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CFN 2015 College Football Preseason Rankings

2015 College Football Rankings

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There’s one very important distinction in the 2015 college football rankings: these are based on how good the teams are going into the season and NOT how they’re going to finish. Some teams have easier schedules than others, some get tougher road games and some will need a little bit of time to jell, meaning they might be better than their final record indicates. Going into the year, these are how good the teams appear to be from No. 1 through 128.

128. Charlotte

2014 Season Ranking: Not Ranked 2015 Prediction: 1-11
3 Best Players: 1) RB Kalif Phillips, Jr. 2) WR Austin Duke, Jr. 3) QB Matt Johnson, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Offensive Line, 2) Running Back, 3) Receiver
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Quarterback, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Secondary
The season will be a success if … the 49ers are competitive in November. There’s a good deal of mystery surrounding Charlotte in 2015, because the program has yet to even face an FBS opponent in its first two seasons. With victories against the likes of Chowan, Campbell and Johnson S. Smith, it’s difficult to tell how well the team’s talent will translate in the face of substantially better competition. If the 49ers are competing late in the year, chalk it up as an encouraging sign for the program’s future.

127. Eastern Michigan

2014 Season Ranking: 124 2015 Prediction: 1-11
3 Best Players: 1) LB Great Ibe, Sr. 2) DT Pat O’Conner, Sr. 3) LB Anthony Zappone, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Receiver, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Running Back, 2) Secondary, 3) Offensive Line
The season will be a success if … the offense stopped giving the ball away. 2008 was the last time Eastern Michigan finished a season on the plus side in turnover margin, but last season the mistakes went to a whole other level with a whopping 30 giveaways and finishing the season a disastrous -18. It didn’t help to give the ball up 11 times in the two losses to Florida and Michigan State, but turnovers were a problem throughout the season that didn’t get any better, finishing off going -8 over the last three games. The team isn’t good enough to not own the turnover battle.

126. New Mexico State

2014 Season Ranking: 126 2015 Prediction: 2-10
3 Best Players: 1) RB Larry Rose III, Soph. 2) WR Teldrick Morgan, Jr. 3) LB Rodney Butler, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Quarterback, 3) Wide Receiver
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Defensive Line, 2) Secondary, 3) Offensive Line
The season will be a success if … the Aggies win four games. There can’t be any misses against Georgia State, Troy or Idaho at home, but they probably won’t win all three. The offense should be stronger, and the defense can’t be any worse, so there has to be an upset or three somewhere along the way when someone is caught napping. Four wins doesn’t sound like much, but it would be a terrific sign that things are pointing up.

125. Idaho

2014 Season Ranking: 125 2015 Prediction: 1-11
3 Best Players: 1) P/K Austin Rehkow, Jr. 2) LB Mark Millan, Sr. 3) DE Quinton Bradley, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Wide Receiver, 2) Quarterback, 3) Special Teams
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Secondary
The season will be a success if … the Vandals win four games. There weren’t many close losses – just two by a touchdown or less – but the offense started to work and there was a little bit of hope. This year, Idaho has to not only come up with more wins than it has since 2010, but it has to come up with more than it did over the last three years combined. It’s not going to be easy, but the Vandals are going to be strong enough to beat New Mexico State, Troy and Wofford. They won’t beat all three, but they could be good enough to come up with two of the wins and throw in a few upsets into the mix.

124. Georgia State

2014 Season Ranking: 128 2015 Prediction: 2-10
3 Best Players: 1) LB Joseph Peterson, Sr. 2) QB Nick Arbuckle, Sr. 3) WR Donovan Harden, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Linebacker, 2) Quarterback, 3) Wide Receiver
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Defensive Line, 2) Secondary, 3) Offensive Line
The season will be a success if … Georgia State wins four games. There’s not enough talent to make too big a splash, and there’s too much experience to come with another totally lost year. Beating Charlotte and New Mexico State to start the season will be a must, and Liberty needs to be a must win. Can there be an upset along the way? It’s time – the program has waited far too long to experience any success.

123. Old Dominion

2014 Season Ranking: 83 2015 Prediction: 4-8
3 Best Players: 1) RB Ray Lawry, Soph. 2) WR Zach Pascal, Jr. 3) WR Blair Roberts, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Wide Receiver, 2) Running Back, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Special Teams, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Secondary
The season will be a success if … Old Dominion finishes .500 or above for the seventh year in a row. It’s admittedly asking a lot the year after the face of the program is supplanted by a rookie. But Bobby Wilder has built a winning attitude in Norfolk, and plenty of starters from last year’s 6-6 team are back. If Bentley can improve as the season progresses and the D makes even marginal strides, the Monarchs are liable to nab the bowl berth that eluded them in 2014.

122. UTSA

2014 Season Ranking: 100 2015 Prediction: 1-11
3 Best Players: 1) LB Drew Douglas, Sr. 2) RB Jarveon Williams, Jr. 3) DE Jason Neill, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Secondary, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Running Back
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Quarterback, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Wide Receiver
The season will be a success if … UTSA is playing its best football in November. Appearing in that school-first bowl game was supposed to happen in 2014. It didn’t. And now that the Roadrunners return just a small handful of starters, they’re unlikely to break through in 2015, especially with opening games versus Arizona, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Colorado State. This season must be a table-setter that ends with enough momentum to feel optimistic about the 2016 campaign.

121. Miami University

2014 Season Ranking: 118 2015 Prediction: 2-10
3 Best Players: 1) LB Kent Kern, Sr. 2) S Heath Harding, Jr. 3) DE Bryson Albright, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Wide Receiver, 2) Secondary, 3) Quarterback
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Running Back
The season will be a success if … MU wins five games. Can the RedHawks be three games better and flirt with a winning record with so many concerns on offense and a D that still has to prove it can shine even with all the veterans? If the coaching staff can work its magic with the O, and the experience comes through on defense, it’s possible to beat Presbyterian, Kent State, Buffalo, Eastern Michigan, Akron, and/or UMass. MU will lose a few of those, but with an upset win somewhere, getting to five wins would be a huge jump.

120. Army West Point

2014 Season Ranking: 116 2015 Prediction: 4-8
3 Best Players: 1) LB Jeremy Timpf, Jr. 2) CB Josh Jenkins, Jr. 3) LB Andrew King, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Quarterback, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Wide Receiver, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Secondary
The season will be a success if … Army wins six games. The two dates with the FCSers are a given in terms of must-wins, and Eastern Michigan on the road and Tulane at home need to be locks. Can the Black Knights win those four games and come up with two more victories? The schedule just isn’t that bad – the team has to be two wins better.

119. SMU

2014 Season Ranking: 127 2015 Prediction: 3-9
3 Best Players: 1) WR Darius Joseph, Sr. 2) LB Jonathan Yenga, Sr. 3) Star Shakiel Randolph, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Wide Receiver, 2) Quarterback, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Special Teams, 2) Secondary, 3) Defensive Line
The season will be a success if … the Mustangs are a markedly better November team than September team. Forget wins and losses for a moment. SMU isn’t quite ready to be evaluated by its record after winning just one time in 2015. This first season under Chad Morris is all about adopting new systems and expectations, and cleaning up what hamstrung June Jones’ final few squads. Oh, and an upset at some point in the final month will provide the young players with a much-needed tailwind to carry into 2016.

118. Connecticut

2014 Season Ranking: 119 2015 Prediction: 2-10
3 Best Players: 1) S Andrew Adams, Sr. 2) LB Marquise Vann, Sr. 3) LB Graham Stewart, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Linebacker, 2) Wide Receiver, 3) Secondary
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Wide Receiver, 3) Quarterback
The season will be a success if … the Huskies are playing their best ball in November. Forget victory totals, and certainly bowl eligibility, at this stage of the rebuilding process. Those will be more realistic pursuits in 2016. Today, UConn simply wants to raise the bar a notch higher in Bob Diaco’s second season in charge, which needs to be evident all year, but especially down the stretch. After the wheels came off last November, the Huskies plan to take a little head of steam into the next offseason.

117. Southern Miss

2014 Season Ranking: 104 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) WR Michael Thomas, Sr. 2) C Cameron Tom, Jr. 3) RB Ito Smith, Soph.
Relative Strengths: 1) Secondary, 2) Wide Receiver, 3) Quarterback
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Linebacker, 2) Running Back, 3) Defensive Back
The season will be a success if … the Golden Eagles win their most games since 2011. Southern Miss improved by two games in 2014, and wants to do at least that again this season. Plus-three would mean bowl-eligibility, but that might be a reach for this program. USM has more depth and talent than at any point of the Todd Monken era, but transforming depth and talent into victories is often easier said than done. The Eagles must continue in the right direction, or else Monken will begin 2016 without much in the way of job security

116. Troy

2014 Season Ranking: 117 2015 Prediction: 4-8
3 Best Players: 1) FS Montres Kitchens, Sr. 2) QB Brandon Silvers, Soph. 3) DE Tyler Roberts. Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) , 2) , 3)
Not Quite As Strong … 1) , 2) , 3)
The season will be a success if … Troy wins five games. There’s enough experience to be tighter on both sides of the ball, and there’s enough talent to start bombing away and simply start outscoring teams in shootouts. Beat Charleston Southern and Idaho at home, beat New Mexico State and Georgia State on the road, and hope for an upset here and there. This is more like a three-win team, but with the renewed energy with the coaching staff, it’s okay to think more might be possible.

115. UNLV

2014 Season Ranking: 121 2015 Prediction: 1-11
3 Best Players: 1) WR Devonte Boyd, Soph. 2) SS Peni Vea, Sr. 3) LB Tau Lotuleilei, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Wide Receiver, 2) Quarterback, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Secondary
The season will be a success if … the Rebels win four games. It would be two wins better than last year, and even that might be tough to get with a brutal schedule. The Idaho State game is a win, and taking care of San Jose State and Hawaii at home would be a must. The Rebels will be big underdogs against everyone else, but with a new coaching staff and a new attitude, there hope has to be there for a few minor miracles.

114. Tulane

2014 Season Ranking: 111 2015 Prediction: 3-9
3 Best Players: 1) LB Nico Marley, Jr. 2) DE Royce LaFrance, Sr. 3) CB Parry Nickerson, Soph.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Secondary, 3) Quarterback
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Special Teams, 3) Wide Receiver
The season will be a success if … Tulane breaks even and vies for a minor bowl game. Yeah, six wins means doubling last year’s total, but after opening with Duke and Georgia Tech, the Green Wave should have the defense to at least compete with everyone else on the schedule. The team gets UCF and Houston at Yulman, and November is built for a possible strong final kick. With so many returning starters back, Tulane can’t help but be improved this fall.

113. ULM

2014 Season Ranking: 103 2015 Prediction: 6-7
3 Best Players: 1) NT Gerrand Johnson, Sr. 2) LB Michael Johnson, Sr. 3) S Mitch Lane, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Secondary, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Running Back, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Quarterback
The season will be a success if … ULM comes up with seven wins. It’s going to take wins in most of the close games – a problem last year – and it’s going to take several key road wins, but nothing less than a winning season will do with nine starters back on defense and six on offense. Nicholls State, New Mexico State, and road games at Idaho and Troy are must wins, and then it’s going to come down to whether or not the Warhawks can come up with three more wins. At Hawaii? At Texas State? Appalachian State or Arkansas State at home? ULM has to be good enough to beat the Sun Belt’s better teams.

112. Massachusetts

2014 Season Ranking: 122 2015 Prediction: 4-8
3 Best Players: 1) WR Tajae Sharpe, Sr. 2) LB Jovan Santos-Knox, Jr. 3) QB Blake Frohnapfel, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback , 2) Secondary, 3) Wide Receiver
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Running Back, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Offensive Line
The season will be a success if … UMass comes up with a winning season. Even with all the experience, and even with all of the promise and potential coming from last year, six victories would still be strong and seven would be tremendous. Is the defense improved enough to handle Bowling Green on the road? Can the offense handle a loaded Temple defense at home? The Minutemen should be good enough to be FIU, Kent State, Akron, Eastern Michigan, Miami University and Buffalo, but they’ll probably lose at least one of those. Even so, the expectations for something special aren’t misguided.

111. North Texas

2014 Season Ranking: 109 2015 Prediction: 5-7
3 Best Players: 1) WR Carlos Harris, Sr. 2) RB Antoinne Jimmerson, Sr. 3) DE Chad Polk, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Receiver, 3) Special Teams
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Quarterback, 2) Linebacker, 3) Offensive Line
The season will be a success if … the Mean Green finds the formula to play a 13th game. Although it looks like a longshot right now, with Iowa, Western Kentucky, Marshall, Louisiana Tech and Tennessee on the schedule, .500 ought to be a minimum requirement for any Conference USA program with a track record. It was just two years ago that North Texas won nine games, including a 36-14 postseason rout of UNLV. Fueled by desperation after going 4-8, the Mean Green must regroup quickly enough to manufacture six wins from a difficult schedule.

110. Kent State

2014 Season Ranking: 123 2015 Prediction: 3-9
3 Best Players: 1) FS Nate Holley, Jr. 2) P/PK Anthony Melchori, Sr. 3) SS Jordan Italiano, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Secondary, 2) Special Teams, 3) Quarterback
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Running Back, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Receiver
The season will be a success if … the Golden Flashes get to six wins. A four-win improvement would be a massive – a MASSIVE – jump for a team that couldn’t move the ball a lick in too many games, and there are still too many question marks, but there are winnable games against Delaware State, Miami University, Buffalo at UMass and at Akron to push for, and hope to sneak a win or two here and there against an Ohio on the road or possibly a Central Michigan. 4-to-5 wins are more realistic than 6-to-7, but if experience counts for anything, it could be a good year.

109. Akron

2014 Season Ranking: 93 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) LB Jatavis Brown, Sr. 2) NG Cody Grice, Sr. 3) WR Zach D’Orazio, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Receiver, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Secondary
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Linebacker, 3) Running Back
The season will be a success if … the Zips win seven games. That might be a big jump up for a program that hasn’t come up without a winning season in nine years, but the schedule is light enough, and the team is good enough, to make it happen. Savannah State, at Eastern Michigan, at UMass, at Miami University, Buffalo, and even after last year’s gaffe, Kent State are all must-wins. Even five wins out of the six would be nice, but they’d have to beat Ohio, Louisiana-Lafayette, or Central Michigan – or pull off a big upset or two – to come up with a big year. Being two games better isn’t asking for too much.

108. Texas State

2014 Season Ranking: 69 2015 Prediction: 7-5
3 Best Players: 1) RB Robert Lowe, Sr. 2) CB David Mims II, Sr. 3) QB Tyler Jones, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Quarterback, 3) Offensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Defensive Line, 2) Receiver, 3) Secondary
The season will be a success if … the Bobcats win eight games. It’s not going to be easy with road games at Florida State, Houston, Louisiana-Lafayette, Georgia Southern and Arkansas State. If the Bobcats can win just one of those – two would be better – and can take care of home against the relatively light slate, they can come up with another one win improvement.

107. FIU

2014 Season Ranking: 106 2015 Prediction: 3-9
3 Best Players: 1) CB Richard Leonard, Sr. 2) TE Jonnu Smith, Jr. 3) DE Michael Wakefield, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Secondary, 3) Quarterback
The season will be a success if … the Panthers flip a few of last season’s close losses, and earn their third-ever bowl berth. It’s not as far-fetched as it seems, especially after going 4-8, with four losses by no more than a field goal. Florida International is an important year older, and more confident than they were in 2014. It’ll also be operating with a base of talent, especially on defense, that can deliver an upset in the fall and hold up well versus the rest of Conference USA.

106. Florida Atlantic

2014 Season Ranking: 97 2015 Prediction: 3-9
3 Best Players: 1) QB Jaquez Johnson 2) DT Trevon Coley, Sr. 3) CB Cre’von LeBlanc, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Offensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Running Back, 2) Linebacker, 3) Receiver
The season will be a success if … Florida Atlantic earns its third bowl game, and first since 2008. The Owls are in a much better position to compete now that Charlie Partridge’s staff is entering its second season. Plus, the team will be led by a veteran quarterback and a pair of lines with considerable upside potential. The schedule is no picnic, including likely losses versus in-state Miami and Florida. But if FAU can retool its back seven on defense, winning six regular season games will be within reach.

105. Hawaii

2014 Season Ranking: 108 2015 Prediction: 3-10
3 Best Players: 1) OT Ben Clarke, Sr. 2) QB Max Wittek, Sr. 3) S Trayvon Henderson, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Linebacker, 3) Secondary
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Defensive Line, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Running Back
The season will be a success if … Hawaii wins six games. It would mark the best season in three years and a two-win improvement after a disappointing 2014. The problem is the schedule with a few non-starters – forget about beating Ohio State, Wisconsin or Boise State on the road – and with nasty Mountain West games against San Diego State and Nevada. However, UC Davis, New Mexico, UNLV, San Jose State and ULM are all winnable, and there has to be a few upsets along the way, but with so much returning experience coming back, six wins would be a nice year.

104. South Florida

2014 Season Ranking: 107 2015 Prediction: 5-7
3 Best Players: 1) RB Marlon Mack, Soph. 2) LB Nigel Harris, Jr. 3) S Jamie Byrd, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Linebacker, 3) Defensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Quarterback, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Defensive Back
The season will be a success if … the Bulls qualify for a bowl game. It’s Year 3 for Willie Taggart. If South Florida is unable to finish the season at .500 playing out of the American Athletic Conference, it might be time to start over once again. Winning six games would be an achievement for a squad that hasn’t won more than four since 2011. But this is a Sunshine State program, with excellent facilities and recruiting territories. Playing in the postseason is long overdue for a university that should be operating at a higher level.

103. South Alabama

2014 Season Ranking: 76 2015 Prediction: 4-8
3 Best Players: 1) OT Chris May, Sr. 2) SS Roman Buchanan, Jr. 3) DE Jimmie Gipson III, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Offensive Line, 2) Special Teams, 3) Running Back
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Defensive Line, 2) Linebacker, 3) Quarterback
The season will be a success if … South Alabama wins six games again. It’s going to be tougher with the lack of experience across the board, but the Jaguars should be able to beat Gardner-Webb and Idaho at home, and they should be strong enough to get by Troy and Georgia State on the road. Can they come up with a key win or three against the better teams in the Sun Belt? They’re not good enough to win the conference title, but they can certainly beat an Appalachian State or an Arkansas State at home, get to six wins, and get back to a bowl game.

102. Louisiana

2014 Season Ranking: 27 2015 Prediction: 7-5
3 Best Players: 1) RB Elijah McGuire, Jr. 2) WR Jamal Robinson, Sr. 3) OT Mykhael Quave, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Receiver
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Linebacker, 2) Secondary, 3) Quarterback
The season will be a success if … Louisiana wins ten games and a Sun Belt title. After four straight nine-win seasons, there’s little room for massive improvement. The defense has to replace too many key parts to expect miracles, and going on the road to Arkansas State and Appalachian State will make it tough, but winning nine regular season games for the ultra-consistent program is doable. A fifth-straight bowl victory will be a must to get to ten wins.

101. Wyoming

2014 Season Ranking: 102 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) DE Eddie Yarbrough, Sr. 2) OG Chase Roullier, Jr. 3) RB Shaun Wick, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Linebacker, 3) Quarterback
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Receiver
The season will be a success if … the Cowboys go bowling. Six wins makes it interesting, seven wins does it, but that means the team has to be two-to-three games better than last year and can’t make any mistakes. North Dakota, Eastern Michigan, New Mexico and UNLV have to be must-win home games, and coming out of Appalachian State with a road victory is a must. If the team really has improved, it has to come up with a few Mountain West wins over the better teams again, like it did last year against Air Force and Fresno State.

100. Ball State

2014 Season Ranking: 94 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) C Jacob Richard, Sr. 2) LB Ben Ingle, Sr. 3) DT Darnell Smith, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Secondary, 2) Quarterback, 3) Offensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Defensive Line, 2) Running Back, 3) Special Teams
The season will be a success if … the Cardinals win the West. After so much success in 2012 and 2013, and with so much experience returning, it’s okay to set the bar a little bit higher than it probably should be. It’s more realistic to shoot for a winning season and a bowl appearance, and it’s possible with VMI and Georgia State two winnable non-conference games and enough easy MAC dates to get to six wins. The Bowling Green, Toledo and Central Michigan games are at home.

99. Buffalo

2014 Season Ranking: 92 2015 Prediction: 3-9
3 Best Players: 1) RB Anthone Taylor, Sr. 2) QB Joe Licata, Sr. 3) RB/KR Devin Campbell, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Running Back, 3) Receiver
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Defensive Line, 2) Secondary, 3) Offensive Line
The season will be a success if … the Bulls get to six wins. There might be a ton of work to do defensively, and it’s a new coaching staff stepping in, but if the team is merely competent, it needs to beat Albany, Miami University, Kent State, Akron and UMass for a base of five wins. Assume UB will lose at least one of those – with the dates at MU, KSU and Akron on the road – so it’ll have to beat a Florida Atlantic, Bowling Green, Ohio and/or Central Michigan along the way. 6-6 might not be what new head coach Lance Leipold is used to, but it would be a good first year.

98. Kansas

2014 Season Ranking: 105 2015 Prediction: 1-11
3 Best Players: 1) S Fish Smithson, Jr. 2) QB Montrell Cozart, Jr. 3) LB Courtney Arnick, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Linebacker, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Secondary
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Quarterback, 2) Running Back, 3) Offensive Line
The season will be a success if … Kansas wins three games. It’s going to take a few big upsets to get it done, and it’s not going to be easy. Three of KU’s nine losses were by seven points or fewer – win those three and it’s a 6-6 season and the narrative is far different – but it’s a totally new ballgame now. If new head man David Beaty can win three games to match last year’s team total, it would be a nice start to build off of.

97. New Mexico

2014 Season Ranking: 99 2015 Prediction: 4-8
3 Best Players: 1) LB Dakota Cox, Jr. 2) RB Jhurell Pressley, Sr. 3) DE Nick D’Avanzo, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Quarterback, 3) Offensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Secondary, 3) Defensive Line
The season will be a success if … New Mexico wins six games. There’s still too much to do to become a player in the Mountain West, but in Davie’s fourth year, being two wins better isn’t a big reach. Mississippi Valley State, Tulsa, New Mexico State and Hawaii are must-wins at home. Do that, and the Lobos are a win against a team like San Jose State or Wyoming on the road, or an upset over Utah State, Colorado State or Air Force at home, to come up with a breakthrough campaign.

96. Central Michigan

2014 Season Ranking: 84 2015 Prediction: 5-7
3 Best Players: 1) C Nick Beamish, Sr. 2) DE Joe Ostman, Jr. 3) QB Cooper Rush, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Receiver, 3) Defensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Linebacker, 2) Secondary, 3) Special Teams
The season will be a success if … CMU gets to eight wins. A winning season is a must, a bowl game should be on the radar, and being in the mix for the West isn’t a crazy thought. The program hit a seven-win wall over the last few seasons, but even with the new coaching staff the talent is there to break through and do a bit more. Monmouth, Buffalo, at Ball State, at Akron, at Kent State and Eastern Michigan all have to be wins – or at least go 5-1 during those teams. It’ll take an upset to win at Syracuse, and forget about Oklahoma State and at Michigan State, but the Chips should be good enough to go at least 1-2 against Northern Illinois, Toledo, and at Western Michigan.

95. Appalachian State

2014 Season Ranking: 74 2015 Prediction: 8-4
3 Best Players: 1) RB Marcus Cox, Jr. 2) FS Doug Middleton, Sr. 3) DE Ronald Blair, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Receiver, 3) Offensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Linebacker, 2) Secondary, 3) Quarterback
The season will be a success if … the Mountaineers win the Sun Belt title. With just about everyone back on both sides of the ball, and with so many stars, and with a favorable schedule getting Georgia Southern, Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State at home, they have to take advantage of all the positives. This is what the program has been building towards over the last few years.

94. Rice

2014 Season Ranking: 58 2015 Prediction: 8-4
3 Best Players: 1) QB Driphus Jackson, Sr. 2) RB Jowan Davis, Jr. 3) RB Darik Dillard, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Quarterback, 3) Defensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Linebacker, 3) Receiver
The season will be a success if … the Owls bowl for a fourth consecutive year. With all of the defensive and O-line departures, this could be a challenging fall for Rice. And in such a season, finishing above .500 would be another important statement about the program’s place in the Conference USA hierarchy. Each month of the fall brings a landmine, Texas and Baylor in September, Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech in October and a pivotal trip to UTEP in November. But the Owls now expect to participate in the postseason, a cultural shift with immense benefits to the one-time punching bag.

93. Middle Tennessee

2014 Season Ranking: 75 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) SS Kevin Byard, Sr. 2) LB T.T. Barber, Sr. 3) LG Darius Johnson, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Quarterback, 3) Defensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Secondary, 3) Special Teams
The season will be a success if … the Blue Raiders get back to winning at least eight games. Middle Tennessee won eight in 2012 and 2013, and have a team that’s capable of being back in that neighborhood again this season. The schedule, save for the Sept. 12 trip to Tuscaloosa, isn’t so bad for a team with a veteran presence on both sides of the ball. Even the Raiders’ other two games with Power Five opponents, Illinois and Vanderbilt, could wind up as statement victories. After missing out on the postseason in 2014, Middle Tennessee ought to qualify with a little bit of room to spare this November.

92. San Jose State

2014 Season Ranking: 75 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) WR Tyler Winston, Jr. 2) LB Christian Tago, Jr. 3) CB Cleveland Wallace, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Secondary, 2) Receiver, 3) Quarterback
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Defensive Line, 2) Running Back, 3) Linebacker
The season will be a success if … the Spartans win six games. Last year’s team probably gets to six wins if there was any semblance of an offense. This year’s attack should be better, and the defense should be just good enough to get by, so the 6-6 record of 2013 should be in range. Beating New Hampshire, UNLV, New Mexico and Hawaii have to be givens – even though beating the Rebels and Rainbow Warriors on the road won’t be easy – and then it’ll take a few upsets. There aren’t a lot of layups, but the Spartans have to be good enough to make their own breaks.

91. UTEP

2014 Season Ranking: 79 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) RB Aaron Jones, Jr. 2) DE Roy Robertson-Harris, Sr. 3) RB/KR Autrey Golden, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Secondary
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Quarterback, 2) Receiver, 3) Defensive Line
The season will be a success if … the Miners raise the bar a little further by winning eight regular season games for the first time since 2005. It’d also be sweet to finally cop a second-tier postseason win, which hasn’t happened in almost half a century. UTEP is capable of making a run in the West Division, particularly since Rice and Louisiana Tech must visit the Sun Bowl this fall. Sean Kugler has this program trending north, with reason to believe the team will continue traveling in that direction in 2015.

90. Nevada

2014 Season Ranking: 62 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) DE Ian Seau, Sr. 2) DT Rykeem Yates, Sr. 3) RB Don Jackson, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Receiver
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Linebacker, 3) Quarterback
The season will be a success if … Nevada wins eight games. Winning the West will be too tough with road games against Fresno State, Utah State and San Diego State, but there are enough winnable games to keep improving and expect a better year. The defense is still going to be rocky, and the playmakers have to emerge on offense, but beating UC Davis, Buffalo, UNLV, New Mexico, Wyoming, Hawaii and San Jose State will be a must. Do that in the games they’ll be favored in, and the Wolf Pack will have seven wins. Get an upset or two, and it’ll be a strong year.

89. Arkansas State

2014 Season Ranking: 67 2015 Prediction: 8-4
3 Best Players: 1) QB Fredi Knighten, Sr. 2) RB Michael Gordon, Sr. 3) DE Ja’Von Rolland Jones, Soph.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Quarterback, 3) Receiver
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Defensive Line, 2) Linebacker, 3) Offensive Line
The season will be a success if … ASU wins the Sun Belt championship. Finished tied for fourth in the conference isn’t going to get it done after winning at least a share of three straight Sun Belt titles. It’s not going to be easy with Appalachian State and South Alabama on the road, but Texas State and Louisiana-Lafayette are at home. There’s too much talent and experience returning to not make it four in five years.

88. Ohio

2014 Season Ranking: 88 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) LB Jovon Johnson, Sr. 2) DE Tarell Basham, Jr. 3) QB Derrius Vick, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Special Teams, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Secondary
The season will be a success if … Ohio wins the East title. Bowling Green is good, but it’s beatable, and at the very least the Bobcats should be the second-best team in the East. Going to a bowl game would make this a solid year, but beating Idaho, SE Louisiana, Akron, Miami University, Buffalo, Kent State and Ball State is a must. Split road games against Bowling Green and Northern Illinois, and beat Western Michigan at home, and Ohio should be in Detroit.

87. Georgia Southern

2014 Season Ranking: 33 2015 Prediction: 8-4
3 Best Players: 1) FS Matt Dobson, Sr. 2) RB Matt Breida, Jr. 3) NT Jay Ellison, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Special Teams, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Defensive Line
The season will be a success if … the Eagles win the Sun Belt title. There’s absolutely no excuse to not at least take a share of the thing. There are a few interesting conference battles, but missing Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette is enough of a break to roll through Texas State, South Alabama, at ULM and in the big showdown against Appalachian State.

86. Memphis

2014 Season Ranking: 29 2015 Prediction: 8-4
3 Best Players: 1) QB Paxton Lynch, Jr. 2) TE Alan Cross, Sr. 3) Dawg Jackson Dillon, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Special Teams, 3) Offensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Running Back, 3) Secondary
The season will be a success if … the Tigers win back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history. The 2015 season in Memphis is all about staying the course and proving that last season wasn’t some fleeting anomaly that dissipates as fast as it arrived. Another ten wins and a share of the league title are unrealistic, in light of the roster turnover. However, a second straight postseason victory will send a message that the Tigers are here to stay as a viable, competitive program.

85. Temple

2014 Season Ranking: 77 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) LB Tyler Matakevich, Sr. 2) C Kyle Friend, Sr. 3) DT Matt Ioannidis, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Linebacker, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Quarterback
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Special Teams, 3) Running Backs
The season will be a success if … the Owls return to the postseason for the first time in four years. Anything less will be a major disappointment for the school. Temple was bowl-eligible at 6-6 in 2014, but never received an invite. Now, it needs to leave no doubts in 2015 by getting to seven regular-season wins. While it won’t happen without an upset along the way, this program has a third-year head coach, a third-year starting quarterback and a veteran defense that could rank among the top 10 nationally this season. That’s enough to get over the hump.

84. Bowling Green

2014 Season Ranking: 71 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) WR Roger Lewis, Soph. 2) WR Ryan Burbrink, Sr. 3) RB Travis Greene, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Special Teams, 3) Quarterback
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Linebacker, 3) Defensive Line
The season will be a success if … the Falcons win the MAC title. This isn’t the best team in the league going into the season, but if the defense can improve and the offense can be a bit more consistent, getting to a third straight title game could be a lock. Getting to 5-0 in the MAC shouldn’t be a problem if the team is as good as advertised, and then it’s money time with at Western Michigan, Toledo and at Ball State to close. Win one of those three, and it’ll likely be on to Detroit.

83. Navy

2014 Season Ranking: 42 2015 Prediction: 9-3
3 Best Players: 1) QB Keenan Reynolds, Sr. 2) DE Will Anthony, Sr. 3) FB Chris Swain, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Running Back, 3) Secondary
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Linebacker, 2) Secondary, 3) Receiver
The season will be a success if … Navy reaches nine wins for the second time in the last three seasons. The Midshipmen have become a machine of consistency under Ken Niumatalolo, and previously Paul Johnson. And there’s nothing about the upcoming schedule that signals a sudden shift in direction. Only one opponent, Notre Dame, is expected to contend of the Top 25, and UCF and Cincinnati are missed on the American portion of the schedule. With Keenan Reynolds back for one final year, pointing to at least nine wins is not unreasonable.

82. East Carolina

2014 Season Ranking: 63 2015 Prediction: 7-5
3 Best Players: 1) LB Zeek Bigger, Sr. 2) DE Terrell Stanley, Sr. 3) WR Isaiah Jones, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Offensive Line, 2) Receiver, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Running Back, 3) Defensive Line
The season will be a success if … the Pirates finish north of .500. Earning at least eight wins for a fourth season in a row might be a reach the year after QB Shane Carden and WR Justin Hardy graduate. Plus, a rugged schedule includes trips to Florida, Navy, BYU and UCF. In a year when so many key personnel and staffing changes are occurring, East Carolina will do well to remain in the upper half of the American, qualify for a postseason game and continue stringing together winning seasons.

81. UCF

2014 Season Ranking: 50 2015 Prediction: 9-3
3 Best Players: 1) DE Thomas Niles, Sr. 2) QB Justin Holman, Jr. 3) RB William Stanback, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Defensive Line, 2) Running Back, 3) Quarterback
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Linebacker, 3) Defensive Back
The season will be a success if … UCF wins at least nine for the fourth straight year, and the sixth time under George O’Leary. Yeah, the Knights are facing challenges on both sides of the ball, but this program is inherently more talented than the standard in the American Athletic Conference. If it can avoid a stumble against an inferior opponent, say UConn or Tulane or Temple, UCF has been constructed by O’Leary to weather storms and perennially finish comfortably above the .500 mark.

80. Fresno State

2014 Season Ranking: 80 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) RB Marteze Waller, Sr. 2) OT Alex Fifita, Sr. 3) LB Kyrie Wilson, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Receiver, 2) Running Back, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Secondary
The season will be a success if … Fresno State goes back to the Mountain West title game. Boise State, Utah State, Colorado State, and possibly Air Force are all better than the Bulldogs coming into the season – but they’re in the Mountain division. Nevada is okay, and San Diego State looks terrific in the West, but Fresno State is used to being in the title hunt now. Even if make it three straight title appearances.

79. Louisiana Tech

2014 Season Ranking: 39 2015 Prediction: 9-3
3 Best Players: 1) RB Kenneth Dixon, Sr. 2) S Xavier Woods, Jr. 3) WR Trent Taylor, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Secondary, 3) Quarterback
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Linebacker, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Receiver
The season will be a success if … the Bulldogs avoid a yo-yo season. Tech won nine games in 2012, four in 2013 and nine again last year. It’s that kind of erratic behavior that’s prevented the squad from gaining traction as a Group of Five program. Nine wins will admittedly be difficult with a schedule that includes road trips to Western Kentucky, Kansas State, Mississippi State, Rice and UTEP. Still, there’s enough veteran talent in Ruston for the Bulldogs to again compete for the division, while sealing up a postseason berth with some margin for error in November.

78. Tulsa

2014 Season Ranking: 120 2015 Prediction: 2-10
3 Best Players: 1) WR Keevan Lucas, Jr. 2) DE Derrick Alexander, Sr. 3) WR Keyarris Garrett, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Receiver, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Running Back, 3) Quarterback
The season will be a success if … the Golden Hurricane earns a bowl bid. Sure, reaching .500 seems like an unfair bar for a new coach inheriting a team that’s won just five times over the past two seasons. But Philip Montgomery also inherits a decent corps of talent, including his predecessor’s starting quarterback, entire O-line and leading back, receiver, tackler and sacker. Plus, the Sept. 19 trip to Norman aside, few of the other 11 regular season games are out of reach, provided Tulsa can make gains on the defensive side of the ball.

77. Air Force

2014 Season Ranking: 18 2015 Prediction: 8-4
3 Best Players: 1) SS Weston Steelhammer, Jr. 2) DE Alex Hansen, Sr. 3) RB Jacobi Owens, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Receiver, 3) Special Teams
The season will be a success if … Air Force wins ten games again. The Mountain title is a bit too much of a reach with road games at Colorado State and Boise State, but assuming a loss at Michigan State, the Falcons are good enough to pull off a few key wins and get to nine regular season victories. Split with the Rams and Broncos, and a division title will be in the equation. Again, though, ten wins would be more than good enough to make the season a positive.

76. Northern Illinois

2014 Season Ranking: 23 2015 Prediction: 9-3
3 Best Players: 1) C Andrew Ness, Sr. 2) CB Paris Logan, Sr. 3) LB Boomer Mays, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Special Teams, 3) Offensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Linebacker, 2) Secondary, 3) Defensive Line
The season will be a success if … Northern Illinois wins the MAC title. That’s the bar and that’s the expectation, and nothing else will matter. Getting double-digit wins would be great, but that could be tough with road games at Ohio State and Boston College likely losses, but those don’t really matter. With road games at Central Michigan and Toledo, getting to the Detroit for a sixth straight season and coming away with a second straight trophy would be terrific, even if it’s expected.

75. Toledo

2014 Season Ranking: 38 2015 Prediction: 9-3
3 Best Players: 1) RB Kareem Hunt, Jr. 2) DT Orion Jones, Sr. 3) DT Treyvon Hester, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Quarterbacks, 3) Defensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Linebacker, 3) Offensive Line
The season will be a success if … Toledo wins the MAC. Enough is enough. Yes, there are problems in the secondary and concern on the offensive line, but anything less than a conference championship game will be a disaster. The schedule isn’t awful with Western Michigan and Northern Illinois at home, and at least splitting the tough road games at Central Michigan and Bowling Green is more than possible – a sweep wouldn’t be crazy. Win the West, win the MAC, come up with a double-digit win season.

74. WKU

2014 Season Ranking: 22 2015 Prediction: 9-3
3 Best Players: 1) QB Brandon Doughty, Sr. 2) RB Leon Allen, Sr. 3) WR Jared Dangerfield, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Receiver, 3) Running Back
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Linebacker
The season will be a success if … the Hilltoppers cap a 10-win regular season by winning their first outright league title since taking the Ohio Valley Conference in 2000. A perfect record might have been a realistic pursuit if a trip to Baton Rouge didn’t loom on Oct. 24. However, Western Kentucky has the single best unit in Conference USA, a high-octane offense that will shred any of the league’s defenses. With so much firepower, 2015 goes down as a disappointment if the Tops don’t add hardware to the trophy case in December.

73. Washington State

2014 Season Ranking: 95 2015 Prediction: 3-9
3 Best Players: 1) WR Dominique Williams, Sr. 2) WR River Cracraft, Jr. 3) LB Jeremiah Allison, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Receiver, 2) Linebacker, 3) Quarterback
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Running Back, 2) Special Teams, 3) Secondary
The season will be a success if … the Cougars can find six wins on the schedule. Yeah, they won just three times in 2014, but it was just two years ago that Mike Leach took this program to the New Mexico Bowl. Leach’s systems are firmly in place, which should help as QB Luke Falk prepares to take over for Connor Halliday on a full-time basis. Plus, a schedule that begins with Portland State, Rutgers, Wyoming and Cal is built for a fast start. If Leach misses the postseason for a second consecutive year, his shtick could start wearing real thin on the Palouse.

72. Western Michigan

2014 Season Ranking: 57 2015 Prediction: 8-4
3 Best Players: 1) RB Jarvion Franklin, Soph. 2) WR Corey Davis, Jr. 3) QB Zach Terrell, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Receiver, 2) Running Back, 3) Special Teams
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Secondary, 3) Defensive Line
The season will be a success if … Western Michigan wins the MAC title. It’ll be tough just to get out of the West with the showdowns against Northern Illinois and Toledo on the road, but the Broncos should be good enough to get through the rest of the MAC schedule, including the road game at Ohio and the home date against Bowling Green. With the experience and talent returning, it’s okay to think big, even though the ceiling this year might be another winning season and a bowl appearance – that’s not too bad.

71. Houston

2014 Season Ranking: 60 2015 Prediction: 7-5
3 Best Players: 1) SS Adrian McDonald, Sr. 2) CB William Jackson, Sr. 3) RB Kenneth Farrow, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Secondary, 2) Running Back, 3) Quarterback
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Linebacker, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Defensive Line
The season will be a success if … the Cougars surpass the 8-5 mark of the past two seasons. Tom Herman supplanted Tony Levine to guide Houston over the hump. And there’s a feeling that the program has enough talent to raise the bar immediately. There is a couple of taxing road games, at Louisville and at UCF, but the schedule is largely made up of mediocre teams from the American. If Herman can have his systems in place by September, there’s reason to believe the Cougs are capable of winning nine this season.

70. Boston College

2014 Season Ranking: 59 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) RB Jon Hilliman, Soph. 2) NT Connor Wujciak, Sr. 3) LB Steven Daniels, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Quarterback, 2) Receiver, 3) Offensive Line
The season will be a success if … the Eagles qualify for a third straight bowl under Steve Addazio. Ideally, BC would love to ascend beyond 7-6 for the first time since 2009, but that might be a reach in a year that the offense is getting a facelift. Plus, the schedule is thorny after Maine and Howard visit on the first two weekends. If the Eagles can continue stringing together winning seasons in a year when the quarterback and entire O-line are new, it’ll further solidify the foundation being poured by Addazio.

69. Utah State

2014 Season Ranking: 26 2015 Prediction: 7-5
3 Best Players: 1) QB Chuckie Keeton, Sr. 2) LB Nick Vigil, Jr. 3) LB Kyler Fackrell, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Linebacker, 3) Offensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Running Back, 2) Special Teams, 3) Defensive Line
The season will be a success if … the Aggies win eight games. The team is as strong as ever, especially with Chuckie back, but the schedule is way, way too brutal to think about a ten-win season unless this becomes a magical campaign. With the road games at Utah and Washington, the regular season finale against BYU, and the horrific Mountain West slate handed to them, the Aggies will have to fight to come up with a big year.

68. Purdue

2014 Season Ranking: 96 2015 Prediction: 5-7
3 Best Players: 1) CB Frankie Williams, Sr. 2) LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, Soph. 3) DT Jake Replogle, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Linebacker, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Quarterback
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Running Back, 2) Secondary, 3) Receiver
The season will be a success if … Purdue wins five games. There’s too much uncertainty on offense and too many big things needing to happen on defense to expect a bowl season, but if the Boilermakers can beat Indiana State, Bowling Green, Illinois and Indiana at home, that’s the base to work from to shoot for its best season in in the Darrell Hazell era. Unfortunately, they’re not going to win all four of those games, so they need to come up with an upset over a Minnesota at home or a Northwestern or Iowa on the road. Being two wins better, though, isn’t asking for the world in Hazell’s third year.

67. Syracuse

2014 Season Ranking: 98 2015 Prediction: 5-7
3 Best Players: 1) QB Terrel Hunt, Sr. 2) DE Ron Thompson, Jr. 3) WR Steve Ishmael, Soph.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Linebacker, 3) Defensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Receiver, 3) Offensive Line
The season will be a success if … the Orange grinds out six wins and the bowl-eligibility that come with them. Yeah, it would require doubling last year’s output, but half of the goal could be reached in the first three games, with visits from Rhode Island, Wake Forest and Central Michigan. In fact, Syracuse doesn’t have to leave the state until an Oct. 10 trip to Tampa to face lowly South Florida. This is not a scary football team, but .500 is realistic if it can capture toss-up games against the likes of Virginia, NC State and Boston College.

66. Wake Forest

2014 Season Ranking: 114 2015 Prediction: 3-9
3 Best Players: 1) NT Tylor Harris, Sr. 2) S Ryan Janvion, Jr. 3) TE Cam Serigne, Soph.
Relative Strengths: 1) Linebacker, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Secondary
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Running Back, 2) Receiver, 3) Quarterback
The season will be a success if … Wake Forest goes 5-7. Yeah, falling a victory shy of bowl-eligibility would be excruciatingly painful, but the Demon Deacons are all about making progress these days. And after going 3-9 in 2014, a two-game improvement would qualify as momentum. Wake figures to beat Elon and bow to Florida State, Notre Dame and Clemson. If it can split the other eight games somewhat within reach, it’ll represent another layer in Dave Clawson’s foundation.

65. Marshall

2014 Season Ranking: 8 2015 Prediction: 10-2
/> 3 Best Players: 1) RB Devon Johnson, Sr. 2) OT Clint Van Horn, Sr. 3) LB D.J. Hunter, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Receiver, 3) Offensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Defensive Line, 2) Quarterback, 3) Secondary
The season will be a success if … the Herd makes it back-to-back Conference USA championships. Will Marshall be more vulnerable this season than a year ago? Yup. Does Marshall still harbor as much talent as anyone in the league? You bet. In terms of raw ability, particularly speed, the Herd remains a rung above the rest of the league, including up-and-comers like Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech. Marshall misses the Bulldogs and gets the Hilltoppers at the end of the regular season, providing ample time for the new quarterback to prep for a duel with Brandon Doughty.

64. Illinois

2014 Season Ranking: 78 2015 Prediction: 3-9
3 Best Players: 1) LB Mason Monheim, Sr. 2) QB Wes Lunt, Jr. 3) CB V’Angelo Bentley, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Receiver, 3) Secondary
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Linebacker, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Special Teams
The season will be a success if …Illinois wins seven games. If the program can keep on improving under Beckman, as it has over the first three seasons, then coming up with an extra victory would do it. Kent State, Western Illinois and Middle Tennessee have to be home wins for a decent base, and then there can’t be mistakes in winnable games against Purdue and Northwestern. It’s going to take an upset over a North Carolina here and/or an Iowa there, but the schedule isn’t a total bear.

63. Colorado

2014 Season Ranking: 112 2015 Prediction: 5-8
3 Best Players: 1) WR Nelson Spruce, Sr. 2) QB Sefo Liufau, Jr. 3) LB Addison Gillam, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Receiver, 2) Linebacker, 3) Quarterback
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Running Back
The season will be a success if … the Buffaloes contend for that first bowl berth in a decade. After winning just twice in 2014, but putting scares into Cal, Oregon State, UCLA and Utah, it’s time for Colorado to begin cashing in on all of the effort put in by the staff the past two years. Reaching the .500 mark will require a lot of heavy lifting in Boulder, but at least the opening month features four opponents that the Buffs are capable of outscoring.

62. Indiana

2014 Season Ranking: 87 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) QB Nate Sudfeld, Sr. 2) RB Jordan Howard, Sr. 3) S Antonio Allen, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Running Back, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Defensive Line, 2) Receiver, 3) Offensive Line
The season will be a success if … Indiana wins six games. It all depends on health and a little bit of luck at some key spots, but had Nate Sudfeld stayed in one piece last season, the 2014 team probably would’ve gotten there. Beating Southern Illinois, FIU and WKU at home to start the season is a must, beating Purdue in the season finale isn’t asking a lot, and coming up with two wins out of three home games against Rutgers, Iowa and Michigan would be nice. If that doesn’t happen, beating Wake Forest on the road is possible, and Maryland and Penn State aren’t brutal road games. It’ll take a few upsets, but IU can get to a bowl.

61. Cincinnati

2014 Season Ranking: 9-3 2015 Prediction: 9-3
3 Best Players: 1) QB Gunner Kiel, Jr. 2) OT Parker Ehinger, Sr. 3) DE Silverberry Mouhon, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Receiver, 3) Offensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Linebacker, 3) Defensive Line
The season will be a success if … the Bearcats win the American … outright. Cincinnati grabbed a share of the crown in 2014, but went 0-1 versus fellow co-champs Memphis and UCF. This year, the Bearcats will go head-to-head with both, as well as Houston and East Carolina in league play. If Cincy wants to show that it’s the new beast of the old Big East, this would be the year to do it, when the offense is humming and a chunk of the league is in transition.

60. Iowa State

2014 Season Ranking: 115 2015 Prediction: 3-9
3 Best Players: 1) FS Kamari Cotton-Moya, Soph. 2) WR D’Vario Montgomery, Jr. 3) WR Allen Lazard, Soph.
Relative Strengths: 1) Receiver, 2) Quarterback, 3) Secondary
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Running Back, 2) Linebacker, 3) Defensive Back
The season will be a success if … the Cyclones get to a bowl game. There were enough close calls last year, and there’s enough experience returning, to hope for a few more wins and a shot at a six-win regular season. It’ll all come down to the early part of the schedule – needing to beat Northern Iowa, Toledo, Kansas and Texas Tech, while hoping for yet another win over Iowa. Here’s the problem – they’ll almost certainly be the underdog over the last seven games. It’s going to take at least two big upsets to get close.

59. Vanderbilt

2014 Season Ranking: 113 2015 Prediction: 4-8
3 Best Players: 1) LB Stephen Weatherly, Jr. 2) LB Nigel Bowden, Soph. 3) RB Ralph Webb, Soph.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Special Teams, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Quarterback, 3) Defensive Line
The season will be a success if … they win five games. That might seem like a boring goal, but WKU isn’t a sure-thing win, and going to Middle Tennessee and Houston might be rough. This is still the 14th best team in the 14 team league, but if it can beat at least one good conference team, and with wins over the average-to-mediocre, improving by two wins might be possible.

58. Kentucky

2014 Season Ranking: 91 2015 Prediction: 5-7
3 Best Players: 1) LB Josh Forrest, Sr. 2) QB Patrick Towles, Jr. 3) S Blake McClain, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Linebacker, 3) Secondary
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Special Teams, 3) Receiver
The season will be a success if … Kentucky gets that sixth win. It would be nice if the Wildcats could make a huge splash, and it would be great if it could come up with some big upsets, but after last year, just get win No. 6 and go bowling. With five homes games in the first six, and with Louisiana, Eastern Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Charlotte guaranteeing four wins, get it done.

57. Rutgers

2014 Season Ranking: 56 2015 Prediction: 4-8
3 Best Players: 1) WR Leonte Carroo, Sr. 2) LB Steve Longa, Jr. 3) DT Darius Hamilton, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Linebacker, 3) Special Teams
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Defensive Line
The season will be a success if … Rutgers wins seven games. Anything more would be absolutely tremendous with so many rough games and with the Big Ten improving so much. There can’t be mistakes against Norfolk State, Washington State or Kansas at home, and beating Indiana and Army on the road have to be on the list. It’s then going to take two upsets – and not biffing any of those other games – to get to seven.

56. Texas Tech

2014 Season Ranking: 101 2015 Prediction: 5-7
3 Best Players: 1) BAN Pete Robertson, Sr. 2) OT Le’Raven Clark, Sr. 3) QB Davis Webb, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Quarterback, 3) Receiver
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Linebacker, 2) Special Teams, 3) Secondary
The season will be a success if … the Red Raiders win eight games. That’s the norm for the program over the last decade-plus, and that’s what Kingsbury and company will shoot for even with a rough schedule. Sam Houston State, UTEP, Iowa State and Kansas should mean the record will at least be as good as it was last season, but four more wins would make the Red Raiders a Big 12 factor again.

55. Virginia

2014 Season Ranking: 82 2015 Prediction: 5-7
3 Best Players: 1) FS Quin Blanding, Soph. 2) CB Maurice Canady, Sr. 3) DT David Dean, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Secondary, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Receiver
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Linebacker, 3) Quarterback
The season will be a success if … the Cavaliers qualify for a bowl game. Any bowl game. Admittedly, it’s kind of a reach for a mediocre ACC team that must travel to UCLA, Miami and Louisville, and host Notre Dame, Boise State, Georgia Tech, Duke and Virginia Tech. But this a program—and a coach—that’s squandered all of its mulligans over the past couple of seasons. One way or another, all of that young talent Mike London has signed recently must pull together and manufacture the six wins needed to get to the postseason.

54. Washington

2014 Season Ranking: 64 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) S Budda Baker, Soph. 2) WR Jaydon Mickens, Sr. 3) RB Dwayne Washington, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Secondary, 2) Special Teams, 3) Receivers
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Quarterback, 2) Linebackers, 3) Offensive Line
The season will be a success if … the Huskies bowl. While it seems as if Chris Petersen should start trending north in his second year, this program is built for a reboot in 2015. Sure, there’s more familiarity between the players and the staff, but there are a lot more holes on both sides of the ball. And not only does a Pac-12 schedule afford a rebuilding team few breaks, but the non-conference slate includes a trip to Boise State, Coach Pete’s old team, and a visit from Chuckie Keeton and Utah State. Washington fans want more, but they’ll likely have to wait another year to experience beyond 7-6.

53. Oregon State

2014 Season Ranking: 89 2015 Prediction: 5-7
3 Best Players: 1) C Isaac Seumalo, Jr. 2) RB Storm Woods, Sr. 3) WR Victor Bolden, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Receiver, 2) Secondary, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Quarterback, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Offensive Line
The season will be a success if … Oregon State reaches four wins, or one more than a year ago. This program is undergoing a major overhaul, from the new staff to the loss of 13 starters. In all likelihood, Gary Andersen will kick off the Seth Collins era at quarterback, which means the offensive growing pains are pretty much a sure thing. And the D is long on potential, but light on proven players. Weber State, San Jose State, Wazzu, Colorado and Washington will be competitive, but the Beavers could be double-digit dogs in the other seven games.

52. Colorado State

2014 Season Ranking: 25 2015 Prediction: 7-5
3 Best Players: 1) WR Rashard Higgins, Jr. 2) LB Cory James, Sr. 3) DE Joe Kawulok, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Receiver, 2) Secondary, 3) Running Back
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Linebacker, 2) Quarterback, 3) Defensive Line
The season will be a success if … the Rams win the Mountain West title. This was the second-best team in the league last season, but it didn’t get a shot at playing for the Mountain West championship. It might be a bit of a push without QB Garrett Grayson, RB Dee Hart, and a few other key parts, but the new coaching staff should be strong, there are too many good players not to think big, and the expectations are high after Jim McElwain was able to point things in the right direction.

51. NC State

2014 Season Ranking: 52 2015 Prediction: 10-2
3 Best Players: 1) QB Jacoby Brissett, Sr. 2) DE Mike Rose, Sr. 3) RB Shadrach Thornton, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Running Back, 3) Secondary
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Linebacker, 3) Receiver
The season will be a success if … the Wolfpack wins no fewer than nine games. Dave Doeren has NC State heading in the right direction with a bullet, and the schedule will do little to stifle progress. The Pack should be 4-0, with a head of steam entering ACC play, after opening with Troy, Eastern Kentucky, Old Dominion and South Alabama. And tough tests with Louisville and Clemson will be staged at Carter-Finley Stadium. If State can build off last year’s finish, it has a shot to be one of this season’s upstarts in the conference.

50. Northwestern

2014 Season Ranking: 86 2015 Prediction: 7-5
3 Best Players: 1) RB Justin Jackson, Soph. 2) CB Nick VanHoose, Sr. 3) LB Anthony Walker, Soph.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Secondary, 3) Defensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Quarterback, 2) Linebacker, 3) Offensive Line
The season will be a success if … the Wildcats go to a bowl game. They’re not good enough to win the West, but they should beat Eastern Illinois, Ball State, Purdue, and Illinois for a base of four wins. Just beat Duke on the road, take care of Minnesota, Penn State, and/or Iowa at home, and/or come up with an upset or two, and it shouldn’t be that hard. Six wins is hardly a positive for a program looking for more, and seven or more should be attainable.

49. San Diego State

2014 Season Ranking: 66 2015 Prediction: 8-4
3 Best Players: 1) RB Donnel Pumphrey, Jr. 2) LB Jake Fely, Sr. 3) LB Calvin Munson, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Secondary, 3) Defensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Quarterback, 3) Linebacker
The season will be a success if … the Aztecs win the Mountain West title. The program has been among the best of the league’s best over the last several seasons, but it hasn’t won the championship. With Fresno State, Utah State and Nevada at home, and with no Boise State on the slate, everything should work out fine schedule-wise. Anything less than a ten-win season with a trophy will be a major disappointment.

48. Iowa

2014 Season Ranking: 85 2015 Prediction: 7-5
3 Best Players: 1) S Jordan Lomax, Sr. 2) CB Desmond King, Jr. 3) DE Drew Ott, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Secondary, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Receiver
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Running Back, 2) Special Teams, 3) Quarterback
The season will be a success if … Iowa wins nine games. The team just isn’t good enough to expect wins at both Wisconsin and Nebraska, and it’ll get tripped up somewhere along the way in a game it shouldn’t lose, but nine wins would make it the best season since 2009 and a two victory improvement. Do that, and all of a sudden, Iowa might not be the West’s stagnant program.

47. Maryland

2014 Season Ranking: 68 2015 Prediction: 7-5
3 Best Players: 1) PK Brad Craddock, Sr. 2) S/CB Sean Davis, Sr. 3) CB/KR William Likely, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Special Teams, 2) Secondary, 3) Receiver
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Quarterback, 3) Linebacker
The season will be a success if … the Terps win eight games. That might seem like a really, really lofty goal for a team with so much turnover, but they should be able to get by Richmond, Bowling Green, USF and Indiana at home. They’re going to be better than Rutgers, and they should be strong enough to split with Penn State and Michigan in College Park. Forget about dates at Ohio State or Michigan State unless the planets are aligned correctly, but can they shock Wisconsin? Can they get by Iowa or West Virginia on the road? There are just enough winnable dates to think they could pull together eight victories even before a bowl appearance.

46. BYU

2014 Season Ranking: 54 2015 Prediction: 10-2
3 Best Players: 1) QB Taysom Hill, Sr. 2) DE Bronson Kaufusi, Sr. 3) WR Mitch Mathews, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Running Back, 3) Defensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Secondary, 3) Linebacker
The season will be a success if … BYU wins nine games. The Cougars could be terrific, but can they really come up with double-digit wins with Nebraska, Boise State, UCLA, Michigan, Cincinnati, and Missouri on the schedule? Just getting through those games alive will be tough, but they need to win at least three of those, and then not screw up against good Cincinnati, East Carolina, Fresno State and Utah State teams. It might take a bowl game to get there, but nine wins would be nice.

45. Duke

2014 Season Ranking: 44 2015 Prediction: 5-7
3 Best Players: 1) S Jeremy Cash, Sr. 2) S DeVon Edwards, Jr. 3) LB Kelby Brown, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Secondary, 2) Special Teams, 3) Offensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Running Back
The season will be a success if … the Blue Devils win eight regular season games. There’s no sense in becoming greedy, especially in a year when a new quarterback is being worked into the system. Still, Duke is on a nice roll, having won 19 games over the past two seasons. And the mindset and culture are at all-time highs on this campus. Plus, the schedule is manageable, including a non-conference portion versus Tulane, N.C. Central, Northwestern and Army. Getting to 8-4 is achievable, particularly if the offense gels in September.

44. North Carolina

2014 Season Ranking: 65 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) QB Marquise Williams, Sr. 2) WR Ryan Switzer, Jr. 3) OG Landon Turner, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Receiver, 2) Quarterback, 3) Running Back
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Defensive Back, 3) Linebacker
The season will be a success if … the Tar Heels get back to winning eight games. It hasn’t happened the last two seasons, which is why the entire staff begins 2015 facing added pressure. The schedule will be demanding, especially down the stretch, when Duke, Miami, Virginia Tech and NC State will be faced in November. But Carolina boasts a coach in his fourth year, one of the league’s better quarterbacks and improvement on the defensive staff. If that’s not enough to make a two-game ascension from 2013, go ahead and chalk it up as the latest disappointment in Chapel Hill.

43. Nebraska

2014 Season Ranking: 37 2015 Prediction: 10-2
3 Best Players: 1) DT Maliek Collins, Jr. 2) WR De’Mornay Pierson-El, Soph. 3) S Nate Gerry, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Defensive Line, 2) Quarterback, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Special Teams, 3) Secondary
The season will be a success if …Nebraska wins ten games and the Big Ten West. If this year’s team doesn’t do both, then it’s going to be sort of tough to explain away the dumping of Bo Pelini – outside of the fact that the program just didn’t really want him around anymore. There are no excuses with no Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State, and with Wisconsin and Michigan State at home. This would probably be the fourth-best team in the East – and that might be generous, but in the West, it needs to win the thing.

42. Georgia Tech

2014 Season Ranking: 9 2015 Prediction: 8-4
3 Best Players: 1) QB Justin Thomas, Jr. 2) NT Adam Gotsis, Sr. 3) LB P.J. Davis, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Running Back, 3) Defensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Special Teams, 3) Secondary
The season will be a success if … the Yellow Jackets return to the ACC Championship Game. Georgia Tech has the best blend of offensive and defensive talent in the Coastal, so shooting for anything less than another divisional crown would be aiming too low. That said, the team will have to earn its spot in Charlotte, facing a thorny schedule that includes crossover games with both Florida State and Clemson. Virginia Tech, though, visits the Flats in a late-season matchup that could a long way to determining one-half of the league title bracket.

41. California

2014 Season Ranking: 90 2015 Prediction: 7-5
3 Best Players: 1) QB Jared Goff, Jr. 2) RB Daniel Lasco, Sr. 3) WR Kenny Lawler, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Receiver, 3) Running Back
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Special Teams, 3) Linebacker
The season will be a success if … Cal plays a 13th game. It’s Year 3 for Sonny Dykes. The rising star at quarterback is just one of 17 returning starters. And the tumult from the staff’s first season is now a fading memory. The Bears absolutely, positively must bowl in 2015, especially after coming so close to reaching the postseason last fall. Still, the schedule is brutally demanding following an opening day visit from Grambling, so even matching the five wins from 2014 might require an upset during a wicked second-half schedule that includes trips to UCLA, Oregon and Stanford, and visits from USC and Arizona State.

40. Boise State

2014 Season Ranking: 5 2015 Prediction: 11-1
3 Best Players: 1) LB Kamalei Corra, Jr. 2) S Darian Thompson, Sr. 3) CB Donte Deayon, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Offensive Line, 2) Linebacker, 3) Defensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Quarterback, 3) Secondary
The season will be a success if … the Broncos win the Mountain West title and get the Group of Five’s automatic big bowl bid again. Even if they beat Washington, BYU and Virginia before rolling through the Mountain West on the way to a 13-0 season, it would still take something special from the college football gods to get into the playoff. The Broncos can’t control that, but they can control being the highest-ranked non-Power 5 team in the standings again.

39. Pitt

2014 Season Ranking: 70 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) RB James Conner, Jr. 2) WR Tyler Boyd, Jr. 3) QB Chad Voytik, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Receiver, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Defensive Line, 2) Secondary, 3) Offensive Line
The season will be a success if … Pitt finishes the year with a winning record. If the first-year staff can wind up above .500 after the Panthers went 6-7 in 2014, it’ll serve as a building block for the future in Western Pennsylvania. The schedule will be challenging after the opening two games with Youngstown State and Akron, including trips to Iowa, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Duke, and visits from Notre Dame, Louisville and Miami. If Pitt wins seven, it’ll be a starting point. Go 8-5 for the first time in five years, and head coach Pat Narduzzi will have a stiff tailwind at his back.

38. Mississippi State

2014 Season Ranking: 20 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) QB Dak Prescott, Sr. 2) WR De’Runnya Wilson, Jr. 3) DT Chris Jones, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Running Back, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Receiver
The season will be a success if … Mississippi State wins nine games. This might be a huge stretch with four nasty SEC road games to go along with home dates against LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss, and it’ll take a bowl win to get that ninth win, but it would be a huge statement for Dan Mullen’s program if it could just be one game worse in a massive rebuilding year. This is more like a seven-win team, so anything more than that would be gravy.

37. Minnesota

2014 Season Ranking: 47 2015 Prediction: 8-4
3 Best Players: 1) CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Sr. 2) QB Mitch Leidner, Jr. 3) CB Eric Murray, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Secondary, 2) Special Teams, 3) Offensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Quarterback, 3) Linebacker
The season will be a success if … Minnesota wins eight wins again. It might seem like a modest goal considering the Gophers are coming off two straight 8-5 campaigns, but the talent isn’t there compared to Nebraska and Wisconsin in the West, and having to face TCU, Michigan and Ohio State will make coming up with double-digit victories next to impossible. It might take a seven-win regular season and a bowl victory to get there, but 8-5 would show off sustained success.

36. Michigan

2014 Season Ranking: 81 2015 Prediction: 8-4
3 Best Players: 1) LB Joe Bolden, Sr. 2) DT Chris Wormley, Soph. 3) DB Jabrill Peppers, Soph.
Relative Strengths: 1) Secondary, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Quarterback, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Special Teams
The season will be a success if … Michigan wins eight games and goes bowling. That might be aiming too low if the defense plays like it did last season and if the offense can do anything right. There might be several 50/50 games against Utah, Minnesota and Penn State on the road, and Northwestern, BYU and Oregon State at home, but it’s time to be Michigan again. Win eight games and be mad you didn’t win more.

35. Kansas State

2014 Season Ranking: 34 2015 Prediction: 8-4
3 Best Players: 1) 2) 3)
Relative Strengths: 1) Defensive Back, 2) Linebacker, 3) Special Teams
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Quarterback, 2) Receiver, 3) Running Back
The season will be a success if … the Wildcats win ten games. Kansas State is probably around the third or fourth-best team in the Big 12 – at absolute best – but the schedule is too nice and too breezy not to shoot for double-digit wins. Forget the non-conference slate – that’s a 3-0 start – but with TCU, Oklahoma and Baylor all coming to the Family, and with a not bad finishing kick, nine wins in the regular season are possible, and make it ten with a bowl victory.

34. Oklahoma State

2014 Season Ranking: 61 2015 Prediction: 8-4
3 Best Players: 1) DE Emmanuel Ogbah, Jr. 2) DE Jimmy Bean, Sr. 3) QB Mason Rudolph, Soph.
Relative Strengths: 1) Defensive Line, 2) Quarterback, 3) Special Teams
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Running Back, 2) Secondary, 3) Receiver
The season will be a success if … the Cowboys win at least ten games. There’s too much missing to win the title in an improve Big 12, but with just about every schedule break that could be reasonably asked for – including getting TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma at home – and with a world of experience returning, a ten-win season is a must. Do that, and OSU should be in the mix for big things up until the end of the regular season.

33. Miami

2014 Season Ranking: 55 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) QB Brad Kaaya, Soph. 2) S Deon Bush, Sr. 3) RB Gus Edwards, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Secondary, 3) Defensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Running Back, 3) Receiver
The season will be a success if …the Hurricanes win eight regular season games. The coach is in his fifth season, and the quarterback is no longer a rookie. So, despite facing obstacles on both sides of the ball, Miami ought to be ready to ascend beyond last year’s six-win campaign. Coastal Division contention is always a possibility, especially since Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech will be faced at Sun Life Stadium. It’s time for the Canes to approach the 2013 team that won nine games, despite collapsing late in the year.

32. Penn State

2014 Season Ranking: 46 2015 Prediction: 7-5
3 Best Players: 1) QB Christian Hackenberg, Jr. 2) DT Anthony Zettel, Sr. 3) S Jordan Lucas, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Defensive Line, 2) Linebacker, 3) Quarterback
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Running Back, 3) Receiver
The season will be a success if … Penn State wins nine games. If the offense was merely mediocre, the Nittany Lions would’ve beaten Maryland, Illinois, and probably Michigan last season. The D might not be as strong, but the O should be a bit better, and with a relatively light and breezy schedule, accept losses at Ohio State and at Michigan State, but that’s it. The Nittany Lions are good enough to beat Michigan in Happy Valley, there’s no Wisconsin or Nebraska to deal with from the West, and all of the non-conference games – including San Diego State – are winnable.

31. Texas

2014 Season Ranking: 72 2015 Prediction: 7-5
3 Best Players: 1) DE/LB Malik Jefferson, Fr. 2) SS Dylan Haines, Jr. 3) CB Duke Thomas, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Defensive Line, 2) Secondary, 3) Offensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Running Back, 3) Special Teams
The season will be a success if … Texas wins ten games. That’s a tall, tall order considering the Longhorns aren’t going to be better than Notre Dame, Oklahoma, TCU or Baylor – and all four of those games are away from Austin. But Texas has to be above that. There are more than enough good players across the board to expect this coaching staff to do more, and while it might take a bowl victory to get there, ten wins would be a sufficient second act for Charlie Strong.

30. South Carolina

2014 Season Ranking: 51 2015 Prediction: 9-3
3 Best Players: 1) WR Pharoh Cooper, Jr. 2) LB Skai Moore, Jr. 3) SS T.J. Gurley, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Receiver, 2) Running Back, 3) Secondary
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Quarterback, 2) Special Teams, 3) Defensive Line
The season will be a success if … South Carolina wins the East. Missing Alabama, Ole Miss and Arkansas – yeah, this year, you want to miss Arkansas – really helps. However, going to Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee might make it too tough to take the division title. Whatever. South Carolina has never been afraid to come up with big road wins under Spurrier. With nine starters back on defense, and decent replacements for a rebounding offense, at this point, anything other than a division title will feel like a massive disappointment.

29. Arizona State

2014 Season Ranking: 16 2015 Prediction: 7-5
3 Best Players: 1) WR D.J. Foster, Sr. 2) QB Mike Bercovici, Sr. 3) RB Demario Richard, Soph.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Linebacker, 3) Receiver
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Defensive Back, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Special Teams
The season will be a success if … the Sun Devils remain on the 10-win escalator. After winning ten games in 2013 and 2014, anything less in 2015 is going to qualify as a disappointment. And that’s a good thing, because the bar has been raised much higher under Todd Graham. Last season was proof that Arizona State can handle wholesale changes on one side of the ball, yet still remain ranked. So, as the offense undergoes a few alterations this fall, the defense is in a position to pick up a little more of the slack.

28. Louisville

2014 Season Ranking: 32 2015 Prediction: 9-3
3 Best Players: 1) DE Sheldon Rankins, Sr. 2) LB Devonte Fields, Sr. 3) LB Keith Kelsey, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Linebacker, 2) Secondary, 3) Defensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Running Back, 3) Receiver
The season will be a success if … the Cardinals match last year’s nine wins. Last season served as proof that Louisville belongs in the ACC. Winning nine in back-to-back years will show that the program is ready to compete over the long haul. The schedule features some early landmines, such as the opener with Auburn and the perennial bouts with divisional foes Clemson and Florida State. But the back end doesn’t feature a single opponent that finished 2014 ranked, so the Cards should be cruising into their bowl game. Bobby Petrino has a long track record of effectively preparing his next wave of starters, and there’s ample talent to keep this team from veering off course.

27. Florida

2014 Season Ranking: 53 2015 Prediction: 8-4
3 Best Players: 1) CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Jr. 2) LB Antonio Morrison, Sr. 3) WR Demarcus Robinson, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Secondary, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Quarterback, 2) Receiver, 3) Offensive Line
The season will be a success if … the Gators win the SEC East. The bar is always set higher for Florida, and while winning the conference title might be out of reach, the division isn’t a crazy goal. Yes, the games against Missouri and South Carolina are on the road, and the Georgia date is always a neutral site fight, but there’s enough talent returning on both sides of the ball to hope for at least two wins out of those three. More realistic would be an eight-win season to build to what should be a stronger 2016, but, again, it’s Florida.

26. Arizona

2014 Season Ranking: 13 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) LB Scooby Wright, Jr. 2) WR Cayleb Jones, Jr. 3) QB Anu Solomon, Soph.
Relative Strengths: 1) Linebacker, 2) Receiver, 3) Quarterback
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Offensive Line
The season will be a success if … the Cats win ten for a second consecutive year. Why not? The program is on a roll under Rich Rod, the quarterback is no longer a rookie and the star defender has two years of eligibility left. Plus, Arizona will get a head start on reaching 10 wins by opening with UTSA, Nevada and Northern Arizona. Repeating as the South Division champ is clearly a goal, but a challenging one at that. Of the four toughest opponents on the schedule, UCLA, Stanford, USC and Arizona State, only the Bruins will be traveling Tucson this fall.

25. Utah

2014 Season Ranking: 28 2015 Prediction: 7-5
3 Best Players: 1) RB Devontae Booker, Sr. 2) LB Jared Norris, Sr. 3) QB Travis Wilson, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Special Teams, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Running Back
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Secondary, 3) Quarterback
The season will be a success if … Utah wins eight. It’s not as if the Utes are incapable of matching last year’s nine victories, but the schedule is daunting once again. Not only is there the usual Pac-12 grind, including cross-division matchups at Oregon and Washington, but Utah plays Michigan, Utah State and Fresno State out of conference. If Kyle Whittingham can get his team to 8-5, a year after going 9-4, it’ll solidify the notion that the Utes can perennially competing in the Pac-12. This team’s road resiliency, along with the veteran backfield, puts an eight-win campaign within reach.

24. Virginia Tech

2014 Season Ranking: 45 2015 Prediction: 6-6
3 Best Players: 1) CB Kendall Fuller, Jr. 2) DE Dadi Nicolas, Sr. 3) DT Luther Maddy, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Defensive Line, 2) Secondary, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Quarterback, 3) Receiver
The season will be a success if … the Hokies win the Coastal Division for the first time since 2011. Enough is enough already. Sure, Georgia Tech is solid, and Duke has turned the corner under David Cutcliffe, but no one in the ACC’s weaker half has the tradition, the fan base or the defensive prowess of Virginia Tech. If Michael Brewer and the offense can make even modest improvements from 2014, the D has enough next-level talent to weather revealing road trips to play the Yellow Jackets and Miami, and capture the Coastal.

23. Ole Miss

2014 Season Ranking: 11 2015 Prediction: 7-5
3 Best Players: 1) DT Robert Nkemdiche, Jr. 2) OT Laremy Tunsil, Jr. 3) WR Laquon Treadwell, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Defensive Line, 2) Receiver, 3) Offensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Quarterback, 2) Special Teams, 3) Running Back
The season will be a success if … the Rebels win ten games. They might have been the favorites to win the division in a few other Power 5 conferences, but road trips to Alabama, Florida, Auburn and Mississippi State – to go along with the home games against LSU and Arkansas – will make it tough to get through without at least two losses. With this defense, though, a ten-win season is absolutely possible, but the consistency and offensive pop have to be there in a league full of dangerous teams. Outside of the Alabama game – even with the win last year – there isn’t any one game on the slate that Ole Miss will be a big underdog in.

22. West Virginia

2014 Season Ranking: 48 2015 Prediction: 8-4
3 Best Players: 1) S Karl Joseph, Sr. 2) LB Nick Kwiatkoski, Sr. 3) QB Skyler Howard, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Linebacker, 2) Special Teams, 3) Secondary
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Quarterback
The season will be a success if … the Mountaineers win nine games. The Big 12 is so, so tough, and it’s going to be impossible to take the conference title with road games at Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU and Kansas State. Even so, they’re good enough to win a few of those, and as long as there aren’t any hiccups at home, this should be the best season yet as a Big 12 program.

21. Stanford

2014 Season Ranking: 36 2015 Prediction: 9-3
3 Best Players: 1) QB Kevin Hogan, Sr. 2) OT Kyle Murphy, Sr. 3) LB Blake Martinez, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Linebacker, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Quarterback
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Running Back, 3) Receiver
The season will be a success if … the Cardinal betters last season’s 8-5 mark. Despite facing significant turnover on defense, Stanford is capable of winning nine games, though a return to double-digit victories would more appropriately match expectations on the Farm. Plus, with Oregon having to replace Marcus Mariota, the Cardinal has every right to consider another Pac-12 North title within reach. Sure, the schedule is daunting, but most of this year’s toughest opponents will have to travel to Northern California.

20. Texas A&M

2014 Season Ranking: 40 2015 Prediction: 8-4
3 Best Players: 1) DE Myles Garrett, Soph. 2) WR Josh Reynolds, Jr. 3) QB Kyle Allen, Soph.
Relative Strengths: 1) Receiver, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Defensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Running Back, 3) Linebacker
The season will be a success if … the Aggies win ten games. The SEC West is still the SEC West, even if most of the tough battles are at home. There’s a world of skill and potential, but there will likely be nine bowl-bound teams on the slate, maybe ten if Ball State catches fire in the MAC. Even so, it’s rare to get a schedule this favorable, and A&M has to take advantage.

19. Auburn

2014 Season Ranking: 31 2015 Prediction: 9-3
3 Best Players: 1) QB Jeremy Johnson, Jr. 2) CB Jonathan Jones, Sr. 3) WR D’haquille Williams, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Running Back, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Defensive Line, 2) Secondary, 3) Special Teams
The season will be a success if … Auburn wins ten games. The coaching staff is peerless, the defense is experienced, the special teams will be good, the O line should be solid and the skill players explosive. It’s all there, and even the schedule is relatively manageable for an SEC West team. Split the road games against Arkansas and LSU, take care of A&M on the road, and win all the home games against Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama. Oh, and beat Louisville to start the season and win the SEC championship game. It’s just that easy. Realistically, if the Tigers can hang around the title chase all season and finish with double-digit victories, it’ll be a great year.

18. Missouri

2014 Season Ranking: 19 2015 Prediction: 9-3
3 Best Players: 1) LB Kentrell Brothers, Sr. 2) RB Russell Hansbrough, Sr. 3) LB Michael Scherer, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Offensive Line, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Quarterback, 3) Running Back
The season will be a success if … Missouri wins the SEC East for a third straight year. That’s a really, really, really high goal for a team with so many question marks, and with the division so much better, but after the last two years, it’s going to be hard to hope for anything else. Fortunately, with Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida at home, and missing Alabama, Auburn and LSU, the schedule isn’t awful. If the Tigers can use September to gel and can be ready to rock and roll by the time October kicks off the SEC slate with Kentucky, things might be back to normal.

17. LSU

2014 Season Ranking: 30 2015 Prediction: 9-3
3 Best Players: 1) RB Leonard Fournette, Soph. 2) OG Vadal Alexander, Sr. 3) LB Kendell Beckwith, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Secondary, 2) Receiver, 3) Running Back
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Quarterback, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Special Teams
The season will be a success if … LSU wins ten games. This isn’t a good enough team to pull out the SEC West, especially considering the schedule. However, if LSU is going to show the world that it really is a year away from being a true national title contender again – the 2016 team should be loaded – then it has to get back to being a ten-win program. It might take a bowl victory to get there, but the Tigers have to own Death Valley again after losing twice last year, and they’ll need to come up with at least one win at Mississippi State, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Alabama.

16. USC

2014 Season Ranking: 24 2015 Prediction: 8-4
3 Best Players: 1) QB Cody Kessler, Sr. 2) LB Su’a Cravens, Jr. 3) CB Adoree’ Jackson, Soph.
Relative Strengths: 1) Linebacker, 2) Quarterback, 3) Offensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Receiver
The season will be a success if … the Trojans win the Pac-12 title. Considering where Troy will begin the season, and that Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley left school early, there’s no reason to aim any lower. USC was a pair of late-game collapses away from winning the South Division in 2014, and the 2015 edition boasts as much individual talent as anyone in the conference. Plus, the second year with essentially the same coaching staff is going to benefit all parties involved, from the holdovers and the new recruits to each of Steve Sarkisian’s assistants.

15. Georgia

2014 Season Ranking: 15 2015 Prediction: 9-3
3 Best Players: 1) RB Nick Chubb, Soph. 2) LB Jordan Jenkins, Sr. 3) LB Leonard Floyd, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Linebacker, 3) Secondary
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Quarterback, 3) Offensive Line
The season will be a success if … Georgia wins the East. The goal each and every year should be an SEC championship and the playoff, but as long as the program takes back its division, it’ll be fine. Not great, but fine. There are only three difficult road games going to Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia Tech – obviously the last one has nothing to do with the SEC race. The Bulldogs can lose to the Tigers, and they can lose to Alabama as long as they take care of South Carolina at home and Florida in Jacksonville.

14. Tennessee

2014 Season Ranking: 49 2015 Prediction: 7-5
3 Best Players: 1) DE Derek Barnett, Soph. 2) QB Joshua Dobbs, Jr. 3) LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Receiver, 2) Linebacker, 3) Quarterback
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Running Back
The season will be a success if … Tennessee wins the SEC East. Yeah, it’s a big leap for a team that came up with just seven wins last season, but with the returning experience and talent, anything other than a trip to Atlanta will seem a bit empty. Dealing with Arkansas and Alabama from the West won’t make it easy, but with Georgia and South Carolina coming to Knoxville, the Vols have their shot to make a massive jump.

13. Notre Dame

2014 Season Ranking: 35 2015 Prediction: 7-5
3 Best Players: 1) LB Jaylon Smith, Jr. 2) OT Ronnie Stanley, Sr. 3) DE Sheldon Day, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Linebacker, 2) Receiver, 3) Running Back
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Quarterback, 2) Special Teams, 3) Defensive Line
The season will be a success if … the Irish win ten games. They’re good enough and deep enough to legitimately push for a playoff spot, but with Texas, Georgia Tech, at Clemson, USC, at Pitt and at Stanford to deal with – not to mention dangerous battles at Virginia and Boston College along with the Navy game – going unbeaten is going to be impossible and finishing with just one loss will be a problem. 11 wins and the playoff might be the goal, but 10-2 would be terrific.

12. Wisconsin

2014 Season Ranking: 7 2015 Prediction: 11-1
3 Best Players: 1) CB Sojourn Shelton, Jr. 2) LB Vince Biegel, Jr. 3) RB Corey Clement, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Secondary, 2) Running Back, 3) Offensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Quarterback, 3) Special Teams
The season will be a success if … Wisconsin gets back to the Big Ten championship game. The Badgers aren’t going to be better than Ohio State or Michigan State, so it’s asking a wee bit much to win the title and go to the playoff. However, with this D, and this schedule, 10-2 is there for the taking, and 11-1 is possible. Don’t expect any sort of a drop off with the new coaching staff.

11. Clemson

2014 Season Ranking: 17 2015 Prediction: 9-3
3 Best Players: 1) QB Deshaun Watson, Soph. 2) CB Mackensie Alexander, Soph. 3) WR Artavis Scott, Soph.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Linebacker, 3) Offensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Quarterback, 3) Special Teams
The season will be a success if … the Tigers win the ACC championship. Although Clemson is facing its own transitions, particularly on both lines, it has to seize the opportunity when Florida State is vulnerable. And in a year that the Seminoles are traveling to Death Valley, it’s even more of a reason for the Tigers to capture the crown and possibly contend for a playoff spot. Plus, Clemson opens the year with scrimmages versus Wofford and Appalachian State, providing the time to get the retooled defense back in shape.

10. Oklahoma

2014 Season Ranking: 43 2015 Prediction: 8-4
3 Best Players: 1) RB Samaje Perine, Soph. 2) LB Eric Striker, Sr. 3) WR Sterling Shepard, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Linebacker, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Running Back
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Quarterback, 3) Secondary
The season will be a success if … Oklahoma wins the Big 12 championship. It’s not a good enough team to go unbeaten, and it’s not going to be consistent enough to get to 11-1, but there’s still more talent across the board than anyone else in the Big 12 and the pieces overall are still in place to get to a championship level. The playoff is the dream, but for this team, coming off of last year, a 10-2 season with a championship t-shirt would be good enough.

9. Baylor

2014 Season Ranking: 14 2015 Prediction: 10-2
3 Best Players: 1) OT Spencer Drango, Sr. 2) DE Shawn Oakman, Sr. 3) NT Andrew Billings, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Receiver, 2) Defensive Line, 3) Running Back
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Secondary, 2) Linebacker, 3) Special Teams
The season will be a success if … Baylor goes to the College Football Playoff. After getting so achingly close last season, and with 18 starters returning and good replacements for the lost parts, anything less than a spot in the big four will seem like a massive disappointment. The team might not be good enough to go unbeaten, but with Oklahoma and Texas at home, if it can win two of the three road games at Kansas State, Oklahoma State and TCU to get to 11-1, this year, that might get it done.

8. Oregon

2014 Season Ranking: 2 2015 Prediction: 10-2
3 Best Players: 1) RB Royce Freeman, Soph. 2) DE DeForest Buckner, Sr. 3) WR Bralon Addison, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Receiver, 3) Defensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Quarterback, 2) Secondary, 3) Linebacker
The season will be a success if … the Ducks capture a second-straight Pac-12 championship. A return to the playoffs will be challenging in the year after Marcus Mariota, but no one in the conference is clearly better than this team. It’s Oregon or Stanford in the North Division, and the Cardinal is dealing with wholesale changes on defense. And if the Ducks can get back to Santa Clara for the league title game, their offense ought to be humming by then. Oregon is a machine, with a ton of talent, so shooting for anything lower than the Pac-12 penthouse just doesn’t make sense.

7. Arkansas

2014 Season Ranking: 41 2015 Prediction: 10-2
3 Best Players: 1) TE Hunter Henry, Jr. 2) RB Alex Collins, Jr. 3) OT Denver Kirkland, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Running Back, 2) Offensive Line, 3) Defensive LIne
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Receiver, 2) Secondary, 3) Quarterback
The season will be a success if … Arkansas comes really, really close to winning the SEC West. There might be too many concerns on defense and not enough pop to the passing game to win the best division in college football, but Arkansas should be a major player. Getting to ten wins is a must if the Hogs are able to own their home games, and if they can split the road games at LSU and Alabama – and can get by Ole Miss in Oxford – then look out.

6. Florida State

2014 Season Ranking: 4 2015 Prediction: 10-2
3 Best Players: 1) CB Jalen Ramsey, Jr. 2) RB Dalvin Cook (assuming he’s off suspension) 3) LB Terrance Smith, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Secondary, 2) Special Teams, 3) Quarterback
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Offensive Line, 2) Linebacker, 3) Defensive Line
The season will be a success if … the Seminoles run their streak of ACC championships to four. Sure, Florida State is facing a ton of turnover and challenges entering 2015. But this program still houses as much individual talent as anyone in the league, so the bar should never be lower than a league championship. And it’s not as if the Noles’ toughest challenger, Clemson, is a finished product. FSU will have two months to gel on both sides of the ball before a Nov. 7 trip to Death Valley in a game that could decide this year’s conference champ. .

5. Michigan State

2014 Season Ranking: 10 2015 Prediction: 10-2
3 Best Players: 1) QB Connor Cook, Sr. 2) DE Shilique Calhoun, Sr. 3) C Jack Allen, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Defensive Line, 2) Quarterback, 3) Linebacker
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Special Teams, 2) Receiver, 3) Running Back
The season will be a success if … the Spartans go to the playoff. With two BCS-level bowl wins over the last two seasons, they’re not going to settle for anything less than a trip into the show. Outside of a total brain-cramp there shouldn’t be too much of a problem getting to at least ten wins again – but that’s not enough. There’s too much talent and too many stars to not think big. Get into the show, and then with the way this team has performed in the post-season, you take your chances. But first, they have to beat a certain defending national champion.

4. Alabama

2014 Season Ranking: 3 2015 Prediction: 11-1
3 Best Players: 1) DT A’Shawn Robinson, Jr. 2) DE Jonathan Allen, Jr. 3) RB Derrick Henry, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Defensive Line, 2) Running Back, 3) Offensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Quarterback, 2) Receiver, 3) Special Teams
The season will be a success if … Alabama wins its third national title in five seasons. Ohio State comes into the season as the best team in America, and merely getting through the SEC West alive is a hard enough task, but winning national championships is what this program is built to do. Winning another SEC championship is always impressive no matter what, and getting to the playoff for the second straight season would be impressive, but the team has closed out the last two seasons with a loss. With this defense and this running game, there’s no reason for that to happen again.

What to watch for on offense: Can the passing game be up to national title snuff? As good as Alabama was last year on defense, and has powerful as the running game was, there’s no SEC championship or playoff appearance if Blake Sims didn’t go from okay to All-SEC. Of course, it helped to have a Heisman finalist in Amari Cooper to light up defenses like a Christmas tree, and even then the dangerous passing attack didn’t always come through when needed. There’s a hope that Jake Coker or David Cornwell or any one of the other quarterback options can merely be very good, but even with Sims, Bama entered last year’s College Football Playoff along with a No. 1 overall draft pick (Jameis Winston), a No. 2 overall draft pick (Marcus Mariota), and a guy who would’ve been the third quarterback off the board and could be the No. 1 overall pick next year (Cardale Jones). Just having a quarterback who manages the game might not be enough to win a national title – even if all the other parts are in place.

What to watch for on defense: The secondary has to be better. Of course it’s all relative when it comes to Alabama, but the pass defense was way too erratic, allowing 221 yards or more in each of the last five games along with ten touchdown passes with five picks. The defensive backfield had its moments, making Texas A&M look silly and embarrassing LSU’s quarterbacks, and it was hardly a massive problem overall, but again, if the goal is a national title, there’s tightening to do. This year’s group attacked more throughout spring ball and was great at ball hawking throughout the spring game, but it’s still a bit young and it still has to find its playmakers to build around. Cyrus Jones is a good place to start at corner, and there’s enough four-and-five-star talent to get excited about, but the production has to be there from the start.

The team will be far better if … O.J. Howard gets more involved in the offense. As the saying goes, the only man who could ever stop Michael Jordan was Dean Smith, obviously referring to the way the legendary North Carolina head coach kept his star from exploding offensively. For some reason, Alabama just hasn’t used its NFL-caliber tight end often enough with Howard catching a criminally low 31 passes in his first two years. It was easy to look at Amari Cooper as the first, second and third option, and the running game normally controlled things for the offense, but now that the quarterback situation is sketchy, and with Cooper now an Oakland Raider, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has to get his immensely talented guy the ball.

3. UCLA

2014 Season Ranking: 12 2015 Prediction: 11-1
3 Best Players: 1) LB Myles Jack, Jr. 2) RB Paul Perkins, Jr. 3) C Jake Brendel, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Secondary, 2) Linebacker, 3) Running Back
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Quarterback, 2) Receiver, 3) Special Teams
The season will be a success if … the Bruins rise to the top of the South Division. After blowing a chance to play in last December’s Pac-12 title game, UCLA is understandably eager for redemption and a chance to finally play up to its talent level. Its biggest challenge will be replacing Brett Hundley, but Jim Mora’s staff continues to stockpile talent as well as anyone in the conference. Whoever gets the nod behind center – rookie Josh Rosen or veteran Jerry Neuheisel –had better be comfortable on the road, because the Bruins face Arizona, Stanford and USC away from the Rose Bowl.

What to watch for on offense: The Rosen Bowl? Jim Mora hasn’t named a successor to Brett Hundley, and doesn’t plan to do so until August. But anyone monitoring the competition this spring could plainly see that true freshman Josh Rosen is the most talented quarterback on the roster. Sure, he doesn’t have the snaps or the locker room gravitas of Jerry Neuheisel. However, Rosen has the superior arm talent, and his maturity and football IQ are exceptional for such a young player. With the next few months to dig his heels in deeper, he’s capable of turning this race into a rout by the end of the first week of fall camp.

What to watch for on defense: Blame it on Rios. How good will the UCLA secondary be this fall? First Team All-Pac-12 CB Ishmael Adams is in danger of getting bumped to nickel by junior Marcus Rios, one of the fastest rising Bruins this offseason. A spot player in 2014 after missing all of 2013 with a life-threatening fungal infection, Rios was dynamite in April. He’s returned to his usual fighting weight, and is four inches taller than Adams. If Rios remains atop the depth chart at corner, UCLA’s B team, which also includes rising S Tahaan Goodman, will be as skilled as any in the Pac-12.

The team will be far better if… someone other than OLB Deon Hollins harasses quarterbacks this fall. Hollins notched nine sacks in 2014, and will continue to be a guided missile off the edge. But Owa Odighizuwa, UCLA’s best pass-rushing lineman, is now a New York Giant. And while Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark are next-level linemen, too, they’re also north of 300 pounds. The Bruins need a superior athlete, like Takkarist McKinley, to collapse the pocket, because it was not a coincidence that this team had just three sacks in last season’s three losses.

2. TCU

2014 Season Ranking: 6 2015 Prediction: 9-3
3 Best Players: 1) QB Trevone Boykin, Sr. 2) WR Josh Doctson, Sr. 3) FS Derrick Kindred, Sr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Special Teams, 3) Offensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Linebacker, 2) Secondary, 3) Linebacker
The season will be a success if … TCU wins at least a share of the Big 12 title. Getting to the playoff requires a ton of luck as well as a near-perfect season – that’s asking a bit too much. However, with all of the star power returning on offense, and with TCU’s ability to reload on defense, it’ll be a massive disappointment if the Horned Frogs don’t repeat the success of last year and at grab some part of a Big 12 championship. It’s a better league this year, but TCU is good enough to handle it.

What to watch for on offense: How much more will the running game be involved? Having a mobile quarterback like Trevone Boykin helps the numbers and certainly makes the ground attack more dangerous, but the goal has to be to keep the Heisman-caliber playmaker from getting hit. The more the backs can help, the better. B.J. Catalon took off early for the NFL, but former Nebraska Cornhusker Aaron Green grew into a better back, taking off for 922 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 7.15 yards per carry. Kyle Hicks got in a few reps last year, and Trevorris Johnson ran for four touchdowns, but the expected emergence of Shaun Nixon might make the running game truly pop. The former star recruit tore an ACL last season, but he’s back and ready to roll as part of the rotation. For a team that ran for 2,689 yards and 32 touchdowns last year, even with a high-octane passing attack, 3,000 yards isn’t out of the question.

What to watch for on defense: How fast can the linebackers rise up? Any secondary would have problems in the Big 12, but the loss of Kevin White at one corner shouldn’t be a total killer considering the talent returning at the other four spots. TCU always finds tremendous linebackers in the 4-2-5 alignment, but Paul Dawson was a tone-setting terror making 136 stops and Marcus Mallet was fantastic coming up with 100 tackles. On the plus side, TCU only has to come up with two replacements, and junior Sammy Douglas appears to be ready to step in and shine. The 6-3, 215-pounder is built like a big safety, and he can move. The middle will be the more interesting spot with true freshman Mike Freeze coming out of spring ball as the top option, but with former quarterback Ty Summers going to be in the mix this fall. With Minnesota and its running game coming up right out of the gate, the linebackers will have to be ready.

The team will be far better if … the backup quarterback situation is settled and comfortable. If it’s possible to almost pitch a perfect season, TCU was able to do it. The punting game could’ve been a little bit stronger, and the penalties could be cut down, but there isn’t any one area from last year that needs a massive improvement. There’s a chance to do it all again, but the wheels could come off if Trevone Boykin – who was out this offseason recovering from wrist surgery – goes down. Foster Sawyer, Bram Kohlhausen and Grayson Muehlstein were all able to get more work this spring with the star out, and while Kohlhausen is probably going to be the No. 2 going into the fall, the more reps the reserves can get in games, the better.

1. Ohio State

2014 Season Ranking: 1 2015 Prediction: 12-0
3 Best Players: 1) DE Joey Bosa, Jr. 2) RB Ezekiel Elliott, Jr. 3) QB Cardale Jones, Jr.
Relative Strengths: 1) Quarterback, 2) Linebacker, 3) Offensive Line
Not Quite As Strong … 1) Special Teams, 2) Receiver, 3) Secondary
The season will be a success if … the Buckeyes play for the national title. Obviously anything other than holding up a trophy with confetti falling all around them in Glendale will be seen as a massive disappointment, but in today’s day and age of college football, the current standard for superpowers is to just get into the playoff. As long as the Buckeyes win another Big Ten title, and as long as they’re in The Show, then they’ll have done their job.

What to watch for on offense: How much can the other running backs help out Zeke? Ezekiel Elliott went on a legendary tear over the final three games of the season with three straight 200-yard games cranking out 696 yards and eight scores against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon. But if Ohio State has to think about the possibility of a 15-game season, it has to keep the star healthy. Part of the rushing production will depend on who’s at quarterback, and part of it will be from Bri’onte Dunn, Curtis Samuel and others taking carries away. It’s not going to be a positive in any way if Elliott is getting 20+ carries on a regular basis in September.

What to watch for on defense: The line needs a little bit of work – but not a lot. It’s not like it’s a massive concern with Joey Bosa on the end and Adolphus Washington on the inside, but Michael Bennett – disappointing year for him and all – will be missed at tackle and a steady end has to emerge from all the young talent. The expectation is for Jalyn Homes and Tyquan Lewis to turn into sensational sophomores, and the more they can do, the less pressure has to come from the linebacking corps that knows how to get behind the line. As long as Bosa is Bosa, though – at least after the first game suspension – everything will be fine.

The team will be far better if … it gets up early and forces teams to panic. Ohio State outscored teams 182 to 83 in the first quarters of games, and if that continues, forget about it. The secondary was fantastic last season, and it should be even better this season, even when tested by teams in comeback mode. It’s a simple formula – take the lead, hand the ball off, make defenses pay for cheating up against the run, let the defense come up with takeaways against pressing offenses, win. It’s just that simple.