Sunday, June 28, 2015

College Football 2015 Preview: Conference USA

In 2014, Conference USA had an excellent opportunity to break down some barriers with the play of Marshall. The Thundering Herd, undefeated for most of the season, stayed on top of our weekly PRS rankings for weeks on end, and was largely considered to be a shoe in for a birth in a New Year's Six bowl, which would have electrified the conference standing on a national scale. Then came a game against Western Kentucky, another rising conference power, on November 28th, when the Herd decided that they couldn't stop a thundering herd of girl scouts on defense in a shattering 67-66 OT loss. Marshall was derided by the selection group and national pundits for having a week strength of schedule, and was left out in the cold to end up in bowl oblivion playing in the bottom of the barrel Boca Raton Bowl. How far a team can fall in a few short weeks is an amazing thing. With Marshall's "disappointing" finish also went the profile of the conference in all, and 2015 is going to be all about redemption on a large scale.
Let us not forget the debacle that was the situation at UAB, where the board decided to drop football. The good news is that after an independent investigation, and a huge commitment by the city of Birmingham and private donors, UAB football will return in 2016 with an on campus stadium scheduled to replace the dreadful Legion Field as the home of Blazers football.

Projected Order Of Finish

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

1. Louisiana Tech
3. Rice
4. Southern Miss
5. North Texas

All Conference Team
QB-Brandon Doughty, Southern Mississippi
QB-Driphus Jackson, Rice
RB-Devon Johnson, Marshall
RB-Leon Allen, Western Kentucky
RB-Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech
WR-Carlos Harris, North Texas
WR-Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech
WR-Jared Dangerfield, Western Kentucky
WR-Zach Pascal, Old Dominion
TE-Jonnu Smith-Florida International
TE-Marcus Smith, North Texas

DL-Michael Wakefield, Florida International
DL-Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech
DL-Denzell Perine, Florida International
DL-Brian Shorter, Western Kentucky
LB-Nick Holt, Western Kentucky
LB-TJ Ricks, Old Dominion
LB-DJ Hunter, Marshall
LB-Dejon Brown, Western Kentucky
DB-Kevin Byrd, Middle Tennessee
DB-Xavier Woods, Louisiana Tech
DB-Adairius Barnes, Louisiana Tech
DB-Corey Tindal, Marshall

PK-Trevor Moore, North Texas
P-Dalton Schomp, Florida Atlantic

2015 Previews

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Projected Record: 10-2
Head Coach: Jeff Brohm (8-5, 2nd season)

The Good News: WKU got amazing news when the NCAA granted QB Brian Doughty a 6th year of eligibility in 2015. Doughty was the national leader in passing in 2014, and should once again be absolutely spectacular this coming season, as his two premier weapons in the passing game return as well in WRs Jared Dangerfield and Taywan Taylor, with all three being pre-season all conference selections. To make the news even better, all league RB Leon Allen also returns to keep defenses honest with the run game. Allen is also a gem as a receiver out of the backfield as well. Three starters return on the line, so the offensive show should continue.
On defense, the Toppers were mostly horrible in 2014, but they do bring back some solid talent at the LB position this fall. Both Nick Holt and Dejon Brown are back, and they should elevate the defense in the middle of the field, as both are pre-season all CUSA selections. The line should be much improved with three returning starters coming back, and they also boast UAB transfer Jontavious Morris, who could be a real star this fall at DT. The Toppers are set at Safety as well, as they return Marcus Ward and Brandon Lester.
The Bad News: The defense hogs this section, as they finished just 120th nationally in total defense last fall. WKU finished 121st in defensive scoring, 111th against the run, and 121st against the pass. They also gave up 30 or more points nine times last season, and teams averaged 39.9 points per game against them. If the Toppers cannot shore up their defensive deficiencies this season, that ten win prediction could be a stretch.
The Overview: Jeff Brohm picked up where Bobby Petrino left off after a short stay. The Toppers are only getting better, and as many as 6 of their top ten recruits for this fall were all defensive players, meaning that rohm is taking a keen interest in fixing that issue. Look for WKU to continue to build on recent successes, and they should be playing for a conference title in December.
First Game: 9/5 at Vanderbilt

Marshall Thundering Herd
2014 Record: 13-1
2015 Projected Record: 11-1
Head Coach: Doc Holliday (40-25, 6th season)

The Good News: The Herd were one game away from playing in the Peach Bowl last season, and that total defensive breakdown landed them in Boca Raton instead. Boca is great for retirement, not for bowl game locales. The good news is that even with the departure of Rakeem Cato at QB, the Herd should be just about as good as they were a season ago. Michael Birdsong takes over at QB after transferring from James Madison, and people feel tat he could be every bit as good. Devon Johnson was a candidate for our All-Bilo RB of the Year last season, and should push the 2000 mark this season after finishing with over 1700 yards last fall. Davonte Allen is the lone returning starter at WR, however the Herd are deep there, with several returnees who saw significant action last fall. The line returns three starters, so look for the offense to rank amongst the national leaders once again.
On defense, the only great news early is the return of both safeties in Taj Letman and AJ Leggett, as well as all conference selection SLB DJ Hunter.
Punter Tyler Williams returns as well after averaging 43.7 yards per punt last fall. He is an early All-American candidate.
The Bad News: Cato is gone, and although Birdsong is expected to take flight immediately, it's hard to replace someone as good as Cato for as long as he was succeeding at Marshall.
The defense is full of holes, as three of four linemen must be replaced, with only NT Jacquez Samuel returning. With exception of Hunter coming back at LB, the other two spots need to be filled as well, and Marshall must also replace one starting CB. Corey Tindal, an all league selection, isn't even first on the depth chart heading into fall camp after an excellent year last season.
Justin Haig is gone at PK, leaving more big shoes needing to be filled.
The Overview: Despite all of the new faces that will be taking the field in starting roles this fall, the schedule more than sets up for big winning in 2015. The Herd should blow through September, including the opener with Purdue, and that will set them tempo, as the rest of the schedule is manageable until the season finale with Western Kentucky.
First Game: 9/6 Purdue

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
2014 Record: 6-6
2015 Projected Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Rick Stockstill (57-55, 10th season)

The Good News: The strength of the Raiders will be the middle of the line, which returns both guards (Darius Johnson, Daniel Stephens) and their Center (Josh Chester) from last fall. That group will be blocking for a strong ground game led by Shane Tucker and last year's official starter Jordan Parker, and a third back in Jeremiah Bryson. There's plenty of experience to go around in that unit, as all have been major contributors.
The middle of the line on defense happens to also be the strength on that side of the football, as both DTs return (Patrick McNeill, Shaquille Huff). The secondary may be the best part of this unit, however, and is loaded with talent. Kevin Byrd (SS) and Xavier Walker (FS) anchor the back of the unit, while Jared Singletary returns at CB. Jamarcus Howard and Chris Brown will battle it out for the open job at CB in the fall.
The Bad News: On defense, both ends need replacing in the starting lineup, and that could be a problem with speed teams on the outside. TT Barber is the lone returnee at LB, making the front seven a questionable area heading into camp.
Special teams is likely to need a reboot, as Cody Clark imploded at PK at the end of the season, and his struggles continued into spring ball. The Punting job may very well settle into the hands of a freshman (Matt Bonadies).
On offense, the first two orders of business will be finding a consistent threat at QB (battle is between Austin Grammer and Brent Stockstill), and then finding some receivers other than Ed Batties for them to get the ball to. The Raiders finished just 74th nationally in passing last season, and Grammer is more a runner than passer, while Stockstill is a better passer than runner. Both tackles also need to be replaced as well.
The Overview: MT has been bowl eligible for 5 of the last 6 seasons, but that isn't saying much these days. Rick Stockstill has always been on the verge of pushing the Blue Raiders to the next level, but always falls short, as evidenced by his barely .500 career record at the school. Eventually it has to be the right time for the Raiders to pull of a league title, but that won't be this season, as the Raiders will once again be just barely good enough to get by.
First Game: 9/5 Jackson State

Old Dominion Monarchs
2014 Record: 6-6
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Bobby Wilder (52-20, 7th season)

The Good News: The RB corps is as deep as it has ever been in ODU's short football history. Ray Lawry and Vincent Lowe should be an outstanding battery in the backfield as the Monarchs adjust to a new QB for the first time in four seasons. Jeremy Cox, a freshman, is one of several young talented players that Wilder and staff recruited to bolster the ranks, and should find his way into the RB rotation. There were losses at WR, however Zack Pascal is a pre season all league pick, and should take a leadership role there in 2015. David Washington returns as well. The line returns three starters, but they run ten deep across the board, and have plenty of experience coming back into the fray. Expect no drop off there.
Senior DE Pancho Barnwell is back at DE after leading the team in sacks, and should be a solid foundation of a building front seven, along with all league LB TJ Ricks and Martez Simpson. Shadow Williams and Richard Thomas should both rotate at OLB as JC transfers to give some of the younger guys time to grow into the spot. Fellonte Misher is back at SS, and Devon Brown, a UAB transfer, will step right in and start at CB.
SPecial teams ought to be just fine with the return of PK Ricky Segers, who was rock solid until blowing his knee late in the season. Satchel Ziffer came in to replace him, and did a solid job. If Segers isn't fully healthy, it should be no issue.Ziffer is also involved with the battle at Punter.
The Bad News: Losing Taylor Heineke at QB is a huge blow. The four year starter was a beast in his time with the Monarchs, finishing with just under 15,000 career passing yards. South Carolina high school phenom Shuler Bentley will battle with Joey Verhaegue in the fall. Antonio Vaughn also departs at WR, taking a huge chunk of production away as well. It could take a few different WRs to overcome the loss.
Defensively, ODU gave up 30 or more points in eight games in 2014. For the Monarchs to achieve my prediction of eight wins in 2015, that will have to be shored up. Half of the top ten recruits in the most recent class were defensive players.
The punting game has not been settled on, and as many as three players will compete in the fall. Stay tuned there.
The Overview: Despite the loss of Heinicke and Vaughn on offense, nobody should head into a panic attack over it. Bobby Wilder is one of the best coaches in America today, and he will continue to strive towards better things for the Monarchs, and has recruited like a champion. Brian Scott will do a credible job with the offense, and the defense is bound to improve. If the right pieces come together this fall, ODU could be looking at their first bowl bid ever. Remember, this program is only in their seventh year. What they have done is nothing short of incredible in so short a time.
First Game: 9/5 at Eastern Michigan

Florida Atlantic Owls
2014 Record: 3-9
2015 Projected Record: 3-9
Head Coach: Charlie Partridge (3-9, 1st season)

The Good News: There isn't much to be had on an offense that finished 101st nationally last fall. The run game should be in decent shape, as Buddy Howell and Jay Warren return to a backfield that averaged 163.6 yards per game last season and was a bright spot in an otherwise fairly bleak landscape. Jensen Stoshak and Kalib Woods both return at WR, so some stability does exist, but they need a QB that can get them the ball.
On defense, the news isn't much brighter. The line is the bright spot, as three starters return in Robinson Eugene and Trey Hendrickson (DEs) and Trevon Coley (DT).
Dalton Schomp is probably the most promising player on the team coming back, and he's a Punter. He averaged a booming 45.4 yards per punt last fall.
The Bad News: It's hard to find a place to start on either side of the football, as the offense finished in the hundreds in total offense, while scoring a meager 24 points per game. The defense finished 110th in total defense, 112th against the run, and gave up 34.4 points per game.
The O line needs to have replacements found from Center right, and the QB situation is less than stable in the hands of returnee Jacquez Johnson.
In a five man secondary, only one player returns in CB Cre'Von LeBlanc, making for a difficult process to improve.
The Overview: The word is that FAU is not going to be any better than they were a year ago. Partridge needs to get the recruiting situation settled out, and start getting some players into a program that has largely sputtered for several years now. Is Partridge the right guy to get this going? I don't know, but it's too early to come to a final conclusion. Improvements will be small this season, so 2016, and maybe 2017 will be the point in which we know more about where this program is going.
First G
Game: 9/5 at Tulsa

Florida International Panthers
2014 Record: 4-8
2015 Projected Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Ron Turner (5-19, 3rd season)

The Good News: FIU also largely fell flat on offense in 2014, finishing 120th in total offense nationally. The good news is that Alex McGough will be back at QB, and showed some real improvement as the season progressed. Look for him to take the next step in his career evolution this fall. Alex Gardner was just starting to develop last season when he injured his shoulder and missed a huge chunk of time. Anthon Samuel, a Bowling Green transfer, stepped up and took off in the job,. Both will see significant time this fall. The best receiver, and possibly player on this football team is super TE Jonnu Smith, and NFL prospect. Smith will likely be the leading receiver on this team in 2015. The line will return three starters, giving the Panthers some foundation to build on.
The news is much better on defense, where three starters (Lars Koht, Imarjaye Albury, and all league pick Michael Wakefield) return. Treyvon Williams also returns at LB, making the front six (FIU runs a 4-2-5 set) one of the best in the conference. All three CBs return in the secondary (Davison Colimon, Richard Leonard, and Jeremiah McKinnon) to a unit that ranked 29th nationally against the pass.
Austin Taylor is back at PK, and is a long yardage specialist.
The Bad News: The WR corps is decimated by losses, and someone must step up to ensure that Smith is open when needed. Otherwise he can expect double teams on most downs, as no other receivers will be perceived as threats. The offense was beyond awful last fall, so all around improvements must come about, especially McHough at QB.
The defense was a huge bright spot in 2014, and will be again, but they do need to replace both safeties in fall camp to protect against the deep ball and in run support.
The Panthers use two punters, because they each specialize. Not a good thing.
The Overview: Turner is fully on the hot seat, but seems to be moving in the right direction even so. FIU played better fundamental football in 2014 than they did in 2013, and Turner entered last season with the faithful calling for his head after just one season. The pressure may not be as high this season, but if the Panthers slide back to two win territory, it could be the end for Turner.
First Game: 9/3 at UCF

Charlotte 49ers
2014 Record: 5-6* (Transition to FBS)
2015 Projected Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Brad Lambert (10-12, 3rd season)

The Good News: There's no pressure. That's the best news of all. The Niners are building a program and are only in year three of the process. This is the first year that they will be playing a serious FBS schedule, so the results will likely reflect that. In all, Presbyterian is the lone FCS or lower division school that Charlotte will play this year, and they beat the Blue Hose 45-21 a year ago. There will be 11 games against FBS competition this fall, as compared to none last season.
RB Kalif Phillips will be the key in 2015, coming off of a 1436 yard season. Remember, that came against all FCS and D2 defenses, so he could slide a bit in the totals against stiffer competition. He will be running behind a line that returns only three starters from the end of last season, but that unit is deep and experienced. The receiving corps is solid as well, with Austin Duke and Trent Bostick returning, and Georgia transfer Uriah Lemay will also step in and likely start. QB should be another strength with the continued development of Matt Johnson, who lost three games to an MCL tear, and Lee McNeill, who played like a starter in his place.
Defensively, the Niners have problems, with the only good news being that two starters are back in the secondary (CB Greg Cunningham, FS Brandon Dozier), and NT Larry Ogenjobi will be back in the middle of the line as well.
Both kickers are back in PK Blake Brewer and Punter Arthur Hart.
The Bad News: Things aren't that bad on offense at all, but one has to remember the increased competition situation. Will Charlotte be able to repeat scoring 38.8 points per game with a severely strengthened schedule? It's unlikely, but they could surprise us all.
The defense was a disaster last fall, having given up 35 or more points seven times in 11 games. Eight starters must be replaced at that, and so it's hardly acceptable to expect better this season. Any improvement, no matter how small, should be seen as a plus.
The Overview: Expect nothing. That is the bottom line on this infant program. Look for a big step back from last season as Charlotte gets used to playing FBS football, and quite frankly, expect them to be the worst team in FBS football. Anything better than that will be seen as a success.
First Game: 9/4 Georgia State

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
2014 Record: 9-5
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Skip Holtz (13-13, 3rd season)

The Good News: Jeff Driskel was largely a failure at QB at Florida. The 5th year transfer steps in to replace Cody Sokol, another 5th year transfer, and call me crazy, but Driskel may very well flourish under a real offense that makes the most of his skills, unlike that garbage that the Gators were running under the clueless Will Muschamp. The real prize is RB Kenneth Dixon, who comes off a career year with 1684 yards rushing and 28 TDs. He should be the cente rpiece of this offense, but we all know that the offense at Tech will be completely balanced out while remaining high powered under Tony Peterson's scheme. Depth is strong at WR as well in 2015, with three starters returning in Paul Turner, Carlos Henderson, and Trent Taylor. The line is set from center right as well, leaving little to worry about.
Tech had a decent defense in 2014, and the line should be a strength with three starters returning in Vontarrius Dora (DE), Vernon Butler (DT), and Aaron Brown (DT). The secondary is loaded with three starters coming back there as well (CB Adarius Barnes, S Xavier Woods, S Kentreel Brice).
The Bad News: There isn't much on offense, but if I had to nitpick, it would be that there are holes in both spots on the left side of the line. Jens Danielson (LT) and David Mahaffey (LG) should step in, and both have experience.
Defensively, there are a ton of holes in the middle of the field at LB. Every starting LB and one DE must be replaced this fall, so DC Blake Baker has his work cut out to ensure that the defense continues to excel after finishing 34th nationally in total defense, and 17th against the run.
Both PK Jonathon Barnes (listed starter) and Punter Logan McPherson had issues last fall, and need to find improvement in their games. Kyle Fischer will likely see time again at PK as he did last year, but he wasn't much better.
The Overview: The offense should carry the day, but the defense shouldn't be bad if the LB situation can be resolved. No matter what, Tech has more than enough power to win the West once again, and should slide into the league title game. Do they have enough to unseat Marshall or Western Kentucky? That's a good question.

UTEP Miners
2014 Record: 7-6
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Sean Kugler (9-16, 3rd season)

The Good News: The line will be the strength of the offense, which is important, as the Miners are a run first football team. Four starters return in LT Jermoe Daniels, LG Will Hernandez, C Eric Lee, and RG Derek Elmendorff. Junior Chris Thomas or junior John De La Rosa will take over at RT. The run game returns strength as well with Aaron Jones returning after rushing for 1321 yards, and all league FB Darrin Laufusa coming back as well.
The defense is a bit bare in 2015, with only five starters returning in 2015. three of those starters return up front on the line in DE Nick Usher, DT Gino Bresolin, and DE Roy Robertson-Harris. Alvin Jones returns at WLB, while Devin Cockrell returns at Weak Safety.
Jay Mattox will be back and will once again handle both PK and P duties as he did from the middle of last season on. The kicking game should be a strength, as should the return game, which is in the capable hands of Autrey Golden.
The Bad News: On offense, it's the passing game. As many as three candidates will be in the mix to start at QB, and that position was already a weakness last season, as the Miners only passed for 142.9 yards per game. Autrey Golden is a great return guy, but he's new as a starter at WR, and the Miners are devoid of any returning receivers, period.
Defensively, the Miners must find four new starters in a five man set, so the pass defense could be a bit rough in the early part of the year while this unit gels. Pass D was a strength last fall, as UTEP finished 15th nationally in that category. I don't see that happening again.
The Overview: There are few coaches in America who have done the amazing job that Sean Kugler has done in his short time in El Paso. He inherited a mess, and has somehow gotten this program into believing that they can be winners. That in and of itself is incredible, but keeping this train going will be the key, and UTEP could very well do that once again. The early schedule is bumpy, but sailing could be smoother after the first two games against Arkansas and Texas Tech are behind them. Louisiana Tech is at home, and there is no Western Kentucky, and no Marshall on the slate.
First Game: 9/5 at Arkansas

Rice Owls
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Projected Record: 6-6
Head Coach: David Bailiff (48-53, 9th season)

The Good News: Drifus Jackson is one hell of a QB for the Owls, and returns to lead the way in 2015. He can run and throw equally well, and is adept at keeping defenses honest with his skill set. He missed spring ball after shoulder surgery, but will be ready to go in fall camp. Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard both return at RB, giving Rice a top tier run game out of their backfield. Dennis Parker and Zach Wright both return at WR, giving Jackson reliable targets when he pulls up and throws.
Defensively, Rice could use some improvements, but only LB Alex Lyons and CB Ryan Pullard are set to return as starters.
James Farrimond is a first rate punter, having averaged 42 yards per punt last fall.
The Bad News: Holes are everywhere on both sides of the football. WR could be a concern behind Parks and Wright, as there is very little experience. The line replaces three starters as well, which could negatively impact the run game.
On defense, nine starters must be replaced from a unit that ranked 54th nationally in total defense, and just 80th in scoring, giving up 28.5 points per game.
The kicking game was a mess at PK last fall, and the Owls are depending on a freshman, Jack Fox, to fix the issue.
The Overview: The Owls and coach David Bailiff have been one of the most inconsistent teams in college football for the last several seasons. They have been an on one year, off the next kind of team, and this could be one of those off years. Bailiff could be the guy that gets the Owls to a decent level, but they may eventually need someone who can put them over the top and keep them there. With all of their holes, this could be a step back kind of season.

North Texas Mean Green
2014 Record: 4-8
2015 Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Dan McCarney (22-27, 5th season)

The Good News: There isn't much to be found on offense at all. Carlos Harris should be a strength at WR, and is one of the best in the conference, but someone has to be able to get the football into his hands at the QB position. TE Marcus Smith is also a viable target in the passing game. Center Kaydon Kirby is back as a sophomore, and should continue to develop.
Three starters return in a relatively deep defensive line in DT Austin Orr, DT Sir Calvin Wallace, and DE Chad Polk. Other than those mentioned, it should be a decently experienced unit heading into fall camp. Fred Scott is a talent at LB, and moves outside this season. Kenny Buyers is also a strength at CB.
Trevor Moore is one of the best PKs in the nation, and hit 15 of 17 a year ago. He returns. Eric Kenna returns at Punter as well after averaging 44.8 yards per punt last fall, so the kicking game should be set.
The Bad News: The QB situation is basically dreadful Andrew McNulty returns as the starterm but tossed more picks than TDs a season ago. That trend obviously must change. Other than Harris at WR, there is little to no depth at all. The line, a strength last fall, must replace four starters, which is not good news for a RB group that largely struggled to assert themselves last fall.
Defensively, two new starters must be replaced at LB, and four new starters must be found to play around Buyers in the secondary. That's bad news for a defense that already finished just 84th in total scoring at 29.8 points per game allowed in 2014.
The Overview: North Texas has slid back after winning the Heart of Dallas Bowl two seasons ago, and the slide looks to continue, placing McCarney in a bit of job jeopardy. North Texas will need too many things to go right in 2015 to have any real expectation of winning, so those expectations should be basement level low. It's going to be a tough year of trying to find working pieces in all.
First Game: 9/12 at SMU

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
2014 record: 3-9
2015 Projected Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Todd Monken (4-20, 3rd season)

The Good News: The line on offense should be the heart of strength for this unit, as four starters return. That's excellent news if the Eagles want to improve on their run game, which averaged a paltry 95.8 yards per game last season, which ranked 121st nationally. The passing attack is strong, led by the return of QB Nick Mullens, but he could hand the job to TCU transfer Tyler Matthews in fall camp. Either way, this could be a position of some strength in 2015. Three players could see carries at RB in Ito Smith, George Payne, and Tez Parks, and look for Patrick Brooks, an incoming freshman, to get some looks in camp as well. Michael Thomas, Marquise Ricard, and Casey Martin all return to give the team some stability at WR.
Defensively, the Eagles need some help, and in a hurry. Only three starters return in LB Brian Anderson, CB Kalen Reed, and S Picasso Nelson. D'Nerisu Antoine should add some experience at LB/S, and Elijah Parker should slide in at another LB position that's open for competition. Nelson moves to Safety from CB, and should do so seamlessly.
The Bad News: The Eagles must learn how to better run the football. That's the simple part, or else every team they face will drop into nickel and dime packages and make them run. Scoring was also a huge problem, as USM only averaged 19 points per game last fall. They scored less than 21 points a whopping seven times last season.
On defense, the Eagles must find new starters on every spot on the line, which is imperative early. The new full time starters at LB must step up quickly.
The kicking game is up in the air with a new starter needed at PK, and Punter Tyler Sarrazin struggling with an average of 39.5 yards per punt.
The Overview: The Eagles have shown some upward motion in the win column under Monken, but USM hasn't finished with three straight losing seasons since the great depression era. Monken inherited a mess, I Know, but eventually, he has to fix this mess and start seeing some returns to bowl games. If that doesn't happen, and soon, how long will the faithful put up with losing? It's unlikely that anything will happen this season, but if the Eagkles aren't bowling by the end of the 2016 season, times could be changing once again.
First Game: 9/5 Mississippi State

UTSA Road Runners
2014 Record: 4-8
2015 Projected Record: 1-11
Head Coach: Larry Coker (23-23, 5th season)

The Good News: I'm trying to find some people. I am really trying. The sad part is, we all knew this was coming. The apocalypse was near after 20 starters at the start of 2014 were all scheduled to depart this season. What's worse is that the unit that existed in 2014 was supposed to win big, and didn't nearly do that.
Jarveon Williams may be the only good news coming back on offense, as he has been a big play back that will be the primary ball carrier for the first time ever.
Only three starters return on defense in LB Drew Douglas, CB Bennett Okotcha, and S Maurice Sanchez. The Road Runners will need to completely retool almost everywhere.
The Bad News: Almost everything is bad news right now, as UTSA is in complete rebuild mode. Every starter on offense must be replaced, with the basic exception of anyone who played due to injuries, which occurred all over the place. QB is an open battle, every member of the line must be replaced, and there is little to no experience at receiver. Off field issues have clouded WR Kenny Bias, and TE David Morgan, the best receiver available, has had injury issues.
On defense, the entire line must be replaced, and three new starters must be found in the secondary.
Both kicking jobs are open, and expected to go to Daniel Portillo at PK (sophomore) and Yannis Routsas at Punter (freshman).
The Overview: Nobody can have any delusions of grandeur as to what to expect in San Antonio in 2015. The club must be largely rebuilt from the bottom up. Coker is a fantastic coach, but he will need two to three years to get the Runners back up to full speed. We all saw this coming, so no surprises here. Winning will return, but it's going to be a tough go.
First Game: 9/3 at Arizona

Thursday, June 25, 2015

2015 College Football Preview: AAC

The American Athletic Conference is shifting to a new era in 2015, as Navy comes on to split the conference into two divisions, which provides the big league cash grab called a conference title game. Of course, with the AAC (former Big East) finding themselves on the outside of the NCAA power structure, it may not matter much. That being the case, would a conference title game in this league be all that interesting, and who, outside of the fan base of whichever two schools make it, will actually care about it?
That question aside, The six teams projected for bowl trips out of the AAC are all on solid footing, and Navy is a solid grab. Here is my look at the AAC heading into the 2015 season...

Projected Order of Finish

1. Cincinnati
2. East Carolina
3. UCF
4. Temple
5. USF
6. Connecticut

1. Memphis
2. Navy
3. Houston
4. Tulsa
5. SMU
6. Tulane

Pre-Season All Conference
QB Gunner , Cincinnati
QB Keenan Reynolds, Navy
QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis
RB Marlon Mack, USF
RB Kenneth Farrow, Houston
RB Zack Langer, Tulsa
WR Keevan Lucas, Tulsa
WR Keyaris Garrett, Tulsa
WR Isaiah Jones, East Carolina
WR Shaq Washington, Cincinnati
TE Alan Cross, Memphis

DL Derrick Alexander, Tulsa
DL Thomas Niles, UCF
DL Matt Ioannidis, Temple
DL Royce LaFrance, Tulane
LB Nico Marley, Tulane
LB Montese Overton, East Carolina
LB Zeek Bigger, East Carolina
LB Tyler Matekevich, Temple
DB Perry Nickerson, Tulane
DB Adrian McDonald, Houston
DB Josh Hawkins, East Carolina
DB Tavon Young, Temple

PK Andrew Gantz, Cincinnati
P Mattias Ciabatti, USF
KR Deion Sanders Jr., SMU

Team Previews

Cincinnati Bearcats
2014 Record: 9-4
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Tommy Tuberville (18-8, 3rd season)

The Good News: Gunner Kiel is back at QB after tying a school record with 31 TDs in 2014. What's better is that he returns his top seven receivers from last season as well, including possession receiver Shaq Washington, and deep threats Mekale McCoy and Chris Moore. Both scored eight times last season, with Washington scoring four more. Parker Ehringer kicks out from OG to LT, and Justin Murray returns at RT. Deyshawn Bond is back at Center as well.
Defensively, the secondary returns almost intact with CB Grant Coleman, FS Andre Jones, and SS Zack Edwards.
Andrew Ganz is one of the best kickers in the nation, and hit 16 of 20 tries as a freshman in 2014.
The Bad News: On offense, the run game was a mess in 2014, with starting candidates Hosey Williams and Tion Green missing swaths of time. Sophomore Mike Boone could pass them both as he comes off a promising year in relief. Both OGs need replacing in the lineup, which shouldn't be difficult, but depth and experience on the bench for the OL is non-existent.
The defense was a disaster in 2014, having given up 30 or more points seven times last fall. Five spots need filling in the front seven (three DL and two LB), which isn't promising for improvement. This unit finished 96th overall last season, so there's very little room to get worse.
Punter Sam Geraci returns at Punter, but needs to lift his average beyond the paltry 39.4 yards per punt he exhibited as a freshman last season.
The Overview: Every team in the AAC has some questions, so the Bearcats are in a good spot to pull off nine wins overall after what is sure to be a bumpy start. Tommy Tuberville has never blown anyone away, but has done well by UC during his short tenure. A divisional title is possible in year one of the split format.

East Carolina Pirates
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Ruffin McNeill (37-27, 6th season)

The Good News: Despite serious losses, the offense should continue to run at a high pace in 2015 for a unit that finished 5th nationally in total defense. The staff has full confidence in new starting QB Kurt Benkert, and there is still plenty of talent to go around at WR, including Isaiah Jones, Davon Grayson, and incoming freshman Deondre Farrier, who was heavily recruited by Power Five schools. Add TE Bryce Williams into the mix in short yardage, and the Pirates should be in fine shape. Four starters return on the O Line, with a new starter needed at Center.
On defense, LB is a strength this season, as Zack Bigger and Montese Overton return to a unit that gave up just 111 yards rushing per game last fall (11th nationally).
Punter Worth Gregory returns after putting on a show to the tune of 43.6 yards per punt last season.
The Bad News: The run game was surprisingly strong in 2014, averaging 161 yards per game. That being said, the Pirates must find a new starter at RB this fall and will likely see both Chris Hairston and Anthony Scott getting carries.
The defense could suffer up on the line, as three new starters could be in place by week one.  Jonathon White is back at DE, but he may lose out to K'Hadree Hooker, a junior. Half of the strong LB unit must be replaced as well, with both spots coming on the WLB side of the field. The secondary is also rebuilding, with only CB Josh Hawkins returning, however he is a good one.
Warren Harvey is gone at PK after setting school records, and it will be up to Texas A&M transfer Davis Plowman to step up in his wake.
The Overview: As good as some of the returning talent is for ECU in 2015, their losses may be too deep to compete for a conference title this season. They may be in better position to walk away with the AAC crown in 2016, but anything can happen if the new guys gel quickly. One thing I have learned is that you never count ECU down and out.
Opening Game: 9/5 Towson

UCF Knights
2014 Record: 9-4
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Head Coach: George O'Leary (81-60, 12th season)

The Good News: QB Justin Holman was a question coming into 2014, and now he is a strength, and after some early season bumps last season, he is due to break out big this fall. He passed for 23 TDs in replacing all earth QB Blake Bortles, and will have that shadow long gone. William Stanback, if healthy, could be one of the better backs in the AAC. He rushed for just over 600 yards last fall despite his injury issues. His health is paramount. The O line is loaded, with four starters returning, with only the LT spot up for grabs heading into the fall.
On defense, three starters return in Thomas Niles (DE), Demetrius Anderson (DT), and Luke Adams (DE). That is where the good news ends on D.
The Bad News: On offense, the Knights must hit reboot at WR and TE, replacing every single starter in the receiving corps. That is not good news for Holman, but it is thought that this unit will catch up fast.
The defense is largely starting from scratch at both LB and in the secondary, with only Chequan Burkett (a sophomore) returning at LB. Every other position must be replaced this fall. There is certainly talent coming into the fold, but it takes time for a unit to gel, especially with so many players having to get used to playing together at the same time for the first time.
Special teams will have a huge hole to fill with the departure of Shawn Moffitt, the best kicker in school history. Freshman Matthew Wright will give it a shot. The punting game was lagging, with returning starter Caleb Houston struggling to a tune of 38.9 yards per punt.
The Overview: That defense was so good in 2014 (5th nationally in total defense), but how do you replace so many starters in so short a time? Even if the kids that are coming in are solid, it will take some time to get back on the horse. Holman should elevate a new class of receivers on offense, but he must get more help from Stanback, who must stay healthy, as must Joey Grant (RG) who is coming back from off season surgery. The schedule is fairly weak overall, so UCF should pile up some weak sister wins to get back to the 9 win plateau, but they may not make it that far.
Opening Game: 9/3 Florida International

Temple Owls
2014 Record: 6-6
2015 Projected Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Matt Ruhle (8-16, 3rd season)

The Good News: The defense, which ranked 4th nationally in total defense, returns a load of talent in 2015. Every starter returns on the line in DEs Praise Martin-Oguike and Sharif French, and DTs Matt Ioannidis and Hershey Walton. The secondary is also loaded with all four starters back in Sean Chandler and Tavon Young at CB, and Will Hayes and Alex Wells at Safety. This unit ranked 13th nationally against the pass last season, and should have another solid season coming up. Tyler Matakevich is back at LB, and is one of the elite LBs in the country.
On offense, four players with starting experience return from a line that was racked with injuries in 2014, and the good news on offense ends right there.
The Bad News: Other than Matakevich at LB, two starters must be replaced. That is just nitpicking a unit that is otherwise one of the best in the nation.
The offense, on the other hand, was an abject disaster in 2014. PJ Walker is back at QB, but tossed 15 picks to just 13 TDs in 2014, and was all over the place in every other aspect of the game. John Christopher is the lone returnee at WR for Walker to throw to, and he was no prize last fall. That would be bad enough, but nobody ran for more than 384 yards last fall, and that is a huge problem. There is a stable of maybe five backs who could all see time this season, including touted freshman TJ Simmons, but someone has to step up and be the go to guy, and Temple does not have that guy right now.
Special teams is another area of shipwreck concern for the Owls, as PK Austin Jones hit just 13 of 22 FGs last fall, and missed at least one in each of the final five games last season. Alex Starzyk looks like a star at Punter one moment, and looks like a goat the next.
The Overview: Ruhle has made some advances in his stay at head coach, but he has to turn a corner soon, or Temple risks floating back to college football's land of irrelevance, where they were the main resident for decades. The schedule sets up to allow for a potential of six wins this fall, but that is no guarantee. They will have to finish strong in November to get there. That offense has to catch up to the defense, or else that unit will struggle to carry the load for a second consecutive seasons.
Opening Game: 9/5 Penn State

South Florida Bulls
2014 Record: 4-8
2015 Projected Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Willie Taggert (6-18, 3rd season)

The Good News: There isn't much to be had in Tampa so far under Willie Taggert. The offense is changing to a...gulp...spread attack. The only real positive on offense is RB Marlon Mack, the 2014 AAC rookie of the year. Mack rushed for 1041 yards and 9 scores last season, and the unit will have to ride his back this fall as well. Even with Mack, the Bulls still ranked just 114th nationally in rushing.
The LB unit should be the key to success on defense with four starter quality guys (Nigel Harris, Auggie Sanchez, Tashon Whitehurst, Jimmy Bayes) rolling into two spots. Two safeties return in Nate Godwin and Jamie Byrd.
Punter Mattias Ciabatti will return at Punter after averaging over 44 yards per kick last fall. He will get his work in this season for certain.
The Bad News: Where to start? The QB position is a huge mess for starters, with the situation still not settled heading into the fall. Quinton Flowers may be the guy. Every WR must be replaced, with only TE Sean Price returning as far as targets are concerned. Both tackles must be replaced, as will be the Center on the line.
The defense really took a dive in many ways last fall, and the fall could continue, especially up front, where three of four spots on the line need a new starter. Only DE Eric Lee returns. Both CBs must also be replaced in a secondary that ranked 51st against the pass, which was the strength of the defense a year ago.
Marvin Kloss is gone at PK, and that leaves a huge hole for Emilio Nadelman to fill.
The Overview: USF has just enough winnable games in 2015 to match their 2014 win total, but that is not saying much at all. Willie Taggert worked wonders at Western Kentucky before bolting for the gulf coast, but he hasn't shown the same magic in Tampa. If the Bulls don't show some improvement in some sense in 2015, this could be his final go.
Opening Game: 9/5 Florida A&M

Connecticut Huskies
2014 Record: 2-10
2015 Projected Record: 3-9
Head Coach: Bob Diaco (2-10, 2nd season)

The Good News: I'm sure we can find something here. The RB position should be a strength as new OC Frank Verducci will install a power run game offense for this season. Ron Johnson and Arkeel Newsome should feature nicely in such an offense as each brings something different to the table. I look for big improvements from both. Both tackles return in Andreas Knappe and Richard Levy, and there is promise at receiver in Noel Thomas and Thomas Lucas.
On defense, the secondary was solid against the pass, and returns three starters in Jhovan Williams, Obi Melifonwu, and Andrew Adams. LB Graham Stewart is a rising star and is disruptive at LB, and Marquise Vann is a tackling machine.
The Bad News: There is no real answer at QB heading into the fall for a position that ranked 111th last season. Bryant Sherriffs is likely the starter, but wasn't great when given an opportunity before. Although the receivers have some promise, they still need a guy to get the ball out to them for them to shine. That will be the challenge.
The defense, even though talent is there, still gave up almost 30 points per game last fall, and must toughen up.
The PK game is all over the place, and incumbent Bobby Puyol will be pushed hard by Michael Tarbutt. Justin Wain returns at Punter as well, but averaged just 38.8 yards per punt, although he did nail down 17 punts inside the 20.
The Overview: The Huskies are very much horrible. They have had zero identity on offense since Dan Orlovski left at QB several years ago, and things are not getting much better. The defense should be serviceable enough to keep the Huskies in some games, but that won't be enough. Look for some small improvements, but Diaco has a long way to go to get this thing going in the right direction.
Opening Game: 9/3 Villanova

Memphis Tigers
2014 Record: 10-3
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Justin Fuente (17-20, 4th season)

The Good News: The Tigers escaped the land of the football dead last season, and Justin Fuente brought them to a brand new place where people can be proud of this once nearly dead program. On offense, the Tigers have an impressive trigger man with Paxton Lynch (3031 yards passing) leading the way. Lynch was a project that has paid off huge dividends with his development. With Brandon Hayes gone at RB, the Tigers turn to Doroland Dorceus and Jarvis Cooper to carry the load. Cooper,  a bruising power back, is more of the sure thing variety with Dorceus coming back from missing most of last season with injuries, but the staff is solid on both. Mose Frazier returns after leading the Tigers in receiving last season, and Tevin Jones will be back as the fourth receiver after receiving starting experience last fall. What's even better is that all conference TE Alan Cross is back, and that's huge. The entire left side of the line returns as well, from Center to LT.
Jackson Dillon returns at OLB/DE, and led the team in TFLs last fall, but that is where the good news on D ends.
Jake Elliott is back at PK, and has a cannon of a leg, as evidenced by the 54 yarder he hit in the bowl win over BYU. Fuente and staff believe that they have two starting caliber Punters onboard in Spencer Smith and Nick Jacobs.
The Bad News: Where Frazier and Jones are back at WR, there are two gaping holes at the position to fill, and depth isn't great at WR. The entire right side of the line is in rebuild mode, and sophomore Zack Collins is penciled in at RG. As much as the coaches like their RBs publicly, Dorceus' injury concerns are huge, and again, depth could be a problem there.
The entire defense is essentially in rebuild mode, with eight new starters and a coordinator getting broken in this fall after DC Barry Odom left for Missouri. Galen Scott was promoted for continuity, which was smart, but he has his work cut out.
The Overview: 2014 brought the first Tiger team to win 10 games since 1938, and the winning should continue for the immediate future. The key is locking down Fuente to prevent him from jumping to  bigger program with more resources. Look for a bit of a slip backwards this season, but eight wins should be enough to win the AAC West.
First Game: 9/5 Missouri State

Navy Midshipmen
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Ken Niumatalolo (57-35, 8th season)

The Good News: Keenan Reynolds, Keenan Reynolds, and more Keenan Reynolds. That we get one more season of watching him run the triple option at Navy is a gift for every fan of college football. No running QB is more electrifying in the game today. Reynolds is the all time leader in rushing TDs by a QB with 64, and he will beyond further that mark this season. Chris Swain steps in at FB for the Middies, and rushed for 693 yards as a part timer last season. The job is all his now. SB DeBrandon Sanders is a flashy back who could compliment the run and pass game nicely. He's a big play threat every time he touches the football. Jamir Tillman is a huge receiver with great reach and solid hands, and will be the go to guy in the passing game. LG EK Binns is back once again, and should anchor what will largely be a rebuilt line.
NG Bernard Sarra is a perfect fit in the 3-4 scheme, and will hold at the point. Will Anthony should see plenty of opportunity to make plays with Sarra holding up the point of attack. Daniel Gonzalez returns at ILB after picking 86 stops last fall, and will be counted on to lead the group in the middle. The secondary is largely intact, with CBs Quincy Adams and Brendan Clements returning, as is SS Kwazel Bertrand. Navy was solid against the pass last fall, ranking 31st against the pass nationally.
Austin Grebe grabbed the PK job late in the season, and returns for a full season at the job. He was perfect in limited opportunities last season.
The Bad News: As good as the offense probably will be, there are still a ton of holes to fix in the lineup, with the entire backfield other than Reynolds, no matter how talented, must gel as a starting unit together for the first time. The Middies are looking for new starters at LT, C, and RG as well. The receiving corps, other than Tillman, also must be brought along into increased roles.
The defense is largely solid, but LB is an issue, as three of four starters must be replaced. William Tuiden is most likely going to start at OLB, and he did see some time in a reserve role last fall.
Navy must also replace P Pablo Beltran, who has graduated.
The Overview: Navy has some holes to fill for certain, but Ken Niumotololo has always found parts to keep this club running straight ahead. AAC opponents will have fits in the first season of defending the triple option attack, which will give Navy a head up advantage. Look for Keenan Reynolds to go out with a bang as a senior, and Navy could steal their first conference title in their first season if things bounce right.
First Game: 9/5 Colgate

Houston Cougars
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Projected Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Tom Herman (1st season)

The Good News: The hiring of Herman, the Ohio State OC during their title run last season, was probably one of the smarter hires last fall on paper. Herman will find a way to amp up an offense that has slid in energy the last couple of seasons under Tony Levine, who never really seemed to be the right fit.
Kenneth Farrow gives the Cougars a solid option in the run game after rushing for 1037 yards and scoring 15 total TDs in 2014. Ryan Jackson serves as the scatback change of pace guy, so Houston should be fine at RB, especially with the additions of incoming freshmen Tyreik Gray and Kevin Justice. Other than that, the offense has more questions than answers heading into 2015.
On defense, the entire secondary returns in CBs Brendan Wilson and William Jackson, and Safeties Adrian McDonald and Trevon Stewart. This unot ranked 27th nationally against the pass last season, and should improve on that, if they can get support from a rebuilt front seven. LB Steven Taylor and DE BJ Singleton are the only returnees up front.
PK Kyle Bullard returns after hitting 16 FGs last fall, and Logan Piper is locked down at Punter.
The Bad News: Herman is going to have to put the pieces together in a rebuild job this season on offense. Greg Ward returns after playing splendidly late against Pitt in the bowl win, but he is being pushed by Utah transfer Adam Schulz. That's not great news, considering that the battle could not be settled in the spring. The receiving corps, led by Demarcus Ayers, is woefully inexperienced, and depth is severely lacking. Whomever wins the QB job will have to bring this group together quickly, or the season could get ugly fast.
The defense was strong last fall, finishing 20th in total defense, but the front seven is in tatters, and the staff has to find five new starters between the line and at LB. That could expose a secondary that has been great by wearing them down quickly as inexperience flails at the point of attack.
On special teams, the Cougars were abysmal last season, and Herman is opening up all return positions in the fall. Houston finished dead last in the AAC in the return game.
The Overview: Some feel the UH is in position to win the AAC in Herman's first year of coaching. I call that mentality a reach. Houston has too many questions on offense, and they may not all be answered by year end, and the front seven on defense is a project right now. Those two issues could make a season come undone early on. Expect a few bumps, and expect no more than seven wins.
First Game: 9/5 Tennessee Tech

Tulsa Golden Hurricane
2014 Record: 2-10
2015 Projected Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Phillip Montgomery (1st season)

The Good News: Expect some excitement to get back into Tulsa football this season with the genius hiring of former Baylor OC Phil Montgomery. Montgomery will institute his Baylor spread attack immediately, and he's lucky to have his trigger men that can run it in QBs Dane Evans and freshman Chad President. The likelihood is that Evans starts the season, and President takes the job at some point eventually. He is the future of the program at QB, although Evans is no slouch (258.5 yards per game in 2014). Zack Langer returns at RB, and should give Tulsa an extra boost on the ground after averaging 80 yards per game in 2014. WRs Keevan Lucas and Keyarris Grant should explode in 2015, making their QBs very happy to be here. Josh Atkinson gives Tulsa one more option at WR as well. There is more good news, as four starters return on the line heading into the season.
The defense was a mess in 2014, and must be rebuilt in most areas. Bill Young has been hired to come in and clean up the mess, and that move alone gives some confidence. Derrick Alexander is a beast at DE, and will serve as a foundation on the line. Jerry Uwaezuoke and Derrick Leutjen (both DTs) return as well to give some stability up front. Trent Martin and Craig Suits were promising last fall at LB, so there is something to build on as well. Michael Mudoh returns at Safety after recording 113 tackles last season.
Dalton Parks (42 yards per punt) returns and will be a very nice weapon in the arsenal as well.
The Bad News: Langer was solid at RB last season, but the run game ranked just 87th nationally, and the offense finished just 91st in scoring, which will two primary focus points in the fall.
The secondary is in rebuild mode, but the entire defense ranked just 114th in total D last fall anyway, so how bad can a rebuild be? That secondary ranked just 113th against the pass, and Tulsa finished 119th in scoring, giving up 39 points per game. Nowhere to go but up there. The PK game is a huge question, with Preston Soper and Redford Jones battling into the fall.
The Overview: Expect a bit of a bounce back for Tulsa in 2015, with as many as five wins possible after two miserable seasons under Bill Blankenship. Montgomery was an excellent and energetic choice to run this program, and I see a resurgence coming sooner rather than later. Expect a bowl in 2016, and a run for a conference title the year after.
First Game: 9/5 Florida Atlantic

SMU Mustangs
2014 Record: 1-11
2015 Projected Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Chad Morris (1st season)

Good News: For a football team as bad as SMU has been, a splashy hire in Chad Morris is a great place to start. Morris has an understanding of the football landscape in Texas, and should improve on relationships that went south under the watch of June Jones.
Chad Morris is a fan of his QB Matt Davis, whom he believes will get the offense going through the air and on the ground. Davis is a big run threat, but will be operating out of a new offense this fall.
Morris loves his RB group as well, and plans to use a more traditional two back set with multiple looks, but he must find one or two to step up and lead. The left side of the line is back, including Center Taylor Lasecki, and RT Kris Weeks will be back as well. With a line returning mostly intact, the Mustangs have somewhere to build from.
Shakiel Randolph will finally have a position to call home after several position changes throughout his career. He will play the STAR position in the new defense under DC Van Malone. WLB Jonathon Yenga is a disruptive beast after wrapping up 15.5 TFLs last fall. The Tackles are set up front in Zack Wood and Mason Gentry. Robert Seals started at DE at the end of last season, but has slid back to second team. That will provide depth off of the bench.
Deion Sanders Jr. is just like his Dad when it comes to returning kicks, and will be a major weapon on special teams.
The Bad News: Inexperience at RB will be a problem early until someone settles into the role of being the A Back. THe same problem will plague SMU at WR, as only one starter returns. The Mustangs plan to start a sophomore (Ryheem Malone) and a freshman (Courtland Sutton) at WR, so experience is an issue.
The defense ranked 119th in total D last fall, so even though this unit has some playmakers, it has some work to do as well. Horace Richardson and Darrion Richardson both return in the secondary, but the other half will be new. Youth and talent are coming, but it will take a while to take hold.
The Mustangs are also going young at PK, with freshman Josh Williams coming on after a solid high school career.
The Overview: Morris was by far the right hire for SMU, but he has to figure out all the pieces to this puzzle before the winning will reflect the hire. The Mustangs stuck with high school kids for their top recruiting spots, and that was smart, and shows that there will be no shortcuts while rebuilding. The offense must get used to a new scheme, as will the defense, and there are far more questions than answers right now. Stay tuned.
First Game: 9/4 Baylor

Tulane Green Wave
2014 Record: 3-9
2015 Projected Record: 3-9
Head Coach: Curtis Johnson (12-25, 4th season)

The Good News: The line will return four starters, which is good for development from a unit that was largely terrible a year ago. Three of these guys were sophomores last season, but are now battle tested juniors. The running game isn't bad at all, with Sherman Badie, Lazedrick Thompson, and Dontrell Hilliard forming up a power trio. After that, the offense is a disaster.
On defense, the strength should once again be up front on the line as three starters return in DE Royce LaFrance, and DTs Tanzel Smart and Sean Wilson. Undersized Nico Marley is also back at LB, and is a star in the AAC. There are a couple of nice pieces in the secondary in CB Parry Nickerson and S Darion Moore. One note, LaFrance is iffy entering the fall, as academics took their toll on him, causing him to be out all spring.
The Bad News: The offense is largely a disaster returning. Tanner Lee is back at QB, but was mostly a mess last fall, tossing just 12 TD passes against 14 picks. HIs WR corps was young, and starters rotated like a carousel. Nobody has enough experience to step up as a leader. This unit scored 14 points or less in eight of their final nine games last fall.
The defense must get LaFrance back up front to be able to control the edge. If academics keep him sidelined again, the Wave could be in trouble off the edge all season long. The secondary is largely being rebuilt outside of Nickerson and Moore, and that could spell trouble as well.
On special teams, the kicking game was a bottomless pit last season, so new starters must be found at both PK and P.
The Overview: The heat is on for Curtis Johnson, who has not been able to get anything going at Tulane, despite a new administration commitment to the sport. There is a new stadium, and butts must fit in the seats in order to make this work. Continued losing will not help that happen. The outlook is bleak this season, and Johnson may struggle to get a fifth year if that happens.
First Game: 9/3 Duke

Next Preview: Conference USA

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

UNLV Mascot Change Isn't Necessary

Last week, a tragedy of massive proportions took place in Charleston, South Carolina. That we still have major divides when it comes to race in America is absolutely factual, and despite what some want us to believe, it hasn't gotten much better in many ways in the last 50 years. Anyone who believes differently is living under a rock. Racism is alive and well in this country, of that there is no doubt.
I am not going to go into any thoughts on the young idiot and personification of evil did last week, because he doesn't need any more press than he has already illegitimately received. He may not have gotten his race war, but he is more famous, even though infamous, than he deserves. Thanks for that main stream media.
I hate that we are still in this place in America today, where there are bastards that still believe in white supremacy, or the supremacy of any one group over another when it comes to race and class. It's ridiculous, stupid, senseless, and just beyond evil.
That being said, there was a call from Senator Harry Reid today for UNLV to change their Rebel mascot. I believe this to be a massive case of knee jerk reaction for several reasons. When you look at the UNLV mascot (Hey Reb is its name), one can see several differences from what one would see as a confederate. For one thing, the confederate flag is nowhere to be seen in any incarnation of the mascot. Hey Reb looks like an old confederate soldier, however that's all there is. There is literally no other mention of the confederacy, of racist images, of anything that could possibly offend anyone. The reality is that anyone can be a Rebel, not just a confederate. It means many things to be a Rebel, and it's not an automatic assumption that racism has anything to do with it, or at least, it shouldn't.
That said, I absolutely believe that the confederate flag should be removed from any icon representing the south, especially the flag that hangs over the state capital in South Carolina. The confederate flag was an insignia of an ideal where slavery and racism was at the very heart of it. The term Rebel was very much stolen by the confederacy to represent their views on "property" holding, which included owning human beings.
The confederate flag and the ideals it represented were openly defeated during our civil war. That being the case, the flag that represented the confederacy should be put to rest and eliminated from the face of the earth, not flown above a state capital, nor worn as a fashion statement. It should go the way of the Nazi swastika and the Soviet sickle and hammer.
Hey Reb represents none of those things, unlike Ole Miss using the confederate flag for years as their very logo. If UNLV agrees to such a thing, it's just more meaningless measures of PC and knee jerk crap that we are oversaturated with on a regular basis. It has nothing to do with anything, and should be left well enough alone. Even Ole Miss made adjustments to how they represent themselves. Take down the flag, make it go away, but leave non-offensive mascots alone. How about fixing our racism, gun issues, and mental health issues instead. That would be a Senator actually doing something meaningful. That's actually doing your job.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

2015 Coaches on the Hot Seat

With the 2015 season just a few short months away, it's time to take a look at which coaches are in a win now or else situation. Some of these coaches will be behind the eight ball before the season begins, while others have the opportunity to save themselves early on, or push themselves into the Dead Pool. Here are the coaches that need to worry from day one...

Scott Shafer, Syracuse
Shafer is just 10-15 heading into year three with the Orange, and is coming off a 3-9 season in 2014, including a 1-7 run in ACC play. The first three games on the 2015 schedule are winnable, but there is little in the way of starting experience coming back on either side of the ball. Shafer will have to find some answers quickly, especially on offense after Syracuse averaged just 17.1 PPG last fall.
Risk Factor: Win now or else

Al Golden, Miami
The Canes are a mess right now. Of that there is no doubt. After finishing 6-7 in 2014, Golden is just 28-22 in 4 seasons in Coral Gables. That's not cutting it. His overall career record is just 55-56. The Canes should breeze through their first two games before Nebraska comes to town on 9/19.
Risk Factor: Could go either way

Larry Fedora, North Carolina
UNC is having all sorts of issues coming off of their academic fraud issues, and despite all of that, they still can't win. The Heels finished just 6-7 last fall, dropping Fedora to just 21-17 in three seasons. September isn't incredibly daunting on the schedule, so Fedora has some opportunities, but the defense was a disaster in 2014. That has to be shored up for Fedora to win.
Risk Factor: Seat is heating up

Mike London, Virginia
London was lucky to get back for 2015. Most people were shocked that he survived what was supposed to be a win now or else season in 2014. He didn't win. The Cavs did improve, but still fell short and finished 5-7, dropping London to 23-38 after five seasons. The defense is ok, but the offense was not remotely good. The September schedule is brutal, and a 1-3 start is possible. That would bode badly for London's finished.
Risk Factor: Likely to be fired

Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Beamer is very much at the end of his career. The Hokies finished just 7-6 last fall, and needed to beat Cincinnati in the bowl game to get over .500 for the year. Beamer has been great for the program, but the writing is on the wall as the program is sliding.
Risk Factor: Time for forced retirement

Willie Taggert, USF
Taggert was a wonder coach at formerly moribund Western Kentucky, and has been trying to find the same magic in Tampa. It isn't happening, and the early schedule isn't going to be much of an assist. The offense has been a disaster, and the defense just average. Taggert is just 6-18 in two seasons, and year three may be a breaking point after a 4-8 season.
Risk Factor: At the breaking point

Matt Ruhle, Temple
The Owls were 6-6 last season, but Ruhle is just 8-16 in two seasons in Philadelphia. Ruhle cannot allow the Owls to slide back in year three. The defense may be carrying the load early as that unit was beyond solid in 2014.
Risk Factor: Pressure is building, but has a shot to succeed

Curtis Johnson, Tulane
Johnson is just 12-25 after three seasons, and Tulane is coming off a 3-9 season that was largely a mess, including a three game losing streak to close out the season. The offense finished 107th nationally, and that certainly did not help. Johnson needs to pick up the offense and get it right, and year four is going to likely be the decider.
Risk Factor: Likely not to survive until 2016

Paul Rhoades, Iowa State
Rhoades is not getting it done in Ames. ISU finished 2-10 in 2014, and they could lose either two of three to start 2015, or could lose all three, including the opener with Northern Iowa. ISU finished 0-6 in 2014, and could have a rough start once again. Rhoades is well liked, but that may not be enough.
Risk Factor: Likely to be gone after the season

Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
Kingsbury is 12-13 after two seasons, and went from golden boy one season to being questioned in year two. Kingsbury needs to prove that the magic he had in year one and as a coordinator. The offense has been hit and miss, and the defense has been a mess. Kingsbury has to figure it out and do it soon, as Tech cannot wait as the rest of the league passes them by.
Risk Factor: Better start winning now

Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Holgorsen was a guy who everyone wanted a few years ago, but now his future is cloudy in Morgantown. He finished 7-6 last fall, but is now just 28-23 in four seasons. WVU was off to a decent start last season, but finished 1-4. That's not getting it done, and WVU needs to start winning big in the Big 12, or get left in the dust.
Risk Factor: Win now

Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Landing Jordan Howard as a transfer from UAB was huge, but IU must turn a corner after finishing 5-6 last fall. IU still has no bowls under Wilson, and his overall record is just 14-34 in four seasons.
Risk Factor: Bowl or bust

Randy Edsall, Maryland
Edsall has never been a big winner in stops at Connecticut and Maryland, and he is in deeper waters in the Big 10. His record with the Terps is just 20-30 heading into year five of his tenure, and that 1-3 finish in 2014 really derailed the season. The offense must get fixed in 2015 to give him any chance of surviving.
Risk Factor: Eight wins are a must

Kyle Flood, Rutgers
Greg Schiano he isn't. Flood does have a winning record at Rutgers (23-16), and they did win eight games in 2015, but three of those wins came at the end of the year. He needs to build on that to get the doubters to go away.
Risk Factor: Another 8 wins should be fine

Tim Beckman, Illinois
After a six wins in 2014, Beckman survived another season, as unlikely as that was. Beckman has some chance of breaking through in 2015, and he needs a fast start to survive as he enters season four with a 12-25 record.
Risk Factor: A slow start will guarantee his ouster

Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Ferentz is just 19-19 over the last three seasons. He has a solid record over his 16 years in Iowa City, but the luster has worn off during his stay. It's been a long time since the Hawkeyes were relevant in the Big 10, and there is little promise of that happening in 2015.
Risk Factor: Pitchforks and torches are being lined up

Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Fitzgerald is a Northwestern guy, but the Wildcats have faded fast over the last few seasons, and that is on Fitz to get right. If Northwestern does not get to a bowl this season, it'll be three straight years without a bid. That cannot fly.
Risk Factor: Being well liked is fine, but not without winning

Darrell Hazell, Purdue
How can Hazell have a record of 4-20 after two seasons, and not be in a terrible place heading into 2015. A 1-3 start could be a real possibility this fall, and if that happens, it's going to be hard to survive.
Risk Factor: I don't see this situation working out

Ron Turner, FIU
I really felt that Turner was all wrong for the Panthers, but he did show some improvements at times last fall despite winning only four games last season. He's 5-19 after two seasons, and year three will make or break him.
Risk Factor: Early schedule toughness could be the undoing

Todd Monken, Southern Mississippi
Monken is 4-20 heading into year three...any other questions?
Risk Factor: Improvement must be immediate

Paul Haynes, Kent State
Haynes is 6-17 after taking over for Darrell Hazell on a high note in program history. Haynes has not been able to sustain the success that he inherited. .500 would be a great way to show improvement.
Risk Factor: Could be gone after 2015

Bob Davie, New Mexico
Davie is 11-26 heading into year four, and a 4-8 record in year three was not what most Lobo fans wanted to see. Davie is in a win now situation.
Risk Factor: Win or go home

Norm Chow, Hawaii
If UH had the money, they would have fired Chow already. He's 8-29 over three seasons, and is coming off of a 4-9 season. It may not be all his fault, as he has so little to work with, but the program overall has been a mess for years, and Chow has not helped.
Risk Factor: Chow cannot win at Hawaii

Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Mason has only been in Nashville for one season, but it went really badly. Mason isn't likely going anywhere after season two, but he's getting on a bad radar. He has some personnel issues that he needs to fix right away to get this program on track.
Risk Factor: Vandy is sliding back to their old losing ways

Trent Miles. Georgia State
There have been some financial issues in potentially buying Miles out at GSU, but the man is just 1-23 in two seasons, and 21-59 for his career. Who in the world believes that he is capable of running a winning program at this point?
Risk Factor: Gone, gone, gone

Paul Petrino, Idaho
Petrino was a fill in when Rob Akey failed. As an FBS program, I haven't seen how Idaho can possibly succeed. Their best bet is to go back to FCS football and rejoin the Big Sky, but pride keeps getting in the way. Petrino cannot succeed like this, and nobody really can.
Risk Factor: Eventually gone

Doug Martin, New Mexico State
Martin is 4-20 heading into year three. Martin also owns a record of 33-73 overall. NMSU, like Idaho, is a poor fit for the FBS model, and should also be playing in the Big Sky or the Southland on the FCS level. The likelihood that the Aggies can survive in the modern FBS environment is doubtful, whether Martin is there or not.
Risk Factor: Martin will not succeed where nobody else ever has

Todd Berry, UL-Monroe
Berry is 27-34 for his 5 years with the Warhawks, and ULM seems to be sinking once again. Berry has a career 56-93 record, so his successes have been few overall. One more bad season (4-8 in 2014), and it could be time for a change of direction.
Risk Factor: Win now or it's time for a change