25 College Football Players and Teams Sure to Rebound in 2014
The 2013 college football season was a year to forget for many teams and players.
For some, it was falling short of expectations. For others, injuries became too much to overcome.
All in all, it was a season that many players and teams wish they could have back.
Still, looking in the past never solves anything. Instead, working towards becoming even better next year is the best solution.
Here are 25 teams and players set to bounce back in the right direction in 2014.
Player: DE Devonte Fields (TCU)
2013 Stat Line: 4 tackles (2.0 for loss)
A foot injury caused defensive end Devonte Fields to miss all but two games for the Horned Frogs last season.
It’s a pity, given his stellar freshman campaign. The San Antonio, Texas, native recorded 53 tackles (18.5 for loss), 10.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception in 2012.
He played a large role on a TCU defense that ranked No. 16 in total defense that year.
With an entire offseason to get healthy, Fields should come back in 2014 better than ever. He’ll be joined on the line by junior Jon Lewis and sophomore Terrell Lathan.
Don't be surprised if you see Fields name near the top of several defensive categories next season.
2013 W-L Record: 5-7
Believe it or not, but Vols head coach Butch Jones did a tremendous job during his first year on the job.
The team may have lost seven games, but that's not too bad when you consider Tennessee played a whopping seven Top 25 opponents in 2013. To the team's credit, the Vols actually beat South Carolina, 23-21, and took Georgia to overtime.
Now, Jones has taken his success onto the recruiting trail, landing a national-high 34 commitments thus far. That includes 15 4-star prospects, giving Tennessee the No. 6 overall spot in 247Sports' team rankings for 2014.
Success might not come immediately, but Jones is certainly on the right track.
If he keeps it up, it won't be long before the Vols are recognized as a SEC threat once again.
Player: WR Austin Hill (Arizona)
2013 Stat Line: DNP
During the 2012 season, wide receiver Austin Hill broke out as a sophomore for the Wildcats.
In 13 games, he hauled in 81 catches for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns. The future looked bright for the youngster.
Unfortunately, after tearing his ACL in spring practice, Hill missed the entire 2013 season.
Hill is expected to be fully healthy for the start of the 2014 season. That’s amazing news for Arizona.
With a new quarterback set to step under center for the team, look for Hill to immediately fill in and become the go-to-guy in the passing attack.
Big things are expected for Hill in 2014.
Team: North Carolina
2013 W-L Record: 7-6 (W Belk Bowl, 39-17 vs. Cincinnati)
It was a season of two halves for the Tar Heels in 2013.
After beginning the year 1-5, all hope seemed to be lost. However, North Carolina turned its season around in dramatic fashion, winning six of its final seven games.
That run should continue into next season.
Sophomore quarterback Marquise Williams proved to be one of the biggest surprises. He threw for 1,698 yards, 15 touchdowns and just six interceptions on 58.1 percent passing while rushing for a team-high 536 yards and six touchdowns.
The rushing attack wasn't anything to talk about last year, but another year of experience will work wonders for running backs T.J. Logan and Romar Morris.
Defense could still be a weak spot, but the team should make up for that with its offensive firepower.
Player: LB Jake Ryan (Michigan)
2013 Stat Line: 30 tackles (4.5 for loss), 2 quarterback hurries
Linebacker Jake Ryan was one of the biggest disappointments in an overall underwhelming season for the Wolverines defense.
In 2012, the Westlake, Ohio native was phenomenal. In 13 games, he recorded 88 tackles (16.5 for loss), 5.0 sacks and five forced fumbles.
His ability to cause disruption in both the pass and run game made Ryan a valuable asset to Michigan’s defense—one that had high expectations entering 2013.
But the poor play isn't entirely his fault. Ryan suffered a major knee injury during spring practices that caused him to miss the team’s first five games.
Furthermore, Ryan never seemed to be playing at 100 percent the rest of the way.
Now, with a full offseason to rest and heal, look for Ryan to return in 2014 and continue being a key asset to the Wolverines defense.
Team: Mississippi State
2013 W-L Record: 7-6 (W Liberty Bowl, 44-7 vs. Rice)
After making some noise in 2012, the Bulldogs took a step back last season. In fact, if it weren't for wins in its final two games, the team would have missed out on a bowl game.
Still, after a 4-6 start, Mississippi State finished with a winning record and has a bowl win to its name.
In 2014, the Bulldogs will return eight starters on a defense that ranked No. 18 in total defense. Not to mention, the team will have dual-threat quarterback Dak Prescott back.
This is a team just waiting to break onto the scene. That could very well happen in 2014.
Player: QB Chuckie Keeton (Utah State)
2013 Stat Line: 69.4 CMP%, 1,388 YDS, 18 TDs, 2 INTs; 55 CAR, 241 YDS, 2 TDs
Quarterback Chuckie Keeton began the 2013 season on a tear. Unfortunately, the junior’s season was cut short after six games when he suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Still, the Aggies managed to finish the season as Mountain division champions and topped Northern Illinois, 21-14, in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Although the team will lose a lot on the defensive side of things, returning Keeton will immediately make the team a threat in the MWC.
Keeton displayed incredible accuracy and poise in the six games he played in last season. It's hard to believe that with an entire offseason of practice he won't return even better.
This is certainly a quarterback to keep an eye on next season.
Team: Kansas State
2013 W-L Record: 8-5 (W Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, 31-14 vs. Michigan)
It's impossible to have a worse start to a season than the Wildcats had in 2013.
The team began the season losing a shocker to the FCS' North Dakota State, 24-21, in Week 1. Kansas State then followed that up by losing each of its first three Big 12 games.
But behind a second-half surge, the team won six of its final seven games and has optimism in Manhattan high heading into 2014.
Offensively, the loss of running back John Hubert will hurt. But quarterback Jake Waters returns, along with his favorite target, wide receiver Tyler Lockett—the duo combined for 10 touchdowns over the Wildcats' final seven games.
Defensively, the team will return seven starters. That is headlined by defensive lineman Ryan Mueller (62 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and four forced fumbles).
After losing 12 starters a year ago, Kansas State only grew with time. Expect that growth to continue next season.
The Wildcats will have an early test with reigning SEC champion Auburn coming to town in Week 4.
Player: RB Alex Collins (Arkansas)
2013 Stat Line: 190 CAR, 1,026 YDS, 4 TDs
It all started out well for running back Alex Collins.
Through his first four collegiate games, the freshman had already recorded three 100-yard rushing performances. Unfortunately, he would fail to reach the mark again in each of the Razorbacks’ final seven games.
But while it could be argued that Collins' numbers are still impressive, it's only the tip of the iceberg of what he can accomplish.
In the seven games Collins received 14 carries or more, he averaged 109.4 yards per game. In the other five contests, Collins averaged just 52.0 yards per game.
With his job on the line, look for Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema to provide a heavy dose of Collins to each of the team’s opponents next season.
As a result, the young back will flourish.
Team: Penn State
2013 W-L Record: 7-5
The Nittany Lions had a solid 2013 campaign, one that saw them rack up victories against two Top 25 opponents in Michigan and Wisconsin.
Although the team lost its head coach to the NFL, new head coach James Franklin is the right man for the job.
Over the last couple of years, Franklin led a resurgence at Vanderbilt. He was known for his recruiting and ability to coach a defense.
Expect those qualities to carry over to Penn State.
And don’t forget, sensational quarterback Christian Hackenberg will be entering his sophomore season. The Palmyra, Va., native threw for 2,955 yards, 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last year.
Add that all together and you have a recipe for success in 2014.
Player: CB Damian Swann (Georgia)
2013 Stat Line: 57 tackles (1.0 for loss), 8 passes broken up
What happened to Bulldogs corner back Damian Swann?
In 2012, the Atlanta, Ga., native was a force in the secondary. He recorded 53 tackles (3.5 for loss), 2.0 sacks, four interceptions, two fumbles forced and two fumbles recovered.
Swann was all over the field and was a large reason that Georgia boasted the No. 8-ranked passing defense that year.
In comparison, the Bulldogs ranked No. 59 against the pass in 2013.
Thankfully, the team will welcome in new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. He was recently in charge of a Florida State defense that finished No. 3 in total defense and No. 1 in scoring.
Look for Pruitt to have a large impact in getting Swann back to his best.
2013 W-L Record: 4-8
The Gators went through a trying year in 2013.
Last season ranked as one of the worst in school history. Florida missed a bowl game for the first time in 24 years and finished with the fewest wins since 1979.
Needless to say, the team can only go up from here.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel will return in 2014 and hope to provide the Gators with some semblance of consistency under center. In the backfield, running back Kelvin Taylor will try to make some big strides in his sophomore season.
However, Florida's strength comes in its defense.
The unit returns eight starters from 2013, including Defensive Freshman of the Year cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and linebacker Dante Fowler. Throw in the additions from a very strong incoming Class of 2014, and the Gators defense will only get better.
With road games against Alabama and Florida State, the schedule won’t be easy.
Still, Florida will be a team on the rise next season.
Player: RB Duke Johnson (Miami)
2013 Stat Line: 145 CAR, 920 YDS, 6 TDs; 4 REC, 77 YDS
A large reason the Hurricanes raced out to a 7-0 start was because of the play of running back Duke Johnson.
However, after hurting himself in the loss to Florida State, Johnson missed the remainder of the season. Miami was just 2-3 in those games.
If Johnson can remain healthy in 2014, he's an easy bet to tear up the stat sheets.
Before the injury, the Miami, Fla., native was averaging a little over 131 rushing yards per game. Not to mention, he’s also displayed the ability to catch the ball from out of the backfield.
With the Hurricanes having to break in a new quarterback next season, look for the team to heavily lean on Johnson offensively.
That should only lead to a breakout season for the soon-to-be junior.
2013 W-L Record: 7-6 (L Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, 31-14 vs. Kansas State)
The Wolverines had high hopes in 2013. However, the team faltered in the second half, losing six of its final eight games.
That doesn't even include near losses to lowly opponents such as Akron, Connecticut and Northwestern.
But fear not, Michigan fans. With a fresh start and the addition of new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and a very nice incoming Class of 2014—headlined by 5-star Jabrill Peppers—things are looking up for next season.
Nussmeier is just the guy that could help quarterback Devin Gardner transform into the quarterback head coach Brady Hoke hopes he could be. Tight end Devin Funchess will be a name to keep an eye on.
All in all, the Wolverines will prove that 2013 was nothing more than a misstep.
Look for the team to make a statement in its season opener against old foe Appalachian State.
Player: RB Jordon James (UCLA)
2013 Stat Line: 101 CAR, 534 YDS, 5 TDs; 10 REC, 55 YDS
Bruins running back Jordon James was supposed to explode onto the scene in 2013.
After three games, it looked like that would be the case. The sophomore had rushed for 424 yards and four touchdowns and showed no signs of stopping.
Unfortunately, an injury caused him to miss six of UCLA's final nine games.
James certainly has the talent. And as he has displayed, when he is healthy, he's a hard back to slow down.
Not only that, but James has the ability to become a factor in the passing game, catching 45 passes for 381 yards and a touchdown in three seasons.
Watch out for James.
Team: Ole Miss
2013 W-L Record: 8-5 (W Music City Bowl, 25-17 vs. Georgia Tech)
The Rebels had quite the up-and-down season last year.
On one hand, the team had two win streaks of at least three games. On the other hand, Ole Miss also had two losing streaks of at least two games.
Regardless, head coach Hugh Freeze has the team set up for success in 2014.
The defense will be the strong suit for the Rebels. The team returns 10 starters and should add even more talent with a better-than-expected recruiting class coming in.
Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche finished the season strong and should begin next year even stronger.
Offensively, Freeze will hope quarterback Bo Wallace can make the most of his final year in college. The Pulaski, Tenn., native threw for 3,346 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season.
Playing most of its toughest opponents at home, Ole Miss should exceed expectations and make a push for 10 wins.
Player: QB Devin Gardner (Michigan)
2013 Stat Line: 60.3 CMP%, 2,960 YDS, 21 TDs, 11 INTs; 165 CAR, 483 YDS, 11 TDs
Believe it or not, quarterback Devin Gardner actually had a career year in many aspects. In fact, the junior reached career highs in completion percent, passing yards and passing touchdowns.
Still, Gardner suffered from inconsistency, registering a 146.1 passer rating—he finished with a rating of 161.7 in 2012.
The biggest indicator that things might change for the better is the Wolverines hiring of new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Formerly at Alabama, Nussmeier was the brains behind transforming quarterback AJ McCarron into the most decorated passer in school history.
Hopes are high that Nussmeier can work the same magic with Gardner.
Even with the departure of some of the team's leading receivers, Gardner's arrow is still pointing up.
Team: Notre Dame
2013 W-L Record: 9-4 (W New Era Pinstripe Bowl, 29-16 vs. Rutgers)
After making it to the BCS title game in 2012, expectations were high for the Irish last season.
Instead, the team fell flat on its face. And even that is being nice.
Notre Dame will lose several key players on defense to the NFL draft. Still, a young core led by linebacker Jaylon Smith along with a solid incoming Class of 2014 will get the defense right back up to where we’re used to seeing it.
Not to mention, the Irish are set to return quarterback Everett Golson, who missed the entire 2013 season due to suspension.
The schedule might be a little rough, but Golson's return paired with a more experienced defense can only mean good things for Notre Dame.
Player: QB Trevor Knight (Oklahoma)
2013 Stat Line: 59.0 CMP%, 819 YDS, 9 TDs, 5 INTs; 67 CAR, 445 YDS, 2 TDs
Quarterback Trevor Knight was supposed to be the answer at quarterback for the Sooners in 2013.
Instead, he bumbled and stumbled his way out of the starting position. In fact, it wasn't until the team's bowl game that Knight showed off his true potential.
In a shocking upset of Alabama, the San Antonio, Texas, native threw for 348 yards, four touchdowns and an interception on 32-of-44 passing. Oklahoma won, 45-31.
With another full offseason of practices, look for Knight to build on that success. Not to mention, his ability to run the ball is something the Sooners haven't had at the quarterback position in over 20 years.
Expectations are once again high in Norman for the 2014 season.
That all begins with Knight at quarterback.
2013 W-L Record: 8-5 (L Alamo Bowl, 30-7 vs. Oregon)
For a program that isn't used to losing, the Longhorns have done quite a bit of it in recent years.
As a result, the team cut ties with longtime head coach Mack Brown and hired former Louisville head coach Charlie Strong.
Strong's name might not pop out immediately among fans. But if his initial conferences and rumored list of team rules are to be a measuring stick, there's a good chance Strong will be just fine.
For starters, Texas is set to welcome in a Class of 2014 that currently sits at No. 12 in the nation, via 247Sports. Then there's the return of quarterback David Ash.
He might not be the quarterback that will break records, but Ash's consistency would suit the Longhorns pretty nicely.
All in all, this is a program that is definitely on the rise.
Player: WR Amari Cooper (Alabama)
2013 Stat Line: 45 REC, 736 YDS, 4 TDs
What happened to Amari Cooper in 2013?
As a freshman, the Miami, Fla., native broke onto the scene, catching 59 passes for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns. That included five games of 100 yards of receiving or more along with four multi-touchdown games.
In comparison, Cooper failed to record a single multi-touchdown game while topping the century mark just twice.
With second-leading receiver Kevin Norwood graduating, that should signal more targets for Cooper. Not to mention, with a new quarterback under center in 2014, there’s a good chance Cooper will be his go-to-guy in the passing attack.
For a wide receiver as talented as Cooper, don't expect lightning to strike twice.
2013 W-L Record: 8-5 (L Gator Bowl, 24-19 vs. Nebraska)
In a season that began with national title expectations, the Bulldogs fell flat on their faces in 2013.
However, injuries played a large role in that.
If losing to Clemson in the season opener wasn't bad enough, Georgia also lost top wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell for the rest of the season. But that was just the tip of the iceberg, as the team lost several other key contributors for significant amounts of time, including running back Todd Gurley and quarterback Aaron Murray.
Fortunately, 2014 will be a fresh start for the Bulldogs.
Sure, junior quarterback Hutson Mason is no Murray. However, the Marietta, Ga., native looked solid in starts over the team’s final two games last season.
Not to mention, a healthy Gurley can make any offense look potent, regardless of who's under center.
Defensively, there were questions. But with 10 returning starters and the addition of defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, the unit should take a leap in the right direction.
All in all, keep a close eye on Georgia in 2014.
Player: S Erick Dargan
2013 Stat Line: 24 tackles, 1 fumble forced, 1 INT
Calling safety Erick Dargan's 2013 campaign disappointing would be an understatement.
This is the same guy who stepped in as a starter in his sophomore year and excelled. Dargan recorded 54 tackles (3.0 for loss) and five interceptions.
Quarterbacks would have to hesitate before throwing in his direction. However, that wasn't the case in 2013.
With Don Pellum set to be promoted as the Ducks new defensive coordinator, it will be interesting to see how that affects the team.
A fresh face could be just what the defense needs to return to an elite level.
Team: Texas A&M
2013 W-L Record: 9-4 (W Chick-fil-A Bowl, 52-48 vs. Duke)
Normally, a nine-win season isn't considered a disappointment. But when that season begins with national title aspirations, that certainly becomes the case.
Fortunately for Aggies fans, head coach Kevin Sumlin should have things other control.
Yes, the losses of quarterback Johnny Manziel and wide receiver Mike Evans will definitely hurt. But the team currently boasts 247Sports’ No. 5-ranked recruiting class, led by 5-star prospects wide receiver Speedy Noil and quarterback Kyle Allen.
Defense was easily a soft spot for Texas A&M in 2013. However, the unit returns 10 starters this season.
Although the players might not be the most talented, it's a good bet that another year under their belts will lead to overall improvement.
Ten wins is not out of the question for the Aggies in 2014.
Player: RB Todd Gurley (Georgia)
2013 Stat Line: 165 CAR, 989 YDS, 10 TDs; 37 REC, 441 YDS, 6 TDs
It's hard to consider running back Todd Gurley's 2013 season as a down year.
But given that he began the year as a Heisman Trophy contender and missed significant time with an injury, it's safe to say the sophomore fell below expectations.
Fully healthy and without quarterback Aaron Murray, expect the Bulldogs to turn Gurley loose. He will be the team’s main weapon and he will be looked at to make Hutson Mason's transition into the starting quarterback a lot easier.
With that said, the yards should come in bunches for Gurley, and it won't be surprising to see him near the top of every rushing statistic next season.