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College football

College Football Preview: 50-41

#50: Colorado State | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Rams return 13 starters from last year's 7-6 squad. Colorado State has quarterback Nick Stevens and receiver Michael Gallup anchoring the offense. But the Rams defense needs improving. Last season the Ram defense surrendered 30.4 points per game last fall and ranked eighth in the Mountain West against the run.

#49: Troy | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Troy QB Brandon Silvers will need to have another breakout season if the Trojans are to have another successful campaign. The Trojans are loaded on offense after leading the league in scoring (33.7 ppg) in 2016. Quarterback Brandon Silvers ranks as the Sun Belt's top quarterback, and there is no shortage of talent at receiver or running back. Replacing three starters on the offensive line and filling a couple of voids in the front seven on defense are Brown's biggest concerns this offseason.

#48: Tulsa | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Golden Hurricane have thrived under coach Philip Montgomery, but this team has a few significant personnel concerns to address. Quarterback Dane Evans expired his eligibility, and redshirt freshman Luke Skipper and sophomore Chad President finished spring locked into a tight battle for the No. 1 spot. Additionally, top receivers Keevan Lucas and Josh Atkinson must be replaced, and the defense suffered a few key losses in the front seven. SMU and Tulsa could be two of the league's more entertaining teams to watch in 2017 – and both are potential sleepers to watch in the division title picture.

#47: Auburn | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Auburn is hoping junior college prospect (and former Baylor) quarterback Jarrett Stidham will get their passing game jump started. Stidham was a four-star recruit out of high school and is the best passer Malzahn has landed since taking over as the program's head coach in 2013. Stidham has a strong supporting cast at his disposal. Running back Kamryn Pettway battled injuries late in the season but still finished with 1,224 yards and seven touchdowns. Additionally, the Tigers return four out of the team's top five receivers from 2016 and a solid foundation in the trenches. Coordinator Kevin Steele has a few voids to fill on defense after end Carl Lawson declared for the NFL Draft, and tackle Montravius Adams, cornerback Joshua Holsey and safety Rudy Ford expired their eligibility. End Marlon Davidson and cornerback Carlton Davis headline the key returnees for a defense that limited opponents to 17.1 points per game in 2016.

#46: Arkansas State | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
If Arkansas State has any postseason aspirations, the RedWolves will need to see OT Jamal Fontenot, Jr. and the rest of the offensive line step it up. The entire front five has to be replaced, but there are options ready to give it a go. The 302-pound Fontenot will likely try taking over for First Team All-Sun Belt blocker Jemar Clark at left tackle, while a slew of new guys will try filling in right away. Can JUCO transfers, recruits, and a few backups from last year get it done?

#45: Texas A&M | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
The Aggies have recorded three consecutive 8-5 seasons but have not finished above .500 in SEC play since 2012. Is 2017 a make-or-break year for coach Kevin Sumlin? Topping the eight-win mark will be tough next fall, especially with the quarterback Trevor Knight expiring his eligibility and the departure of end Myles Garrett to the NFL. Senior Jake Hubenak, redshirt freshman Nick Starkel and true freshman Kellen Mond will compete to replace Knight at quarterback. Regardless of which quarterback wins the job, expect to see plenty of running back Trayveon Williams (1,057 yards). The receiving corps was hit hard by departures, but Christian Kirk (83 catches in 2016) is back to give the new quarterback a go-to weapon on the outside. In addition to the concerns at receiver, the Aggies have to find two new tackles after the departure of Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor. Texas A&M's defense improved under coordinator John Chavis in 2015 but took a step back last fall and surrendered just over six yards per play (6.07) in SEC games. Finding a replacement for Garrett and fellow end Daeshon Hall is the top priority for Chavis this spring. The strength of the defense should be the secondary, which is headlined by safety Armani Watts and cornerbacks Nick Harvey and Priest Willis.

#44: Colorado | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
All of the pieces for Mike MacIntyre's rebuilding effort in Boulder fell into place in 2016. Colorado won 10 games - the same number this program won in MacIntyre's first three years - and claimed the Pac-12 South title. A strong senior class was the backbone of the 10-win team, so the Buffaloes have some major voids to fill this offseason. The defense was hit the hardest by departures. Coordinator Jim Leavitt was hired by Oregon, and this unit must replace linebackers Kenneth Olugbode and Jimmie Gilbert, linemen Josh Tupou and Jordan Carrell and defensive backs Chidobe Awuzie, Tedric Thompson and Ahkello Witherspoon. For some perspective on how decimated this defense is, Colorado returns only four out of its top 11 tacklers from 2016. While the defense appears to be a rebuilding year, the offense is in good shape. New quarterback Steven Montez showed promise in a limited stint under center in 2016, running back Phillip Lindsay returns after rushing for 1,252 yards and 16 scores last year, and the team's top three wide receivers are back. The Buffaloes catch Washington in crossover play but won't have to face Oregon or Stanford.

#43: Minnesota | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
P.J. Fleck elevated Western Michigan's program to new heights, and the former Northern Illinois receiver hopes to do the same in Minneapolis for a Minnesota team coming off a successful nine-win campaign in 2016. Fleck's first order of business was the 2017 signing class and all signs point to a fast finish on the recruiting trail. As far as the team returning for Fleck, the biggest question mark for the Golden Gophers will be at quarterback after the departure of Mitch Leidner. Former walk-on Conor Rhoda is the team's most-experienced option, but incoming freshman Tanner Morgan, junior college recruit Neil McLaurin, sophomore Demry Croft and redshirt freshman Mark Williams will factor into the mix. Regardless of which quarterback starts, expect to see plenty from running backs Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith (combined 1,808 yards last year) behind an offensive line that loses only one senior (Jonah Pirsig). The Golden Gophers limited opponents to 22.1 points per game last season and will be under the leadership of former Arkansas coordinator Robb Smith. Tackle Steven Richardson and linebackers Blake Cashman and Jonathan Celestin will be the leaders for Smith to build around in 2017.

#42: North Carolina | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
With the departure of quarterback Mitch Trubisky and running back Elijah Hood to the NFL, 2017 appears to be a rebuilding year for coach Larry Fedora in Chapel Hill. Nathan Elliott spent 2016 as the backup to Trubisky, but the competition will include redshirt freshmen Logan Byrd and Chazz Surratt and possibly a graduate transfer (Malik Zaire?). Jordon Brown is expected to take over the starting job at running back, but the question marks on offense extend to the receiving corps after three of the top four receivers leave Chapel Hill. Center Lucas Crowley, guard Caleb Peterson and tackle Jon Heck leave big shoes to fill in the trenches. The defense may have to carry more of the load until the offense settles behind the new quarterback. Tackle Nazair Jones left early for the NFL, but enough talent returns to expect improvement in 2017. Cornerback M.J. Stewart should be one of the top defensive backs in the ACC next fall.

#41: Miami | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Quarterback Brad Kaaya left early for the NFL after throwing for 3,532 yards and 27 touchdowns as a junior in 2016. Malik Rosier worked as Kaaya's backup and should get the first opportunity to start next fall. However, Rosier will face competition from Evan Shirreffs and incoming freshmen N'Kosi Perry, Cade Weldon and Jack Allison. Until a quarterback emerges, expect to see the offense lean heavily on running back Mark Walton. The supporting cast also has to be retooled. Receiver Stacy Coley expired his eligibility, and tight end David Njoku left early for the NFL. Standout guard Danny Isidora will be missed in the trenches. Coordinator Manny Diaz has to replace a couple of players in the secondary, but the strength of this team should be the defense. Three freshmen – Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud - return after anchoring the linebacker spots in 2016. Joe Jackson, Chad Thomas and Kendrick Norton are back to lead the way for a talented defensive line.

D1SportsNet



July 21, 2017