Saturday, July 25, 2015

College Football Preview 2015: Big Ten

2014 proved to the nation that the Big Ten could be relevant in the national title hunt, as Urban Meyer took Ohio State to the national title last season as a four seed in the four team playoff. Meyer has the Buckeyes clicking into 2015 as by far the easiest pick to win it all again this fall. Michigan State can push the Buckeyes, but the Spartans, as good as they can be, may fall just short, and yet still be good enough to be a top ten program.
The problem with the conference is that the rest of the league falls way short of the Buckeyes and Spartans. Nobody is in the league of those two programs on any level. The entire West is really a bit of a mess, with not one team stepping into a realm where they could ever dream of winning the conference title game against a loaded Buckeye team. That is an image problem, and the rest of the conference schools must raise their games.

Projected Order of Finish

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

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

All-Conference Team
QB-Connor Cook, Michigan State
QB-JT Barrett, Ohio State
QB-Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska
RB-Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
RB-Justin Jackson, Northwestern
RB-Corey Clement, Wisconsin
WR-Leonte Carroo, Rutgers
WR-Mike Dudek, Illinois
WR-DaeShon Hamilton, Penn State
WR-Danny Anthrop, Purdue
TE-Jake Duzey, Iowa
TE-Josiah Price, Michigan State

DL-Joey Bosa, Ohio State
DL-Anthony Zettel, Penn State
DL-Shalique Calhoun, Michigan State
DL-Drew Ott, Iowa
LB-Darron Lee, Ohio State
LB-Vince Biegel, Wisconsin
LB-Joe Schobert, Wisconsin
LB-Joshua Perry, Ohio State
DB-William Likely, Maryland
DB-Vonn Bell, Ohio State
DB-Nate Gerry, Nebraska
DB-Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Minnesota

PK-Brad Craddock, Maryland
P-Peter Mortell, Minnesota
KR-William Likely, Maryland
PR-De"Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska

Team Previews

Ohio State Buckeyes
2014 Record: 13-0
2015 Projected Record 12-0
Head Coach: Urban Meyer (38-3, 4th season)

The Good News: There is an embarrassment of riches in Columbus this fall, and we all know the prevailing stories. The Buckeyes may have three of the best QBs in the nation all under one roof. Braxton Miller is a former Big Ten offensive MVP before injuries derailed him the last two years, JT Barrett stepped in as a freshman and put up all American type numbers before becoming injured at the end of the year. Then there's Cardale Jones, the hero of the Big Ten title game, and the playoffs. It was Jones who put the final exclamation on an amazing run that saw the Buckeyes win it all as a four seed. It gets even better when you consider the run game, which boasts the retur of all world RB Ezekiel Elliott. Elliot is a bruising back who doesn't go down easily. He rushed for 1878 yards on the season, and scored 18 times. When you have a run/pass combo offense like this, you become basically unstoppable. Michael Thomas steps up as the lead receiver after catching 54 passes for 799 yards and nine scores last fall. Four starters return up front in LT Taylor Decker, LG Billy Price, C Jacoby Boren, and RG Pat Elflein. Senior Chase Ferris should step into the open RT job.
Seven starters return on defense, as the Buckeyes ranked 19th in total defense a year ago. If that's the worst news you have on your football team, ranking 19th in anything, then you have few concerns. All league pick Joey Bosa returns at DE after picking up 13.5 sacks last fall. Adolphus Washington will also return at DT. Joshua Perry is a beast at WLB, and returns after picking up 124 tackles. He will be joined by Darren Lee at SLB, and he's due for a huge season as well. Three starters return in the secondary, with FS Vonn Bell leading the way after picking off six passes last season. SS Tyvis Powell and Eli Apple (CB) both return as well.
Cameron Johnson didn't get worked often at Punter last fall, but when he did he averaged over 45 yards per punt.
The Bad News: Offensively, there is very little, however their wealth at QB could also be a huge distraction. If any one QB struggles, you have an automatic QB controversy, as locker rooms tend to divide to go with certain players. Not saying that will happen here, but historically, this has happened. Not there is a lack of talent per se, but the second unit on offense is incredibly young. Ten players on the second team are underclassmen heading into camp. That could be problematic when you are trying to make a second straight title run.
The defense has the same depth/experience issue, as eight second teamers are underclassmen. There are a few areas where the defense as a whole could improve (pass D gave up just over 200 yards per game), but that is really picking at dust particles. Three of four new starters this fall could be sophomores, and that could be a concern.
Sean Nuemberger is back at PK, but he hit on only 13 of 20 FGs last season. The offense should have no trouble scoring, but leaving points on the ground n close games could be a problem.
The Overview: The Buckeyes are short of perfect, but they are the closest thing by far to a standard championship favorite in 2015. They are by far better than anyone else in the conference, save Michigan State, and should mostly cruise to a Big Ten title. Once they get into the playoffs, anything can happen, but this team is absolutely loaded, and they could win this title with any of their three QBs. Urban Meyer has built another empire, and it looks like his reign will continue for the foreseeable future. The Buckeyes are my 2015 pick for national champs.
Editors Note: After writing this article, Braxton Miller decided to switch positions to WR/H-Back. What this does is moves an excellent athlete to make a rich position richer. Not only does this add depth to the WR corps, it makes the QBs better. There is film of online, and is on my Twitter wall (@BiloFootball) that shows what he can do as a receiver. The rich just got richer.
First Game: 9/7 at Virginia Tech

Michigan State Spartans
2014 Record: 11-2
2015 Projected Record: 10-2
Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (75-31, 9th season)

The Good News: Despite the wealth at QB at Ohio State, Michigan State may have some of the most stability at the position. Connor Cook decided to return for his senior season after passing for 3214 yards and 24 TDs to just eight picks. Cook is solid and stable, and plays like a pro at times. He has a presence that exudes confidence, and is a true leader of this football team. The line is in great shape this fall, with four starters returning in LT Jack Conklin, C Jack Allen, RG Donovan Clark, and RT Kodi Kieler. TE Josiah Price is a favorite target of Cook's in the passing game, and is an all league pick as well.
Seven starters are back on defense, an area that usually gives this football program their identity. The line should be a major strength, with all league Shilique Calhoun back at DE. Calhoun recorded eight sacks last fall, and is joined by DT Joel Heath and DE Lawrence Thomas. LB should be in good shape as well, with the return of STAR Darien Harris and SLB Ed Davis. The weak spot on the D a year ago was pass defense, where MSU ranked just 60th nationally after giving up 227.3 yards per game. Darian Hicks is back at CB, and RJ Williamson is back at FS giving the Spartans some much needed leadership in the backfield.
The Bad News: While Cook returns, he has to find someone at WR to step up this fall. Macgarrett Kings is back after catching 29 passes last fall, but he's the most experienced receiver that's not a TE, and that could be a problem. The Spartans also must find a solid RB to step up and continue the Spartan tradition of great backs. There is talent available, but little in the way of experience. Delton Williams will try to be the guy.
Defensively, that secondary is concerning, and the new starters are mainly underclassmen, other than senior Arjen Colquihoon, a senior. Vayante Copeland (CB) is a freshman, and Montae Nicholson is a sophomore. Depth on defense is not great as far as experience is concerned either.
The kicking game is a big question heading into camp. Michael Geiger is back at PK, but hit just 14/22 FGs last fall, hardly a great fallback option. The Spartans are turning to a freshman at Punter in Jake Hartbarger.
The Overview: It's hardly a perfect scenario for Mark Dantonio and staff, but even with some offensive shortfalls and the secondary and kicking game problems, this staff has enough talent to cultivate the issues into positives, and there is more than enough talent on hand to win ten games and get back to a New Year's Six bowl this year. I don't see the Spartans pushing Ohio State in the conference title hunt, but this team is still very good.
First Game: 9/4 at Western Michigan

Penn State Nittany Lions
2014 Record: 7-6
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Head Coach: James Franklin (7-6, 2nd season)

The Good News: James Franklin has brought his energy and passion to the Nittany Lions program, and he is building quickly on the base the Bill O'Brien established before leaving for the NFL. Franklin has the needle heading upward, and the Lions have a chance to turn another corner in 2015.
Penn State returns eight starters on offense this season, which could be a key to success. Christian Hackenberg is back at QB, which has some good and bad elements to it. Another year under Franklin, and Hackenberg could be a guy to watch. He certainly has a solid target to throw to in WR DaeSean Hamilton, who caught 82 passes for 899 yards last fall, but he only scored twice. TE Kyle Carter could be in line for a big season as well. The line should be in great shape, as four starters return in LG Brendan Mahon, C Angelo Mangiro, RG Brian Gala, and RT Andrew Nelson.
Seven starters return from one of the best defenses in the country last fall. Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel both return after strong performances in 2014. They will anchor the middle of the line, making the job of Nyeem Wartman and Brandon Bell at LB easier. Wartman is the leading returning tackler with 75. The secondary should be in great shape once again, as CB Trevor Williams will be joined by SS Marcus Allen and FS Jordan Lucas.
The Bad News: Hackenberg has shown flashes that he can be a big time QB, but he shows plenty of flashes that prove that he isn't. This season must be a turning point for the erratic QB as he tossed 17 TDs against 15 picks last fall. He must severely cut down on his bad decisions with the football this fall. The Lions finished 111th in total offense last fall, 110th in scoring, and even worse, 117th in rushing. Penn State has historically been a rushing team, and they need to find a premier back that can carry the load. Maybe it's Akeel Lynch, but he has to prove himself. This offense has to step up big from last season to meet expectations.
The defense is as strong has ever, but there are a few questions up front, as Penn State must find two new starters at DE. Carl Nassib and Garrett Sickels are both in line to start heading into camp, but Curtis Cothran and Terrence Brown could figure in as well. Cothran is a sophomore, and Brown is a freshman. Sickels is just a sophomore as well.
The kicking game was a mess, so both PK and P are wide open heading into camp this fall. With the offense being so bad a year ago, the PK game will need to be top shelf to make sure no points are left off the board.
The Overview: Franklin has his work cut out on offense, but this could be a corner turning season there as experience continues to build. Once the offense catches up with the defense, Penn State could be a threat to contend with in the conference race. That could still be a year away, but I feel that Penn State could be better than advertised, and push for that nine win season this fall. If everything goes well this season, Penn State could be a contender in 2016. Look for major developments this fall, however, as a very good bowl game could very well be in the cards this fall.
First Game: 9/5 at Temple

Maryland Terrapins
2014 Record: 7-6
2015 Projected Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Randy Edsell (20-30, 5th season

The Good News: The Terps return six starters on offense this fall, but not all could be starting when camp closes and the season begins. RB could be a strength for a change, as Brandon Ross and Wes Brown both return this fall. One of the two need to really step up and provide some kind of balance to an offense that has largely lacked any under Randy Edsell. Brown is the leading returning receiver from last fall as well, but caught just 21 passes. Marcus Leak returns at WR, as does Amba Etta-Tawo, but he may be coming off the bench rather than starting ahead of Juwann Winfree. Both OGs return on the line in Ryan Doyle on the left, and Andrew Zeller on the right.
The secondary was the best part of the defense last fall, and returns largely intact, led by all league CB William Likely, who picked off six passes last fall. CB Sean Davis and S Anthony Nixon both return as well. Yannick Ngakoue is back at DE, and could have a big season.
Brad Craddock is an automatic at PK after hitting 18/19 FGs last fall. He may be the most important player on this football team.
The Bad News: The run game, which could be the strength this fall, was a major disaster last fall, as Maryland ranked 108th nationally in rushing at 121.8 yards per game. The offense as a unit finished just 109th in total offense, which was largely driven by a lack of run game. QB Caleb Rowe, who is slated to start is largely an unknown with an injury history. Both tackles and center wwill be new this fall, and all three could be freshmen, however Michael Dunn does return at RT, but could still be beaten out for his job.
Six of the front seven positions need new starters this fall, and that could be disastrous. All three starting LBs will be new this fall, but there is some depth as far as experience from within the program, if not on game day. Three sophomores could equate at DT, and one DE must be replaced as well.
The Terrapins start anew at Punter, as freshman Lee Shrader steps into the job. Coaches love him, but he needs game experience.
The Overview: I've never been a huge Randy Edsell guy, and he enters 2015 ten games under .500 for his stay in College Park. This is now year five, and Maryland doesn't seem to be any better than they were when he arrived. With a few breaks (the schedule certainly provides a few in September), Maryland can get back to six wins, and attend a lower tier bowl, but that's as good as it will likely get. Is that good enough to keep Edsell off the hot seat? He certainly hasn't provided as much energy as Ralph Friedgen did during his tenure, and he got run out on a rail.
First Game: 9/5 Richmond

Indiana Hoosiers
2014 Record: 5-6
2015 Projected Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Kevin Wilson (14-34, 5th season)

The Good News: The Hoosiers looked very strong when Nate Sudfield, despite his flaws, was tossing the football. When Sudfield went down last fall, the Hoosiers were done. Sudfield is back for another go in 2015 as a senior, and as he goes, so shall IU. Jordan Howard was a lucky grab after UAB shut down their program after last fall. Howard rushed for just under 1600 yards and scored 13 times for the Blazers, and he lands right when IU looses Tevin Coleman. He should benefit running behind three returning starters on the line in LT Jason Spriggs, RG Dan Freeney, and RT Ralston Evans.
The defense returns six starters this fall, including every starter on the line. Nick Mangieri is back at DE, and three players who started last season return to take up a rotation at DT in Darius Latham, Nate Hoff, and Adarius Rayner. TJ Simmons returns at LB, and the star of the secondary returns in FS Antonio Allen, who recorded 74 tackles last fall.
The Bad News: The Hoosiers were a mess on defense, and must find ways to improve off of giving up 32.8 points per game (100th nationally). IU ranked in the bottom quarter of every defensive stat last fall, and has a major issue in the middle of the field, as they must replace three of four LBs. Tegray Scales got some experience as a freshman last fall, and should step in to start at one of those spots as a sophomore.
Offensively, it all rides on Sudfield, however he has his own issues, such as staying on the field. There is zero depth behind him, so if he falls or fails, the ship sinks with him. There is another concern about the passing game, and that's the WR corps. J-Shun Harris is back at the slot, and he is the most experienced receiver with just 18 receptions last fall. That may be a problem. Indiana must find some quality receivers to step up, and they are hoping for good things from another UAB transfer in Marqui Hawkins, or Dominique Booth.
The kicking game was not consistent enough on either side, as Griffin Oakes, despite having a big leg, hit only 13/18 FGs. Erich Toth was all over the place and still managed to average 40.7 yards per punt, but it's not enough with such a struggling defense.
The Overview: It's a make or break year for Kevin Wilson. He is heading into year five, and has failed as of yet to get to a bowl game, and so this is it. If Wilson fails to get the Hoosiers out of the regular season, he will be gone. There is little doubt of that. If Sudfield stays healthy, some WRs step up, and Howard repeats his success from UAB, IU will have a shot. The defense must find a way to keep teams under 30 points per game, and move up two to four spots in every defensive stat to really have a shot at being very good. In short, IU has the ability to get to a bowl, but some magic has to happen to ensure it.
First Game: 9/5 Southern Illinois

Michigan Wolverines
2014 Record: 5-7
2015 Projected Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh (1st season)

The Good News: Harbaugh's hiring may be the best thing that could have happened in Ann Arbor, but one thing to remember...he's an NFL guy. NFL guys always go back, and Harbaugh may not stay there forever like some believe. I'm not saying that Harbaugh isn't loving being back at Michigan, but the lure of NFL competition is certainly going to be there in a year or two, and it may be hard to resist. That being said, Harbaugh has already brought an amazing amount of injury back to the Wolverines.
Every good offense must be built upon a foundation of a great line. The Wolverines have that foundation going with four returning starters in LT Mason Cole, LG Ben Braden, C Graham Glasgow, and RG Kyle Kalis.
The defense was finally starting to show signs of life last fall, and ranked 7th nationally in total defense. Ryan Glasgow is back at ST, but could be supplanted by sophomore Bryan Mone. In either case, this could be a decent rotation. DE Chris Wormley returns as well. James Ross III is back at OLB, while Joe Bolden is back at MLB after recording 102 tackles last fall. Desmond Morgan, a senior, should step into the OLB spot that is open, while Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton could provide some depth at DE. Two starters return in the secondary in CB Blake Countess and FS Jarrod Wilson. Countess may get pushed in camp by senior Wayne Lyons.
The Bad News: The offense ranked 112th last season in total offense, and there is where the problems reside that Harbaugh has to get fixed. The bad news is that the tools to fix those problems are not necessarily in the program yet. He has to find a QB amongst Jake Rudock (Iowa transfer) and returnee Shane Morris. Rudock got pushed out at Iowa, and Shane Morris completed just 14 of 40 passes last fall in limited duty. The Wolverines did a decent job running the football last fall, but must find a new step up back, which could be De"veon Smith, Ty Isaac, or Derrick Green. They must also find someone who has to step up at WR. Amara Darboh returns after catching 36 passes, but he's the best of the bunch.
The news is actually mostly good on defense, and Harbaugh has more than enough talent to keep things running as they did last season. They do need to find five new starters, but there is some talent to rely on there.
The kicking game is on reboot, as Michigan turns to freshman Andrew David at PK, and senior Blake O'Neill at Punter.
The Overview: Having Harbaugh on board is a huge get for Michigan. The problem is that the Wolverines need a talent infusion on offense, and that talent is likely still playing high school football in 2015. Michigan is fine on defense for now, and that needs to continue, as the defense will keep Michigan in games. Until the offense is fixed, however, the bumpy road will continue for a time. Michigan may likely not see a bowl this season.
First Game: 9/3 at Utah

Rutgers Scarlet Knights
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Projected Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Kyle Flood (23-16, 4th season)

The Good News: The best news heading into the 2015 season is the return of WR Leonte Carroo, who decided to come back for his senior season after catching 55 passes for 1086 yards and 10 scores last season. He is by far the best weapon returning to this football team this fall. Two spots on the line are full heading into camp, filled by LT Keith Lumpkin and RG Chris Muller.
Half of the D line should be ok with the return of DT Darius Hamilton and DE Djwany Mera. LB, however, should be the strength of the defense, with the return of WLB Steve Longa (102 tackles) and SLB Quentin Gause. Delon Stephenson is the lone returnee in the secondary at FS.
Kyle Federico returns at PK after hitting 16/21 FGs last fall, and may be a huge piece of the Knights scoring ability.
The Bad News: Rutgers is going to have to find some offense somewhere, as eight starters are gone, including the erratic Gary Nova at QB. Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig will fight it out in camp. Rutgers also needs someone to step up at RB amongst a group consisting of Desmon Peoples, Paul James, and Josh Hicks. Finding another receiver to compliment Carroo will be imperative as well. The line also needs three new starters.
The news is slightly better on defense, but not by much. Rutgers could simply not stop the run last fall, as they ranked 106th against the run (212.3 yards per game allowed). They gave up 30.2 points per game, and 442.8 yards per game. Those issues are all concerning, especially when you try to figure out where the talent is coming from. Rutgers has some talent, but not Big 10 talent just yet.
The Punting game needs to find one punter, not two like a year ago. Tim Gleeson has the edge over Joe Roth heading into camp.
The Overview: Kyle Flood may not be the answer at Rutgers long term. The endgame has increased in importance with joining the Big Ten, and Rutgers needs to find a plan for the future that ensures success in this conference. This will not be easy, but the program needs to find a pulse, as they were slaughtered by the class teams in the conference a year ago. If Rutgers falls, as I believe they will this season, look for a change to be made in a hurry. Greg Schiano is still out there...
First Game: 9/5 Norfolk State

Minnesota Golden Gophers
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Jerry Kill (25-26, 5th season)

The Good News: Minnesota is finally starting to rise as a program in the Big Ten under Jerry Kill. A culture change has taken hold, and now the Gophers feel like they can win on any give day. It all starts there, and Minnesota could push forward and win the Big Ten West Division this season.
Mitch Leidner is back at QB, and he is a true dual threat, and is also the leading returning rusher with 452 yards and 10 scores last fall. He could show some improvement as a passer, but he is definitely a stronger runner. David Cobb is gone, but the Gophers have some decent talent coming back at RB in Rodrick Williams and Rodney Smith. Three starters return on what should be a very good line in LG Joe Bjorklund, RG Josh Campion, and RT Jonah Pirsig.
Minnesota made some major strides on defense last fall, and that trend should continue with seven starters returning. Theiran Cockran is back at DE, while Steven Richardson should be improved as a sophomore at DT. The real strength on defense should be in the secondary, where the Gophers ranked 18th nationally against the pass after giving up just 193.5 yards passing per game. Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun (all league pick) both return at CB, and Damarius Travis is back at Safety.
Peter Mortell is one of the best Punters in the nation, and averaged 45.2 yards per punt last fall.
The Bad News: The Gophers aren't an offensive juggernaut. That being said they need improvement from Leidner in the passing game. The question is about where he will find targets. Minnesota must replace all three starting receivers, and the group coming into camp has basically no experience as a whole. Maxx Williams is gone at TE as well, and that is a huge blow, as is the loss of David Cobb at RB.
The defense has the biggest holes to fill up front, as they need two new linemen, and a middle LB. Depth is minimal as well, which is concerning in that the Gophers ranked just 74th in rushing defense a year ago.
Ryan Santoso hung in as a freshman, but hit just 12/18 FGs. He will need to turn a corner as a sophomore.
The Overview: Minnesota is on the verge of good things. Are the conditions perfect for a run this season? No. However, the West is wide open this fall, and everyone has serious vulnerabilities. If the Gophers can branch out on offense, and take advantage of opportunities in the schedule (Gophers could start 5-1, then get Nebraska and Michigan at home), they could very well come out on top in the West and play for their first conference title in the modern era.
First Game: 9/3 TCU

Nebraska Cornhuskers
2014 Record: 9-4
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Mike Riley (1st season)

The Good News: The Huskers have one of the most versatile dual threat QBs in the nation in Tommie Armstrong, who passed for 2695 yards and 22 TDs, and also rushed for 705 yards and another six scores. Armstrong should key this offense, as new coach Mike Riley has to seek out replacements for Ameer Abdullah at RB and Kenny Bell at WR. Jordan Westerkamp will be the leading receiver heading into camp after catching 44 balls for 747 yards and five scores. Alonzo Moore returns as well. Cethan Carter is back at TE, and both tackles return up front in Alex Lewis and Zack Sterup.
Six starters return on defense, where the line ought to be a strength. De Greg McMullen will be joined by DTs Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine. Two starters are back in the secondary as well with CB Daniel Davie joining S Nate Gerry as returnees. Gerry picked off five passes last fall, and recorded 88 tackles.
Sam Foltz returns at Punter after averaging 42.21 yards per punt.
The Bad News: The Huskers lose out on two major stars in Abdullah and Bell. Those losses will not come without bumps when it comes to finding replacements. De'Mornay Pierson-El may be a valued piece in the process, but is probably a more developed punt return man at this point. The run game will see a battle between Terrell Newby and Imani Cross in camp. The entire middle of the line must be replaced, which could effect the run game negatively.
The middle of the field is a big question, with only David Santos returning at LB. Two new LBs and a new DE must be found to give the Huskers a shot. One major issue with Nebraska last season was a defense that largely underperformed last fall. One area of serious concern was the rush defense, which ranked 78th, as they gave up 177.8 yards per game rushing. That's highly unlike Nebraska football.
Drew Brown returns at PK as a sophomore, but hit only 14/21 FGs last fall, leaving 21 points off the board.
The Overview: The firing of Pelini was unfortunate. He's a solid coach, but never seemed to mesh well with the media and the fan base in Lincoln. It's hard to fathom firing a coach who won nine games or more for seven straight seasons. The hiring of Mike Riley from Oregon State was even more questionable, as Riley was likely to be on the hot seat at Oregon State this fall. Riley is also over 60 at this point, so is he the right long term hire for a program looking for direction? This hire could possibly blow up on the Huskers, but this season they have enough talent to win eight games. That's worse than Pelini had been doing.
First Game: 9/5 BYU

Wisconsin Badgers
2014 Record: 11-3
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Paul Chryst (1st season)

The Good News: Corey Clement could be the very next back in a series of great backs in Madison this season. He rushed for 949 yards last fall as the backup, and scored nine times. He's ready for the big stage, as Taiwan Deal will set himself up as the backup as a freshman. Alex Erickson is back at WR, bringing another weapon into the fold. Erickson caught 55 passes for 772 yards and three scores. The TE position is very important to this offense, and the Badgers should have two quality guys at that position in Troy Fumagelli and Austin Traylor. Tyler Martz is back at LT, and Dan Voltz is back at Center.
Wisconsin boasted the 4th best pass defense in the nation last fall, and they bring back four starters in the secondary this season. Darius Hillary and Sojourn Shelton both return at QB, and Michael Caputo joins Luben Figaro at Safety. Figaro could be pushed out by senior Tanner McEvoy in camp.
Rafael Gaglianone is back at PK as a sophomore after hitting 19/22 FGs in a strong debut. Drew Meyer also averaged 41.5 yards as a freshman punter last fall.
The Bad News: Wisconsin is a power run team, but that may be an issue this fall, as the Badgers need to find three new starters at LG, RG, and RT. The Badgers were basically not great when it came to passing the football last season, and Joel Stave is back at QB. Stave is not a classic passing QB, and is most comfortable handing the ball off. Here's the bad news. Because of this fact, teams are going to stack the line and force the Badgers to throw. Stave needs to prove he can do that to win football games. That issue will also call for someone other than Erickson to catch the ball when it is being tossed. To give you an idea as to how bad the Badgers are at passing, they finished 116th nationally last season with just 148.7 yards per game. They had better hope that Clements can carry the load and run through stacks of defenders.
The front seven returns only three starters, and that could be problematic for that secondary. If the DBs are busy trying to shore up a developing front, they may be exposed in the passing game. The Badgers will have to get the new starters to step up in a hurry.
The Overview: Barry Alvarez obviously went for a hire that he could control in bringing back former OC and Pitt coach Paul Chryst to coach the Badgers after Gary Anderson had simply had enough and bolted for Oregon State. Chryst was a super OC for the Badgers, but as a head coach at Pitt, he was basically average at best. We all know by now how much control that Alvarez still exudes over this program, and right or wrong, it's his program to control from the AD office. Chryst was a grab in the dark, however, and it may backfire miserably. The Badgers are vulnerable for the first time in a while.
First Game: 9/5 Alabama at Arlington, Texas

Iowa Hawkeyes
2014 Record: 7-6
2015 Projected Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (115-85, 17th season)

The Good News: CJ Beathard has taken over at QB, and Jake Rudock left for Michigan. Beathard is the better of the two, and had been green lit as the likely starter for this season, so Rudock decided to make an exit for his final season. Beathard has a bigger arm and is more aggressive, so this is likely a good move. WR Tevaun Smith returns after catching 43 passes last fall. He gives Beathard a solid target to throw to. The middle of the line returns as well in OGs Sean Welsh and Jordan Walsh, and C Austin Blythe.
The secondary was the strongest part of the defense last fall, ranking 7th against the pass. Greg Mabin and Desmond King are back at CB. and FS Jordan Lomax is back as well. Lomax recorded 92 tackles last fall. The Hawkeyes are set on the edge, with DEs Drew Ott and Nate Meier coming back. Ott recorded eight sacks last fall.
Marshall Koehn is back at PK after hitting 12 of 16 FGs last fall, and could be even better this season.
The Bad News: The backfield is largely being rebuilt with Jordan Canzeri likely starting at RB after rushing for 494 yards last fall, yet he never did score. Both tackles need to be replaced on the line, as well as the TE. Other than Smith, Iowa needs to find someone else to step up in the passing game at WR.
The defense has some issues in the middle, as both DTs and the MLB must be replaced. The Hawkeyes also must replace one more OLB, and both starting candidates at MLB and OLB are sophomores in Ben Niemann and Josey Jewell. Nathan Bazata, a candidate to start at DT is also a sophomore, as is starting candidate at SS Miles Taylor. The issues in the middle of the front seven are concerning, because that was a weak spot last fall as well, as Iowa gave up 168.3 yards rushing per game.
The Overview: Nobody can tell me why Kirk Ferentz is one of the top paid coaches in America. He simply is not worth it, and never really was. Ferentz gets paid a boatload of money to coach what is always an average football team. Simply put, Iowa needs new blood to take them to another level, because Ferentz simply isn't getting it done. The talent is average at best, and even better yet, seems to have lost their way against rival Iowa State. Better than that, they are a major upset candidate when Illinois State comes to Iowa City in the opener. Due to lack of overall talent, I believe that Iowa could miss a bowl this season.
First Game: 9/5 Illinois State

Northwestern Wildcats
2014 Record: 5-7
2015 Projected Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Pat Fitzgerald (60-53, 10th season)

The Good News: The Wildcats were a mess on offense last season, but they do have some pieces that could fight to bring them back to decency. The line was hit and miss last fall, but three starters return with more experience in LT Geoff Mogus, RG Matt Frazier, and RT Eric Olson. They will block for an underrated back in Justin Jackson, who rushed for 1187 yards and 10 scores last fall. Jackson rushed 245 times last fall, so his season will be all about smart productivity. Dan Vitale will be back at TE after catching 40 passes for 402 yards. He will need to do better this season, but he's a viable weapon, as is WR Christian Jones, who steps into a starting role. Cameron Dickerson is back at WR as well.
The defense could be one of the better units in the conference this season, as ten starters return. Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson are back at DE, while three players with starting experience return at DT in CJ Robbins, Max Chapman, and Greg Kuher. Drew Smith and Anthony Walker are both back at LB as well. Three starters return in the secondary as well in CBs Nick VanHoose and Matthew Harris, and S Traveon Henry. Henry recorded 73 tackles last fall. Godwin Igwebuike is back at Safety as well, and steps into a full time starting role.
Jack Mitchell is back at PK after hitting 14/18 FGs, and should be a star this fall.
The Bad News: The offense, while returning some weapons, must find a new QB to run things. One thing is for certain, as whoever wins the job will be young and inexperienced. Matt Alviti (sophomore), Clayton Thorson (freshman), and Zack Oliver will compete in camp. The Wildcats have receivers, but they need someone to be a big play guy, and they really don't have that right now.
The defense gave up 169.9 yards per game rushing last fall, so that's an area that will need shoring up.
The Punting game is a mess, but Hunter Niswander is stepping into the role to try to shore it up.
The Overview: The Wildcats are a team that is hard to trust after coming off back to back seasons ending with no bowl bids. Pat Fitzgerald is obviously a Northwestern guy, and the school has shown loyalty up until now, however that patience is starting to run a little thin. There have been many distracting issues, but that needs to be overcome, as well as the injuries that have plagued this team for years. I still don't think that the Wildcats have enough talent to overcome this fall, and we could be looking at season three with no postseason trip.
First Game: 9/5 Stanford

Illinois Fighting Illini
2014 Record: 6-7
2015 Projected Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Tim Beckman (12-25, 4th season)

The Good News: Wes Lunt is back for his junior season after missing five games to injury at QB last fall. Lunt passed for 1763 yards last fall, and threw 14 TDs to just three picks. The key to Lunt is keeping him on the field. Illinois wins when he is on the field, but they fail when he doesn't. Josh Ferguson rushed for 735 yards and eight scores last fall, and could have a breakout season this fall. It would be appreciated if he did to keep pressure off of Lunt. Mike Dudek would be back at WR, and would be a huge weapon, but he could miss a huge chunk of the year after tearing his ACL during the spring. Geronimo Allison will now have to step up and be the guy. Justin Hardee returns at WR as well. The line is very good from center to RT. Joe Spencer returns at Center, while Ted Karras is back at RG, with Christian DiLauro back at RT.
The secondary could be improved this fall with three starters returning in V'Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence at CB, and Taylor Barton returning at Safety. The pass defense was by far the best part of the defense, ranking 47th nationally last season against the pass. Mason Monheim and TJ Neal are back at LB. Monheim recorded 111 tackles last fall, and is the star of the defense. Jihad Ward (DE) and Rob Bain (DT) are the returnees on the line.
The Bad News: The loss of Dudek in the passing game is huge. Dudek caught 76 passes last fall for 1038 yards and six scores. That kind of production is hard to replace without a doubt. The left side of the line must be replaced as well.
The defense was a disaster last season, ranking 107th nationally in scoring (34 points per game allowed), 115th in rush defense (239.2 yards per game allowed), and 109th in total defense (456.4 yards allowed per game). Seven starters return, but those seven starters must show that something was learned last fall, and that they can improve and adapt. If not, it's going to be a long year.
The PK game was a mess, and no true answer is evident. The Illini are starting over at Punter as well.
The Overview: Tim Beckman saved his job by winning his final two regular season games, but then lost to Louisiana Tech in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The heat is on big time once again for Beckman and staff, and a losing season would bring about change. I have a feeling that we will see exactly that, as I project only five wins on this schedule.
First Game: 9/4 Kent State

Purdue Boilermakers
2014 Record: 3-9
2015 Projected Record: 3-9
Head Coach: Darrell Hazell (4-20, 3rd season)

The Good News: Experience won't be a problem as Darrell Hazell probably has his most experienced team returning this season. Nine starters are back on offense, but talent will be more an issue than experience. Where it all starts is on the line, where all five starters return in LT David Hedelin, LG Jason King, C Robert Kugler, RG Jordan Roos, and RT JJ Prince. What's great about this situation, is that every one of these guys is a junior or senior. What's better is that Cameron Cermin is back to back up at both OT spots, and has starting experience. Danny Anthrop is back at WR after catching 38 passes for 616 yards and four scores. If QB play can improve, he may be a star in the making. DeAngelo Yancey returns as well at WR, and needs to step up.
Seven starts returns on defense, and the Boilermakers are loaded at LB especially, where all three starters return in Jimmy Herman, Ja'Whaun Bentey, and Danny Ezechukwu. Bentley and Ezechukwu are just sophomores, so they are still a bit in learning mode. The middle of the line is in decent shape with the return of DT Jake Replogle and NT Ra'Zahn Howard. Both are juniors. Ryan Watson backs up both spots and recorded four sacks last fall. Senior Anthony Brown returns at CB, and Frsankie Williams is back at Safety after picking off three passes last fall.
Paul Griggs paid his own way last fall as he hit 16/20 FGs. His leg will be ever important this fall.
The Bad News: Austin Appleby is back at QB, but he needs to grab hold of the job. He passed for just 1449 yards last fall, and had 11 picks against just 10 TDs. Purdue finished 101st in passing offense last fall, passing for 187.4 yards per game. The run game could be a struggle this season as well, as freshman Markell James will join Keyante Green as likely starters. James is a freshman, and Green is a sophomore. DJ Knox and David Yancey are also both sophomores coming off the bench. There is little experience off the bench at WR as well, as all three second teamers are all sophomores.
The defense had some nice moments last fall, but they need help on the edge, as both DEs must be replaced. Gelen Robinson is just a sophomore, and Evan Panfil is a junior. John Strauser and Antoine Miles are both sophomore, and will be in the mix in camp. Purdue was especially weak against the run last fall, ranking 91st against the run (192.1 yards rushing allowed per game). Purdue also needs to find a way to keep teams from scoring, as they gave up 31.7 points per game.
The Punting game needs a boost as well, as Thomas Meadows returns after averaging just 39.8 yards per punt last season. That number will not help a struggling defense.
The Overview: Hazell has won just four games in two seasons after coming over from a very short stint at Kent State. He needed some time to build the roster, but this is the season where Purdue should start to show some examples of positive change. Whether that will happen or not remains to be seen. So much is weighing on year three, but will the talent translate to wins? The September schedule is highly difficult with game at Marshall, and at home with Virginia Tech and Bowling Green. If the Boilers fall flat against those three, they'll be in for a long haul in 2015. October will be a meat grinder (at Michigan State, Minnesota, at Wisconsin, Nebraska).
First Game: 9/6 at Marshall

Next: Big 12

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

College Football Preview 2015: ACC

Welcome to part one of my Power Five conference previews, the ACC, or shall we call it the conference of Florida State and everyone else. That's at least how it has been represented recently, as FSU has managed to devour their competition in league play, and leave everyone else in the dust by a vast and wasting distance. It is fairly difficult for me to say that Florida State will return to the realm of national championship hunter this fall, they will still largely be better than most everyone else, with only Clemson truly giving chase this fall. The Atlantic once again boasts all of the power, while the Coastal largely hangs in mediocre territory.

Predicted Order of Finish

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

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

QB-Brad Kaaya, Miami
QB-Jacoby Brissett, NC State
QB-Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech
RB-James Connor, Pittsburgh
RB-Shadrach Thornton, NC State
RB-Jon Hillman, Boston College
WR-Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh
WR-Mike Williams, Clemson
WR-Artavis Scott, Clemson
WR-Ryan Switzer, North Carolina
TE-Cam Serigne, Wake Forest
TE-Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech

DL-Dadi Nicolas, Virginia Tech
DL-Ken Ekanem, Virginia Tech
DL-Mike Rose, NC State
DL-Sheldon Rankins, Louisville
LB-Max Valles, Virginia
LB-Marquel Lee, Wake Forest
LB-Reggie Northrup, Florida State
LB-Paul Davis, Georgia Tech
DB-Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech
DB-Maurice Canady, Virginia
DB-Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
DB-DeVon Edwards, Duke

PK-Ross Martin, Duke
P-Alex Kinal, Wake Forest
KR-Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh
PR-Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh

Team Previews

Florida State Seminoles
2014 Record: 13-1
2015 Projected Record: 10-2
Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher (58-11, 6th season)

The Good News: The Seminoles got some lucky news when Everett Goulston decided to leave Notre Dame and transfer to FSU in the spring, otherwise their QB situation was shaky, with Sean Maguire the lone returning QB with any real game experience. Gouslton, however, comes with his own lod of baggage with past off-season issues (apparently behind him) and a propensity to throw the football to the wrong team on frequent occasion. He also fumbles like the ball is made of Crisco, so there's that as well. Despite all that, Goulston does indeed raise the FSU QB profile. Jesus Wilson returns after catching 42 passes last season, and will be the most experienced of a talented but experience free group of receivers. Freddie Stephenson returns at FB, and LT Roderick Johnson I back to anchor the line.
Defensively, the Seminoles return seven starts from last season, and this unit will have to take the lead as a largely inexperienced offense takes time to come together. DeMarcus Walker returns at DE and DT Derrick Mitchell is back at DT to give the Niles a power duo up front, while all league pick Reggie Northrup and Terrence Smith return at LB. Northrup may be one of the most talented playmaking LBs in the nation. FSU is in decent shape in the secondary as well, with all league pick Jalen Ramsey back at CB, and Tyler Hunter and Nate Andrews are both back at Safety.
There really is no more an automatic PK in the country than Robert Aguayo, and he returns once again to bring scoring when the Noles absolutely need it. Cason Beatty returns at Punter, and may be used more this season than last.
The Bad News: Off field issues plagued FSU once again this off-season, and the situations were not pretty. FSU lost a freshman reserve QB, but most importantly lost leading rusher Dalvin Cook for what is another alleged assault against a woman. FSU has a serious image problem right now, and that falls squarely on the shoulders of Jimbo Fisher and his staff. The Noles need to get a grip on their players, and they are not the only school in the nation that has this problem. More on that in another piece.
The offense is thin on experience, with only three starters returning, so Jimbo has got to figure out a way to quickly get this unit to gel in September. The non-conference schedule is largely a joke, so there should be little trouble in the way of getting it fixed.
The defense is loaded at key positions, however there were some issues last fall. The Noles ranked 71st against the run (178.1 yards per game), 59th against the pass (226.8), and just 61st in total defense (396.9). The Noles do not have the offensive firepower to keep up with those numbers and keep on dominating, so those issues must be corrected in camp.
The Overview: Off field issues aside, FSU has become the key villain in the ACC soap opera. Many people are finding it very easy to hate this program once again, and FSU is making it easy on them. That being said, this is the year that with a bounce or two, someone, namely Clemson, could catch the Noles, and steal a title. Problem is, everyone in the league has personnel issues of some sort, so it's hard to say that could happen outright. As of this moment, FSU seems poised to once again take the ACC title, but the margin is narrowing.
First Game: 9/5 Texas State

Clemson Tigers
2014 Record: 10-3
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Dabo Swinney (61-26, 7th season)

The Good News: Clemson returns only four starters on offense, however the one guy that is the most interesting heading into 2015 is a guy who isn't new to the scene, but is getting his first real chance to be the guy on every down in QB Deshaun Watson. Watson has a skill set that makes him the most interesting guy in the league in terms of pure potential, but he has yet to really cement himself in the game as of yet. That could happen this season, as he is potentially one of the most explosive QBs in the game in a dual threat capacity. He will have some interesting options in the passing game, as Clemson boasts perhaps the best WR corps in the conference. Mike Williams returns and joins fellow all league pick Artrell Scott, who is the returning receiver for the Tigers with 76 receptions last season for 965 yards and eight scores. Isaiah Battle returns at LT, while Ryan Norton is back at Center.
The defense has some issues, returning only two starters. There is talent, however. Shaq Lawson will finally step into a prominent role at DE as a starter in his junior season, while WLB Ben Boulware should have instant impact as a starter as well. Senior BJ Goodson has experience off the bench at MLB, but no steps in as a starter. Mackenzie Alexander is back starting at CB, while Jayron Kearse is back starting at Safety. Kearse is the returning tackles leader after recording 60 last season for the nations top rated defense.
Ammon Lakip returns after hitting 21/28 FGs last fall. Many of his misses came early last season, so look for him to be much more precise in 2015. Bradley Pinion left early at Punter, but Andy Teasdall certainly looks like a solid replacement, averaging over 43 yards per punt in limited opportunities.
The Bad News: The lack of overall experience on both sides of the football will be daunting, and may be what keeps the Tigers from seriously pushing Florida State this fall. One area of concern for the Tigers is at RB, where Wayne Gallman returns, but only rushed for 769 yards last season. The Tigers will need a serious step up candidate at RB to get the run game clicking. Not one recruit in Clemson's top ten recruits plays the position, so there seems to be a lack of planning there. Tyshon Dye will have a shot to step up and take over as a sophomore. Another area of concern is the health of Watson at QB, as he suffered two major injuries last fall, including a torn ACL. The line is also thin, with two freshmen on the two deep.
Clemson led the nation in defense in 2014, but returns just two starters on that defense. I would think that this will bode ill for Clemson to return to such heights as they enjoyed a year ago. There is some talent, as I said, but little in the way of experience, especially on the line, where the entire two deep on the roster is gone. That's hard to recover from.
The Overview: Not that FSU doesn't have their own set of problems as far as returning starting talent is concerned, but Clemson is a land of holes on the roster right now, with many questions burning heading into fall camp. With FSU being vulnerable, it woud bode well if the Tigers could get their young talent to gel in a hurry, but that may be asking too much too soon for this football team. The schedule is not incredibly challenging, but there is a trap game in week two against a rising Appalachian State team, and we all know that program has a history of loving to pull of miracles in legendary stadiums. Clemson has enough talent to win, but they have to prove themselves.
First Game: 9/5 Wofford

NC State Wolfpack
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Projected Record: 9-3
Head Coach: Dave Doeren (11-14, 3rd season)

The Good News: That starts on the line, where the Pack returns four starters from last season in LG Joe Thuney, C Quinton Schooley, RG Tony Adams, and RT Alex Barr. That bodes well for a unit that rushed for 204.5 yards per game last fall, and returns a potential star at RB in Shadrach Thornton, who rushed for 907 yards in a committee role. Matt Dayes also returns at RB, and is the most experienced returning receiver on the team as well after catching 32 passes in 2014. The Pack is loaded and deep at RB, with as many as four players who could all be the primary. Jacoby Brissett is back as well, and is an all league pick after passing for 2606 yards and 23 TDs to just five picks. Brissett is one of the most improved players in the nation at QB, and is primed for a big season.
Seven starters return on defense in 2015, making this group one of the deepest in the ACC. The entire starting secondary returns this fall for a unit that ranked 30th in the nation against the pass. Jack Tucho and Justin Burris are back at CB, Hakim Jones and Josh Jones are back at Safety, and Dravious Wright is back at the Nickle. Jerod Fernandez returns to lead at LB, while Mike Rose returns after leading the team with five sacks from his DE spot. Hakim Jones is the teams leading returning tackler with 80.
The Bad News: Bra'Lon Cherry is the lone returning starting WR this fall, and he wasn't the most productive of the group by far. If Brissett is to further develop, someone from that group needs to step up, and in fact, it had better be a couple or a few someones. LT could also get interesting, as freshman Tyler Jones is slated to win the job.
Defense was a strong spot for the Pack in 2014, and should still be. The problem area is on the line, where three new starters must be found. Here's where that's a problem...there are seven sophomores and a freshman on the two deep.
The Pack is also starting over at PK and P in 2015, with freshmen Kyle Bambard (PK) and AJ Cole (P) likely winning jobs. The two kick returners are also likely to be freshmen in Maurice Trowell and Nyheim Hines. Hines is also likely to win a job starting at WR.
The Overview: NC State has some depth/experience issues on both sides of the ball, which could become costly if injuries set in at some point. However, if the Gods smile upon Raleigh this fall, NC State is in prime contention to become the dark horse for the ACC title, and with a couple of bounces, they could steal the show. Dave Doeren has done an outstanding job getting the Wolf Pack to this point, now they have to deliver. Here's your long shot bet to start the season.
First Game: 9/5 Troy

Louisville Cardinals
2014 Record: 9-4
2015 Projected Record: 7-5
Head Coach: Bobby Petrino (50-13, 6th total season over two stints)

The Good News: I guess in any year that Bobby Petrino hasn't bolted for some other job, that's a good place to start. A card carrying coaching mercenary, Petrino dances to dollar signs like no other. Maybe his little whore on a motorcycle jaunt gives him pause these days.
Let's not fool ourselves this season...the Cardinals lost a ton of talent of a decent, but not great football team. Brandon Radcliff, who will start at RB, may have a breakout season because of inconsistency and questions at QB. He rushed for 737 yards and scored 12 times on the ground last fall, and therefore could become a primary weapon in the offense by default. James Quick returns to start at WR, but caught just 36 passes last fall for 566 yards. He could blossom into a big play threat this season. Tobijah Hughley (C) and Aaron Epps (RT) both return on the line, making this unit the most "experienced" on offense.
The news is not a ton better on defense, as just four starters return from a group that ranked 6th nationally in total defense. Sheldon Rankins and Pio Vatuvei both return at DE, so the Cardinals are set off the edge, and Keith Kelsay and James Burgess are both back at LB. Louisville should be fairly strong against the run after giving up just 108.9 yards per game on the ground last fall. Kelsay recorded 87 tackles last season, while Rankins recorded a decent eight sacks.
John Wallace had a strong year, hitting 15 of 19 FGs, and will return to bring some stability.
The Bad News: QB is a bit of a mess for Louisville, and as many as four players could compete to win the job this fall. Amongst the, are Will Gardner, who started game one last fall, and was hurt early on, Reggie Bonnafon ( a runner), Kyle Bolin, and Tyler Ferguson. The WRs are inexperienced in game action for the most part, and therefore there's little to go on as far as productivity. The run game should be a strength, but the line also needs to be put together and gel. That could take some time.
On defense, the major issue is in the secondary, where Louisville must replace each and every starter. There are two freshmen and three sophomores on the two deep, meaning that Louisville will have next to no experience in the secondary heading into the season. I am guessing a repeat of Louisville's success on D a year ago is a pipe dream heading into this fall for the most part.
Senior Josh Appleby is taking over at Punter, but has served as a backup for three seasons.
The schedule is daunting out the gate, with games against Auburn, Houston, and Clemson in September, and games at NC State and at Florida State to open October.
The Overview: Louisville could stay solvent enough to head to another bowl and finish in the middle of their division this fall, but that's about it, and that's only, and I mean only if they can fix the QB situation and passing game overall, and if the run game really carries the load early. The defense is going to have to re-establish their identity from a season ago, and that will take time to develop as well. Don't expect too much from this club this fall, and you may not be let down. Louisville will not push the conference hierarchy this season.

Boston College Eagles
2014 Record: 7-6
2015 Projected Record: 6-6
Head Coach: Steve Addazio (14-12, 3rd season)

The Good News: The great news in Boston is that the Eagles are never front page news, so they kind of get away with mediocrity, because nobody outside a small circle of fans really gives a damn about the program. If this program were anywhere else where college athletics takes a decent amount of deserved attention, the faithful would be grumbling a bit about Addazio's inability to get the Eagles over the middling hump. Very few people care, so hence, no grumbling.
Jon Hillman is back to start at RB, and is an all league pick. I am looking for a breakthrough season for him after rushing for 860 yards and 13 scores a year ago. I look for this especially because the Eagles may have to load up on him with carries until a suitable replacement can be found at QB. Charlie Callinan and Dan Crimmins (TE, 25 receptions in 2014) are the leading receivers coming back.
The Eagles should be strong up front this fall, as three of four starters are back on the line, and two of three LBs also return. Truman Gutapfel and Connor Wojciak bolster the line at DT, while Kevin Kavalec is back at DE. Malachi Moore was mostly a rotation guy, but will likely start at the other DE spot after picking up four sacks in 2014. Steven Daniels returns at MLB, and Mike Strizak is back at OLB. FS Justin Simmons is a rising star at FS, and leads returning defenders with 76 tackles and two picks.
Alex Howell is back at Punter after averaging 42.5 yards per game.
The Bad News: Offensively, the Eagles could be back to being average to bad as they have been for several years now. The Eagles ranked 122nd in passing last fall, and finished just 80th in total offense and 83rd in scoring despite ranking 14th in the country in rushing (254.7 yards per game). BC needs a new QB, with Darius Wade the most experienced after attempting all of eight passes a year ago ( completed just three). The entire line needs to be replaced as well, which may hamper their efforts to continue to pound the football.
On defense, the Eagles, despite being strong up front, have several holes in the secondary, as they need to find three new starters. Isaac Yiadom (CB) and Cam Seward (SS) could both win jobs, but are both sophomores. Junior John Johnson could win the open CB job. THe issue with all of this is that the Eagles pass defense was their weak link already after ranking just 66th nationally against the pass (229.8 yards per game allowed).
The Overview: BC isn't a threat, never really has been a threat, and likely won't be a threat anytime soon. That being said, they could push for another middle or lower tier bowl game this season based on a strong defense up front. They open with two FCS opponents (Maine and Howard), which isn't a huge shock, because BC historically plays a weak non-conference schedule. September follows, however, with games against Florida State and Northern Illinois, both potential losses. BC is a bubble team at best heading into 2015.
First Game: 9/5 Maine

Syracuse Orange
2014 Record: 3-9
2015 Projected Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Scott Shafer (10-15, 3rd season)

The Good News: There isn't a ton of it on offense, but the Orange could be solid up front. Three starters return on the line in LG Nick Robinson, C Rob Trudo, and RT Omari Palmer. Syracuse also returns TE Junior Josh Parris also returns, giving the ORange some decent blocking prospects for the run game. Terrel Hunt also returns at QB, and should be ready to go after breaking his leg last fall. Hunt, however, is hardly anyone's idea of a stable QB.
Defensively, the good news is anything but great as well. Only three starters return from what was actually a very good unit last fall, ranking 26th in total defense. That won't repeat itself this fall, as there are more questions than answers. Ron Thompson is back at DE, and he is by far the most experienced player up front. Marquez Hodge is back at LB, and Julian Wigham returns at CB, but neither were all that productive last fall.
Riley Dixon returns at Punter after averaging 42.43 yards per punt, and may be the most reliable returning starter.
The Bad News: Obviously, the offense is basically trashed. Terrel Hunt, while certain parties are excited about his return, I feel that the Orange would be better off moving on from him. He is erratic at best, and makes poor decisions with the football. Right now, that's the best thing they have at QB. The run game was barely alive last fall, averaging just 145 yards per game, but yet that is a strength this season. The Orange averaged 17.1 points per game last fall (118th), 184.1 yards passing (103rd), and 329.9 yards overall per game (113th). There are no answers in the run game coming into camp, and the field of WRs is mostly baron. With all that in mind, it's hard for me to fathom how this boat gets turned around as we speak.
Defensively, with only three starters returning, we find again more questions and holes than answers and fixes. How Syracuse can finish as high as 26th in total defense again is beyond me, especially given that two of three of those starters aren't very good, and the third barely registers. Five new starters could be freshmen or sophomores, and seven more of that particular underclassman group are listed in the second unit. Syracuse will be extremely young, but maybe for the future, that's a really good thing.
The PK position, like most else on this roster, is also a mess, and will be open for competition in the fall.
The Overview: This program has a history, and really has had too many really good episodes to be such a failing show. The Orange have never been what I would consider to be a national power, but what's happening now is just simply a mess, and instead of stepping up to compete as a power five school, they are simply coasting to the bottom in a not great conference. It's a shame to see. Shafer isn't the guy to move this program forward, and there is internal and external grumbling heading into this season to show that the fan base is starting to make noise for something better. Winning is not impossible in Syracuse, but not on the current course.
First Game: 9/4 Rhode Island

Wake Forest Demon Deacons
2014 Record: 3-9
2015 Projected Record: 3-9
Head Coach: Dave Clawson (3-9, 2nd season)

The Good News: It couldn't have been much worse on offense in 2014, so there is nowhere to go but up, right? Wake does have some interesting pieces this season as six starters return from a mostly terrible offense. The middle of the line is decent, as both guards return in Josh Harris and Dylan Intemann. TE Cam Serigne, an all league pick, is a really nice piece to the puzzle. He caught 54 passes for 531 yards and six scores last fall, and could be even better this season. Jared Crump returns at WR as well to bring another experienced target into the system.
The Deacons were solid against the pass on defense last season, ranking 12th nationally (186.6 yards per game allowed). They could flip it this season, as the strength appears to be the front seven. Wendell Dunn (DE), DT Josh Banks, and NT Taylor Harris all return on the line, and Banks recorded four sacks last fall. Hunter Williams and Brandon Chubb will man the OLB spots, while Marquel Lee, an all league pick, is back at MLB. The real star may be FS Ryan Janvian, who recorded 115 tackles last fall. He is the lone retuning starter in the secondary, however.
Mike Weaver returns after a strong season at PK after hitting 15 of 19 FGs last fall, and P Alex Kinal is an all league selection after averaging 43.64 yards per punt.
The Bad News: Wake was a train wreck on offense last season, ranking 124th of 128 in scoring (14.8 per game), 124th in rushing (39.9 yards per game), 107th in passing (176.3), and 125th in total offense (216.3). They were the fourth worst offensive football team in America last season, and that is one major factor in why I believe the Deacons will be the last place team in their division by a shade under Syracuse. John Wolford is back at QB, but turns the ball over too much and is inconsistent to horrible in general. The run game doesn't exist. The line needs three new starters. Do you need to hear anymore than that?
Wake was actually quite decent on defense, ranking 40th in total defense, and 12th against the pass. If the defense can find a way to continue on that path, then maybe this team wins another game or two as the offense finds a pulse, any pulse at all. There is certainly enough talent defensively to do that, but the new starters in the secondary and overall health are a key concern.
The Overview: I am not a big believer in this football program. Jim Grobe had seemingly forever to build a foundation, and despite a good year or two, largely failed to do so. I've never been a huge Dave Clawson guy dating back to his FCS days, but people keep on handing him the reins. Wake Forest needs direction on offense above all things, and Clawson has a reputation there. He needs to find some promising pieces to fit, and seven of his top ten recruits heading into this season were offensive players. That's a huge start. Now it's time to start plugging those guys into the system, and forcing some change. As of now, this ship is stuck in neutral.
First Game: 9/3 Elon

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
2014 Record: 11-3
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Paul Johnson (59-35, 8th season)

The Good News: Justin Thomas is back at QB for the Jackets, and is the trigger that makes the gun fire. Thomas, an all league pick, passed for1719 yards and 18 TDs, and added another 1086 yards and eight scores on the ground. With a weapon like him in the fold, Tech should continue to role forward. The offense ought to be able to continue the run machine behind a line that returns four starters in LT Bryan Chamberlain, LG Trey Braun, C Freddie Burden, and RT Errin Joe. Michael Summers returns at WR, but only caught seven passes last fall.
Seven starters return on defense, with the strength coming in the secondary heading into camp. Four of five starters return in CBs DJ White and Chris Milton, FS Jamal Golden, and Nickle Demond Smith. PJ Davis returns at LB after recording 119 tackles last fall, and is the anchor of this defense. DT Adam Gotsis will anchor the middle of the line, while KeShun Freeman is back at DE.
The Bad News: The Jackets are basically a one dimensional offense, and once behind in a game, they don't have the capacity to pass their way into a comeback. But nothing's going to change how they approach their offense, as was demonstrated when Vad Lee was the QB, and they tried to pass more. It didn't work. The one major issue is that the Jackets must replace the entire RB group, but they always seem to find replacement parts.
Defensively, there is quite a bit of good news, but there are questions after some less than stellar numbers coming back from last season. They ranked 79th in total defense (411.3), 87th against the pass (243.7), and 62nd against the run (167.6), all while giving up 25.7 points per game. None of these numbers bode well for a team trying to win another division title, all while others behind them are catching up.
The PK job is a bit of a mess, with Harrison Butker hitting only 11 of 18 FGs last season.
The Overview: Tech has always been a hit and miss team from one year to another, and this could be one of those years, or not. You never can tell with Paul Johnson's club. On paper, Tech has the ability to repeat and head to the ACC title game, but has not enough talent to win the ACC, which has been normal. While fun at times to watch, Tech is not likely to be more than they are. A fun to watch, one dimensional offensively based team, with a decent defense and middle tier expectations in a weak division. But hey, they beat the crap out of an SEC middle tier program in Mississippi State.
First Game: 9/3 Alcorn State

Pittsburgh Panthers
2014 Record: 6-7
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Pat Narduzzi (1st season)

The Good News: Pat Narduzzi has been sought after seriously for two seasons now, and Pitt finally nabbed the huge catch. Narduzzi was a stellar DC, most recently at Michigan State, where the Spartans had one of the nation's best defenses.
James Connor is back at RB, and is one of the very best in the nation, an all league pick, and a likely Heisman candidate. Connor rushed for 1765 yards last season and a whopping 26 TDs. Connor is a center piece of this offense, and should be. He is a beast, and nobody can tackle him one on one. Chad Voytik is back at QB after a decent sophomore season. He passed for 2333 yards and could be set up for a breakout season. He will do so on the back of passing to one of America's best receivers in Tyler Boyd, an all league WR, KR, and PR, one of the only players in history to be tabbed in three different characters by this outlet. Boyd caught 78 passes for 1261 yards and 8 TDs. JP Holtz is back at TE to give Voytik another target underneath. The Panthers are all set from center to the left on the line, with LT Adam Bisnowaty, LG Dorian Johnson, and C Alex Officer.
Seven starters return on defense, including both DTs in Darryl Render and KK Mosley-Smith. MLB Matt Galambos is back at MLB as well after recording 72 tackles last fall. Lafayette Pitts is back at CB, and FS Reggie McNeal is back at FS for a secondary that ranked 24th nationally against the pass.
Chris Blewitt is back at PK with the worst name ever for a PK. He hit 16 of 21 FGs last season. Ryan Winslow also returns at Punter after averaging 40.1 yards per punt.
The Bad News: Voytik needs to have that breakthrough that I spoke of, because Pitt had one of the worst passing offenses overall last season, ranking just 102nd in passing at 185.9 yards per game. Voytik is better than that. The Panthers also need to find another receiver that can make plays to keep defenders from piling up on Boyd, and therefore allowing themselves to stack up against Connor. The right side of the line will be young and inexperienced.
Defensively, the Panthers could use a couple of areas of improvement, as they allowed 26.3 points per game last fall, and 160.8 yards per game rushing to go with it.
The Overview: The Panthers are in good shape to compete with, and move Georgia Tech to the side this season, and Narduzzi could be key. What Narduzzi needs to do is bring continuity to the Panther program, because this program has been yanked in too many directions by too many coaches over the last decade. If Narduzzi can win eight or nine games, they will be building something for the first time in a long time. Look for Pitt to move forward another step, and make this season a success.
First Game: 9/5 Youngstown State

Virginia Tech Hokies
2014 Record: 7-6
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Frank Beamer (231-115-2, 29th season)

The Good News: If the Hokies can figure out how to improve Michael Brewers numbers from a year ago (18 TDs, 15 Picks), they could very well return to the ACC title game for the first time in what seems like forever. Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips are both back to throw to, with Ford having caught 56 passes last season. Bucky Hodges is back to TE, and is an all league selection. LG Wyatt Teller and RG Augie Conte both return on the line, along with LT Jonathon McLaughlan.
On defense, the Hokies return three starters on the line in DE Dadi Nicolas (all ACC pick), DT  Corey Marshall, DT Nigel Williams, and DE Ken Ekanem (all ACC as well). All four returning starters are back, and they should be ever dominant on the edge. Ekanme recorded 9.5 sacks, and Nicolas was always in the backfield. Another all league pick returns at CB in Kendall Fuller, while Chuck Clark is back at FS. The defense is usually special for the Hokies, and last season was no different, as they ranked 14th in scoring D (20.2 points per game), 39th in rushing (144.8 yards allowed), 25th against the pass (199.0), and 21st in total defense (343.8 yards allowed per game).
Joey Slye is back at PK after hitting 20/28 FGs, but he could use more accuracy in tougher situations.
The Bad News: Brewer's return is a good thing, but Brewer was ever inconsistent last fall, and Tech hasn't had a reliable passer in years. Brewer needs to get it together if the Hokies have a shot in winning a winnable division this fall. The Hokies also must find a run game, as they ranked 86th nationally in rushing (147.9 yards per game). Someone must step up and become an alpha back this fall in camp.
There's not much to complain about on defense, but the Hokies do need to find two new starters at CB and ROVER. Both could be sophomores in Brandon Facyon and CJ Reavis.
AJ Hughes is back once again, but he really fell off sharply last season, averaging just over 39 yards per punt after returning from injury. He needs a bounce back.
One more bit of bad news is that Frank Beamer seems as if the game has passed him by at times. This team has largely been flailing in the last few seasons, and that's always a sign of a coach staying too long, like Bowden at Florida State, and Paterno at Penn State. Beamer is a legend, of that there's no doubt, but it may be time for the legend to step aside and l;et someone breathe new life into this sliding program.
The Overview: As the Hokies had a really great run for a while, they have slid back in recent seasons. A lack of star power on offense, and questionable effort at times, the Hokies are a shell of what they were. That being said, they have the ability to win their division, which is seemingly up for grabs in 2015. They have to come out with passion and find their old selves again, but this program cannot be counted on like they used to be overall.
First Game: 9/7 Ohio State

North Carolina Tar Heels
2014 Record: 6-7
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Larry Fedora (21-17, 4th season)

The Good News: Marquise Williams is back at QB, and is likely the best RB on the team as well. He passed for 3068 yards and 21 TDs, while rushing for 788 yards and 13 TDs. The good news, over the stats, is that he finally seems to be living up to who he was always supposed to be. He should have an arsenal at WR, as all three starters return in Quinshad Davis, Mack Hollins, and all league pick Ryan Switzer. Switzer caught 61 passes for 757 yards and 4 TDs. The line is one of the best in the conference, with four starters returning in LG Caleb Peterson, C Lucas Crowley, RG Landon Turner, and RT Jon Heck. Although no starters return at RB, they have a strong and multi-varied group of backs that can carry the load. with the group being led by all purpose back TJ Logan.
Justin Thomason (DT) and Dajuan Drennon (DE) are both back on the line, and Jeff Schoettmer will take up the middle of the field at MLB after recording 74 tackles last fall. The secondary got torched last fall,but they do return three starters in CB Brian Walker, CB Des Lawrence, and Safety Dominique Green.
The Bad News: The offense, while boasting a wealth of talent in the run game, need someone to take charge and step up to lead. UNC averaged just 151.4 yards per game rushing, good for only 81st nationally.
The defense was absolutely terrible last season. They ranked 116th nationally in scoring defense (39 points per game allowed), 117th in rush defense (240.5 yards per game allowed)), 101st in pass defense (257.4), and 117th in total defense (497.8). UNC will not win unless this problem is fixed. It's really pretty simple. Gene Chizik has been hired to fix the mess, and should be able to do so in time.
The Overview: If I had to pick one team in the division to fail to live up to expectations, it would be this team. I am not a believer in Larry Fedora, as he has never been able to win with his own players before. He bailed on Southern Miss without leaving a foundation, and so far has been unable to really fire the rockets here. UNC was such a mess last fall, that they bombed out to Rutgers in the bowl game. Freaking Rutgers. UNC could compete for a division title, but there are several reasons why they won't. It's up to Fedora to prove me wrong.
First Game: 9/3 South Carolina at Charlotte

Duke Blue Devils
2014 Record: 9-4
2015 Projected Record: 7-5
Head Coach: David Cutliffe (40-48, 8th season)

The Good News: The line may be the strength of the offense, with three starters returning in LG Lucas Patrick, C Matt Skura, and RT Casey Blaser. David Reeves is also back at TE, and should be able to create a solid blocking scheme.
The entire secondary will be back in entirety, with DeVon Edwards, Jeremy Cash, and Deondre Singleton all back at Safety, while Bryon Fields and Breon Borders are both back at CB. This unit was solid last fall, ranking 33rd against the pass nationally. Otherwise, DE Carlos Wray is the only other starter returning on defense.
Ross Martin returns at PK, and the Devils will really rely on him for extra scoring.
The Bad News: The Devils lost some playmakers to graduation, especially when it comes to Jamison Crowder, and they really don't have anyone identified as a stand out replacement. QB could take a step back as Thomas Sirk takes over, and he is no sure thing. Even with Crowder at WR last fall, Duke still only ranked 77th nationally in passing.
Defensively, stopping the run was a weak spot in 2014, as Duke ranked 92nd in rush defense, giving up 192.9 yards per game on the run. That's important because there is only one starter returning in the front seven in DT Carlos Wray. The Devils will have to stop the run this fall with a whole new cast up front, but there should be plenty of guys who have time banked in the program to step up. That being said, that same group of guys need to step up, and big.
The Overview: 2015 is a year of potential restocking for Duke, but David Cutliffe has this program moving in the right direction for the first time since the Steve Spurrier days.Duke certainly will not likely compete for the Coastal Division title this season, but they have enough to go bowling once again, with 2016 being a target season for a shot at the Coastal Crown.
First Game: 9/3 at Tulane

Miami Hurricanes
2014 Record: 6-7
2015 Projected Record: 5-7
Head Coach: Al Golden (28-22, 5th)

The Good News: Brad Kaaya really developed nicely as a freshman last fall, passing for 3198 yards and 26 TDs. He still tossed 12 picks, but that's not entirely bad for a freshman QB. He may be the only super news on offense, as Miami lost an amazing amount of talent after last season. He will have a huge cast of new faces around him. Malcolm Lewis returns as the leading returning WR, but caught just 25 passes last fall. Sophomore Joseph Yearby is the leading returning rusher, but ran for just 509 yards and one score. RG Danny Isidora is the lone returning starter on the line.
LB will be a strength on defense, as it traditionally has been at the U. Tyriq McCord and Raphael Kirby both return, while Jermaine Grace steps into the starting lineup after recording 60 tackles on rotation last fall. Senior DT Calvin Heurtelou returns up front. Artie Burns will return at CB, and Deon Bush returns at S in a secondary that ranked 17th nationally against the pass last fall.
The Bad News: Raw talent is plentiful on offense, but there is little in the way of practical experience, and that hurts badly. Raw talent does not necessarily equal on field success, as has been evident under Golden. Kaaya is the only piece on offense that could be a sure thing this fall, and if nobody steps up tohelp him, they'll sink him as well.
Defense was a strength last season, and enough parts return to make that so again, but there are three new starters needed on the line, and Heurtelou may not win the starting job at DT, giving way possibly to Michael Wyche.
There's little depth on either side of the football, so this really looks like Miami could be in trouble.
The Overview: There has been plenty of grumbling about Al Golden as coach in Miami, and the stadium has been mostly empty most game days. The days of the bandwagon crowd have ended, and Hurricane football has floated to near irrelevance on the Miami scene. That is unacceptable in the college football pantheon, where Miami is expected to compete at the highest level. Golden has to win this season, or else risk going the way of Randy Shannon, and I can't see how he'll pull it off.
First Game: 9/5 Bethune-Cookman

Virginia Cavaliers
2014 Record: 5-7
2015 Projected Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Mike London (23-38, 6th season)

The Good News: At least the QB issue is settled somewhat, as Greyson Lambert transferred out to Georgia after spring ball. Matt Johns should be the starter from day one, and be in control, maybe. Canaan Severin is back as the leading returning pass catcher after catching 42 passes for 578 yards last season. He also scored five teams. The line has some bright spots, with LT Michael Mooney, LG Ross Burbank, and RT Eric Smith.
Kwontie Moore (DE) and DT David Dean (DT) both return on the line after UVA ranked 18th nationally against the run last fall, giving up just 120.7 yards per game. CB Maurice Canady returns in the secondary, as does S Quin Blanding.
Ian Frye is back at PK after hitting 22 of 27 FGs last fall.
The Bad News: Despite the return of Johns at QB, that position has been a mess for the Cavs for years now. Johns has been incredibly inconsistent, and will have even more pressure on him now. He will have to make due without much of a running game. The Cavaliers rushed for just 137.8 yards per game last fall, and they have nobody ready to step up to be the guy in the backfield.
Defensively, UVA must replace half the line and every single starting LB, and three freshman figure on the two deep at LB in general, so experience is not there. The defense that was so solid last season, may struggle to compete at times this fall, especially if injuries set in.
The Cavs will start over again at Punter as well, losing Alec Vozenilek. Nicholas Conte looks to be the guy.
The Overview: It befuddles the mind that Mike London was not fired after last fall. He has not in any way shown that he can take Virginia to the next level, and this season looks to take another whole step backwards once again. Virginia will likely struggle to get just two wins, and this program is stuck in the mud. Games at UCLA, and at home with Notre Dame and Boise State in September will likely set a dire pace, and William & Mary is no slouch either. It's going to get painful once again.
First Game: 9/5 at UCLA

Next Up: College Football Preview 2015: Big 10

Monday, July 13, 2015

College Football Preview 2015: Independents

The ranks of the independents are now down to three with the exit of Navy to the American Athletic Conference beginning this season. In 2016, the number will be back to four for a bit, as UMass will be leaving the MAC to test the waters of independence. In the meantime, the only question is how long BYU will stay on as an independent, after several reports of how badly they may be wanted by the Big 12 along with possibly Boise State.
When it comes to this season, Notre Dame and BYU will battle for supremacy, while Army, once again, will struggle to get out of their own way.

Projected Order of Finish
1. Notre Dame
2. BYU
3. Army

All Independent Team
QB-Taysom Hill, BYU
QB-Malik Zaire, Notre Dame
RB-Terean Folston, Notre Dame
RB-Jamaal Williams, BYU
WR-William Fuller, Notre Dame
WR-Mitch Matthews, BYU
WR-Corey Robinson, Notre Dame

DL-Jarron Jones, Notre Dame
DL-Isaac Rochell-Notre Dame
DL-Sheldon Day, Notre Dame
DL-Travis Tuiloma, BYU
LB-Jeremy Timpf, Army
LB-Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
LB-Andrew King, Army
DB-Cole Luke, Notre Dame
DB-Josh Jenkins, Army
DB-Chris Carnegie, Army
DB-Jordan Preator, BYU

KR-Adam Hine, BYU

Team Previews

Notre Dame Fighting Irish
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Projected Record: 10-2
Head Coach: Brian Kelly (45-20, 6th season)

The Good News: Everett Golston was an addition by subtraction coming into this season, as the turnover prone left for Florida State. He was more trouble and attitude than he was worth, and now the Irish can move on with a QB more suited to what they want to do on offense, which leads them to Malik Zaire, who should have a breakout performance on the entirety of the season. Zaire will have some weapons to get the ball to in WRs Will Fuller and Chris Brown this fall, with Fuller catching 76 passes for 1054 yards last fall to go with a whopping 15 TDs. Chris Brown returns as well to give the Irish a potent passing attack. CJ Prosies will step in to start with them, and look for Amir Carlisle, Corey Holmes, and Corey Robinson to all push for major playing time. Terean Folston returns in the run game, and I am looking for a bigger year out of him as a junior. Folston ran for 889 yards and six scores. The line returns three starters as well in LT Ronnie Stanley, C Nick Martin, and RG Steve Elmer.
The Irish are as loaded on defense as they have been in years, and that alone makes me believe that they will improve greatly on their ranking of 71st nationally in total defense. This unit is on the verge of being very good. Isaac Rochell, Jarron Jones, Sheldon Day, and Romeo Okwara all return on the line. If there is one thing to task this group on, it's that they have to do a better job of collapsing the pocket and shutting down lanes. With another year together, that shouldn't be an issue. Jaylon Smith, James Onwualu, and Joe Schmidt all return at LB as well, with Smith coming off a season in which he grabbed 112 tackles. Cole Luke, a junior, should have a breakout at CB this season, and is joined by Safeties Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield. Senior KeiVarae Russell should fill in at CB, but Devin Butler and Nick Watkins could have some say in that as well.
The Bad News: The Irish have big expectations this season, but they have to live up to that now. Brian Kelly has done well at Notre Dame, but this could be his very best team overall. THey will need more balance on offense, especially with the run game. Zaire has all the talent in the world, but now must come in and prove that he is Brian Kelly's guy, or else face Kelly's wrath, which is considerable.
Defensively, this unit underperformed while getting used to be being together as a unit. There are no such excuses this fall, as this unit should be loaded and experienced. It's time to play up to potential.
The kicking game is hitting reboot this year, with both the PK and P jobs needing filling. Promising freshman Justin Yoon is lining up early at PK, but he has no experience. Tyler Newsome, another freshman, should handle the Punting job.
The Overview: Notre Dame is full of potential this fall, but now they must, as I have said, play up to that potential. Notre Dame could be a team, that with some right bounces, could push their way into the final four this bowl season. They have that much ability, and this could be a special volume in Notre Dame history.
First Game: 9/5 Texas

BYU Cougars
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (90-39, 11th season)

The Good News: Taysom Hill was on the way to a special season before blowing his knee in a loss to Utah State that started the Cougars into a tailspin that took them a month to pull out of. Hill is back, and if he is healthy, he could be one of the finest QBs in the nation. Jamaal Williams was also headed in a great direction when he became injured as well. With a healthy Hill and Williams back in the fold, BYU could really chase some serious team records on offense. Mitch Matthews was a constant on offense where there were few, and he returns after catching 73 passes for 922 yards and nine scores. Three starters are back on the line in Kyle Johnson, Tejan Koroma, and Ului Lapuaho.
There could be some changes on defense this season, but that could be good for a better amount of depth. DEs Bronson Kaufusi and Remington Peck are both back. Travis Tuiloma and Graham Rowley are both back at DT as well, but again, expect Kesni Tausinga could push for time as well. Manoa Pikula is back at LB after picking up 69 tackles last fall, and should lead a rather green unit in the middle. Michael Davis is back at CB as well, but faces some pressure there.
Trevor Samson is back as a senior after hitting 12/14 FGs last fall for the Cougars, and Adam Hine returns as KR for another go after averaging 24.5 yards per return.
The Bad News: Despite what BYU has the potential for on offense, the Cougras must replace a bunch of talent at WR this fall. Devon Blackmon and Colby Pearson are both lined up to start, but Kurt Henderson, Nick Kurtz, and Terenn Houk will all be pushing for time in fall camp.
On defense, the Cougars have several questions at LB, where they muct replace three of four starters. Sae Taufu, Austin Heder, and Jherremya Leuta-Douyere are all coming into camp with an edge to start, but Fred Warner, Harvey Langi, and Troy Hinds are all expected to compete. The secondary has the same issue, with only one starter returning. Micah Hanneman and Michael Shelton are both competing for one spot, while Jordan Preator should step in and win a spot after a promising performance last fall. Kai Nacua, Chris Badger, Eric Takenaka, and Grant Jones are all competing for starting jobs at Safety.
BYU is starting over at Punter, with freshman Taylor Parker having the edge heading into camp.
The Overview: BYU could be very good in some areas, however they have more questions than answers on defense, which leaves them short as being the best independent in a battle with Notre Dame. The Cougar are going bowling, but really need to answer some deficiencies before turning a bigger, better corner.
First Game: 9/5 at Nebraska

Army Cadets
2014 Record: 4-8
2015 Projected Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Jeff Monken (4-8, 2nd season)

The Good News: I'm not going to lie to you, there is not much to go on for this football team that returns a grand total of six starters combined on offense and defense. There is some strength at ILB, as Jeremy Timpf (117 tackles) and Andrew King (5 sacks). Monken, otherwise is basically building agains from scratch, but should get a couple of good wins against FCS opponents Fordham and Bucknell, despite having lost to Yale last fall.
The Bad News: Where do we start? The entire backfield on offense must be rebuilt, starting at QB. AJ Schurr and Ahmad Bradshaw will likely compete, and could both play early. Joe Walker, Joey Giovanelli, Elijah St. Hilaire, and Egbezien Obiomon are all battling for time at SB, while Matt Giarchinta, Aaron Kemper will battle at FB. Edgar Poe will be the lone starting WR returning, but caught just ten passes last fall. Jeff Ejekam, DeAndre Bell, and Jermaine Adams will all fight it out for the open job at WR. Matt Hugenberg (C) is the lone returnee on the line.
On defense, the problems continue, as Army must replace the entire D line. John Voit, Evan Finnane, Jordan Smith, and Shawn Lemuto will all battle at DE, while TJ Atimalala and Andrew McLean will battle at NT. Both OLB jobs are open, but CB should be all set as both Josh Jenkins and Chris Carnegie return.
The Overview: Jeff Monken is building his recruiting base, and is doing a solid job there, but this is going to be a mess in 2014. It could be worse, as the schedule cooperates mostly, but Army has more holes than many can count, and I cannot see a way that they can overcome all of these issues. Looks like a 14th consecutive loss to Navy is in the cards for certain.
First Game: 9/4 Fordham

Next: The Power Five Conferences, starting with the ACC