Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Week One Story Lines

Here are some story lines to look out for during the first week of the 2014 season by conference:

BYU at U Conn
The Huskies start the new Bob Diaco era at home. Let's hope for Husky fan that it works out one hell of a lot better than the Pasqualoni era ended up.

UTSA at Houston
Houston could be one of the surprise teams in the country, but UTSA could ruin the start of what could be a solid run by the Cougars. This game has in-state implications, and UTSA could use it to boost a run of their own.

UCF vs. Penn State at Dublin, Ireland
No idea why this game is being played in Ireland, but UCF may have Penn State's number. A win here without Blake Bortles would be huge.

UCLA at Virginia
The Bruins are ranked in the top ten, and everyone is still trying to figure out how UVA's Mike London made it back for another season. UCLA is a 23 point favorite heading in.

Clemson at Georgia
Both teams are in the top 25, though I'm not sure either team should be this early. Too many questions on both sides of the ball here, and that's why both sides need the win so badly. Either way, traditionally, this is a rare big time early season game for either school.

Florida State vs. Oklahoma State at Dallas
The Seminoles enter this contest ranked number one, but this is a virtual home game for Okie State. They will have the fan base there, but FSU should win this one easily. That said, stranger things have happened.

Miami at Louisville
The Canes start a freshman at QB, and Louisville moves on from both the Charlie Strong and Teddy Bridgewater era. Plenty of drama will be played out here.

Big 12
North Dakota State at Iowa State
NDSU lost some personnel and head coach Criag Bohl, but this is not a hopeless situation for the Bison, and this could be their second consecutive season opener win over a Big 12 squad.

Big 10
Ohio State at Navy
The Buckeyes go into the season without Braxton Miller, and Navy has super weapon Keenan Reynolds. The Middies barely missed out on an upset in Columbus last meeting, but do they miss again?

Appalachian State at Michigan
The return brings none of the drama from 2007. Lightning won't strike twice. This game only makes the list for obvious reasons.

California at Northwestern
This game makes the list because everyone wants to see if the union issue becomes a distraction right out of the gate for the Wildcats. Otherwise, a fairly entertaining game between two not so great teams.

Wisconsin vs. LSU at Houston
The Badgers could get a statement win down in what should be basically home territory for the slipping Tigers. The Badgers are being coy about who starts at QB, but LSU will play two QBs. Both teams need it.

Conference USA
Bethune-Cookman at FIU
On paper, not much to be interested in here, but Bethune-Cookman is an emerging power in the MEAC and in the FBS ranks. FIU is a struggling entity. If the Wildcats win on the road, it could be the biggest win in school history, and it's a possibility.

Ohio at Kent State
Ohio should be a favorite here, but this is an opener with a dark cloud for the Golden Flashes, as they play after the passing of their starting Center. This will be an emotional opener.

New Hampshire at Toledo
Toledo will be the favorite here, but UNH always brings their A game against FBS competition. The Rockets have to be on guard from an upset attempt here.

Mountain West
Boise State vs. Ole Miss at Atlanta
The Bryan Harsin era begins at Boise State, and they have a tough challenge. Ole Miss is supposed to be much improved, and is a 10 point favorite. The caveat is that Boise has always played very well in these east coast/deep south openers. Ole Miss has to be on guard.

Colorado State vs. Colorado at Denver
If the buffaloes want to show that they can be a player this year, it has to start in Denver against their arch rivals. A win for the Rams would show that they are serious about being a big time player in the MWC. Both sides have much to gain, and much to lose.

Montana at Wyoming
Craig Bohl takes a leap by heading off to Laramie, and there is no bigger challenge to his early career here than facing regional and national FCS power Montana right out of the gate. This is an underrated big time opener.

Fresno State at USC
The Bulldogs don't have David Carr anymore, but how messed up will that USC secondary be after the debacle that was the Josh Shaw story this week. The Bulldogs have an opportunity against what will surely be a distracted USC squad. Revenge from that Las Vegas drubbing will be at hand as well.

Utah State at Tennessee
The last time that the Aggies went down south for an opener, they almost knocked off Auburn. Tennessee isn't very good. Chuckie Keeton has a chance to pull off a major stunner.

Portland State at Oregon State
Do I have to remind anyone at how inept the Beavers are against Big Sky opponents in season openers the last couple of seasons? Didn't think so.

Texas A&M at South Carolina
No more Johnny Football, so we finally get to concentrate on the Aggie team and staff for a change. How refreshing. South Carolina needs to turn a corner and has an opportunity to win an SEC title this season, so falling flat to the Aggies at home to open would just be terrible.

Temple at Vanderbilt
Not a huge game overall, but this will mark the beginning of the Derek Mason era as head coach at Vandy, and that's a big story. Can he follow in the successful footsteps of James Franklin.

West Virginia vs. Alabama at Atlanta
Alabama should cruise here, but what will be interesting is who will be under center, Blake Sims or Jacob Coker. Nobody will know until the offense trots out for the Tide.

Sun Belt
Wake Forest at UL-Monroe
I guess if I had to pick one game here, it's this one. ULM needs a win in the post Kolton Browning era to start, and Wake Forest is coming off of an awful season with new head coach Dave Clawson. Could be a quality shot at a power five conference win for the Warhawks.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

2014 Week One Point Spread Locks

This is my new feature where I pick ten games to lock into my parlay for the given week. Separate from my weekly picks, this list is strictly against the point spread, and all games picked are based on the current spread at the MGM Race and Sports Book in Las Vegas, the town that my family and I call home! Here is my ten team parlay for the opening weekend of the season:

Tulane +5 Tulsa
Washington State -10 Rutgers
BYU -10 U Conn
Navy +10 Ohio State
UCLA -22 Virginia
Michigan -10 Appalachian State
Northwestern -10.5 California
Nebraska -24 Florida Atlantic
Boston College -15 U Mass
Marshall -23.5 Miami (Ohio)

Next week, I will choose from the LVH Race and Sports Book selection, as I rotate around Las Vegas.

College Football 2014: Week One Picks

Here we go! My first set of picks for the 2014 College Football season! I will list my FBS picks first, followed by the FCS picks for the week. I will include the 8/23 game as in this list as well, which I have already announced on Twitter (@BiloFootball). Without further delay, here are my picks for week one!


Abilene Christian over Georgia State...FCS Upset Alert! (L...GSU 38, ACU 37, 1-1)

Tulane over Tulsa (L...Tulsa 38, Tulane 31 2OT, 1-2)
Minnesota over Eastern Illinois (W...Minnesota 42, Eastern Illinois 20, 2-2)
South Carolina over Texas A&M (L...Texas A&M 52, South Carolina 28, 2-3)
UL-Monroe over Wake Forest (W...ULM 17, Wake Forest 10, 3-3)
Akron over Howard(W...Akron 41, Howard 0, 4-3)
Central Michigan over Chattanooga (W...Central Michigan 20, Chattanooga 16, 5-3)
Northern Illinois over Presbyterian (W...Northern Illinois 55, Presbyterian 3, 6-3)
Utah over Idaho State (W...Utah 56, Idaho State 10, 7-3)
New Mexico State over Cal Poly (W...NMSU 28, Cal Poly 10, 8-3)
Ole Miss over Boise State (W...Ole Miss 35, Boise State 13, 9-3)
Vanderbilt over Tulane (L... Temple 37, Vanderbilt 7, 9-4)
Washington State over Rutgers (L...Rutgers 41, Washington State 38, 9-5)
San Jose State over North Dakota (W...SJSU 42, North Dakota 10, 10-5)
Arizona State over Weber State (W...Arizona State 45, Weber State 14, 11-5)

BYU over U Conn (W...BYU 35, U Conn 10, 12-5)
Houston over UTSA (L...UTSA 27, Houston 7, 12-6)
Michigan State over Jacksonville State (W...MSU 45, JSU 7, 13-6)
Bowling Green over Western Kentucky (L, WKU 59, BGSU 31, 13-7)
Syracuse over Villanova (W...Syracuse 27, Villanova 26 2OT, 14-7)
Colorado over Colorado State (L...CSU 31, Colorado 17, 14-8)
Arizona over UNLV (W...Arizona 58, UNLV 13, 15-8)

East Carolina over North Carolina Central (W...ECU 52, NC Central 7, 16-8)
UCF over Penn State (at Dublin) (L...Penn State 26, UCF 24, 16-9)
Memphis over Austin Peay (W...Memphis 62, APSU 0, 17-9)
USF over Western Carolina (W...USF 36, WCU 31, 18-9)
Boston College over U Mass (W...BC 30, U Mass 7, 19-9)
Georgia over Clemson (W...UGA 45, Clemson 21, 20-9)
Duke over Elon (W...Duke 52, Elon 13, 21-9)
Florida State over Oklahoma State (W...FSU 37, Ok. State 31, 22-9)
Georgia Tech over Wofford (W...GT 38, Wofford 19, 23-9)
North Carolina over Liberty (W...UNC 56, Liberty 29, 24-9)
NC State over Georgia Southern (W...NC State 24, Ga. southern 23, 25-9)
Pittsburgh over Delaware (W...Pitt 62, Delaware 0, 26-9)
UCLA over Virginia (W...UCLA 28, UVA 20, 27-9)
Virginia Tech over William & Mary (W...Va. Tech 34, W&M 9, 28-9)
UL-Monroe over Wake Forest (W...ULM 17, Wake Forest 10, 29-9)
Illinois over Youngstown State (W...Illinois 28, YSU 17, 30-9)
Indiana over Indiana State (W...IU 28, ISU 10, 31-9)
Iowa over Northern Iowa (W...Iowa 31, UNI 23, 32-9)
Maryland over James Madison (W...Maryland 52, JMU 7, 33-9)
Michigan over Appalachian State (W...UM 52, App. State 14, 34-9)
Nebraska over FAU (W...Nebraska 55, FAU 7, 35-9)
Northwestern over California (L...Cal 31, NW 24, 35-10)
Navy over Ohio State...Upset Alert! (L...OSU 34, Navy 17, 35-11)
Purdue over Western Michigan (W...Purdue 43, WMU 34, 36-11)
Wisconsin over LSU (L...LSU 28, Wisconsin 24, 36-12)
Kentucky over UT-Martin (W...UK 59, UTM 14, 37-12)
Troy over UAB (L...UAB 48, Troy 10, 37-13)
North Dakota State over Iowa State...FCS Upset Alert! (W...NDSU 34, ISU 14, 38-13)
Ball State over Colgate (W...BSU 30, Colgate 10, 39-13)
Air Force over Nicholls State (W...AF 44, Nicholls State 16, 40-13)
Nevada over Southern Utah (W...Nevada 28, SUU 19, 41-13)
Alabama over West Virginia (W...Bama 33, WVU 23, 42-13)
Notre Dame over Rice (W...ND 48, Rice 17, 43-13)
Buffalo over Duquesne (W...UB 38, Duquesne 29...44-13)
Marshall over Miami (Ohio) (W...Marshall 42, Miami (Ohio) 27, 45-13)
Old Dominion over Hampton (W...ODU 41, Hampton 28, 46-13)
Missouri over South Dakota State (W...Mizzou 38, SDSU 18, 47-13)
Auburn over Arkansas (W...Auburn 45, Arkansas 21, 48-13)
Wyoming over Montana (W...Wyoming 17, Montana 12, 49-13)
Oregon State over Portland State (W...OSU 26, PSU 14, 50-13)
Stanford over UC-Davis (W...Stanford 45, UCD 0, 51-13)
Georgia over Clemson (W...UGA 45, Clemson 21, 52-13)
Ohio over Kent State (W...Ohio 17, Kent State 14, 53-13)
Eastern Michigan over Morgan State (W...EMU 31, Morgan State 28, 54-13)
Oklahoma over Louisiana Tech (W...OU 48, LT 16, 55-13)
Florida over Idaho (CXLD)
Arkansas State over Montana State (W...Ark. State 37, MSU 10, 56-13)
San Diego State over Northern Arizona (W...SDSU 38, NAU 7, 57-13)
FIU over Bethune-Cookman (L...BC 14, FIU 12, 57-14)
Memphis over Austin Peay (W...Memphis 62, APSU 0, 58-14)
USF over Western Carolina (W...USF 36, WCU 31, 59-14)
UL-Lafayette over Southern (W...ULL 45, Southern 6, 60-14)
Toledo over New Hampshire (W...Toledo 54, UNH 20, 61-14)
TCU over Samford (W...TCU 48, Samford 14, 62-14)
Texas Tech over Central Arkansas (W...Texas Tech 42, UCA 35, 63-14)
M. Tennessee over Savannah State (W...MT 61, SSU 7, 64-14)
Texas State over UA-Pine Bluff (W...TSU 65, UAPB 0, 65-14)
Kansas State over Stephen F. Austin (W...K State 55, SFA 16, 66-14)
USC over Fresno State (W...USC 52, Fresno State 13, 67-14)
Mississippi State over Southern Mississippi (W...MSU 49, USM 0, 68-14)
Florida State over Oklahoma State (W...FSU 37, OK. State 31, 69-14)
New Mexico over UTEP (L...UTEP 31, UNM 24, 69-15)
Texas over North Texas (W...UT 38, UNT 7, 70-15)
East Carolina over North Carolina Central (W...ECU 52, NCC 7, 71-15)
Washington over Hawaii (W...UW 17, UH 16, 72-15)
Oregon over South Dakota (W...UO 62, USD 13, 73-15

Baylor over SMU (W...Baylor 45, SMU 0, 74-15)
Tennessee over Utah State (Tennessee 38, USU 7, 75-15)

Louisville over Miami


Missouri State over Northwestern State (W...Missouri State 34, NW State 27, 76-15)
Eastern Kentucky over Robert Morris (W...Eastern Kentucky 29, Robert Morris 10, 77-15)
Western Illinois over Valporaiso (W...Western Illinois 45, Valpo 6, 78-15)
Stony Brook over Bryant (L...Bryant 13, Stony Brook 7, 78-16)
Charleston Southern over Atlantic Christian (W...CSU 61, Point 9, 79-16)
Campbell over Charlotte (L...Charlotte 33, Campbell 9, 79-17)
Mercer over Reinhardt (W...Mercer 45, Reinhardt 42, 80-17)
SE Missouri State over Missouri Baptist (W...SE Missouri State 77, Missouri Baptist 0, 81-17)
Murray State over Union College (W...Murray State 76, Union 29, 82-17)
Southern Illinois over Taylor (W...Southern Illinois 45, Taylor 0, 83-17)
Tennessee Tech over Kentucky Christian (W...Tennessee Tech 33, Kentucky Christian 7, 84-17)

Wagner over Georgetown (W...Wagner 21, Gtown 3, 85-17)
Monmouth over Delaware State (W...Monmouth 52, DSU 21, 86-17)
South Carolina State over Benedict (W...SC State 63, Benedict 0, 87-17)
Alcorn State over Virginia-Lynchburg (W...Alcorn State 55, UVL 7, 88-17)
Mississippi Valley State over University of Faith (W...MVSU 32, Faith 7, 89-17)
Sacred Heart over Marist (W...SH 28, Marist 7, 90-17)
Richmond over Morehead State (W...Richmond 55, Morehead State 10, 91-17)
Albany over Holy Cross (W...Albany 14, HC 13, 92-17)
Bucknell over VMI (W...Bucknell 42, VMI 38, 93-17)
Towson over Central Connecticut State (L...CCSU 31, Towson 27, 93-18)
Fordham over St. Francis (PA) (W...Fordham 52, St. Francis 23, 94-18)
Maine over Norfolk State (W...Maine 10, NSU 6, 95-18)
Coastal Carolina over Citadel (W...CCU 31, Citadel 16, 96-18)
Sacramento State over Incarnate Word (W...Sac State 49, Incarnate Word 13, 97-18)
Florida A&M over Jackson State (L...JSU 22, Florida A&M 17, 97-19)
Furman over Gardner-Webb (W...Furman 13, GW 3, 98-19)
Tennessee State over Edward Waters (W...TSU 58, EW 6, 99-19)
Drake over Grand View (L...GV 45, Drake 22, 99-20)
Stetson over Warner Southern (W...35, Warner Southern 16, 100-20)
Davidson over College of Faith-Charlotte (W...Davidson 56, FC 0, 101-20)
Sam Houston State over Alabama State (W...51, ASU 20, 102-20)
Lamar over Grambling (W...Lamar 42, GSU 27, 103-20)
SE Louisiana over Jacksonville (W...SELU 44, JAX 3, 104-20)
Eastern Washington over Montana-Western (W...EWU 41, MWU 9, 105-20)

North Carolina A&T over Alabama A&M (W...NC A&T 47, Bama A&M 13, 106-20)
Prairie View over Texas Southern (L...TSU 37, PVAM 35, 106-21)

Friday, August 22, 2014

College Football Preview 2014: Sun Belt

The Sun Belt has been raided once more, and once again has been forced to find additions from wherever they could be found. In 2014, the Sun Belt adds former FCS member Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Idaho, and New Mexico State. At the end of the day, the Sun Belt has largely added some dead weight, especially at the bottom of the standings. The Sun Belt, overall, has become a dumping ground that collects garbage while losing their better pieces to ever expanding conferences higher up the food chain. UL-Lafayette makes a great target, but somehow still remains, and they will therefore dominate the league standings once more.

Projected Order of Finish
1. UL-Lafayette
2. Arkansas State
3. South Alabama
4. UL-Monroe
5. Troy
6. Texas State
7. Georgia Southern
8. Appalachian State
9. Idaho
10. Georgia State
11. New Mexico State

Most Overrated Team

Most Underrated Team
Texas State

Coaches on the Hot Seat
Doug Martin, New Mexico State
Trent Miles, Georgia State
Todd Berry, UL-Monroe
Larry Blakeney, Troy

UL-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns
Projected 2014 Record: 10-2
Head Coach: Mark Hudspeth (27-12, 4th season)
Mark Hudspeth has ushered in a dominant era with the Cajuns, and this season should be no different, and I believe that this program will hit the 10 win mark this fall.
The Cajuns are all set at QB, with the return of all-conference Terrence Broadway. Broadway is an underrated QB nationally, and he could sting you when you let your guard down. He is relatively efficient, and his running ability makes it tough to force him down in the pocket. Alonzo Harris returns and is joined by Elijah McGuire, and they are a major two headed monster in the backfield. Broadway's favorite target is also back in Jamal Robinson, and James Butler is back at WR as well. Four starters are back on the line, with only the C position needing replacing. RG Daniel Quave was a second team all conference pick.
There may be some trouble up front on defense, as only one LB returns this fall in Dominique Tovell. Justin Hamilton is back at NT, while Christian Ringo returns at DE. With three LB spots open, the rush defense may take a step back. The secondary was the weak link last fall, but every member of it returns to start in CBs Trevence Patt and Corey Trim, and Safeties TJ Worthy and Sean Thomas.
Hunter Stover is favored to steal the PK job away from Stephen Brauchle, who largely struggled last season. Daniel Cadona returns as the Punter after averaging 41.7 yards per punt in 2013.
The conference schedule is largely workable, as Arkansas State comes to Lafayette this fall. They should be 2-0 heading into a tricky two week road trip to Boise State and Ole Miss, but the Cajuns could win both of those games.
Opening Game
8/30 Southern

Arkansas State Red Wolves
Projected 2014 Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Blake Anderson (1st season)
The Wolves are starting yet another season with yet another new coach in Blake Anderson after the departure of Bryan Harsin for Boise State. Blake Anderson signed a long term contract and has a healthy buyout should he leave, so he may just stick around a little while.
Fredi Knighten stepped in and helped ASU win their bowl game last season, and now steps into the starting role for the season. He may be ready for the job, but his running skills are more lauded than his passing game, and that may help, as only one starter returns at WR in JD McKissick. McKissick caught 82 passes last season, but most of those came on short routes, and it sure would be nice to set him loose more often in 2014. Michael Gordon is back at RB, and he really needs to pick up the production to help out Knighten this season. Darlon Griswold, an important piece at TE, is also returning. The line returns three starters, but the entire left side must be replaced.
The defensive line must be replaced in large part, but one starter does return in DE Chris Stone. Help is on the scene at LB, however, as both Qushaun Lee and Kyle Coleman both return. The secondary was a strength last fall, and returns intact, as all five starters return. Rocky Hayes and Artez Brown both return at CB, while Sterling Young, Chris Humes, and Frankie Jackson all return deep.
Luke Ferguson will add his cannon leg to PK duties as he also keeps his punting job, which is a great thing, as he averaged 43.8 yards per game last fall.
The Wolves are a strong football team, but don't have the quality that UL-Lafayette has. The schedule is also more brutal, especially early in the season with trips to Tennessee, Miami, and UL-Lafayette, and a visit from Utah State. That being said, the Wolves are by far the second best team in the league this season.
Opening Game
8/30 Montana State

South Alabama Jaguars
Projected 2014 Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Joey Jones (31-21, 6th season)
Joey Jones has slowly and steadily built the Jaguars into a contender in the Sun Belt, but they still have the underdog flag flying heading into 2014.
Brandon Bridge is finally the starting QB as a senior, and he has shown some decent development leading up to opening day. The receiving corps is fairly loaded for him, as Shavarez Smith and Jereme Jones return at WR, and Wes Saxton, the best TE in the league, returns as well. There is serious depth behind Saxton as well, so there should be many options in the passing game, and in the blocking game in short yardage and red zone plays. Three starters return on the line, and they should be able to open some holes for a RB group that goes five deep, starting at Jay Jones.
On defense, there are major holes up front, as only DT Jesse Kelley and LB Maleki Harris return. Look for some impact from JC transfer Jimmie Gipson III at DE, as he led the JC ranks with 17 sacks in 2013. The secondary is fully loaded, as four of five starters return. Qudarius Ford and Montell Garner are back at CB, while Terrell Brigham and Antonio Carter come back at Safety, leaving only one spot open at Safety in the 4-2-5 set.
Aleem Sunanon is back at PK this fall, after finishing strong. There is a battle for the Punter job between Brandon McKee and Corliss Waitman.
USA is a rising program, and Joey Jones has the dial turned in the right direction. The Jaguars could ruin some seasons this fall, but the back end of the schedule is completely loaded. If the Jags can sneak a game or two, who knows what could happen?
Opening Game
9/6 at Kent State

Troy Trojans
Projected 2014 Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Larry Blakeney (175-104-1, 24th season)
The Trojans used to run this show, and now they are merely a middle of the pack team, struggling to reach .500 football season after season. In my opinion, this is the season where Larry Blakeney should be coaching for his very life here, as he has obviously gotten stale after 23 seasons. If Troy can't get back to the top in short order, new blood will be needed to guide this program to a new era.
Brandon Silvers is likely the new starting QB, and everything falls on his head. That's going to be a tall order, as half of the WR corps needs to be replaced as well, leaving only KD Edenfield and Bryan Holmes as returning starters there. Brandon Burks will try to have the season of his life at RB, but the league as a whole was rather weak when it came to running the football. Jordan Chunn also returns at RB, and gives the Trojans a power option. Three starters return on the line, led by RT Terrence Jones.
Holes on the line seems to be a recurring theme this fall in the conference, and Troy is no exception. DE Tyler Roberts is the lone returning starter here. Both LBs do return in Wayland Coleman-Dancer, and Mark Wilson. Chris Davis and Ethan Davis are back at CB, while NB Jeremy Spikner is back as well. That being said, both Safeties will be new.
Both kicking spots need to be filled as well, and it could all come down to one guy in sophomore Ryan Kay.
This program has hit the wall in a large way, and Larry Blakeney probably should have left a couple of seasons ago to make this thing turn a corner again. I know that he's been at Troy forever, and I know that he is much loved there, but all good things must end, and it has ended by virtue of at least three programs passing the Trojans by, and more doing so all the time.
Opening Game
8/30 at UAB

Projected 2014 Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Todd Berry (23-26, 5th season)
ULM was left out of the postseason in 2013, and getting back there again may be a huge issue in 2014, as the schedule is loaded, and the offense is fairly new.
Brayle Brown will likely take over at QB for the departed Kolten Browning, and he is largely inexperienced with the exception of mop up duty. He has very little experience to go to, as only WR Rashon Ceasar and TE Harley Scioneaux return at the skill positions. Three starters do return on the line, but they are blocking for an unknown set of players.
Defensively, the Warhawks could be much improved in 2014, with most of the front returning. Darius Lively and Joey Gautney are both back at DE, as is Gerrand Johnson returns at NT. Ray Stovall and Hunter Kissinger add to the solid experience up front, but this unit ranked just 87th in the nation against the run. The secondary is strong as well, as CB Trey Caldwell returns as does S Confero Smith and H-Back Mitch Lane.
Justin Manton is back to handle both PK and P, but he was largely better at punting (45.8 yard average) then he was at kicking FGs (5 of 9).
There just isn't enough on the talent coming back to get over the top for the Warhawks in 2014. THe offense is being rebuilt, and it's just to loaded with unknowns. The schedule is also at issue, as the Hawks play three SEC opponents in non conference play. It may not be a very good year in Monroe.
Opening Game
8/28 Wake Forest

Texas State Bobcats
Projected 2014 Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Dennis Franchione (16-20, 4th season)
The Dennis Franchione era hasn't exactly taken off like a rocket, but they are hanging in there year after year. This should be another season where the Bobcats send most of their time just hanging in.
Tyler Jones is back at QB after missing some time to injury last fall. He won't have many returning options to get the football to, as only WR Ben Ijah and RB Robert Lowe return at the skill positions. The other major problem is that the strong side of the line is back, but the weak side is all in flux. The offense only ranked 111th in the nation in total yards last fall. It'll be a tall order to improve on that number.
The defense wasn't too bad last fall, considering how much time they spent on the field. The entire front line must be replaced, and that's not a good thing. Michael Orakpo and David Mayo do return at LB, but they could be largely exposed by the new line. The secondary is loaded with holes as well, as only CB Craig Mager and S Colby Targun return.
Jason Dunn is back at PK after hitting 9 of 10 FGs, while Will Johnson averaged a solid 44 yards per punt last fall.
There just isn't enough talent to post a winning record, but the schedule will allow for six wins once again, if the new starters don't completely fall apart. Anything more than that is just out of the question.
Opening Game
8/30 Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Georgia Southern Eagles
Projected 2014 Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Willie Fritz (1st season)
This will be a team in transition in every way this season, as the Eagles move up to FBS football, break in a new coach in Willie Fritz, formerly of Sam Houston State, and ditch their long time triple option offense.
Fritz moves from the full house backfield to a three receiver spread offense. That's going to be a huge problem, as he does not have a proper QB to run this offense here. Kevin Ellison has the edge at QB, but there are as many as three other QBs pushing him in camp right now, and none of them can throw worth a thing. The good news is that all three WRs have started in BJ Johnson, Tray Butler, and Kentrellis Showers. The bad news is that the Eagles will be breaking in a new RB, and Ken Thomas has the edge there. Three starters return on the line in LT Garrett Frye and RG Trevor McBurnett, and C Manrey Saint-Amour.
The Eagles were very good defensively, especially during the final four games of last season, where they never gave up more than 20 points, which is all Florida could total in the Eagles' upset win over the Gators at the Swamp. There ill likely be growing pains in 2014, however, but there are some nice pieces to build upon. Only two of four starters return on the line in DT Jonathon Battie and DE Raphael Hardee, but there isn't much depth behind them. LB is a bit deeper with Edwin Jackson returning from 13 starts last fall, and Antoine Williams who missed last season due to injury. Three starters return in the five man secondary in CB Valdon Cooper, SS Deion Stanley, and FS Matt Dobson.
Alex Hanks will likely share PK duties with Younghoe Koo, but neither provides consistency. Ryan Nowicki returns at Punter as well, and averaged 43.1 yards per punt last fall. He should be one of the better Punters in the south this fall.
GSU has long been one of the great programs in FCS football, and if I had my druthers, they's still be there. Instead, they are chasing the big lie of a dream that is membership in the FBS, but if they think that the big boys will ever let them have a piece of the big pie, they are mistaken. sometimes, as Montana has learned and thrived, it's better to be the big fish in the small pond. With the departure of Jeff Monken, GSU made a very nice splash by hiring Willie Fritz. Fritz did an amazing job at Sam Houston State, and it won't take him long to win here as well, but first comes the adjustment, and it may get bumpy.
Opening Game
8/30 at NC State

Appalachian State Mountaineers
Projected 2014 Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Scott Satterfield (4-8, 2nd season)
The Mountaineers didn't exactly leave the FCS ranks on a high note last fall, and it is likely to be a rough go in their first season of FBS membership.
What ASU does have out of the gate is a solid QB option in the highly accurate Kameron Bryant. Bryant completed over 72% of his passes in 2013, and should be a solid block to build on during his junior season. He will have two WRs returning as starters this fall in Simms Mcelfish and Malachi Jones. Tacoi Sumter is in line to be the third starter there, but has largely never been able to stay healthy. Bobo Beathard is likely to be the fourth WR. The line largely needs rebuilding with just two starters back from last season in LT Kendall Lamm and C Graham Fisher. Marcus Cox returns to start at RB, but will share carried with RS freshman Terrence Upshaw.
ASu couldn't rush the passer very well last fall, and that will need to be a priority coming into 2014. Deuce Robinson is the lone returnee on the line at DE, and he will have to lead the charge. Only two starters return at LB in a four man unit, and so that may be another issue. Rashaad Townes and John Law are the returning LBs. The secondary is only half settled as well, with only CB Joel Ross and SS Kevin Walton return.
Zach Matics should slide over from kickoff duty to handling all PK duties this fall as a junior. Bentley Critcher returns at Punter, and is one of the best in the nation after averaging 45.9 yards per game.
ASU begins this season at Michigan. Being that I called the Mountaineer upset before, I will call this game now. There absolutely no way that ASU repeats the feat this time. Behind Bryant on offense, however, should be enough to get the Mountaineers about five wins in 2014.
Opening Game
8/30 at Michigan

Georgia State Panthers
Projected 2014 Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Trent Miles (0-12, 2nd season)

There was nary a team worse than the Panthers in FBS football in 2013, as Georgia State finished a perfectly awful 0-12 in the first season under Trent Miles, who may be completely over matched as an FBS head coach. There are more questions than answers as we head into 2014 as well.
Ronnie Bell returns as the starting QB, but is facing a major challenge by JC transfer Nick Arbuckle as the season prepares to open. Albert Wilson is gone at WR, and was one of the better pass catchers in the nation last fall. Robert Davis is now the lone returning starter there, so the passing game could stumble after averaging 253 yards passing per game. Keith Rucker is back at TE, and may be a key. The run game was largely a mess, and are looking for a new starter in Jonathon Jean-Bart. The line returns only two starters in LG AJ Kaplan and C Tim Wynn.
The strongest unit on defense in 2014 should be at LB, where three starters return. Mackendy Cheridor, Joseph Petersen, and Jarrell Robinson all return in the middle of the field. There is a lack of depth and experience on the line, as only DE Shawayne Lawrence returns. The secondary is in rebuild mode as well, with only S Tarris Batiste returning.
Will Lutz returns as the PK, but only hit 8 of 12 FGs last fall. Matt Hubbard returns at Punter, and was solid last fall, averaging 42 yards per punt.
With so many holes, and a less than great talent base, the Panthers will find it difficult to improve much this fall. Miles has relented to going JC heavy in recruiting, and that is the trap where many fall into and never climb out of. Huge winners are never built on heavy JC recruiting.
Opening Game
8/27 Abilene Christian

Idaho Vandals
Projected 2014 Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Paul Petrino (1-11, 2nd season)
Idaho is welcomed back to the Sun Belt, one of three conferences that they have called home since joining the FBS ranks. Unfortunately, the homecoming could be a rough gig.
Chad Chalich is back at QB after missing significant time due to injury. He is being pushed by Matt Lidstrom, and that battle is carrying into the opener. Dezmon Epps and Deon Watson both return at WR, but Epps had a DUI issue in the spring, and faces a possible suspension early. Both tackles and (Nick Von Rotz, Mason Woods) and C (Mike Marboe) return. The run game is up in the air.
There is some experience up front on defense for the Vandals, as DE Maxx Forde and Quinton Bradley and DT Quayshawne all return. There isn't very much depth at LB, as only Marc Millan returns from a defense that ranked 104th against the run, and 123rd in scoring defense. The secondary is up and down as well, with only CB Jayshawn Jordan and SS Bradley Njoku return from a unit that ranked just 122nd against the pass.
Austin Rehkow returns as both PK and P, but he was much better at one spot than another. He hit only 10 of 17 FGs, but averaged a booming 47.8 yards per punt.
Idaho has been a mess for years now, and their best bet once the WAC collapsed was to revert back to the FCS ranks and the Big Sky conference, but they are being stubborn and insisting on staying in a division where they truly don't belong. Two wins in 2014 would be a miracle.
Opening Game
8/30 at Florida

New Mexico State Aggies
Projected 2014 Record: 1-11
Head Coach: Doug Martin (2-10, 2nd season)
God bless Aggie fan, as they fight hard for the credibility of this football team, and they certainly disagree with me about head coach Doug Martin's status. NMSU hasn't been to a bowl game during their stay in FBS football, and they certainly are nowhere closer to getting there than they were 25 years ago.
NMSU, dating back to DeWayne Walker's reign, has largely depended on the JC ranks to staff their ranks, and that rarely works. They are doing it again to find a new QB in Tyler Rogers, who was one of a whopping six QBs that competed throughout spring and fall camps. Jerrel Brown and Joshua Bowen return at WR, but neither are special by any means. Xavier Hall and Marquette Washington are both expected to be the two RBs that they are going with, but again, there's little buzz about either. There is good news as four starters return on the line.
Without wasting too much time here, there is only one starter returning on the entire defense in 2014 to a unit that ranked a miserable 123rd in total defense last fall. Will it get better by subtraction? Maybe, but doubtful. DE Clint Barnard is that lone returning starter. Three sophomores and a freshman are likely starters, and depth is just non-existent.
Maxwell Johnson is back after hitting 10 of 12 FGs last fall, and could be a bright spot. Junior Brack Baca is likely the new Punter.
Where do you start with so many questions? Nobody has that answer right now in Las Crucas, but something has to eventually give. Right now, the Aggies are likely to be one of the two worst teams in the nation in 2014.
Opening Game
8/28 Cal Poly

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

College Football Preview 2014: SEC

The long running hold over the national title ended last season, as Auburn collapsed late in a loss to Florida State at the Rose Bowl. With some serious holes to fill across every team, the SEC is left to wonder who will step forward to get back this season. The East is as weak across the board as ever, with only South Carolina, Georgia, and Missouri looking like winners up front, and Mizzou is no lock. In the West, Alabama, LSU, and Auburn look strong as ever, but Texas A&M will slide, and Ole Miss never lives up to billing. The conference received 8 teams in the AP top 25 released this weekend, but that's a stacked deck, and not very reasonable.

Projected Order of Finish

1. South Carolina
2. Georgia
3. Florida
4. Missouri
5. Tennessee
6. Vanderbilt
7. Kentucky

1. Alabama
2. Auburn
3. LSU
4. Ole Miss
5. Texas A&M
6. Mississippi State
7. Arkansas

Most Overrated Team

Most Underrated Team

Coaches on the Hot Seat
Butch Jones, Tennessee
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
Bret Bielema, Arkansas

Alabama Crimson Tide
Projected 2014 Record: 11-1
Head Coach: Nick Saban (79-15, 8th season)
For the first time in what seems like forever, Alabama is coming into a season on a two game losing streak after the freak ending with Auburn was followed by being blasted in the Sugar Bowl by Oklahoma. The season ended in an almost surreal manner, but how much of that carries into 2014, with so many questioning the very toughness of this program.
Replacing AJ McCarron is issue number one, and despite what looks like a three way battle will really come down to Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. Coker has already virtually been handed the job, but before you jump up and down too much about his "potential", remember that this is a guy who bailed without even trying to compete with Jameis Winston for the FSU job. How good is he? TJ Yeldon will be part of a group of backs that will see plenty of handoffs in 2014, and is an absolute beast, and could be the best of a line of really strong Alabama backs who have all failed miserably on the next level (jury is still out on Lacy). Yeldon has scored 26 times in two seasons, and should be a highlight player in this offense, as should be WR Amari Cooper, who could be one of the best in the nation. DeAndrew White and Christion Jones also return to give Alabama a deep stable to throw to. The TE job should go to sophomore OJ Howard, who should also have some success this fall. The line is solid as well, with three starters returning.
THe strength of any Alabama football team is the defense, and that shouldn't change much this fall. Brandon Ivory will return to anchor the NG spot, but he will be flanked by new starters at both DE spots. A'Shawn Robinson is highly thought of at one DE spot, and Jarron Reed will rotate with fellow JC transfer DJ Pettway at the other spot. Trey DePriest is back at LB, and is the new leader in the middle, and is joined at LB by Xzavier Dickson. There are questions in the secondary, however, as only SS Landon Collins returns as a starter. Look for youngster Tony Brown have an impact at CB.
JK Scott will be the new Punter as a freshman, but the PK job is up in the air into fall camp.
Alabama will not slide further into the abyss in 2014, and should bounce back strongly. However, the QB situation isn't stable, and the secondary has some issues with finding three new starters. Any of those things go sideways, and we could see some interesting results.
Opening Game
8/30 West Virginia at Atlanta

Auburn Tigers
Projected 2014 Record: 10-2
Head Coach: Gus Malzahn (12-2, 2nd season)
The Tigers shocked the universe last season by sneaking through to the national title game. A late collapse in that game cost the SEC another title for the cabinet, but Auburn looks strong again, even if I have to take another angle than most.
Here is my angle switch up. I am NOT a believer in Nick Marshall at QB. He is a runner first, and a passer second, and I don't care what kind of adjustments Malzahn says were made during the spring, I won't believe in Marshall until he proves he can throw the football with consistency. HE was great on the ground, but if he tossed up any more wounded ducks, I was gonna go huntin'. If he can find his way through the air, he should have a decent stable of WRs to get the ball to in Sammie Coates, Ricardo Louis, and JC transfer D'haquille Williams. Finding a new RB to get the ball to will be a key priority, as Tre Mason has moved on. There are as many as four backs in the competition now, but the future rests with newcomer Roc Thomas. Four starters return on theline, but one isn't Greg Robinson. Sophomore Shon Coleman is getting first crack at filling his spot at LT.
On defense, half of the line returns in DE LaDarius Owens and DT Gabe Wright. Ben Bradley should step in at the open DT spot, while sophomore Carl Lawson is getting a long look at DE. Cassanova McKinzy is the lone returning starter at LB, but Kris Frost is stepping into the other spot as a junior, so he has time in the game. Three starters return in the secondary in STAR Robensen Therezie, CB Jonathon Minzy, and S Jermaine Whitehead.
Both kickers must be replaced. Daniel Carlson will get first crack at PK, while Jimmy Hutchinson is likely the Punter. Here is the rub...both are freshmen.
Auburn is still strong mostly across the board, but there are questions. Another run to the national title game may be just a bit out of reach, but the talent still remains to be a major player in the SEC West.
Opening Game
8/30 Arkansas

South Carolina Gamecocks
Projected 2014 Record: 11-1
Head Coach: Steve Spurrier (77-39, 10th season)
The ole' ball coach has certainly made South Carolina into an incredible power, but he has to get the Gamecocks to the next level and win an SEC title. This is the year where the door is open for Carolina to break through the barrier, and take down the wall.
Connor Shaw was amazing when given the job full time last season, but with his departure, not all is lost at all. Dylan Thompson has plenty of experience, and has started enough for the team to have full confidence in his play. Behind Thompson at RB is Mike Davis, an underrated back who could push for about 1200 to 1500 yards this fall. Thompson should have his fair share of targets in the passing game as well, as both Shaq Roland and Damiere Byrd return at WR. Rory Anderson adds another body to throw to at TE. Sophomore Pharoah Cooper, a sophomore, will get the opportunity to replace Bruce Ellington. The line will be loaded, with four returning starters coming back to pave the way. This may be one of the deeper offenses in the SEC.
There may be a weak link on the defensive line for SC, as three starters must be replaced. DT JT Surratt is the lone returnee up front. Skai Moore and Kalwan Lewis both return at LB, and that is important, as the run defense was the weakest part of this unit last fall (50th). Both CBs must be replaced in the secondary, but SPUR Sharrod Golightly, SS Brison Williams, and FS Chaz Elder all return from a unit that allowed just 195 yards passing per game last fall.
Elliott Fry is back at PK after hitting 15 of 18 FGs a year ago, but Tyler Hull needs a comeback at Punter after taking a step back in development last fall.
The Gamecocks have been on the verge of taking this thing for a while now, but now it's time to get there and win it, and represent the East in a title game. It's been a while since this division had anyone relevant competing for a title.
Opening Game
8/28 Texas A&M

LSU Tigers
Projected 2014 Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Les Miles (95-24, 10th season)
LSU has taken a back seat recently in the SEC West race, and that cannot sit well with the crazies on the Bayou. Les Miles is still an amazing coach, and has done more for the program than most since, well, Nick Saban. It's time for some of the heralded recruits to do their thing, because the Tigers are slipping to the middle of the pack, and quickly.
Replacing Zach Mettenberger at QB is going to be a top priority, and it may be a freshman getting the job in Brandon Harris. Anthony Jennings also gets a long look, and could take the job before opening day. My pick would be Jennings at this point. Terrence Magee also gets a shot at the open RB job, and has the lead, but that could be a short time job as freshman phenom Leonard Fournette could be the best young back in this conference in years. Senior Connor Neighbors will be used on short yardage and power scenarios. There will also be two new starters at WR this fall, and they could be young. TE Dillon Gordon could become the most important receiver on the field as the adjustments are made early. Three starters return on the line, so there is some decent news after all.
There are plenty of holes on the defensive side as well, starting with the task of replacing both DTs. JeMauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter will both return at the DE spots, and must put on some pressure to get the inside guys loose to make plays. Kwon Alexander and DJ Weiter are both back at LB as well, so they will have to step up to support the new starters in the middle of the line. CB Tre'Davious White is back at CB, and is joined by FS Jalen Mills. A new starter must be found at both CB and SS.
Colby Delahoussaye is back at PK after a strong season had him hitting 14 of 15 FGs. Junior Jamie Keehn returns after averaging 41 yards as Punter. He had a massive 58 yarder to his credit last fall.
LSU is full of important holes in 2014, and that will cost them in the long run, as their inexperience at key positions will likely be a bane. Les Miles will get the Tigers back, but right now, they are most definitely behind.
Opening Game
8/30 Wisconsin at Houston

Georgia Bulldogs
Projected 2014 Record: 10-2
Head Coach: Mark Richt (126-45)
Georgia had better be happy that the schedule is weak in 2014, because they have some rebuilding to do at some core positions, including trying to find a replacement for Aaron Murray at QB.
Hutson Mason will start at QB after getting a look in the season finale win over Georgia Tech, and bowl loss to Nebraska. He is absolutely not Aaron Murray, so it's a step back. There may not be a better backfield, however, in college football than Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. They compliment each other brilliantly, and they are the best one-two punch at RB in the nation. The receiving corps is thin on returning talent, as only Michael Bennett returns. The line is thin as well, with only LT John Theus and C David Andrews returning.
The line is also a bit thin, as only DE Sterling Bailey is back. That issue may be made up by the fact that the entire LB corps returns, which will be necessary to help get the front up to speed. Jordan Jenkins, Amarlo Herrera, Ramik Wilson, and Leonard Floyd all are back, but they must show improvement from a year ago. The only returning starter in the secondary will be CB Damian Swann, but the new starters could all be sophomores and freshmen. Uh oh.
Marshall Morgan is one of the best PKs in the nation after hitting 22 of 24 FGs last fall. He managed a 56 yarder last fall. Adam Erickson is also back at Punter.
The schedule is extremely weak, and that's a great thing, as Georgia has holes all over the field. I predict a ten win season based on that alone, because there are holes everywhere. They could end up finishing well short of that lofty win goal, but only if the teams on the schedule show major improvement themselves.
Opening Game
8/30 Clemson

Ole Miss Rebels
Projected 2014 Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Hugh Freeze (15-11, 3rd season)
The Rebels are kind of like the Arizona State of the SEC. Always expected to be great, but rarely approaching those lofty goals. Hugh Freeze has given some credibility to the program, but they had that under Houston Nutt as well, and they never got close to nibbling at an SEC title.
Bo Wallace should get the snaps at QB this fall, and it would be a shame to see the Rebels go back to their 2 QB system. The only skill position player otherwise to return for the Rebels is WR Laquon Treadwell. The rest of the skill set guys (RB/WR/TE) are new starters. While many have high expectations, most have yet to show it on the field where it counts. There's that "potential" thing again. The only lineman to return is LT Laremy Tunsil. RT Autin Gordon returns as well, but he has huge injury concerns, and may not be ready to go all out.
There are some issues on the defensive line as well, as only one starter returns in Robert Nkemdiche at DT. The LB corps has the same issue, with only Serderius Bryant returning. The secondary may have to support the unit at large, with DB Tony Connor, CB Mike Hilton, SS Trae Elston, and FS Cody Prewitt returning.
Both kickers have to be replaced, and both could be freshmen in PK Gary Wunderlich and P Will Gleeson.
I expect the talent on hand to be good enough to hit 8 wins, but it could also go sideways this fall, and the Rebels could fail to finish with a winning record. This Rebel squad may be a huge enigma, and they could just be all over the place.
Opening Game
8/28 Boise State at Atlanta

Florida Gators
Projected 2014 Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Will Muschamp (22-16, 4th season)
How Muschamp survived last season is beyond me. Gator fans I have run into can't seem to stand the guy, and they are selling season tickets for the first time in over two decades at the swamp, meaning there are empty seats. Muschamp has to win big this fall to survive yet again, because the media doesn't seem to support him or like him either.
Jeff Driskel is back at QB after losing much of last season to injury, but he has yet to impress on any level, and that could be a problem. Kelvin Taylor is back at RB, but he has miles to go before he is considered as one of the better backs in the SEC. Quinton Dunbar is back at WR, and is the only starter returning there. In the new spread offense, that is a major and glaring problem. TE Clay Burton could be the most important player on offense and in the new passing scheme. Three starters return on the line, but the right side must be rebuilt.
The defensive front could be a strength this fall, as every lineman returns in DEs Dante Fowler, Jr. and Jonathon Bullard will join DTs Leon Orr and Darlous Cummings. Michael Taylor and Antonio Morrison will also return at LB, leaving only one starting job open at LB amongst the front seven. The major problem on defense will be the secondary, where only Vernon Hargreaves III is back at CB, and he has been bagned up in fall camp already.
Austin Hardin returns at PK, but was purely awful last fall after hitting just 4 of 12 FGs in 2013. Kyle Christy will likely be the new starting Punter.
Florida doesn't have enough talent on offense to make a difference in the East this season, much less the rest of the SEC. Ranking them in the top 25 in preseason polls is a joke, and I barely see the Gators scrapping out seven wins to barely get to a bowl. Muschamp may not be around in 2015.
Opening Game
8/30 Idaho

Texas A&M Aggies
Projected 2014 Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Kevin Sumlin (20-6, 3rd season)
So then end of the "Johnny Football" era has come upon us, and I for one, am happy about this turn of events. The dynamic, at times, Manziel, had some really big moments, but his free style play wasn't always a winner, and he cost the team with a multitude of turnovers. with his departure brings a new era of possible balance for the Aggies, and less headaches for coach Kevin Sumlin with Manziel's well known off-field shenanigans.
Kenny Hill has already been handed the job at QB in camp, but the future is likely with Kyle Allen, the talented freshman who is a prototype pocket QB. Sumlin is showing great restraint in not throwing him to the wolves right from the go. The only skill set player returning for the Aggies as a starter is WR Malcome Kennedy, so there are holes everywhere on what will be largely a rebuilt offensive unit. The line, however, returns four starters.
This defense has to improve a great deal, as they were an utter disaster last fall. The line returns intact with DEs Gavin Stansbury and Julian Obioha and DTs Isaiah Golden and Alonzo Williams. This group was partly responsible for a miserable showing against the run last fall, as the Aggies ranked just 110th in rushing defense. Darian Claiborne is the lone returning LB. The ghost of Aggie defenses past is turning in its grave when it watches this unit flail. The entire secondary is back, but the Aggies finished just 95th against the pass a year ago.
Josh Lambo came on last fall at PK, and hit 8 of 10 FGs. Drew Kaser averaged a booming 47.4 yards per punt last fall, making him one of the best Punters in the nation. He is on the All-Bilo watch list heading into the season.
A&M could be in trouble this fall, but they could still manage to win 8 games this fall. I may be shooting a bit high, but the early schedule is loaded with cupcake games, other than what should be a loss to open the season at South Carolina. The back end of the schedule is loaded, however, and the lack of experience could be a major issue.
Opening Game
8/28 at South Carolina

Missouri Tigers
Projected 2014 Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Gary Pinkel (102-63, 14th season)
Nobody in America saw the Tigers winning 12 games and winning the SEC East last fall. If anyone in Columbia told you that they saw it coming, they are lying to you. That being said, do not expect a repeat performance in 2014.
Maty Mauk returns at QB, but now everyone has seen what he brings to the table, so he won't take anyone by surprise like he did a year ago. He is talented, but could he be in for a slight sophomore slump? The only skill player back this fall on offense is WR Bud Sasser, and that is just terrible news, as the Tigers have to rebuild across the board. The line returns three starters, but both guards will be new.
Both tackles return on defense in Matt Hoch and Lucas Vincent, but both DEs must be replaced, and those are huge holes. No support comes from the LB corps, as only Kentrell Brothers returns. The secondary is equally as thin, with only SS Braylon Webb is returning. Again, more rebuilding.
Special teams are the only solid ground for the Tigers left, as PK Andrew Baggett and P Christian Brinser return.
I may be sticking my neck out a bit for 8 wins this fall with the Tigers, as they are in full rebuild mode across the board after a surprise season, but I believe that they may still have enough talent in the tank to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack and win those 8 games. Gary Pinkel has had some consistency issues with this program over the years, but he can coach.
Opening Game
8/30 South Dakota State

Mississippi State Bulldogs
Projected 2014 Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Dan Mullen (36-28, 5th season)
The Bulldogs are another yearly average program that never lives up to lofty expectations. Dan Mullen really needs to turn the corner with this program, but again, as is always the case, seven wins seems to be the glass ceiling.
Dak Prescott leads the offense at QB, but I'm not a huge fan of his arm. He is a better runner than passer, but he did manage to toss five TD passes in the bowl win over Rice. Jameon Lewis and Robert Johnson return at WR, and should give Prescott a better shot at improving his passing game. Malcolm Johnson is also back at TE. The Bulldogs need a new starter at RB, and that could be Josh Robinson. There are only two returning starts on the line in LT Blaine Clausell and C Dillon Day.
There are pros and cons to the defense as well, DE Preston Smith and DT PJ Jones are back on the line, but two new starters must be found. Matthew Wells and Benardrick McKinney are both back at LB, bringing some strength and experience back from a unit that finished 37th against the run last fall. CB is all set with the return of Taveze Calhoun and Jamerson Love, but both Safeties need to be replaced.
Evan Sobek is back at PK, but this was a major problem area for the Bulldogs last fall. Devon Bell handled both jobs last fall, but now will handle only Punting duties.
Once again, the Bulldogs have high hopes, but as good as can be expected is seven wins once again. Dan Mullen has been ok during his tenure, but not great. It's time to start getting things right here, and that may only mean 8 wins, but it's something.
Opening Game
8/30 Southern Mississippi

Tennessee Volunteers
Projected 2014 Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Butch Jones (5-7, 2nd season)
Butch Jones was largely heralded when hired by the Vols to replace Derek Dooley. I've yet to see any kind of change yet, and 2014 could be more of the same. Jones is still trying to get his own personnel set up, but when you look at the Rivals Top 100 for 2015, nobody at the top of the list is talking heading to Tennessee right now. Tennessee has largely slipped to the mid tier, or even lower tier of the SEC.
Justin Worley is back at QB, and is the best bet to win now for Tennessee. He was injured and lost time last fall, but looked strong in the spring. He was in a bit of a battle, and was just officially named the starter this week, but it shouldn't have been as much a mystery as it was. Riley Ferguson, however, probably has the brightest future behind Worley. There will be a new face starting at RB this fall, as Marlin Lane gets the nod. He has solid burst, and should step up nicely, and will share some carries with freshman Jalen Hurd. There should be decent talent at WR, as Marquez North and Jason Croom both return, but both need to step up. Von Pearson should step in as the third receiver. Brendan Downs adds another dimension at TE, but he needs to increase his productivity as well. Here's the terrible news. UT must break in an entirely new O Line.
Here's more bad news...the entire D Line needs replacing as well, and that front gave up 207.3 yards rushing per game last fall (100th nationally). It gets even worse on defense where only one LB returns in AJ Johnson. The Vols could get steamrolled against the run once again. The secondary is in better shape, and really did hold strong last fall. CB Justin Coleman returns, as does SS Brian Randolph and FS LaDarrell McNeil.
There are battles in camp in the kicking game as well, as both PK and P must be replaced.
AT the end of the day, it's all about the holes, holes, and more holes. UT must replace both lines, most of their LB corps, and the entire kicking game. It's safe to say that the Vols are likely going nowhere in 2014.
Opening Game
8/31 Utah State

Vanderbilt Commodores
Projected 2014 Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Derek Mason (1st season)
Vandy lost energetic head coach James Franklin to Penn State, but made a splash by hiring Stanford assistant Derek Mason. Mason should slide nicely into the Vanderbilt culture, and understands how to win in an academic environment such as is found at Vanderbilt.
Mason must find a new QB right away. The job could likely fall to RS freshman Johnny McCrary, but he will have competition all camp long from Patton Robinette and Stephan Rivers, an LSU transfer. All new targets at WR must be broken in simultaneously, as no starters return. RB Jerron Seymour does return, but the run game was absolutely anemic last season, and the Commodores ranked just 92nd in rushing offense last fall. TE Steven Scheu is back and could see an increased footprint in the offense. Four starters return on the line, and that should be the basis of improved play across the spectrum.
Vandy was solid on defense in 2013, ranking 23rd nationally in total defense. NT Vince Taylor is the lone returning starter on the line, but both DEs need to be replaced. There is plenty of experience coming back at LB, as three starters are back in Darreon Herring, Jake Sealand, and Kyle Woestmann. The middle of the field should be very much set. The major problem is that the entire secondary must be replaced, and that could create a setback.
Carey Spear is gone at PK, and so the job goes to freshman Tommy Openshaw. Taylor Hudson returns as the starter, but could lose out at any time to Colby Cooke. Neither are great by any stretch.
Mason has some work to do, and has some holes to fill, but Vandy is in a good place, and the talent is getting better. Mason will do a nice job, but a nice job at Vandy is 8 wins and a bowl. The Commodores will never be a title contender.
Opening Game
8/28 Temple

Arkansas Razorbacks
Projected 2014 Record: 3-9
Head Coach: Bret Bielema (3-9, 2nd season)
Imagine that just a couple of seasons ago, Arkansas was in position to win the SEC, and was in the national title conversation. How things can change in a very short period of time, especially when a whore and a motorcycle are involved, which leads to the path of destruction generally left behind by John L. Smith. Smith couldn't coach a girl scout to sell cookies. Now, enter Bret Bielema, and he inherited this mess, and it may take him as many as five more years to fix the problems plaguing this program. It starts with recruiting.
On offense, Brandon Allen is back as the point man at QB. He played hurt most of the season, and so therefore, his number reflected that fact. He should be much improved, but he doesn't have to be the star, as the Hogs are deep at RB. Jonathon Williams is a complete back that can change a game, but he's just one head in a three headed monster that also includes Alex Collins and Korliss Marshall. Expect the Razorbacks to run and run some more. TE Hunter Henry could have a huge season, but the WR corps needs some upgrading. Keon Hatcher is the lone returning starter there, but all eyes will be on freshman Jared Cornelius. Three starters return on the line in LT Dan Skipper, RG Denver Kirkland, and RT Brey Cook. Someone needs to step up and pick up the passing game, because the backs can't do it all by themselves. The run game ranked 21st nationally, but the passing game finished 114th. There is a huge gap that must be closed as Arkansas will need to find balance to win.
The defense has their fourth coordinator since 2011 in Robb Smith, and he has to find some improvements somewhere from a defense that yielded 413.4 yards per game in 2013. Holes are the story in the front seven as only DE Trey Flowers and LB Braylon Mitchell return. The situation isn't much better in the secondary, as only CB Tevin Mitchell and FS Alan Turner return. This is a rebuild job, and will likely be a huge reason why the Razorbacks will not show any improvement in the win column this season.
Zack Hocker is gone at PK, and the job is being handed to a freshman in Cole Hedlund. Sam Irwin-Hill returns at P, and he is probably one of the best directional Punters in the nation.
Bielema must be wondering at this point as to why he chose to leave Wisconsin for this disaster. The money and getting out of the Barry Alvarez shadow couldn't be worth this, could it? Recruits aren't really looking heavily at Arkansas, and if Bielema can't get that fixed, he may as well mail it in. The schedule is brutal, with only two easy wins on the slate in Nicholls State and UAB.
Opening Game
8/30 Auburn

Kentucky Wildcats
Projected 2014 Record: 3-9
Head Coach: Mark Stoops (2-10, 2nd season)
Kentucky has never been a power program in the SEC, but they have slid all the way to the bottom now, and Mark Stoops was brought in to reverse that trend, and so far, it's not working. Stoops is trying to fix the problem with upgraded recruiting, but there is still a depth issue and a talent gap that's going to take time to fix.
The Cats needed a new QB, and had four of them competing in camp. That competition is over this week, and sophomore Patrick Towles won the battle. He has two starters returning at WR to get the ball to in what should be a pass heavy offense coordinated by Neal Brown, as Javess Blue and Ryan Timmons are both back. Towles has the job now, but if he struggles, it could be a short stay at the top. UK will need improved play from the RB position, but they are young and thin at that spot, as JoJo Kemp starts as a sophomore. LT Darrian Miller, LG Zach West, and C Jon Toth return, as does RT Jordan Swindle, but it looks like a freshman takes over at RG in Ramsey Meyers.
The UK defense ranked just 91st last season, and if that number doesn't improve, then UK sinks further into the depths. Again, talent and depth are the issues right now. Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith are back at DE, but both DTs need to be replaced, leaving a gaping hole in the middle. Again, yet another freshman could come into play there, with Regie Meant slated to get a long look. Khalid Henderson is the lone returning starter at LB, so help isn't likely to come from the middle. CB Nate Willis and S Blake McClain are back in the secondary, and that unit was the only bright spot on the team in 2013.
Yet another freshman is going to take the field, this time at PK, where Austin MacGinnis is likely to start. Landon Foster is solid at Punter, and averaged over 41 yards per punt a season ago.
UK is trying to get right, and several freshmen could get long looks in 2014, but that talent has to mature quickly. Even with recruiting on the upswing, Stoops has got to get these kids experience right away. Even if that strategy works, this team may be two years away from just qualifying for a bowl.
Opening Game
8/30 UT-Martin

Sunday, August 17, 2014

College Football Preview 2014: PAC-12

The PAC-12 has long received national venom for being the perceived weakling of the Power Five, but here's a wake up call for the nation...the PAC-12 may be the best conference in the Power Five from top to bottom, and top to bottom could go against anyone in the country in 2014, including everyone's darling SEC. Every single team in this conference, with the exception of Cal and including long time doormat Colorado, has a chance at bowl eligibility this season. Where the conference also excels is at the QB position, where no other conference in the nation can match the level of play that the conference represents. There are seven top flight QBs in the league, with two of them holding more than solid Heisman chances. The conference also boasts two national title contenders in Oregon and UCLA, but you can never count out Stanford, USC, or Arizona State when it comes to competing for the conference crown.

Projected Order of Finish

1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Oregon State
5. Washington State
6. California

2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Utah
6. Colorado

Coaches on the Hot Seat

Most Overrated Team

Most Underrated Team
Washington State

Oregon Ducks
Projected 2014 Record: 10-2
Head Coach: Mark Helfrich (11-2, 2nd season)
The Ducks are back at full strength on an offense, with the exception of the WR position, but the Ducks always reload at receiver, so it should not be a problem in 2014. Back is their all-world QB Marcus Mariota, who tossed 31 TDs to just 4 picks last fall, despite gimping around on a bum knee late in the season. Of course, that is when he became more human, and started making mistakes, none more so than in the Arizona loss late in the season. Mariota should be in the top three when it comes to the Heisman campaign, barring any setbacks regarding his knee again. Byron Marshall becomes the primary back this season, and provides a power burst with speed out of the backfield. Thomas Tyner provides a change of pace, and will get an opportunity to give the Ducks two 1000 yard rushers this fall. The O line is loaded and deep, with all five starters returning, and Evan Baylis returns at TE, as do the two TEs on the depth chart immediately following. The only WR returning to start is Keanon Lowe, but there is an overall experience issue. However, the Ducks have plenty of options and talent, and will patiently await someone to step up and star.
If there could be an issue for the Ducks in 2014, it could be on defense where there are key holes throughout. The Ducks were especially susceptible against the run last season, where they ranked just 66th. The middle of the line must be replaced, but both DEs are back to wreak havoc in DeForest Buckner and Tony Washington, but someone must plug the gaps up the middle. Rodney Hardrick and Derrick Malone are both back at LB, but the secondary could slip this season, as three new starters must be broken in around returning starting CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
Matt Wogen handled PK duties as a freshman last fall, but will also handle punting duties in 2014.
Look for Oregon to slip a bit on defense, and that may cost the Ducks a couple of losses, especially against the Michigan State Spartans, who power run all day. If the Ducks can get by MSU and UCLA on the road, then they will be in line for a final four appearance.
Opening Game
8/30 South Dakota

UCLA Bruins
Projected 2014 Record: 11-1
Head Coach: Jim Mora (19-8, 3rd season)
Jim Mora has completely changed the culture at UCLA, and the Bruins find themselves in the thick of a national title hunt for the first time since the 80s, and maybe realistically since 1959.
On offense, it starts and ends with Heisman candidate QB Brett Hundley, who may be the best overall QB to play at UCLA since Gary Beban. Hundley wasn't just the QB extreme in 2013, he was also the leading rusher, a fact that must change for UCLA to succeed in 2014. Hundley needs some support from the backfield, and that should be doable, as Jordan James returns from a season mostly lost to injury. Before getting hurt, James was on pace for a big season, but was lost early in the fourth game against Utah last season, and never really came back. The Bruins return two starters at WR in breakout candidate Jordan Payton and the super athletic Devin Fuller. The new starters have plenty of experience as well in Devin Lucien and Thomas Duarte, but Lucien went down in practice this week with a head injury. It's unknown as of this writing as to how extreme the injury is. The Bruins are in very good shape on the line, with four starters coming back in LT Simon Goines, C Jake Brendel, RG Alex Redmond, and RT Caleb Benenoch. Benenoch is particularly nasty and mean.
The defensive front is loaded with returning talent in 2014, and every player coming back on the line has plenty of experience. Kenny Clark returns in the middle at NT, as does sophomore sensation Eddie Vanderdoes. Owamagbe Odighizuwa is a former five star at DE, and will likely be in line for a big season if he stays healthy. The LB corps is as loaded as any team in the nation with the amazing talent Myles Jack and Eric Hendricks, who is a tackle machine, returning to start. Kenny Orijoke got some solid experience a year ago, and steps up to start. Ishmael Adams and Fabien Moreau are rising stars at CB, while Anthony Jefferson and the underrated Randall Goforth are anchoring the Safety position. Sophomore Tahaan Goodman will be a new starter at the third safety spot.
If there is a weak link for the Bruins, it may be at PK where Ka'imi Fairbairn has not always lived up to his billing at PK, and has missed some head scratchers at times. Sean Covington is back at Punter, and he could have a huge season.
The Bruins have enough talent to finally challenge Oregon for conference superiority, and may finally steal the mantle of Pac-12 champ. UCLA makes more sense than even Oregon for a final 4 appearance in 2014, but only if they can avoid the trip up losses that have plagued the program for years.
Opening Game
8/30 at Virginia

Stanford Cardinal
Projected 2014 Record: 8-4
Head Coach: David Shaw (34-7, 4th season)
The Cardinal have been dominant under the watch of David Shaw, but every power must take an occasional step back to reload, and this could be that season for Stanford.
Kevin Hogan has been highly dependable at QB for the Cardinal, but he has never been asked to do too much, except on the occasional athletic play where he busts out of the pocket. He makes high percentage throws in a conservative power offense, but because of a lack of experience on offense, he may be asked to do more than he ever has before. The good news is that Hogan gets his top WRs back in Ty Montgomery and Devon Cooper. The bad news is that the only other returning starter on offense is LT Andrus Peat. If you want to find an interest story, it's the emergence of Barry Sanders, Jr. as a starting RB. Most kids of super star football greats don't ever pan out like their fathers, so all eyes will be on this kid from day one as he joins Patrick Skov as new starters at RB. Freshman Austin Hooper gets a look at TE, and he could be amongst a long line of great Stanford TEs, but it's all potential until he proves it on the field.
Defense is where Stanford football makes its living, and they are in a bit better of a position this fall. Henry Anderson (DE) and David Perry (DT) are back on the line, and Blake Lueders will step up at the old DE spot. LB is a mixed bag with James Vaughters and AJ Tarpley are back, but Stanford has to find two new starters. The secondary boasts some experience, as Alex Carter (CB), Wayne Lyons (CB), and Jordan Richards (S) all return. The defense far outpaced the offense last season, but that secondary group will have to improve greatly after finishing just 96th against the pass last fall. The offense finished just 69th nationally, and ranked 92nd in passing.
That passing number will have to get better, and much will be on the shoulders of Kevin Hogan this fall, especially with lacking experience at every position. Expect Stanford to have to step back a bit and get their bearings, and UCLA and Oregon are much to good this season on paper for Stanford to claim yet another conference crown.

USC Trojans
Projected 2014 Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Steve Sarkisian (1st season)
Trojan AD Pat Haden decided to go back to the Pete Carroll coaching tree because, well, that worked so well the last time. Truthfully, Sarkisian got this job because nobody else really wanted it after Lane Kiffin's mess, and the resulting issues coming off of the Pete Carroll led probationary years. Enter Sarkisian, who never won more than 8 games as head coach at Washington.
Cody Kessler returns as the QB, but he'll have a hugue job to get the offense rolling, as his only returning starter at WR is the super talented Nelson Agholar. Darreus Rogers has some serious talent, but is largely unproven over a full season. Look for the highly anticipated Adoree Jackson to get a long look at WR as well as on defense at CB. There will also be new starters at RB and FB, so there will be an adjustment as Javorius Allen will get a whole season to ply his trade after having a huge second half of 2013. The left side of the line comes back, but the right side is being rebuilt.
On defense, the Trojans are loaded with talent and experience. Leonard Williams is due for a big season at DT, and joins JR Tavai as returning starters on the line. All three LBs return in Jabari Ruffin, Hayes Pullard, and Lamar Dawson. The secondary is also loaded with Kevon Seymour and Josh Shaw back at CB, and the beast that is Su'a Cravens back at SS.
Andre Heideri is back at PK after hitting 15 of 17 FGs last fall, and gives the Trojans a solid angle in the kicking game. Kris Albarado is back at Punter, but was borderline terrible at times in 2013.
The Trojans are largely thought to be UCLA's main competition in the South, but there too many questions on offense for my taste, and I'm not sure that USC's talent on offense is as good as so many others thinks it can be. I'm not sold, especially with a passing game that finished a lowly 70th and wants to go up tempo this fall. USC won't live up to the top of the league, and may get passed by with Arizona State's high flying offense.
Opening Game
8/30 Fresno State

Washington Huskies
Projected 2014 Record: 8-5
Head Coach: Chris Petersen (1st season)
The Huskies may have lost Steve Sarkisian as head coach, but they upgraded by losing him in hiring Boise State head coach Chris Petersen, something that every school with an opening has tried to do for years. Petersen may not turn the Huskies into title contenders right away, but, if he lives up to his billing, he will likely do so very soon.
Cyler Miles steps up at QB this fall, and returns from suspension in time to get going for the fall. He has to mature and show some leadership abilities, but showed some promise on the field in games when Keith Price was injured last fall. Jaydon Mickens returns to start at the SB spot, and Kasen Williams gives Miles a solid target in the passing game. Finding a new RB will be paramount and it looks as if Dwayne Washington has first crack at the job. The good news is that four starters return on an offensive line that should give this young offense some developmental time.
On defense, every member of the front seven return in 2014. Hau'oli Kikaha (DE), Evan Hudson (DT) and Danny Shelton are all back on the line, while LBs Cory Littleton, Shaq Thompson, John Timu, and Travis Feeney are all back. The secondary is not displaying such good news, as only CB Marcus Peters returns to start.
Two new starters must be found at PK and P, and this could be a problem area early.
The Huskies made a bigger splash than anyone in the country when they hired Chris Petersen, but he has to upgrade the overall talent on a football team that largely underperformed under the departed Sarkisian. If anyone can make that happen, Petersen can, but it may take a year or two to catch Oregon in the north.
Opening Game
8/30 at Hawaii

Arizona State Sun Devils
Projected 2014 Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Todd Graham (18-9, 3rd season)
Todd Graham has the ship heading in the right direction at ASU, but the Devils must step back a bit from winning the South last season, as they must replace nine starters on defense, which will make it tough to allow the high flying offense to soar and take control of games.
Taylor Kelly is the most underrated QB in the entire conference, and had huge games when he needed to last fall. DJ Foster is getting used to a new role in camp, as he moves from SB to RB this fall, but he has the physical talent to convert seamlessly. Jaelen Strong is back at WR, but must show the consistency that goes along with his hype. The major issue is that he is the only returning starter, and depth is an issue. Three starters return on the line, but there is plenty of talent here.
Only two starters return on defense in LB Salamo Fiso and FS Demarious Randall. The entire defense is basically under construction, so there are too many questions to address equally here.
Zane Gonzalez is a beast at PK, and hit 25 of 30 FGs last fall. He is a weapon. Matt Haack was a bit of a mess at Punter, and he has to improve to give this completely rebuilt defense a shot.
ASU gets a break with a soft schedule for the most part, and has enough fire left on offense to score a ton of points, which will be needed to give the Devils a shot. There is enough here to finish second in the South, but not to win it. They could also slip to third behind USC.
Opening Game
8/28 Weber State

Arizona Wildcats
Projected 2014 Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez (16-10, 3rd season)
The Wildcats have begun a new era with upgraded facilities, a front line coach in Rich Rod, and a new and improved focus on recruiting. Of course, we are at the ground floor of the change of culture for Wildcat football, so the best may still be yet to come in the coming seasons.
The 2014 version of the swarm in Tucson will be a bit deficient at the skill positions on offense, where the only returning starter is WR Nate Phillips. The good news is that Austin Hill will be returning from a knee injury that cost him the 2013 season, but we still need to see how he has recovered. That being said, Hill should be fine and ready to go. Gone at QB is BJ Denker, and there are as many as four QBs battling for the job, with three of them being transfers from other programs, including former USC recruit Jesse Scroggins, but he is far from a lock. Ka'Deem Carey has taken his services to the next level, so replacing his rushing totals will be a paramount task in camp. The good news on offense is that four starters return on the line, and that always helps when trying to rebuild a unit.
The desert swarm days are gone, but the Cats would love to get it back. That will be a tall order, as only two of the front six return this fall. Reggie Gilbert is back at DE, while the talented Scooby Wright returns at LB after a big play laden 2013. Jordan Allen is immediately eligible after transferring from LSU, and will start at DE opposite Gilbert. Jeff Worthy, a JC transfer, adds some muscle inside at NG. Antonio Smothers, another JC transfer, should step up and immediately contribute at LB, but a sophomore may win the other open LB job in DeAndre' Miller. The secondary is loaded with returning talent, but this unit gave up 233.2 yards passing per game last season. Jonathon McKnight is back at CB, and is joined by SPUR Tra'Mayne Bondurant, BAN Jared Tevis, and FS Jourdon Grandon.
On special teams, only Punter Dan Riggleman returns after averaging 40.1 yards per punt last fall. THe staff would like more in the way of consistency out of him. The PK game has been a mess of late, and a new starter will be in that spot, with Casey Skowron getting the latest shot at turning the issues around.
The Cats do not have the talent in place yet to move to the next level in competition in a deeply talented PAC-12, but they are building a foundation slowly at being one of the better programs around. Rich Rod has always been a winner (Michigan debacle aside), so the expectations are that Arizona will be very good in very short order, but this season is just a piece in a larger puzzle, and bumps in the road will be felt.
Opening Game
8/29 UNLV

Oregon State Beavers
Projected 2014 Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Mike Riley (88-73, 14th total season)
The Beavers completely wrecked and collapsed at the end of last season, losing five consecutive games to close out the regular season before rebounding to win the Hawaii Bowl over Boise State. Mike Riley is beloved in the Pacific Northwest, but he has struggle to keep this program barely above average in recent seasons, and last season was a huge disappointment despite the antics of Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks on offense. Those two players basically carried the Beavers to seven wins, and now Cooks is gone.
Mannion, however does return, and would be first team in any other conference in the country, but hardy registers in a conference full of amazing QB play here. He passed for over 4600 yards and 37 scores last season, and is working even harder this off season to correct some small issues in his delivery. He is a guaranteed first round pick in the next NFL draft. The biggest issue on offense is replacing the work of Cooks, who departed for the NFL. First up is Richard Mullaney, but after him, it's all question marks. Sophomores Victor Bolden and Malik Gilmore must step up, as should TE Connor Hamlett. The line is full of holes as well, with only two starters returning in LG Sean Harlow and C Isaac Seumalo.
On defense, the front could be in trouble. There is only one starter returning on the line in DE Dylan Wynn with the departure of Scott Crichton. There is much being spoken of Miami transfer and five star recruit Jalen Grimble at DT, but he has yet to see the field. LB is a bit better off with the return of DJ Alexander and Jabral Johnson, But the front gave up 190.3 yards rushing per game last fall, ranking just 88th nationally. The secondary returns some depth this fall in CB Steven Nelson, SS Tyrequek Zimmerman and FS Ryan Murphy, but this unit largely failed as well, ranking just 84th nationally against the pass. The defense as a whole ranked a lowly 100th in total defense, a huge cause for their absolute mid to late season collapse.
Trevor Romaine returns at PK, but after hitting just 14 of 20 FGs last season, can he be relied upon to improve? Punter Keith Kostol could also use some improvement.
The Beavers have more questions than answers, more potential than reality, and more mediocrity in store in 2014. Expectations are never too high in Corvallis, but could Riley be getting stale in the job?
Opening Game
8/30 Portland State

Washington State Cougars
Projected 2014 Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Mike Leach (9-16, 3rd season)
The Cougs saw a miracle happen in year two under Mike Leach by just getting to a bowl game, and if a late game collapse hadn't happened, they'd be celebrating their first bowl win under the Pirate as well. They did fall late to Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl, but it has only taken two seasons for Leach to put his stamp on this program, and the dark times may be well behind them.
I am looking for huge improvements to the play of QB Connor Halliday this fall, and he may be the most underrated QB in this conference, and maybe in the nation. Halliday has a big arm, and has shown some real flashes, and should really blow up this season. Marcus Mason will be back to start at RB, but will find a challenge by both Theron West and Jamal Morrow, who is a freshman. The Cougars are fairly set at WR, with three returning starters back in River Cracraft, Gabe Marks, and Rickey Galvin. The line is a huge question, as only LT Joe Dahl and LG Gunner Eklund return.
The defense is an area of concern this fall, as the unit ranked just 102nd nationally in total defense in 2013, and returns only one starter in the secondary in S Taylor Taliulu. The front should improve against the run, every member of the front seven returns except for one LB. Destiny Vaeao is back at DE, while Xavier Cooper (DT) and Kalafitoni Pole (NG) also return. Kache Palacio, Cyrus Coen, and Darryl Monroe all return at LB.
Andrew Furney is gone at PK, and may be replaced by a walk on in Eric Powell this fall. We Concepcion is back at Punter, but isn't special. There are no other options here.
The good news is that the schedule is much easier than a season ago, especially early, so the Cougars could get off to a fast start, giving them more room for error later. The Cougars have holes, but the talent pool is better than before, so there is that to lean on. All in all, look for the Cougars to be a surprise team in a loaded conference race.
Opening Game
8/28 Rutgers at Seattle

Utah Utes
Projected 2014 Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham (76-39, 10th season)
The Utes are having a tough go of it in the Power Five, as they have struggled to show anything near their results of their Mountain West days. Whittingham is at a crossroads now as the Ute program has to find a way to improve from status of little brother in a loaded power league.
There is some good news on offense with the return of QB Tyler Wilson from injury. If Wilson isn't able to go full strength, Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson could be the guy as the year begins. WR Dres Anderson will be his usual top flight self either way, and Kenneth Scott makes a nice second option. Bubba Poole is back as the primary RB, but more will be needed from him, as the run game ranked just 71st nationally last fall. The line is set with four starters returning.
There are some major issues up front on defense, with holes everywhere. Nate Orchard is the lone returning starter on the line at DE, while junior LBs Jason Whittingham and Jared Norris also return. The secondary is beefed by the return of CB Davion Orphey, FS Eric Rowe, and SS Brian Blechen, but this group has got to grow this season after ranking just 109th against the pass last fall. The run defense was exceptionally strong, but with all of the losses, it will be hard to hold onto their ranking of 20th against the run.
Andy Phillips really had a solid campaign during his freshman season last fall, and returns at PK. Tom Hackett was the best Punter in the conference, and also returns.
The Utes have not had it easy in transitioning to big time college football. The talent gap is sincere, and there is much work to be done to prove that Utah is no longer in a weaker sister league. With so many questions on both sides of the ball, that necessary move won't be made this season. One note...the Utes can open with FCS member Idaho State, but can't find a way to play BYU or Utah State yearly? Give me a break.
Opening Game8/28 Idaho State

Colorado Buffaloes
Projected 2014 Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Mike MacIntyre (4-8, 2nd season)
The Buffs showed signs of life in 2013, and that improvement, albeit in small increments, should continue on in year two of the MacIntyre era.
Sefo Liufau will return at QB, and was a nice find as a freshman last fall. He had some up and down moments, but there was certainly enough flash from him to see how good he can be moving forward. He loses Paul Richardson at WR, but Nelson Spruce and DD Goodson return, leaving only one spot open entering the fall. Look for RS freshman Bryce Bobo to have some impact. More will be needed from an anemic run game, and that responsibility falls on junior RB Christian Powell to give the Buffs some kind of spark of life in the backfield. The line should be stronger this fall with the return of three starters in LG Kalwi Crabb, RG Daniel Munyer, and RT Stephane Nembot.
The defense was  a complete mess last fall, and if the win total is to increase, more will be needed from this barely alive unit. Three starters return on the line in DE Samson Kafovalu, and DTs Josh Tupou and Juda Parker. Addison Gillam and Woodson Greer will also return at LB and will hopefully have shown some off-season development. The secondary should be improved as well with the return of CBs Greg Henderson, Kennth Crawley, and FS Jared Bell.
Will Oliver (PK) and Darragh O'Neill (P) both got all conference looks last fall, and shold bolster the kicking game in 2014.
Overall, MacIntyre is a master builder with a refreshing philosophy of using the best athletes and finding positions for them. It worked masterfully at San Jose State, and it seems to be working at Colorado as well. Improvement is coming, and Colorado is no longer the ultimate doormat. No bowl this season, but 2015 could be interesting.
Opening Game
8/29 Colorado State at Denver

California Golden Bears
Projected 2014 Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Sonny Dykes (1-11, 2nd season)
Sonny Dykes showed up at Berkeley last fall, and found a huge mess left over from Jeff Tedford, who really let this program get away from him during the last few years of his reign. He's putting the pieces together, but the roster and overall team is a bit of a disaster right now, and it's going to take some time to get it all back together.
There is a truly nice piece on offense in sophomore QB Jared Goff, who looked very strong despite taking freshman year bumps and bruises last fall. He is one of the better QBs in the league, and anyone would be happy to have him. He returns all three starting WRs in Chris Harper, Bryce Treggs, and Kenny Lawler. That's great news for a team that relies on heavy passing. The Bears did finish 10th nationally in passing last fall. Daniel Lasco has to overcome his minor injury history and prove himself at RB, but he is really the only option outside of freshman Tre Watson, but Watson could be special. Four starters return on the line, so the Bears do have a solid foundation on offense.
The defense could be a mess once again, as they ranked 122nd in total defense a year ago. Many of those pieces from last season are gone, as only DE Kyle Kragon returns on the line. Michael Barton and Jalen Jefferson return at LB, and the run defense was the highlight of the defense last season, so their presence could be key to getting better. The secondary has issues as well, with only CB Cameron Walker and S Michael Lowe returning.
Vincenzo D'Amato is gone at PK, so Noah Beito, a sophomore, will likely get first crack at being the replacement. Cole Leininger is back at Punter, but punt coverage was a disaster last fall, giving up 5 TD returns.
Dykes has a job to do, and it won't be easy, especially with Stanford looming over their shoulder and taking all of their key recruits with ease. Dykes has to find a balance to increase the Cal footprint in this conference, and do it the right way, as academics in this program have flailed in recent seasons according to APR reports. Every piece to this program has failed, and a culture change is absolutely necessary. It's going to take a long while to build this Rome.
Opening Game
8/30 at Northwestern