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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: ACC Coastal

Paul Johnson has led Georgia Tech to the ACC Championship Game two of the last three years. Can he make it three of four? (Marc Serota/Getty Images North America)
Paul Johnson has led Georgia Tech to the ACC Championship Game two of the last three years. Can he make it three of four? (Marc Serota/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: ACC Coastal

We have reached the Power 5 conference previews with the Big 12 on Friday, July 31 and we continue on with the ACC’s Coastal Division. It is a contentious group of seven programs that nearly have a chance to claim a piece of the division title on paper. Below is the schedule of previews left, as well as the previews already published.

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

Below is a look at the ACC Coastal Division.

1. North Carolina Tar Heels

Larry Fedora has been with North Carolina for three years and came in with academic issues plaguing the program. The Tar Heels went 8-4 in Fedora’s first year, but were not eligible for a bowl game. In 2013, UNC went 7-6 and then 6-7 last season. Fedora will be under pressure to turn the program back around with his most experienced team in his tenure.

The offense has 10 starters returning form a unit that put up 33.2 points and 430 yards per game. Quarterback Marquise Williams threw for 3,068 yards with 21 touchdowns and 9 interceptions and was also the leading rusher with 788 yards and 13 touchdowns. Running back has TJ Logan (582 yards and 3 touchdowns), Romar Morris (278 yards and 4 touchdowns), and Elijah Hood (259 yards and 4 touchdowns) all back while one of those three should rush for more yards than the QB. The top four receivers also return with Ryan Switzer leading the team last year with 61 catches for 757 yards and 4 touchdowns. Mack Hollins caught 35 passes for 613 yards and 8 touchdowns as well. With the entire offensive line returning intact, the offense should be one of the most explosive in the ACC.

The defense was uncharacteristically bad last season giving up 39 points and 498 yards per game with seven starters back. Fedora’s defenses had given up 24.5 points and 25.7 points in his first two seasons. Seven starters return again this season with only three in the front seven. Linebacker Jeff Schoettmer was second on the team in tackles with 74 while also recording 6 tackles for loss, 4 pass breakups, 2 interceptions. The entire secondary is back as well as some experienced backups. Desmond Lawrence was the top defensive back with 71 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, and an interception. The defense will bounce back in a big way in 2015.

North Carolina opens with South Carolina in Charlotte before welcoming North Carolina A&T, Illinois, and Delaware to town the next three weeks. In conference, UNC faces Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, and Virginia Tech on the road. They will also face Virginia, Duke, and Miami (FL) at home. From the Atlantic they face Wake Forest (home) and North Carolina State (road). In a wide open ACC Coastal, North Carolina will have one of the top offenses and improved defense to help them back to a winning record and possible ACC title game appearance.

2. Virginia Tech Hokies

Virginia Tech joined the ACC in 2004 and ripped off eight straight years of double digit victories. The Hokies won 4 ACC Championships and appeared in another two title games between 2004 and 2011. Since then, VT has failed to win more than eight games in a season. Will another mediocre season turn up the heat on Frank Beamer?

The offense has eight starters back from a unit that put up 24.1 points and 365 yards per game in 2014. Michael Brewer is back at quarterback after throwing 2,692 yards with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. The entire running back unit returns led by JC Coleman with 533 yards and 5 touchdowns and Marshawn Williams with 475 yards and 4 touchdowns. The top three wide receivers return as well in Isaiah Ford (56 catches for 709 yards and 6 touchdowns), Bucky Hodges (45 catches for 526 yards and 7 touchdowns), and Cam Phillips (40 catches for 498 yards and 3 touchdowns). The losses are on the offensive line where only two starters are back. There may be some issues on the line to start the season, but the offense should be able to put up better numbers in 2015.

The defense for Virginia Tech is usually one of the best in the nation each season. Last year, with only five starters back, the defense gave up 20.2 points and 344 yards per game. This year, eight starters return including the entire defensive line. Dadi Nicolas had 72 tackles, 9 sacks, and 9.5 tackles for loss en route to landing on the 2nd Team ACC squad. The unit allowed 145 rushing yards per game, which is the second worst in the last seven years. Expect that number to improve. Deon Clarke is the only linebacker returning, but he was the second leading tackler last year with 74 stops, 5 sacks, 6 tackles for loss, and an interception. Three in the secondary are back led by the dominant corner Kendall Fuller. Fuller had 54 tackles, 2 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss, 15 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions last year while being named 2nd Team All-American. The defense will be stout once again under Beamer and Bud Foster.

Virginia Tech opens the season with a game at home on Labor Day against Ohio State, the same team they beat last year on the road. OSU went on to win the National Title. After that, they will take on Furman (home), Purdue (road), and East Carolina (road) to round out their non-conference schedule. In conference, VT will face Pittsburgh, Duke, and North Carolina at home while going on the road to lay Miami (FL), Georgia Tech, and Virginia. From the Atlantic division, VT will be taking on North Carolina State at home and Boston College on the road. It should be a bounce back year for Virginia Tech and they have a good shot at reaching the ACC Championship Game as well.

3. Duke Blue Devils

Duke’s athletic department showed a lot of patience with David Cutcliffe in the first four years. Cutcliffe did not have a winning season in his first four years before reaching a bowl game in 2012 for the first time since 1994. Duke then won the ACC Coastal in 2013 and went 9-4 last year. Cutcliffe is excellent at getting his Duke teams to overachieve.

The offense for Duke has six starters back, but loses their top quarterback in Anthony Boone (2,700 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions; 375 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns). Thomas Sirk is likely to get the starting QB duties after showing the ability to throw and run (238 yards and 8 rushing touchdowns). The top rushing duo of Shaquille Powell (618 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Shaun Wilson (598 yards and 5 touchdowns) return, but the top two receivers do not. Jamison Crowder was easily the best receiver last year with 85 catches for 1,044 yards and 6 touchdowns, but he is gone. Max McCaffrey will move into a bigger role after catching 37 passes for 385 yards and 3 touchdowns. The offensive line has three starters back as well, but it will be hard to match last year’s output of 32.4 points and 398 yards per game without some of the weapons.

The defense returns seven starters from a unit that allowed 21.8 points and 400 yards per game in 2014. Carlos Wray is the only returning starter on the line, who had 39 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 0.5 tackles for loss. Nose guard AJ Wolf did not start a game, but managed to record 23 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss last year. Kelby Brown is back at linebacker after missing 2014 due to a torn ACL. Brown had 114 tackles and 11 tackles for loss as a first team ACC selection in 2013. He is a welcomed addition to the defense this year. The secondary is back with all five starters from a group that allowed only 207 passing yards per game and 55.8% completions. DeVon Edwards (133 tackles), Jeremy Cash (111 tackles), Deondre Singleton (70 tackles), and Byron Fields (70 tackles) were the second, third, fourth, and fifth leading tacklers respectively last season. The secondary will be the strength once again 2015.

Duke opens with a road game against Tulane before welcoming North Carolina Central and Northwestern to Durham. They also face Army on the road in October as their final non-conference game. In conference, they will face Georgia Tech, Miami (FL), and Pittsburgh at home. On the road, they will have Virginia Tech, North Carolina, and Virginia. From the Atlantic division, Duke has winnable games against Boston College (home) and Wake Forest (road). Duke may not be as good on offense, but Cutcliffe has been excellent with Duke the past two years and the schedule is quite favorable with their Atlantic opponents. Expect another solid year from Duke.

4. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Paul Johnson has been at Georgia Tech seven years and has led them to a bowl game each year. Johnson has also led Georgia Tech to three ACC Championship Games (1-2 record) including two in the last three years (0-2 with both losses to Florida State). Georgia Tech lost 37-35 to Florida State last year in the ACC title game and finished with a 49-34 win over Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl.

The offense has suffered heavy losses with only five starters back. Luckily for GT, one of the returning starters is quarterback Justin Thomas. Thomas threw for 1,719 yards with 18 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. More importantly, he was the leading rusher on the team with 1,986 yards and 8 touchdowns. A heavy burden will be placed on him without any of the other top rushers back. One of the projected starting running backs is Broderick Snoddy who had 283 yards and 3 touchdowns. Another is Dennis Andrews, but he ran for only 106 yards last year on 16 carries. The top returning receiver is Snoddy, who had 3 catches for 100 yards. There are four starters back on the offensive line to help ease the transition as well. The last time only five starters were back for GT was in Johnson’s first year in 2008. That offense put up only 24.4 points and 372 yards per game. Expect the offense in 2015 to eclipse those numbers, but will not come close to matching last year’s output of 37.9 points and 477 yards per game.

The defense has eight starters back in 2015, tying for the most returning starters under Johnson’s tenure (2010). 2014’s defense allowed only 25.7 points and 411 yards per game despite only four starters back. The defensive line has three starters back anchored by 2nd Team ACC nose tackle Adam Gotsis. Gotsis had 36 tackles, 3 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, and an interception. Also on the line is KeShun Freeman, who had 54 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss. PJ Davis is only one of two linebackers in this scheme, but he is a big returning starter. He led GT with 119 tackles while also recording 4 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss, and an interception. The entire secondary, except for nickelback, returns led by DJ White. He had 66 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 8 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions last year. The defense should improve on the yardage total, if not the points total as well.

Georgia Tech opens the year with Alcorn State and Tulane at home before a road trip to Notre Dame. Their last non-conference game is the season finale against arch-rival Georgia with the game at home. In conference, they will have Duke, Virginia, and Miami (FL) on the road while facing North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Virginia Tech at home. From the Atlantic Division, they have to face Clemson on the road and Florida State at home making this schedule quite difficult. Georgia Tech’s offense will need to get going if they are to win the division again. However, they can still expect a bowl game appearance and the defense will be keeping them in most games.

5. Miami Hurricanes

Al Golden arrived in Coral Gables in December 2010 amidst controversy within the football program. He finished 6-6 in 2011 and 7-5 in 2012, but the Hurricanes were not eligible for a bowl game due to an NCAA investigation. Miami went 9-4 in 2013 and 6-7 in 2014 leaving some to wonder if Golden is on the hot seat in 2015.

The offense returns five starters from 2014 in which they put up 29.2 points and 430 yards per game. One player who will not be back is Duke Johnson, who had 1,652 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing while also being the third leading receiver with 38 catches for 421 yards and 3 touchdowns. Brad Kaaya, who will be back this season, threw for 3,198 yards with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The top returning rusher is Joseph Yearby, who had 509 yards and a touchdown on 86 carries. Gus Edwards also returns after rushing for 349 yards and 6 touchdowns on 61 carries. The receiving corps took a hit with Phillip Dorsett and Clive Walford, the top two receivers in 2014, moving on. Herb Waters had 20 catches for 277 yards and a touchdown while Malcolm Lewis had 25 catches for 248 yards and a touchdown. The offensive line has only two starters back and the offense may struggle without the top playmakers from a year ago.

The defense returns six starters from a group that allowed 24.3 points and only 330 yards per game in 2014. The defensive line has only one starter back in Calvin Heurtelou (25 tackles), but Ufomba Kamalu performed well despite only one start. Kamalu had 34 tackles and 3.5 sacks last year. Two linebackers return in Tyriq McCord (48 tackles, 3 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss) and Raphael Kirby (54 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions). The secondary has three starters back led by Deon Bush with 53 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions. Golden’s defenses usually perform well and that should continue in 2015 as well.

Miami has an easy start to the season with Bethune-Cookman coming to Coral Gables before a road trip to face Florida Atlantic. The second half of the non-conference schedule is far more difficult with Nebraska visiting and then Miami going on the road to face Cincinnati. Miami will face Virginia Tech, Virginia, and Georgia Tech at home while playing Duke, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh on the road. They have the worst draw from the Atlantic division with Florida State (road) and Clemson (home). Miami’s offense will be the concern this year without their top players from 2014 and the schedule is tough. However, Miami should make a bowl game and could surprise with a higher finish.

6. Pittsburgh Panthers

Todd Graham became Pittsburgh’s head coach in 2011, but led them to a 6-6 record before leaving for Arizona State. Paul Chryst took over in 2012 and led the Panthers to three straight 6-6 regular seasons. They lost the 2012 bowl game to finish 6-7, won in 2013 to finish 7-6, and he left for Wisconsin before Pitt lost the Armed Forces Bowl 35-34 to Houston and finished 6-7 again. Pat Narduzzi is the new head coach in 2015 and he was the defensive coordinator at Michigan State from 2007 through 2014.

Narduzzi will have eight starters back on offense including his biggest playmakers. Chad Voytik threw for 2,233 yards with 16 touchdowns and 7 interceptions and he will be returning along with wide receiver Tyler Boyd. Boyd caught 78 passes for 1,261 yards and 8 touchdowns and is one of the top receivers in all of college football. Boyd will miss the opening game against Youngstown State. Also returning for 2015 is running back James Conner. He had 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns giving Pittsburgh a nice 1-2 punch in the passing and rushing game. The offense put up 31.8 points and 435 yards per game in 2014 and could match those numbers this year. However, the Panthers need to develop second and third options in the passing game behind Boyd.

The defense, which is Narduzzi’s specialty, will have seven starters back from a group that allowed 26.3 points and 360 yards per game in 2014. Three starters are back on the defensive line led by Darryl Render. Render had 32 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and 4 pass breakups. Matt Galambos is the lone returning linebacker and he was third on the team in tackles last year. He had 72 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and an interception. the secondary return three starters including Reggie Mitchell. Mitchell had 52 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss, and 7 pass breakups. The defense should be solid even with new schemes under Narduzzi.

Pittsburgh opens the season against Youngstown State at home before back-to-back road games against Akron and Iowa. They conclude their non-conference slate at home against Notre Dame on November 7. In conference, they will face Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Duke on the road while playing Virginia, North Carolina, and Miami (FL) at home. From the Atlantic, they will have a road game at Syracuse and get Louisville at home. Pat Narduzzi enters a great situation with the offensive firepower and Pittsburgh should be back in another bowl game, if not pulling a few surprises in the ACC.

7. Virginia Cavaliers

Mike London went 4-8 in his first season in 2010 before having an excellent 8-5 season in 2011. Since then it has been rough. Virginia went 4-8 in 2012 and then fell to 2-10 in 2013. Last year, the Cavaliers went 5-7 and several close loss throughout the season prevented them from reaching a second bowl game under London. The pressure is on to get Virginia back to a bowl game for Mike London.

The offense returns five starters this year from a unit that put up 25.8 points and 374 yards of offense per game. The quarterback position was not settled last year and Matt Johns is expected to be the starter. Johns threw for 1,109 yards with 8 touchdowns and 5 interceptions while starting on three games and playing in all 12. The top two running backs are gone, but highly touted Taquan Mizzell ran for 280 yards and 2 touchdowns on 64 rushes last season. The top receiver is back in Canaan Severin, who had 42 catches for 578 yards and 5 touchdowns. The offensive line does return four starters, but there are some serious concerns with the running backs and wide receivers this year.

The defense has five starters back as well after giving up only 24.1 points and 353 yards per game last year. That group had nine starters returning. Three defensive linemen are back including Mike Moore (36 tackles, 3 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss) and David Dean (40 tackles, 1 sack, and 7 tackles for loss). The line gave up only 121 rushing yards per game and they may not be able to match that, but could come close. The linebackers were hit hard with all of the starters from 2014 departing, but there is plenty of talent in the group. The secondary has only two starters back, but one of the is Quin Blanding. He led Virginia in tackles last year with 123, but also recorded 1 sack, 1.5 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions. The defense will be hard-pressed to match last year’s numbers.

Virginia has a brutal out of conference schedule with games against UCLA, Notre Dame, William & Mary, and Boise State. They do have the last three of those games at home, but two are against quality opponents. In conference, Virginia will play Pittsburgh, North Carolina, and Miami (FL) on the road and welcome Georgia Tech, Duke, and Virginia Tech to Charlottesville. From the Atlantic, they will play Syracuse at home and travel to Louisville. It will be tough for Virginia to reach bowl eligibility and Mike London will most likely be relieved of his duties if they cannot get back to a bowl.

Overview

Other than Virginia, it appears that the other six teams all have a chance at making noise in the ACC Coastal Division. North Carolina is tapped to win the division, but Virginia Tech, Duke, Georgia Tech, and Miami (FL) could also have a chance. Pittsburgh has a new coach in Pat Narduzzi, but a lot of pieces in place for him and cannot be discounted. It could be the end for Mike London at Virginia this year. Here is the predicted order of finish.

1. North Carolina

2. Virginia Tech

3. Duke

4. Georgia Tech

5. Miami (FL)

6. Pittsburgh

7. Virginia

Check back on Friday for the ACC Atlantic Division preview as well as a look at who will be predicted to win the ACC Championship Game.

2015 College Football Preview: AAC West

Navy has joined a conference for the first time in their history. How will they fare in The American in 2015? (Rob Carr/Getty Images North America)
Navy has joined a conference for the first time in their history. How will they fare in The American in 2015? (Rob Carr/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: AAC West

We are up to part eight in the 2015 College Football Preview with a closer look at The American Athletic Conference’s West division. Also included is the Championship Game prediction for The American. As a reminder, below is 2015 College Preview Schedule as well as links to conferences already previewed.

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

Sun Belt – July 28

FBS Independents – 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

Below is the preview for each team in The American’s West Division.

1. Navy Midshipmen

2015 will be very historic for the Naval Academy. For the first time, they will be playing in a conference after 124 years of independence. It will be Ken Niumatalolo’s eighth year at Navy and he has only had a losing record one time, which was in 2011.

There will be only four starters back on offense for Navy, but the most important one is quarterback Keenan Reynolds (pictured at the top). Reynolds ran for 1,191 yards and 23 touchdowns while also throwing for 843 yards with six touchdowns and 3 picks in 2014. He also had some injury issues and will have his top target back in Jamir Tillman (20 catches for 386 yards and 3 touchdowns). With the triple option, the quarterback will also need to have his running backs help out. Chris Swain ran for 693 yards as the third leading rusher. Watch out for DeBrandon Sanders, who ran for 231 yards and 3 touchdowns on 29 attempts for an average of 8 yards per carry. The last time Navy had only four starters returning on offense, they averaged 28 points per game (2009). The offense will be fine in 2015.

The defense is in better shape with six starters back from a unit that gave up 27.3 points and 404 yards in 2014. The defense will be set up in a 3-4 scheme and has two starters back on the line with Will Anthony as the top threat. He finished 2014 with 67 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 8.5 tackles for loss. The linebacking unit has only one starter back in Daniel Gonzales, who had 86 tackles in 2014 to finish second on the team. and also intercepted three passes. Another strength on the defense will be the secondary with three starters back. The defense should acclimate well in The American during 2015.

Navy opens with a home game against Colgate before a bye week and then facing East Carolina at home. Their other non-conference games are against Air Force at home on October 3, at Notre Dame on October 10, and, of course, the Army game on December 12 in Philadelphia. From the East, they will have East Carolina (home), Connecticut (road), and South Florida (home). They will have road games against Memphis and Houston during, but should be in contention to win The American in their first season.

2. Houston Cougars

Houston will be under the control of Tom Herman after Tony Levine was fired following a 7-5 regular season in 2014. Herman has no prior head coaching experience, but he helped coach the trio of quarterbacks at Ohio State (Braxton Miller, JT Barrett, and Cardale Jones) in 2014 that culminated in the National Championship victory. The importance of the quarterback spot in the modern game cannot be understated.

Herman will have five starters back on offense. Wide receiver turned quarterback Greg Ward Jr. threw for 2,010 yards with 12 touchdowns and 7 interceptions while Adam Schulz and Kyle Postma will also have a chance to win the starting QB spot. Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson are both back at running back, which will help out the QB. Farrow ran for 1,037 yards and 14 touchdowns while Jackson ran for 610 yards and 5 touchdowns. Ward even ran for 573 yards and 6 touchdowns as the third leading rusher. The top two receivers are gone, which will put Demarcus Ayers (33 catches for 335 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Steven Dunbar (20 catches for 286 yards) in line to take over at receiver. The offense put up 29.8 points and 414 yards in 2014, but may do slightly worse with a new coach in 2015.

The defensive side of the ball will have six starters back, but the losses are heavy in the front six. Only one defensive lineman (BJ Singleton) and linebacker (Steven Taylor) return. The strength for the defense will be the secondary with four starters returning from a unit that allowed 200 yards passing and only 55.8% completions against them a season ago. Adrian McDonald finished 2014 with 75 tackles (third on the team) and 5 interceptions while being named to the AAC 1st Team. There will be some struggles in the front six, but the secondary should help the defense perform solidly overall.

Houston will have an easy opening week test against Tennessee Tech before a road game against Louisville. They face Texas State at home after a bye week and Vanderbilt will also come to town on Halloween (Oct. 31) to round out the non-conference portion of their schedule. In conference, Houston faces Central Florida (road), Cincinnati (home), and Connecticut (home) from the East division. Houston will face both Memphis (Nov. 14) and Navy (Nov. 27) at home and that could be the difference to win the AAC West.

3. Memphis Tigers

Memphis made a massive jump in year three of Justin Fuente’s tenure in 2014. After going 7-17 in his first two years, Fuente led Memphis to a 10-3 record in 2014 and looks to continue that momentum this year.

In 2014, the offense produced 36.2 points and 427 yards per game with nine starters returning. In 2015, there will be eight starters returning led by quarterback Paxton Lynch. Lynch threw for 3,031 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. He also ran for 321 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. The top running back from 2014, Brandon Hayes (949 yards and 5 touchdowns), is gone, but the combination of Jarvis Cooper, Sam Craft, and Doroland Dorceus will try to replace him. That trio will have four starters back on the offensive line to help lead the way. 2014’s top receiver is also gone (Keiwone Malone with 45 catches for 555 yards and 4 touchdowns), but his numbers are not too much to replace. Mose Frazier had 47 catches for 405 yards and 3 touchdowns while Tevin Jones caught 33 passes for 442 yards and 3 touchdowns. Memphis should be able to put up around the same numbers they did in 2014.

Memphis’ biggest concern is the defense with only three returning starters. The three starters back, Ernest Suttles, Jackson Dillon, and Reggis Ball, will be leading their respective units. Suttles, a sophomore defensive lineman, will be joined by Latarius Brady and Mike Edwards. Dillon finished with 43 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss at the hybrid linebacker spot in 2014. Ball will be back at free safety as the top returning defensive back. After giving up only 19.5 points and 350 yards per game in 2014, the Tigers can expect a modest rise in those numbers with as much inexperience as they have.

Memphis will open the season against FCS Missouri state before back-to-back road games against Kansas and Bowling Green. Their final non-conference game will be at home against Ole Miss on October 17. In conference, Memphis will face Cincinnati (home), South Florida (road), and Temple (road) from the East. The deciding games will take place in the span of a week with a home game against Navy (Nov. 7) and a trip to Houston (Nov. 14). Memphis has a chance to win The American’s West division, but at the very least can expect a bowl appearance.

4. Tulane Green Wave

Tulane has been through some tough times since the turn of the century. Between 2003 and 2012, Tulane did not make a bowl game, nor did they have a winning season. Curtis Johnson ended that streak in 2013 with an appearance in the New Orleans Bowl, but lost 24-21 to UL-Lafayette. Tulane fell to 3-9 last year and Johnson will be looking for a bounce back year in 2015.

Nine starters are back for the Green Wave on offense in 2015 including quarterback Tanner Lee. As a freshman last year, Lee threw for 1,962 yards with 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Fellow freshman running back Sherman Badie is also back after running for 688 yards and 3 touchdowns, but he will also be joined by Lazedrick Thompson (533 yards and 4 touchdowns) and Dontrell Hilliard (452 yards and 3 touchdowns). Two of the top three receivers are gone while Teddy Veal returns after 40 catches for 381 yards and a touchdown in 2014. Terren Encalade finished with 20 catches for 235 yards and the receiving group should do better as long as the quarterback play is better. The offense struggled in 2014 putting up only 16 points and 347 yards per game, but those numbers should improve in 2015.

The defense will have seven starters back after giving up 28.4 points and 388 yards per game. Three of the defensive linemen return including Royce LaFrance. LaFrance had only 34 tackles last year, but recorded six sacks and 5 tackles for loss. It is rare to mention Bob Marley in a football article, but his grandson Nico Marley is back at linebacker. Nico Marley recorded 82 tackles (second on the team), 0.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, and an interception while being named to the AAC’s 3rd Team last year. Two starters are back in the secondary in Parry Nickerson and Darion Monroe. Nickerson had 51 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups, and 6 interceptions while Monroe had 73 tackles, 1 sack, 4 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions. The defense should be able to improve on their 2014 numbers.

Tulane has a rough opening to the season with a home game against Duke and a road game versus Georgia Tech before FCS Maine visits in the third week. They face Army on the road November 14 to close out their non-conference slate. Tulane will face Central Florida (home), Temple (road), and Connecticut (home) from the East division. The tough schedule for Tulane also includes conference games against Houston, Navy, and Memphis. Tulane will be better in 2015, but the schedule makes it tough for them to reach another bowl game under Johnson.

5. Tulsa Golden Hurricane

Todd Graham led Tulsa to three double digit win totals between 2007 and 2010 before leaving for Pittsburgh and then Arizona State. Bill Blankenship took over in 2011 and led Tulsa to 8 and 11 win seasons in his first two years before everything unhinged, going 5-19 his last two years. Enter Philip Montgomery for his first year in 2015.

Offense was not too much an issue for Tulsa, as they averaged 24.7 points and 413 yards per game in 2014. This year, Tulsa will have 10 starters back on offense with the only replacement being at left tackle. Dane Evans threw for 3,102 yards with 23 touchdowns and 17 interceptions while undoubtedly looking for Keevan Lucas again. Lucas had 101 catches for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns. Also back are running backs Zack Langer (801 yards and 4 touchdowns) and James Flanders (456 yards and 1 touchdown). Even with a new coach/system in place, Tulsa will be putting up some points in 2015.

The defense was a mess in 2014 for Tulsa. Despite having eight starters back, they gave up 39.3 points and 487 yards to opposing offenses. Six starters return this year with three on the line. Derrick Alexander was a monster in 2014 with 42 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 4.5 tackles en route to making the AAC’s 2nd Team squad. Linebackers Craig Suits (81 tackles, 1 sack, 6.5 tackles for loss, and a pick) and Trent Martin (64 tackles, 1 sack, and tackles for loss) are also back. The front seven will need to better because there is only one starter back in the secondary. Safety Michael Mudoh was the top tackler for Tulsa last year with 113 stops while also intercepting two passes. The defense should not be giving up nearly 40 points and 500 yards a game in 2015.

Tulsa will face Florida Atlantic at home followed by road trips to New Mexico and Oklahoma to start the year. After opening AAC play at home to Houston, they will face UL-Monroe at home as well to finish their non-conference schedule. What hurts Tulsa in conference is that they will be facing the trio of East Carolina (road), Central Florida (home), and Cincinnati (road) from the East and those three are in contention to win the division. Tulsa should have a better season, but still have a tough road ahead of them in 2015.

6. SMU Mustangs

SMU was taken over in 2008 by June Jones and he did a great job leading the Mustangs back to a bowl game in his second season in 2009. They won that game with ease against Nevada 45-10 and Jones followed that up with three more bowl in a row (3-1 in those games). After being blown out by a combined score of 88-6 in the first two games of 2014, Jones resigned while SMU crashed to a dismal 1-11 record. Chad Morris takes over after several seasons in charge of the explosive Clemson offense.

There is no other way to talk about SMU’s offense in 2014 other than to say it was putrid. They put up only 11.1 points and 269 yards per game. Nine starters are back in 2015 and the quarterback duties will likely not be split up between three players. Matt Davis took all of the top reps in spring after throwing for 855 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions last year. Davis also ran for 613 yards and 4 touchdowns, which makes him a dangerous dual threat QB. The duo of Prescott Line and Daniel Gresham will battle it out at running back, but the top running back in 2014 was Line with 256 yards and 4 touchdowns. Two of the top three receivers are gone while Darius Joseph (54 catches for 379 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Deion Sanders Jr. (son of former NFL player Deion Sanders; 23 catches for 188 yards) will be likely to take over starting spots. The entire offensive line returns, but will have to learn new schemes. It is safe to say that SMU will be putting up better numbers in 2015 with Morris in charge.

The defense has seven starters returning from a unit that gave up 41.3 points and 499 yards per game in 2014. Three starters will return on the defensive line, but they surrendered 236 yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry in 2014. Linebacker Jonathan Yenga recorded 65 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss in 2014 and he will anchor his unit. Three starters are back in the secondary led by Darrion Richardson. He had 69 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss, and an interception. SMU really cannot get much worse than their 2014 performance.

SMU will face Baylor and North Texas at home before a road game at TCU in the third week. James Madison will visit in the final weekend of September before SMU kicks off their conference slate. SMU has a brutal AAC schedule having to face the likes of East Carolina, South Florida, and Temple from the East in addition to the five other teams from their division. SMU will be better, but may finish with double digit losses again.

Overview

Much like the AAC’s East division, the West is also wide open. Any one of three teams – Navy, Houston, or Memphis – look solid enough to claim the title. Tulane will be close to bowl eligibility while Tulsa should fare better in 2015. SMU is in rebuilding mode, but Chad Morris is pointing them in the right direction. Below is the predicted order of finish.

1. Navy

2. Houston

3. Memphis

4. Tulane

5. Tulsa

6. SMU

AAC Championship Game

We predicted that Temple would win the AAC East on Tuesday and Navy will capture the West division. What a matchup that would be to see if it does indeed happen. Here, we will call for Navy to win the AAC West and the AAC Championship Game in their first ever season in a conference.

Check back on Tuesday, July 28 for a double release preview of the Sun Belt Conference as well as the FBS Independents.

Arizona State Suspends JUCO Transfer Davon Durant

JUCO transfer Davon Durant has been suspended by Arizona State (Dwayne McLemor / The State)
JUCO transfer Davon Durant has been suspended by Arizona State (Dwayne McLemor / The State)

Arizona State Suspends JUCO Transfer Davon Durant

Potential starter Davon Durant has been suspended by Arizona State indefinitely. The suspension stems from multiple charges filed against Durant for an incident on March 8.

Durant has been charged with one count of aggravated assault and three counts of disorderly conduct according to this public record.

Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic provided the following description of what happened according to the police report:

“Tempe police say Durant was arrested March 7 when officers were called to the scene after witnesses reported a man had struck a woman while they sat in a black SUV.

Durant told an officer he was arguing with his girlfriend in the car. According to the report, Durant’s girlfriend told police that the linebacker hit her in the face once and grabbed her around her neck.

The responding officer reported that Durant’s girlfriend had visible injuries, including a bruise below her left eye and bruising around her neck that was consistent with finger marks.”

Arizona State head coach Todd Graham said, “If a guy gets arrested, they understand they’re going to be suspended. Our standards are the highest. They’re a lot higher than just about anybody around and there’s accountability for those standards. If you’re going to come forward and make the stance that we do when it comes to character and respect, obviously, that’s something that’s very, very important to us. But also we owe it to our guys to let the (legal) process play itself out.”

Durant enrolled early at Arizona State, but is not listed on the roster. Durant was expected to start at the Devilbacker position, which according to Durant would allow to play all over the field. Durant was a transfer from Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas. His absence has allowed Ismael Murphy-Richardson to get the first team reps. Murphy-Richardson redshirted in 2014.