2014 NFC North Projections

X-Green Bay Packers 11-5

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Aaron Rodgers

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is rapidly making the fans in Wisconsin forget about the man that he replaced in Brett Favre. Rodgers has led the Packers to the postseason in the past five years which includes a Super Bowl Championship in 2010. A broken collarbone sidelined Rodgers for a portion of the 2013 National Football League season. Rodgers was able to return for the regular season finale as he helped the Packers win the NFC North. Now Rodgers is healthy and he’ll once again be in the running to be NFL MVP.

Last season the Packers solved their woes in the running game with running back Eddie Lacy. As a rookie in 2013, Lacy rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns and he is a bruiser. The Packers wide receiver unit is not as deep as it has been in past years, but as long as Rodgers is under center along with Mike McCarthy as their head coach, the Packers offense shouldn’t slow down that much this season.

On the defensive side of the football the Packers will be without the services of nose tackle B.J. Raji this season along with his endzone dance. Raji suffered a biceps injury in the preseason and his absence will leave a huge void on the defensive side of the football in Green Bay. The Packers still have outside linebacker Clay Matthews III and he’ll get some help this season in veteran edge rusher Julius Peppers while safeties Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett will be two of the most physical players in the National Football League.

At the end of Week 5, the Packers would have played every foe in the NFC North at least once which will give us all an idea of how they’ll fare this season.

Y-Chicago Bears 10-6

The past two seasons have seen the Chicago Bears knock on the door of the postseason, but they have been unable to turn the knob and enter the party. For second year Bears head coach Marc Trestman he is hopeful that the Bears will be able to end their three-year playoff drought this season.

With quarterback Jay Cutler, running back Matt Forte, tight end Martellus Bennett, and wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, the Bears have a chance to have one of the most explosive units in the National Football League. But the Bears offense will come down to the health of Cutler. In five seasons with the Bears, Cutler has only made all 16 regular season starts on one occasion. Cutler possesses one of the strongest arms in football, but it will be up to the offensive line in front of him to provide protection for him.

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Jay Cutler

Last year Chicago had the 30th ranked defense in the NFL and Trestman along with Bears defensive coordinator Marc Trestman have tried to remedy that in the off-season. The Bears signed defensive ends Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, and Willie Young along with drafting defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton in the effort to improve their chances of making the postseason.

On special teams the Bears still have place kicker Robbie Gould who is one of the best in the business and his strong leg will be important when the temperature drops in the Windy City heading into the fall and winter.

Four of the Bears first six games this season are on the road including two against playoff teams from last season in the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers. But when the dust settles, the Bears should be on their way to the postseason.

Detroit Lions 7-9

http://content.sportslogos.net/logos/7/170/full/6jkggir433zvwnmlkitktolwt.gifUnder former head coach Jim Schwartz, the Detroit Lions were one of the most talented teams in the NFL, but talent alone cannot get it done. The Lions were one of the most undisciplined teams in the NFL which led to Schwartz being fired this past January. Schwartz has been replaced by former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell who will be charged with getting the Lions to live up to their potential. In three years as the Colts head coach, Caldwell complied a 26-22 record with a trip to the Super Bowl in 2009. But in Caldwell’s last season in Indy, the Colts were 2-14 when quarterback Peyton Manning was sidelined for the season which isn’t promising for Caldwell heading into Motown.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is one of the better young signal callers in the National Football League, but for the Lions to take the next step he must improve on his completion percentage that has been under 60 percent in the past two seasons. Yes, Stafford can pass for 4,500 yards while Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (aka Megatron) is a freak of nature, but for Detroit to be a better offensive club in 2014, they must not be afraid to continuously feed running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell.

Defensively the Lions still have defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh who his in the final year of his contract, but how many games will he play in 2014? Suh has been called to the principal’s office (NFL commissioner Roger Goodell) several times and you have to wonder whether or not that he’ll be on his best behavior this season.

With games in the first month of the season against the New York Giants, Carolina Panthers, Green Bay Packers, and New York Jets, the Lions could find themselves in an early hole that they may be unable to dig themselves out from.

Minnesota Vikings 6-10

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Mike Zimmer

Just when you think that the Minnesota Vikings are ready to turn the corner and become a title contender, they take several steps backwards. After making the playoffs in 2012, the Vikings stumbled in 2013 as they only managed to win five games. The Vikings subpar season cost head coach Leslie Frazier his job as he has been replaced by former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.

With the start of the regular season around the bend, Zimmer has yet to name a starting quarterback, but it appears to be between veteran Matt Cassell and rookie Teddy Bridgewater. Whoever the quarterback will be this season for the Vikings, he will have to deal with outdoor elements this year as for the first time since 1982 they won’t be playing at the Metrodome. The Vikings still have All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson who continues to surge up the National Football League’s all-time rushing yardage list as he should eclipse the 11,000 mark this season.

When Zimmer was in Cincinnati, the Bengals consistently had one of the best defenses in the NFL and you should see his impact on the defense for the Vikings who have a stout defensive line that features defensive end Brian Robison and Everson Griffen along with defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd.

This season should be a stepping stone for Zimmer as he is attempting to establish himself with Vikings.

X-Clinched Division

Y-Clinched Wild Card

2014 NFC West Projections

X-Seattle Seahawks 12-4

The Seattle Seahawks enjoyed the off-season and rightfully so as they won their first Super Bowl Championship in franchise history. But now it is back to business in the Pacific Northwest for the defending champs. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has developed one of the most balanced teams in the National Football League which will once again be on display in 2014.

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Russell Wilson

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is only 25 years of age and already he is the field general of a team that has hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Wilson does not need to wow you with 400-yard passing games, but he will outsmart opposing defenses as he has only thrown 19 interceptions in two seasons as a starter.

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is 28-years old and he is coming off of three consecutive seasons in which he has gained at least 1,000 yards on the ground. Lynch is a very physical runner and you have to wonder how long that his style will be able to survive in the NFL?

Last season Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin only appeared in two games; one of which was the Super Bowl where he was more than just the unknown factor. Carroll is backing on a healthy Harvin this year to team with wide receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse in the passing game for Seattle.

The Seahawks will have a different look on the defensive line as several veterans like Red Bryant and Chris Clemons have moved on, but their strength is still in the secondary where “The Legion of Boom” roams. Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman must avoid the “Madden jinx” as well as being flagged for the new illegal contact rules, but the outspoken one should be up for the challenge. If a receiver is able to get past Sherman you still have safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas lurking that can both cover while also delivering punishment.

The Seahawks will get it going this Thursday at home against the Green Bay Packers and they should be able to survive the tough NFC West for their second consecutive division title.

Y-Arizona Cardinals 10-6

The Arizona Cardinals are coming off a 10-6 season, but they were unable to qualify for the playoffs and they were left to wonder what could have been in the postseason. But Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians is looking to use that to motivate his team to improve off of being so close last season.

The Cardinals won 10 games last season in spite of the fact that quarterback Carson Palmer threw 22 interceptions. Palmer tends to force passes at times which is something that Arians must fix. In the passing game Palmer can target two of the bigger wide receivers in football in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. The Cards must improve on a running game that was 23rd in the NFL last year which means that they’ll need a bigger dose of running back Andre Ellington.

Arians will once again rely on a stingy defense that was one of the toughest in the league in 2013. Veterans Tommy Kelly and Isaac Sopoaga will join Calais Campbell and Dan Williams to provide plenty of beef on the defensive line. Cardinals rookie strong safety Deone Bucannon will team with veteran cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie to make Arizona’s unit one of the best in the game.

A quick start in 2014 by the Cards could be the difference in them making the postseason.

San Francisco 49ers 9-7

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Jim Harbaugh

In his three years as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Jim Harbaugh has led the club to the postseason. But will Harbaugh be able to do it for a fourth season in a row? In the off-season Harbaugh was not on the same page with the Niners front office: Mainly 49ers general manager Trent Baalke. The rumors about Harbaugh possibly leaving San Francisco to become the head coach of the Cleveland Browns had plenty of substance behind them. For now cooler heads appear to have prevailed in the Bay Area, but will the controversy in the front office trickle down to the team?

49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is 17-6 as a starter. Kaepernick is coming off of a season where he threw 21 touchdown passes to just 8 interceptions, but will he be able to take that next step as a quarterback? Kaepernick has tremendous athleticism, but for him to lead the Niners to that next level, he must be able to make more plays from within the pocket.

Under Harbaugh, the 49ers have had one the best rushing attacks in professional football. Niners running back Frank Gore is 31-years of age and he won’t have to shoulder the load of carrying the football this year as San Francisco has some fresh legs in rookie running back Carlos Hyde. Both Gore and Hyde will have the luxury of running behind one of the best offensive lines in the National Football League that features tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis along with guard Mike Iupati.

The strength of the 49ers defense is their front seven. Off-the-field discrepancies by outside linebacker Aldon Smith will force him to miss the first nine games of the season as he has been suspended by the NFL which will put a strain on the 49ers defense who’s strength is in their ability to rush the passer. Smith’s absence will really affect the 49ers who are still without middle linebacker Navarro Bowman who suffered a horrific knee injury in last season’s NFC Championship Game.

The 49ers will not meet the Seahawks until Week 13 and 15 as those games will more than likely decide the division champ, but it will also more than likely determine San Francisco’s fate as a playoff team in 2014.

St. Louis Rams 8-8

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Jeff Fisher

In two years St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher has transformed a team that was 2-14 in 2011 into one of the toughest and fiercest teams in the National Football League. In two seasons under Fisher, the Rams are 14-17-1, but they play in the NFC West which has become the toughest division in the National Football League. However if the Rams are able to secure their first winning season since 2003 it could potentially result in a trip to the postseason for the first time since 2004.

Rams quarterback Sam Bradford missed nine games last season after suffering an ACL injury. The Rams were hopeful that Bradford would return to the gridiron in 2014, but he suffered another ACL injury in the preseason that will put him on the shelf this season. 34-year old quarterback Shaun Hill has been a journeyman for his NFL career. Hill has not started a game in the NFL since 2010 when he a member of the Detroit Lions and he will get a shot this year in St. Louis.

The Rams will run the football a ton this year with rookie running back Tre Mason along with Zac Stacy. The Rams offensive line includes tackles Jake Long and Roger Saffold. But at 6’5″, 332 lbs., Rams rookie guard Greg Robinson is a load and he could be like a runaway freight train on run plays in St. Louis.

Fisher has built the Rams in the trenches as they’ll be physical on both sides of the football. The Rams defensive line features defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn who could account for 30 sacks this season.

The Rams will once again let the NFL know that they will be one of the toughest dogs in the neighborhood and if you’re going to play them you better bring your lunch bucket.

X-Clinched Division

Y-Clinched Wild Card

Source: Pro-football-reference.com

2014 American Athletic Conference Projections

Houston Cougars 11-1 (8-0)

In their first year in the American Athletic Conference, the Houston Cougars won 8 games. Now in 2014, the Cougars are looking to win their first conference championship since 2006 and they have a squad that can do it.

John O’Korn

Houston sophomore quarterback John O’Korn is coming off of a year in which he threw 28 touchdown passes and he begins the 2014 season as a favorite to be named as the AAC Player of the Year. O’Korn will have the luxury of throwing junior wide receiver Deontay Greenberry and senior wide receiver Daniel Spencer who are two of the best in the conference.

The season begins tonight for the Cougars when they UTSA. But you can circle December 6 on your calender as that will be the day when Houston will travel to meet Cincinnati in a game that could decide the AAC Champion.

East Carolina Pirates 9-3 (7-1)

Ruffin McNeill

After 17 years in Conference USA, the East Carolina Pirates are beginning a new chapter in the American Athletic Conference and in 2014 they should be a major player there. Ruffin McNeil is entering his fifth season as the head football coach at East Carolina and his Pirates have one of the most explosive offenses in the nation.

Last year East Carolina was 25th in the country in total offense and you can expect more of the same in 2014 with senior quarterback Shane Carden leading the way. Carden passed for more than 4,000 yards last season and three 33 touchdown passes and he will be in the running to the AAC’s Player of the Year for the upcoming season. You can also expect Carden to be connecting with senior wide receiver Justin Hardy on many occasions as Hardy should be a first-team All-AAC performer in 2014.

The Pirates have a tough non-conference schedule that includes road games against South Carolina and Virginia Tech. But East Carolina does not play Houston this season and they could be a surprise winner of the AAC.

Cincinnati Bearcats 8-4 (6-2)

The last three head football coaches of the Cincinnati Bearcats are currently running big time college football programs. Current Cincinnati head football coach Tommy Tuberville has been there and done that as he was previously at Ole Miss, Auburn, and Texas Tech. The pressure at Cincy is nothing near what it is in the Southeastern and Big 12 Conferences respectively and Tuberville is relishing that. Last year in Tuberville’s first season at Cincinnati he led the school to 9 wins; so what can he do for an encore this year?

Six different players threw passes for the Bearcats in 2013, but it is senior Munchie Legaux’s job to lose in 2014. A knee injury prematurely ended Legaux’s 2013 college football season, but he is back to do some damage in 2014 as he is can be a dangerous dual-threat quarterback. If the Bearcats passing game is going to be successful this season then you can expect speedy senior wide receiver Shaq Washington to have a hand in it.

Non-conference road games against Miami and Ohio State will be tough for the Bearcats and their regular season finale against Houston could decide the winner of the American Athletic Conference.

Central Florida Knights 6-6 (5-3)

It wasn’t a fluke that the University of Central Florida Knights went 12-1 last year and won the Fiesta Bowl. Since 2004, Central Florida head football coach George O’Leary has turned the Knights into a team that will contend for conference titles. But Central Florida’s dreams of contending for the American Athletic Conference Title in 2014 will be very tough.

The Knights lost some talent to the NFL in quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson, but Central Florida still has a trio of dangerous wide receivers in seniors Rannell Hall and J.J. Worton along with junior Breshad Perriman.

A tough non-conference slate with games against Penn State, Missouri, and BYU along with conference road games against Houston and East Carolina will make this difficult for O’Leary and his bunch in 2014.

Southern Methodist Mustangs 5-7 (4-4)

The first year in the AAC for the Southern Methodist University Mustangs did not go according to the plan as they had their first losing season since 2008. But will the Mustangs be able to improve in 2014? Under head football coach June Jones, SMU is beginning to build a winning tradition that was destroyed during the “death penalty” in the 1980′s. But Jones and SMU will have their work cut out for them this season. In three of their first four games SMU will take on some of their former Southwestern Conference foes in Baylor, Texas A&M, and TCU while he must also replacing players that the school lost to graduation.

Temple Owls 4-8 (3-5)

Now with the likes of Al Golden and Steve Addazio no longer serving as the head football coach of the Temple Owls, the school is going back to the days of simply being an afterthought in the realm of college football. Matt Rhule is entering his second year in Philadelphia as Temple’s head coach and he is looking to improve off of a 2-10 campaign.

For Temple and Rhule, sophomore quarterback P.J. Walker is a building block, but he alone will not be enough for the Owls to navigate through the American Athletic Conference.

Tulane Green Wave 4-8 (3-5)

Fresh off of their first winning season since 2002, the Tulane Green Wave are looking to write a new chapter in the AAC. Tulane senior quarterback Nick Montana is not going to remind people of his Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, but maybe he will be able to put it all together in his final year in college.

2014 won’t be easy for Montana and the Green Wave as they are staring down the barrel of a road slate that features games against Duke, Houston, and East Carolina.

Memphis Tigers 4-8 (3-5)

The success of the Memphis Tigers men’s basketball program has not carried over to the school’s football team who have been unable to secure a winning record since 2007. Memphis head football coach Justin Fuente is entering his third season with the Tigers and it will be a long one. This year Memphis will have road games against UCLA, Ole Miss, and Cincinnati that could put them behind the 8-ball.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane 3-9 (2-6)

After an 11-win season in 2012, the Tulsa Golden Hurricane took a nosedive last year. Last year the Golden Hurricane were only 3-9 you can expect more of the same in 2014 as they simply do not have the talent to compete in the American Athletic Conference.

South Florida Bulls 2-10 (1-7)

After being a force in the Big East Conference, the South Florida Bulls have not been as lucky in the AAC as they are coming off a 10-loss campaign and for head football coach Willie Taggart he should expect another long season in 2014.

UCONN Huskies 1-11 (0-8)

The Connecticut Huskies football program has not had a winning year since 2010 and with another bad football season on the horizon, the fans in Storrs will have to look forward to Midnight Madness in mid-October to symbolize the beginning of college basketball.

Sources: Cfbstats.com, Sports-reference.com

2014 Mid-American Conference Football Projections

East

Bowling Green State Falcons 8-4 (5-3)

Ohio Bobcats 7-5 (5-3)

Akron Zips 5-7 (4-4)

Miami (Ohio) Redhawks 4-8 (3-5)

Massachusetts Minutemen 3-9 (3-5)

Buffalo Bulls 4-8 (2-6)

Kent State Golden Flashes 3-9 (2-6)

West

Northern Illinois Huskies 9-3 (8-0)

Central Michigan Chippewas 10-2 (7-1)

Ball State Cardinals 7-5 (5-3)

Toledo Rockets 5-7 (4-4)

Western Michigan Broncos 3-9 (2-6)

Eastern Michigan Eagles 3-9 (1-7)

MAC Championship Game-Ford Field-Detroit, Michigan: Northern Illinois vs. Bowling Green

MAC Champion-Bowling Green

The Mid-American Conference is rather unique as it is the only Football Bowl Subdivision conference that has 13 teams.

Ohio Bobcats head football coach Frank Solich is hopeful that his squad has what it takes to win the MAC East for the first time since 2011 and their first conference crown since 1968. Solich lost a ton of talent to graduation, but you can expect senior wide receiver Chase Cochran to fill some of the void.

It won’t be that easy for Ohio in the East due to the defending conference champions in the Bowling Green State Falcons. Junior quarterback Matt Johnson threw 25 touchdown passes last year for Bowling Green and if he is able to exceed that number in 2014 he could be the conference player of the year. Junior running back Travis Greene gained nearly 1,600 yards on the ground last season and he could flirt with 1,800 mark this season.

In the past few years quarterback Jordan Lynch was the face of Northern Illinois Huskies football. Lynch is now in the National Football League, but the Huskies still have a ton of talent led by a trio of seniors in running back Cameron Stingly along with wide receivers Tommylee Lewis and Da’Ron Brown that should be able to carry the load for Northern Illinois head football coach Rod Carey.

For the Central Michigan Chippewas, their head football coach Dan Enos is hopeful that senior wide receiver Titus Davis and junior running back Saylor Lavallii can lead the way as far as spoiling the Huskies plans of winning the MAC West for a fifth consecutive year.

All in all this should be another exciting year of MAC football.

Sources: Sports-reference.com

2014 Independent Football Projections

Navy Midshipmen 10-2

Ken Niumatalolo

One thing that is certain about the Navy Midshipmen is that they are team that is very tough to beat and they are going to give you everything that they have for 60 minutes of football. Ken Niumatalolo is entering his seventh full season as the head football coach at Navy and his triple option attack is once again expected to frustrate opponents. The Naval Academy averaged 325 yards per game on the ground in 2013 and it will be more of the same in 2014.

Navy will hit you with a wave of running backs, but junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds will do the bulk of the running along with the minimal amount of passing that the Midshipmen will attempt.

The Naval Academy will give Ohio State all that they can handle this Saturday and this year they should be able to navigate to their third consecutive winning season.

BYU Cougars 8-4

Since Bronco Mendenhall took over as the head football coach of the Brigham Young University Cougars in 2005, the team has never had to endure a losing season and you can expect more of the same this fall. BYU had the tenth best rushing attack last year in college football and they’ll once again be a force to be reckoned with with junior quarterback Taysom Hill and junior running back Jamaal Williams.

The schedule this season is rather favorable to BYU and if they can upset Texas in their second game of the season it will go along way in the confidence category for Mendenhall’s team in Provo.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 7-5

Brian Kelly

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have won 797 games all-time and losing seasons are something that isn’t tolerated in South Bend, Indiana. Brian Kelly is the head football coach of the Irish and he is the only head coach in school history to lead Notre Dame to a bowl game in each of his first four years there. And under Kelly, Notre Dame is enjoying their longest stretch of success since Lou Holtz roamed the sidelines from the mid-1980′s to the mid-1990′s.

In 2012, quarterback Everett Golson led Notre Dame to a berth in the BCS Championship. Golson was suspended from school last year, but he has re-enrolled at Notre Dame and is now back in the good graces of school administrators. Golson will look to pickup right where he left off from in 2012 as he is the kind of dual-threat quarterback that Kelly loves to run his offensive system. Offensively the Irish have lost some talent to the National Football League which means that Golson will not have the same experience around him this season that he had in 2012.

The same can be said on the defensive side of the football where departures to the NFL along with suspensions have changed the outlook in South Bend.

With the exception of games against Rice, Purdue, and Syracuse, Notre Dame really does not have any layups on their schedule this season which could be Kelly’s toughest to date with the Fighting Irish.

Army Black Knights 5-7

The days of the Amry Black Knights being a national power in college football are a thing of the past, but it is still nice to see these kids compete on a weekly basis. The Black Knights have not had a winning season since 2010 and new head football coach Jeff Monken will look to change that.

The Black Knights had the third ranked rushing attack in the nation last season and led by senior running backs Terry Baggett and Larry Dixon you can expect more of the same in 2014. Senior quarterback Angel Santiago doesn’t throw the football as much, but he is still valuable in the Black Knight triple-option attack.

The Black Knights would love to have a winning campaign in 2014, but they will also love to end a losing streak against Navy that dates back to 2002.

Source: Sports-reference.com, Cfbstats.com

2014 Key Games For Week One In College Football

Bo Wallace-Quarterback-Ole Miss

Let the games begin in college football.

2014 Conference USA Football Projections

http://i172.photobucket.com/albums/w22/jingram2b/CUSA_logo.jpgEast

Marshall Thundering Herd 10-2 (7-1)

Florida Atlantic Owls 7-5 (6-2)

Old Dominion Monarchs 7-5 (5-3)

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders 6-6 (5-3)

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 6-6 (4-4)

University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers 5-7 (3-5)

Florida International Panthers 2-10 (0-8)

West

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs 9-3 (8-0)

Rice Owls 8-4 (6-2)

University of Texas at El Paso Miners 5-7 (4-4)

North Texas Mean Green 4-8 (3-5)

University of Texas at San Antonio Roadrunners 2-10 (2-6)

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles 2-10 (0-8)

Conference USA Championship Game- Louisiana Tech vs. Marshall

Conference USA Champion-Marshall

A new football season is upon us in Conference USA and of course there are some teams that have a better chance than others as far as winning the conference crown.

Last year the Marshall Thundering Herd had the 12th ranked offense in the nation and you can expect more of the same this year. For Marshall head football coach Doc Holliday, he knows that junior quarterback Rakeem Cato will be back under center for him in Huntington this season. Cato is only 6’1″, 188 lbs., but he can pass the football with the best of them and he’ll be in the running to be the Conference USA Player of the Year.

Charlie Patridge is taking over as the new head football coach of the Florida Atlantic Owls and he is hopeful that his squad will give Marshall all that they can handle in the Eastern Division of Conference USA. And if the Owls are able to hang with the Thundering Herd it will be on the legs of junior running back Jaquez Johnson.

The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs had a rough go of it last season. After 13 years in the now defunct Western Athletic Conference, the Bulldogs joined Conference USA and for their troubles in 2013, they were only 4-8. But Louisiana Tech head football coach Skip Holtz will rely on junior running back Kenneth Dixon to help lead what he hopes will be a Bulldogs resurgence that could lead to the Conference USA Championship.

Sources: Sports-reference.com, Cfbstats.com

2014 Southeastern Conference Football Projections

East 

Georgia Bulldogs 11-2 (7-2)

Georgia senior quarterback Hutson Mason was the understudy to Aaron Murray for the past few years, but now it is his time to shine. Mason won’t have to go at it alone as Georgia has two of the best running backs in the nation in Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Georgia also returns ten defensive starters as they should be the team to beat in the SEC East.

The Dawgs will have one of the tougher schedules in the Southeastern Conference. Georgia begins the season this Saturday at against Clemson out of the Atlantic Coast Conference who narrowly got past the Bulldogs last season. On September 13, Georgia will be on the road against South Carolina in a game that could go a long way in determining who will represent the SEC East in Atlanta at the conference title game. Georgia has consecutive road games this year Missouri and Arkansas as well as their yearly tilt in Jacksonville with Florida, but the Dawgs should be up for the challenge.

South Carolina Gamecocks 10-2 (6-2)

In the past few seasons the South Carolina Gamecocks have been on the cusp of taking that next step towards becoming a championship team. And this year South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier may have the deepest offensive team that he has ever had since taking over in Columbia. With eight starters returning on offense for South Carolina including four offensive lineman, you can expect to see the Gamecocks contend for their first SEC East Title since 2010.

South Carolina junior running back Mike Davis is as talented as any tailback in the country and he could be an All-SEC performer this season. Defensively the Gamecocks are a little green, but as the season progresses they will be one of the better units in the SEC.

Two of South Carolina’s first three games are against SEC foes as they’ll host Texas A&M and Georgia. The Gamecocks will avoid playing LSU and Alabama which should help their case as far as winning the SEC East.

Florida Gators 8-4 (4-4)

There are bad college football seasons and then there is what the University of Florida Gators had to endure in 2013. A rash of injuries on both the offensive and defensive sides of the football saw the Gators finish 2013 with a record of 4-8 which was their first losing season since 1979. For Gators head football coach Will Muschamp he is determined to put that horrific season behind him and get his football program back on track.

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Jeff Driskel

The Gators return eight starters on offense with nine starters coming back on defense from a unit that was eighth in total defense in the nation for 2013. The Gators should once again have a say in who will win the SEC East, but it will come down to whether or not junior quarterback Jeff Driskel can stay healthy while finally living up to his potential.

The Gators will come out of the chute with several cupcake games before they travel to Tuscaloosa on September 20 to take on Alabama which will be the litmus test for the blue and orange.

Missouri Tigers 8-4 (4-4)

It hasn’t taken the Missouri Tigers that long to get acclimated to the Southeastern Conference as they won the SEC East last year in only their second season there. Now for Missouri head football coach Gary Pinkel, it is all about becoming consistent at the top of the SEC East with Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. The Tigers did lose some talent from last year’s squad that won the SEC East, but don’t expect them to roll over in 2014.

Missouri sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk is more than capable of leading the Tigers offense and he will be handing off to junior running back Russell Hansbrough who should get at least 200 carries this year.

Mizzou will have an easy non-conference schedule this year, but SEC road games against South Carolina, Florida, Texas A&M, and Tennessee will be daunting for Pinkel and his crew.

Tennessee Volunteers 6-6 (3-5)

For the first time since a stretch from 1903-1906, the Tennessee Volunteers are coming off of a period in which they have had four consecutive losing seasons which is unacceptable in Knoxville. Butch Jones took over last season as the head football coach at Tennessee and he is in the process turning things around for the Vols. Tennessee lost seven games last season by a combined 161 points and this team must learn to be tougher in football games in 2014.

Early in the season the Volunteers have a stretch where they have road games against Oklahoma and Georgia followed by a home game against Florida which could be telling as far as how the season will go on Rocky Top.

Kentucky Wildcats 4-8 (1-7)

As good as the University of Kentucky Wildcats men’s basketball program has been which is highlighted by eight national championships, the success has not been carried over to the football team. All-time the Wildcats football program has a .468 winning percentage as they have not a winning season since 2009 and they are coming off of consecutive 2-10 campaigns. Mark Stoops is entering his second season as the head football coach at Kentucky and he is trying to establish a program in Lexington. But all Stoops can do is batten down the hatches for the upcoming SEC storm in 2014. This season the Wildcats have road games against Florida, LSU, Missouri, Tennessee, and Louisville as it could be another long fall in Lexington.

Vanderbilt Commodores 4-8 (0-8)

The past three seasons ended with a bowl game for the Vanderbilt Commodores, but things will be drastically different for Vandy this season as the head football coach that led them to those three bowl games (James Franklin) is now the head football coach at Penn State University. With Franklin departing for Happy Valley, Derek Mason is now the head football coach at Vanderbilt as he is looking to add to what Franklin started there. But like Franklin before him, Mason will be starting from scratch.

West

Alabama Crimson Tide 12-1 (8-1)

The last time that the Alabama Crimson Tide lost two football games in a row to end a season was in 2008. The Tide came back in the next season and went undefeated en route to winning a national championship. In order for the Crimson Tide to get to the college football playoff they must first navigate their way through the SEC; more importantly the SEC West.

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Nick Saban

The Tide will have a new starting quarterback this season, but Alabama head football coach Nick Saban has yet to decide on a starting quarterback; whether it will be Blake Sims or Jacob Coker. One thing that Saban is certain of is that he will have dynamic play makers in junior running back T.J. Yeldon, senior wide receiver Christion Jones, and junior wide receiver Amari Cooper.

Defensively ‘Bama returns five starters on defense and junior strong safety Landon Collins could be the best of the bunch as he has a bright NFL future ahead of him.

The action begins for the Tide this Saturday at the Georgia Dome where they will meet West Virginia out of the Big 12 Conference. Alabama will begin conference play on September 20 when they host Florida, but the real fun will take place in November when they wrestle with LSU and Auburn to decide who will win the SEC West.

Auburn Tigers 10-2 (6-2)

The Auburn Tigers appear to be here to stay as a national powerhouse. In his first season as Auburn’s head football coach, Gus Malzahn took the SEC by storm with his uptempo running game and you can see another dose of it in 2014. You can also expect a big year from Auburn senior running back Cameron Artis-Payne and junior wide receiver Sammie Coates, but the man that will make Auburn’s offensive engine go is senior quarterback Nick Marshall.

Marshall will miss this Saturday’s affair against Arkansas due to a suspension, but the Tigers will really need him in November as they’ll have road games against Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama.

LSU Tigers 9-3 (5-3)

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Les Miles

Since taking over as the head football coach of the LSU Tigers in 2005, Les Miles has been called a lot of things and one of those is a winner. Under Miles, the Bayou Bengals are 95-24 and they have finished the last five years ranked in the top 25 and in 2014 they’ll give Alabama and Auburn all that they can handle in the SEC West.

The Tigers have lost some talent to the National Football League, but senior running back Terrence Magee will be the man in Baton Rogue this fall.

The Tigers and Miles have a tough non-conference game this Saturday when they’ll be in Houston to take on Wisconsin out of the Big Ten Conference. The SEC slate for the Bayou Bengals in brutal. On consecutive Saturdays in October, LSU will be on the road against Auburn and Florida respectively. Then in a 19-day span in November, LSU will meet Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas A&M. But under Miles, the Tigers are always a tough squad and they should be up for the challenge.

Mississippi State Bulldogs 8-4 (4-4)

Since taking over as the head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs in 2009, Dan Mullen has only had one losing season. The Bulldogs have flown under the radar in the ultra tough SEC West as they have taken a backseat to Alabama, Auburn, and LSU. But the Bulldogs and Mullen know that they are on the cusp of competing with the big boys in the SEC.

Quarterback Dak Presscott is the engine of Mullen’s spread offense in Starkville as he was the team’s leading passer and rusher in 2013. And the big passes that Prescott will complete in 2014 will go in the direction of senior wide Jameon Lewis.

The Bulldogs will begin conference play on September 20 in Death Valley against LSU and it will get even tougher in November when Mississippi State is on the road against Alabama and of course the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss to finish the regular season.

Texas A&M Aggies 7-5 (3-5)

Life after Johnny Manziel is set to begin for the Texas A&M Aggies and rebuilding in the SEC can be brutal if you don’t have a plan. Luckily for A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, he does have a strategy.

Sophomore Kenny Hill looks to replace Manziel at quarterback and he will rely heavily on senior wide receiver Malcome Kennedy to be his go-to receiver this year in College Station.

The good news is that the Aggies will return 10 starters on defense from last year’s team. But the problem is that A&M was 111th in total defense last season and the unit is still a work in progress under defensive coordinator Mark Snyder.

A&M is in the process of rebuilding and they will bounce back, but don’t expect the SEC to slow down for them this season.

Ole Miss Rebels 7-5 (3-5)

It hasn’t taken Ole Miss Rebels head football coach Hugh Freeze that long to change the culture in Oxford, but his team will look to live up to the lofty expectations set for them this year. For Ole Miss senior quarterback Bo Wallace, there is not a pass that he cannot make and if he is able to throw at least 25 touchdown passes this season it should symbolize a big year for the Rebels.

Ole Miss returns 10 starters on defense with the focus turning to sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche who could be an All-SEC performer this year.

This Thursday, Ole Miss will face the always tough Boise State squad of the Mountain West Conference. But the real test will come in October when Ole Miss faces Alabama, Texas A&M, Tennessee, and LSU in consecutive weeks.

Arkansas Razorbacks 4-8 (1-7)

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Bret Bielema

Arkansas Razorbacks head football coach Bret Bielema is entering his second year in Fayetteville and he is in the process of building a football team in his own image. Under Beilama, the Razorbacks will get off of the bus running the football and win or lose they will be one of the toughest teams in the SEC. You can expect to see a heavy dose of running backs Johnathan Williams and Alex Collins for the Hogs this fall, but will it be enough to make them bowl eligible?

Physically Bielema’s team will be improved, but they might not be ready just yet to be a player in the SEC West.

SEC Championship Game-Georgia Dome-Atlanta, Georgia: Alabama vs. Georgia

SEC Champs-Alabama

Sources: Sports-reference.com, Cfbstats.com, Nationalchamps.net

2014 Sun Belt Conference Football Projections

Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns 8-4 (6-2)

Troy Trojans 8-4 (5-3)

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks 6-6 (5-3)

Georgia State Panthers 7-5 (4-4)

Idaho Vandals 5-7 (4-4)

Arkansas State Red Wolves 4-8 (4-4)

South Alabama Jaguars 3-9 (3-5)

New Mexico State Aggies 3-9 (2-6)

Georgia Southern Eagles 3-9 (2-6)

Appalachian State Mountaineers 3-9 (1-7)

Texas State Bobcats 2-10 (1-7)

http://content.sportslogos.net/logos/153/4668/full/780_-sun_belt_conference-primary-.gifThe Sun Belt Conference opened for business in 2001. In the conference re-alignment shuffle, the Sun Belt has been a revolving door as they have been raided by Conference USA who has been raided by the Big East (now the American Athletic Conference). The Sun Belt won’t see any of their teams contend for a national championship in 2014, but that doesn’t mean that it will not be home to some exciting football.

This season the Sun Belt Championship will come down to the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns and the Troy Trojans. Since 2006, Louisiana-Lafayette and Troy have combined to win the Sun Belt Conference Title four times.

The Ragin’ Cajuns have a dynamic running game that features senior running back Alonzo Harris and sophomore Elijah McGuire who will punish defenses in the Sun Belt. For Troy head football coach Larry Blakeney he is hopeful that junior running back Brandon Burks will be able to take that next step in his game and flirt with being the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year.

Troy and Louisiana-Lafayette meet on November 29 in a game that more than likely will decide the Sun Belt Conference Champion for 2014.

 

2014 Atlantic Coast Conference Football Projections

Atlantic

Louisville Cardinals 11-2 (8-1)

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Bobby Petrino

For the third straight year the Louisville Cardinals are playing in a different conference, but it looks like they are here to stay in the Atlantic Coast Conference; for now. The Cardinals will begin life in the ACC with a new head coach that is a very familiar face in Louisville. From 2003-2006, Bobby Petrino was the head football coach at Louisville which was highlighted by him leading the Cards to the 2007 Orange Bowl Championship. Petrino is known for his high scoring offenses and you can expect that to be the case again this season.

The Cards must replace quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, but they have a sophomore quarterback by the name of Will Gardner who will be up for the challenge. Senior wide receiver DeVante Parker will be Gardner’s main target in the passing game and he will be in the mix to be a first-team All-ACC contributor. The Cardinals return four starters on the offensive line including three seniors in left tackle Jamon Brown and guards John Miller and Jake Smith.

Only four starters return on the defensive side of the football for Louisville which could be a little dicey at the start of the season.

It won’t take the the Cards that long to get indoctrinated in the ACC as their first game of the season will be against Miami. Louisville has a stretch in October where they’ll face Clemson and Florida State over a 19-day period which will determine their fate in their first season on Tobacco Road.

Florida State Seminoles 10-2 (6-2)

The Florida State Seminoles will begin this season as the defending national champions and thus they will have a huge bulls eye on them. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston enjoyed a stellar season in 2013 where he could absolutely no wrong. Last year as a redshirt freshman, Winston passed for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdown passes en route winning the Heisman Trophy to go along with Florida State’s national championship. Some off-the-field incidents in the off-season have overshadowed Winston’s on-field ability and he must clean up his act if the ‘Noles are going to be able to repeat as national champs. Wide receiver Rashad Greene was one of Winston’s main targets last season and you can expect more of the same this year as he is now a senior. Led by mammoth senior offensive tackle Cameron Erving, Florida State returns four starters on the offensive line. Erving is following in the footsteps of former Florida State offensive tackle Walter Jones who was the anchor on the Seminoles offensive line in the 1990′s before enjoying a Hall of Fame career in the National Football League with the Seattle Seahawks. Erving should hear his name very early at next year’s NFL Draft.

With seven starters returning on defense, the ‘Noles will look to once again put pressure on opposing offenses; especially junior defensive end Mario Edwards.

The ‘Noles begin the season at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on August 30 when they face Oklahoma State. But unlike last year, Florida State will be tested this year in ACC play with road games against Louisville and Miami.

Clemson Tigers 8-4 (6-2)

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Dabo Swinney

Although they were favored to win the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship last season and came up short, the Clemson Tigers still had a fantastic season that culminated in them winning the Orange Bowl for the first time since their national championship season in 1981. The Tigers are also coming off of three straight seasons of at least 10 wins for the first time since 1990. But it will be tough Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney reach that level in 2014.

In four years at Clemson, former quarterback Tajh Boyd kept the fans in Death Valley on the edge of their seats with his passing ability. Now senior quarterback Cole Stoudt will be running the show from Swinney at Clemson.

The Tigers return seven defensive starters; none more important than senior defensive end Vic Beasley who could be an All-American when the season ends.

The Tigers will have a tougher schedule this year. In two of Clemson’s first three games they will be on the road; first against Georgia and then against Florida State. And then of course the Tigers complete the regular season when they host in-state rival South Carolina. It will be tougher for Clemson to win 10 games this season, but they will still be a tough team in the ACC.

North Carolina State Wolfpack 6-6 (2-6)

The first year with Dave Doeren as the head football coach was a tough one for the North Carolina State Wolfpack. The Pack went 3-9 and they were winless in conference play. But Doeren is hopeful that he can restore some order this season in Raleigh. The Wolfpack were ranked 71st in the nation in total offense last year and their offense must improve. The defense wasn’t that much better as they were 62nd in the nation.

The Wolfpack will still struggle in the ACC this season, but a weak non-conference schedule could help them become bowl eligible.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons 5-7 (2-6)

After five straight losing seasons Jim Grobe’s time as the head football coach at Wake Forest University came to an end. Now it is Dave Clawson’s job to pump some life into Demon Deacons football in Winston-Salem. Clawson will be building his team from scratch as Wake Forest had the 120th ranked offense in 2013.

Clawson’s young team will have to learn on the fly. The Demon Deacons have a pair of tough non-conference road games against Louisiana-Monroe and Utah State. Louisiana-Monroe was able to come into Winston-Salem last year and upend Wake Forest and they will look to knock them off again in 2014. The Demon Deacons will begin their conference schedule on the road against Louisville and Florida State which is not a good way to build confidence.

Boston College Eagles 4-8 (2-6)

The Boston College Eagles will begin this season looking to build off of their first bowl appearance since 2010. Boston College head football coach Steve Addazio must replace a plethora of talent that he lost in quarterback Chase Retting, running back Andre Williams, and wide receiver Alex Amidon.

It would not surprise me if the Eagles were to lose their season opener at Massachusetts and things could get ugly for Boston College on September 13 when they host the University of Southern California. Not to mention that BC has conference road games against Virginia Tech and Florida State. Luckily for football fans in Boston, the New England Patriots should be good this season.

Syracuse Orange 3-9 (1-7)

Scott Schafer surprised some people last year when he led the Syracuse Orange to a winning campaign in his first year as the head football coach. Now what will Schafer be able to pull out of his bag of tricks in his second year in Central New York?

The Orange were able to luck out last season as they missed the big boys of the ACC, but that will not be the case in 2014. In a span of 22 days, Syracuse will meet Louisville, Florida State, and Clemson which could put the Orange behind the 8-ball.

Coastal

Duke Blue Devils 11-2 (7-2)

The Duke Blue Devils who have been bottom feeders for so long are now favored to win the Coastal Division in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Last year the Blue Devils finished the season with a record of 10-4 and in the process they finished in the top 25 of the Associated Press Poll for the first time since 1961. But what can Blue Devils head football coach David Cutcliffe and his crew do for an encore in 2014?

Duke senior quarterback Anthony Boone is looking to build off of his 2013 season where he missed three games, but he still managed to throw 13 touchdowns. But the man to watch on Duke’s offense in senior wide receiver Jamison Crowder. At 5’9″, 175 lbs., Crowder is a shifty burner that will give defensive backs in the ACC fits this fall.

The Blue Devils have a very easy  non-conference schedule. Duke will begin ACC play with road games against Miami and Georgia Tech, but they avoid meeting Louisville, Florida State, and Clemson which should help them get to the conference title game.

Virginia Tech Hokies 9-3 (6-2)

“Beamer Ball” is still en vogue in Blacksburg, Virginia for the Virginia Tech Hokies, but for the first time since 1992 they are coming off of consecutive years in which they finished the season unranked. For Virginia Tech head football coach Frank Beamer his staple has been a strong running game, defense, and special teams which he hopes will once again be the case in 2014.

Look for Virginia Tech sophomore running back Trey Edmunds to emerge this season as the Hokies need put an emphasis on the running game that was 110th in the nation last year.

In back-to-back weeks, Virginia Tech will meet Ohio State and East Carolina in two tough non-conference games. In ACC play, the Hokies will avoid meeting Florida State, Louisville, and Clemson which will help them as they’ll be able to beat up on the also-rans.

Miami Hurricanes 7-5 (4-4)

Al Golden is entering his fourth season as the head football coach of the Miami Hurricanes and he is on the verge of returning them to a national power. The ‘Canes appear to have the NCAA’s sanctions behind them and they are ready to take the next step in the ACC. The Hurricanes 2014 season will come down to the health of junior running back Duke Johnson. Johnson was a Heisman Trophy candidate last year until a broken ankle ended his season after seven games.

The Hurricanes will face a tough road schedule as they are set to square of against Louisville, Nebraska, and Virginia, while they’ll host Florida State on November 15.

Pittsburgh Panthers 6-6 (3-5)

In their first year in the ACC, the Pittsburgh Panthers were able to navigate their way to a bowl appearance. But in 2014 the road should be a little bit tougher for Pitt.

The Panthers lost quarterback Tom Savage to the NFL which means that Pittsburgh head football coach Paul Chryst will rely on his running game with senior running back Isaac Bennett and sophomore tailback James Conner and they will be his two-headed monster this year in Western Pennsylvania. You can expect sophomore wide receiver Tyler Boyd to become a household name. After a stellar freshman campaign that saw Boyd haul in 85 receptions for 1,174 yards, he is well on his way to being Pitt’s best wide receiver since Larry Fitzgerald.

Pitt and Chryst will find a way to become bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season.

North Carolina Tar Heels 5-7 (2-6)

North Carolina Tar Heels head football coach Larry Fedora is looking to take the next step in his third year in Chapel Hill, but it will be easier said than done being that he lost of ton of talent to the National Football League. Junior wide receiver Quinshad Davis has tremendous size and he’ll be tremendous possession receiver this year for the Tar Heels, but will he be enough to make Carolina bowl eligible?

The Tar Heels also have a very daunting schedule that includes home games against San Diego State and Virginia Tech along with road games at East Carolina, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Miami. It won’t be long before the basketballs will be rolled out on Tobacco Road.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 5-7 (2-6)

After winning the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship in 2009, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets have not come close to repeating that accomplishment. But will things be different for the Jackets in 2014?

http://cdn.fansided.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/140/files/2013/03/5535318.jpgFor Georgia Tech head football coach Paul Johnson he knows that his triple-option attack on offense will once again be one of the top rushing units in the nation. Last season the Yellow Jackets had the sixth best rushing attack in the nation and led by junior quarterback Vad Lee you can expect more of the same this season.

In four of their six losses last season the Tech defense surrendered at least 30 points which is something that must be tightened up this season.

Road games against Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Georgia, and a home showdown against Clemson will be telling as far as the 2014 college football season will workout for the “Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech”.

Virginia Cavaliers 3-9 (2-6)

Mike London is entering his fifth season as the head football coach of the Virginia Cavaliers and after two consecutive losing seasons, the hot seat is warming up in Charlottesville for him.

Junior quarterback David Watford must improve off of a season in which he threw 15 interceptions to just 8 touchdowns. Running back Kevin Parks is set to begin his senior campaign and it would not surprise me if were to get close to 300 carries this season.

Virginia’s schedule is not an easy one with non-conference games against UCLA and BYU. The Cavs will finish their regular season against Florida State, Miami, and Virginia Tech and the results of those games will determine London’s fate at Virginia.

ACC Championship Game: Bank of America Stadium-Charlotte, North Carolina-Louisville vs. Duke

ACC Champions-Louisville

Sources: Sports-reference.com, Cfbstats.com, Nationalchamps.net