Thursday, August 6, 2015

Tulsa Golden Hurricanes Season Preview

STORYLINES
Tulsa’s Philip Montgomery makes his head coaching debut this season following a recordbreaking tenure as Baylor’s offensive coordinator. Tulsa has reached double digits in wins four times since the 2007 season, most recently in 2012, when the Golden Hurricane went 11-3 and won the Conference USA title. Tulsa returns 17 starters from last season.
OFFENSE
The Golden Hurricane returns 10 starters from an offensive unit that averaged 412.5 yards per game in 2014. WR Keevan Lucas finished second in The American in receptions (101) and receiving yards (1,219) and last season and led the conference with 11 touchdown receptions. Lucas joins WR Keyarris Garrett to comprise one of the top receiving tandems in the conference. RB Zack Langer was second in The American in rushing in 2014 (80.1 ypg). Langer registered four 100-yard games in his final six appearances. QB Dane Evans ranked second in The Ameican in passing (258.5 ypg) and finished with 23 touchdowns in his first year as the regular starter.
DEFENSE
S Michael Mudoh enters the 2015 season with 271 career tackles, which ranks fourth among returning players in FBS football. Mudoh was sixth in The American last season with 9.4 tackles per game. Mudoh is the lone returning starter in the Tulsa secondary. DT Derrick Luetjen, who has made 24 consecutive starts, and DE Derrick Alexander, who has 23 career starts, lead a veteran defensive line. Alexander earned second-team all-conference accolades in 2014. LB Craig Suits earned FWAA Freshman AllAmerica honors last season after he finished with 81 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in 12 starts.
SPECIAL TEAMS
P Dalton Parks was an honorable mention all-conference selection last season after he averaged 42.0 yards per punt. Tulsa will turn to K Redford Jones as the new placekicker. Jones saw action as a kickoff specialist last season. RB D’Angelo Brewer was second in The American in kickoff returns last season (22.3 ypr).

Tulane Green Wave Season Preview

STORYLINES
Tulane fielded one of the youngest teams in college football last season. The Green Wave has 34 sophomores on its roster this year. Head coach Curtis Johnson has won a Super Bowl title (in 2009 with the New Orleans Saints) and a BCS National Championship (in 2001 with Miami) as an assistant coach. Tulane, which won seven games in 2013, looks to bounce back from last year’s 3-9 campaign. 
OFFENSE 
Tulane returns nine offensive starters from last season. The Green Wave has its starting quarterback and top three rushers back for 2015. Tulane’s leading passer (QB Tanner Lee), rusher (RB Sherman Badie) and receiver (WR Teddy Veal) were all freshmen last season. Badie rushed for 688 rushing yards and three touchdowns as the top man in a talented backfield. Lee threw for 1,962 yards and 12 touchdowns as a rookie last season and should benefit from his year of experience. OT Arturo Uzdavinis, a six-foot-seven, 307-pound tackle, has made 25 starts the last two years and leads a veteran offensive line. 
DEFENSE 
CB Parry Nickerson, another impact player as a freshman last year, registered six interceptions in 2014 and was named to the USA Today Freshman All-America Team. Nickerson joins S Darion Monroe to lead what should be one of the better defensive backfields in The American. Monroe had 73 tackles with two forced fumbles last year. LB Nico Marley registered 13.5 tackles for loss, good for second in the American Athletic Conference, in 2014. DE Royce LaFrance, who has started 24 games at defensive end, leads an experienced defensive line that has three returning starters. LaFrance had a team-high 5.5 sacks in 2014. 
SPECIAL TEAMS 
P Peter Picereli is a senior who averaged 37.8 yards on 71 punts last season. K Andrew DiRocco made eight field goals in 14 attempts as the Green Wave struggled to find consistency in the kicking game last season. RB Dontrell Hilliard was the primary kickoff returner last season (15.3 ypr), while Teddy Veal handled punt returns (4.6 ypr).

SMU Mustangs Season Preview

STORYLINES
SMU had played in a bowl game in four consecutive years between 2009-12, but have gone backto-back years without reaching the postseason. First-year head coach Chad Morris, a native of Dallas, returns to his hometown after a highly successful stint as Clemson’s offensive coordinator. Morris amassed a 169-38 record as a high school coach in the state of Texas. SMU’s nonconference schedule includes two games against teams ranked in the top seven of last year’s final poll (No. 3 TCU, No. 7 Baylor). SMU’s first six games of the season are in the state of Texas. 
OFFENSE 
SMU used four different starting quarterbacks during the course of last season. QB Matt Davis, a transfer from Texas A&M, started the last five games of the year and finished as the Mustangs’ leading passer and rusher. WR Darius Joseph looks to regain his form of 2013, when he ranked second in the American Athletic Conference with 108 receptions. Joseph and WR Deion Sanders Jr. are both returning starters from a year ago. C Taylor Lasecki — who was named to the Rimington Trophy watch list for the second straight year —leads an offensive line that has all five starters returning. 
DEFENSE 
SMU returns seven defensive starters from last year. The Mustangs have three starters back in the secondary and three on the defensive line. DE Zach Wood led the Mustangs with four sacks and had six tackles for loss and a fumble recovery last season. He joins DE Robert Seals to comprise a senior-laden tandem up front. CB Horace Richardson had a team-high two interceptions, while S Darrion Richardson had 69 tackles with a forced fumble, a sack and an interception to lead the secondary. LB Jonathan Yenga is the only returning starter at linebacker. Yenga had 65 tackles with two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss last season.. 
SPECIAL TEAMS 
P Jackson Koonce averaged 40.8 yards on 74 punts as a freshman last season. Deion Sanders Jr. was a first-team all-conference selection as a return specalist. Sanders was third in The American in all-purpose yards (105.2 ypg) and averaged 20.5 yards on kickoff returns. The Mustangs will likely turn to an incoming freshman for the regular placekicker duties.

Navy Midshipmen Season Preview

STORYLINES
Navy joins the American Athletic Conference this season after playing as an independent for the previous 134 seasons. Navy went 8-5 last season, marking the 11th time in 12 years that the Midshipmen finished with at least eight wins. Navy has made 10 bowl appearances in the last 11 years. Navy led the nation in fewest penalties per game in 2014 (2.54). It was the fourth time in the last six years that Navy was the nation’s leastpenalized team. 
OFFENSE
 QB Keenan Reynolds enters his senior year with 64 career rushing touchdowns, which is tied for fourth in NCAA history. The NCAA record is 77 (Monte Ball, Wisconsin). Reynolds rushed for 1,191 yards and 23 touchdowns last season. Navy ranked second nationally in rushing offense in 2014, averaging 325.4 yards per game. The Midshipmen return four starters from last year on offense —two from the offensive line. OG EK Binns and OT Joey Gaston are seniors who have significant starting experience. Navy uses a number of players at slotback and fullback. FB Chris Swain rushed for 693 yards and four TDs a year ago. 
DEFENSE 
The Midshipmen return six defensive starters from last season, with particular depth on the line and in the secondary. NG Bernard Sarra finished last season with 38 tackles and three blocked kicks, tied for the most in the nation. Sarra has started 22 games in his first three seasons. DE Will Anthoy led the team with 11 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. LB Daniel Gonzales finished last season with 86 tackles and a team-high three interceptions. CB Quincy Adams was third on the team in tackles (75), while CB Brendon Clements was fifth (58). 
SPECIAL TEAMS 
K Austin Grebe took over as the regular kicker midway through last season was went 6-for-6 on field goal attempts and 33-for-33 on PATs. Grebe hit the game-winning field goal with 1:27 left to give the Midshipmen the win against San Diego State in last year’s Poinsettia Bowl. The Midshipmen will go with a new punter in 2014. P Gavin Jernigan is the favorite to handle the chores as a senior.

Houston Cougars Season Preview

STORYLINES
Memphis takes a seven-game winning streak into the 2015 season. Only Ohio State, Boise State and TCU have longer active winning streaks entering the season. Memphis coach Justin Fuente was one of eight finalists for the Eddie Robinson Award as the national coach of the year after he led the Tigers to a share of the American Athletic Conference title in 2014. Memphis’ conference title was the Tigers’ first since the 1971 season. 
OFFENSE 
The Tigers scored 471 points in 2014, shattering the old school record of 430 points, set in 2004. QB Paxton Lynch threw 22 touchdown passes and added 13 rushing TDs as a sophomore in 2014. Lynch earned second-team all-conference honors. The Tigers should expect a boost from the return of RB Doroland Dorceus, who averaged 5.2 yards per cary and had four rushing touchdowns in four games before suffering a season-ending injury. The Tigers return four starters on the offensive line, as well as first-team all-conference TE Alan Cross. 
DEFENSE 
Memphis was ranked 11th nationally in scoring defense (19.5 ppg) in 2014, but the Tigers return only three starters from that unit. LB Jackson Dillon is the top returning tackler. Jackson had 43 stops with nine tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 2014. S Reggis Ball is the lone returning starter in the secondary, though the Tigers do have a number of players who saw regular action there last season. DE Ernest Suttles emerged as a starter on the defensive line as a freshman and will be the most seasoned of the Tigers’ down linemen in 2015. 
SPECIAL TEAMS
K Jake Elliott is one of the nation’s top kickers and was an all-conference first team selection last season. Elliott, who led The American in scoring (9.2 ppg), hit 21 of 32 field goal attempts and was 15-for-16 from inside 40 yards. Elliott hit a season-long 54-yard field goal in overtime in the Miami Beach Bowl win against Brigham Young. P Spencer Smith stepped in as the regular punter last season and averaged 40.3 yards per punt. Smith helped the Tigers finish third in The American in net punting.

Houston Cougars Season Preview

STORYLINES
Houston coach Tom Herman is in his first year on the Cougar sideline after he helped Ohio State to the 2014 College Football Playoff National Championship as the Buckeyes’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. The Cougars closed last season by beating Pittsburgh, 35-34, in the Armed Forces Bowl. Houston trailed 34-13 with less than four minutes left before scoring three touchdowns and recovering two onside kicks.
OFFENSE
QB Greg Ward Jr. went 6-2 as Houston’s starting signal-caller last season. Ward completed 67.0 percent of his passes (175 of 261) and accounted for 18 touchdowns (12 passing, six rushing). RB Kenneth Farrow led the American Athletic Conference with seven 100-yard games last season. Farrow has been named to the preseason watch lists for the Maxwell Award, the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and the Doak Walker Award. WR Demarcus Ayers, who was The American’s Special Teams Player of the Year in 2013, is the top returning receiver for 2015. Ayers had 33 receptions for 335 yards and two TDs last season.
DEFENSE
Houston, which led the nation in takeaways in 2013, finished 11th nationally in 2014 with 30 turnovers gained. S Adrian McDonald had a had in eight turnovers last season. He had five interceptions and three fumble recoveries and was a first-team allconference selection last year. McDonald leads a secondary that returns all four starters from last season.. CB William Jackson had 12 passes defended last year on his way to second-team all-conference honors. LB Steven Taylor is the lone returning starter at linebacker. Taylor was second on the team with 76 tackles to go with four sacks, nine tackles for loss and three forced fumbles in 2014.
SPECIAL TEAMS
Houston returns both of its kicking specialists from 2014. K Kyle Bullard was fourth among American Athletic Conference kickers in scoring last season (6.9 points per game). P Logan Piper averaged 39.5 yards per punt in his first year as the Cougars’ punter.

Temple Owls Season Preview

STORYLINES
Temple improved by four wins in Matt Rhule’s second season with the Owls, going from 2-10 to 6-6. Temple has 19 returning starters from last season — the most of any American Athletic Conference team. The Owls will play home games against Penn State and Notre Dame during the nonconference portion of its schedule.
OFFENSE
QB P.J. Walker enters his third year as the Owls’ starting signal-caller. Walker threw for 2,317 yards last season, good for second on Temple’s single-season chart. RB Jahad Thomas rushed for a team-high 384 yards on 80 carries and had 364 yards on 14 receptions after making the transition from the defensive backfield. RB Zaire Williams, who rushed for 517 yards in 2013, returns after redshirting last season. C Kyle Friend, who has made 33 consecutive starts, anchors an offensive line which returns four starters from last year. The Owls are relatively inexperience at wide receiver. WR John Christopher, who had 24 receptions for 194 yards last season, is the top returning player.
DEFENSE
Temple returns 10 starters from a defense that ranked fourth nationally in scoring last season (17.5 ppg). LB Tyler Matakevich enters his senior year with 355 career tackles and is the only active Division I player with at least 300 career stops. Matakevich could become the seventh FBS player to register four seasons with at least 100 tackles. CB Tavon Young led the American Athletic Conference with 153 yards on interception returns last season. Young had four interceptions, which ranked sixth in the conference. The Owls held seven of their 12 opponents to 16 points or fewer in 2014.
SPECIAL TEAMS
K Austin Jones hit 13 of 22 field goal attempts (59.1 percent) and was perfect on PATs as a freshman. P Alex Starzyk averaged 38.4 yards per punt. The Owls blocked five kicks in 2014, leading The American. Temple led the American Athletic Conference in punt return average (12.3 ypr).

South Florida Bulls Season Preview

STORYLINES
USF doubled its wins total from 2013 in Willie Taggart’s second year as the Bulls’ head coach. Since 2007, USF has registered nonconference wins against Auburn, UCF, Clemson, Florida State, Miami (Fla.), North Carolina, Northern Illinois and Notre Dame, among others. The Bulls will have new coordinators on both offense and defense in 2015. Co-offensive coordinator Danny Hope was formerly the head coach at Purdue.
OFFENSE
RB Marlon Mack was named the American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year in 2014 after he led the conference in rushing (86.8 ypg). Mack had four 100-yard games and five touchdown runs of at least 54 yards in his freshman season. QB Steven Bench and QB Quinton Flowers will battle for the starting spot in the summer. Bench has made three career starts, while Flowers made one start as a freshman last year. Returning starters OG Brynjar Gudmundsson and OG Thor Jozwiak provide a solid foundation on the interior line. The top returning receiver is WR Rodney Adams, who had 23 catches for 323 yards and two touchdowns in 2014
DEFENSE
Defensive coordinator Tom Allen joins the staff after he spent the last three seasons as the linebackers coach at Mississippi. LB Nigel Harris led the nation with six forced fumbles in 2014. He is part of a USF defense that returns its top five tacklers from last season. Harris joins LB Auggie Sanchez as returning starters at linebacker. S Jamie Byrd also returns as a starter at the husky position. The secondary returns three starters — CB Johnny Ward, S Nate Godwin and S Devin Abraham. S Tajee Fullwood saw starting duty as well.
SPECIAL TEAMS
P Mattias Ciabatti is among the top punters in the nation. He led The American and was 10th nationally with an average punt of 44.4 yards on his way to all-conference first-team honors. The Bulls will have to replace the production of Marvin Kloss, a former Groza Award finalist who was one of the nation’s top kickers.

East Carolina Pirates Season Preview

STORYLINES
East Carolina has made eight bowl appearances in the last nine years. The Pirates registered two wins against top-25 opponents last year, defeating No. 17 Virginia Tech and No. 25 North Carolina in nonconference play. East Carolina, which fell to Florida in the Birmingam Bowl last season, has a rematch with the Gators in the second game of the 2015 season. 
OFFENSE 
East Carolina will have to replace the potent tandem of QB Shane Carden, who was the American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year, and WR Justin Hardy, the NCAA career receptions leader. QB Kurt Benkert, who saw action in three games in 2014, is expected to take over as the starter. WR Isaiah Jones was the team’s second-leading receiver last year with 81 receptions for 830 yards and five touchdowns. RB Chris Hairston was second on the team in rushing last season (528 yards, two TDs) and is primed to take over as the starter. OT Ike Harris, OG J.T. Boyd and TE Bryce Williams all earned second-team all-conference honors last year. 
DEFENSE 
The Pirates return fiver starters from last year’s defense. LB Zeek Bigger led the American Athletic Conference in tackles in 2014 (140) and was a second team all-conference selection. LB Montese Overton had 68 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss. DE Johnathon White is the lone returning starter from last year on the defensive line, but the Pirates should receive a boost from the return of DE Terrell Stanley. Stanley was a starter in 2013 who missed all of last season while recovering from injuries suffered in a car accident. CB Josh Hawkins had five interceptions, which ranked third in The American, and was second in the conference with 11 pass breakups. 
SPECIAL TEAMS 
The Pirates will have to find a new man at placekicker following the departure of Warren Harvey. K Davis Plowman saw limited action last season. P Worth Gregory, a transfer from Alabama, averaged 43.6 yards per punt, which would have put him among atop the conference leaders had he enough punts to qualify. Isaiah Jones served as the primary kickoff return specialist last year. The Pirates will need to fill the void left by Justin Hardy, who doubled as the main punt returner.

UCONN Huskies Season Preview

STORYLINES
UConn heads into its second season under head coach Bob Diaco with 13 returning starters, including seven on defense. The Huskies had reeled off four straight winning seasons between 2007 and 2010 — a stretch that included two conference titles and a Fiesta Bowl appearance — but look to end a string of four straight seasons without a bowl bid. UConn will face five of its 12 opponents for the first time in the 2014 season.
OFFENSE
QB Tim Boyle is the only returning player on the roster who saw time behind center last season. QB Bryant Shirreffs, a transfer from North Carolina State and a former Northeast Georgia high school player of the year, figures to battle for the starting spot in 2015. RB Ron Johnson emerged as the Huskies’ leading rusher as a freshman last season. Johnson rushed for 429 yards and three touchdowns, while RB Arkeel Newsome and RB Joshua Marriner made contributions as freshmen as well. WR Noel Thomas had a team-high four touchdown receptions last year and is the Huskies’ top returning receiver. UConn returns three starters on the offensive line — OT Richard Levy, OT Andreas Knappe and OG Tyler Samara. C Ryan Crozier was named to the Rimington Trophy preseason watch list.
DEFENSE
UConn could boast one of the more improved defenses in the nation thanks to the return of key players at every spot. DE Kenton Adeyemi and NG Julian Campenni anchor a veteran defensive line which returns its top four tacklers from last year. LB Marquis Vann (eighth), S Andrew Adams (10th) and LB Graham Stewart (12th) were all among the American Athletic Conference leaders in tackles. Vann finished the season with 105 tackles and seven tackles for loss. Stewart registered 94 stops with 10.5 TFL, two sacks and two forced fumbles. Adams proved to be an impact player in the secondary after he made 95 tackles with four interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
SPECIAL TEAMS
UConn will return both kicking specialists from last year. K Bobby Puyol was the regular placekicker and made 19 of 22 field goal attempts. P Justin Wain averaged 38.8 yards on an American Athletic Conference-leading 74 punts last season. Wain’s average was fourth in The American.

Cincinnati Bearcats Season Preview

STORYLINES
Cincinnati has won at least nine games seven times in the last eight years. The Bearcats won their last seven regularseason games to close the 2014 season before falling to Virginia Tech in the Military Bowl. The Bearcats return to Nippert Stadium in 2015 after the venerable stadium underwent an $86 million renovation. Cincinnati played its 2014 home games at Paul Brown Stadium. 
OFFENSE 
QB Gunner Kiel battled through injuries to start all 13 games last year. Kiel led the American Athletic Conference with 31 touchdown passes and a 149.4 efficiency rating. The Bearcats return their top seven receivers from last season — players who caught a combined 33 touchdown passes in 2014. WR Chris Moore averaged a conference-leading 22.4 yards per catch and had eight TDs last season. Cincinnati saw a number of running backs go down with injuries last season before RB Mike Boone picked up the slack as a true freshman. Boone led the team with 650 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. OG Parker Ehinger earned all-conference firstteam honors last season and is the anchor of the Bearcats’ veteran offensive line. That unit has 76 career starts to its credit. 
DEFENSE 
Cincinnati has five starters back from a defense that made marked improvement in the second half of last season. The Bearcats ranked ninth in The American in total defense last year. The Bearcats lose two players who registered 100 tackles last season (LB Jeff Luc, LB Nick Temple). The top returning tackler from last year is S Zach Edwards, who made 121 stops with two interceptions and six pass breakups. CB Adrian Witty was granted a sixth year of eligibility and returns to his starting spot in the secondary. 
SPECIAL TEAMS 
K Andrew Gantz earned all-conference second team honors as a freshman after he ranked second in The American in kicker scoring. Gantz hit 16 of 20 field goal attempts in 2014. P Sam Geraci averaged 39.4 yards per punt and ranked seventh in The American. WR Johnny Holton averaged 20.6 yards on kickoff returns, which ranked third among American Athletic Conference players.