Tuesday, July 29, 2014

College Football Preview 2014: Conference USA

CUSA had yet another season of severe loss, as Tulsa, Tulane, and East Carolina joined the departures of UCF, Houston, Memphis, and SMU from last season. Those are huge losses for any conference to endure, and basically has made the conference restructure its core power structure. CUSA has added some numbers this season in Western Kentucky and Old Dominion, but those numbers are not what was lost. With that being said, as many as six teams from this conference could be bowl bound in 2014, and Marshall could be a major player nationally, as they finally break through the fog of mediocrity.

Projected Order of Finish

1. Marshall
2. Middle Tennessee
3. Western Kentucky
4. Florida Atlantic
5. Old Dominion
6. UAB
7. Florida International

2. Rice
3. North Texas
4. Louisiana Tech
5. Southern Mississippi

Coaches on the Hot Seat
Ron Turner, FIU
David Bailiff, Rice
Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech

Best Coach
Larry Coker, UTSA

Worst Coach
Ron Turner, FIU

The following teams are projected to finish with winning records and obtain bowl births:

Marshall Thundering Herd
Projected 2014 Record: 12-0
Head Coach: Doc Holliday (27-24, 5th season)

Six starters return on a unit that ranked 20th nationally, and the most important starter in the group is QB Rakeem Cato, who has passed for over 10,000 yards and 91 TDs in his career. The senior will have a top flight target in the passing game with the return of WR Tommy Shuler, but they must replace Gator Hoskins at TE. Hoskins leaves a huge hole to fill, and senior Eric Prohnpafel will get first shot at doing so. Craig Wilkins also returns at WR, but must step up so that DBs cannot team up on Shuler.
Essray Taliaferro is also gone at RB, but there is plenty of depth and talent ready to step up to replace him. Junior Kevin Grooms has the lead, but Steward Butler is pushing for carries.
Both guards must be replaced, but tackles Sebastion Johannson and Clint Van Horn are back, as is Center Chris Jasperse.
The main reason for my huge expectations could be massive improvement on a defense that already ranked a highly respectable 35th last season. Seven starters return, with four coming in the front seven. James Rouse (DT) and Ra'Shawde Myers (DE) return on the line, while Evan McKelvey and Jermaine Holmes are back at LB. The front seven, however, is where the improvement must come from, as the Herd finished just 57th against the run.
Both CBs are back in Corey Tindal and Darryl Roberts. Tindal started as a freshman, and should have a breakthrough season in 2014. Tiquan Lang also returns at SS, and also started as a freshman last season. Sophomore AJ Leggett will likely get the nod at FS this fall.
Special Teams
Justin Haig returns at PK, but is being pushed heading into the fall by Nick Smith. Tyler Williams also returns at Punter, and he finished strong by averaging 42.4 yards per punt.
Opening Game
8/30 at Miami (Ohio)
Final Overview
The Herd will benefit hugely by a very weak schedule, which includes Miami (Ohio) and Rhode Island in the first two weeks, and includes Akron and CUSA newcomer Old Dominion in weeks 3 and 4. The conference schedule is highly manageable, and with weapons on both sides of the football, Marshall should cruise to the CUSA title game.

UTSA Roadrunners
Projected 2014 Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Larry Coker (19-15, 4th season)

Nine starters return on offense, but QB Eric Soza is gone. Tucker Carter is the replacement, and has been the backup to Soza, so being the understudy here will serve him well.
David Glasco returns at RB, but will have to provide a good deal more on offense than 496 yards in ten games. Nate Shaw will be lead blocking at FB once again, and will need to be relied on more than ever this season as Carter will hand off more often than Soza did.
Kam Jones and Brandon Freeman both return at WR, and that will bring stability to the passing game with the new QB being broken in. Senior Cole Hubble will likely start at TE after getting valuable experience off of the bench last season.
The entire offensive line returns intact this fall, and that is the building block of any great offense, and this offense has the ability to be great this season.
Ten starters return on a defense that allowed just 10.5 points per game over their final four games of the season, which were all wins.
Coming in off of that streak will be a must, with a tough schedule starting out the slate. Five members of the front six return, led by DE Robert Singletary and Ashaad Mabry (DT) on the line, and Drew Douglas at LB, who finished with 69 tackles last fall. Douglas will have to step up to support new starter Jens Jeters, but then again, Jeters is a senior, so he should be ok surrounded by the talent that he has around him for support.
The entire secondary returns, and that is great news, but strides must be made, because the early schedule will bring ins some high power passing in the likes of Houston, Arizona, and Oklahoma State. Triston Wade will be the leader of this unit at Safety.
Special Teams
Sean Ianno returns at PK, but he had some issues last fall, hitting on just 11 of 19 FGs on the year. Kristian Stern was average last season, hitting for 40.4 yards per punt. Improvements must come from this area.
Opening Game
8/29 at Houston
Final Overview
Coker is the best coach in a constantly shifting landscape in CUSA, and has the deepest starting lineup, but that early schedule is brutal with trips to Houston and Oklahoma State, while Arizona comes to the Alamo Dome. The rest of the schedule has a couple of challenges, but UTSA should be able to overcome them, make the CUSA title game, and go bowling for the first time in school history.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Projected 2014 Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Rick Stockstill (51-49, 9th season)

There are major holes on offense, with only four starters returning overall. None of those starters return in the backfield, as Austin Grammer looks like the new QB, while Jordan Parker looks like the new starter at RB. Parker has started in the past, but has an injury history. Grammer is in a battle as camp approaches with AJ Erderly and Brent Stockstill, and luckily there is major depth at RB.
Both WRs do return, as Christian Collis and Marcus Henry are both back in the fold. Collis, however, broke his ankle in spring ball, and may not be ready to go.
The only returning starters on the line are at Tackle, with Darius Johnson and Isaiah Anderson coming back for more.
Four starters return in the front seven, where the Blue Raiders finished ranking just 96th against the run last fall. Patrick McNeil will be back at DT, while Alexander Antoine is back at DE. Christian Henry and TT Barber will both be back at LB, and are all conference candidates, and should be the heart and soul of this unit.
Three starters are back in the secondary, with SS Kevin Byard and FS Xavier Walker both returning deep. Junior Jared Singletary is back at CB, while a starter will have to be replaced across from him. Senior Khari Burke will likely be that new starter.
Special Teams
Cody Clark had an average season in 2013, hitting 12 of 16 FGs, and is back. He will need to improve, but has room to grow as a sophomore.
Zachary Lopez has not distanced himself from freshman AJ Wells heading into the fall in a battle for the Punter job.
Opening Game
8/30 Savannah State
Final Overview
While the offense will be rebuilding, it will be hipe upon hope that the front of the defense gets tougher and follows the example of that fine secondary that ranked 19th against the pass nationally. Four of the last five games on the schedule are all massively winnable, as none of those teams had winning records in 2013. Rick Stockstill, who is always on the Hot Seat, must really have a strong finish in 2014, as his career record here is only two games above .500. He should have enough to win 8 games this fall, and anything less would be a disappointment.

Rice Owls
Projected 2014 Record: 7-5
Head Coach: David Bailiff (40-48, 8th season)

There is rebuilding to do at both QB and RB, and that could be key heading into the season. Driphus Jackson should be the new QB, while Jowan Davis is likely going to get the starters carries at RB.
Dennis Parks and Jordan Taylor are back at WR, and that is really good news for a new QB. Taylor is a huge target, and should be an all-conference candidate. Connor Cella is also back at TE.
Three starters return on the line in LG Nico Carlson, RG Drew Carroll, and RT Caleb Williams.
Six starters return on defense, with half of those coming up front. NT Stuart Mouchentaf and DT Christian Covington return on the line, while James Radcliffe is the lone returning starter at LB. DE and the open LB spot are wide open races, and those positions are weaknesses heading into camp.
The secondary returns three of five starters in CBs Bryce Callahan and Malcolm Hill, and S Julius White. The secondary is a strength, having ranked 18th nationally last fall against the pass.
Special Teams
Chris Boswell is gone at PK, and it should be tough to replace him. Taylor Knopf should be in line to start as a freshman, but it's not a lock.
Opening Game
8/30 at Notre Dame
Final Overview
The Owls will not be repeating as CUSA champs in 2014, but there is enough in the tank to get back to a bowl game. The water mark should be seven wins this fall, and David Bailiff needs that win mark to get closer to a .500 career mark. If the Owls fall back once again, then it could be tough going for him.

North Texas Mean Green
Projected 2014 Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Dan McCarney (18-19, 4th season)

Only five starters return this fall, and four of them come on the offensive line in LT Antonio Johnson, LG Mason Y'Barbo, C Keydon Kirby, and RT Cyril Lemon. Three of them are seniors, and one is a sophomore, so experience is solid up front. The only other returning starter comes at WR in Carlos Harris, and he is stepping into a leader position that he hasn't really had to shoulder before. Look for JC transfer Josh Greer to get a long look for the open QB job heading into fall camp.
The story is the same on defense, where only four starters return. The bulk of the experience comes in the secondary, where CBs James Jones and Kenny Buyers join S Lairamie Lee as returning starters. This group, however, was the weak spot on D last fall, ranking just 61st against the pass, while no other defensive stat ranked less than 17th. The role of leadership comes to these guys in 2014, and they need to step up to meet it.
Derek Akunne, a senior, is the lone returning starter up front, and he finished second on the team in tackles last season.
Special Teams
Both kickers return in Zach Paul (PK) and Blake Macek (P). The real key in the ST department is on defense, where the Green blocked seven kicks in 2013.
Opening Game
8/30 at Texas
Final Overview
There are more questions than answers heading into the 2014 season in Denton, but there is some strong talent coming back, albeit not entirely experienced talent. epth may be an issue, but when you look at the way the schedule breaks down, UNT may be able to repeat their bowl trip from a year ago, but everything has to go right, especially on offense.

The following schools either finish with losing records and/or miss bowl games

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Projected 2014 Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Jeff Brohm (1st season)
Jeff Brohm takes over for Bobby Petrino, but expect some road bumps in year one in CUSA for the Toppers.

FAU Owls
Projected 2014 Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Charlie Partridge (1st season)
With the Carl Pelini disaster behind them, the Owls will try to move forward, but failed to make a big splash bu hiring an O line from a losing team. There is talent around, but not enough.

Old Dominion Monarchs
Projected 2014 Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Bobby Wilder (46-14, 6th season)
ODU makes a move to a full FBS schedule and has one of the better coaches (Wilder) and QBs (Taylor Henicke) in the conference and in college football. The schedule is difficult, but the talent is strong, especially if the defense plays bigger for their explosive offense. Expect ODU to compete for conference titles in a couple of years.

UAB Blazers
Projected 2014 Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Bill Clark (1st season)
Good luck to Clark as he inherits one of the worst programs in the game. Facilities will get pgraded, but not the stadium, and getting a smaller, more on campus friendly facility is key to getting this thing going. The talent is just not there, and the Blazers stay toward the bottom.

FIU Panthers
Projected 2014 Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Ron Turner (1-11, 2nd season)
Some fans wanted Turner out after one season, and I get why. This program is a mess, and the Panthers football team has become a joke in South Florida. There is very little talent to build anything around, and rock bottom seems to be a magnet. The only two wins may come against FCS opponents in the two opening weeks (Bethune-Cookman, Wagner) and neither of those games are locks.

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Projected 2014 Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Skip Holtz (4-8, 2nd season)
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Tech seems destined to repeat the four win from last season that pissed off so many fans. Improvement will be seen in small ways, but Holtz is a decent coach who should be able to get the Dogs bulling again in a couple of seasons.

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Projected 2014 Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Todd Monken (1-11, 2nd season)
Speaking of finding victory in small ways, Monken should be doing that at USM this season. He will finally have a QB to give the ball to every week without fail, but it's still a question as to how that works out. A three game improvement to four wins should be reachable.

UTEP Miners
Projected 2014 Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Sean Kugler (2-10, 2nd season)
Instead of small victories, things could actually get worse for the Miners instead of getting better in 2014. Look for UTEP to actually regress while Kugler tries to find options and answers all over the football field. 2015 will be worth watching to see if Kugler is still the guy, but he deserves one more year after this to mold and improve this program.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

2014 College Football Preview: Big 12

The math still fails to make sense, as there are still only 10 teams in the Big 12. The conference failed to add two more members, and seems to be currently content sitting at ten. I feel that they are making the correct choice. Hosting a championship game isn't all it's hyped up to be, and now the regular season champion still holds the ability to get into a title game without the added pressure. The Big 12 may be the lone major that has it right. That being said, BYU, Boise State, Houston, and SMU are all still in play eventually, as is Cincinnati and U Conn.
The conference has two schools that will eventually play into the national title scene as Oklahoma looks to be back to their old dominating ways, and Baylor looks to rebound from their Fiesta Bowl failure to become a national player for certain in 2014. The rest of the conference looks to be decent to basically average this fall, so barring any miracles, it all falls on the Sooners and Bears to make something happen.

Projected Order of Finish
1. Oklahoma
2. Baylor
3. Texas
4. Kansas State
5. Oklahoma State
6. TCU
7. Texas Tech
8. West Virginia
9. Iowa State
10. Kansas

Coaches on the Hot Seat
Charlie Weis, Kansas
Paul Rhoades, Iowa State
Dan Holgorson, West Virginia

Best Coach
Art Briles, Baylor

Worst Coach
Charlie Weis, Kansas

The following teams will finish with winning records and bowl bids...

Oklahoma Sooners
Projected 2014 Record: 11-1
Head Coach: Bob Stoops (160-39, 15th season)

Trevor Knight has the job at QB now, and he blew up in the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. Knight should be the guy to carry on the legacy of true top performers at QB that has become a staple of Sooner football. Stability here may give the Sooners a chance at moving up from a rough ranking of 90th last fall.
The RB position is a bit jumbled, but there are options. Keith Ford heads into camp with the job, but he will likely hand the job over to freshman Joe Mixon, a huge inbound talent from California. Alex Ross is also back and in the mix as well.
WR Sterling Shepard is going to have a huge season, and is the lone returning starter there. Derrick Woods will step in and start as a sophomore, and former Blake "Belldozer" Bell will also move to WR for the 2014 season. Isaac Ijalana will also get reps in the multiple set offenses. Much is also thought of TE Taylor McNamara, who may give the Sooners yet another standout TE.
The strength on the line is at tackle, as both Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams return. LG Adam Shead returns, giving the Sooners senior leadership at all three spots. Juniors should start at the open C and RG spots in Ty Darlington and Nila Kasitati.
The Sooners were a strong unit last fall, ranking 20th overall. Both DEs return in Charles Tapper and Chuka Ndulue, and three of four LBs return in Dominique Alexander, Frank Shannon, and Erik Striker. New starters will be needed at one LB spot, and at DT.Jordan Phillips has the lead at DT, while senior Geneo Grissom leads at LB.
The secondary could be well improved from a ranking of 30th nationally. Julian Wilsona and Zack Sanchez return at CB, while FS Quentin Hayes is back as well. Sophomore Hatari Byrd will likely start at the open SS spot.
Special Teams
Michael Hunnicutt returns as one of the best PKs in America, and the senior has missed only 10 FGs during his entire career.
Jed Barnett is back at Punter after averaging 41.7 yards per punt.
Opening Game
8/30 Louisiana Tech
Final Overview
Of course, there always trap games when it comes to OU, but they should maneuver their way through the season without much incident, until 11/8 when they meet Baylor in Norman. If the offense improves, as it should, and the defense builds off of last season, as it should, OU could be in the championship picture (Final 4).

Baylor Bears
Projected 2014 Record: 11-1
Head Coach: Art Briles (44-32, 7th season)

Baylor finished 1st nationally in both scoring and total offense last season, and there isn't much to make me believe that the Bears won't be back there again. What's even more impressive was the balance displayed on this offense, as the Bears also finished 13th in the nation in rushing.
Back is Bryce Petty at QB, who is actually better than any QB that Baylor has had (sorry, RG3). Petty passed for 32 TDs and just 3 picks last fall, and is largely the guy to finish as our QB of the Year this fall.
Shock Linwood will get the bulk of the carries at RB, after the Bears lost several RBs the last couple of seasons. Gone is the committee approach, and Linwood should be the guy.
The WR corps is loaded with Antwan Goodley, Levi Norwood, and Corey Coleman all returning to start. Depth is also plentiful, giving the Bears the best WR corps in the nation. Tre'von Armstead will get the nod at TE.
The main question will be on the line, where only LT Spencer Drango and RG Desmine Hilliard return.
This may be the Achilles for the Bears. The defense was surprisingly strong last fall for a traditionally rich offensive football team, finishing 28th nationally. The main issue is that the roster is loaded with new starters as only three starters return in DT Beau Blackshear, LB Bryce Hager, and FS Terrell Burt. Eight new starters will tell the tale as to how far the Bears could go.
Special Teams
The Bears will be handing their PK duties to a true freshman in 2014, as Aaron Jones has moved on. Chris Callahan has the job to lose now.
Spencer Roth is a beast at Punter, as he averaged a booming 45.8 yards per punt last fall.
Opening Game
8/31 SMU
Final Overview
The offense is like the Death Star of old, without the thermal exhaust port weakness. Nothing will likely stop the offense from pumping up nearly 50 points per game this fall, but can the defense come together to stop opponents from doing the same? The new starters on D need to gel early, or else the Bears may slip. If the defense even comes together marginally, Baylor will be able to challenge Oklahoma in the Big 12,. The schedule is highly manageable, but the Bears do travel to Oklahoma. That game should be for all the marbles in the Big 12 race.
Texas Longhorns
Projected 2014 Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Charlie Strong (1st season)

The offense was highly average at best in 2013, ranking just 64th nationally, and the passing game struggled once again, ranking 79th.
David Ash is back to start at QB, but he will be challenged by USC transfer Max Wittek, Tyrone Swoopes, and Jerrod Heard in camp. Ash has never stepped all the way up to be the leader that he needs to be, and if he struggles early, look for a change to happen.
Malcolm Brown is a beast at RB, and will be joined by Jonathon Gray and Joe Bergeron as a strong group. Gray is coming back from severe injury, so he is the question mark of the group.
Jaxon Shipley and Kendall Sanders are back to start at WR, so there should not be any drama from the passing game this season. Greg Daniels is also back at TE to give the Horns one of their best receiving groups in a long while.
The line may be an issue, as only C Dominic Espinosa and RT Kennedy Estelle return.
The line may have some serious issues on one side, but there is some experience to lean on. Cedric Reed returns at one DE, and Malcolm Brown is back at DT. Desmond Jackson should be the new starter at DT, while Shiro Davis should start at DE. New coach Charlie Strong also brought big time DT recruit Poona Ford along with him, so look for him in the rotation.
The starting LB corps returns intact with Dalton Santos, Steve Edmond, and Jordan Hicks will all be back in the middle. The defense will need them to step up as they ranked just 83rd against the run last fall.
The secondary is experienced as well, but ranked just 53rd against the pass. Both CBs return in Quandre Diggs and Duke Thomas, while Mykkele Thompson is back at SS. Senior Josh Turner should step in at FS.
Special Teams
Anthony Fera handled both PK and P jobs last season, but he's gone now. Nick Rose steps in at PK, while William Russ should handle the P job heading into camp.
Opening Game
8/30 North Texas
Final Overview
Texas, like Michigan and Nebraska, has seen better days. That's why Mack Brown absolutely had to go after last season, and Charlie Strong was brought over from Louisville. Strong was about the eighth choice for the job last fall, but he was a solid choice. That being said, not everyone was onboard with this hire.
Texas still doesn't have the athletes that OU and Baylor have right now, so they fall into the second tier in the conference. Eight wins should not be an issue, but both offense and defense must step up to get there. Improvement everywhere is a must.

Kansas State Wildcats
Projected 2014 Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Bill Snyder (178-90-1, 23rd season)

If you are looking for a spark from K State in 2014, it likely won't come from an offense that ranked only 71st nationally in 2013.
Jake Waters returns as a senior to start at QB, but he really isn't much of anything special, although he was stronger at the end of the season than the beginning.
Daniel Sams, who shared the job with Waters, moves to WR, but will not start there. Those jobs will fall to the dangerous Tyler Lockett, who will pair with Curry Sexton. Lockett scored 11 times last fall, and caught 82 passes. Zach Trujillo will also return at TE.
DeMarcus Robinson heads into camp as the starting RB, but will likely lose the job to freshman Dalvin Warmack at some point.
The line is a question, as only LT Cody Whitehair C BJ Finney return.
The defense has several questions, as only four starters returns. Three of those starters are in the front seven, which is the good news. DE Ryan Mueller, DT Travis Britz, and LB Jonathon Truman all return. JC transfer Terrell Clinkscales should start at DT, while junior Marquel Bryant will get the nod at DE. Senior Dackery Johnson and junior Charmeachealle Moore will likely win the open LB spots.
Only FS Dante Barnett returns in the secondary, and that unit was already the worst of the defense heading into this season. Randall evans and Morgan Burns lead to win the CB jobs, while SS Dylan Schellenberg should win at SS.
Special Teams
Jack Cantele returns at PK after hitting 11 of 13 last season. There will likely be a freshman handling the P job in Mitch Lochbihler.
Opening Game
8/30 Stephen F. Austin
Final Overview
The Wildcats look to be trending downward this fall, as the defense has to be largely rebuilt. The offense has some special athletes, but one of them isn't playing QB, and K State doesn't have the firepower to compete for a league title, and may even be overrated at 3rd or 4th. This could be rough go this season.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Projected 2014 Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Mike Gundy (77-38, 10th season)
The Cowboys return some special skill set players, but there are many holes throughout this unit, and that calls for a basic rebuild up front, where only LG Chris Grisbhy and RT Daniel Koenig return to block for QB JW Walsh, who now stands as the only QB in the system with experience.
Walsh could be poised for a breakthrough in 2014, but only if the line before him can hold up under development and pressure. Two of the new starters on the line are only sophomore (C Paul Lewis, RG Zac Veatch), so this could get interesting.
RB Desmond Roland will need that line to gel as well, as he returns as the primary back after rushing for 11 TDs last fall. Rennie Childs and JC transfer Tyreek Hill could spell him and take some work themselves. Hill will also see some snaps lined up wide at receiver.
The WRs could be a very solid group, but someone needs to step up and be a star this fall, as so far, nobody has clearly taken a leadership role. Jhajuan Seales and Austin Hayes return, while Blake Webb and Marcell Ateman will likely try to step into starting roles.
Defense has never really been a focal point in Stillwater, and it could be a weak link yet again in 2014, as only four starters return from a unit that ranked 52nd nationally in total D last season.
Jimmy Bean and James Castleman return up front for the Cowboys, but two new starters must be found. Sam Wren (DE) and Ofa Hautau (DT) could step up, but there's a group trying to compete heading into camp.
Ryan Simmons is the lone returning starter at LB, while CB Kevin Peterson is the lone returnee in the secondary.
Special Teams
Ben Grogan returns as the starting PK, but was largely average to awful, hitting just 11 of 18 FGs last season, his first as a starter.
Kip Smith returns as the Punter, , and while he pinned 24 punts inside the 20, he also only averaged 39.6 yards per punt on the season, which isn't anything to write home about.
Opening Game
8/30 Florida State at Arlington
Final Overview
The schedule certainly doesn't help, as the Cowboys open with defending champ Florida State, and finishes with Kansas State, Texas, and back to back road games at Baylor and Oklahoma. That alone is too much to overcome, but then again, the lack of depth and key talent is bad news as well. Overall, I tend not to bet against Mike Gundy, and he ought to be able to squeak enough out of this squad to get back to a bowl.

TCU Horned Frogs
Projected 2014 Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Gary Patterson (120-44, 14th season)
The Frogs biggest issues has been finding stability at QB, and they have finally settled on one guy there, and that's transfer Matt Joekel. Joekel transfers over from Texas A&M, and will be the guy from day one in a new no huddle system being implemented by Doug Meacham and Sonnie Cumbie as co-coordinators.
That move allows Trevone Boykin to shift out to WR, and the Frogs should make better use of his athleticism chasing down the ball in the field, but he isn't slated to start at WR juts yet. David Porter and Josh Doctson both return as starters, but the leaders for the open jobs are Ja'Juan Story and Ty Slanina.
BJ Catalon will be back to start at RB, and will share carries with Aaron Green. Both are speedy and explosive , and could be used together to diversify the spread attack.
The line is set at Tackle with Aviante Collins and Halapoulivaati Vaitai returning, but the entire interior is on rebuild mode.
Defense has always been the calling card of great TCU teams, and it certainly looks like the strength heading into 2014 as well, as the Frogs try to get back to a bowl.
TCU is set inside on the line with both DTs coming back in Davion Pearson and Chucky Hunter. DE is a bit of a problem, as projected new starter Devonte Fields is having some legal issues in a domestic assault case as of this writing. Junior James McFarland is slated to win the other DE job, but if Fields can't go due to suspension, depth could be a big time problem off of the edge.
Marcus Mallet and Jonathon Anderson will both be back at LB, and may be the heart of the entire unit.
The secondary is experienced and deep, with four starters returning in CB Kevin White, WS Chris Hackett, SS Sam Carter, and FS Derrick Kindrel. Look for JC transfer Kenny Iloka to get a look at Safety as well.
Special Teams
Both kickers return for their 3rd seasons as starters in PK Jaden Oberkron and P Ethan Perry.
Opening Game
8/30 Samford
Final Overview
The problem with TCU will again be the offense. There will be road bumps learning a new system, and the Frogs are still looking for quality and explosiveness. They haven't quite gotten there yet, but maybe Joekel will be an answer at QB. That being said, the defense should be good enough to hold on for the offense, and make a push to get TCU into a bowl, even a minor one.

The Following teams are expected to finish with losing records and will not play in a bowl

Texas Tech Red Raiders
Projected 2014 Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Kliff Kingsbury (8-5, 2nd season)
The Good
Davis Webb now has the job at QB entirely to himself, but if he goes down, the Red Raiders are in deep trouble, as there is no other experience or depth. Webb looked solid in the spring, and looked stronger.
Two top WRs return in Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez,  but the other two spots are open.
The O line returns three starters
The Bad
The defense was awful, and helped contribute to an epic collapse at the end of last season, as Tech lost their final five regular season games.
Only three starters return on defense (DE Brandon Jackson, BAN Pete Robertson, and LB Sam Eguavoen), and there will be several JC transfers trying to make their ways into various positions. The schedule is back loaded, and being that the Red Raiders collapsed at the end last fall, I'd have to say that finishing isn't a strong suit here.
Opening Game
8/30 Central Arkansas

West Virginia Mountaineers
Projected 2014 Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Dana Holgorsen (21-17, 4th season)
The Good
The run game, which ranked 82nd last fall, gets a big push by getting transfer Rushel Shell from arch rival Pitt.
New starting WR Mario Alford showed some skill last season, and joins Kevin White and Dalkiel Shorts to give whomever wins the QB job some targets, along with TE/FB Cody Clay.
The guards are solid on the line, and they'd better be, as Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski are the only returning starters up front.
Having Tom Bradley on staff should be a huge bonus for the Mountaineers.
All three LBs return in Isaiah Bruce, Nick Kwiatkowski, and Brandon Golson, and the secondary may go from being a curse to a blessing with two starters returning. Bruce may be the star of the unit.
The Bad
The QB position is largely a mess, with as many as five guys in the fight in spring. Clint Trickett is a walking ER and concussion magnet. There are no true answers here.
The line needs new starters at Tackle and Center, which are bad places for inexperience while trying to find a QB.
Both DEs need to be replaced from a defense that ranked 90th against the run, and 106th against the pass. WVU needs to find an edge presence that just isn't there right now.
WVU also finished -4 in turnovers last fall, and when you lose the turnover battle, you lose football games. It's really that simple.
On offense, there just isn't that one guy you can look to who you really believe can carry to to bigger things.
WVU could be headed to yet another 4 win season, and Holgorsen knows that the heat is blasting, as home attendance is taking a huge dump.
Opening Game
8/30 Alabama at Atlanta

Iowa State Cyclones
Projected 2014 Record: 1-11
Head Coach: Paul Rhoades (27-36, 6th season)
The Good
WR Quenton Brundrage is a big time playmaker, and gives ISU at least one major weapon. TE EJ Bibbs may also be one of the better weapons on this team, he also may be one of the best TEs in the country.
The O Line is completely intact, giving whomever steps in at QB a wall to hide behind, and with a line like this, Aaron Wimberly could break out at RB.
The Bad
Grant Rohach played well at times last season, but doesn't have the job locked down, and now it's a three man race at QB.
Other than Brundage at WR, nobody else really stands out, and that could be a problem down the line. Someone else needs to step up.
The defense was awful last season (105th in total D), and the entire line must be rebuilt with exception of DE Cory Morrissey. Javohn Miller is also the only returning starter at LB. Both CBs do return in Sam E. Richardson and Nigel Tribune, but both safeties must be replaced, so expect those corners to be out on an island in coverage most of the time.
Opening Game
8/30 North Dakota State

Kansas Jayhawks
Projected 2014 Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Charlie Weis (4-20, 3rd season)
The Good
A good start is that Weis dumped OC duties and brought in a new OC in John Reagan. He scraps the pro set offense and implements a spread.
Nick Harwell transfers in from Miami (Ohio), and gives the Jayhawks an elite receiver to get the ball to, if they can find anyone who can get the ball out of the backfield at QB.
WR Tony Pierson and TE Jimmy Mundine should provide some cover for Harwell, but again, a passer must be located, as Kansas finished just 117th nationally in passing.
The defense is loaded with returning starters, highlighted by a strong secondary that returns four of five starters. Ben Heeney may be one of the most underrated LBs in the Big 12.
The Bad
How does the former QB coach of Tom Brady go from Super Bowl heights to a Big 12 toilet like Kansas? As Blues Traveler once said, it's a long way to fall.
The entire offensive philosophy must be overhauled, and now that Kansas has some targets to throw the ball to, they hand the QB job to a runner in Montell Cozart. Huh?
The entire right side of the line must be rebuilt on offense as well.
So much talent returns on defense, but that same defense ranked just 96th nationally last fall, and gave up 31.8 points per game.
Charlie Weis may be shown the prairie door if KU cannot overcome even my modest expectations.
Opening Game
9/6 SE Missouri State

Saturday, July 19, 2014

2014 College Football Preview: Big 10

The Big 10 adds two new members, however useless they are to the bigger picture (Maryland, Rutgers). If the Big Ten needed new members, certainly there had to be better big picture candidates. The conference seemed to be dead set on adding the New York/New Jersey and Washington DC markets. Here's a newsflash...those are two terrible college football markets that are pro sports markets first, and college football falls about fifth or sixth in priority when it comes to coverage, or even fan interest. Add to that the fact that Maryland and Rutgers are historical average to horrible programs, and the Big 14 really grades an epic fail when it comes to who they chose to expand with. The conference would have been better off staying at 12 until better candidates chose to come along. Sometimes market size and TV viewing households do not translate when it comes to college football fandom. It's dated thinking at best.
The good news is that the conference has as many as four teams that could all influence the national title picture, either by eliminating someone from consideration, or by winning out and making the move for themselves. The pressure is on.

Predicted Order of Finish

1. Ohio State
2. Michigan State
3. Michigan
4. Penn State
5. Indiana
6. Rutgers
7. Maryland

1. Wisconsin
2. Nebraska
3. Iowa
4. Minnesota
5. Northwestern
6. Illinois
7. Purdue

Most Overrated

Most Underrated

Coaches on the Hot Seat
Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Randy Edsell, Maryland
Kyle Flood, Rutgers
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Tim Beckman, Illinois
Bo Pelini, Nebraska

Best Coach
Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Worst Coach
Tim Beckman, Illinois

Conference Preview

The following teams are expected to post winning records and acquire bowl bids...

Ohio State Buckeyes
Projected 2014 Record: 11-1
Head Coach: Urban Meyer (24-2, 3rd season)

The Buckeyes will likely be one of the more explosive offensive teams in college football in 2014. Back is QB Braxton Miller, one of the best QBs in the nation, and a big time Heisman candidate. He is a game changer who needs to stay healthy to give the Buckeyes a shot to win it all inside and outside of the Big 10.
Ezekiel Elliott gets the nod at RB as a sophomore, but he is a weapon to be used plenty out of the backfield and in the passing game. He can be lined up all over the field, and could be a prime time power back as well.
OSU also returns one of the best receiving corps in the game in Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, but SLOT receiver Dontre Wilson will, like Elliott, be used as a weapon in various forms, and may be the most talented of the group in his first season as a starter. Jeff Heuerman is the returning starter at TE, and just gives the Buckeyes yet one more weapon in the passing game.
The only concern on this offense is the line, which could make or break the season, as only one starter (LT Taylor Dekker) returns for the 2014 season.
The secondary was the biggest issue a season ago, and it appears that it may be the Achilles once again in 2014. only CB Doran Grant returns from a unit that finished 110th against the pass in last fall by allowing 268 yards per game through the air.
The story is different up front, as the defense ranked 9th nationally against the run. Noah Spence leads a talented and deep unit up front at DE, and is joined on the line by returning starters DE Joey Bosa and DT Michael Bennett. Adolphus Washington looks to be in line to start at the opne DT position.
At LB, Joshua Perry returns as the leading tackler from a season ago, finishing with 84 tackles on the season. Curtis Grant returns at LB as well, while freshman Raekwon McMillan may battle for playing time in fall camp.
Special Teams
The Buckeyes will be turning over the PK duties to a freshman in Sean Nuemberger, but he will still have to prove himself in camp. It's always a risk to go with a freshman in such an important position. Cameron Johnston brings his cannon leg back after averaging 44 yards per punt in 2013.
Opening Game
8/30 Navy at Batimore
Final Overview
OSU is coming off of a two game losing streak to start the season, and nothing is ever guaranteed against a pesky Navy club in the opener. The secondary is being rebuilt, and wasn't that good to start with. The offense ought to score with the best of them, but the defense has some areas of shoring up to do in camp. Urban Meyer rolled off 24 straight wins to start his Buckeye career, and the Buckeyes could very well roll off 12 or 13 more this season, however, there is always a trap game in the Big 10, which is strong at the top. Michigan State is that trip up game, and nothing is ever guaranteed against Michigan in the finale, and certainly don't forget trap games in non-conference play against Navy and Virginia Tech.

Michigan State Spartans
Projected 2014 Record: 11-1
Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (64-29, 8th season)

The offense struggled at times in 2013, but came through when it was needed most, and the QB position, which was a liability when the season began, turned into a strength when Connor Cook stepped up. The junior is well in charge heading into the fall, and will lead a unit that should be much improved.
Jeremy Langford rushed for 1422 yards last fall, and returns as the primary back as a senior. Langford is an absolute beast, and could be the best overall back in the Big 10, and could be one of the best nationally.
WR Tony Lippett stepped up late in the season as well last fall, and will be the number one target in the passing game. Josiah Price is the other returning starter in the passing game at TE. Joining Lippett as starter would be Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings, but Kings was suspended and he may or may not be back. If Kings is gone, then expect DeAnthony Arnett to step into the other starting role.
The line ran an eight man rotation last fall, and it is paying off in 2014. Jack Allen returns as the starting Center, and the only other returning full time starter is LT Jack Conklin. The main question will be at RT, where sophomore Kodi Kieler is slated to start.
The best news here is the return of DC Pat Narduzzi, who turned down a few head coaching jobs to remain as DC at MSU. He returns some intriguing pieces from a unit that finished 2nd nationally in total defense last season.
Shilique Calhoun returns as the reigning Big Ten DL of the year in 2014 at DE. He is joined at the other DE spot by Marcus Rush. They compliment each other perfectly coming off of either edge. Lawrence Thomas and Damon Knox will be new starters in the middle of the line.
Max Bullough and Denicos Allen have both departed, but that doesn't mean that talent isn't still flowing. Taiwan Jones will be back in the middle at LB, and should be joined by new starters Darien Harris and Ed Davis, both juniors.
Trae Waynes has to be counted on to lead the secondary at CB, but the other spot is vulnerable with a sophomore taking over in Darian Hicks. Senior Kurtis Drummond will return at FS, and will be joined at SS by incoming freshman Jalyn Powell, who is expected to have a huge impact from day one in the program.
Special Teams
The kicking game is set with the return of PK Michael Geiger and P Mike Sadler. Geiger hit on 15 of 16 FGs last fall, while Sadler averaged 42.5 yards per punt and led the nation in punts downed inside the ten.
Opening Game
8/29 Jacksonville State
Final Overview
The Spartans will easily be the main challenger in division for Ohio State, and will be a major player in the national picture as well. Dantonio signed a lengthy contract extension, and Narduzzi returned to run one of the best defenses found anywhere. The Spartans are in prime position to be a major national power for the next several seasons, and have now surpassed instate rival Michigan for state superiority.

Wisconsin Badgers
Projected 2014 Record: 11-1
Head Coach: Gary Anderson (9-4, 2nd season)

Imrovement must come from the passing game if the Badgers are to become players in the conference race. Wisconsin finished just 93rd in passing last fall, but Joel Stave is back with another season under his belt at QB despite being pushed by Tanner McAvoy in camp.
The other key to the passing game must come from a largely inexperienced group at WR, as the entire returning corps combined for 28 grabs last fall. Jordan Frederick and Kenzel Doe will have to step up as they head the depth chart heading into camp. Sam Ameson is also fighting to take over at TE.
Melvin Gordon is a beast at RB, and will be joined in the strong backfield committee by Corey Clement, who is a strong replacement for the departed James White.
The line returns intact, with only one new starter in C Dan Voltz.
Dave Aranda will have to completely rebuild the defense, as only three starters return, and they're all in the secondary. Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary are both back at CB, and junior Michael Caputo returns at SS, and is largely expected to be the unit leader. Sophomore Leo Musso is in the lead to start at FS heading into the fall.
The entire front seven is going to be loaded with new starters, but that's not all bad for the Badgers. Aranda likes the unit that he has coming in, and figures to blitz more and have more intricate schemes going on in the 3-4 defense. The only issue with having so many new faces is that depth figures to be an issue. As good as the new faces may be, injuries could wreck the season that could be special if all things come together.
Special Teams
Jack Russell is back at PK after hitting 9 of 13 FGs last fall. That being said, he is being challenged by big time recruit Rafael Gaglianone in camp. That could be an interesting battle heading into the fall, and both could see action during the early part of the year.
Drew Meyer returns as the Punter, but he had a subpar season in 2013, averaging just 38.6 yards per punt. He has a firm hold on the job, and has no real challengers heading into the season.
Opening Game
8/30 LSU at Houston
Final Overview
Despite so many new faces and questions, if all things come together, the Badgers could be playing for a Big Ten title, and could make a push in the national picture. Gary Anderson is one hell of a coach, and resisted being recruited to leave by the Cleveland Browns. In all reality, that shouldn't have been a difficult call to make, and staying in Madison was the right call. The opener is tough with LSU in what is an essential home game for the Tigers, but the Badgers should blow through the next eight games until they run into Nebraska and Iowa in back to back weeks in November. If you are looking for a dark horse, Wisconsin could be your team.

Nebraska Cornhuskers
Projected 2014 Record: 10-2
Head Coach: Bo Pelini (58-24, 7th season)

This unit was largely all over the place in 2013, and the Huskers come into the season looking for stability, especially at the QB position, which never should have been an issue. Tommie Armstrong, Jr. comes in as the man at QB this fall after starting eight times a year ago in relief. Armstrong looked wonderful sometimes, and awful in other situations. He has had a full spring to lock into the role, and should be more stable this time around.
One benefit Armstrong has is Ameer Abdullah running out of the I behind him. Abdullah rushed for 1690 yards last fall, and is one of the premier backs in the nation. If he can break into the end zone more than 9 times this fall, well, that would be just great.
Kenny Bell is one of the premier receivers in America, and he will try to give Armstrong a reliable target, especially in the red zone, where Bell is the man. Jamal Turner and Sam Burch are new full time starters, so that may be an issue as they develop into their roles. Cethan Carter returns to start at TE.
The line could be a mess, and that is a huge problem with a young QB trying to find his way. LG Jake Cotton is the lone returning starter. All of the front runners in the other positions are upper classmen, but that also means that depth could be a disaster when injuries hit.
Remember when the Huskers were one of the most dominant forces in college football? Well, many of you may not have been alive back in those days. Nebraska finished ranked 40th in total defense, and ranked no higher than 33rd in any given stat on the defensive side. That is where the problem is for Nebraska, and until that issue is resolved, Nebraska will never likely be a team to deal with on a national level, and the fan base needs to realize that. It all starts with the black shirts, and they may not be walking through that door.
Randy Gregory (DE) and Vincent Valentine (DT) are back on the line, but the other DL jobs are open. Michael Rose is back at LB, and more will be needed of him this fall. Zaire Anderson and David Santos will flank him, with Anderson being expected to add some impact on the edge rush.
Josh Mitchell will return to start at CB, but a new starter will be lining up on the other side in junior Jonathon Rose. Corey Cooper is back at SS, but FS is open, with the job likely falling to sophomore Leroy Alexander.
Special Teams
Mauro Bondi was expected to win the PK job, but wasn't solid enough in the spring, so now he finds himself in a battle with freshman Drew Brown heading into camp. Sam Fultz had a solid freshman season as the starting Punter, and is back after averaging 41.6 yards per punt.
Opening Game
8/30 Florida Atlantic
Final Overview
It all starts with fixing the QB play, the offensive line, and finding a way to return to dominance on defense. Bo Pelini is a cat with nine lives spent, as he somehow avoided being canned after having several meltdowns last season on and off the field. Pelini may have gotten an extension after last season, but make no mistake, the heat us at inferno level, and Pelini may not have the talent to break through with this football team. There are some nice pieces, but overall, there aren't enough special athletes on this football team to challenge the big boys in the Big Ten. This isn't the old days, when the Huskers could steam through the Big 2 and little 6. Pelini is going to hear it all year long, but the fan base also has to somehow cope with the fact that the 70s, 80s, and 90s are over, and the landscape has changed.

Iowa Hawkeyes
Projected 2014 Record: 10-2
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (108-79, 16th season)

If you want to find a breakthrough player in the Big 10 in 2014, it may end up being QB Jake Rudock. Rudock was largely hit and miss last fall, but he may have developed enough from lessons learned that he could very well push forward and break through the upper echelon of conference QBs this fall. He certainly has some decent skills to build on after passing for 18 TDs and 2383 yards last fall.
Mark Weisman is back to start at RB, but the Hawkeyes are especially deep at RB, and Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock could add significant carries. There are six other RBs on the depth chart. FB Adam Cox will get the nod to start this fall.
Kevonte Martin-Manley never really broke through last fall at WR, but he has an opportunity this fall to be the leader on this offense. He has all of the skills to do so, but needs to step up big. Tevaun Smith will get the job opposite heading into camp, but look out for freshman Derrick Willies, who got on the radar in spring ball. Senior Ray Hamilton will likely be the starting TE on opening day.
The line is solid with Brandon Scherff back at LT, Austin Blythe at Center, and Jordan Walsh at RG.
The defense is the strong side of this football team, having finished 9th national in total defense. There are some issues, however, especially in the middle. All three linebackers must be replaced. Travis Perry, Quinton Alston, and Reggie Spearman are in line to start heading into camp.
The line is loaded, with three starters returning in DE Drew Ott, DT Carl Davis, and DT Louis Trinca-Pasat. THe front seven helped the Hawkeyes rank 10th national in 2013, holding opponents to 128.4 yards per game. The secondary has holes to fill at CB and FS. Sean Draper is slated to hold down the open CB spot, while Jordan Lomax is lined up to start at FS. Desmond King had a very nice freshman season, and is back at CB, while John Lowdermilk returns at SS.
Special Teams
There will be a new PK this fall, with Marshall Koehn slated to lead the pack heading into camp, but he will have challengers until the season opener.
Conner Kornbrath averaged 40 yards per punt last fall, and is back, but JC transfer Dillon Kidd may give him a run for the job.
Opening Game
8/30 Northern Iowa
Final Overview
Iowa is the 4th team in the Big 10 that could potentially blow up into a national scene stealer in 2014. There is more than enough talent on defense to carry the offense as it finds itself, and the schedule is completely manageable until the final two games of the season, when Iowa takes on Wisconsin and Nebraska in back to back weeks to close it out. Kirk Ferentz could have his best team in the last ten years if everything comes together. There is plenty to look forward to this fall in Iowa City.

Michigan Wolverines
Projected 2014 Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Brady Hoke (26-13, 4th season)

The Wolverines, like Nebraska, have issues that weren't always issues in the past. With Michigan, it's a dysfunctional running game, that was always the strength on traditional Wolverine football teams. UM ranked just 102nd in rushing in 2013, which is completely unacceptable by Michigan standards, and if you want one specific area to blame the collapse of 2013 on, this could be a prime suspect.
It's time for Derrick Green, the top recruited RB for UM in 2013, to show his thing in 2014. He will get the first crack at the open RB job, and will be joined there by De'Veon Smith. These guys have much to prove.
Nobody has more to prove than QB Devin Gardner, who is back as a 5th season. He is working on his 3rd coordinator, so his struggles are not all his fault. Doug Nussmeier will try to tweak Gardner into being more pocket thinking, which is where he really excels. Shane Morris is hanging around if Gardner faults, but he has shown little thus far.
Devin Funchess, one of the best TEs in the country, will likely line up more at WR this fall, with Erik AJ Williams starting at TE. This could be an excellent one-two punch for the passing game, which is dying for dependable targets.
The line really is a black hole of disaster, and was a major factor in the struggles of both the running game, and the entirety of the problems that the Wolverines have been having. Nine different linemen started last fall, and that was a huge disaster. Three full time starters return in LT Erik Magnuson, LG Kyle Bosch, and RG Kyle Kallis. All three are sophomores, and will serve as building blocks moving forward. The other two spots are open.
Frank Clark and Brennan Beyer return at DE, but there will be new starters in the middle of the line. The defense was largely average last fall, so pressure has to come from up front, and disrupt the passing game, which averaged 231.3 yards per game last fall. The LB corps returns intact, which is a huge relief, and gives the D some stability. Desmond Morgan, Jake Ryan, and James Ross III all return, but more is expected after ranking 29th against the run, which is a strong point.
Ray Taylor is back at CB, and Jarrod Wilson is back at FS, while Blake Countess returns at the other CB spot, giving Michigan a strong building point in the secondary. It's time for this group to step it up.
Special Teams
Matt Wile returns at PK after starting as the Punter last fall, but he does have some experience at PK duties, so not all is lost here. He hands his punting duties over to senior Will Hagerup, who returns after being suspended last fall. He has a quality leg.
Opening Game
8/30 Appalachian State
Final Overview
We all know what happened the last time that Appalachian State opened a season in the Big House (Remember, I called that ASU win), but ASU is no longer an FCS member, and is not the same quality as that club, so don't expect a repeat here.
The offense has several issues, and the defense needs to step up. There are few special athletes here, and the strong defenses and run game from the past that were the foundations of all great Michigan teams do not exist here.
Brady Hoke is a strong coach, but he had better start turning it around, or else the locals will be head hunting. Like Nebraska fan, it's time to acknowledge that the 70s, 80s, and 90s are long gone, and Bo isn't walking through that door to fix things.

Penn State Nittany Lions
Projected 2014 Record: 8-4
Head Coach: James Franklin (1st season)

With change at the top, there is always a problem with consistency. Christian Hackenberg needs to find that this season after a strong, but not perfect freshman year. Bill O'Brien has moved on to the NFL, so James Franklin has to take Hackenberg to the next level, and Franklin has never had this kind of QB to deal with before, so the results will largely be anyone's guess.
Zach Zwinak could be a huge breakthrough player in the conference at RB in 2014, but he needs Franklin to just get him the ball in the playbook. Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch will also get some carries, but Zwinak could be the star here.
Jesse James is back at TE, but all of the other receiver spots are open heading into camp, which could be the biggest problem that the offense holds.
The offensive line could be an issue as well, as only LT Donovan Smith returns.
This unit has some work to do, ranking just 48th in total D last fall.
Deion Barnes and CJ Olaniyan are back at DE, but they will largely be supporting new starters at DT in the 4-3. The LB corps is the strength up front, as both Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman both return to the fold. Sophomore Brandon Bell should be the new starter at the open LB spot, while Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson will line up at the DT spots as we head into the fall.
The secondary gave up 237 yards passing per game last fall, ranking just 73rd. It shoud be better with three returning starters in CBs Trevor Williams and Jordan Lucas returning along with S Adrian Amos. Senior Ryan Keiser will likely be the new starter at Safety heading into the fall.
Special Teams
Sam Ficken is back at PK, but hit just 15 of 23 for the season, and just 8 of 15 in the second half of the season. The punting game was no better, and it's up to new starter Chris Gulla, a freshman, to fix the problem.
Opening Game
8/30 UCF at Dublin, Ireland
Final Overview
Penn State was just showing progress coming off of the Sandusky/Paterno debacle, and then Bill O'Brien, largely sick and freaking tired of dealing with a delusional Paternoite crowd, bolted for a job coaching the Houston Texans. Nobody can blame him. In a short three years, the Lions are moving on to yet another head coach. Luckily, they landed James Franklin, who was largely recruited for several jobs. Franklin brings huge energy, and will recruit the hell out of the place. He should find a good deal of success, but questions remain about how good he will be on the big stage after working at some middling programs. The schedule shows 8 wins, but it's all about how the offense progresses with a young QB, and how much the D can step up from a middle of the road season. The Lions may be on their way back, but they aren't there yet.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
Projected 2014 Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Jerry Kill (17-21, 4th season)

Mitch Leidner was handed the full time job at QB after sharing duties with Phillip Nelson last fall. Nelson transferred, and then found some off-field trouble, so Leidner is the man. He has to be able to think pass before run, as he was the team's second leading rusher last fall. It's time to think more front line starter than situational guy.
David Cobb and Rodrick Williams will try to take some heat off of Leidner at RB, and both had starting experience last season, but someone has to be the guy here. Donnell Kirkwood is another back returning who started some last fall.
Both receiver jobs are open heading into camp, and that group could determine Leidner's fate and legacy. Only TE Maxx Williams returns in this group.
The line looks to be strong with three starters returning in LG Zac Epping, RG Caleb Bak, and RT Josh Campion. This group has a great deal of experience. Tommy Olson is the new starter at Center, and is a senior. LT Ben Lauer is the kid of the group as a sophomore.
There is depth and experience on the line, as DE Thieren Cockran, DE Michael Amaefula, and DT Cameron Botticelli all return. Scott Epke should be the lone new starter at DT.
LB may be a different story, as only Damien Wilson returns. He should be flanked by De'Vondre Campbell and Jack Lynn, who are holding down jobs coming out of spring ball.
Eric Murray is back at CB, and Cedric Thompson is back at S, but there are new bodies needed at CB and the other S spot as well.
Special Teams
Freshman Ryan Santoso is likely the new starter at PK, but that battle will continue into fall practice. Punter is more locked down, with Peter Morteli returning after a strong season ins 2013 that saw him average 43.3 yards per punt.
Opening Game
8/28 Eastern Illinois
Final Overview
The Gophers must find a way to be a better passing team if they hope to exceed seven wins, which seems to be their plateau. The run game is solid, but if a passing game cannot be found, then teams will go with 8 men I the box and challenge the Gophers to try to throw the football, which is no their strong suit.
The defense must step up as well, but wasn't terrible season, ranking 43rd in total defense.
It's time for the entire program to find a way to push through, and a healthy coach in Jerry Kill would be a nice start. He was taken out of play several times last fall with his health issues, and no matter what anyone says, it's a distraction.
The following programs are projected to finish with losing records, and will likely not receive bowl bids...

Indiana Hoosiers
Projected 2014 Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Kevin Wilson

The Good
The offense is one of the most explosive in the country, having scored 38.4 points per game, which was good for 16th nationally. The Hoosiers averaged 508.5 yards per game, good for 9th nationally.
The entire offensive line returns, which could be a huge building block for an already great offense. RB Tevin Coleman ran for 928 yards last season, but missed three games. He should be healthy.
Nine starters return on defense, but that could be bad news...see below.
The Bad
The defense was one of the worst in the country, ranking 120th nationally. The Hoosiers gave up 527.9 yards per game, and 38.4 points per game, the same as the offense scored. PK Mitch Ewald moved on, so the points gained from the kicking game must be found in another source. Kevin Wilson's overall record is 10-26 heading into his 4th season, so 2014 has to be the year that this football team turns a corner. Patience in Bloomington, even for football, only lasts so long.
By the way, as good as the offense is, I hate two QB systems, and the Hoosiers are running one. Nobody wins big with a two QB system.

Northwestern Wildcats
Projected 2014 Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald

The Good
QB Trevor Siemian is finally the full time QB, but only if he can stay on the field. Injuries ruined him last season, but then again, injuries wrecked every position last fall in some way.
If Venric Mark is healthy, he can be one of the most dynamic backs in the conference. He was far from healthy last fall.
The offensive line returns four starters, giving the Wildcats a starting point to build from, as is the receiving corps, as both Christian Jones and Tony Jones are slated to return.
Slotback Dan Vitale is one of the more interesting players in the conference.
The Bad
The union situation that started at Northwestern is potentially a huge blight on college football, and could change everything for the worse. Of course, every player that has signed on for this suit is someone who basically has no pro future, so there's that.
Neither the offense, nor the defense was absolutely awful, but neither were they overly wonderful. The defense was, however, particularly awful against the pass, ranking 99th in that category, while finishing 88th in total defense.
Several players got experience due to injury last season, but they have to all prove themselves, as they were bogged down last fall.
The schedule is a bit difficult, and a 2-6 start is possible. The Cats will be better this season, but maybe not by much. Pat Fitzgerald is seeing his star diminish just a bit.

Illinois Fighting Illini
Projected 2014 Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Tim Beckman

The Good
The Illini have a QB that could carry them to another level in Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt. That being said, he is in a three way battle to win the job that hasn't been decided.
Josh Ferguson is back at RB, and is just as dangerous as a runner as he is a receiver. In short, he's a nightmare for defenses in coverage.
The offensive line returns four starters, giving the offense some consistency.
Bill Cubit may have been a mess as a head coach at Western Michigan, but he's a solid OC who can find ways to use several players in unique ways.
The Bad
The defense wasn't as bad as Indiana, but it was damn close. The Illini ranked 110th nationally in total defense in 2013.
The defense wasn't athletically talented at all, and the unit spent much of the off season trying to add speed and strength. It's impossible for me to say that they are much better off than they were a year ago, and three sophomores are starting (LB TJ Neal, CB Caleb Day, and FS Taylor Barton).
The offense has to find a run game, as they ranked just 92nd in the country in rushing, which brought the rest of the offense to a halt.
At the end of the day, the Illini will be lucky to return to four wins, and that may not be enough to save Tim Beckman's job.

Purdue Boilermakers
Projected 2014 Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Darrell Hazell

The Good
If you had to find something that worked for Purdue last fall, it was that the pass defense ranked 55th against the pass. That's about as good as anything got last season. Danny Etling is back at QB after starting as a freshman, so I'm looking for development here.
The middle of the line returns, which could help an anemic run game, and Akeem Hunt is a weapon at RB, where he'll be able to concentrate his full attention after playing both RB and WR last fall.
That pass defense returns three starters in the secondary in CB Frankie Williams, SS Landon Feltcher, and FS Taylor Richards.
The Bad
The offense was awful, the defense was awful, and the Boilers were just awful in every way. Purdue finished 119th in offense, and 104th in defense. The kicking game was terrible, and there is a battle at PK heading into the fall.
I'm being too harsh on Darrell Hazell as head coach calling him the worst in the Big 10, but until he gets this thing running, that's the honest truth. Maybe Tim Beckman is worse, but it's too close to call right now.

Maryland Terrapins
Projected 2014 Record: 3-9
Head Coach: Randy Edsell

The Good
CJ Brown returns at QB, and may be the biggest weapon the Terps have on offense, but he has to get better as a passer. As far as his running ability out of the spread read offense, he is a wizard.
The Terps are deep at RB, so the run game is a strength. That's a good thing, because the Terps only ranked 83rd in rushing last fall.
Both receivers return, and four starters return on the line, giving Maryland hopes of actually taking off on offense.
The defense wasn't terrible last fall, ranking 44th nationally. Six starters return in the front seven, so run defense should be a strength.
The secondary looks to get stronger as well, with three starters returning there for a unit that allowed 225.1 yards per game.
The Bad
Maryland ranked 75th nationally in total offense, and they don't seem to be any closer to finding answers to get much better than that.
There could be a major losing streak built into the schedule, with 8 potential losses in the middle of the slate. Turnovers were a killer as well, as the Terps finished -7 last fall.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Projected 2014 Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Kyle Flood

The Good
There is depth at RB for the first time in a while, if the health bug doesn't bite. Paul James could be a game changer, but was banged up last year, which opened the door for several other RBs.
The receiving corps could have depth, but several receivers are inexperienced.
Tyler Kroft could end up being one of the better TEs in the conference when all is said and done.
All five linemen return on offense.
The run defense is really solid, and there is depth up front to support a unit that ranked 4th nationally against the run.
The Bad
The offense was a wreck, ranking just 95th in total defense. Pass D was especially terrible, ranking 120th.
Rutgers has another QB situation, with Chas Dodd battling Gary Nova, amongst others. None of them are very good overall, and Nova is barely better than average most days. That doesn't help an anemic run game, as Rutgers ranked 100th nationally in rushing.
The schedule is particularly brutal, with a four week stretch mid season against Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. The Knights may be scarlet in their own blood by the end of their first season in the Big 10.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

2014 College Football Preview: ACC

The ACC goes through a bit of change in 2014, as the realignment carousel continues to spin. Maryland has left the ACC for the "greener grass" of the Big 10, while Louisville enters the conference as a replacement piece after leaving the AAC. This basically irons out as a gain for the conference, as Louisville is a far better program than what Maryland is current day. Louisville will increase the overall year end PRS score for the conference, and Maryland likely sinks into a never ending abyss in their new home.
The conference also comes off of the high gained by Florida State taking the final BCS title in a thrilling win over Auburn last January, breaking a long string of titles won by the SEC. Jameis Winston added to the fun by taking a Heisman home, but tarnished the accomplishment at times with major off field issues, including aborted charges of sexual assault, and an ill advised attempt at shop lifting some crab legs from a Publix Market.
The conference, as a whole, after FSU has question marks abounding, as several schools have huge holes to plug heading into 2014. Sources had major problems discerning favorites after FSU, with as many as four different programs tabbed to win the seemingly wide open Coastal division.

Projected Order of Finish

1. Florida State
2. Clemson
3. Louisville
4. Syracuse
5. Boston College
6. NC State
7. Wake Forest

1. Duke
2. North Carolina
3. Miami
4. Virginia Tech
5. Pittsburgh
6. Georgia Tech
7. Virginia

Most Overrated

Most Underrated

Coaches on the Hot Seat
Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
Mike London, Virginia

Best Coach
Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

Worst Coach
Mike London, Virginia

Conference Preview

The following teams are projected to finish with winning records/bowl births

Florida State Seminoles
Projected 2014 Record: 12-0
Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher (45-10, 5th season)

When you have Jameis Winston at QB, everything will be ok, even when you have several other losses that would be detrimental to most programs. The RS sophomore passed for over 4000 yards and scored 44 times as a freshman last season, and his impact was felt immediately in a season opening win at Pitt. He is likely to be even more developed in 2014, and that is great news for Jimbo and Company.
James Wilder is gone at RB, but Karlos Williams is promising. He rushed for over 700 yards last season, and averaged over 8 yards per carry. Look for Williams to carry 20 plus carries per game in 2014. Freddie Stevenson will start at RB as well in the pro set offense, and will likely hold a role like Williams had last season.
Rashad Greene racked up 1128 yards receiving last season, and he's back to lead a corps of young, but talented receivers. Greene will be Winston's best friend in 2014. Christian Green, a senior, is going to need to step up well beyond what he's done to date to make up for the fact that Greene will see multiple double teams.
TE Nick O'Leary, largely thought to be one of the best TEs in the nation, should be a welcome return for the Noles, and will also help take pressure off of Greene in the passing game.
The line is a huge strength for FSU, and will be a key to a run at another title. Cameron Erving (LT) and Josue Matias (LG) will anchor the left side, while Bobby Hart (RT) and Tre' Jackson (RG) will anchor on the right. The lone new starter is C Austin Barron, and even he has five career starts to his credit.

Charles Kelly comes in as the new DC with plenty of spots to fill, but he has many toys to play with, as Fisher and crew have recruited like maniacs.
Junior Mario Edwards returns to start at LDE, and he will be joined as a starting returnee on the line by junior Eddie Goldman. Nile Lawrence-Staple and Desmond Staple will likely rotate in the open RDT spot. With the LDE open, Chris Casher is leading the pack to get the start heading into camp.
Terrence Smith is the lone returning LB this fall. He finished with 59 tackles last fall, and will need to step up big this season as the new default starter in the middle of the defense. Ukeme Eligwe and Reggie Northrup emerged last spring to be the likely starters in the two open spots.
The corners are set with Jalen Ramsey and PJ Williams coming back for another go. Williams is the better of the two, breaking up 7 passes with 3 picks in 2013.
Both Safety spots remain open, as Tyler Hunter and Nate Andrews head into fall camp in the lead for those spots.

Special Teams
Roberto Aguayo won the Lou Groza award last fall after hitting 21 of 22 FGs. With him back at PK, the Noles are a lock to score. Cason Beatty returns at P, but he was hardly dependable, and his problems are still evident heading into fall. FSU may need to find an able replacement.

Opening Game
8/30 Oklahoma State at Arlington, Texas

Final Overview
FSU is going to make a run at their second consecutive title this season, and may still be one of the deeper and more talented team in the nation. Jimbo Fisher has finally turned the corner for the Noles, and there is no looking back. The schedule is highly manageable, and when you return both the Heisman and Groza award winners, expectations should be high. FSU is my lock to be one of the four teams to play in the first championship tournament in 2014.

Clemson Tigers
Projected 2014 Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Dabo Swinney (51-23, 6th season)

The Tigers found an able replacement for the departed Tahj Boyd in the spring in Cole Stoudt. Stoudt is a more than able passer, and is also athletic enough to make please on the run as well. He isn't Boyd, but he'll do nicely.
The RB position is wide open heading into camp, with Zac Brooks tentatively holding the lead. DJ Howard, Wayne Gallman, and CJ Davidson all figure into the mix.
Adam Humphries is the lone returning starter at WR, but he is more of a possession type guy, and not a true unit leader or top flight target. Charone Peak blew his ACL last September, but should be ready to fill a spot. Mike Williams is the likely leader of  the group, and coaches are high on his ability. There is plenty of young talent on the bench, but there is very little in the way of experience. Stanton Seckinger is back at TE, but is not a huge receiving threat.
The interior line returns intact with LG David Beasly, C Ryan Norton, and RG Kalon Davis, but both tackles must be replaced. Isaiah Battle and Shaq Anthony figure into the open tackle jobs heading into the fall.

The D line figures to be a focal point in 2014, as three of four return , including the monster that can be DE Vic Beasley, who finished with 23.5 TFLs in 2013. Corey Crawford lines up at end on the other side, while Grady Jarrett returns in the idle at tackle. Senior DeShawn Williams will be the lone new starter, but he has experience.
Stephone Anthony returns at MLB, and is coming off a season where he collected 131 tackles. Travis Blanks returns as well, but health is an issue with him as well as with new starter Tony Steward, as both have a history with torn ACLs.
The secondary is a huge guessing game coming in, as three of four starters have departed. Only Safety Robert Smith returns. Martin Jenkins and Mackensie Alexander have the lead to start at Corner as we head into the fall., and Jayron Kearse.

Special Teams
The loss of Chandler Catanzaro is huge. Junior Ammon Lakip finished spring with the job, but he is an unknown.
Bradley Pinion was strong on directional kicks, but his overall average was garbage as a sophomore. More will be needed from him.

Opening Game
8/30 at Georgia

Final Overview
There are several questions heading into the season, and I find it highly unlikely that the Tigers will make a run at the ACC title. The schedule in the first month is absolutely brutal, as Clemson travels to Georgia and Florida State, and gets North Carolina, and later Louisville, at home. The back end of the schedule is loaded with opportunities for big wins, and the Tigers will have to make the most of it. Overall, the offense is too muddled right now to make much of skill wise.

Miami Hurricanes
Projected 2014 Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Al Golden (22-15, 4th season)

The Hurricanes are just a mess at QB heading into the fall, as potential new starter Ryan Williams blew his ACL. Now the job goes to freshman Kevin Olsen, and he was a disaster in the spring game. fellow freshmen Brad Kaaya and Malik Dozier are both definitely still in the race.
Duke Johnson is a beast at RB, but ifthere is no QB in place, defenses will just stack the box and make the QBs throw as they crush the run. Johnson does have an injury history, as he broke his ankle last season. His backup was Dallas Crawford, but he moves to Safety. The new backup is freshman Joseph Yearby, who enrolled early. He too got hurt in spring ball, so there is a banged up group hanging out in the backfield.
The receivers all have some experience, but are all starting for the first time regularly. Stacy Coley, Phillip Dorsett, and Herb Waters are all the starters heading into the fall camp, and Malcolm Lewis is the 4th. The problem is...you guessed it...Dorsett and Lewis were both injured much of 2013. Clive Walford is the starter at TE, a role he held in 2013.
The left side of the line returns from Center out in Shane McDermott (C), Jon Feliciano (LG), and Ereck Flowers (LT). The right side of the line is being rebuilt, and the leaders are both sophomores in Taylor Gadbois (RT), and Danny Isidora (RG).

The defense gave up 26 points or more in each of their final six games, including the bowl, last season. They gave up 3rd down conversions like Halloween candy, and looked highly unlike historic Miami defenses.
The D Line is undersized, and lacks depth. Olsen Pierre does bring some size in the middle of the line at tackle, as does new starter Calvin Heurtelou. DE Anthony Chickillo returns at End, but he severely lacks bulk, and new starter at DE Tyriq McCord looks more like a LB than a DE.
Denzel Perryman is a beast at LB, and will hopefully spark improvement on the defensive side of the football, and collected 108 tackles last fall. Thurston Ambrister and Raphael Kirby are the likely new starters outside.
Two starters return in the secondary. Tracy Howard is back at Corner, while Rayshawn Jenkins is back at Safety. Antonio Crawford will likely step into the opening at CB, while converted RB Dallas Crawford will line up at Safety.

Special Teams
Matt Goudis will handle both PK and P duties this fall unless another punter can be found in camp. He hit 13 of 17 FG attempts last fall, and with the offense likely set to struggle early, he will need to step up production in a big way, and find more consistency to boot.

Opening Game
9/1 at Louisville

Final Overview
Some outfits picked the Canes to win the ACC Coastal this season. The division is wide open, but you'd have to be a Cane die hard or smoking crack to truly believe that this edition of Miami football could pull that off in 2014. The offense is going to struggle, and the defense was a complete train wreck at the end of last season, and I see no signs of it getting better all too quickly. Miami will probably squeeze out seven wins, and it will be tough to get there.

North Carolina Tar Heels
Projected 2014 Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Larry Fedora (15-10, 3rd season)

Marquise Williams made a huge splash over the second half of last season, and gave UNC a QB that they knew they could lean on. Williams should make some strides this season as he returns for his junior season after passing for 15 TDs over the final 5 games. There actually is a QB battle going on in camp, however, as Larry Fedora is pulling the moron move of allowing Mitch Trubisky to compete for the job. That is a huge mistake. I've never been a huge Fedora fan, and if he even leans toward playing both QBs this fall in a two QB system, then he basically backs up my thoughts of his coaching skills, because 2 QB systems rarely ever win.
Nobody is really paying attention to the RB spot, but for what it's worth, TJ Logan had a strong spring, and will return to the starting role.
The receiving corps is solid, as TJ Thorpe and Quinshad Davis return as starters. Davis had 10 TDs last season, and is the number one target. Kick return man extraordinaire Ryan Switzer will step up into a starting role, and will still return kicks.
Jack Tabb returns at TE, but he won't be the guy that Eric Ebron was.
Three starters return are back on the line in Jon Heck (LT), Caleb Peterson (LG), and Landon Turner (RG).

The line, which has been loaded with talent over the last several years, has finally seemed to have thin out. Only one starter returns this fall in Ethan Farmer (DT). Jessie Rodgers and Junior Gronkonde will likely start at DE, with Justin Thomason will likely fill the open spot at DT.
Travis Hughes and Jeff Schoettmer return to give the Heels returning starters at both LB spots in the 4-2-5 defense. Schoettmer is the leading returning tackler on the team.
The strength of the secondary will be the safeties, who all return. Norkeithus Otis, Tim Scott, and Dominique Green will man those spots. However, both corners must be replaced.

Special Teams
Thomas Moore returns at PK, but only connected on 14 of 19 FGs last fall. Tommy Hibbard was highly strong last fall at Punter, averaging 43 yards per kick.

Opening Game
8/30 Liberty

Final Overview
UNC finished strong last fall after a horrid start, but they also lost some serious talent that provided the spark to make that run. This team could go either way, and the new starters on defense may very well carry the day. If the defense can't keep up with recent tradition, then it may be a long season.

Louisville Cardinals
Projected 2014 Record: 10-2
Head Coach: Bobby Petrino (41-9, 5th season...1st season back)

Teddy Bridgewater is gone, and Will Gardner is the new guy at the trigger now. Gardner emerged from the pack near the end of spring ball, but he is barely holding on to the job heading into the fall.
Dominique Brown is really the power back in the offense, but Petrino will also run Auburn transfer Michael Dyer and LJ Scott often.
DeVante Parker gave up a shot at the NFL draft to return, and is one of the best in the nation. Eli Rogers and James Quick will both be new starters this fall.
TE Gerald Christian really blew up in spring ball, and may be emerging as a serious receiving threat.
Three starters return on the line in LT Jamon Brown, LG John Miller, and RG Jake Smith. Sophomore Tobijah Hughley will likely start at Center, while Aaron Epps has emerged as the leader at RT.

The defense could be a bit of a mess this season, as only four starters return. Nobody returns on the D line. BJ DuBose and Sheldon Rankins will step up at DE, while DeAngelo Brown lines up at NT.
Lorenzo Mauldin and James Burgess will add some veteran presence at LB on a unit that needs exactly that. Deiontrez Mount and Keith Brown will step into the open starting jobs at LB, and both have been in the program for a while, so neither is all that new to the job.
The corners are set with Charles Gaines and Terrell Floyd returning, but both Safeties need replacing. Gerod Hollman and James Sample will be ling up at SS and FS respectively.

Special Teams
John Wallace had a solid season last fall when he hit 20 of 24 FG attempts. Ryan Johnson returns at Punter after averaging 41.2 yards per punt last fall.

Opening Game
9/1 Miami

Final Overview
With Teddy Bridgewater gone, Louisville may be in for an era of transition. That could mean a step back, but I believe that the Cardinals are going to exceed expectations and win ten games in 2014. It's a wide open conference outside of Florida State, and so why can't Louisville succeed? They won't beat FSU, but a great bowl bid is in line if the Cards meet my expectations. Bobby Petrino's return virtually guarantees a surprising finish.

Duke Blue Devils
Projected 2014 Record: 11-1
Head Coach: David Cutliffe (31-44, 7th season)

Anthony Boone returns at QB after a huge breakthrough season in 2013. Boone has the QB job all to himself this season, and will have his top target back in Jamison Crowder. This is really the best QB/WR combo in the ACC, and one of the best in college football. Max McCarthy and Isaac Blakeney also return at WR, as does TE Braxton Deaver, giving Boone a more than solid WR/TE corps to support him.
Shaquille Powell will be come into his junior season as the starting RB. Senior Josh Snead will also get some solid carries. This could be a setback position after Jela Duncan was kicked out of school, but I don't believe that Duke misses a beat without him.
The line could bring everything crashing down if two new starters don't step up. LT Takoby Cofield, C Matt Skura, and RG Laken Tomlinson are all back as starters. Tanner Stone is the likely new starter as a sophomore, and all eyes could be on him to see how he steps up. Lucas Patrick will likely start at LG.

Duke runs a 4-2-5 defense, and they are thin on the front four. NT Jamal Bruce is the lone returning starter on the line, but there is strength and experience in the new starters (Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Dezmond Johnson at DE, Carlos Way at DT).
Both LBs return in Kelby Brown and David Helton. Helton led the aCC in tackles per game with 9.5 last season, and Brown was just a shade under 9 per game himself.
All three safeties return in Jeremy Cash, DeVon Edwards, and Deondre Singleton. Edwards and Singleton started as freshmen last fall.
Both corners will be new in Breon Borders and Bryon Fields, who will also both start as sophomores.

Special Teams
Ross Martin was one of the best kickers in the nation last season, when he hit on 23 of 27 kicks. Will Monday is back at Punter, and is also a star after averaging 43.7 yards per punt last fall.

Opening Game
8/30 Elon

Final Overview
This will not be a popular pick, but I think that Duke is likely the second best team in the ACC other than Florida State this fall. I like their mix of veterans and young players, and they return key athletes on offense. The defense fell apart in the ACC title game, and collapsed in the Peach Bowl against Texas A&M, but there was a great deal of youth playing last fall, and those mistakes won't be repeated this season. The schedule sets up very nicely early, and they miss Florida State, Clemson, and Louisville this season. That helps. I really love Duke's chances.

Virginia Tech Hokies
Projected 2014 Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Frank Beamer (224-109-2, 28th season)

The maddeningly inconsistent Logan Thomas has moved on at QB for the Hokies, but that doesn;t mean that the position will be better this year over last. Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer is likely the starter, but that battle will move into fall camp with Brendan Motley and Mark Leal.
Trey Edmunds will return as the starting RB, and will share carries with JC Coleman. Neither one of them really stands out to this point, so we will see what they bring this fall. Sam rogers returns at FB.
Demitri Knowles and Josh Stanford will both be back at WR, but neither receiver broke over 50 catches last fall. One of them, or both needs to step this season, but how much of their lacking star power was a result of on and off QB play last season?
Junior Ryan Malleck will step in as the new starter at TE.
Both Tackles (Jonathon McLaughlin and Laurence Gibson) return, as does Caleb Farris at Center. Both Guards have to be replaced.

The defense could be a total mess this season, as only four starters return.
Luther Maddy is the only starter returning in the entire front seven in 2014 at DT. The rest of the line and the entire LB corps must be replaced in the starter ranks.
The secondary is much better off, as only one CB needs to be replaced. Kendall Fuller is a star at CB, while Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett could be poised for big seasons at Safety. Brandon Facyson will likely be the new staring CB.
There are several upperclassmen looking to step up into the starting ranks on defense, but depth could be a huge concern.

Special Teams
There are three PKs competing heading into the fall for the job, and they are led by Richmond transfer Remington Hinshaw. AJ Hughes is returning to his punting duties after averaging over 44 yards per punt in a huge season for him.

Opening Game
8/30 William & Mary

Final Overview
Frank Beamer is slipping, and there is no doubt of that. His dominant days are behind him a Tech, and UCLA exposed that in a very big way at the Sun Bowl last December in a 42-12 crushing defeat. The talent level has severely dipped, especially at QB, where it's been a good long while since the Hokies have had one of note. The running game doesn't pound like it used to, and the defensive stars are lacking. Maybe it's time to finally move on, but maybe Bud foster isn't the lead candidate anymore either. New blood is coming soon, and it had better come sooner than later, because seven win seasons aren't going to cut it anymore. I was cited on a Bleacher Report article for calling out Frank Beamer during the offseason, and while my call for Beamer wasn't disagreed with entirely, the question of who can step up was a good one indeed. Chad Morris or Brent Vanables, anyone?

Pittsburgh Panthers
Projected 2014 Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Paul Chryst (13-13, 3rd season)

The skill set players are almost entirely new this season, as Chad Voytik will likely start at QB. James Conner is the new RB, and Jaymar Parrish is the new starting FB. Manasseh Garner will be a new starter at WR. Of the skill position guys, only WR Tyler Boyd and TE JP Holtz returns.
Three starters will return on the line in LT Adam Bisnowaty, RG Matt Rotheram, and RT TJ Clemmings. Dorian Johnson (LG), and Artie Rowell (C) will likely be the new starters. With so many new starters, depth and inexperience will be a real problem.

There could be some real experience issues up front for the Panthers, as only DE David Durham returns on the line. Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas are back at LB, but sophomore Matt Galambos will bring more youth and inexperience at LB.
Lafayette Pitts is back at CB, and FS Ray Vinopal will be back in the secondary, but there will be new starters at SS and CB. Sophomores Titus Howard (CB) and Terrish Webb (FS) will likely step into starting roles.

Special Teams
Chris Blewitt hit 11 of 13 FGs last fall, and returns to start at PK. The starting P job is being handed to a freshman in Ryan Winslow, and so anything can happen.

Opening Game
8/30 Delaware

Final Overview
Thank the Gods for manageable schedules, as due to that fact the Panthers will manage to find seven wins. If injuries set in, however, reaching that win total could be lofty. There is little depth, and every offensive skill position is loaded with questions and issues. Paul Chryst needs to get this ship running in a straight line rather than the zigzag course it has taken for the last two seasons.

NC State Wolfpack
Projected 2014 Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Dave Doeren (3-9, 2nd season)

Jacoby Brissett finally gets to show off his arm in 2014 after sitting out last fall after transferring from Florida. Brissett had a huge spring, and that news could not be any better for Coach Doeren after a trio of QBs played like a wreck last fall.
Shadrach Thompson should benefit at RB from an emergence of a QB, as he struggled to gain 768 yards last fall as teams stacked up because they didn't respect the pass. There will be a trio of new full time starters at WR, so that could be a problem, as Bryan Underwood and his 32 receptions are as good as it gets from this group based on 2013 numbers. Someone must step up big. It's possible that Bo Hines steps in and blows up as a freshman.
TE David Grinnage returns as the starter, but caught just 14 passes last fall.

The front six is in trouble, as only DE Art Norman returns in the 4-2 front. A freshman may be starting at DT in BJ Hill, so depth will likely be an issue on the line.
MJ Salahuddin and Rodman Noel are both upperclassmen at LB, so there is some veteran presence there.
The secondary returns three starters in CB Juston Burris, CB Jack Tocho, and S Hakim Jones. This unit ranked 47th against the pass last fall. The bad news is that both new starters at safety may likely be freshmen in Josh Jones and Germaine Pratt.

Special Teams
Niklas Sade will be back as PK after hitting 19 FGs last fall. Will Baumann is back at Punter after averaging over 42 yards per punt. This will be an area of strength.

Opening Game
8/30 Georgia Southern

Final Overview
There are many questions and lacking depth on this roster, but there should be enough there for a major uptick in victories from 3 to 7. A bowl game is right there to grab in a wide open conference. Dave Doeren is a solid coach who has much rebuilding to do. Look for solid progress despite young players getting a bunch of reps this season. The schedule is light, especially early on, so getting some wins early is a must.

The following teams are projected to finish with losing records and will miss bowl games...

Syracuse Orange
Projected 2014 Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Scott Shafer (7-6, 2nd season)

The Good
Almost every skill position player returns on offense, but all of them need to step up in a big way for the Orange to get over the hump and match or better their record last fall. Terrel Hunt has a bit of skill, but he needs to get out and lead. Ashton Broyid and Jarrod West had solid springs, and improvement starts with them making plays. There is depth at RB if someone would just step up and be the guy.
Experience on the O line is deep with Sean hickey and Rob Trudo, who have a combined 45 starts between them.
Eight starters return on defense, including 5 of the front 7. Marcus Coleman looks to be the new starter on the D line at DT, while Marquez Hodge should step up to take the open LB spot. The LB corps (Dyshawn Davis and Cameron Lynch) should be a strength, but could still improve.
The secondary returns both safeties in Durell Eskridge and Darius Kelly, and Brandon Reddish is also back at CB.

The Bad
Depth in the secondary behind the starters is a real problem, and the Orange ranked just 63rd against the pass last season. The defense also ranked just 56th in scoring defense.
The offense wasn't very good last fall, and ranked just 98th in scoring.
The O Line has to be rebuilt, and that may not help the passing game that ranked just 102nd last fall.
The defense has not had much success rushing the passer, and that may not get much better if the secondary doesn't step up and improve coverage.
The middle of the schedule is just brutal.

Boston College Eagles
Projected 2014 Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Steve Addazio (7-6, 2nd season)

The Good
The secondary returns every starter from last season.
When you look at the overall state of the program, 5 wins would be a huge positive.

The Bad
The Eagles have lost all everything RB Andre Williams, and many other offensive skill players. As a matter of fact, only three starters return, and they are all on the line, and include no tackles.
Despite every starter returning in the secondary, that secondary ranked 111th against the pass last fall.
The schedule is just a mess for the Eagles, not just in conference, but out of conference as well, with games against USC and Colorado State.
There is absolutely no depth at all, anywhere. What the hell has this staff been doing when it comes to recruiting? What the hell was Frank Spaziani doing when he was collecting a paycheck as coach of this program?
On defense, there is only one returning starter on the line, and only one returning starter at LB.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Projected 2014 Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Paul Johnson (47-32, 7th season)

The Good
Both receivers return, but Tech doesn't pass. Maybe that should change this fall a bit?
Three starters return on the line. That's important because of injuries to the backfield in spring ball may bleed over to the fall, and better protection could help keep that issue from getting worse.
The defense was strong last fall, and enough talent returns to keep the unit playing top flight football.

The Bad
Vad Lee has transferred out to James Madison, and the QB battle isn't going well. Justin Thomas is heading the battle, but he has no real hold on the job.
Synlyn Days and Deon Hill are expected to start at the A Back spot, but both had some concerning injury issues in the spring, and missed a good deal of practice.
The defense was solid against the run, ranking 11th nationally, but the secondary couldn't stop the pass, ranking 83rd.
With injury issues in the backfield and a waning QB situation, Tech will likely be a rambling wreck on offense, and their ranking of 26th in scoring will likely take a large hit.
The schedule is tougher than it looks, especially in the middle.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Projected 2014 Record: 3-9
Head Coach: Dave Clawson (1st season)

The Good
Three starters return on the line. They are the only starters returning on offense.
Brandon Chubb and Hunter Williams are returning at LB, and are the only starters back in the front seven.
Merill Noel and Kevin Johnson have the CB spots locked down, and SS Ryan Johnson got valuable starting experience as a freshman last season.
Alex Kinal will be back at Punter, and Chad Hedlund is back at PK, but he must get stronger and must get more opportunites after hitting 8 of 12 FGs last season.

The Bad
There are no starters on offense returning at any skill positions, and the guys who are starting are largely young and inexperienced.
The entire D Line will be brand new starters, even though they are all upperclassmen.
The offense was absolutely awful last fall, ranking 114th in scoring, 116th rushing, 96th in passing, and 118th in total offense. That was enough to get a coaching change made.
Dave Clawson has never been a huge success as a coach, and may not have been even remotely the best choice for the job.

Virginia Cavaliers
Projected 2014 Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Mike London (18-31, 5th season)

The Good
There could be a QB change, so that's a good thing. Greyson Lambert is in line to take the job.
Kevin Parks was the first 1000 yard rusher in ten years for the Cavs last fall, and if the line improves, he could get there again.
Three starters return on a line that did manage to produce a half decent back in Parks last fall.
The entire secondary returns this fall, and they were the best part of a largely terrible defense last fall. They will be a key group for DC Jon Tenuta to lean on.

The Bad
It starts at the top, as Mike London really showed his nine lives after surviving the firing squad after last season.
The offense ranked 109th last season and the defense ranked 98th. It can only get better. Seriously.