looks like it lost too many playmakers to match its win total from a year ago, but you can’t count out a Snyder-coached team.

“It is obvious there were some critical elements in our program that we lost. When you lose the production that we had offensively, it certainly is sorely missed,” Snyder says. “From a defensive standpoint, we lost fewer people, fewer numbers. The dynamics are difficult, and they are every year. Some positions are a little harder to reconstruct than others. We have a lot of work ahead of us.” 

The Debate

Is Bill Snyder the Best Coach in the Big 12?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#43 Miami Hurricanes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#43

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#5

HEAD COACH: Al Golden , 28-22 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: James Coley | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark D’Onofrio

Al Golden has been at Miami four seasons and has yet to elevate the Hurricanes back to the ACC's elite. He has loads of talent — the Canes had seven players drafted in April — but hasn't been able to win a division crown. The offense has been solid every year Golden has been in Coral Gables. However, his defenses have been a major liability. With a star developing at quarterback, will 2015 finally be the season Miami returns to ACC title contention?

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports
 

Previewing Miami’s Offense for 2015
 

No Duke Johnson, no Phillip Dorsett, no Ereck Flowers … but at least the Hurricanes have Brad Kaaya. The quarterback-starved Canes thanked their lucky stars for the 6'4", 209-pound Southern California native who captured the ACC Rookie of the Year award and set UM true freshman records for passing yards and touchdowns. Now a sophomore, Kaaya’s the marquee player for an offense that loses a host of NFL-caliber talent — most notably Johnson, the program’s all-time leading rusher. Kaaya must also do without blazing-fast receiver Dorsett, athletic tight end Clive Walford and three offensive line starters, including Flowers, the elite left tackle. 

The Canes do have two promising backs in 5'9", 195-pound sophomore Joseph Yearby (509 yards and a touchdown as Johnson’s backup in 2014) and junior Gus Edwards, who has surprising burst for a 6'2", 230-pound power runner. They have a deep group of receivers, including Stacy Coley, who slumped last year but had a Freshman All-America season in 2013.

On the unfortunate side of things, Kaaya does not have a proven cast of offensive lineman. The only full-time starter returning is right guard Danny Isidora, though youngsters Kc McDermott, Trevor Darling and Nick Linder saw meaningful snaps last year. Kaaya is also not very mobile, which is why the Canes might give a dual-threat backup Malik Rosier a look in certain packages.
 

Previewing Miami’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.

The Hurricanes were 14th nationally in total defense last season, but that was mostly a mirage. UM allowed 300-plus rushing yards to Nebraska and Georgia Tech and couldn’t get the stops needed to put away Florida State or South Carolina.

It’s not a sure bet the unit will improve after losing stalwart middle linebacker Denzel Perryman and reliable defensive linemen Anthony Chickillo and Olsen Pierre. However, Miami’s talented secondary could be coming into its own. Senior safety Deon Bush (five forced fumbles) and junior corners Corn Elder and Artie Burns look like playmakers, and junior weak-side linebacker Jermaine Grace finished second on the team in tackles (60, 6.5 for a loss) despite playing second-string minutes. Defensive ends Chad Thomas and Al-Quadin Muhammad look like breakout players.

As a whole, the defensive line is unproven and largely underwhelming. There’s also little depth among the linebackers, which forced coach Al Golden to move pass-rusher Tyriq McCord to strong-side linebacker.

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

Previewing Miami’s Specialists for 2015


Though first-year punter Justin Vogel was reliable, true freshman kicker Michael Badgley was up-and-down (14-of-18 field goals, long of 48 yards, four missed extra points). The real problem area was the return game. The Canes will also have to be better in covering kicks; they were last in the ACC in return yardage allowed. 

Final Analysis

Few coaches in America occupy a hotter seat than Golden, who is 28–22 entering his fifth season. The Hurricanes lost four straight to finish 6–7 — UM’s third losing season in the last 35 years. He recruited well through a lengthy NCAA investigation, but fans howl that the program keeps sailing further and further from the glory years.

This year’s team is young, after losing a host of NFL-caliber talent, and has to battle a brutal October stretch that includes Florida State (in Tallahassee) and Clemson. The Canes haven’t played for the ACC title since joining the conference in 2004, and it doesn’t look like this will be the year.

The ‘U’ stands for ‘Underwhelming’ now, and if Golden doesn’t produce results this season, he might be looking for work elsewhere. 

The Debate

Where Does Brad Kaaya Rank Among ACC QBs?

Click here to join the debate.




Carl Edwards’ Charlotte Triumph Proof the Difference One Sprint Cup Win Makes in NASCAR

Tom Bowles goes “Through the Gears” with 14 races remaining until the Chase
Carl Edwards’ Charlotte Triumph Proof the Difference One Sprint Cup Win Makes in NASCAR

NASCAR’s “new” Chase is changing the way we look at the course of a driver’s season. It used to be all 26 races were taken into account while judging success or failure. Now? Just one checkered flag will make the difference, both with shop morale and in the boardroom.

 

The 12 Most Shameful College Football Games of 2015

Big-time teams are still finding room on their schedules for these pointless games
The 12 Most Shameful College Football Games of 2015

Good news, everyone: Schedule-shaming works.

 

Those two weeks during the SEC schedule in November aren’t nearly as embarrassing as they used to be. Sure, every league team didn’t try to add another conference game or big-time out-of-conference game. But many of the FCS games that week have been traded out with Conference USA or Sun Belt teams.

 

They’re cupcakes for the most part, but it’s nice to see overmatched FCS teams depart schedules in September rather than setting up rivalry week.

 

SEC Win Total Projections for 2015

Take the over, under or push on SEC win totals?
SEC Win Total Projections for 2015

The 2015 college football season is still a few months away. However, the news cycle never stops, and there’s plenty to keep the conversation going this summer.

 

Athlon Sports is counting down its rankings for 2015, while 5Dimes Sportsbook has released some early win total over/under odds for the upcoming season.

 

College Football 2015 Rankings and Predictions: #26-40

Athlon releases its 2015 rankings from 26-40.
College Football 2015 Rankings and Predictions: #26-40

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

 

College Football's Top 25 Offensive Triplets for 2015

Which team has the best QB-RB-WR trio?
College Football's Top 25 Offensive Triplets for 2015

Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers are glamour positions in college football. While offensive linemen and defensive players are just as important to winning a title, it’s no secret the skill players and quarterbacks grab the attention and headlines.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2015 PRESEASON TOP 25

#28 Oklahoma State Cowboys

NATIONAL FORECAST

#28

Big 12 PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Mike Gundy, 84-44 (10 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Yurcich | DEF. COORDINATOR: Glenn Spencer

Oklahoma State stumbled through its worst season since 2007, finishing 7-6 for the first season with fewer than eight wins since Mike Gundy’s second season. The Cowboys entered the season knowing they were in store for a rebuilding season. The Cowboys enter this season hoping that rebuilding is well on its way to being complete. At least at quarterback — always a position of interest under Gundy at Oklahoma State — the personnel is settled and ready to rise.

Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports

Previewing Oklahoma State’s Offense for 2015: 
 

Mike Gundy didn’t want to use quarterback Mason Rudolph in 2014. He still carries a trace of regret for doing so.

A tiny trace.

Rudolph, forced into action by injury in the season’s 10th game last fall, tossed aside his redshirt, fueled Oklahoma State’s late surge and provided much of the momentum that has the Cowboys as a stealthy pick to contend in the Big 12.

The Cowboys were mired in a four-game losing streak that would stretch to five in Rudolph’s first start, which became necessary due to injury. Yet even in that 49–28 loss to Baylor, Rudolph goosed a scuffling Oklahoma State offense with his live arm and moxie. 

Then he led an upset of Bedlam rival Oklahoma, pushing the Cowboys to 6–6 and bowl eligibility. And he was at it again in the Cactus Bowl against Washington, directing another win and driving optimism for a big season ahead.

“The best thing we did last year,” Gundy said, “was play him at the end of the year, when all the discussions were, ‘Do you play him or not?’”

Rudolph will have plenty of playmakers at his disposal, particularly at receiver, where nine of the top 10 pass catchers return, headlined by Brandon Sheperd and James Washington, physical and fast receivers who can dominate defensive backs. And there’s more, many more, including intriguing redshirt freshman Keenen Brown, a big wideout who wowed with the big spring.

The offensive line should be improved, bolstered by the addition of left tackle Victor Salako, a 6'6", 330-pounder with 23 career starts, freed to move when UAB dissolved its football program.

There are questions at running back, although one answer could come in August when four-star junior college recruit Chris Carson arrives.

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 Oklahoma State’s Defense for 2015: 
 

Overworked a year ago due to depth concerns and an offense that struggled through the heart of the schedule, the Cowboys defense now looks loaded.

There’s star power at every level, beginning with defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, who emerged as a force in 2014. Using his strength and burst on the edge, he amassed 11 sacks, 17 tackles for a loss and the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year award.

Ogbah is flanked by productive senior Jimmy Bean at the other end, giving the Cowboys strong bookends to accompany two new tackles. One of the major spring developments was sophomore Vincent Taylor’s emergence as a force inside.

Senior Ryan Simmons leads a promising young linebacking corps that runs three deep, while cornerback Kevin Peterson is the heart of a secondary that is also young yet talented.

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

Previewing Oklahoma State’s Specialists for 2015: 
 

Ben Grogan followed a shaky freshman season by missing three of his first five field goal tries a year ago. Then he drilled 20 of his last 23, finishing ninth nationally at 1.69 field goals made per game and transforming into a reliable weapon. The Cowboys will have a new punter. Return men are also needed, although capable candidates should be found from a surplus of receivers.

Final Analysis
 

With the loss of 28 seniors leaving an inexperienced cast to try and contend in the Big 12, the 2014 season always figured to be a rebuilding effort. And it played out as such, turning worse when injuries and a lack of depth left the Cowboys exposed.

But Rudolph’s arrival, both to the lineup and as a key piece to the future, reversed course and momentum. Now there’s talk that Oklahoma State, like TCU a year ago, could rise from seventh place to the top of the Big 12 in 2015.

The Debate

Where Does Mike Gundy Rank Among Big 12 Coaches?

Click here to join the debate.




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