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College Football Preview: 40-31

#40: TCU | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
For just the third time in Gary Patterson's coaching career at TCU, the Horned Frogs are coming off a losing season. However, following the two previous years with a losing record, TCU won at least 11 games the next season. That's a good omen for a team that returns enough talent to push for a spot among the top five in the Big 12. Co-offensive coordinator Doug Meacham was instrumental in the recent improvement for TCU's offense. However, co-coordinator Sonny Cumbie should keep this unit on track. Kenny Hill had his share of ups and downs in his first season as the No. 1 quarterback, and he will be pushed for time by incoming freshman Shawn Robinson. Running back Kyle Hicks (1,042 yards) returns, and the receiving corps is in great shape with the return of Taj Williams, John Diarse and KaVontae Turpin. The line surrendered 31 sacks in 2016 but improvement should be noticeable with four starters returning. Patterson is one of the best defensive minds in college football, and this unit has not ranked lower than third in the Big 12 in fewest yards per play allowed since 2012. Next year's version should feature a strong back seven, but the line must replace ends James McFarland and Josh Carraway and tackle Aaron Curry. Standout safety Denzel Johnson also expired his eligibility.

#39: Kansas State | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Bill Snyder's Wildcats finished 2016 by winning six out of their last seven games and should be in the mix to win the Big 12 title next fall. The offense is in great shape on the ground, as quarterback Jesse Ertz (1,012 yards) and rising star Alex Barnes (442 yards) return for 2017. Ertz did not throw for more than 200 yards in a game during Big 12 play in 2016 but threw only one interception over his last six contests. While the passing attack won't take a huge step forward on the stat sheet next fall, Ertz has two talented and proven targets at his disposal in Byron Pringle and Dominique Heath. The offensive line is set with four returning starters. Reloading on defense is the biggest hurdle for K-State in order to challenge for the Big 12 title. End Jordan Willis, linebackers Charmeachealle Moore, Will Davis and defensive backs Dante Barnett and Dante Starks have expired their eligibility. Additionally, All-Big 12 linebacker Elijah Lee left early for the NFL. Helping to ease the transition on defense will be end Reggie Walker, cornerback D.J. Reed and tackle Will Geary.

#38: Nebraska | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong and receiver Jordan Westerkamp are the biggest losses on offense. Coordinator Danny Langsdorf has a couple of intriguing options to replace Armstrong under center, including Tulane transfer Tanner Lee and redshirt freshman Patrick O'Brien. Until a quarterback emerges, expect Langsdorf to lean heavily on the ground game, which is headlined by Devine Ozigbo, Mikale Wilbon and Tre Bryant. New coordinator Bob Diaco will implement a 3-4 approach on defense. The transition comes at a good time for Nebraska's defense, as this unit struggled to get to the quarterback in 2016 and allowed 38 or more points in three out of the final five games. Cornerback Chris Jones, linebacker Dedrick Young and end Freedom Akinmoladun are three of the top returning players on defense for Diaco to build around this spring. One advantage Nebraska could have over Northwestern and Iowa is both teams must visit Lincoln, and the Cornhuskers catch Rutgers in crossover play.

#37: Old Dominion | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Monarchs should be solid once again but are unlikely to finish 7-1 in league play, as coach Bobby Wilder's team must find a new quarterback and three starters at linebacker.

#36: Baylor | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Matt Rhule was an outstanding hire for Baylor, but the former Temple coach has a lot of work to do in his first season in Waco. The Bears were already shorthanded due to the departure of a handful of recruits after Art Briles was dismissed in May. Quarterback Zach Smith showed potential after taking over for an injured Seth Russell under center. Smith will face competition from Arizona graduate transfer Anu Solomon for the starting nod. Smith and Solomon is surrounded by a solid supporting cast, including running backs Terence Williams and JaMycal Hasty and four starters on the offensive line. Rebuilding the receiving corps is the biggest concern for Rhule after KD Cannon and Ishmael Zamora left early for the NFL Draft. Safety Orion Stewart and linebacker Aiavion Edwards are the biggest losses on defense. Depth on both sides of the ball is a concern.

#35: Louisiana Tech | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Bulldogs averaged 44.3 points per game last season, and despite losing quarterback Ryan Higgins and receivers Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson, this unit may not miss much of a beat. New quarterback J'Mar Smith is a rising star, and the receiving corps should quickly reload behind Tulane transfer Teddy Veal, sophomore Alfred Smith and junior Kam McKnight. The Bulldogs also have one of the league's top running back tandems with Jarred Craft and Boston Scott handling the work on the ground. The defense suffered key losses in the back seven, but the line is arguably the best in Conference USA. Junior Jaylon Ferguson returns to anchor the line and pass rush after recording 14.5 sacks last fall.

#34: Virginia Tech | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Justin Fuente was one of the offseason's best hires and capped a standout debut in Blacksburg with a trip to the ACC Championship Game. Despite the personnel losses on offense headed into the 2017 campaign, Fuente will have this team in contention for the division title once again. Quarterback Jerod Evans, tight end Bucky Hodges and receiver Isaiah Ford all declared for the NFL Draft. Redshirt freshman Joshua Jackson could be the frontrunner to replace Evans under center, while Cam Phillips (76 catches) is due for a bigger role on the outside. Fuente also has work to do up front, as guard Augie Conte and tackle Jonathan McLaughlin expired their eligibility after the Belk Bowl. A few key players – end Ken Ekanem, tackle Woody Barron and safety Chuck Clark – depart from the defense. However, Bud Foster's group should still rank near the top of the ACC.

#33: Memphis | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Memphis should be explosive on offense thanks to the return of quarterback Riley Ferguson and one of the league's top receiving corps. The biggest concern for the Tigers is on defense, especially in a secondary that returns only one starter. Coach Mike Norvell's team won't have to play USF in crossover play but does have road trips to Tulsa and Houston.

#32: Tennessee | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Tennessee has won nine games in back-to-back years under coach Butch Jones and is looking to breakthrough with a division crown and a trip to Atlanta in early December. Despite losing quarterback Joshua Dobbs, running back Alvin Kamara and standout end Derek Barnett, don't count out the Volunteers in the East. Vying to replace Dobbs are two talented options in Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano. Top receiver Josh Malone declared for the NFL Draft, but Jauan Jennings (14.5 ypc) is back. John Kelly (630 yards) impressed in limited action at running back and could push for All-SEC honors with a full season of snaps. A key area to watch in spring practice is the development of an offensive line that surrendered 25 sacks. Injuries took a toll on Tennessee's defense last season, and coordinator Bob Shoop has some work to do this spring retooling a group that surrendered 5.8 yards per play. Barnett and cornerback Cameron Sutton are the biggest losses to address. Linebacker Darrin Kirkland should be one of the best in the SEC.

#31: Iowa | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Hawkeyes were unable to build off their West Division title and Rose Bowl berth from 2015, as coach Kirk Ferentz's team finished 8-5 and lost in the Outback Bowl to Florida. While Iowa didn't quite meet preseason expectations, this team has not posted a losing record in Big Ten play since 2012 and has recorded four consecutive bowl trips. The 2017 version of Iowa should feature one of the Big Ten's top running backs in Akrum Wadley and a standout line that returns James Daniels and Sean Welsh. New play-caller Brian Ferentz will make a few tweaks to the offense, and new quarterback Nathan Stanley needs more help from a receiving corps that is slated to lose Riley McCarron and tight end George Kittle. The return of Matt VandeBerg from a season-ending injury should help. Replacing cornerback Desmond King and tackle Jaleel Johnson won't be easy. However, Iowa's defense should be solid in 2017, as ends Matt and Anthony Nelson and Parker Hesse anchor the edge. Additionally, linebacker Josey Jewell should be one of the best in the nation.

D1SportsNet



July 23, 2017