This year we will make a total of 25 predictions with five each week starting with this article. The predictions will range from conference winners to team win totals or bowl games to individual player performances. We will start with the mid-major conferences (predictions 25-16) before ending with the predictions for the Power 5 conferences (predictions 15-1).
25. Appalachian State will win the Sun Belt – We start with a team that has done very well since moving up from FCS to FBS. The Mountaineers went 4-8 in 2013 (their final FCS season), however, their three seasons in the FBS have resulted in winning records. 2014 saw them go 7-5, they went 11-2 in 2015, and went 10-3 in 2016. App State tied for the Sun Belt title last year with Arkansas State after both teams went 7-1 in conference.
This year, the Mountaineers return 7 starters on both offense (scored 29.2 points per game) and defense (allowed 17.8 points per game). The real key is their schedule: no Arkansas State, no Troy, and no South Alabama. Their biggest test is at home versus Louisiana in the final week of season.
24. (Sun Belt) New Mexico State’s bowl drought will extend to 57 years – We made the same prediction last year and sure enough the Aggies did not disappoint going 3-9. There are some positives with 7 starters back on offense and 9 back on defense, which makes them the 12th most experienced team in the FBS.
The real reason for putting this prediction here is the brutal schedule New Mexico State faces. In the non-conference slate, the Aggies play Arizona State, New Mexico, and Arkansas on the road and also take on UTEP at home. In the Sun Belt, NMSU has App State (away), Georgia Southern (away), Arkansas State (home), Louisiana (away), and South Alabama (home). If the Aggies manage to get to 6 wins, it will be a well deserved bowl appearance.
23. (C-USA) The four teams wearing green will not win 25 games combined – Here we have an out of the box prediction. The four teams that wear green are Marshall,Charlotte, North Texas, and UAB. UAB is back to playing football after a 2 year hiatus. The other three teams went a combined 12-25. So this is a slam dunk, right? Not so fast, though we are confident the four teams will not average over 6 wins per team.
Marshall went 3-9 last year in their first losing season since 2010 when Doc Holliday was in his first season. The Herd are one of the favorites in the C-USA East division and could manage hit 10 wins in 2017. Charlotte is an intriguing team because they are in their third full season of FBS football. They went 2-10 and 4-8 the first two years while returning 6 starters on both offense and defense. A similar pattern of progression might move them close to the 6 win mark, but that will take a big improvement on defense (allowed 34.6 points and 453 yards per game).
Over in the West division we have North Texas and UAB. North Texas went 5-8 last year and, thanks to an oversupply of bowl games, they were able to play a 13th game despite being 5-7. 2016 was the first year of Seth Littrell and year two has 6 starters back on offense and defense. The Mean Green could contend for a bowl game if they can pull a few in-conference upsets.
For UAB, they have the uphill battle of assembling a competitive team. As one would expect, they have very few starters still around with only 4 returning and all of them on defense. Their most winnable games will be versus AlabamaA&M, Ball State, and Coastal Carolina. Beyond that, with no competitive games in three years, it is tough to envision them getting close to 6 wins.
We think the four teams mentioned about will end up with roughly 20 wins. With a few upsets, or a big surprise from a team not named Marshall, all four teams they might come close to 25 wins,
22. (C-USA) Both FAU and FIU will make a bowl game – The two Florida schools in C-USA welcome new coaches though both men have previous head coaching experience. Lane Kiffin is now leading Florida Atlantic while Florida International welcomes Butch Davis to the helm. What both teams have going for them is a bevy of returning starters.
FAU has 9 starters back on offense and 8 back on defense. Despite returning their 2016 starting quarterback, the Owls have former Florida State player De’Andre Johnson. He should do well in the Kendal Briles system as should the rest of the offense. Defense is a bit more of question mark as they return 8 starters off a squad that allowed 39.8 points and 514 yards per game. Having a lot of starters back on a porous defense is not always a good thing. If they can improve 10 points and 100 yards per game then they have a decent chance of making a bowl game assuming the offense takes a big step forward in the new system.
FIU has 7 starters back on offense and 8 on defense. All the skill players return on offense except for the #2 receiver, but there is more than enough depth to replace him. The defense has 8 starters back after allowing 34.8 points and 434 yards per game (5 starters back). They should improve on those numbers even with a new defensive coordinator.
Both squads will probably need an upset to reach 6 wins, but both are more than capable of doing so. C-USA East looks very competitive, which means the potential for both teams to exceed (or miss) the expectations.
21. (Independent) Army will reach a second straight bowl game – Last year we liked Army to beat Navy and win at least 6 games. They did both as they defeated Navy for the first time in 15 years while finishing 8-5 with a bowl win over North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
The schedule sets up pretty well again for Army to reach a second straight bowl. The open with Fordham and Buffalo before back-to-back road games at Ohio State and Tulane. Their next four games are versus UTEP, Rice, Eastern Michigan, and Temple with only the Rice contest taking place on the road. The first 8 games will take place without a bye week.
The final four games will be completed over 6 weeks starting with a road game at Air Force on November 4. Duke goes to West Point the following week before another road game at North Texas. The final game is, of course, the annual title versus Navy on December.
What really helps Army this year is the plethora of returning starters with 9 on offense and 7 on defense. The offense put up 29.9 points and 414 yards per game with the points being the most since 1996. The defense allowed 19.8 points and 291 yards per game and part of that was due to the easier schedule. However, the confidence should be high on both sides of the ball in their fourth year under Jeff Monken.
With the combination of experience and a manageable schedule, Army looks poised to reach a second straight bowl game. That would mark only the second time in school history that Army reached back-to-back bowl games (1984-85).
That concludes the first five predictions for the 2017 college football season. Check back next week for predictions 20-16.
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.
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 JameisWinston 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 ReggieRagland (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 TaiwanJohnson (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 MontraviusAdams (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 AlonzoWilliams (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 ShaanWashington 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 ArmaniWatts (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 FredRoss (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. RyanBrown 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.
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.
6. Texas A&M
7. Mississippi State
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.
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.
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 JoshRosen, 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), JamesToland (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’aCravens (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), KevonSeymour (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 DominiqueHatfield (38 tackles, 9 pass breakups, and an interception), Marcus Williams (59 tackles), and GionniPaul (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 TedricThompson, 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.
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
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.