The return of college football is reason to celebrate — after suffering through the eight-month college football drought, we finally get to see if the off-season chatter actually plays out on the field.
Wins and losses are the ultimate measuring stick for college football fans, but oftentimes the number of checkmarks in the win category does not tell the entire story of the level of talent on the roster. An ineffective offense can be kryptonite to the success of a stout defense, and an inept defense can hinder the potency of a high-powered offense.
It’s easy to claim Baylor will have a good offense, as Coach Art Briles leads another talented squad, which started the season ranked No.4 in the AP Top 25. Or Alabama’s defense will once again be among the nation’s best because, well, they’re Alabama.
But what if someone told you the best offense and defense in college football could come from teams that finished the 2014 season with a 7-6 record? It doesn’t sound believable, right? Well, it may be the case in 2015.
Arkansas and Virginia Tech are not early college football playoff contenders, and neither team is the favorite to win its conference championship title. However, both the Razorbacks and the Hokies have the potential to dominate due to the talent returning to the teams for the 2015 season.
Best Offense: Arkansas Razorbacks
2015 could possibly be the year the Arkansas Razorbacks make a run at the SEC title, thanks largely in part to its veteran offense.
The Razorbacks return nine starters from an offensive unit that really turned the corner down the stretch in 2014.
There are a lot of ingredients in Arkansas’ recipe for success this season, but three of the main ingredients are quarterback consistency, veteran offensive linemen and a solid running attack.
Senior quarterback Brandon Allen is not always going to be the best player on the field, but there’s a good possibility he will be the most consistent. Of his 339 passing attempts last season, Allen only threw five interceptions. His consistency and ability to manage the offense continued to progress in 2014, and a reason for it had a lot to do with the people protecting him.
Arkansas’ offensive line was beyond dominant last season. The unit was outstanding in protecting Allen and opening up holes for the run game, and it will likely do just as well this year with the return of four veteran starters.
The final piece of the puzzle is in the run game, which returns 1,100-yard rusher Alex Collins.
Collins was one of two running backs to rush for more than 1,000 yards for the Razorbacks in 2014. Collins and Jonathan Williams combined for 2,290 yards and were one of the most dominant one-two punches last season.
But Williams suffered a foot injury during fall camp and is expected to be sidelined for the 2015 regular season, which means Collins will be the featured back in the Razorbacks’ running attack. Collins is poised to have another monster season and will be key in the offensive success in 2015.
Even though first-year offensive coordinator Dan Enos will lead the Arkansas offense, there’s a very good chance the unit will be among the nation’s elite at the end of the 2015 season.
One Offense to Watch: Cal
The Golden Bears of Cal-Berkeley may not have made it to a bowl game last season, but the offense is definitely one to watch in 2015. Quarterback Jared Goff, who has thrown for more than 7,000 yards in his career, returns to run Sonny Dyke’s air raid offense. Add to the mix running back Daniel Lasco — who rushed for more than 1,100 yards in 2014 — and a deep wide receiver unit, and this offense has the chance of being prolific in 2015.
Best Defense: Virginia Tech Hokies
Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster is regarded as one of the best defensive minds in college football, and his Hokies have the potential of being one of college football’s most powerful defenses this season.
The opening week loss to Ohio State was a setback but the Hokies still have nine returning defensive starters. They have strengths in two crucial areas, a stout defensive line and a secondary of ball hawks.
The Hokies should not have a problem winning in the trenches as the line returns four starters from 2014.
Defensive ends Dadi Lhomme Nicholas and Ken Ekanem are one of the most disruptive DE tandems in college football. The duo combined for 33 tackles for loss and 18.5 sacks, and were key factors in the unit ranking No. 21 in total defense last season.
The return of senior tackles Corey Marshall and Luther Maddy — who was sidelined nine games with a torn meniscus last season — is just icing on the cake for the Hokies.
Junior All-American cornerback Kendall Fuller is the headliner of Virginia Tech’s secondary. Fuller is coming off of a sophomore season that ended with first-team All-ACC honors. And he earned those honors, despite playing with a broken wrist all year.
The secondary also features two other returning starters in cornerback Brandon Facyson and safety Chuck Clark.
The biggest question for the defense is at linebacker. Deon Clarke returns for his senior season and will be tasked with leading first-time starter Ronny Vandyke and redshirt sophomore Andrew Motuapuaka.
Even with the questions at linebacker, the Hokies are poised to have yet another solid defense. In fact, if its offense can find a way to move the chains and get the ball in the end zone, Virginia Tech could very well be a dark horse in the 2015 college football playoff race.
One Defense to Watch: Texas A&M
The 2014 Texas A&M defense was a major area of concern, but 2015 could be a different story. It seemed that way as they held an explosive Arizona State offense to 17 points in Week 1. First-year defensive coordinator John Chavis has a history of developing strong defenses and has a lot of talent to work with on the Aggies roster. The bright spot of the defense is on the line, led by defensive end Myles Garrett, who finished with 14 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks last season. Add junior defensive end Daeshon Hall to the mix, and the duo could be the best defensive end tandem in the SEC. The Aggies defense is definitely one to watch this season, and if anything, could end the year as the most improved unit in college football.