2015 College Football Preview: SEC West

Nick Saban has brought Alabama back to prominence and the Tide are always a Championship Contender with him at the helm. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images North America)
Nick Saban has brought Alabama back to prominence and the Tide are always a Championship Contender with him at the helm. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: SEC West

We have reached our final preview in the 2015 College Football Preview series here at Sports Enthusiasts. The SEC West, along with the SEC Championship, are in the crosshairs and what a final division we have to look at. Below are all the previews done to this point, so please feel free to check those out.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

FBS Independents – July 28

Sun Belt – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

Let’s take a look at the one of the toughest divisions in college football, the SEC West.

1. LSU Tigers

Les Miles has been wonderful at LSU. In his 10 years, he has won at ten games 7 times and his “worst” year has been an 8-5 recorded in both 2008 and 2014. LSU lost the 2011 BCS Championship to Alabama 21-0 and followed that with back-to-back 10-3 seasons. 2014 was plagued by inconsistency at quarterback and both return in 2015.

The offense will have nine starters returning from a group that put 27.6 points and 387 yards per game. Brandon Harris is expected to win the starting quarterback job after throwing for 452 yards with 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He will have Anthony Jennings (1,611 yards with 11 touchdowns and 7 interceptions) behind him if he cannot handle those duties. Leonard Fournette was hyped as the next-coming in 2014 and he finished the year with a solid 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns while better production is expected of him in 2015. The top four receivers all return, however, their numbers are hardly overwhelming. Travin Dural had 37 catches for 758 yards and 7 touchdowns, Malachi Dupre had 14 receptions for 318 yards and 5 touchdowns, John Diarse caught 15 passes for 275 yards and 3 touchdowns, and Trey Quinn finished with 17 catches for 193 yards. With three starters back on the offensive line as well as better quarterback play in 2015, the offense should produce better numbers than they did last year.

LSU’s defense is usually pretty good. 2014 was no exception with the team yielding 17.5 points and 317 yards per game. In 2015, there will be six starters back with two on the defensive line. Those two will be Christian LaCouture (40 tackles and 2.5 sacks) and Davon Godchaux (42 tackles). LSU loses linebacker Kwon Alexander (90 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 6 tackles for loss), but does have Kendall Beckwith (77 tackles, 2 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss) and Lamar Louis (29 tackles) returning. The secondary has two starters back as well with Jalen Mills leading the way (62 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 1 interception), but he will miss at least the first four weeks due to leg surgery. The other returning starter is Tre’Davious White, who had 33 tackles, 6 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions while Jamal Adams was integral in 2014 with 66 tackles, 1 sack, and 4 tackles for loss. The defense will be stingy again in 2015, especially when Mills returns.

LSU has a non-conference schedule of McNeese State (home), Syracuse (road), Eastern Michigan (home), and Western Kentucky (home), which makes them very likely to go 4-0 in those games. In their division, they will face Mississippi State, Alabama, and Ole Miss on the road in three very tough games while playing Auburn, Arkansas, and Texas A&M at home. From the East, they will play South Carolina (road) and Florida (home) in two winnable games. The games against Alabama on November 7, Arkansas on November 14, and Mississippi on November 21 are sure to determine whether LSU wins the SEC West.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide

We all know that Nick Saban has been great at Alabama. After a 7-6 record in his first year during the 2007 season, Alabama has won at least 10 games every year since 2008. He has won three SEC Championships as well as three National Titles for the Crimson Tide. The one concern (if you can call it that) is the defense has given up 45 points and 42 points, respectively, in the past two years during the Sugar Bowl. Alabama lost both of those games including last year when they were eliminated the College Football Playoff Semifinals by eventual national champion Ohio State.

The offense put up 36.9 points and 485 yards per game in 2014 with Lane Kiffin at the helm, but 2015 will be interesting with only three starters returning. Jake Coker will be at quarterback after throwing for 403 yards with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions last year, but has plenty of talent after battling Jameis Winston when he was at Florida State. Derrick Henry was the top running back in 2014 with 990 yards and 11 touchdowns in a deep backfield while Kenyan Drake (112 yards and 4 touchdowns) is back after a broken leg last year. The biggest loss was at wide receiver with Amari Cooper (124 catches for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns) going on to the NFL. There is a lot of talent here (Robert Foster, Calvin Ridley, Daylon Charlot) and a bit of experience in OJ Howard (17 catches for 260 yards), Chris Black (15 catches for 188 yards), and ArDarius Stewart (12 catches for 149 yards), but that production will be impossible to replace. There will also be only two starters back on the line so the work will be cut out for Saban and Kiffin. It is hard to see the offense producing the same numbers in 2015 as they did in 2014.

The defense is almost always spectacular under Saban. Their worst year since 2008 was actually last year when they allowed 18.4 points and 328 yards per game, which is still a very good season. Seven starters are back in 2015 including all three on the defensive line. Jonathan Allen had 33 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 6 tackles for loss, A’Shawn Robinson had 49 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss, and Jarran Reed had 55 tackles, 1 sack, and 5.5 tackles for loss. Returning at linebacker will be the duo of Reggie Ragland (95 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 9 tackles for loss) and Denzel Devall (11 tackles) who made seven starters and was out with injury for six games. The secondary is led by Cyrus Jones, who had 46 tackles, 13 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions. Also returning in the secondary is Eddie Jackson (41 tackles, 6 pass breakups, and an interception). Look for another big year from the defense that could have even better numbers than they had in 2014.

Alabama opens the year with the tough neutral site game against Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas. They will also face the trio of Middle Tennessee, Louisiana-Monroe, and Charleston Southern at home to close out their non-conference schedule. They will have to play Ole Miss, Arkansas, and LSU at home while facing Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and Auburn on the road. From the East, Alabama will play Georgia (road) and Tennessee (home). The offense is the obvious concern for Alabama, but their defense should be good enough to keep them in every game while the offense finds its feet.

3. Mississippi Rebels

Ole Miss went 4-8 in 2010 and 2-10 in 2011 in Houston Nutt’s last two years. They decided to bring in Hugh Freeze, who has steadily turned around the Rebels. He paid immediate dividends by taking the Rebels to a bowl game in his first season and then went 8-5 in 2013. 2014 was a really good season for them with a 9-4 record including a 23-17 victory over #4 Alabama at home, but were blown out by an excellent (and angry) TCU squad in the Peach Bowl.

The offense has been good under Freeze in all three seasons. In 2013, they put up 30 points and 473 yards per game while those numbers dropped a bit in 2014 to 28.3 points and 419 yards per game. There will be nine starters back for Ole Miss this year, but quarterback Bo Wallace is gone. The good news for the Rebels is they have Clemson transfer Chad Kelly ready to take over immediately after a year in the junior college ranks. They will also have the top two running backs from last year in Jaylen Walton (586 yards and 5 touchdowns) and Jordan Wilkins (361 yards and a touchdown). The receiving unit looks to be in good shape even without their top man from 2014. Evan Engram (38 catches for 662 yards and 2 touchdowns), Cody Core (41 receptions for 558 yards and 6 touchdowns, and, of course, the return of LaQuon Treadwell (48 catches for 632 yards and 5 touchdowns). The entire offensive line returns and despite the loss of Wallace, the offense should be able to put up good numbers again in 2015.

The defense was very good in 2014 by giving up only 16 points and 329 yards per game. Seven starters will be back from that defense led by the trio of Robert Nkemdiche (35 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss), Isaac Gross (37 tackles, 1 sack, and 7 tackles for loss), and Marquis Haynes (31 tackles and 7.5 sacks) on the line. Also in the mix on the line are junior college transfer DJ Jones, redshirt freshman Breeland Speaks, and senior Channing Ward (30 tackles and 2.5 sacks). CJ Johnson is back at linebacker (38 tackles, 4 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss) and will be joined by Denzel Nkemdiche (28 tackles and 1 sack), who missed the final five games of the year due to a broken ankle. The secondary will have three starters back led by Tony Conner (69 tackles, 1 sack, 8 tackles for loss, and an interception), Mike Hilton (71 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions), and Trae Elston (59 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and an interception). The defense will be good again in 2015, but may not match the same numbers from 2014.

Ole Miss has an easy non-conference schedule with Tennessee-Martin, Fresno State, and New Mexico State at home and a single road game at Memphis. In division, they face Alabama, Auburn, and Mississippi State on the road and Texas A&M, Arkansas, and LSU at home. From the East, Ole Miss will take on Florida (road) and Vanderbilt (home). The Rebels will have a really good shot at a double digit win season and are in contention for the SEC West title.

4. Arkansas Razorbacks

Bret Bielema came to Arkansas in 2013 and the Razorbacks had a rough first year under him. They went 3-0 to start the season, but lost the final nine games. However, the final three games saw an improved Arkansas team that nearly upset #15 LSU on the road as a 26 point underdog. 2014 was better with Arkansas going 6-6 in the regular season including back-to-back upset shutouts of LSU (17-0) and Ole Miss (30-0). They also nearly upset Alabama at home and lost by a touchdown to the trio of Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and Missouri.

The offense for Bielema will have nine starters back. In 2013, they averaged only 20.7 points and 357 yards per game while 2014 saw the numbers improve to 31.9 points and 406 yards per game. Brandon Allen is back after throwing for 2,285 yards with 20 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, but the focus will be on the running game. There are four starters back on the offensive line to pave the way for the Alex Collins. Collins had 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground in 2014, which was second the team. The top rusher was Jonathan Williams, who had 1,190 yards and 12 touchdowns, but will miss all of 2015 due to surgery on his foot. The top two receivers are back in Keon Hatcher (43 catches for 558 yards and 6 touchdowns) and Hunter Henry (37 catches for 513 yards and 2 touchdowns). If a viable second back can be developed behind Collins, the Arkansas offense could be really dangerous, but at the least they should be able to match year’s numbers.

The defense took a major step forward in 2014 when compared to 2013. In 2013, the defense gave up 30.8 points and 413 yards per game while the numbers plummeted to 19.2 points and 323 yards per game last year. There will be six starters back with two on the line in JaMichael Winston (26 tackles) and Taiwan Johnson (26 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss). The line gave up only 115 yards rushing per game and 3.5 yards per carry. The linebackers will have only Brooks Ellis back, but he was second the team in tackles with 72 while also recording 5 tackles for loss, 5 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The secondary returns mostly intact with three starters back with the trio of Jared Collins (53 tackles and 13 pass breakups), DJ Dean (29 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions), and Rohan Gaines (59 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 1 interception). The defense should be stout again in 2015.

Arkansas opens the season with games against UTEP, Toledo, and Texas Tech with all those games in the state of Arkansas. They also face Tennesssee-Martin at home in October. They will face Texas A&M in Arlington as well as Alabama, Ole Miss, and LSU on the road. They will play at home against Auburn and Mississippi State and take on Tennessee (road) and Missouri (home) from the East. Arkansas’ games against Alabama and LSU both fall on the road, but they are dangerous team in the West.

5. Auburn Tigers

Auburn won the BCS National Championship in 2010, but quickly fell to 8-5 in 2011 and then 3-9 in 2012. 2013 saw Gus Malzahn come in and nearly win another National Championship for Auburn, but they lose to Florida State in the BCS Championship 34-31. They went to 8-5 last year and are hoping to bounce back to another double digit win season in 2015.

The offense has only four starters back from a group that put up 35.5 points and 485 yards per game in 2014. Of course, Gus Malzahn is known for his offenses and he will have Jeremy Johnson slinging the ball around. Johnson threw for 436 yards and 3 touchdowns while starting the first half of the opener against Arkansas. He will have three of the top five receivers from 2014 led by Duke Williams, who had 45 catches for 730 yards and 5 touchdowns. Also back are Ricardo Louis (21 catches for 261 yards and 3 touchdowns) and Melvin Ray (8 catches for 182 yards and a touchdown). The top running back in 2014 was Cameron Artis-Payne (1,608 yards and 13 touchdowns), but he has moved on to the NFL. He will be replaced by Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas (214 yards and 2 touchdowns). There are three starters back on the offensive line to give Johnson some time as well as create lanes for Robinson and Thomas. The offense will be just fine in 2015 despite only four starters back.

The defense will have eight starters back from a unit that allowed 26.7 points and 399 yards per game. The defensive line will have DaVonte Lambert (24 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss) and Montravius Adams (43 tackles, 3 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss) back. The Buck position will be handled by Carl Lawson (out for 2014) and Gimel President (30 tackles, 1 sack, and 4 tackles for loss). At linebacker, the duo of Cassanova McKinzy (91 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 9.5 tackles for loss) and Kris Frost (87 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 6.5 tackles for loss) returning. The secondary will have three starters returning led by Johnathan Ford, who had 93 tackles and 3 interceptions last year. Also returning is Jonathan Jones, who was a ball hawk in 2014 with 11 pass breakups and 6 interceptions to go along with 36 tackles. The defense should be very solid in 2015.

Auburn opens the season with a neutral site game in Atlanta, Georgia against Louisville. They will also face Jacksonville State, San José State, and Idaho at home for their other non-conference games. Auburn will have to play LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M on the road while taking on Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Alabama at home. From the East, the Tigers play Kentucky (road) and Georgia (home). While it is hard to pick the Tigers this low, they are not without a chance to win the West.

6. Texas A&M Aggies

Kevin Sumlin came to Texas A&M in 2012 with two things against him: his first year in charge and the Aggies’ first year in the SEC. He did quite well by going 11-2 overall including the marvelous 29-24 upset of #1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. 2013 saw them slip slightly to 9-4 while they went 8-5 in 2014. 2015 will be Sumlin’s fourth year and he has some serious quarterback prospects in his stable.

The offense was a bit underwhelming in 2014 by Sumlin’s standards. They averaged 35.2 points and 455 yards per game, which is great for most teams, but it was nearly 10 points and 100 yards per game than in 2013. Kyle Allen will be at quarterback after getting some playing time in 2014 when he threw for 1,322 yards with 16 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He will be throwing to Josh Reynolds (52 catches for 842 yards and 13 touchdowns), Speedy Noil (46 catches for 583 yards and 5 touchdowns), Ricky Seals-Jones (49 catches for 465 yards and 4 touchdowns), and Edward Pope (30 catches for 454 yards and 4 touchdowns). Tra Carson was the top running back in 2014 with 581 yards and 5 touchdowns and returns alongside Brandon Williams (379 yards and 3 touchdowns). Three starters are back on the offensive line and the numbers should go up for the offense in 2015.

The defense will have eight starters back in 2015 from a group that allowed 28.1 points and 451 yards per game. The trio of Daeshon Hall (29 tackles and 4.5 sacks), Hardreck Walker (35 tackles), and Alonzo Williams (57 tackles and 4.5 sacks) will be returning on the line. The linebackers were hit hard, but the hybrid spot, Rush, will be manned by Myles Garrett, who had 53 tackles and 11.5 sacks. Only Shaan Washington returns at one of the traditional linebacker spots after recording 64 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss last year. The secondary has De’Vante Harris (53 tackles and 1 interception) and Armani Watts (59 tackles, 8 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions) back. It is hard to imagine the defense not improving in 2015 with the amount of experience returning.

Texas A&M opens the year with Arizona State in Houston, Texas. After that, they will play Ball State, Nevada, and Western Carolina at home in their non-conference schedule. In division, they have to take on Arkansas in Arlington, Texas before playing Mississippi State, Alabama, and Auburn at home. They will play both Ole Miss and LSU on the road. From the East, they have the duo of South Carolina (home) and Vanderbilt (road) in two winnable games. The Aggies are immensely talented and will have a better offense, which makes it tough to put them this low. They do have a chance to make noise in the West and make the SEC Championship game.

7. Mississippi State Bulldogs

Dan Mullen has been pretty consistent since taking over Mississippi State in 2009. They went 5-7 in that first year, but have made five straight bowl games since then and have also had a winning season each year since 2010. 2014 was nearly a magical season for MSU, as they opened 9-0 before losing three of their last four games. Their two regular season losses were on the road to Alabama and Ole Miss and were then walloped in the Orange Bowl, 49-34. 2015 looks like a rough year with only seven total starters returning.

The offense will have four starters back from a group that put up 36.9 points and 514 yards per game in 2014. The good news is that quarterback Dak Prescott is one of those returning after throwing for 3,449 yards with 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while also rushing for 986 yards and 14 touchdowns. Prescott will be leaned on heavily all season with the top returning running backs in Brandon Holloway (294 yards and 1 touchdown) and Ashton Shumpert (274 yards and 2 touchdowns). The top two receivers also return with De’Runnya Wilson (47 catches for 680 yards and 9 touchdowns) and Fred Ross (30 catches for 489 yards and 5 touchdowns) leading the way. There will be only two starters back on the line as well. Despite just four starters returning, they are in a good spot with the quarterback and top two receivers back, but it will be tough for them to match last year’s output.

The defense has only three starters back from a unit that allowed 21.7 points and 424 yards per game. Ryan Brown is the lone returning starter on the line after recording 39 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss. He will be joined by Chris Jones (26 tackles and 3 sacks) and AJ Jefferson (28 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss). At linebacker, Beniquez Brown is back after recording 62 tackles (#2 on team) along with 2 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions. Richie Brown saw playing time in every game in 2014 and recorded 50 tackles and 3 interceptions as well. The secondary has just Taveze Calhoun (53 tackles, 9 pass breakups, and 1 interception) back at starter, but Will Redmond had a solid year as well with 51 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions. It will be hard for the Bulldogs to have as good a year as they did in 2014 on the defensive side of the ball.

MSU will have Southern Miss on the road to start their non-conference slate, but finish up with Northwestern State, Troy, and Louisiana Tech at home. In conference, they will play Auburn, Texas A&M, and Arkansas on the road while taking on LSU, Alabama, and Ole Miss at home. From the East, they will play both Kentucky (home) and Missouri (road). In a very deep SEC West, it is tough to put the Bulldogs down here with Dak Prescott returning as well as Dan Mullen at the helm. At the very worst, MSU should be back in a bowl game for 2015, but can cause some serious problems for the other teams in the West.

Overview

How difficult is it to predict the SEC West? All seven teams made a bowl game in 2014 and all seven teams have a legit chance at winning the division this year. If you are a fan of one of the teams picked at the bottom, do not fret because this was the hardest preview to write given the quality and depth of all the teams. The predicted order of finish below is sure to be wrong, but that is a testament to the SEC West.

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Mississippi

4. Arkansas

5. Auburn

6. Texas A&M

7. Mississippi State

SEC Championship

For the SEC Championship, we had Tennessee winning the SEC East to set up a contest against LSU, the winner of the SEC West. If that were to be the SEC Championship, we will go with LSU to capture yet another for the West Division, which would be the 7th straight against the East.

That concludes the 2015 College Football Preview here at Sports Enthusiasts. Be sure to check back for more news and information regarding all the divisions in College Football, but also for standings and schedules.

2015 College Football Preview: SEC East

Maty Mauk has been an integral part of Missouri making back-to-back SEC Championship games in 2013 and 2014. Will it be a third in a row for the Tigers? (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)
Maty Mauk has been an integral part of Missouri making back-to-back SEC Championship games in 2013 and 2014. Will it be a third in a row for the Tigers? (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: SEC East

Part 18 of Sports Enthusiasts’ 2015 College Football preview looks at the SEC East in the penultimate preview. As usual, the SEC East is wide open with talented teams and an up and coming team all in the mix. Below are the previews completed and the SEC West preview scheduled for Friday, August 28.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

FBS Independents – July 28

Sun Belt – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

Let’s take a closer look at how the SEC East will shake out.

1. Tennessee Volunteers

Tennessee has fallen on hard times in recent years. Between 2008 and 2012, the Volunteers had four losing seasons with only two bowl appearances and they lost both of those games. Butch Jones came in for the 2013 season after three years at Central Michigan (2007 through 2009) and Cincinnati (2010 through 2012). Tennessee went 5-7 in his first year (2013) and improved to 7-6 in 2014 with smashing 45-28 victory in the TaxSlayer Bowl against Iowa. 2015 provides Jones with his most experienced team.

The offense will have 10 starters back, which is double the number from both 2013 and 2014. In 2013, the offense put up 23.8 points and 353 yards per game while that number went up to 28.9 points and 371 yards per game in 2014. The quarterback position was hampered by injuries in 2014 with Joshua Dobbs the top returning guy after throwing for 1,209 yards with 9 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. At running back will be Jalen Hurd (899 yards and 5 touchdowns) and former Alabama commit Alvin Kamara. Dobbs also has some wheels after rushing for 469 yards and 8 touchdowns. The entire receiving unit is back with Pig Howard (54 catches for 618 yards and a touchdown), Von Pearson (38 catches for 393 yards and 5 touchdowns), Marquez North (30 catches for 320 yards and 4 touchdowns), and Jason Croom (21 catches for 305 yards and 4 touchdowns). The offensive line has four starter back and the offense should be able to easily produce the highest numbers under Jones.

The defense will have eight starters back from a unit that allowed 24.2 points and 365 yards per game. The defensive line will have two starters back led by Derek Barnett, who was a monster in 2014 with 72 tackles, 10 sacks, and 10.5 tackles for loss. Three linebackers return in Jalen Reeves-Maybin (101 tackles, 2 sacks, and 9 tackles for loss), Curt Maggitt (48 tackles, 11 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss), and Corey Vereen (24 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss). The secondary will also have three starters back including both safeties in Brian Randolph (88 tackles and 2 interceptions) and LaDarrell McNeil (76 tackles and 2 interceptions). Cameron Sutton will be at cornerback after recording 37 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 13 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions. The defense should be even better in 2015, which is a scary thought.

Tennessee opens the year with Bowling Green in Nashville before a big game against Oklahoma at home. They will also face Western Carolina and North Texas at home to close out their non-conference schedule. In conference, the Vols will play Florida, Kentucky, and Missouri on the road while staying home to face Georgia, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt. From the West, Tennessee has Arkansas at home and will face their rival Alabama on the road. Despite the tough draw from the West, Tennessee has the ability to win those games and have a great chance against the biggest contenders in the East. Tennessee is the pick to win the East in a surely contentious and open division.

2. Missouri Tigers

Missouri was in the Big 12 Championship in the 2007 season with a chance to make the National Championship, but were demolished 38-17 and ended up being left out of the BCS altogether. The Tigers still had really good seasons in 2008 (10-4) and 2010 (10-3), but began their SEC life with a 5-7 record. That changed in a hurry as the Tigers have been to back-to-back SEC Championship games under Gary Pinkel.

The offense took a big step back in 2014 with only 27.8 points and 367 yards per game of output. Compared to 2013, when they put up 39.1 points and 491 yards, it was tough year even with four starters back. In 2015, there will be six starters back led by quarterback Maty Mauk, who had 2,648 yards with 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Russell Hansbrough returns after rushing for 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns and Mauk can run the ball if needed as well (373 yards and 2 touchdowns). Wide receiver is a concern with the top four gone. The top returning receiver is tight end Sean Culkin, who had 20 catches for 187 yards and 1 touchdown. Others who may have an impact are J’Mon Moore (2 catches for 33 yards), Nate Brown (5 catches for 45 yards), and Wesley Leftwich (3 catches for 36 yards), but are light on experience. The offensive line will have four starters back, which will create plenty of protection for Mauk and running lanes. The concern is the receivers, but Missouri has the ability to produce higher totals this year despite that.

The defense has been very solid the last two years. In 2013, the defense gave up 23.1 points and 418 yards per game while those numbers went down to 21.1 points and 346 yards per game in 2014 (only 4 starters back). There will six starters back in 2015 including the top two tackles. On the line, only Harold Brantley returns after recording 54 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, and 3 pass breakups. The top tacklers from 2015 reside in the linebacking unit. Kentrell Brothers had 122 tackles, 1 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss while Michael Scherer had 114 tackles and 3 tackles for loss. The secondary has three starters back from a unit that allowed 213 passing yards per game and 60.8% completions. Aarion Penton (36 tackles, 10 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions), Kenya Dennis (61 tackles, 9 pass breakups, and an interception), and Ian Simon (54 tackles and 1 interception) are the returners. The defensive line is the obvious worry, but the Tigers could match last year’s numbers and possibly improve them.

The Tigers have only one real test on the non-conference slate. They will face Southeast Missouri State (home), Arkansas State (road), Connecticut (home), and BYU (in Kansas City, Missouri). Within their division, Missouri will face Kentucky, Georgia, and Vanderbilt on the road while playing South Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee at home. They have to play Mississippi State (home) and Arkansas (road) from the West, but they can win both of those games. The schedule sets up well for Missouri to have a serious shot at winning a third straight East Division title and another big bowl game.

3. Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia is consistently one of the better teams in the SEC under Mark Richt. The Bulldogs have made a bowl game in all 14 years under Richt and have only one losing season in 2010 when they went 6-7. More impressively, Georgia has won at last 10 games nine times with Richt at the helm. The Bulldogs have also won 2 SEC Championship under Richt, however, the last one came in 2005. The Bulldogs went 10-3 in 2014 without Aaron Murray and will look to do the same without their starter from last year.

The offense has seven starters back, but as alluded to earlier, Hutson Mason (2,168 yards with 21 touchdowns and 4 interceptions) is not one of them. Brice Ramsey seems to be in line to start (333 yards with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions), but he will have competition from Faton Bauta and Greyson Lambert. Nick Chubb will be the top running back after rushing for 1,547 yards with 14 touchdowns while Todd Gurley (911 yards and 9 touchdowns) was hampered by an NCAA investigation and eventually a torn ACL. The top two receivers are gone as well, but Jeb Blazevich (18 catches for 269 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Malcolm Mitchell (31 catches for 248 yards and 3 touchdowns) are set to step up. The offensive line has four starters back, but the losses at quarterback and receiver are worrisome. The Bulldogs put up 41.3 points and 458 yards per game in 2014 and will probably not match that in 2015.

The defense was stout last year by giving up only 20.7 points and 337 yards per game with eight starters back. There will be six starters back in 2015 with one starter back on the line in Jordan Jenkins from linebacker. Jenkins had 70 tackles, 5 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss. Two linebackers return in Lorenzo Carter (41 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss) and Leonard Floyd (55 tackles, 6 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss). The secondary will have three starters back from a group that allowed only 170 passing yards per game and 53.8% completions. The trio returning are Aaron Davis (40 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and an interception), Quincy Mauger (51 tackles, 4 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions), and Dominick Sanders (34 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions). The defense should be solid again and while they may not match or top last year’s numbers, they could come close.

Georgia faces Louisiana-Monroe, Southern, Georgia Southern, and Georgia Tech in non-conference action with the only road game against the Yellow Jackets. In conference, Georgia has to face Vanderbilt and Tennessee on the road while playing Florida in Jacksonville, as usual. They will also face South Carolina, Missouri, and Kentucky at home. From the West, Georgia will take on Alabama (home) and Auburn (road) to give them another tough draw. Georgia has the talent to win the East and the division is certainly there for the taking.

4. Florida Gators

Since Urban Meyer’s departure after the 2010 season, there have been more bad times than good for the Florida Gators. They went 7-6 in 2011 before a slight resurgence to 11-2 and a Sugar Bowl appearances, but they were crushed in that game and it was all downhill after that. They missed a bowl game entire in 2013 with a terrible 4-8 record and went 7-5 last year. Will Muschamp was in charge for the last four seasons, but he was let go. Jim McElwain has been installed as the head coach after three seasons at Colorado State where he went 22-16.

The offense in 2013 for Florida was atrocious. They put up a paltry 18.8 points and 317 yards per game while the numbers improved drastically in 2014 with 30.3 points and 368 yards per game. Enter McElwain, who nearly 35 points and 500 yards per game in his final two years at Colorado State. The quarterback position was unsettled last year due to injuries, suspensions, and ineffectiveness. Treon Harris threw for 1,019 yards with 9 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, but will be competing with Will Grier for the QB duties. The running back position is led by Kelvin Taylor, who had 565 yards and 6 touchdowns, but the loss of Adam Lane (181 yards and 1 touchdown) will hurt the depth. Demarcus Robinson (53 catches for 810 yards and 7 touchdowns) was the top receiver last year and returns for 2015 along with Ahmad Fulwood (12 catches for 199 yards and a touchdown), Latroy Pittman (15 catches for 164 yards), and Brandon Powell (15 catches for 147 yards and a touchdown). There is only one offensive lineman returning and the offense is also learning new schemes. With all that in mind, it is tough to see the Gators putting up a high amount of points, but there is serious talent left over from Muschamp’s tenure.

The defense was very good to excellent under Muschamp, which is no surprise. In 2012, the defense allowed 14.5 points and 287 yards per game in their 11-2 season. The numbers rose to 21.1 points per game in both 2013 and 2014 while the yards per game were 314 in 2013 and 330 in 2014. This year, there will be seven starters back with two on the line in Bryan Cox (29 tackles and 4 sacks) and Jonathan Bullard (52 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 6 tackles for loss) while highly rated freshman Cece JeffersonAntonio Morrison is the lone linebacker returning, but he is a good one after leading team in tackles with 101. The secondary is clearly the strength of the defense with all four starters back led by Vernon Hargreaves (50 tackles, 13 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions). Brian Poole (45 tackles, 10 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions), Keanu Neal (45 tackles and 3 interceptions), and Marcus Maye (62 tackles) all return as well. The secondary should be one of the best, if not the top, secondaries in the nation. Overall, the defense should be stout again with that back four leading the way.

Florida faces New Mexico State, East Carolina, Florida Atlantic, and Florida State as part of their non-conference schedule and all four of those games are at home. Within their division, Florida faces Kentucky, Missouri, and South Carolina on the road while playing both Tennessee and Vanderbilt at home. The Gators also face Georgia in their annual clash in Jacksonville. From the West, Florida will play Ole Miss (home) and LSU (road) in two tough games. The talent is there for the Gators to win the East, but a new coach and some losses on the offense leave some worries about actually getting it done.

5. South Carolina Gamecocks

It is hard to believe that Steve Spurrier will be entering his 11th year at South Carolina. He has led South Carolina to an overall record of 84-45 and has not had a losing season. However, the Gamecocks have not won the SEC Championship and have only played in the SEC Championship game once in 2010 when they were lit up 56-17. Still, South Carolina had three straight years of 11-2 records from 2011 through 2013 and Spurrier looks to get them back to those heights after a 7-6 record in 2014.

The offense put up 32.6 points and 443 yards per game, but will only return four starters from last seasons. The quartet of Connor Mitch, Perry Orth, Lorenzo Nunez, and Michael Scarnecchia will battle it out to replace Dylan Thompson (3,564 yards with 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions). The top returning rusher is Brandon Wilds (570 yards and 4 touchdowns) and he will be joined by David Williams (256 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Shon Carson (141 yards with 2 touchdowns). Pharoh Cooper returns at wide receiver after leading the team in 2014 with 69 catches for 1,136 yards and 9 touchdowns. Tight end Jerell Adams is the second leading returning receiver with 21 catches for 279 yards and 1 touchdown. There are three starters back on the line as well. The lack of experience is a huge concern for the offense and the last time this few of starters returned, they only put up 20.6 points and 347 yards per game.

The defense is in better shape than the offense with eight starters returning including three on the offensive line. The duo of Gerald Dixon (42 tackles and 2 sacks) and Gerald Dixon Jr. (29 tackles) will be joined by Darius English (24 tackles) and junior college transfer Marquavius Lewis. The top three linebackers return in Skai Moore (93 tackles and 3 interceptions), TJ Gurley (80 tackles), and Jonathan Walton (61 tackles). The secondary is the concern here with two starters back in Chris Lammons (21 tackles) and Chris Moody (37 tackles). The defense allowed 30.4 points and 433 yards per game in 2014, but those numbers should improve in 2015 with more experience returning.

South Carolina opens the year with a game against North Carolina in Charlotte, North Carolina. Their three other non-conference games are against Central Florida, The Citadel, and Clemson with all of those games at home. They will face Georgia, Missouri, and Tennessee on the road in three tough games while playing Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Florida at home. From the West, the Gamecocks have LSU (home) and Texas A&M on the road. If the offense can get its act together quickly and perform well above expectations, then South Carolina has a great chance at contending in the East.

6. Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky has been a middle of the road SEC team at best for a long while. With Joker Phillips at the helm, the Wildcats went 6-7 in year one before falling off to 5-7 and 2-10 in his final two years. Mark Stoops was brought in and produced the same 2-10 record in his first year. 2014 was a step in the right direction with a 5-1 that included a brutal triple overtime loss to Florida, 36-30. They finished the year with six straight losses preventing them from making a bowl game.

Kentucky’s offense put up 29.2 points and 384 yards per game in 2014, a step up from the 20.5 points and 341 yards per game they produced in 2013. This year, seven starters are back led by quarterback Patrick Towles, who threw for 2,718 yards with 14 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. The running game has Stanley Williams back after he ran for 486 yards and 5 touchdowns as the leading rusher, though that will need to go up in 2015. Jojo Kemp (323 yards and 4 touchdowns) and Mikel Horton (306 yards and 2 touchdowns) are also at running back. Ryan Timmons is back after leading the team with 45 receptions for 536 yards and 2 touchdowns. Also returning are Garrett Johnson (22 catches for 271 yards and 2 touchdowns), Dorian Baker (19 catches for 199 yards and 1 touchdown), and Blake Bone (14 catches for 194 yards with 2 touchdowns). The offensive line has four starters back and the offense should continue its upward trend in points and yards per game in 2015.

The defense has been consistently sub par in Stoops’ first two years. In 2013, the defense gave up 31.2 points and 427 yards per game and those numbers were nearly the same in 2014 when they allowed 31.3 points and 407 yards per game. In 2015, the number of starters returning is seven including four of the top six tacklers. On the line, Melvin Lewis is the lone returning starter after recording 37 tackles last year. The three linebackers all return in Ryan Flannigan (57 tackles), Khalid Henderson (53 tackles), and Josh Forrest (110 tackles and 7 tackles for loss). The secondary has three starters back led by Cody Quinn (35 tackles), Fred Tiller (46 tackles, 9 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions), and AJ Stamps (56 tackles and 4 interceptions). Year three of the Stoops era should produce the best defense yet.

Kentucky has a non-conference schedule that consists of Louisiana-Lafayette, Eastern Kentucky, Charlotte, and Louisville with all those at home. They will face South Carolina, Georgia, and Vanderbilt on the road while taking on Florida, Missouri, and Tennessee at home. From the West, Kentucky will play Auburn (home) and Mississippi State (road). Kentucky is the wild card team in the East due to their ability to completely shake up the standings.

7. Vanderbilt Commodores

Vanderbilt was undoubtedly going in the right direction under James Franklin. He led them to three straight bowls between 2011 and 2013 while going 9-4 in his final two years. Unfortunately, Derek Mason was not able to produce the same results in his first year with Vanderbilt going backward to 3-9 including 0-8 in the SEC last year.

The offense for Vandy in 2014 was poor gaining only 288 yards per game and scoring just 17.2 points per contest. There will be in starters back from that group led by quarterback Johnny McCrary, who was the leading passer in 2014 with only 985 yards with 9 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Wade Freeback threw for 365 yards with 1 touchdown and 5 interceptions. At running back will be Ralph Webb, who was a bright spot as a freshman with 912 yards and 4 touchdowns. The top three receivers are back in Steven Scheu (39 catches for 525 yards and 4 touchdowns), CJ Duncan (28 catches for 441 yards with 4 touchdowns), and Latevius Rayford (36 catches for 350 yards and a touchdown). The offensive line has four starters back and the offense should produce better in 2015.

The defense has nine starters back from a group that allowed 33.3 points and 402 yards per game. There are two back on the line led by Caleb Azubike (39 tackles and 4 sacks) and Adam Butler (35 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss). The linebackers have three returning starters in Nigel Bowden (78 tackles), Stephen Weatherly (55 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 8 tackles for loss), and Darreon Herring (45 tackles). The secondary has all four starters back with Torren McGaster leading the way with 66 tackles and 2 interceptions. The defense should improve in 2015 with the experience and depth returning.

Vanderbilt will play Western Kentucky, Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee, and Houston with the first two at home and the second two on the road. In their division, Vandy will take on South Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee on the road and play Georgia, Missouri, and Kentucky at home. From the West, they will play Ole Miss (road) and Texas A&M (home). Vanderbilt will be struggling for wins again in 2015, but they will be a tough out in some games this year.

Overview

The SEC East is wide open with Tennessee, Missouri, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina all having enough talent to win the division. Kentucky is a dangerous team that can spoil the hopes of any of the top five teams with an upset while Vanderbilt is still lagging behind. Below is the predicted order of finish.

1. Tennessee

2. Missouri

3. Georgia

4. Florida

5. South Carolina

6. Kentucky

7. Vanderbilt

Check back on Friday for the final preview of this series with the SEC West. We will also predict the winner of the SEC Championship.

2015 College Football Preview: Pac-12 South

Todd Graham is back for his fourth year at Arizona State in the deep Pac-12 South Division. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)
Todd Graham is back for his fourth year at Arizona State in the deep Pac-12 South Division. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: Pac-12 South

We have reached part seventeen of Sports Enthusiasts’ 2015 College Football Preview. The Pac-12 South is on tap to be previewed as well as the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Previews will close out next week with the SEC. The entire schedule is below.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

FBS Independents – July 28

Sun Belt – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

Let’s delve into the tough Pac-12 South Division.

1. Arizona State Sun Devils

Todd Graham came in for the 2012 season and immediately made the offense better and also improved the defense. They went from 6-7 in 2011 to 8-5 in 2012. 2013 was even better when the Sun Devils went 10-4, but lost the Pac-12 Title Game, as well as Holiday Bowl. 2014 was another double digit win season with ASU going 10-3 thanks to a 36-31 win over Duke in the Sun Bowl. 2015 represents Graham’s most starters returning with 16 (previous high was 15 in 2013).

The offense will have seven starters back from a unit hat produced 36.9 points and 442 yards per game. Taylor Kelly is gone after an injury filled season, which saw Mike Bercovici play at quarterback. Bercovici threw for 1,445 yards with 12 touchdowns and 4 interceptions while returning this year to lead the offense. DJ Foster ran for 1,081 yards and 9 touchdowns, but has been moved to wide receiver while Demario Richard had 478 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns. Jaelen Strong was the top receiver last year with 1,165 yards and 10 touchdowns, but has moved on to the NFL. Foster was the second leading receiver with 62 catches for 688 yards and 3 touchdowns and should be one of the top receivers again in 2015 with the full-time move to the position. Also in the fold are Cameron Smith (41 catches for 596 yards and 6 touchdowns), Gary Chambers (10 catches for 204 yards and 2 touchdowns), Kody Kohl (16 catches for 167 yards and 4 touchdowns), and Ellis Jefferson (11 catches for 144 yards and 2 touchdowns). Three starters are back on the offensive line as well. While the loss of Strong hurts, there is plenty of talent and experience on the team to see the offense have a chance to be even more productive.

The defense has nine starters back, which is a vast improvement over last year. In 2014, the defense had only two starters returning and still gave up 27.9 points and 417 yards per game. Three starters are back on the defensive line led by Edmond Boateng (22 tackles and 2.5 sacks) and Tashon Smallwood (23 tackles and 2 sacks). The linebackers have two starters returning led by Salamo Fiso (83 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 7.5 tackles for loss) and Antonio Longino (94 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss). The secondary has three starters back led by Jordan Simone, who had 100 tackles (#2 on team), 1 sack, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions. The defense will probably be the key for ASU in 2015 if they are to contend for the Pac-12 title and they have an excellent chance at being even better than they were in 2014.

Arizona State opens the year in Houston, Texas to face Texas A&M. The final two non-conference games are at home against Cal Poly and New Mexico. In division, they face USC, Colorado, and Arizona at home while playing UCLA and Utah on the road. From the North, ASU has Oregon (home), Washington State (road), Washington (home), and California (road). The offense will be good enough for ASU to probably win most of their conference games and could set up a rematch of the Oregon game in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

2. UCLA Bruins

UCLA will be entering 2015 with Jim Mora in his fourth season. UCLA went 9-5 in year one during 2012 including a three point loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 Title Game. 2013 and 2014 produced identical 10-3 records with bowl victories each year. 2015 sees Mora have his most experienced team with 18 starters, which makes them a very dangerous team this year.

The offense for UCLA has 10 starters returning, but quarterback Brett Hundley (3,155 yards passing with 22 touchdowns and 5 interceptions; 644 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns) departs. The trio of Josh Rosen, Jerry Neuheisel, and Asiantii Woulard will be battling to replace Hundley. The good news is the rest of the offense returns led by Paul Perkins at running back. Perkins ran for 1,575 yards and 9 touchdowns while also grabbing 26 catches for 201 yards and 2 touchdowns. The top five receivers all return led by Jordan Payton (67 catches for 954 yards and 7 touchdowns), Thomas Duarte (28 catches for 540 yards and 4 touchdowns), and Devin Fuller (59 catches for 447 yards and a touchdown). The entire offensive line returns as well. After putting up 33.4 points and 468 yards per game in 2014, the offense could reach those numbers again, but will need the quarterback to play very well right out of the gate.

The defense has eight starters back in 2015, just like they did last year. The 2014 version allowed 28.1 points and 399 yards per game. Two starters are back on the defensive line in Kenny Clark (58 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss) and Eddie Vanderdoes (50 tackles, 2 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss). At linebacker, two starters return including the versatile Myles Jack. Jack was second on the team with 88 tackles, but also had 8 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, and an interception (also had 113 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns). Also returning is Deon Hollins, who had 31 tackles, 9 sacks, and 2 pass breakups. The secondary has all four starters back after allowing 251 yards passing and 61.6% completions. Priest Willis (22 tackles), Fabian Moreau (53 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 8 pass breakups), Jaleel Wadood (59 tackles), and Randall Goforth (2013 starter with 78 tackles and 3 interceptions) will be in the secondary. After performing worse than expected in 2014, the defense should bounce back and could produce the best defense yet under Mora (2013 with 23.2 points and 386 yards per game allowed).

UCLA welcomes Virginia to LA before a road trip to UNLV in week two. Their final non-conference game is at home against BYU. Within the South division, UCLA faces Arizona, Utah, and USC on the road. At home, they will take on Arizona State and Colorado. From the North, UCLA draws Stanford (road), California (home), Oregon State (road), and Washington State (home). The games against Arizona State (10/3) and USC (11/28) are sure to decide if they make the Pac-12 Championship Game, which they definitely can.

3. USC Trojans

USC was crushed by NCAA sanctions in Lane Kiffin’s first two years, but they still managed to go 18-7 those two seasons including a 10-2 record in 2011. In 2012, they slumped to 7-6 after being considered as one of the top teams that year and Kiffin’s time ended in 2013 after the Arizona State game when they were 3-2. They finished the year 10-4 before hiring Steve Sarkisian prior to the 2014 season. Sarkisian went 9-4 in year one and the expectations are high for his second season in charge.

On offense, USC will have seven starters returning from a group that put up 35.8 points and 458 yards per game. Cody Kessler looked comfortable in the system throwing for 3,826 yards with 39 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He loses three of his top five receivers including Nelson Agholor, who had 104 catches for 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns. Juju Smith-Schuster is back to take one of the starting spots again after grabbing 54 passes for 724 yards and 5 touchdowns. Darreus Rogers had 21 catches for 245 yards and 4 touchdowns while Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick, Steven Mitchell, and Adoree’ Jackson could make an impact in the passing game. The rushing game took a hit with Javorius “Buck” Allen leaving after rushing for 1,489 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2014. Justin Davis (595 yards and 4 touchdowns), James Toland (102 yards), and Tre Madden (703 yards in 2013) are all expected to see action. The offensive line returns intact as well to help make holes for the rushing game and protect Kessler. The offense loses some big players at running back and wide receiver, but they could match last year’s numbers in year two of Sarkisian’s schemes.

The defense has seven starters back in 2015 after allowing 25.2 points and 408 yards per game. The two linemen returning are Antwaun Woods (37 tackles and 1 sack) and Delvon Simmons (4 tackles and 1 sack). Two linebackers also return in Anthony Sarao (74 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 interceptions) and Su’a Cravens (68 tackles, 5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, 9 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions). The secondary has three starters back including two-way play Adoree’ Jackson (49 tackles and 10 pass breakups), Kevon Seymour (49 tackles and 13 pass breakups), and Leon McQuay (36 tackles, 4 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions). The defense should improve in 2015 with the new schemes under their belt and more depth as well.

USC opens with Arkansas State and Idaho at home the first two weeks before completing their non-conference slate on October 17 against Notre Dame on the road. Within their division, USC will face Arizona State and Colorado on the road while taking on Utah, Arizona, and UCLA at home. From the North, USC has to play Stanford (home), Washington (home), California (road), and Oregon (road). The talent is there for USC to win the division, but facing the top three from the North makes it harder for them to do it. However, do not count them out in year two under Steve Sarkisian.

4. Arizona Wildcats

Rich Rodriguez did not have a good time at Michigan going 15-22 with two losing seasons. After a year off in 2011, Rich Rod came back to coaching by taking over at Arizona, which was coming off a 4-8 record. Rich Rod has done well in his three years going 8-5 in both 2012 and 2013 while upping the record to 10-4 in 2014 with a Pac-12 Title Game appearance (lost 51-13 to Oregon).

Offense has not been an issue for Arizona in Rodriguez’s tenure. Last year, the offense put up 34.5 points and 464 yards per game and seven starters return from that group. Quarterback Anu Solomon threw for 3,793 yards with 28 touchdowns and 9 interceptions while also rushing for 291 yards and 2 touchdowns. He will be back along with last year’s top rusher in Nick Wilson, who had 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns. The top receivers are back for Arizona with Cayleb Jones catching 73 passes for 1,019 yards and 9 touchdowns last year. The other is Samajie Grant, who had 45 catches for 718 yards and 6 touchdowns. The offensive line has only two starters back, but does have some transfers coming in. The offense has a great chance to produce higher numbers than the last two years.

The defense has not been bad under Rodriguez the last two years. In 2013, the defense allowed 24.2 points and 401 yards per game, but that was due to all 11 starters returning. Last year, the defense gave up 28.2 points and 451 yards per game with six starters back. That same number returns this year including the electric Scooby Wright at linebacker. He was named 1st Team All-American last year after recording 163 tackles, 14 sacks, and 15 tackles for loss! He will be joined by Derrick Turituri at linebacker after he had 44 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss. On the line, three starters return led by Reggie Gilbert, who had 49 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss. The other two starters will be joined by junior college transfers to give them solid depth on the line. The secondary has two starters back in William Parks (81 tackles, 1 sack, 12 tackles for loss, 8 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions) and Jarvis McCall (49 tackles and 7 pass breakups). The defense will probably have similar numbers to last year.

Arizona’s non-conference schedule consists of Texas-San Antonio (home), Nevada (road), and Northern Arizona (home). From the South, Arizona will have to play UCLA and Utah at home while going on the road to face Colorado, USC, and Arizona State. From the North, Arizona has to play Stanford (road), Oregon State (home), Washington State (home), and Washington (road). Arizona should be back in a bowl game in 2015 and could make some noise with an upset or two in the Pac-12.

5. Utah Utes

Kyle Wittingham has been the head coach at Utah since 2005. In that time, Utah has 85-43 with only two losing seasons and also transitioned from the Mountain West to Pac-12. The Utes went 8-5 in year one of their Pac-12 career in 2011, but dropped to 5-7 the next two seasons. 2014 was a much improved effort with Utah going 5-4 in conference and 9-4 overall. Despite that 5-4 record in conference, Utah still finished fifth in the South Division, but they were very good last season.

There will be seven starters back on offense from a group that put up 31.3 points and 388 yards per game. Travis Wilson threw for 2,170 yards with 18 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, but may find himself in a battle with Kendal Thompson (324 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions). Devontae Booker is returning at running back as well after he ran for 1,512 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. Booker is also the second leading receiver that is coming back after grabbing 43 passes for 306 yards and 2 touchdowns. The top receiver this year will be Kenneth Scott, who had 48 catches for 506 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Utes did lose three of their top four receivers from 2014. The offensive line has four starters back and the offense will probably do well no matter who is at quarterback.

The defense will have seven starters returning after allowing 24.9 points and 393 yards per game in 2014. The line will have three starters back in Hunter Dimick (52 tackles, 10 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss), Lowell Lotulelei (33 tackles and 4 sacks), and Jason Fanaika (55 tackles, 5 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss). Also in the mix on the line will be UCLA transfer Kyle Fitts. Two are returning at linebacker led by Jared Norris, who had 116 tackles, 4 sacks, and 9 tackles for loss. The secondary has Dominique Hatfield (38 tackles, 9 pass breakups, and an interception), Marcus Williams (59 tackles), and Gionni Paul (51 tackles and 4 interceptions) back. The defense will be solid again in 2015.

Utah will have an interesting non-conference schedule to set them up for Pac-12 play. They will face both Michigan and Utah State at home before a road game at Fresno State. From their division, Utah will face Arizona State, UCLA, and Colorado at home while playing USC and Arizona on the road. From the North, Utah has to play Oregon (road), California (home), Oregon State (home), and Washington (road). While it is hard to pick Utah fifth with a solid team, someone has to be put here. However, Utah is capable of pulling upsets (see UCLA and USC in 2014 and Stanford in 2013). Utah should not have trouble making a bowl game in 2015 and could make some noise in this tough Pac-12 South.

6. Colorado Buffaloes

It has been a rough decade for Colorado. They have not had a winning season since 2005 and only one bowl appearance in that time (2007 loss to Alabama 30-24). The Buffaloes entered the Pac-12 in 2011 with Jon Embree at the helm, but he struggled mightily with his final record being 4-21 in those two years. Mike MacIntyre was hired for the 2013 season and the Buffaloes won four games in 2013 to go 4-8 before falling to 2-10 last year. There are some positives for Colorado going forward in MacIntyre’s third year.

The offense for Colorado put up only 17.8 points and 303 yards per game in 2012. With the coaching change, those numbers increased to 25.4 points and 370 yards per game in 2013 before going even higher in 2014. There will be seven starters back from last year’s group that put up 28.5 points and 439 yards per game. Quarterback Sefo Liufau threw for 3,200 yards with 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Three of the top four running backs return, but their output was poor last year. Christian Powell (448 yards and 4 touchdowns), Michael Adkins (398 yards and 3 touchdowns), and Phillip Lindsay (391 yards) will all be back as they look to increase production. The top two receivers return in Nelson Spruce (106 catches for 1,198 yards and 12 touchdowns) and Shay Fields (50 catches for 486 yards and 4 touchdowns). The offensive line has four starters back while the offense as a whole should be able to improve on last year’s numbers.

The defense has been the issue the last four seasons. In 2012, they gave up 46 points and 489 yards per game while those numbers went down to 38.3 points and 468 yards per game in 2013. 2014 was about the same with the defense surrendering 39 points and 461 yards per game. There will be nine starters back from that defense, which may or may not be a good thing. The defensive line has three starters back in Derek McCartney (24 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss), Josh Tupou (28 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss), and Jimmie Gilbert (27 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss). The linebackers all return led by Kenneth Olugbode (70 tackles), Addison Gillam (64 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss), and Chidobe Awuzie (62 tackles). The secondary has three starters back led by Tedric Thompson, who had 56 tackles and 3 interceptions last year. The defense should improve in 2015 with depth and experience both going upward.

Colorado begins the year on the road at Hawaii, which will allow them to have four non-conference games. They finish up the non-conference slate within the state of Colorado against Massachusetts (home), Colorado State (in Denver), and Nicholls State (home). In their division, Colorado has to face Arizona State, UCLA, and Utah on the road while playing Arizona and USC at home. From the North, Colorado has the quartet of Oregon (home), Oregon State (road), Stanford (home), and Washington State (road). It will be another rough year for Colorado in terms of their record, but they will be making strides this year to set them up for the next few seasons.

Overview

The Pac-12 South is very deep in terms of talent and experience, which made it hard to predict. Arizona State, UCLA, and USC seem to be the trio that stands out, but counting out Arizona and Utah would be a mistake. Colorado is clearly the worst team in the division and they will more than likely be back in the cellar this year. Below is the predicted order of finish for the Pac-12 South.

1. Arizona State

2. UCLA

3. USC

4. Arizona

5. Utah

6. Colorado

Pac-12 Championship

We predicted that Oregon would win the Pac-12 North and that will set up a Championship Game between them and Arizona State. That would be a wonderful game to see with plenty of offense on the field. We will call Oregon to win by a field goal if they were to meet and have a chance at making the College Football Playoff again.

Next week will wrap up our 2015 College Football Preview with the Southeastern Conference. Be sure to check that out on Tuesday (East) and Friday (West), respectively.

2015 College Football Preview: Pac-12 North Division

Oregon has been a perennial National Title contender since Chip Kelly's start in 2010 and has continued under Mark Helfrich (pictured above). (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America)
Oregon has been a perennial National Title contender since Chip Kelly’s start in 2010 and has continued under Mark Helfrich (pictured above). (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: Pac-12 North Division

We have reached the penultimate conference preview with the Pac-12 in focus this week. We will start with the Pac-12 North on Tuesday and finish with the Pac-12 South on Friday. The Pac-12 North is part sixteen of the Sports Enthusiasts 2015 College Football Preview. Below are the previews that have already been completed and the few that are to be completed.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

FBS Independents – July 28

Sun Belt – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

Let’s get started by looking at each team in the Pac-12 North.

1. Oregon Ducks

Oregon is well known for their flashy uniforms, but they have a pretty darn good football team as well. Since 2009, when Chip Kelly was head coach, the Ducks have won at least 10 games ever year and made the National Championship twice. However, they lost both games including last year’s to Ohio State, 42-20. Mark Helfrich has continued the success started by Kelly, but can he get them to the ultimate conclusion with a National Championship?

The offense has six starters returning from a group that put up 45.4 points and 547 yards per game. Of course, Marcus Mariota is not one of the returning starters, but the Ducks do add in Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams. Adams is very much like Mariota with his ability to throw and run while knowing how to play against Pac-12 competition. At EWU, Adams faced Washington State, Oregon State, and Washington. In those three games, he beat Oregon State 49-46 and lost to the Cougars and Huskies by a combined 11 points. Royce Freeman will be back to run the ball after rushing for 1,365 yards and 18 touchdowns. The receiving unit returns intact with the top five all coming back. Byron Marshall had 74 catches for 1,003 yards and 6 touchdowns (ran for 392 yards and a touchdown as well), Darren Carrington had 37 catches for 704 yards and 4 touchdowns, Devon Allen caught 41 passes for 684 yards and 7 touchdowns, and Dwayne Stanford had 43 catches for 639 yards and 6 touchdowns. Returning at wide out is Bralon Addison, who missed all of 2014. Only two starters are back on the line from 2014, but Tyler Johnstone returns from a torn ACL, which basically gives them three. The drop off from Mariota will be present, but it will not be nearly as bad with Adams coming in. Expect more high-flying offensive production from Oregon in 2015.

The defense has six starters back from a group that allowed 23.6 points and 430 yards per game. The line returns two starters led by DeForest Buckner, who was a monster last year. Buckner recorded 81 tackles (tied for fourth most on team), 4 sacks, 9 tackles for loss, and 4 pass breakups as a defensive end. Three linebackers return this year in Rodney Hardrick (75 tackles, 1 sack, and 5 tackles for loss), Joe Walker (81 tackles, 1 sack, and 7 tackles for loss), and Tyson Coleman (44 tackles, 3 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss). There is just one starter back in the secondary and that is Reggie Daniels. Daniels is the top returning tackler after recording 83 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 9 pass breakups, and an interception in 2014. The defense will probably put up slightly better numbers in 2015.

Oregon opens the season with a home game against Vernon Adams’ former school in Eastern Washington. They will have a tough road trip to Michigan State in the second game before welcoming Georgia State home in the final non-conference game. In division, Oregon will face Washington State, California, and Oregon State at home while taking on Washington and Stanford on the road. Oregon will have to play Utah (home), Colorado (road), Arizona State (road), and USC (home) from the South. Once again, the Ducks are a contender for the Pac-12 title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.

2. Stanford Cardinal

Stanford was completely turned around under Jim Harbaugh. In 2006, the year before Harbaugh took over, the Cardinal went 1-11. By 2010, Harbaugh led Stanford to a 12-1 record including a demolition job of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl that year. David Shaw has done a very nice job continuing that success, as he led the Cardinal to three straight double digit win seasons in 2011, 2012, and 2013. In addition, Shaw led them to three straight BCS Bowls before the bump in the road during 2014 when the Cardinal finished 8-5.

The offense has nine starters returning from a group that put up 27.2 points and 389 yards per game. Kevin Hogan will be under center again after throwing for 2,792 yards with 19 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Remound Wright had 601 yards and 11 touchdowns as the top rusher last year and he returns along with Barry Sanders Jr. (315 yards) and Christian McCaffrey (300 yards). The wide receiver group returns nearly intact except for Ty Montgomery, who led the team with 61 catches for 604 yards and 3 touchdowns. Devon Cajuste had 34 catches for 557 yards and 6 touchdowns, Austin Hooper had 40 catches for 499 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Michael Rector had 24 catches for 324 yards and 2 touchdowns. Four starters are back on the offensive line and the offense should be able to have a better year on offense.

The defense has been very good for Stanford the last five years. The “worst” season was in 2011 when they allowed 21.9 points and 338 yards per game. In 2014, the defense allowed 16.4 points and 282 yards per game with seven starters back. In 2015, only four starters return, which is the lowest number in at least 8 years. The defensive line has no starters returning, but Brennan Scarlett has transferred in from Cal. Linebacker is in much better shape than the line with two starters back. Blake Martinez is back after recording 102 tackles (#1 on team), 4.5 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 3 interceptions. Kevin Anderson also returns after recording 52 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 6 tackles for loss. The secondary has two starters back in Ronnie Harris (29 tackles and 5 tackles for loss) and Zach Hoffpauir (44 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, and 5 pass breakups). The defense is a bit of a concern and will probably not match even the “worst” defensive season on 2011. However, the defense will still be good for Stanford.

Stanford starts the season on the road at Northwestern before a home game against Central Florida. Their final non-conference game is on November 28 at home versus Notre Dame. Within their division, Stanford will face Oregon State and Washington State on the road while playing Washington, Oregon, and California at home. From the South division, the Cardinal draw USC (road), Arizona (home), UCLA (home), and Colorado (road). Stanford will probably be a win over Oregon away from the Pac-12 Championship Game and should get back to a double-digit win season in 2015.

3. California Golden Bears

Sonny Dykes will be in his third year at Cal in 2015. Both sides of the ball are trending in the right direction and the 2015 squad will be his most experienced. In 2013, Cal had just 10 returning starters and went 1-11. The number of returning starters went up to 14 last year, as did the record to 5-7. This year has 17 starters returning and will the pattern continue?

The offense went from 23 points and 454 yards per game in 2013 (five starters back) to 38.3 points and 495 yards per game in 2014 (nine starters back). There will be eight starters returning this year including all the skill positions. Jared Goff threw for 3,973 yards with 35 touchdowns and 7 interceptions and he will have all but one of his top ten receivers from 2014 to throw to. Kenny Lawler led the team with 54 catches for 701 yards and 9 touchdowns, Stephen Anderson caught 46 passes for 661 yards and 5 touchdowns, and Bryce Treggs had 52 catches for 583 yards and 6 touchdowns. Daniel Lasco is back after rushing for 1,115 yards and 12 touchdowns. The offensive line has three starters back and it would be no surprise to see the numbers go above 40 points and 500 yards per game in 2015 for Cal.

The defense allowed 45.9 points and 503 yards per game with five starters back in 2013. In 2014, the defense allowed 39.8 points and 512 yards per game with five starters back once again. For 2015, the defense has nine starters back including 12 of the top 13 tacklers from last season. The defensive line has three starters back led by Mustafa Jalil, who had 35 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss. The linebackers all return with the trio of Michael Barton (80 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 6 tackles for loss), Hardy Nickerson (69 tackles and 2 tackles for loss), and Jalen Jefferson (58 tackles, 2 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss). Three starters return in the secondary led by Cedric Dozier (52 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 5 pass breakups) and Stefan McClure (50 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and an interception). Also returning from injury is Griffin Piatt, who had 40 tackles, 1 sack, 6 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions in only six games before an injury forced him to miss the rest of the season. Expect another improvement in the defense in year three of Sonny Dykes’ tenure.

California opens with home games versus Grambling and San Diego State before a stern test on the road at Texas. Within the North division, Cal will face Washington, Oregon, and Stanford on the road while playing Washington State and Oregon State at home. From the South, Cal draws Utah (road), UCLA (road), USC (home), and Arizona State (home). Cal has not made a bowl game since 2011, but that should change in 2015 with this improved team.

4. Washington State Cougars

Mike Leach was hired by Washington State late in 2011 to coach the team. Leach had previously coached at Texas Tech from 2000 to 2009 and led the Red Raiders to a bowl game each year. Leach’s first year was in 2012 and the Cougars went 3-9, but improved to 6-7 in 2013 with a bowl appearance (lost 48-45 to Colorado State). Last year, the Cougars went back down to 3-9 and 2015 must produce a better result.

Leach’s offense are known for putting up big points and 2014 was the best year under Leach for WSU. The offense put up 31.8 points and 518 yards per game with seven starters back. This year, the number of starters returning goes up by one, to eight, but quarterback is not one of them. Connor Halliday threw for 3,873 yards with 32 touchdowns and 11 touchdowns in nine games, but departs while his heir apparent Luke Falk threw for 1,859 yards with 13 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. The running game is usually not a strong suit for Leach, but the rushing attack has been poor in his three years at WSU. The best output is 53 yards per game in 2013 and was only 40 yards rushing per game in 2014. Jamal Morrow is back after leading the team with 351 yards and Gerard Wicks ran for 234 yards and 4 touchdowns. The top two wide receivers depart (combined for 184 catches for 2,455 yards and 21 touchdowns), which will hurt, but the good thing about the Air Raid offense is that receivers always do well. River Cracraft had 66 catches for 771 yards and 8 touchdowns, Dom Williams caught 43 passes for 656 yards and 9 touchdowns, and running back Jamal Morrow had 61 catches for 460 yards. Also in the mix will be Robert Lewis (41 catches for 370 yards and 2 touchdowns), Tyler Baker (27 catches for 308 yards and 2 touchdowns), and Gabe Marks (74 catches for 807 and 7 touchdowns in 2013). The entire offensive line returns intact and despite the losses of the top two receivers and quarterback, the offense has a chance at topping last year’s production.

The defense has been a liability under Leach. In 2012, they allowed 33.7 points and 426 yards per game while they gave up 32.5 points and 458 yards per game in 2013. Last year, the defense regressed by surrendering 38.6 points and 442 yards per game. This year, six starters return with one on the defensive line in Destiny Vaeao (14 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1.5 tackles for loss). Two linebackers return in Jeremiah Allison and Kache Palacio. Allison was the second leading tackler with 78 tackles and also recorded 3.5 sacks and 5 tackles for loss. Palacio had 57 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss. The secondary will have three starters back in Darius Lemora (68 tackles), Charleston White (34 tackles, 13 pass breakups, and an interception), and Taylor Taliulu (66 tackles and 4 pass breakups). The defense should improve from last year’s poor performance and could produce the best defense yet under Leach.

Washington state has an easy non-conference schedule with Portland State (home), Rutgers (road), and Wyoming (road). WSU will face California, Oregon, and Washington on the road while playing Oregon State and Stanford at home. From the South, they will take on Arizona (road), Arizona State (home), UCLA (road), and Colorado (home). The final two weeks of the season could determine if the Cougars reach a bowl game with games versus Colorado and Washington.

5. Washington Huskies

Steve Sarkisian was the head coach at Washington from 2009 through 2013, leading the Huskies to four bowl games in five seasons. He left for USC and in came Chris Petersen for the 2014 season. Petersen went 8-6 in his first year after eight years at Boise State. How will Petersen and the Huskies perform in 2015?

The offense has five starters returning from a group that put up 30.2 points and 389 yards per game. The top returning quarterback is Jeff Lindquist with 162 yards and a touchdown. He will be battling with KJ Carta-Samuels and Jake Browning to win the job. Dwyane Washington ran for 697 yards and 9 touchdowns while Lavon Coleman had 565 yards and 1 touchdown with both returning this year. The top four receivers are back led by Jaydon Mickens, who had 60 catches for 617 yards and 4 touchdowns. Also returning are John Ross (17 catches for 371 yards and 4 touchdowns), Joshua Perkins (25 catches for 315 yards and 3 touchdowns), and Dante Pettis (17 catches 259 yards and a touchdown). The offensive line has only one returning starter and the offense will have some growing pains in year two with the losses at quarterback and on the line.

The defense was solid last year allowing just 24.8 points, but giving up 411 yards per game. This year, the defense has only four starters back. The defensive line has no starters back from a unit that allowed 124 yards rushing per game. At line backer, only Travis Feeney returns after recording 60 tackles, 1 sack, 3.4 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions. The secondary is the strength this year with three starters back led by Budda Baker. Baker had 80 tackles (#4 on team), 1 sack, 6 pass breakups, and an interception. Kevin King (65 tackles and an interception) and Sidney Jones (61 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 5 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions). The defense will be much like the offense with growing pains and may not match their points per game number from 2014.

Washington opens with Boise State on the road, in a game that is sure to be fiery. After that, they will welcome both Sacramento State and Utah State to Seattle. In division, Washington faces California, Oregon, and Washington State at home while taking on Stanford and Oregon on the road. From the South, the Huskies will face USC (road), Arizona (home), Utah (home), and Arizona State (road). The Huskies will probably need an upset or two to reach a bowl game and it could come down to the regular season finale against Washington State at home to get to 6 wins.

6. Oregon State Beavers

Mike Riley was at Oregon State from 2003 through last season, but decided to move on to Nebraska. Filling the vacancy was Gary Andersen, who was previously at Utah State (26-24 record) from 2009 through 2012 and then at Wisconsin in 2013 and 2014 (19-7 record). Andersen does not inherit the best situation, but he is known for his work on defense, which will come in handy this year.

The offense has eight starters back from a group that put up 25.7 points and 394 yards per game. Sean Mannion has graduated and that leaves Seth Collins, Nick Mitchell, and Marcus McMaryion to battle it out for the top spot with none of them having thrown a pass in college. Storm Woods will be the running back after rushing for 766 yards and 5 touchdowns. Three of the top four receivers return in Victor Bolden (72 catches for 798 yards and 2 touchdowns), Jordan Villamin (35 catches for 578 yards and 6 touchdowns), and Hunter Jarmon (20 catches for 334 yards and 1 touchdown). The offensive line has four starters back as well, but the change in schemes and lack of experience at quarterback will hurt the offense.

The defense was poor the last two years of Riley’s tenure. They allowed more than 31 points and 400 yards per game in both 2013 and 2014. This year, only two starters return making the transition difficult for Andersen. Jaswha James is back after recording 16 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 tackle for loss last year while Lavonte Barnett had better stats in only four starts. Barnett recorded 18 tackles and 4.5 sacks last year. The linebackers were decimated with the top three all gone. Those three were the second, third, and fifth leading tacklers last year and the top returner is Rommel Mageo, who had 23 tackles. The secondary has only one starter back in Larry Scott (43 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 11 pass breakups), but also have Justin Strong returning (56 tackles, 1 sack, 4 tackles for loss, and 3 pass breakups). Andersen has solid defenses, but a lot was lost this year and it may not perform better this year in the numbers.

Oregon State has Weber State (home), Michigan (road), and San Jose State (home) to start the year. In conference, OSU has Stanford and Washington at home while playing Washington State, California, and Oregon on the road. From the South, OSU will play Arizona (road), Colorado (home), Utah (home), and UCLA (home). It looks like a rough year is store for Oregon State in Andersen’s first year.

Overview

The Pac-12 North will likely come down to the Oregon at Stanford game on November 14 to determine the winner of the division. California appears to be the third best team in the division while the trio of Washington State, Washington, and Oregon State will battle for bowl eligibility and to stay out of the cellar. Below is the predicted order of finish.

1. Oregon

2. Stanford

3. California

4. Washington State

5. Washington

6. Oregon State

Check back on Friday to see a preview of the Pac-12 South as well as a prediction for the Pac-12 Championship Game.

2015 College Football Preview: Big 10 East

Ohio State won the 2015 College Football Playoff Championship. Can they do it again in 2015? (Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)
Ohio State won the 2015 College Football Playoff Championship. Can they do it again in 2015? (Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: Big 10 East

Part fifteen of Sports Enthusiasts’ 2015 College Football Preview takes a closer look at the Big 10 East division. We will also take a look at the Big 10 Championship game, giving a prediction of that projected contest as well. Below is a look at each of the conferences already previewed as well as the previews still to come.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

FBS Independents – July 28

Sun Belt – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

Let’s take a closer look at the Big 10’s East Division.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

Urban Meyer took over in 2012 and led Ohio State to a 12-0 record, but the Buckeyes were not eligible for the postseason. In 2013, the Buckeyes were on their way to the National Championship, but lost to Michigan State in the Big 10 Championship game and then also lost to Clemson in the Orange Bowl to fall to 12-2. In 2014, Ohio State suffered a shock loss at home to Virginia Tech in the second game before reeling off 13 straight wins including the inaugural College Football Playoff Championship. 2015 looks like more of the same for Ohio State: excellence.

Ohio State will have seven starters back on offense from a unit that put up 44.8 points and 512 yards per game. Of course, the trio of JT Barrett, Cardale Jones, and Braxton Miller will be back with Miller moving from quarterback to wide receiver. Barrett threw for 2,834 yards with 34 touchdown and 10 interceptions before Jones came in for the injured Barrett and threw for 860 yards with 7 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in the final three games. Ezekiel Elliott is returning at running back after rushing for 1,878 yards and 18 touchdowns. Most of the receivers return sans Devin Smith (33 catches for 931 yards and 12 touchdowns). Michael Thomas (54 catches for 788 yards and 9 touchdowns), Jalin Marshall (38 catches for 499 yards and 6 touchdowns), and Dontre Wilson (21 catches for 300 yards and 3 touchdowns) are back along with Miller moving over from QB. The offensive line has four starters back and this offense will continue to be one of the best in the nation.

The defense also returns seven starters from a group that allowed 22 points and 342 yards per game. Joey Bosa returns on the line after recording 53 tackles, 13.5 sacks, and 7.5 tackles for loss while being named 1st Team All-American last year. He will miss the opening game against Virginia Tech along with Jalin Marshall. Joshua Perry (124 tackles, 3 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss) and Darron Lee (81 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 9 tackles for loss) return at linebacker after those two were the #1 and #3 tacklers last year respectively. The secondary has three starters back led by Vonn Bell (92 tackles, 6 pass breakups, and 6 interceptions) and Tyvis Powell (76 tackles, 4 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions). The defense will be solid once again and could improve on the numbers they allowed last year.

Ohio State opens up with Virginia Tech on the road and will surely be looking to exact a measure of revenge. Their final three non-conference games are at home against Hawaii, Northern, Illinois, and Western Michigan. The Buckeyes will face Indiana, Rutgers, and Michigan on the road while playing Maryland, Penn State, and Michigan State at home. From the West, Ohio State has Minnesota (home) and Illinois (road). Ohio State is clearly the team to beat not only in the East, but all of the Big 10. Ohio State has an excellent chance at running the table and making it back-to-back National Championships in 2015.

2. Michigan State Spartans

Since 2010, Michigan State has been one of the elite teams in the Big 10 with four season of at least 11 wins. 2013 was the best year under Mark Dantonio when they went 13-1 winning both the Big 10 and the Rose Bowl that season. 2014 was another very good year with MSU going 11-2 including that incredible come from behind win against Baylor in the Cotton Bowl. What will 2015 bring?

The offense has seven starters back led by quarterback Connor Cook. Cook threw for 3,214 yards with 24 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. The trio of Madre London, LJ Scott, and Gerald Holmes will look to replace the production of Jeremy Langford (1,522 yards and 22 touchdowns). The top two receivers are gone, but returning are Macgarrett Kings (29 catches for 404 yards and a touchdown), Josiah Price (26 catches for 374 yards and 6 touchdowns), and Aaron Burbridge (29 catches for 358 yards and a touchdown). RJ Shelton is coming over from running back after grabbing 16 passes for 173 yards and 2 touchdowns. The offensive line has four starters back as well. The offense put up 43 points and 501 yards of offense last year and probably will not match those numbers. However, they can still put up plenty of offense with Cook commanding the offense.

The defense has seven starters back from a group that allowed 21.5 points and 316 yards per game. The line has three starters back in Lawrence Thomas (30 tackles and 3 sacks), Joel Heath (29 tackles and 2.5 sacks), and Shilique Calhoun (39 tackles, 8 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss). The linebacking unit has Ed Davis (48 tackles, 7 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss) and Darien Harris (48 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and an interception) back. The secondary has Darian Hicks and RJ Williamson (59 tackles and 3 interceptions) back to help against the pass. The numbers Michigan State allowed in 2014 were pretty good and could improve even more in 2015.

The Spartans have Western Michigan on the road to start the season before a big game at home against Oregon. They round out non-conference play with Air Force and Central Michigan at home as well. In conference, they will face Rutgers, Michigan, and Ohio State on the road while playing Indiana, Maryland, and Penn State at home. From the East, MSU has to play Purdue (home) and Nebraska (road). Michigan State has a chance to win the East if they can upset Ohio State on November 21 along with everything else falling in place. At the least, Michigan State should see another 10+ win season under Dantonio.

3. Michigan Wolverines

Brady Hoke came to Michigan in 2011 with a lot of hype. In his first year, he seemed to validate the hype by going 11-2 and leading Michigan to a Sugar Bowl victory. The next three seasons were all downhill for the Wolverines as they went 8-5 in 2012 to 7-6 in 2013 to 5-7 in 2014, which ended Hoke’s tenure at Michigan. Enter Jim Harbaugh for 2015 and he has created a lot of excitement as well as the constant headlines without coaching a game at UM. What could the actual football season produce then?

The offense for Michigan has eight starters returning from a group that produced a lackluster 20.9 points and 333 yards per game. There will be a battle for the quarterback duties between Iowa transfer Jake Rudock (2,436 yards with 16 touchdowns and 5 interceptions last year) and Shane Morris (128 yards and 3 interceptions in backup duty). The running back trio of De’Veon Smith (519 yards and 6 touchdowns), Derrick Green (471 yards and 3 touchdowns), and Drake Johnson (361 yards and 4 touchdowns) will be joined by USC transfer Ty Isaac (236 yards in 2013). Devin Funchess has departed, but the next four receivers all return. Amara Darboh had 36 catches for 473 yards and 2 touchdowns, Jake Butt had 21 catches for 211 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Jehu Chesson won 14 catches for 154 yards. There are four starters back on the offensive line and the Michigan offense should be able to produce much better this year compared to 2014.

The defense has seven starters back from a unit that allowed 22.4 points and 311 yards in a solid year. The line has two starters back from a unit that allowed 118 rushing yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry. The top returning linebacker this year will be Joe Bolden after recording 102 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss last year. The secondary will be strong with three returning starters and Stanford transfer Wayne Lyons. Lyons had 124 tackles in 22 starts in his three years at Stanford. Jarrod Wilson will be safety again this year after recording 50 tackles last year, which was good enough for third on the team. The defense will be solid once again, even in Harbaugh’s first season.

Michigan has a tough non-conference schedule with the opening game against Utah on the road before three straight home games versus Oregon State, UNLV, and BYU. In conference, they will play Maryland, Indiana, and Penn State on the road and take on Michigan State, Rutgers, and Ohio State at home. From the East, Michigan faces Northwestern (home) and Minnesota (road). Harbaugh should be able to lead Michigan back to a bowl game and might have a chance to reach 10 wins with a victory in the bowl game.

4. Penn State Nittany Lions

Bill O’Brien took over in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and did quite well given the sanctions levied against Penn State. He led PSU to back-to-back winning seasons going 8-4 in 2012 and 7-5 in 2013. The Nittany Lions were not eligible for a bowl either season due to the scandal and O’Brien left to take over the Houston Texans in the NFL. James Franklin became head coach in 2014 and led PSU to a 7-6 record and one point win in the Pinstripe bowl over Boston College.

The offense will have eight starters back from a group that put up 20.6 points and 335 yards per game. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg threw for 2,977 yards with 12 touchdowns and 15 interceptions while being considered by some as the top prospect of the 2016 NFL Draft. Akeel Lynch ran for 678 yards and 4 touchdowns despite only starting two games last year. Three of the top four receivers are returning led by DaeSean Hamilton, who had 82 catches for 899 yards and 2 touchdowns as a freshman. Geno Lewis (55 catches for 751 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Chris Godwin (26 catches for 338 yards and 2 touchdowns) return as well. With four starters back on the offensive line, the offense should perform better in 2015 with a year of Franklin’s schemes under their belts.

The defense was excellent in 2014 allowing just 18.6 points and 279 yards per game. They now return seven starters from last year including the second through sixth leading tacklers. The line has Austin Johnson (49 tackles, 1 sack, and 5 tackles for loss) and Anthony Zettel (42 tackles, 8 sacks, 9 tackles for loss, and 3 interceptions) back from a unit that allowed only 100 yards rushing per game and 2.9 yards per carry. Two are back at linebacker led by Nyeem Wartman, who had 75 tackles (#2 on team). They do lose Mike Hull, who was fantastic in 2014 with 140 tackles, 2 sacks, and 8.5 tackles for loss. The secondary will have three starters back in Trevor Williams (27 tackles, 5 pass breakups, 2 interceptions), Jordan Lucas (58 tackles, 2 sacks, and 9 pass breakups), and Marcus Allen (58 tackles, 1 sack, and 3 pass breakups) to make this one of the better secondaries in the Big 10. The defense could match last year’s numbers, but at the very least, should be solid again.

Penn State opens with a road game at Temple before facing Buffalo, San Diego State, and Army at home to close out the non-conference slate. Rutgers, Indiana, Michigan will be coming to State College while PSU will travel to play Ohio State, Maryland (Baltimore), and Michigan State. From the West, Penn State will take on Illinois (home) and Northwestern (road). The Nittany Lions should be better in 2015 and could have a chance to win 10 games with an upset or two.

5. Indiana Hoosiers

Kevin Wilson has been in charge at Indiana since 2011 and has yet to make a bowl game. He has an overall record of 14-34 and his best chance of making a bowl game was in 2013 when the Hoosiers went 5-7. The offense has not been much of an issue under Wilson while the defense is the Achilles heel in his tenure thus far. Will the defense be good enough to reach 6-6 in 2015?

The offense has seven starters back after putting up 25.1 points and 405 yards per game. Gone is Tevin Coleman, who ran for 2,036 yards and 15 touchdowns. Replacing Coleman is UAB transfer Jordan Howard, who ran for 1,587 and 13 touchdowns in 2014. He probably will not match Coleman’s output, but he is quite the pick up to replace him. Nate Sudfeld started the first six games throwing for 1,151 yards with 6 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, but suffered a shoulder injury that knocked him out for the year. Zander Diamont came in to start the last six and threw for 515 yards with 1 touchdown and 4 interceptions. He was also more mobile than Sudfeld and ran for 133 yards and 2 touchdowns. Receiver is a bit of a concern with the top returning target in J-Shun Harris. Harris had only 18 catches for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns. Camion Patrick has transferred from junior college while Dominique Booth (8 catches for 70 yards) and Simmie Cobbs (7 catches for 114 yards) could step up. There are four starters back on the offensive line to provide ample time for the receivers and running backs. The offense should be able to improve this season with a healthy quarterback.

The defense has five starters back from a unit that allowed 32.8 points and 434 yards per game. Those numbers were the best under Wilson in his tenure, but will need to get better if Indiana is to make a bowl game this year. The line has three starters back led by Nick Mangieri, who had 37 tackles, 2 sacks, and an interception. TJ Simmons is the lone linebacker returning after recording 72 tackles (#2 on team), 2 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss. The only returning member of the secondary is Antonio Allen, who led the team with 74 tackles, but also had 1 sack, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions. The defense will probably have similar numbers to last year, which puts the burden on the offense.

Indiana opens the year with three home games against Southern Illinois, Florida International, and Western Kentucky. Their final non-conference game is on the road at Wake Forest, but they could be 4-0 heading into conference play. In division play, Indiana has Ohio State, Rutgers, and Michigan at home while facing Penn State, Michigan State, and Maryland on the road. From the West, Indiana has to play Iowa (home) and Purdue (road). If Indiana goes 4-0 in non-conference play, they have an excellent chance at reaching 6-6 by winning two of three against Rutgers, Maryland, and Purdue.

6. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Kyle Flood started at Rutgers in 2012 when they were still in the Big East. He went 9-4 in this first year, then dropped down to 6-7 in 2013 when Rutgers was in The American. 2014 was the first season of Rutgers’ Big 10 career and it ended well with an 8-5 record and a 40-21 dusting of North Carolina in the Quick Lane bowl. 2015 could a rough year for Rutgers after early success in the Big 10.

The offense will have five starters back from a unit that put up 26.7 points and 390 yards per game. Quarterback will most likely go to Chris Laviano, who threw for only 107 yards with 1 interception in backup duty behind Gary Nova last year. There is a plethora of running backs returning with the top five rushers from 2014 all back. Paul James started the first four games and rushed for 363 yards with 5 touchdowns, but was injured and missed the rest of the year. Desmon Peoples was the top rusher with 447 yards and 3 touchdowns while Josh Hicks ran for 440 yards and 2 touchdowns. Robert Martin added 434 yards and 7 touchdowns while Justin Goodwin had 328 yards and a touchdown. The top receiver returns for Rutgers in Leonte Carroo, who caught 55 passes for 1,086 yards and 10 touchdowns. Janarion Grant also returns after having 25 catches for 312 yards. There are three starters back on the line and there is plenty of pieces in place for the offense to match last year’s numbers.

The defense has slumped the last two years for Rutgers. In 2013, the defense gave up 29.8 points and 413 yards per game with only four starters back. Last year, the defense did worse by allowing 30.2 points and 443 yards per game with seven starters back. There will be five starters back this season with two residing on the defensive line. Darius Hamilton had 45 tackles, 6 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss and Djwany Mera had 18 tackles and 1.5 sacks last year will lead the line this year. Quentin Gause is one of two returning linebackers after recording 72 tackles, 1 sack, and 6 tackles for loss. The other is Steve Longa, who led the team with 102 tackles and also recorded 2 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. Just one starter is back in the secondary and that is Nadir Barnwell. He had 29 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 4 pass breakups last year. The defense could struggle again in 2015 for the third straight year.

Rutgers opens the season with Norfolk State and Washington State at home. Their non-conference schedule also includes Kansas at home and a road trip to Army on November 21. Rutgers will face Penn State, Indiana, and Michigan on the road while playing Michigan State, Ohio State, and Maryland at home. From the West, Rutgers has to play Wisconsin (road) and Nebraska (home) in one of the toughest draws. Rutgers will need a couple of upsets to reach another bowl game in 2015.

7. Maryland Terrapins

Randy Edsall came to Maryland from Connecticut in 2011 after leading Connecticut to a Fiesta Bowl appearance in 2010. It has been a steady improvement under Edsall with the Terps going 2-10 in 2011 and 4-8 in 2012. The past two seasons have produced identical 7-6 records. What does 2015 have in store for Edsall and company?

The offense has six starters back from a group that produced 28.5 points and 342 yards per game. Caleb Rowe will take over the quarterback duties. He threw for 489 yards with 5 touchdowns and 4 interceptions last year, but does have starting experience dating back to the 2013 campaign. The top rusher last year was quarterback CJ Brown, who had 539 yards, but he has departed. Brandon Ross ran for 419 yards and 4 touchdowns while Wes Brown had 356 yards and 6 touchdowns. They will need to be much more productive in 2015 if the offense is to perform better. Stefon Diggs was the top receiver the last few years, but he has gone on to the NFL. Marcus Leak is the top returning receiver with 20 catches for 297 yards and 3 touchdowns. Jacquille Veil had 16 catches for 230 yards and a touchdown while Amba Etta-Tawo had 10 grabs for 22 yards and 1 touchdown. The offensive line has three starters back, but the losses may hurt the Terps this year.

The defense has only four starters back this season. Last year’s group allowed 30.2 points and 436 yards per game with nine starters returning. Yannick Ngakoue is back on the line after recording 37 tackles, 6 sacks, and 7.5 tackles for loss. The linebacking unit was decimated with no starters returning. Jermaine Carter is the top linebacker returning after recording 27 tackles in 2014. The secondary is the strength of the defense with three starters back including Sean Davis at safety. He had 115 tackles, 1 sack, 3 tackles for loss, and 8 pass breakups last season. Despite the strong secondary, the defense will have some issues with the lack of experience in the front seven.

Maryland opens the season with Richmond, Bowling Green, and South Florida at home before traveling to face West Virginia on the road. They will play Michigan, Penn State (Baltimore), and Indiana at home while going on the road to take on Ohio State, Michigan State, and Rutgers. From the West, they will have to play Iowa (road) and Wisconsin (home). Maryland will get close to bowl eligibility, but may have to settle for a rebuilding year with the lack of experience in 2015.

Overview

The Big 10 East appears to be fairly easy to discern. Ohio State is clearly the top team while Michigan State is the only challenger to them. Michigan and Penn State are in the next tier while Indiana, Rutgers, and Maryland will battle to stay out of the cellar. Below is the predicted order of finish.

1. Ohio State

2. Michigan State

3. Michigan

4. Penn State

5. Indiana

6. Rutgers

7. Maryland

Big 10 Championship

Wisconsin was predicted as the winner of the Big 10 West division earlier this week, which sets up a rematch of 2014’s Big 10 Championship Game. In a game between Wisconsin and Ohio State, we will go with Ohio State to win again and to make the College Football Playoff.

The Pac-12 Conference will be previewed next week with the North Division on Tuesday and the South Division on Friday.

2015-16 Road To The Derby Series Announced

Photo courtesy of KentuckyDerby.com
Photo courtesy of KentuckyDerby.com

2015-16 Road To The Derby Series Announced

The 2015-16 Road to the Derby Series was announced on Wednesday with a few tweaks. The Road to the Derby series will determine which horses can enter the Kentucky Derby via a points system. There are two separate categories for the races with the first 19 races comprising the Kentucky Derby Prep Season. Those races will award 10 points to first, 4 points to second, 2 points to third, and 1 point to fourth.

There tweak comes in for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile where the points are doubled. The winner receives 20 points, second place receives 8 points, 4 points will go to third, and 2 points to the fourth place finishers. It is also the same for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies where the points are doubled.

The 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies will take place at Keeneland this year on October 31.

The final 16 races of the Road to the Derby series is called the Kentucky Derby Championship Series. Here, the points are even greater with wins going for 50 or 100 points. There is one wild card race, the Lexington Stakes, that will award only 10, 4, 2, and 1 points to the top four finishers respectively.

The table below is the schedule for the 2015-16 Road to the Derby. Please note that the dates for the stakes races beyond the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile are tentative and subject to change. The same is true for the grade of the races, which are subject to change near the end of the year.

DateTrackRaceGradeDistancePreviewRecapPoints AwardedWinner2nd Place3rd Place4th Place
9/12/2015Churchill DownsIroquoisIII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap10-4-2-1Cocked and LoadedRated R SuperstarUnbridled OutlawConquest Windycity
9/26/2015Santa AnitaFrontRunnerI1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap10-4-2-1NyquistSwipeHollywood DonRare Candy
10/3/2015Belmont ParkChampagneI1 MilePreviewRecap10-4-2-1GreenpointcrusaderSunny RidgePortfolio ManagerSail Ahoy
10/3/2015KeenelandBreeders' FuturityI1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap10-4-2-1Brody's CauseExaggeratorRated R SuperstarSticksstatelydude
10/4/2015WoodbineGreyIII1 1/16 Miles (Synthetic)PreviewRecap10-4-2-1RikerKasseopia (GB)TizzarunnerVan Damme
10/31/2015KeenelandBreeders' Cup JuvenileI1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap20-8-4-2NyquistSwipeBrody's CauseExaggerator
11/21/2015Delta DownsDelta Downs JackpotIII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap10-4-2-1ExaggeratorSunny RidgeHarlan PunchFound Money
11/28/2015AqueductRemsenII1 1/8 MilesPreviewRecap10-4-2-1MohaymenFlexibilityGift BoxSail Ahoy
11/28/2015Churchill DownsKentucky Jockey ClubII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap10-4-2-1AiroforceMor SpiritMo TomGun Runner
12/19/2015Los AlamitosLos Alamitos FuturityI1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap10-4-2-1Mor SpiritToews On IceI'malreadythereUrlacher
1/2/2016AqueductJeromeIII1 Mile 70 YardsPreviewRecap10-4-2-1FlexibilityVorticityIn EqualityBird of Trey
1/9/2016Santa AnitaShamIII1 MilePreviewRecap10-4-2-1CollectedLet's Meet In RioLaobanFound Money
1/16/2016Fair GroundsLecomteIII1 Mile 70 YardsPreviewRecap10-4-2-1Mo TomTom's ReadyUncle WalterDestin
1/18/2016OaklawnSmarty Jones1 MilePreviewRecap10-4-2-1DiscreetnessGordy FloridaSynchronyLuna de Loco
1/30/2016GulfstreamHoly BullII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap10-4-2-1MoyahemGreenpointcrusaderFellowshipConquest Big E
1/30/2016AqueductWithersIII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap10-4-2-1Sunny RidgeVorticityAdventistFlexibility
2/6/2016Santa AnitaRobert B. LewisIII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap10-4-2-1Mor SpiritUncle LinoI Will ScoreDressed In Hermes
2/13/2016Golden GateEl Camino Real DerbyIII1 1/8 Miles (Synthetic)PreviewRecap10-4-2-1Frank ConversationTuskKasseopia (GB)San Dimas
2/15/2016OaklawnSouthwestIII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap10-4-2-1SuddenbreakingnewsWhitemoreAmerican DubaiCollected
2/20/2016Fair GroundsRisen StarII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap50-20-10-5Gun RunnerForevamoMo TomCandy My Boy
2/27/2016GulfstreamFountain of YouthII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap50-20-10-5MohaymenZuluFellowshipAwesome Speed
3/5/2016AqueductGotham StakesIII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap50-20-10-5ShagafLaobanAdventistSunny Ridge
3/12/2016Tampa BayTamp Bay DerbyII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap50-20-10-5DestinOutworkStar HillRafting
3/12/2016Santa AnitaSan FelipeII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap50-20-10-5Danzing CandyMor SpiritExaggeratorUncle Lino
3/19/2016OaklawnRebel StakesII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap50-20-10-5CupidWhitmoreCreatorCherry Wine
3/20/2016SunlandSunland Derby (Cancelled)III1 1/8 MilesCancellation NoticeNo Points AwardedN/AN/AN/AN/A
3/26/2016MeydanUAE Derby1 3/16 MilesN/ARecap100-40-20-10LaniPolar RiverYu ChangeVale Dori
3/26/2016Fair GroundsLouisiana DerbyII1 1/8 MilesPreviewRecap100-40-20-10Gun RunnerTom's ReadyDazzling GemMo Tom
4/2/2016TurfwaySpiral StakesIII1 1/8 Miles (Synthetic)PreviewRecap50-20-10-5Oscar NominatedAzarSurgical StrikeTwo Step Time
4/2/2016GulfstreamFlorida DerbyI1 1/8 MilesPreviewRecap100-40-20-10NyquistMajestoFellowshipMohaymen
4/9/2016AqueductWood MemorialI1 1/8 MilesPreviewPreview100-40-20-10OutworkTrojan NationAdventistMatt King Coal
4/9/2016KeenelandBlue GrassI1 1/8 MilesPreviewPreview100-40-20-10Brody's CauseMy Man SamCherry WineLaoban
4/9/2016Santa AnitaSanta Anita DerbyI1 1/8 MilesPreviewRecap100-40-20-10ExaggeratorMor SpiritUncle LinoDanzing Candy
4/16/2016OaklawnArkansas DerbyI1 1/8 MilesPreviewRecap100-40-20-10CreatorSuddenbreakingnewsWhitmoreDazzling Gem
4/16/2016KeenelandLexington StakesIII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap10-4-2-1CollectedOne More RoundSynchronyDirect Message

The 2015-16 Road to the Oaks is comprised of 31 races. The first 16 races are called the Kentucky Oaks Prep Season and award 10 points to the winner, 4 points to second place, 2 points to third, and 1 point to the fourth place finisher, except for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (20-8-4-2).

The final 15 races are called the Kentucky Oaks Championship Series and awards 50 or 100 points to the winner, depending on the race. The Beaumont at Keeneland is the wild card race with a 10-4-2-1 points payout.

Below is the 2015-16 Road to the Oaks schedule. As with the Derby, the dates are tentative and subject to change. The graded status can also change prior to the end of the year.

DateTrackRaceGradeDistancePreviewRecapPoints AwardedWinner2nd Place3rd Place4th Place
9/12/2015Churchill DownsPocahontasII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap10-4-2-1Dothraki QueenDream DanceBold QualityJust Wicked
9/26/2015Santa AnitaChandelierI1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap10-4-2-1SongbirdLand Over SeaRight ThereVieja Luna
10/2/2015KeenelandAlcibiadesI1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap10-4-2-1GomoDothraki QueenMa Can Do ItPut Da Blame On Me
10/3/2015Belmont ParkFrizetteI1 MilePreviewRecap10-4-2-1NicknameNemoraliaShe's All ReadyWidth
10/4/2015WoodbineMazarineIII1 1/16 Miles (Synthetic)PreviewRecap10-4-2-1Gamble's GhostSwoop and StrikeGaravogue ColleenAudacious Bear
10/31/2015KeenelandBreeders' Cup Juvenile FilliesI1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap20-8-4-2SongbirdRachel's ValentinaDothraki QueenNickname
11/21/2015Delta DownsDelta Downs PrincessIII1 MilePreviewRecap10-4-2-1Jet Black MagicLa AppassionataAbove FashionLearning Curve
11/28/2015AqueductDemoiselleII1 1/8 MilesPreviewRecap10-4-2-1Lewis BayThrilledDisco RoseFlora Dora
11/28/2015Churchill DownsGolden RodII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap10-4-2-1Carina MiaStageplayDream DanceDothraki Queen
12/12/2015Los AlamitosStarletI1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap10-4-2-1Street FancyStays In VegasSutton's SmilePretty N Cool
1/2/2016Santa AnitaSanta YnezII6.5 FurlongsPreviewRecap10-4-2-1Forever DarlingCode WarriorPretty N CoolTreasuring
1/16/2016Fair GroundsSilverbulletday1 Mile 70 YardsPreviewRecap10-4-2-1StageplayMidnight On OconeeJet Black MagicLovable Lyss
1/30/2016GulfstreamForward GalII7 FurlongsPreviewRecap10-4-2-1Cathryn SophiaIsland SaintBallet DivaRontos Lily
1/31/2016 (Rescheduled from 1/23/16)AqueductBusanda1 Mile 70 YardsPreviewRecap10-4-2-1Flora DoraScatooshLost RavenDreams To Reality
2/6/2016OaklawnMartha Washington1 MilePreviewRecap10-4-2-1Marquee MissNicknameDorodansaDurango
2/6/2016Santa AnitaLas VirgenesII1 MilePreviewRecap10-4-2-1SongbirdLand Over SeaShe's A WarriorMerirosvo
2/20/2016Fair GroundsRachel AlexandraII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap50-20-10-5Venus ValentineMidnight On OconeeShakenRoyal Obsession
2/27/2016AqueductBusher1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap50-20-10-5Mo d'AmourDreams To RealityKatniss The VictorFlora Dora
2/27/2016GulfstreamDavona DaleII1 MilePreviewRecap50-20-10-5Cathryn SophiaLewis BayDearestR Girls A Charmer
3/3/2016MeydanUAE Oaks1 3/16 MilesN/AN/A50-20-10-5Polar RiverVale DoriDolly Dagger
3/5/2016Santa AnitaSanta YsabelIII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap50-20-10-5SongbirdLand Over SeaMokatJade Princess
3/12/2016OaklawnHoneybeeIII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap50-20-10-5Terra PromessaNicknameCosmic EvolutionDorodansa
3/20/2016SunlandSunland Oaks (Cancelled)1 1/16 MilesCancellation NoticeN/ANo Points AwardedN/AN/AN/AN/A
3/26/2016Fair GroundsFair Grounds OaksII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap100-40-20-10Land Over SeaDream DanceAdoreNorthwest Tale
4/2/2016TurfwayBourbonette OaksIII1 Mile (Synthetic)PreviewRecap50-20-10-5WondermentInconclusiveMarquee MissMiss Meteor
4/2/2016GulfstreamGulfstream Park OaksII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap100-40-20-10Go Maggie GoPaola QueenOff The TracksGomo
4/9/2016Santa AnitaSanta Anita OaksI1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap100-40-20-10SongbirdMokatShe's A WarriorForever Darling
4/9/2016AqueductGazelleII1 1/8 MilesPreviewRecap100-40-20-10Lewis BayRoyal ObsessionMo d'AmourDreams To Reality
4/9/2016KeenelandAshlandI1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap100-40-20-10Weep No MoreRachel's ValentinaCathryn SophiaCarina Mia
4/9/2016OaklawnFantasyIII1 1/16 MilesPreviewRecap100-40-20-10Terra PromessaTaxableReady To ConfessCosmic Evolution
4/17/2016KeenelandBeaumontIII7 FurlongsPreviewRecap10-4-2-1LightstreamNicknameKinsley KissesR Girls A Charmer

As with the 2015 Road to the Derby, previews and recaps of each race can be found here on Sports Enthusiasts.

2015 College Football Preview: Big 10 West

Corey Clement has big shoes to fill in replacing Melvin Gordon while Wisconsin has been to three of the first four Big 10 Championship Games. (Mike McGinnis/Getty Images North America)
Corey Clement has big shoes to fill in replacing Melvin Gordon while Wisconsin has been to three of the first four Big 10 Championship Games. (Mike McGinnis/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: Big 10 West

Part fourteen of Sports Enthusiasts’ 2015 College Football Preview delves into the Big 10’s West Division. There are only three conferences left in the preview series with the Pac-12 and SEC still a few weeks down the road. Below is the schedule of conference previews completed and those still to come.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

FBS Independents – July 28

Sun Belt – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

The Big 10 West Division is broken down below.

1. Wisconsin Badgers

Bret Bielema bolted Wisconsin after the 2012 season to go to Arkansas while Gary Andersen came in for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. He led the Badgers to a 9-4 record in 2013 before a double digit win season in 2014 including a 59-0 destruction at the hands of Ohio State in the Big 10 Championship. He too bolted Madison and went West to Oregon State. Paul Chryst returns to his alma mater where he played quarterback from 1986 to 1988 and was the offensive coordinator from 2005 through 2011. He was also the head coach at Pittsburgh from 2012 t0 2014.

The offense was very good under Andersen where they had nearly identical output over his two years. In 2013, they put up 34.8 points and 481 yards per game and it was 34.6 points and 469 yards in 2014. The offense has five starters back with Joel Stave not having to worry about another QB. Stave threw for 1,350 yards with 9 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Melvin Gordon is gone after his monstrous season with 2,587 yards with 29 touchdowns, but Corey Clement is willing to try and fill the void. Clement had 949 yards and 9 touchdowns rushing while Dare Ogunbowale had 193 yards and a touchdown on only 34 carries. The go to guy last year, Alex Erickson, is back after recording 55 catches for 772 yards and 3 touchdowns. Troy Fumagalli caught 14 passes for 187 yards last year and a second wide receiver will need to develop in 2015. The offensive line also has only two starters returning, but the quarterback numbers should be better with Chryst in charge. The loss of Gordon will hurt, but the offense should be solid even with Chryst coming in.

The defense for Wisconsin is constantly solid. Between 2009 and 2014, the defense has not yielded more than 22 points and 325 yards per game. The defense had only 3 starters back in 2014 and allowed 20.8 points and 294 yards per game. There are six starters back including most of the secondary. Chikwe Obasih had 21 tackles and 1.5 sacks in seven starts. The depth is also better after plaguing them the past two seasons. The linebacker unit has the two outside ‘backers returning in Vince Biegel (56 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 9 tackles for loss) and Joe Schobert (69 tackles, 3 sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 7 pass breakups). The secondary has three starters back led by Michael Caputo. Caputo was the top tackler last year with 106 stops while also recording 1 sack, 5 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups, and an interception. Darius Hillary and Sojourn Shelton will be at the cornerback spots, but need to interception more passes after those two failed to record any in 2014. Tanner McEvoy has also moved to safety after splitting time at quarterback and safety in 2014.

Wisconsin opens with a daunting game in Arlington, Texas against Alabama that will surely test them to their highest capability. After that, it is much easier with the trio of Miami (OH), Troy, and Hawaii all coming to Madison. In conference, Wisconsin faces Iowa, Purdue, and Northwestern at home while playing Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota on the road. From the East division, the Badgers take on Rutgers (home) and Maryland (road). The Badgers will surely make a bowl game in 2015 and can expect to be the team to beat for the West, but they have their question marks.

2. Northwestern Wildcats

Pat Fitzgerald did something that only Bob Voigts was able to do: win a bowl game. Voigts won the 1949 Rose Bowl while Fitzgerald won the 2012 Gator Bowl after losing the previous four bowl games. Since that 2012 season, Northwestern has not been back to a bowl game after back-to-back 5-7 seasons that have been filled with injuries. 2015 must result in a bowl game for the Wildcats and Fitzgerald.

The offense sputtered last year after putting up 23 points and 353 yards per game despite eight starters back. This year, the offense will have six starters back, but one of them will not be at quarterback. That may not be a bad thing as Trevor Siemian only threw for 2,214 yards with 7 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Zack Oliver threw for 367 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions, but he will be battling with Clayton Thorson and Matt Alviti for the starting job. Justin Jackson is back after a stellar freshman season. Despite only starting five games, Jackson ran for 1,187 yards with 10 touchdowns while also catching 22 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown. There is plenty of talent back at wide receiver with Dan Vitale leading the way. He had 40 catches for 402 yards and 2 touchdowns. Cameron Dickerson (24 catches for 318 yards and a touchdown) and Miles Shuler (23 catches for 190 yards) back as well. The biggest returner is Christian Jones, who had a solid 2013 season with 668 yards, but missed all of 2014. The offensive line has three starters back and the entire offense should be able to perform better this year.

The defense was decent in 2014 with seven starters back, giving up 25.2 points and 384 yards per game. Eight starters are back in 2015, the most for Fitzgerald since 2009 (gave up 24.5 points and 350 yards per game). The entire defensive line is back led by Dean Lowry, who had 41 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and 8 pass breakups. The linebacking unit is the worry for Northwestern with only Anthony Walker returning (51 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions). The secondary is another strength with three starters back. Traveon Henry had 73 tackles (#2 on team) and 2.5 tackles for loss while Matthew Harris had 70 tackles (#3 on team), 3.5 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The defense should be solid once again for Northwestern and should improve on the numbers the allowed last season.

Northwestern does not have an easy start to the season with Stanford coming to town followed by Eastern Illinois. A road trip against Duke comes before their final non-conference game against Ball State at home. In conference, the Wildcats will face Minnesota, Iowa, and Purdue at home while taking on Nebraska and Wisconsin on the road. They also face Illinois in Chicago on the final weekend in November. From the East, they will have the pleasure of facing Michigan (road) and Penn State (home) in two tough games. All around, Northwestern should be better in 2015 and could have a chance to take the division with a win over Wisconsin (Nov. 21).

3. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Nebraska was led by Bo Pelini starting in 2008 and going through 2014. During that time, Pelini led Nebraska to at least 9 wins each year including three 10 win seasons. Pelini, however, did not make a BCS or Group of Five bowl in that time and was let go after the 2014 season. Mike Riley comes over from Oregon State after 15 years there and only once led the Beavers to at least 10 wins (2006).

The offense has six starters back from a group that put up 37.8 points and 452 yards of offense per game. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong threw for 2,695 yards with 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while also rushing for 705 yards and 6 touchdowns as the teams second leading rusher. Ameer Abdullah will not be back, which leaves Imani Cross (384 yards and 5 touchdowns) and Terrell Newby (297 yards and 5 touchdowns) as the top returning running backs. Nearly all of the receivers return led by Jordan Westerkamp (44 catches for 747 yards and 5 touchdowns) and De’Mornay Pierson-El (23 catches for 321 yards and 4 touchdowns). The offensive line has two starters back at the tackles. The offense will probably not put up the same numbers as they did last year with a new coach and new schemes.

The defense has six starters back from a unit that allowed 26.4 points and 384 yards per game. Three starters are back on the defensive line that gave up 178 yards and 4.7 yards per carry last year. Greg McMullen (4 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, and 4 pass breakups), Maliek Collins (45 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 9.5 tackles for loss), and Vincent Valentine (45 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and 2 pass breakups) are the returners. David Santos is the lone returning linebacker after recording 50 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 1 interception. The secondary has two starters back led by Nathan Gerry (#1 tackler), who had 88 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, 4 pass breakups, and 5 interceptions en route to making the 2nd Team Big 10 squad. There may be some growing pains in 2015, but the numbers should not fluctuate too much.

Nebraska opens with BYU and South Alabama at home before traveling to face Miami (FL) on the road and getting Southern Miss at home. The Cornhuskers face Illinois, Minnesota, and Purdue on the road while playing Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Iowa at home. From the East, Nebraska will take on Michigan State (home) and Rutgers (road). Nebraska should be in a bowl game in 2015 and could even make the Big 10 Championship Game with a few stumbles and surprises.

4. Illinois Fighting Illini

Ron Zook was in charge of Illinois from 2005 through 2011 and led the Illini to three bowl games including the 2007 Rose Bowl. Zook was let go before the 2011 bowl game that Illinois won 20-14 over UCLA. Tim Beckman came in starting with the 2012 season and went 2-10 followed by a 4-8 record in 2013. The Illini had to make a bowl game in 2014 for Beckman to keep his job and they did, but lost to Louisiana Tech 35-18. 2015 is another chance for Illinois to make a bowl game.

The offense put up 25.9 points and 367 yards per game in 2014 with Wes Lunt taking over at quarterback. Lunt had injury issues throughout the season while finishing with 1,763 with 14 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Josh Ferguson is returning at running back after a sub par year with only 735 yards and 8 touchdowns. Ferguson also was the team’s third leading receiver with 50 catches for 427 yards and 2 touchdowns. Mike Dudek led the team in receiving as a freshman in 2014 with 76 catches for 1,038 yards and 6 touchdowns, but tore his ACL in April. He status for 2015 is still up in the air. Geronimo Allison (41 catches for 598 yards and 5 touchdowns), Malik Turner (25 catches for 256 yards and a touchdown), and Justin Hardee (19 catches for 240 yards and a touchdown) all return in case Dudek is unable to go. Three starters are back on the offensive line to bring the total up to eight for the offense. A healthy Lunt will mean higher numbers for the Illini offense even if Dudek is out for the year.

Defense has been an issue for Illinois under Beckman, as the unit has not allowed less than 32 points per game in his tenure. Last year, the defense gave up 34 points and 456 yards per game with seven starters back. That same number is back this year with Jihad Ward and Rob Bain back on the line. Ward had 51 tackles, 3 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss last year. Two linebackers return in Mason Monheim and TJ Neal, which is good news for Illinois. Monheim had 111 tackles (#1 on team), 1 sack, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions while Neal had 98 tackles (#4 on team) and 6.5 tackles for loss. The secondary has three starters back including Taylor Barton, who had 100 tackles (#3 on team). V’Angelo Bentley is back in the secondary as well, but he will also be utilized in the return game. The defense should improve in 2015 with seven starters back.

Illinois opens with home games against Kent State and Western Illinois before traveling to face North Carolina on the road. They close out the non-conference portion of their schedule against Middle Tennessee at home. Within their division, Illinois will play Nebraska and Wisconsin at home while facing Northwestern in Chicago. They also play Iowa, Purdue, and Minnesota on the road. From the East, the Illini play Penn State (road) and Ohio State (home), which is a tough draw. There is enough offense and defense on this Illinois squad to make a second straight bowl game under Beckman.

5. Iowa Hawkeyes

Kirk Ferentz is entering his 17th season at Iowa. In that time, Iowa has 11 winning season and four season with at least 10 wins. Since going 11-2 in 2009, however, Iowa has not reached that success with their best recording being 8-5 in both 2010 and 2013. The pressure may be on Ferentz to get Iowa back to double digit wins sooner rather than later.

The offense will return five starters from a group that put up 28.2 points and 400 yards per game. CJ Beathard is taking over at quarterback for the now transferred Jake Rudock (went to Michigan). Beathard threw for 645 yards with 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions while also not having Mark Weisman (812 yards and 16 touchdowns). Jordan Canzeri (494 yards), Akrum Wadley (186 yards and a touchdown), Jonathan Parker (141 yards and a touchdown), LeShun Daniels (49 yards and a touchdown), and CJ Hilliard will all see some looks at the running back spot. Tevaun Smith (43 catches for 596 yards and 3 touchdowns), Jake Duzey (36 catches for 392 yards and 3 touchdowns), and Matt VandeBerg (14 catches for 256 yards and 1 touchdown) are back. The line has three starters back while the offense could put up similar numbers in 2015 as they did last year.

Last year’s defense was not as effective as an Iowa defense usually is. They gave up 25.6 points and 344 yards per game with only five starters back. The number of starters returning increases by two, to seven, which is good news. Drew Ott (57 tackles, 8 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and an interception) and Nate Meier (57 tackles, 2 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss) are back to anchor the defensive end positions. Bo Bower and Josey Jewell are the two starters returning at linebacker while the secondary has three starters back. Jordan Lomax will be at one of the safety spots after recording 92 tackles, 6 pass breakups, and an interception last year. 2015 should see Iowa’s defense improve.

Iowa opens the season against Illinois State at home before facing in-state rival Iowa State on the road. The non-conference schedule ends with Pittsburgh and North Texas both coming to Iowa City. Iowa will face Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Nebraska on the road while playing Illinois, Minnesota, and Purdue at home. From the East, Iowa has Maryland (home) and Indiana (road) in two winnable games. Iowa should be back in a bowl game this year, but will that be enough to keep Ferentz around another year?

6. Purdue Boilermakers

Darrell Hazell came in from Kent State in 2013 and had a rough first year. The Boilermakers went 1-11 with their lone win against FCS Indiana State in a game they only won 20-14. The offense (14.9 points and 345 yards per game) and defense (38 points and 460 yards allowed per game) were dreadful. 2014 was a very good step in the right direction with a 3-9 record and 2015 should continue that trend.

The offense in 2014 had 8 starters back and shot up to 23.8 points and 345 yards per game. There are eight starters back again in 2015 with the quarterback position in the air between freshmen David Blough and Elijah Sindelar and Austin Appleby (1,449 yards with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions). Running back is not settled with DJ Knox, Keyante Green (199 yards), David Yancey, and Markell Jones all having a chance to win the top duties. Danny Anthrop is back as the top wide receiver after grabbing 38 passes for 616 yards and 4 touchdowns. The offensive line has all the starters back, which is great news for whoever wins the quarterback and running back battles. The offense should be better in 2015 with even better numbers than last year.

The defense was awful in 2013 by giving up 38 points and 460 yards per game. Year two was better with the defense allowing 31.7 points and 416 yards per game. Seven starters return in 2015 including the second through fifth top tacklers from last year. Ryan Watson (17 tackles, 4 sacks, 1.5 tackes for loss) and Jake Replogle (40 tackles, 3 sacks, and 7.5 tackles for loss) return on the line that improved from 235 rushing yards allowed per game in 2013 to 192 yards per game in 2014. That number should drop in 2015. The strength of the defense is at linebacker with the top three starters back. Ja’Whaun Bentley (76 tackles; #2 on team), Jimmy Herman (56 tackles, #4 on team), and Danny Ezechukwu (43 tackles; #8 on team) all back after starting last year. The secondary has three starters back led by Anthony Brown and Frankie Williams at the corner spots. Like the offense, the defense should improve in year three of Hazell’s tenure.

Purdue opens the season on the road at Marshall in a tough game before facing Indiana State, Virginia Tech, and Bowling Green at home. In their division, Purdue will play Minnesota, Nebraska, and Illinois at home while facing Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Iowa on the road. From the East, they will have to play Michigan State (road) and Indiana (home). Purdue is going in the right direction and will probably need two upsets to reach a bowl game.

7. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Jerry Kill has been at Minnesota since 2011 and has made them into a gritty team that is not easy to defeat. After going 3-9 in his first year, the team improved to 6-7 in 2012 and lost by a field goal, 34-31, to Texas Tech in the bowl game. 2013 saw them finish 8-5 and they did the same in 2014 as they had a chance to win the Big 10 West in the final week against Wisconsin. 2015 will be an interesting test for Minnesota and Kill.

The offense for Minnesota is run-based and will have five starters back in 2015. Mitch Leidner threw for 1,798 yards with 11 touchdowns and 8 interceptions while rushing for 452 yards and 10 touchdowns. Backup Chris Streveler ran for 235 yards and 1 touchdown as well. David Cobb has exited after rushing for 1,626 yards and 13 touchdowns leaving a big void at running back. Berkley Edwards (140 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Rodrick Williams (114 yards and 3 touchdowns) will be vying to start at running back. Top target Maxx Williams (36 catches for 569 yards and 8 touchdowns) is gone as well, leaving KJ Maye as the top wide receiver. Maye had 16 catches for 298 yards and a touchdown as the #2 receiver. The offensive line has three starters back, but it will probably be tough for the Gophers to match last year’s production of 28.4 points and 357 yards per game with Cobb and Williams gone.

The defense has been solid for Minnesota the last three years. In 2014, the defense gave up 24.2 points and 368 yards per game and returns seven starters from that group. Theiren Cockran (23 tackles, 4 sacks, and 3 tackles for loss) and Steven Richardson (23 tackles, 2 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss) will be teaming up with the Ekpe brothers of Scott and Hendrick. De’Vondre Campbell (75 tackles, 2.5sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and an interception) and Jack Lynn (57 tackles, 1 sack, and 6 tackles for loss) will be the returning linebackers. In the secondary, three starters are back led by Eric Murray at corner. Murray had 69 tackles, 7 pass breakups, and an interception last year. The defense should be solid once again for Minnesota.

Minnesota opens with TCU at home before facing Colorado State on the road. Kent State and Ohio both travel to Minneapolis to close out the non-conference slate. In division, Minnesota will play Northwestern, Purdue, and Iowa on the road while taking on Nebraska, Illinois, and Wisconsin at home. From the East, Minnesota draws Michigan (home) and Ohio State (road). It will be a challenging year for Minnesota if the offense sputters and will need a couple of upsets to make a bowl game, but they are more than capable of getting those upsets.

Overview

The Big 10’s West division is quite the conundrum with every team having questions. Wisconsin has a new coach and lost a star in Melvin Gordon while Northwestern has some offensive worries. Nebraska is in the same boat as Wisconsin with a new coach and lost Ameer Abdullah. Illinois has worries on defense while Iowa is constantly underachieving. Purdue is still learning Hazell’s system and Minnesota lost a lot of offensive production in David Cobb and Maxx Williams.

We will go with Wisconsin to win the division, but Northwestern or Nebraska could also finish on top. Illinois is likely to make noise with a more veteran team along with Iowa. Purdue and Minnesota will both be close to bowl eligibility and could easily finish higher than predicted, especially the Gophers. Below is the predicted order of finish.

1. Wisconsin

2. Northwestern

3. Nebraska

4. Illinois

5. Iowa

6. Purdue

7. Minnesota

Check back on Friday for a preview of the Big 10 East Division as well as a look at the Big 10 Championship Game prediction.