Five College Football Teams on the Rise for 2015
In 2014, the state of Mississippi turned the SEC and the rest of college football on its head. If you went a little further west you'd see TCU, another team that shocked college football fans by completely turning around after a miserable 2013. What these three teams all had in common was the fact that they were all on the rise coming into last season. So what about 2015? Which teams are on the rise and could have great seasons just like those three? Here are five that could be the ones to break out.
2014 Record: 7-6
As the expression goes, "it's not how you start, but how you finish." That couldn't be more true for the Razorbacks in 2014. After ending 2013 with a 3-9 record, Arkansas looked like it was heading for a similar result. After starting 2014 with a 3-4 mark, the team still hadn't won a game in the SEC.
But at the flip of a switch, Arkansas turned around its season and finished 4-2 in its last six games with a pair of top-20 wins over LSU and Ole Miss. With the power running combo of 1,000-yard rushers Alex Collins (1,100 yards, 12 touchdowns) and Jonathan Williams (1,190 yards, 12 touchdowns), Brett Bielema established a dominant rush attack in the SEC; Arkansas finished 26th in the nation by rushing for 218 yards per game.
The offense also has QB Brandon Allen, who showed that he can be a productive signal caller by throwing for 2,285 yards and 22 touchdowns compared to just five interceptions. Although the defense lost six starters and saw offensive coordinator Jim Chaney head to Pitt to take the same job under Pat Narduzzi, Bielema has built a strong foundation. We could see the Hogs become relevant once again.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
2014 Record: 8-5
There was a point last year where Notre Dame looked like it could sneak its way into the first ever College Football Playoff. Starting off 6-0, the Fighting Irish were set to take on undefeated No. 2 Florida State and looked to finally be the team that would end the Seminoles' undefeated streak. One controversial penalty call later, Notre Dame not only lost that game but would go on to lose four of its next six games.
But the team ended its season on a high note by beating LSU 31-28 in the Music City Bowl on a field goal as time expired. The Irish are hoping to carry that momentum into 2015 and, by the looks of the team, they should be able to. Notre Dame has a potent offense whose core group of receivers will return along with running back Tarean Folston, who rushed for 889 yards and scored six touchdowns.
Still lingering is a quarterback battle between Malik Zaire and Everett Golson, . Either of these two can lead the offense, but I'd put my money on Zaire to be the starter. On defense, Notre Dame finished 84th nationally in scoring defense, giving up 29.2 points per game, and finished 73rd in total defense, surrendering 404.2 yards per contest. However, that stat should improve as the defense gets another year to get comfortable under second year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
2014 Record: 7-6
After losing 30 seniors from its 2013 team and returning just seven starters, 2014 was expected to be a down year for head coach Mike Gundy and Oklahoma State. It was a rebuilding year for sure, as the Cowboys went through the highs and lows a young team goes through.
After nearly beating Florida State in the season opener, Oklahoma State reeled off five straight wins. But just as the Cowboys reached the top of the mountain, they were pushed right off a cliff into a tailspin of five straight losses. The Cowboys got right back on the horse though and finished the season strong by defeating rival Oklahoma and then Washington in the Cactus Bowl.
The Cowboys will have 16 starters back in the saddle when the 2015 season begins. Questions still remain on the defensive side of the ball, but the offense returns its top three receivers and its hidden gem in QB Mason Rudolph - 853 yards and six touchdowns in three games - who had his redshirt pulled in mid-November. With its three toughest games at home (TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma) the Cowboys could find themselves with a top-20 or top-15 ranking if they can win at least one of those games.
2014 Record: 7-6
In the SEC East, Georgia may be the top "dawg" heading into the 2015 season, but Tennessee could change that. Head coach Butch Jones has turned whispers about a Volunteer revival into the talk of the town and the SEC for that matter.
The Volunteers are loaded with fresh, young talent - 23 freshmen saw action on the field for Tennessee last season. From the defense - DE Derek Barnett finished T-16th in the nation with 10 sacks last season - to the offense - RB Jalen Hurd ran for 899 yards, finishing fourth among SEC Freshmen - first-year players made their mark in Knoxville.
Joshua Dobbs also locked down the starting QB job and turned Tennessee into an offensive threat that averaged 34 points per game with him at the helm. Although the defense finished T-34th in the nation in scoring defense (24.2 points per game) and 37th in the nation in total defense (364.6 yards per game), there's still room for improvement, which could mean a breakout year for this team.
Virginia Tech Hokies
2014 Record: 7-6
The only thing Frank Beamer - who will be entering his 29th season as the team's head coach - will probably want to remember from his team's 2014 season was the fact that the Hokies were the only team to beat the eventual national champion Ohio State Buckeyes. Other than that, Virginia Tech struggled to make it to its bowl game last year, needing a come from behind victory over Virginia to land them in the Military Bowl, where they defeated Cincinnati.
The offense sputtered and finished 94th in scoring offense, averaging just 24.1 points per game. But the defense held strong, finishing 14th in the country in scoring defense, surrendering just 20.2 points per game. In order for Virginia Tech to have success this season, QB Michael Brewer must cut down on the interceptions (he threw 15 in 2014).
With a favorable schedule - Virginia Tech doesn't have to play Florida State, Clemson or Louisville in conference play - this could be the year where the Hokies capture the ACC Coastal Division title.