We are closing in on week eight and there are some big games this week. Miami (FL) is at Virginia Tech, TCU is at #12 West Virginia, #6 Texas A&M travels to face #1 Alabama in the biggest game of the week, #17 Arkansas is at #21 Auburn, #2 Ohio State plays Penn State on the road, and #23 Ole Miss is at #25 LSU.
Those are big games, but we will take a look at some of the games not listed above that could have an impact on week eight and beyond. Note that these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.
1. Oregon at California (10/21 at 10:30 PM) – This game will be nationally televised, but the implications are huge. Oregon is on a four game losing streak and sits at 2-4 overall. They had a bye last week and one can only assume the defense was the focal point (Oregon has given up at least 35 points each game during their losing streak).
California has alternated between wins and losses this year to get to 3-3. Their offense has been very good this year too with Davis Webb at the helm (2,256 yards at 60.8% with 22 touchdowns and 7 interceptions), which presents a great opportunity against Oregon’s porous defense. Oregon’s defense gives up 522 yards per game including 284 yards through the air.
Oregon needs this win more than California, but the road to end the season for both teams is not easy. Oregon faces Arizona State, USC (away), Stanford, Utah (away), and Oregon State (away) after the Cal game. How many wins are there for the Ducks with this defense?
California has USC (away), Washington, Washington State (away), Stanford, and UCLA after playing Oregon. Their schedule is tough as well and a win will help both teams if they want to make a bowl game.
2. Indiana at Northwestern (10/22 at 12 PM) – On paper, Northwestern seems like the favorite given their back-to-back road wins over Iowa and Michigan State. As of this posting, the Wildcats are favored by a point and a half. Indiana is a scrappy team though and they could make things interesting.
The key in this game, and for Northwestern’s offense, is Justin Jackson. He ran for 339 yards and 3 touchdowns (all in the opener) on 83 carries through his first four games for an average of 4.1 yards per carry. Against Iowa and Michigan State, he has rushed for a combined 359 yards and 3 touchdowns on 60 carries for an average of 6 yards per rush. In turn, he allows the passing game to flourish especially if the ball is headed towards Austin Carr. Carr has 5 touchdowns in the last two games, but he has been producing all season long (at least 5 catches and 73 yards in every game).
For Indiana, this year’s team is different. It is no longer just about out-scoring the opponent and hope the defense can make a stop or two. The defense is a cohesive unit that can consistently play well in 2016. For 2015, the defense gave up 37.6 points per game compared to 25.3 points per game through six games this year. The hiring of Tom Allen has no doubt improved the defense and they will have their hands full with Justin Jackson this week.
Both teams enter this game at 3-3 and it is clear the winner will be in a very good position to make a bowl. However, a loss can be overcome with both teams having 3 winnable games in their final five contests.
3. Akron at Ball State (10/22 at 3 PM) – This is not the biggest game of the week for the MAC. That is listed two slots below, but this is a big game for both teams in their respective division.
Akron is currently a joint-first with Ohio in the MAC East at 2-1 in conference play. They are coming off a shellacking at the hands of the top MAC team Western Michigan 41-0. It was not pretty as the offense put up 283 yards of offense and the defense gave up 585 yards. The offense did not get into Broncos’ territory until late in the first half.
Ball State got their first conference win this year over Buffalo after losses to Northern Illinois and Central Michigan. James Gilbert, who has been good this year, had a monster game with 264 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns on 34 carries. It was his fourth 100 yard rushing game this year and third in a row (at least 2 rushing touchdowns in the last three games as well). It is worth noting that Jarvion Franklin ran for 281 yards and 1 touchdown in Western Michigan’s win over Akron in week 7.
How good is Ball State? How will Akron respond to their drubbing? Those questions will be answered this week and beyond in Ball State’s case. At this point, Akron can only have one more loss prior to their game at Ohio to end the season if they want to have a chance at winning the MAC East. Ball State still has to face Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Toledo this year, so a win may be crucial this week just to try to make a bowl game.
4. Memphis at Navy (10/22 at 3:30 PM) – This is a big AAC West Division tilt. Memphis is 2-0 in the AAC while Navy is 3-0 in conference. Plus, Navy has the win over Houston from their last game so a win here would really help the Midshipmen given their schedule to end the season.
The defense for Memphis has been solid this year giving up 19.3 points per game and 140 yards rushing per game. The latter is more pertinent against the triple option of Navy. Navy’s offense puts up 32.2 points per game and 262.4 yards rushing per game. In last year’s game, Navy put up 374 yards rushing against Memphis, but that offense included Keenan Reynolds and and Chris Swain, both of whom are no longer there.
Memphis had Paxton Lynch in 2015 and now Riley Ferguson has taken over at quarterback. Ferguson has done well throwing for 1,596 yards (65.5%) with 12 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Memphis’ toughest opponent this year has been Ole Miss, a game in which Ferguson threw for 343 yards, but with no touchdowns and three interceptions. If he can continue to be accurate and avoid interceptions, this team has a good chance of winning.
Memphis still has to face Tulsa, SMU, South Florida, Cincinnati, and Houston to end the season so a win here will help and give them some confidence. Navy will play South Florida, Notre Dame, Tulsa, East Carolina, SMU, and Army to end the season.
5. Eastern Michigan at Western Michigan (10/22 at 3:30 PM) – Here is another MACtion game, but this one is the marquee matchup this week.
Eastern Michigan has been a surprise this year. They are 5-2 and sit one win away from their first bowl game since 1987. They defeated MAC East contender Ohio on the road last week 27-20. BroganRoback threw for 347 yards and 3 touchdowns with no interceptions to lead the Eagles.
Western Michigan has been a surprise too, but on a national level. They defeated both Northwestern and Illinois on the road in their first three games. They have looked like the best team in the conference to this point and have a legitimate chance at making a big bowl if they go undefeated and win the MAC Championship. Zach Terrell has been fantastic this year throwing for 1,597 yards with 17 touchdowns and ZERO interceptions. He also has 142 yards on the ground and 5 touchdowns. Jarvion Franklin has been good the last three weeks, which coincides with Jamauri Bogan missing time due to an ankle injury. Franklin has 582 yards and 4 touchdowns on 87 carries the last three games (6.7 yards per carry).
This will be the toughest team Eastern Michigan has faced this year in MAC play (possibly all year if one wants to consider WMU better than Missouri). They will have their hands full, but could keep it interesting. A win for Western Michigan would put them in a commanding position for the MAC West title until their game against Toledo in the season finale.
6. Old Dominion at Western Kentucky (10/22 at 7 PM) – Old Dominion enters this game at 4-2 while Western Kentucky is 4-3. The Monarchs two best opponents so far this year have been Appalachian State and North Carolina State, which ODU lost. Those two games were played on the road and the combined final scores were 80-29. Their other four games have all been 2+ touchdown margin of victories.
As for Western Kentucky, they played #1 Alabama and obviously got crushed, 38-10. However, their other two losses were to Vanderbilt 31-30 in overtime and 55-52 against Louisiana Tech. They have close wins against Middle Tennessee (44-43 in 2 OT last week) and Miami (OH) 31-24.
Old Dominion runs a balanced offense (yardage is 53% passing and 47% rushing). David Washington leads the offense and while his numbers are not impressive, he is efficient. He has thrown for 1,250 yards with 12 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. He also has 158 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He completes only 56.4% of his passes, but has only had 1 game with a negative TD to INT ratio (Appalachian State when he threw 1 INT and no touchdowns). The running game will be led by Jeremy Cox (420 yards and 9 touchdowns) and Ray Lawry (373 yards and 3 touchdowns).
Western Kentucky is led by former South Florida quarterback MikeWhite. He has thrown for 2,098 yards with 16 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. In two seasons at USF, he threw for 2,722 yards with 11 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. His favorite targets are Taywan Taylor (54 catches for 870 yards and 5 touchdowns) and Nicholas Norris (43 catches for 647 yards and 8 touchdowns).
If Old Dominion’s pass defense, which gives up 224 yards per game, can stop Western Kentucky’s offense that puts up 372 yards passing per game (and 526 yards of total offense per game), they will have a chance. The more time they run off the clock, the better chance they have of winning this game.
With both teams in the thick of the C-USA East division race, this game will be important. ODU has yet to face FlU and will also play Marshall and Southern Miss. Western Kentucky will also play FIU and Marshall, but have one loss already in C-USA.
Check back next week for the week nine edition of Under The Radar Games. In addition, you can find the previous columns below.
Part ten of the 2015 College Football Preview will look at the Big 12. Last year was a rough year for the Big 12 after having both Baylor and TCU left out of the College Football Playoff. Below is the schedule of previews left, as well as the previews already published.
Below is a look at each of the ten teams that make up the Big 12.
1. TCU Horned Frogs
Gary Patterson has led TCU since 2000 when he was the head coach for the bowl game that year. Since then, he has led TCU through Conference USA to the Mountain West to the Big East (for a moment) and finally here to the Big 12. During that time, he has had only two losing seasons and was close to leading TCU into the inaugural College Football Playoff last year.
TCU went from 25.1 points and 345 yards per game in 2013 to 46.5 points and 533 yards per game in 2014. The scariest part is that TEN starters return making this one of the best offenses in the nation. Trevone Boykin threw for 3,901 yards with 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while also rushing for 707 yards and 8 touchdowns. Top running back from 2014, Aaron Green, ran for 922 yards and 9 touchdowns while also returning. Wide receivers Josh Doctson (65 catches for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns), Kolby Listenbee (41 catches for 753 yards and 4 touchdowns), and Deante’ Gray (36 catches for 582 yards and 8 touchdowns) all return as well. The defenses in the Big 12 better watch out for this incredible TCU machine.
TCU’s defense has only five starters back from a unit that allowed 19 points and 342 yards per game in 2014. The defensive line has three starters back including defensive end James McFarland, who had 41 tackles, 7 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, and an interception. Nebraska transfer Aaron Curry also joins the fray. The linebacking unit has been hit hard by losses with the top three gone leaving this the most inexperienced part of the defense. The secondary has both Ranthony Texada and Derrick Kindred back from a group that allowed only 48.5% completions. The TCU defense is the top priority for Patterson and it would be surprising to see them struggle for long during the season.
TCU opens with a road game against Minnesota before back-to-back home games against Stephen F Austin and SMU. The Big 12 plays a round robin schedule, which means TCU will face each team in the conference. TCU faces Texas (home), Kansas State (road), Oklahoma (road), and the biggest game against Baylor is also at home. TCU very well could run the table and make up for last year’s snub from the College Football Playoff committee.
2. Baylor Bears
Baylor used to constantly finish in the Big 12’s cellar prior to the hiring of Art Briles. Since then, Briles has led the Bears to a bowl game every year since 2010 and double digit win totals in three of the last four years. Last year, Baylor nearly made the College Football Playoff, but were left out by the committee.
Briles will have his most experienced offense since his first season at Baylor in 2008. There are nine starters back from a group that put up 48.2 points and 581 yards of offense. Gone is quarterback BrycePetty (3,855 yards, 29 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, and 63.1% completion), but Briles is renowned for producing stellar quarterbacks. Seth Russell is ready to take his turn after throwing for 804 yards with 8 touchdowns and 1 interception while getting some playing time with Petty’s injury last season. ShockLinwood is back to run the ball after rushing for 1,252 yards and 16 touchdowns. The top two wide receivers return as well with Corey Coleman (64 catches for 1,119 yards and 11 touchdowns) and the speedy KD Cannon (58 catches for 1,030 yards and 8 touchdowns). The entire offensive line returns and Baylor should continue to put out points at will in 2015.
The defense for Briles will be his most experienced since he has taken over at Baylor. He has nine starters back from a group that allowed 25.5 points and 382 yards of offense per game. That was done with only four starters back for 2014 as well. The defensive line returns intact including the imposing ShawnOakman. Oakman had 51 tackles, 11 sacks, and 8.5 tackles for loss last year, but is probably best known for his imposing stance in last year’s Cotton Bowl against Michigan State. Linebacker lost one starter, but does return Taylor Young, the team’s second leading tackler at 92. The secondary also returns all four starters from a group that allowed only 54.6% completions.
Baylor has an easy non-conference schedule with games against SMU (road), Lamar (home), and Rice (home). In conference, Baylor has a brutal schedule to close out the year. The final five games are against Kansas State (road), Oklahoma (home), Oklahoma State (road), TCU (road), and Texas (home). That finish to the season could ultimately cost Baylor the Big 12 title, but they still have an excellent shot at getting to the TCU game undefeated to set up an unofficial Big 12 title game.
3. Texas Longhorns
Charlie Strong took over at Texas prior to last season after 16 years of Mack Brown at the helm. Strong instituted much more discipline, which resulted in some losses, but still guided the team to a 6-6 regular season before losing the Texas Bowl to Arkansas by a score of 31-7.
The offense averaged 21.4 points and 337 yards per game in Strong’s first season. This year, seven starters are back including quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. Swoopes threw for 2,409 yards with 13 touchdown and 11 interceptions while also rushing for 264 yards and 4 touchdowns. Jonathan Gray may finally get his chance to get all the carries at running back after rushing for 637 yards and 7 touchdowns as the team’s second leading rusher. John Harris and Jaxon Shipley were the top two receivers last year, but have departed leaving Marcus Johnson as the top returning receiver. He caught 27 passes for 313 yards and a touchdown. The entire offensive line returns and the offense should perform better in 2015 with a year of Strong’s schemes under their belts.
The defense returns only five starters, but the strength of Strong’s coaching tends to be on this side of the ball. Two linemen return including tackle Hassan Ridgeway, who had 43 tackles, 6 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss. The line gave up 164 yards rushing per game in 2014 and will probably improve on that in 2015. The linebackers are all gone leaving this unit very inexperienced, but Malik Jefferson is expected to start immediately as a true freshman. The secondary has three starters back led by safety Dylan Haines. Haines had 86 tackles to finish third on the team while also tallying 7 pass breakups and 4 interceptions. The defense gave up 23.8 points and 349 yards per game in 2014 and should have a similar year this time around as well.
Texas has an interesting non-conference schedule with games against Notre Dame (road), Rice (home), and California (home). They face Oklahoma State (home), TCU (road), Oklahoma (Dallas), Kansas State (home), and Baylor (road). They also have a tricky road game at West Virginia. Strong has recruited well and should be able to get Texas back to a winning season this year.
4. Oklahoma Sooners
Oklahoma has been good under Bob Stoops, but only won a single National Championship (2000) during that time while playing in three others (2003, 2004, and 2008). Stoops has produced many double digit win seasons, but the lack of National Championship appearances in the last 7 years has left some weary.
The Oklahoma offense has seven starters returning including quarterback Trevor Knight (2,300 yards with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions), but he may not be the starter. That could be Baker Mayfield. Mayfield started at Texas Tech in 2013 (2,315 yards with 12 touchdowns and 9 interceptions) where he had an excellent start, but decided to move on to Oklahoma. Whichever player is behind center, they will have running back Samaje Perine to handoff to. He ran for 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns as a true freshman. Also returning are the top four receivers led by Sterling Shepard with 51 catches for 970 yards and 5 touchdowns. The offensive line has only two starters returning, but the unit as a whole should be able to match 2014’s output of 36.4 points and 465 yards per game.
The defense under Stoops has been consistent with most years giving up points per game in the low to mid 20s and less than 400 yards per game. 2014 was no different at 25.9 points and 383 yards per game. There are six starters back and only one of those is on the line in Charles Tapper. Tapper had 37 tackles, 3 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss while the group allowed only 106 yards rushing per game. Three of the four linebackers return including Dominique Alexander and Jordan Evans. Alexander had 107 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss while Evans finished 2014 with 93 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and an interception. The secondary has two starters back in Zack Sanchez and Ahmad Thomas while giving up 276 passing yards per game and 56.3% completions. Expect another typical finish for the Sooners on defense.
Oklahoma opens the year with Akron at home, Tennessee on the road, and Tulsa at home before a bye week leads into conference play. In conference, they will face West Virginia (home), Texas (Dallas), and Kansas State (road) early. The last three games consist of Baylor (road), TCU (home), and Oklahoma State (road). The Sooners could surprise this year if the defense improves, but Stoops’ teams have a tendency to underachieve a bit.
5. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Oklahoma State has three double digit win seasons since 2010 and have been to a bowl game each year since 2006. 2015 has a chance to produce another one of those double digit win totals.
There are eight starters back on offense for the Cowboys from a group that put up 27.6 points and 379 yards per game. Daxx Garman threw for 2,041 yards with 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, but has opted to transfer. Mason Rudolph started the last three games and finished 2014 with 853 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. Rudolph is expected to beat out JW Walsh and John Kolar for the starting spot. The top two running backs are gone with Ronnie Childs the top rusher returning from 2014 with only 294 yards and 3 touchdowns. Chris Carson arrives from junior college in the fall while coming back from injury is Sione Palelei. Wide receiver is not an area of concern with the trio of BrandonSheperd, David Glidden, and James Washington returning after posting at least 450 yards and two touchdowns each. The offense should get back to putting up a lot of points in Stillwater.
The defense struggled last year giving up 31.2 points and 432 yards per game with only four starters returning. The number of starters returning doubles to eight this year. The defensive line is hit the hardest with two starters lost, but still have two starters coming back in Emmanuel Ogbah and Jimmy Bean. Ogbah was excellent last year with 49 tackles, 11 sacks, 6 tackles for loss, and 5 pass breakups. Linebacker is strong with the duo of Ryan Simmons (96 tackles, 2 sacks, 10 tackles for loss) and Seth Jacobs (92 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions) back. Three starters are back in the secondary led by JordanSterns. Sterns was best on the team in tackles last year with 103 while also recording 4.5 tackles for loss and 4 pass breakups. The defense should be better in 2015 with the amount of experience they have returning.
Oklahoma State has a very easy non-conference schedule with Central Michigan (road), Central Arkansas, and Texas-San Antonio on the slate. In conference, they have Texas and West Virginia on the road, but get Kansas State, TCU, Baylor, and Oklahoma all at home. Oklahoma State has a shot of getting back to 10 wins in 2015 with just an upset or two.
6. Kansas State Wildcats
Bill Snyder retired in 2005 and handed over the program to Ron Prince. However, Prince led KSU to records of 7-6, 5-7, and 5-7 prompting Snyder to come out of retirement. Snyder has led KSU to at least a .500 record or better in the last six years including two double digit win seasons.
The Wildcats have six starters back on offense, but the losses are heavy with quarterback Jake Waters as well as wide receivers Tyler Lockett, Curry Sexton, and Zach Trujillo all departing. The quarterback job is not settled and will come down to freshman Alex Delton, junior Joe Hubener, sophomore JesseErtz, or junior college transfer Johnathan Banks. Charles Jones led KSU in rushing last year, but had only 540 yards while scoring 13 touchdowns. The top receivers back are Kody Cook (20 catches for 251 yards and a touchdown) and Deante Burton (17 catches for 171 yards). Four offensive linemen return from a unit that scored 35.8 points and put up 422 yards per game. The offense probably will not match those numbers in 2015, but Snyder always gets the best out of his teams.
The defense also has six starters back from a group that allowed 23.2 points and 369 yards per game. The line has two starters back in Jordan Willis (26 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and .5 tackles for loss) and Travis Britz (27 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss). Linebacker has no starters back, which will hurt the defense, but three starters return in the secondary. Dante Barnett had 77 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 8 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions last year. The defense will have another solid year under Snyder.
Kansas State has an out of conference schedule comprised of South Dakota (home), Texas-San Antonio (road), and Louisiana Tech (home). They will face the TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, and West Virginia at home while going on the road to play Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech. KSU should take a step back, but still be able to make a bowl game this year as well as pull an upset or two in the Big 12.
7. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Texas Tech began sparklingly in 2013 going 7-0 and reaching as high as tenth in the nation. An eight point loss to Oklahoma started a five game losing streak that ended with four consecutive blowouts. Texas Tech finished that season 8-5 thanks to a win over Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl, but high hopes for 2014 were dashed following a 4-8 record. Kliff Kingsbury needs to have a bounce back season in 2015.
The offense has nine starters back including two quarterbacks who played last year. Davis Webb started the year, but was injured late in the season and finished with 2,539 yards with 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Patrick Mahomes started the last four, throwing for 1,547 yards with 16 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. DeAndre Washington, who ran for 1,103 yards and 2 touchdowns last year, returns at running back. Washington also caught 30 passes for 328 yards and 2 touchdowns. Jakeem Grant (67 catches for 938 yards and 7 touchdowns), Devin Lauderdale (31 catches for 589 yards and 2 touchdowns), and Ian Sadler (23 catches for 336 yards and 2 touchdowns) all return at receiver with only the number two guy (Bradley Marquez; 65 catches for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns) departs. Four starters also return on the offensive line and the Red Raiders are likely to beat their 2014 output of 30.5 points per game this year.
The defense has eight starters returning, but struggled mightily last year. With four starters back, the defense allowed 41.3 points and 513 yards per game. Those numbers were over 10 points and nearly 100 yards per game higher than 2013. Defensive end Pete Robertson led Texas Tech in tackles last year with 81 while also recording 12 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 3 pass breakups. Micah Awe returns at linebacker after tallying 69 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 tackles for loss. The secondary has all four starters back and should improve on their 253 passing yards given up per game in 2014. Overall, the defense should get back to 2013 numbers of 30.5 points and 419 yards per game.
Texas Tech opens with Sam Houston State and UTEP at home before traveling to face Arkansas in their final non-conference game. In conference, they face TCU, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State at home. They will face Baylor in Arlington, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Texas on the road. Texas Tech will need to pull a couple of upsets to reach bowl eligibility, but they certainly are able to do so.
8. West Virginia Mountaineers
West Virginia moved to the Big 12 prior to the 2012 season and has seen some success. They have gone 7-6, 4-8, and 7-6 in their first three seasons while having some potent offenses. 2015 will be Dana Holgorsen’s fifth season with the team.
Six starters are back for West Virginia on offense, but two of those will not be quarterback Clint Trickett and wide receiver Kevin White. Skyler Howard is expected to lead WV after throwing for 829 yards and 8 touchdowns (no interceptions) after starting the final two games. Rushel Shell ran for 788 yards and 7 touchdowns while Wendell Smallwood ran for 722 yards and 2 touchdowns with both of those backs returning. Jordan Thompson is the top returning wideout after grabbing 49 catches for 598 yards and 2 touchdowns. The offense put up 33.5 points and 500 yards of offense last year and may come up short of reaching those numbers this year with a new quarterback and the loss of White.
The 2015 defense will be the most experienced under Holgorsen with nine starters returning. Two starters on the defensive line, but linebacker is where the top returnee is. Nick Kwiatkoski led the team with 103 tackles, but also had 0.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, and 4 pass breakups. The secondary has all four starters back as well as KJ Dillon (62 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions) at the Spur position. The secondary should be the best part of the defense this year.
West Virginia has three non-conference home games to start the year with Georgia Southern, Liberty, and Maryland all going to Morgantown. Also going to Morgantown in Big 12 play will be Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and Texas. West Virginia will have to travel to Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU, and Kansas State. West Virginia will be close to bowl eligibility this year and should get there with an upset in the Big 12.
9. Iowa State
Paul Rhoads has led Iowa State to three bowl games in six seasons, but also has five losing seasons at Iowa State (two years of 6-7 records). Iowa State went 3-9 in 2013 and 2-10 in 2014. Rhoads will need to improve in 2015 if he is to keep his job in 2016 and beyond.
The offense has seven starters back led by Sam B. Richardson and his top two wide receivers. Richardson threw for 2,669 yards with 18 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He also ran for 421 yards and 3 scores. He will be throwing to D’Vario Montgomery (44 catches for 605 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Allen Lazard (45 catches for 593 yards and 3 touchdowns). A top running back will need to be found with Tyler Brown (109 yards) and Martinez Syria (47 yards and a touchdown) the top returning rushers behind Richardson. The offense will be guided by Mark Mangino in his second year. After putting up numbers of 23.2 points and 373 yards per game, Iowa State should be able to match those numbers on offense.
The defense last year was the worst under Rhoads. The unit gave up 38.8 points and 529 yards per game. Now, six starters are back (five were back in 2014) and Rhoads’ work is cut out for him. The defensive line has Trent Taylor back (37 tackles, 2 sacks, and 3 tackles for loss), but adds in two highly rated junior college transfers in Bobby Leath and Demond Tucker. Linebacker has only Luke Knott returning, but he had 74 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and an interception last year as a starter. The secondary is bring back three starters in Sam E. Richardson, Nigel Tribune, and Kamari Cotton-Moya. Cotton-Moya was the teams leading tackler in 2014 with 77 stops and was named the Big 12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year. It is hard to see the defense not getting better under Rhoads this year.
Iowa State opens with rivalry games against Northern Iowa and Iowa at home before a road test against Toledo. They open Big 12 play against Kansas at home in a game that could determine who finishes last in the Big 12. They also TCU, Texas, and Oklahoma State at home while facing Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas State, and West Virginia on the road. Iowa State usually gets a shocking upset or two against Big 12 foes and that should be expected in 2015. However, it will probably not be enough to get the back to bowl eligibility.
10. Kansas Jayhawks
Given the current state of Kansas’ football program, it is surprising to think they were one of the top teams in 2007 when they reached #2 before a loss against Missouri in the regular season finale. Kansas went on to win the Orange Bowl 24-21 over Virginia Tech. Since then, it has been downhill with Kansas having six straight losing seasons. Since Mark Mangino was fired after the 2009 season, the Jayhawks have not won more than three games in a season. David Beaty is now in charge of turning the Kansas football program around and it will be difficult in 2015.
Kansas’ offense has not averaged more than 20 points per game in a season since 2011 when they hit 22.3 points per game. In 2015, there will be only four starters back for Beaty to work with. Montell Cozart (1,715 yards with 9 touchdowns and 6 interceptions) and Michael Cummings (701 yards with 5 touchdowns and 7 interceptions) back from 2014. Also with a chance to win the starting QB spot are TJ Millweard, CarterStanley, and Ryan Willis. Corey Avery ran for 631 yards and 5 touchdowns last year, but was suspended for spring and kicked off the team in June. That leaves De’Andre Mann as the top returning rusher with 399 yards. Ke’aun Kinner transferred in from his junior college and is expected to get snaps as well. Wide receiver was crushed by losses with the top six receivers gone. Kent Taylor, who was one of the top tight ends in 2013, has transferred in from Florida. The line returns two starters and Kansas may not even match last year’s production of 17.8 points and 324 yards of offense per game this year with a new coach and schemes.
Defense is also an issue for Beaty in year one. He has only three returning starters from a unit that allowed 33.3 points and 453 yards per game in 2014. Ben Goodman is the only starter returning on the line after recording 21 tackles, 1 sack, and a tackle for loss last season. The other two starters returning are at linebacker with Jake Love (53 tackles, 3 sacks, and 6.5 tackles for loss), and nickelback with Tevin Shaw (36 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss). The defense should be in store for another rough year.
Kansas opens with South Dakota State and Memphis at home before a bye week leads into a road game at Rutgers. Their Big 12 slate opens with a road game at Iowa State that will probably determine the bottom team in the Big 12. It is hard to see Kansas getting more than a victory or two in 2015 and Beaty has a lot of work ahead of him if Kansas is to get back to being competitive in the Big 12.
The Big 12 looks like a two horse race between TCU and Baylor for the title. However, the second tier of Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State could surprise with a few upsets or the top two do worse than expected. Texas Tech and West Virginia will be battling for bowl eligibility while Iowa State and Kansas will play to stay out of the cellar. Below is the predicted order of finish.
5. Oklahoma State
6. Kansas State
7. Texas Tech
8. West Virginia
9. Iowa State
Check back on Tuesday, August 4 for a preview of the ACC’s Coastal Division.