Brandon Martin surprised observers by coming out of nowhere to become one of the nation’s most highly-coveted prospects. He also surprised many when he made a commitment to Missouri last weekend. However, Martin showed us with his latest move, the surprises aren’t over yet.

We continue our look at what positions groups need to improve between now and next season.

USC Trojans

Position to improve: offensive line

Why it was a problem: It's not necessarily that the offensive line was a problem, but there were certainly growing pains up front. The group opened the season with two freshman starters (Damien Mama and Toa Lobendahn) and started three in the final five games. To find the last time USC started a pair of freshmen on the offensive line in a season opener would require you look back to before World War II. With that much youth involved, it would have been unfair to expect much more than what USC got in 2014. That changes next year.

How it can be fixed: Get rid of the offensive line coach! Kidding, of course. With offensive line coach Tim Drevno off to Michigan to be Jim Harbaugh's offensive coordinator, USC remains without an offensive line coach. Whoever Steve Sarkisian hires as Drevno's replacement will be tasked with helping good players take the next step. It's a great situation as far as the talent the next O-line coach inherits, but the pressure will be high as the offensive line's development figures to play an important role in USC's ability to compete for a conference title and beyond.

Early 2015 outlook: With quarterback Cody Kessler and USC's usual stable of talented receivers returning, the offensive line is where there is the most room for improvement. Everyone that started a game will be back, including center Max Tuerk, who was voted the team's offensive lineman of the year. Left tackle Chad Wheeler, who started the first eight games before tearing his ACL, will be expected to regain his spot at left tackle, while right tackle Zach Banner will return after a strong sophomore year. However, with four freshmen that started games over the course of the season -- Lobendahn (13 starts), Viane Talamaivao (11 starts), Mama (four starts), Khaliel Rodgers (three starts) -- there is a strong potential for some shuffling.

Recruit breakdown: OT Martez Ivey 

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video What he brings: Martez Ivey is a long and flexible O-line prospect with tremendous upside. He's tall with almost other-worldly length and possesses a lean, athletic build with a frame that can continue to be developed. His strength at this stage is as a run blocker with the ability to come off with low pads and quickly get into a defenders and drive them back. He is agile and athletic for his size and possesses excellent range as a second-level blocker. He is a little less experienced as a pass blocker but possesses the tools to be outstanding in this area. With his length and ability to quickly set, he can mirror rushers with ease. This is a big man with excellent physical tools. And while he's a good football player at this stage, there is still room to grow and improve.


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Every team has issues to address this offseason, and this week, we're taking a look at the most glaring holes for each ACC team and figuring out where they might find answers between now and the season opener.

Virginia Cavaliers

Position to improve: Offensive line

Why it was a problem: Injuries and inexperience plagued the Hoos all season long. It started in the fall, when projected starting tackle Jay Whitmire injured his back, forcing him to miss all of 2014. Without Whitmire, Virginia had a combined 36 career starts entering the season, seventh-fewest among Power 5 schools. The injuries kept piling up: versatile Jackson Matteo was lost for the year against Kent State; tackle Sadiq Olanrewaju missed four games with injury; guard Ryan Doull started the first six games at left guard before missing five of the final six games. The Hoos ended up with five different starting offensive lines and struggled in the run game as a result, ranking No. 13 in the ACC in rushing offense. Backs averaged 3.7 yards per carry, fourth worst in the league. On the bright side, Virginia did well at pass protection despite the juggled lines, allowing just 16 sacks.

How it can be fixed: The hope, of course, is the Hoos stay healthy. The biggest hope of all is for Whitmire to return to form, but there are no guarantees that will happen at this point. But there should be a little more experience with this group in 2015. Six players with at least one start return. Virginia also has a new offensive line coach in Dave Borbely, in his second stint with the Hoos. His experience as run game coordinator in his last two stops should be a positive. The Hoos also have targeted offensive linemen on the recruiting trail, with four commitments so far.

Early 2015 outlook: Olanrewaju, Matteo and Doull are expected back and healthy. Virginia is keeping its fingers crossed on Whitmire. Starting guards Conner Davis and Cody Wallace are gone to graduation, but Burbank, tackles Michael Mooney, Jack English, Eric Smith and Sean Karl are back. Finding starters at guard, and backups, too, is paramount. Burbank, as one of the few seniors in the group, will also be expected to take the next step.

Position that needs improvement: Texas

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This week, we're taking a closer look at one specific area each Big 12 team needs to improve before 2015. We continue the series with Texas, which must resolve its concerns up front regardless of who plays quarterback for these Longhorns.

Position to improve: Offensive line

Why it was a problem: Going into the 2013 season, Texas had the most experienced offensive line in the country. Just a few games into the 2014 season, Texas had perhaps the least experienced line in the country. Losing senior center Dominic Espinosa to a season-ending injury after one game was a devastating blow. The projected starting tackles, Desmond Harrison and Kennedy Estelle, were kicked off the team. What remained was a group that redefined the label "patchwork line."

Left tackle Marcus Hutchins had never started a game and was a reserve defensive tackle a year earlier. Five different players earned at least one start at right tackle. Taylor Doyle made his first-ever start at center in the Oklahoma game. Only one player -- left guard Sedrick Flowers -- held down the same job for the full season. In all, Texas tried six different offensive line combinations over 13 games and had the No. 94 rushing attack in FBS despite featuring two five-star running backs.

How it can be fixed: Addition and competition. Joe Wickline, hailed as one of the nation’s top offensive line coaches when he was hired away from Oklahoma State, must have been as frustrated as anyone by what he witnessed in 2014. He’s assembled a nice recruiting class which features several linemen who can help immediately. Juco transfer tackles Brandon Hodges and Tristan Nickelson are on campus and will be given every opportunity to become starters. Two more freshmen have already enrolled, and ESPN 300 guard Patrick Vahe might be the best of the bunch. The newcomers must push the seven linemen with starting experience who are slated to return. Texas had no depth and few options last season. Every starting job is probably fair game.

Early 2015 outlook: Flowers, Doyle and guard/tackle Kent Perkins probably stand the best chance of retaining their spots this fall so long as they stay healthy. There will be pressure on Hodges and Nickelson this spring. They need to prove they can provide at least starter-caliber play. Then it’s all about finding out who raises their game. Can guys who were in and out of the lineup like Camrhon Hughes, Darius James and Jake Raulerson take a big step forward? Can Hutchins improve off 13 starts? There are a lot of question marks to be addressed over these next seven months.
As Tennessee continues to search for a new offensive coordinator, the potential candidates have to be intrigued with the young nucleus of talent on the roster. From quarterback Joshua Dobbs, to running back Jalen Hurd, to a deep wide receiver corps, there is a lot to like about this offense going forward.

So with all that talent, why did Tennessee finish No. 11 in the SEC in total offense? The easy answer is inexperience and more specifically, inexperience up front.

Position to improve: Offensive line

Why it was a problem: Butch Jones knew the offensive line was going to be an issue in 2014. After all, he had to replace every starter from the year before, a group that featured first-round draft pick Ja'Wuan James and three other players who made the NFL. The offensive line that Tennessee rolled out in the season opener against Utah State had zero combined starts between them. The inexperience showed. The Volunteers finished dead last in the SEC in sacks allowed (43) and tackles for loss allowed (101), and they struggled to create running room for Hurd, who averaged less than 4 yards per carry through the first eight games. The unit did improve as the season progressed, and finished on a strong note against Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl, but it will have to be even better in 2015 if this offense wants to take the next step.

How it can be fixed: More experience. It’s that simple. Tennessee allowed 20 sacks in the month of October, and just 10 in November. The players didn’t change. They just gained more experience and grew together as a unit. They were a different offensive line at the end of the season compared to where they were at the season opener. There also seemed to be a rise in production when Dobbs took over at quarterback. Maybe it’s easier to block for Dobbs because of his athleticism, or maybe there was extra motivation. Whatever it was, it should be there again next season when Dobbs is the full-time starter. This was never going to be an easy fix. It takes time. But a full year of experience, even if it wasn’t great, will help immensely in 2015.

Early 2015 outlook: Unlike last season, Tennessee’s offensive line should look very familiar to fans next fall. Four starters return including All-SEC freshman Jashon Robertson, who started every game at right guard for the Vols last season. The only loss was senior right tackle Jacob Gilliam, but his backup, Coleman Thomas, played in 11 games and started five. Between Robertson, Coleman, Mack Crowder, Marcus Jackson, and Kyler Kerbyson, Tennessee should have a pretty formidable line in 2015. It’s a group that not only has experience, but also has chemistry. However, after 23 true freshmen played last season, don’t rule out the possibility of a 2015 signee coming in and earning playing time. The most likely candidate is ESPN 300 offensive tackle Jack Jones, who will benefit from enrolling early.
Utah's resurgent 2014 campaign generated plenty of good feelings in Salt Lake City. That optimism has already created palpable buzz for the 2015 season, electricity that's amplified by the Utes' first game: a Thursday night home contest against Jim Harbaugh's Michigan program. There's room for improvement within Kyle Whittingham's program before then, though.

Position to improve: Quarterback. Utah enjoyed a sack-happy defense and the Pac-12's third-most productive rushing attack behind Devontae Booker in 2014, but their passing attack languished in the conference cellar.

Why it was a problem: Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson, who both saw action under center for Utah, were far from impressive. Both completed about 60 percent of their passes, but Thompson really wasn't much of a threat to throw at all -- he averaged only 46 passing yards per game. Wilson threw much more frequently, but he also finished with a rather meager average (166.9 yards per game). Both quarterbacks did some damage with their legs, but they ultimately didn't pack the desired aerial punch necessary to make Utah's attack balanced. Despite Booker's massive 1,500-yard year, the Utes finished last in Pac-12 total offense. That simply shouldn't happen.

How it can be fixed: It looks like it'll be either Wilson or Thompson (coming off a leg injury) at quarterback next year, so Utah will have to see tangible improvement from either of those two when it comes to the downfield passing game. This will be tough, especially since top receiving target Kaelin Clay has exhausted his collegiate ability. The Utes would be best served to hire a new offensive coordinator with quarterback-developing experience soon. That position is still vacant following Dave Christensen's departure for Texas A&M, and it's likely a key toward boosting quarterback productivity next year.

Early 2015 outlook: At the very least, Utah fans can take solace in the fact that Wilson took solid care of the football in 2014: He threw 18 touchdowns and only five interceptions. But unless he develops into a more consistent aerial threat while throwing to new primary targets, the Utes will have to again rely heavily on that workhorse named Booker, who made his living after contact running against stacked boxes in 2014.
Our week-long examination of positions that need improvement at every Big Ten school focuses next on the Northwestern Wildcats.

Problem position: Wide receiver

Why receiver was a problem: The trouble started in August when Christian Jones, the Wildcats’ 2013 leader in receiving yardage, went down with a knee injury. The Wildcats felt his loss in 2014 as wideouts Kyle Prater and Tony Jones were effective at times but did not account for Christian Jones’ production. Superback Dan Vitale caught 40 passes, while the season of Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler was shortened by a head injury suffered in October against Nebraska. The Wildcats struggled with drops and generally required more from the receivers to operate as needed in the Northwestern spread system.

How it can be fixed: Shuler and Vitale are back as seniors, as is Christian Jones, who took a redshirt in 2014. The Wildcats need leadership from the trio as the quarterback position goes through a transition to Zack Oliver, Matt Alviti or Clayton Thorson. With a veteran corps of receivers that includes several additional upperclassmen -- Northwestern needs more from rising senior Cameron Dickerson -- the inconsistency of 2014 must give way to reliability, starting this spring.

Early 2015 outlook: If the QB job goes to Alviti or Thorson -- both in the dual-threat category -- the job description shifts a bit for the receivers. In a best-case scenario, Northwestern finds a weapon at quarterback and running back Justin Jackson builds on a strong rookie season. Among the Wildcats’ top recruits is receiver Cameron Green, the son of ex-Chicago Bears running back Mark Green. Despite the presence of veterans, the Wildcats would benefit from new blood on the edge. The more bodies, the merrier. With Jones back, though, look for a rebound performance from the receivers.
This week, we're examining a problematic position for each Big Ten team during the 2014 season and how it can potentially be repaired in 2015.

Up next: Michigan

Problem position: Quarterback

Why quarterback was a problem in 2014: Offensive line, running back and wide receiver were no great shakes in 2014 for the Wolverines, either. But Michigan's repeated inability to develop a quarterback remains the most pressing concern, especially for new coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff. Devin Gardner regressed as a senior, throwing 15 interceptions and just 10 touchdowns, yet Michigan didn't have anyone who could beat him out. And now he's gone.

How it can be fixed (solutions on the roster): Shane Morris is the most experienced quarterback on the roster, though his main claim to fame is being left in a game after suffering a concussion. The junior has made two career starts, both of them blowout losses. Russell Bellomy looked overmatched in his previous exposure during the 2012 Nebraska game, but that was a long time ago. Wilton Speight redshirted last year.

How it can be fixed (potential help from 2015 recruiting class): Two new quarterbacks will be thrown into what should be a wide-open competition. Alex Malzone committed to Brady Hoke's staff and enrolled in January, so he'll be ready for spring practice. New coach Jim Harbaugh recently flipped former Texas commit Zach Gentry to Michigan. Both are four-star prospects, according to ESPN Recruiting.

Early 2015 outlook: Well, one thing's for sure. The era of the running quarterback is officially over, as all of Michigan's contenders for the job are suited for the pro-style system Hoke always talked about and that Harbaugh will run. Are any of them ready to step in and play well in 2015? That remains a huge question mark. The spring competition will be crowded, and the incumbents will have to learn a new set of plays and terminology. Don't be surprised if Harbaugh decided to go with one of the youngsters he recruited. There's hope for the future here, but it may take more than one more season for Michigan to finally solve its quarterback problem
Every team has issues to address this offseason, and this week, we’re taking a look at the most glaring holes for each ACC team and figuring out where they might find answers between now and the season opener.

Syracuse Orange

Position to improve: Quarterback

Why it was a problem: Syracuse averaged just 5.8 yards/pass attempt in 2014 (118th nationally), had just six passing touchdowns (only run-heavy Army had fewer), and threw 17 interceptions (sixth most among Power 5 teams), while using three different starting quarterbacks along the way. Against Power 5 foes, Syracuse had four touchdown passes, 17 interceptions and a QBR of just 23.1.

How it can be fixed: This is a mess. Since Ryan Nassib and Doug Marrone departed for the NFL two years ago, Syracuse has thrown just nine touchdowns vs. Power 5 opponents compared with 34 interceptions, while averaging a woeful 5.5 yards-per-attempt. In 2014, the Orange cycled through three different starting QBs and two offensive coordinators, and no combination really seemed to show much consistent promise. Tim Lester, the QB coach-turned-coordinator will be back for 2015, and that could add some stability to the position, but the Orange still must identify a starter. Terrel Hunt ended 2013 with ample promise, but injuries and inconsistency sabotaged his 2014 campaign. Freshman A.J. Long showed flashes of potential during his stint as starter, too, but he also played miserably at times and was sidetracked by injuries as well. The Orange added JuCo QB Zack Mahoney and their top commitment for 2015, Eric Dungey, is also a QB. Finding one that can be a steadying influence on the offense would be a start in the right direction.

Early 2015 outlook: An optimist might point out that there’s really nowhere to go but up at the QB position for Syracuse, but that would miss the point that things could simply remain just as bad as they’ve been the last two years. Maybe Hunt comes back and shows improvement in 2015. He certainly appeared to have the confidence of his coaches and teammates last offseason, but there are still big questions about his accuracy and decision-making. Maybe Long learned a lot from his brief stint as starter and will be a bigger factor in 2015, but it will still be an uphill climb. Syracuse has had a strong defense and solid running game in each of the past two years, but it hasn’t been able to figure things out at quarterback. It’s priority No. 1 for the Orange, but there really don’t appear to be many easy answers.
After finishing in the top 20 nationally in both scoring defense and total defense each of the last three seasons, South Carolina saw it all come crumbling down defensively in 2014. The Gamecocks gave up 10.1 more points per game and 82.7 more yards per game than they did the year before. In seven of their 13 games, they allowed 34 or more points.

It was very much a train wreck defensively for the Gamecocks, who were young and inexperienced up front, and without Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles, unable to get any pressure on the quarterback.

Position to improve: Defensive end

Why it was a problem: The Gamecocks had very few true defensive ends ready to play and had to play several guys out of position to try and generate some semblance of a pass rush. The combination of inexperience and a lack of pure pass-rushers doomed the Gamecocks, and they also didn’t help themselves with their spotty tackling. They finished last in the SEC with just 14 sacks in 13 games, and that was reflected in their inability to hold leads. They couldn’t get off the field when they had to defensively, didn’t finish enough plays in the backfield and hung their defensive backs out to dry too many times. In eight SEC games, South Carolina forced a league-low six turnovers, including just two interceptions. Of course, when you don’t get after the quarterback, you’re not going to force many turnovers.

How it can be fixed: The Gamecocks already have two new faces on campus they think will make them much more formidable in the defensive line next season. Marquavius Lewis was the top junior college defensive end in the country, and at 6-3 and 266 pounds, has the size and athleticism to be the kind of finisher off the edge South Carolina lacked this past season. Also enrolled and ready to go through spring practice is former four-star recruit Dexter Wideman, who spent this past season at Camden Military Academy after signing with South Carolina last year and failing to qualify academically. The 6-4, 275-pound Wideman should be able to help at both end and tackle. A third heralded defensive end prospect is set to arrive this summer. Dante Sawyer spent this past season at East Mississippi Community College. Like Wideman, Sawyer signed with South Carolina last year, but needed to go the junior college route to get his grades in order. All three players have shown a penchant for getting to the quarterback. Now, they have to prove they can do it at the SEC level.

Early 2015 outlook: It’s not a stretch to think that the Gamecocks’ top three pass-rushers next season could be Lewis, Wideman and Sawyer. Lewis, in fact, could end up being one of the top impact newcomers in the SEC. Lewis and Sawyer are both ends. Wideman may grow into a tackle, and if he does, could provide some much-needed inside pass rush. Gerald Dixon will be a junior after starting at end this past season. He’s got a chance to make a big jump, and Darius English also returns for his junior season after starting for part of this past season. The Gamecocks return just about everybody at tackle, which should help, and they’re also bringing in two other end prospects as part of the 2015 signing class -- Devante Covington of Georgia Military College and ESPN 300 recruit Shameik Blackshear, who missed most of his senior season of high school in Bluffton, South Carolina, after suffering a torn ACL. It goes without saying that the Gamecocks need these reinforcements to be as advertised next season and for their returning players up front to grow from what was a humbling 2014 season.
There's no denying that what Hugh Freeze has done in his three years at Ole Miss has been nothing short of impressive. This was a drowning program, and now it's been to three straight bowl games.

Now, with the Rebels returning a handful of talent on both sides of the ball, expectations will be even higher in 2015, and Freeze knows that. But if Ole Miss is going to take that next step in its quest for an SEC West title, the offense has to be more consistent. The Rebels are looking for a new quarterback and the running game has to get going, but if the offensive line doesn't play with more consistency, the Rebels won't make a move in 2015.

Position to improve: Offensive line

Why it was a problem: The Rebels struggled with consistency up front for most of the 2014 season. When all was said and done, the Rebels gave up the third-most sacks in the SEC (31) and allowed 2.8 sacks per game in SEC play. Ole Miss’ line also struggled helping anyone with the ball behind the line of scrimmage, as the Rebels finished 13th in the league by allowing 89 tackles for loss (6.9 per game). Ole Miss dealt with injuries but kept that starting line intact for most of the season. However, the on-field production just wasn’t good enough at times to keep the offense going. For as poorly as quarterback Bo Wallace played at times, the line broke down too often in big games and failed to create enough lanes up front, as the Rebels allowed 3.3 sacks per game in their four losses and averaged just 88.8 rushing yards in those losses. Ole Miss dipped below 80 yards rushing four times last season, including totaling just 72 combined yards in losses to Arkansas and TCU (9 yards on 0.24 yards per carry).

How it can be fixed: Freeze has not shied away from the fact that the depth along the offensive line isn’t adequate to consistently compete in the SEC. He was absolutely right last season, but the good news for the Rebels is they return their entire starting lineup from the 2014 season. Star left tackle Laremy Tunsil will miss considerable time in the offseason after breaking his leg in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, as will starting left guard Aaron Morris, who suffered another ACL injury before the bowl game. While the Rebels would prefer to have a complete line, this will at least help get some younger guys into the rotation during the spring. Fahn Cooper and Rod Taylor -- both signees in the 2014 class -- saw good time last season, but their inexperience showed, so spring development will be key. As cliché as this sounds, Ole Miss’ line needs its younger members to get more reps between the start of spring practice and the start of the 2015 season. With the entire starting five coming back, the reserves need to get more comfortable with meaningful reps. Pure and simple, development and reps are essential for this crew getting better in 2015.

Early 2015 outlook: With all five starters returning in 2015, the Rebels will bring back 102 combined starts from those guys. Now, that clearly hinges on Morris (31 career starts) being able to recover from his ACL injury. Also, the Rebels should get back transfer Christian Morris, who missed the entire 2014 season because of injuries. That’s a pretty good foundation to start with, and the Rebels are hoping to really build on their depth up front with what’s shaping up to be a pretty solid offensive line recruiting class. Ole Miss currently has three ESPN 300 offensive linemen committed, including No. 3 guard Javon Patterson, who is already on campus. Fellow ESPN 300 recruit Drew Richmond (OT) is committed but has flirted with Alabama, Ohio State and Tennessee. Keeping him in this class will be crucial for the Rebels as they look to create solid SEC depth up front for this season and beyond.
Looking ahead at potential playmakers in 2015, there should be two divisions: Ohio State, and everyone else.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesEzekiel Elliott is among Ohio State's many offensive weapons returning for the 2015 campaign.
Heaven help Big Ten defensive coordinators trying to plan for a team that will have the power element of Ezekiel Elliott’s running complemented by the ankle-breaking athleticism and versatility of utility types Jalin Marshall, Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson. Oh, and there’s that Braxton Miller fella, should he return to OSU.

Jokes about “Big Ten speed,” or lack thereof, are hereby declared dead. They have ceased because of Urban Meyer and his staff’s recruiting.

Miller, the Buckeyes' quarterback from 2011-13, will be one of the country’s top playmakers regardless of where he plays. Most people in college football believe returning is his best option, even if it means a new, varied role.

Miller’s size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) compares well to NFL running backs such as Matt Forte, Darren McFadden and Arian Foster, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Miller, though, needs to prove to NFL teams that he can play the position without injury. Miller’s ability in space is uncanny, but I was surprised to learn that he rushed for 701 yards between the tackles in 2013 (508 outside). One more Stats & Info nugget: His 7.3 yards per carry since 2011 puts him behind only Melvin Gordon (minimum 320 carries).So, yeah, it would be highly intriguing to add Miller’s skill to the elite-level playmaking talent that’s already present.

As a redshirt freshman, Marshall was the team’s breakout playmaker in 2014. He scored eight touchdowns (six receiving, one rushing, one punt return). If something happened to Cardale Jones in the postseason, Marshall likely would have played QB, too.

Samuel, a freshman this past season, and Wilson, a sophomore, are similarly versatile. They’re the team’s primary kick returners, averaging 22.8 yards per return last season. They’re nowhere near their ceilings, either. You think new co-OC and QBs coach Tim Beck entered into a good situation?

Here are playmaker standouts from the non-Ohio State crop

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Every team has issues to address this offseason, and this week, we're taking a look at the most glaring holes for each ACC team and figuring out where they might find answers between now and the season opener.

Position to improve: Quarterback

Why it was a problem: Though there were a lot of question marks surrounding the quarterbacks in the ACC before the 2014 season, the league returns a number of talented signal-callers in 2015. So maybe more so than in other years, teams will need strong play from their quarterbacks to remain in the division races. Chad Voytik was hardly the biggest issue for the 6-7 Panthers, and in fact he progressed throughout the season. His passer ratings were significantly better in the second half of the season. But there was still some inconsistency in Voytik’s play, and he still might be a better runner than passer at this point in his career. With All-American talents at running back and receiver, if Voytik elevates his performance in his second year starting, the Panthers could have one of the conference’s best offenses. The most glaring holes are on defense, as only NC State and North Carolina allowed more points to conference opponents in 2014, but the Panthers hired celebrated defensive mind Pat Narduzzi as head coach. Narduzzi should help turn around the unit quickly.

How it can be fixed: This isn’t so much as a fix as it is a molding of Voytik into a player who, at the very least, is equally dangerous with his arm as his legs. Voytik was already showing signs of his maturation as a passer through the second half of last season, so there is reason to feel confident the Panthers will see Voytik jump into the upper half of the league’s quarterbacks. He also has the advantage of being a dual-threat option, which can help get him into an early rhythm and keep drives alive on third downs. Accuracy was an issue for Voytik early in the season, and it showed up again during a rainy bowl game, so if he can be a little more accurate, it will do wonders for the offense.

Early 2015 outlook: With reigning ACC player of the year James Conner at running back and a dominant downfield threat in Tyler Boyd, the offense has the potential to be one of the ACC’s most explosive units. Voytik was a very respectable 29th in yards per attempt nationally, so he already is taking advantage of Boyd and creating big plays through the air. Voytik is also very judicious with the football, throwing only six interceptions a year ago. With the marked improvement Voytik showed as the 2014 season went along, there should be optimism among Pitt fans that Voytik will continue to grow and end the season as one of the better quarterbacks in the ACC.
Every Big Ten team is looking to improve in the coming months. This week, we're examining one position group for each squad that must be upgraded. The Illinois Fighting Illini are up next.

Problem position: Defensive line

Why defensive line was a problem in 2014: The front actually has been a problem throughout coach Tim Beckman's tenure after Illinois produced a nice run of NFL prospects from the defensive line. Illinois finished last in the Big Ten in run defense for the second consecutive season, allowing 239.2 rush yards per game (115th nationally). The Illini also finished near the bottom in the league in sacks (23) and tackles for loss (82). The poor performance cost line coach Greg Colby his job following Illinois' bowl loss to Louisiana Tech.

How it can be fixed (solutions on the roster): Illinois has loaded up on junior-college transfers and needs several to blossom this season along the defensive line. Jihad Ward is the one to watch after recording three sacks, two forced fumbles and a team-high four fumbles recovered in his first year as an Illini end. Illinois also needs more from Joe Fotu on the inside. Illinois fans are waiting for big things from Paul James III, a decorated high school prospect. Rob Bain, who started about half of last season at tackle, is back alongside Dawuane Smoot, who had 7.5 tackles for loss as a reserve in 2014.

How it can be fixed (potential help from 2015 recruiting class): A major problem could get worse if Illinois can't finish strong in recruiting. The Illini finally landed their first defensive line recruit of the 2015 class this past weekend when junior college defensive end Sean Adesanya committed to the school. There's some talent on the current roster, but Illinois really could use another lineman or two in this class.

Early 2015 outlook: Beckman's first step is finding an assistant to coach the line after missing out on Missouri's Craig Kuligowski, who would have been excellent. Whomever Illinois hires must get more out of the talent in the program, starting with Ward, a 6-foot-6, 295-pound potential matchup nightmare for opponents, but also others like James and Smoot. Run defense must be Illinois' single biggest priority heading into another make-or-break season for Beckman.

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