Friday, August 7, 2015

UTSA Roadrunners Season Preview

One year after returning the most starters in the FBS, UTSA will return just six (two offense/four defense) in 2015, which is the lowest total in the country. The Roadrunners welcome back senior OG Williams Cavanaugh and senior TE David Morgan II on offense and senior LB Drew Douglas, junior S Chase Dahlquist, senior S Mauricio Sanchez and senior CB Bennett Okotcha on defense.

UTSA’s spring two-deep depth chart features a defense that returns a combined 91 career starts, but the offense brings back just 47.

Morgan II is the Roadrunners’ lone returning All-Conference USA honoree. The Marble Falls, Texas, native is coming off a junior campaign that saw him catch 20 passes for 255 yards (12.8 avg.) and one touchdown in nine games of action (six starts). Morgan II owns career marks of 40 receptions for 538 yards (13.5 avg.) and three scores in 30 contests (10 starts).

UTSA’s non-conference schedule arguably is one of the nation’s toughest, as it will travel to Arizona (Thursday, Sept. 3) and Oklahoma State (Sept. 19) in addition to hosting Kansas State (Sept. 12) and Colorado State (Sept. 26). The quartet of 2014 bowl teams com- bined for 36 wins a year ago and Arizona (#17/#19) and Kansas State (#18) finished the season ranked in the USA Today Coaches’ and As- sociated Press Top 25 polls.

The Roadrunners signed their largest signing class, 37 players (28 high schoolers — including five 2014 greyshirts & two early enrollees — eight junior college transfers and an FBS transfer), in February and it also will welcome Russell Bellomy, who will transfer from Michigan after receiving his undergraduate degree in May

UTEP Miners Season Preview

The 2014 Miners posted the program’s first winning season since 2005 and played Utah State in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, their first bowl appearance since 2010. UTEP enters this season seeking back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 2004-05.

Junior RB Aaron Jones became the first Miner underclassmen to lead the team in rushing in each of his first two years since John Harvey (1985-86). Jones has averaged better than 5.0 yards per carry in both seasons, while moving into 10th place on the Miners’ career rushing list with 2,132 yards. Jones ended the 2014 season with 1,321 yards, the fourth-best seasonal total in school annals. 

There are six quarterbacks on the roster for the Miners, as Coach Kugler and staff aim to find a replacement for Jameill Showers, who started all 13 games last year while compiling 1,858 yards and 12 TDs. Only two (junior Garrett Simpson and sophomore Mack Leftwich) of the six QBs have taken a snap at the collegiate level but those have been very limited. Leftwich, who redshirted in 2014, started the final four games of the 2013 season after being pulled from redshirt status. He connected on 44-of-75 passes (58.7 percent) for 458 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Simpson, meanwhile, has appeared in five total contests in two years, completing all three attempts for a total of 55 yards (in 2013). The other three signal callers on the squad are all freshmen, with two redshirt-freshmen (Hunter McEachern and Ryan Metz) and a true freshman from the high school ranks (Kavika Johnson). 

UTEP finished with 76 tackles for loss last year after posting 45 during the 2013 season

Southern Miss Golden Eagles Season Preview

On offense, Southern Miss lost just two skill players from last season in QB Cole Weeks and WR Markese Triplett, who both graduated. The Golden Eagles return all of their rushing yards from last season, 76.4 percent of their passing yards and 83.6 percent of their receiving yards.

Junior QB Nick Mullens tallied 263 yards passing in the season finale, marking his 14th career 200-yard passing games in 16 starts. Last season, he collected 200-yard passing games in nine of 10 starts. Mullens finished the season with 2,470 yards and 12 touchdowns in 10 games.

Sophomore WR Michael Thomas led the team in receiving yards (592) and touchdown receptions (five) during his freshman season. He collected at least one reception in every game, including four or more in five outings. Thomas had a string of four-straight games with a TD catch.

Southern Miss lost five of its top six tacklers from a year ago to graduation. Senior LB Brian Anderson returns as the top tackler from a season ago when he registered 65 tackles.

Southern Miss will open its 2015 campaign against in-state foe Mississippi State. It will be the Bulldogs first visit to Hattiesburg since 1989, which also marks the last time an opponent from the Southeastern Conference came to play at M.M. Roberts Stadium.

Rice Owls Season Preview

The Owls made their school-record third straight bowl appearance last season, defeating Fresno State, 30-6 in the Hawai’i Bowl.

Rice was 8-5 in 2014, the ninth time in school history the Owls have won eight or more in a season. Head coach David Bailiff matched Jess Neely with his third season of eight or more wins. 

The Owls have posted the best win totals in two (18) and three (25) years in school history. Senior QB Driphus Jackson moved into third place on the Rice list for TD passes in a single-season (24), and into fifth for TD passes in a career (30). Jackson placed fourth on Rice’s single-season passing yards list at 2,842 - the most since Chase Clement in 2008 - and piled up 3,243 yards of total offense (4th-best in school annals). 

Junior RB Darik Dillard has compiled 16 touchdowns in two seasons (14 rushing, 2 receiving) and has a combined 76 with his brother, former All-American WR Jarett Dillard. The best total in NCAA FBS history by a pair of brothers is 81 by Jacquizz (51) and James (30) Rogers of Oregon State. 

The Owls will play just one game outside of the state of Texas all season long - Oct. 10 at Florida Atlantic. The other 11 games will take place in the Lone State State. 

North Texas Mean Green Season Preview

Head coach Dan McCarney is establishing a record of success at Apogee Stadium as North Texas has a home record of 16-7 since the stadium opened in 2011. The Mean Green went 5-1 at home in 2013, tying for the second most wins in school history. In the three seasons before 2011, the Mean Green went just 1-16 at home.

McCarney has won 22 games at North Texas, which already ranks in the top- 10 all-time as he enters the 2015 season eighth in coaching wins. McCarney reached 18 wins faster at North Texas than any coach since Rod Rust in 1967- 69 after his first three seasons.

The Mean Green rushed for more than 200-yards on three different occasions and NT has run for over 300-yards now seven times in the last four seasons. The Mean Green rushed for 21 touchdowns in 2014, which is tied for the eighth most in school history.

Senior WR Carlos Harris caught 70 passes for 863 yards last season, posting three 100-yard games. The 863 yards are the most among returning players in C-USA.

Kicker Trevor Moore turned in perhaps the best season by a placekicker in school history in 2014. Moore earned freshman All-America honors after hitting 15-of-17 field goal attempts while going a perfect 37-for-37 in PATs. Moore’s field-goal percentage of 88.2 was the best in school history and his 37-for-37 in PATs was tied for the most without a miss in a single season.

The Mean Green defensive line produced 33 sacks last season, tied for the fifth most in school history. North Texas had a school-record 10 sacks in a game and defensive end Tillman Johnson recorded a freshman school-record 3.0 sacks in a game. Johnson finished with a freshman record 5.0 sacks on the season.

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Season Preview

The Bulldogs won the West Division title, played in their first C-USA Championship Game and won the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl last season, defeating Illinois, 35-18.

Senior RB Kenneth Dixon, finished with 28 touchdowns last season (22 rushing, six receiving), the second-most in a single season in CUSA history. He broke the school record for career rushing yards after finishing the season with 1,299 rushing yards and 3,410 for his career. Additionally, Dixon’s 366 points scored in his career is a new school record, eclipsing Matt Nelson’s 360 points scored from 2009-12. The tailback has also scored 61 touchdowns in his career, topping the old school record of 57 scored by Troy Edwards from 1996-98. 

Former Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel joined the LA Tech program in January and is expected to be eligible to play during the 2015 season. One of the nation’s top quarterbacks coming out of high school, Driskel spent four years at Florida where he threw for 3,411 yards, 23 touchdowns, 20 interceptions and completed 59.4 percent of his passes. He also rushed for 644 yards and nine touchdowns. 

LA Tech was among the nation’s leaders in most improved scoring based on points per game compared to the previous year. LA Tech finished the 2014 season ranked fifth in most improved scoring of- fense with a 94.8 percent improvement, going from an average of 19.2 points per game in 2013 to 37.4 points per game last season. 

The Louisiana Tech defense finished the year leading the FBS in in- terceptions (26) and turnovers forced (42). The Bulldogs scored 176 points off turnovers.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Season Preview

The Hilltoppers won the inaugural Popeyes Bahamas bowl and ended its season on a five-game winning streak to finish its inaugural Conference USA campaign with an 8-5 record. WKU’s victory represents the program’s first FBS bowl win.

The Hilltoppers 67-66 overtime win at then-No. 19 Marshall in the regular season finale marked the program’s first win over a ranked team in the FBS era.

In 2014, WKU became the first FBS Team to have a 4,500 yard passer and 1,500 yard rusher as QB Brandon Doughty threw for 4,830 and RB Leon Allen rushed for 1,542. WKU was also the fourth team in FBS history to have a 4,000-yard passer and 1,500-yard rusher in the same season. Baylor (2011), Tulsa (2008) and Oregon State (2003) are the only programs in FBS history to have two individuals hit those marks in the same season.

Doughty led the FBS with 4,830 yards and 49 passing TDs for the season. Doughty threw at least 4 TDs on six occasions last season and for 5 TDs five different times. Only five quarterbacks since 1956 have thrown for more touchdowns than Doughty’s 49, and only 15 quarterbacks since 1956 have thrown for more yards than Doughty’s 4,830. Doughty enters 2015 as the FBS’ active career leader in passing yards (7,800) and TD passes (63).

Allen was third in C-USA with 1,542 rushing yards and scored 16 touchdowns (fourth-best in WKU history). WKU has had a running back reach the 1,500 yard mark in each of the last five seasons, becoming just the second program in NCAA history to have a 1,500- yard rusher in five-consecutive seasons. WKU is joined on the list by Northern Illinois (2002-06).

Old Dominion Monarchs Season Preview

The Monarchs won each of their final three games in 2014 on the final play to finish their first season at the FBS level with at 6-6 record.

Running back Ray Lawry earned C-USA Freshman of the Year honors after rushing for an ODU single-season record 947 yards and 16 touchdowns. He led all league freshman backs with a school-record 7.1 yards per carry and tied for third in C-USA with 16 rushing TDs. 

Quarterback Taylor Heinicke is gone after a spectacular four-year career in which he passed for 14,959 yards and tossed 132 touchdown passes. Two players are in the running to replace the record-setting signal-caller. Shuler Bentley redshirted in 2014 sitting after a standout career at Byrnes High School in South Carolina. A USA Today Parade All-American and two-time South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year, Bentley has a year of fall practice and off-season training under his belt. Sophomore Joey Verhaegh comes in from Fullerton CC after throwing for 2,515 yards and 18 touchdowns as a sophomore. Verhaegh and Bentley will compete in the first ODU quarterback competition in spring football since Thomas DeMarco won the job in 2009. 

Senior David Washington was Heinicke’s backup in 2013 and 2014, but added another role in 2014: starting wide receiver. The redshirt junior caught 47 passes for 599 yards and four touchdowns and the game-winning touchdown in the overtime thriller against Louisiana Tech. The plan is for Washington to stay at wide receiver but take some snaps at quarterback.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

Junior RB Shane Tucker had 12 touchdowns last season and has scored 17 times in 17 career games. His 25 receptions were the most by a Blue Raider back since Eugene Gross hauled in 33 in 2005.

Senior RB Jordan Parker’s 10 career 100-yard rushing games rank 7th most in school history. Eight of his ten 100-yard games have come against conference foes. 

In its two years as members of Conference USA, Middle Tennessee is averaging 240.1 yards rushing per game in league play. 

Senior S Kevin Byard had 66 tackles and led the team and conference with six interceptions. Byard also had four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick. Byard ranks third among the NCAA’s active players in interceptions per game at 0.41. He is tied for second in total interceptions with 15 and that figure is two shy of equaling the Middle Tennessee career record. 

Head Coach Rick Stockstill is in his 10th season leading the Blue Raiders. His 10 seasons make him the longest tenured head coach in C-USA. In nine years under Stockstill, Middle Tennessee has reached bowl eligibility six times, including five times in the last six years. 

The Blue Raiders have been bowl eligible under Rick Stockstill in 2006, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Middle Tennessee’s special teams unit recorded five blocked kicks in 2014.

Marshall Thundering Herd Season Preview

Marshall finished last season 13-1 (tying the C-USA record for victories), won its first C-USA Championship and defeated MAC Champion Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl, 52-23. The Herd finished the season as the only FBS team ranked in the top 20 nationally in both rushing offense (No. 8, 271.9 yards per game) and passing offense (No. 17, 287.3).

Head coach Doc Holliday’s last two Marshall teams have posted a 23-5 record. The only teams with more wins in 2013 and ’14 were Florida State (27-1), Ohio State (26-3), Michigan State (24-3) and Oregon (24-4).

Marshall tied national runner-up Oregon for the most touchdown receptions by freshmen (17). The Herd ranked No. 5 in FBS in freshmen receiving yards, with 1,315, on 82 catches by wide receivers Angelo Jean-Louis, Deon-Tay McManus, Hyleck Foster and tight end Ryan Yurachek.

Senior RB Devon Johnson topped the 100-yard mark 10 times during the 2014 season, reaching the century mark in 10 of the 11 games he played in from start to finish. The converted tight end led C-USA with 1,767 yards and had 17 rushing TDs in 13 games. Johnson finished among the FBS leaders in total rushing yards (sixth), average per game (fifth at 135.2 yards per game), yards per carry (fifth at 8.58) and scoring (24th with 8.8 points per game). He also had seven runs of 50 yards or longer last season.

Florida Atlantic Owls Season Preview

Senior QB Jaquez Johnson had a solid second season as a starter for the Owls, passing for 2,215 yards and 17 TDs, while rushing for 513 yards and seven scores. In just two seasons at Florida Atlantic, he is already fifth in school history in career rushing yards, fourth in career rushing TDs and fourth in pass attempts, completions and yards. He is third in passing TDs and No. 2 in completion percentage and passing yards per game.

Junior Jay Warren is scheduled to return as the Owls starting run- ning back after leading the team with 571 yards last season and av- eraging 4.7 yards per carry. Complimenting Warren’s efforts will be sophomore Greg Howell, who dropped his redshirt mid-way through the 2014 season. He saw action in three games, tallied 50 carries for 253 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry before he was sidelined with an injury.

Freshman LT Reggie Bain was FAU Newcomer of the Year after earn- ing a 97 percent grade for his season of work. Bain allowed just two QB hurries, tallied 52.5 knockdowns, saw just two sacks and had no pre-snap penalties. He also earned Freshman All-America honors.

The defensive line returns eight players who started at least one game in 2014, including senior DT Trevon Coley, who has started every game since coming to FAU in 2012.

The secondary leadership will be carried by senior CB Cre’von LeB- lanc. He is the team’s leading returning tackler after registering 71 stops in 2014. LeBlanc also leads all returners with two interceptions and three pass break-ups.

Florida International Panthers

Junior DB Richard Leonard was the first player in C-USA history to win Defensive and Special Teams Player of the Week twice in the same season last year. He registered four touchdowns on the year (two INTs, one fumble recovery, one punt return), recorded a school-record-tying five interceptions and averaged 25.7 yards per kickoff return and a nationleading 23.8 yards per punt return.

Junior TE Jonnu Smith finished the 2104 season with 61 catches for a team-best 710 yards, the most ever by an FIU tight end. His eight receiving touchdowns led all FBS tight ends in 2014 and set the school mark for receiving scores in a season, breaking the previous mark set by T.Y. Hilton (2008 & 2011) and Cory McKinney (2002). He enters his junior season ranked second all-time among tight ends at FIU in career receptions (100) and career receiving yards (1,098).

In 2014, FIU’s defense made an impact. The Panthers ranked No. 35 in the nation in total defense (363.8 ypg), No. 40 in scoring defense (24.8 ppg), No. 28 in third down conversion defense (35.8 percent), and scored a conference-best six defensive touchdowns (No. 2 in the nation), including a school-record five interceptions for TDs.

FIU returns 95.1 percent of its total rushing yards, 83.3 percent of its passing yards, 66.1 percent of its total receptions, 59.6 percent of its receiving yards and 87.0 percent of its total scoring from the 2014 season.

Charlotte 49ers Season Preview

2015 will be the 49ers first in Conference USA and first as a member of the FBS.

The Charlotte 49ers start-up football program took the fast track to the FBS. The program debuted in 2013 and played for two years (2013, 2014) as an FCS Independent before making the jump to the FBS and Conference USA in 2015. The 49ers were invited to be a member of Conference USA in the summer of 2012 – before holding their first practice. 

The 49ers will move to Conference USA in 2015 with an opportunity to gain full FBS member status with bowl eligibility in 2016. 

Head coach Brad Lambert and his 10-man full-time staff have 115 years of collegiate coaching experience. Lambert (26) and coordina- tors Jeff Mullen (24) and Matt Wallerstedt (23) each have over 20 years of collegiate coaching experience. 

Top returners for the 49ers include a pair of 1,000-yard performers. RB Kalif Phillips rushed for a school-record 1,441 yards (131.0/gm) and 20 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2014. Slot receiver Austin Duke had a school-record 1,373 receiving yards (124.8/gm) as a redshirt sophomore in 2014. Phillips had six games with 150 or more rushing yards and seven 100-yard games. Duke had six games with at least 100 receiving yards including two games of over 200 yards. 

Safety Branden Dozier topped the 49ers with 86 tackles as a junior while NT Larry Ogunjobi led the squad with 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks as a red-shirt sophomore.