Articles By Steven Lassan

Path: /college-football/notre-dame-top-five-team-2013
Body:

Notre Dame is always one of the most polarizing teams when it comes to preseason rankings.

The Fighting Irish are coming off a 12-1 season but was handled by Alabama in the national championship game.

The offense should be better in 2013, especially with quarterback Everett Golson having another offseason under his belt. Notre Dame also returns a solid offensive line, and the defense will remain one of the nation’s best, despite losing linebacker Manti Te’o.

Notre Dame’s schedule isn’t easy, but the Fighting Irish navigated a tough slate to finish unbeaten last year. 

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May. 

Is Notre Dame a Top-Five Team for 2013?

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This is a great debate that has many different angles to consider. Traditionally, the Irish play one of, if not the, most difficult schedules in the nation. So if Notre Dame wins 10 or more games, they generally have earned a lofty ranking. However, two losses would likely knock Brian Kelly's squad out of the top five. Home games with Oklahoma, Michigan State, USC and BYU are brutal while road trips to Michigan, Stanford and Pittsburgh (and Purdue and Air Force) are tough. As is the neutral site test with the likely Pac-12 South favorite Arizona State in Cowboys Stadium.

Offensively, Notre Dame should be better as Everett Golson has become the clear leader of this team now that Manti Te'o is gone. Defensively, replacing Te'o won't be easy but the defensive line and secondary could actually be better in '13. Does this team run the table in the regular season again in '13? I say no. But one loss, say, to the Wolverines early in the year on the road, won't knock them out of the top five. The Irish will go 11-1, get a another BCS bowl bid and finish justifiably ranked in the top five.
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even though Notre Dame may lose a regular season game or two this year, I think there’s a chance the Fighting Irish are a better overall team in 2013. That may seem strange to say considering Notre Dame made the national championship game last season, but the Fighting Irish are deeper in terms of talent, and quarterback Everett Golson will be better in his second year as the starter.

Linebacker Manti Te’o will be tough to replace, but Notre Dame’s defensive line will be one of the best in the nation, and the secondary is in great shape after allowing only 199.8 passing yards per game in 2012.

Despite being a better team, I don’t think Notre Dame will be ranked in the top-five at the end of the season. Every break seemed to go the Fighting Irish’s way last season, and the schedule features tough road games against Michigan, Stanford and a neutral site affair against Arizona State. Notre Dame will play in a BCS bowl this season, but I think they finish just outside of the top five. 
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
My initial inclination would be to say no, but then again I don't think anyone really predicted the Fighting Irish would run the table in the regular season last fall either. Motivation shouldn't be an issue for this team, considering how poorly Notre Dame performed in the BCS title game, but there will be no lack for competition atop the rankings either.

Starting with defending national champion Alabama, the SEC could have as many as three teams in the top five when you also throw Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M into the mix. Then there's Ohio State and possibly Michigan from the Big 12, Oregon and Stanford from the Pac-12 and Clemson from the ACC. That's without including anyone from the Big 12 (Oklahoma State? Oklahoma?) or a potential dark horse like Louisville from the AAC (former Big East) or Boise State from the MWC that has added a championship game to help improve its BCS profile.

In other words, there are a lot of teams Notre Dame would have to, in essence, climb over to get into the top five in the first place and then stay there. As was the case last year, the Irish do have one thing going for them - their schedule. As an independent, the Irish can largely dictate their own schedule, which because of established rivalries and other factors, is usually pretty strong. This season is no different with the aforementioned Cardinal, Sooners and Wolverines on tap, as well as Pac-12 contender Arizona State, BYU, Michigan State and USC.

It's really quite simple for Brian Kelly and his Irish - win them all (again) and they'll be right back in the BCS mix. Will they accomplish this in 2013? I have my doubts even though starting quarterback Everett Golson should be even better in his second season, and one of the nation's best defenses in 2012 returns eight starters including All-America candidates in linemen Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt.

It's not easy to win every regular-season game once, let alone twice in a row, and let's face it, Notre Dame got several fortuitous bounces and breaks last season on it way to 12-0 by the end of November. I don't see the luck of the Irish in full effect this fall and the strength of the schedule will result in at least one slip up. That doesn't mean Kelly can't lead his team back to a BCS bowl, but I do think the Irish will end up outside of the top five when the regular season ends.

 

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Ranking the Top 10 Teams in Notre Dame History

25 Things to Know from College Football's Spring Practices

Teaser:
<p> Is Notre Dame a Top-Five Team for 2013?</p>
Post date: Monday, May 6, 2013 - 07:40
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Missouri Tigers, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/will-missouri-tigers-make-bowl-2013
Body:

As expected, Missouri found life in the SEC more difficult than the week-to-week grind of the Big 12.

The Tigers had their streak of seven straight winning seasons snapped, slipping to 5-7 and no bowl appearance since the 2004 season.

For Missouri to return to the postseason, the Tigers need a big season from quarterback James Franklin. And a replacement for standout defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson must be found.

The schedule won’t be easy. But Missouri could show improvement in 2013 and return to the postseason after a one-year absence.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May. 

Will the Missouri Tigers Make a Bowl in 2013?

Jon Cooper, lead writer and editor Saturday Down South, (@JonSDS)
Outside of four teams on Missouri’s schedule – Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M, the rest of the eight games are truly winnable. If last year showed us anything, it’s that Missouri should play better on defense than we anticipate. The offense, on the other hand, remains the biggest question mark.

Injuries set the tone for the Tigers’ season before it even got started last year. If they can collectively stay healthy this season, they will make a bowl game. New offensive coordinator Josh Henson comes from a pro-style background, and Missouri’s style of play should be tweaked for the better. It’s hard to even win eight games with a straight spread offense in the SEC with a quarterback not named Johnny Manziel, Cam Newton or Tim Tebow. James Franklin isn’t any of the three, and implementing and tweaking the offense is necessary to even win six games. The good news is that the pieces around Franklin should be better this year, especially in the backfield and at wide receiver.

This is a make-or-break year for Gary Pinkel. He’s on the proverbial hottest seat in the conference entering 2013. Missouri winning six may still result in a bowl game, but it could also part ways with its coach in the process. 
 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Missouri’s long-term prospects of competing in the SEC are iffy, especially now that the East is starting to regain balance with the West. I’m not even sure if a healthy season from James Franklin and Henry Josey will help matters for the Tigers in 2013. For one, a healthy Franklin isn’t assured of keeping his starting job with Maty Mauk gaining ground on the veteran signal caller. Josey had a great season in 2011, but he is coming off major knee surgery. The SEC isn’t always kind to players returning from injury. Throw in the loss of key players at each level of the defense, and I’m skeptical about Missouri being able to get to the six-win mark in the second season in the SEC.


Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Could the postseason fate of the Tigers be decided in a road non-conference trip to Indiana in Week 4? As shocking as that may sound, a win over the Hoosiers is a must for Mizzou to make it to a bowl game. Gary Pinkel's bunch will have to win three SEC games this year if it loses to the much-improved Indiana team and that seems virtually impossible. Crossover play in the league is tough with Texas A&M at home and a road trip to Ole Miss on the schedule, so 2-6 feels like the best case scenario in SEC play. Therefore, it all goes back to the Sept. 21 trip to Bloomington. Should the Tigers lose to IU, there is little chance of making it to a bowl game. I will call for the upset and say Mizzou fails to make it to the postseason for the second consecutive season. 


Mike Mitchell (@MrSEC), MrSEC.com
The 2013 Missouri Tigers could be this year’s version of Mississippi State – a team that starts fast and finishes slow. In both cases, the schedule plays a huge role. Mizzou opens with four non-conference games – Murray State, Toledo, Indiana and Arkansas State.  A 4-0 start is possible, perhaps even likely. But then the brutal reality of SEC play sets in.  Other than the home-road switch, the only other change to this year’s conference schedule is that the Tigers swap out a home game against Alabama for a road contest at Oxford to face a young and improving Ole Miss team.  Missouri will likely be favored against just two opponents, Tennessee and Kentucky, the only two teams the Tigers defeated in the conference last year. With a banged-up offensive line and injured quarterback James Franklin, the Tigers offense never gelled in 2012.  But with better health, the return of running back Henry Josey, who missed all of last season, and perhaps some fresh approaches from new offensive coordinator Josh Henson, the Tigers offense should be better.  But what about the defense?  Last year, the Tigers gave up 41 points to Georgia, 31 to South Carolina, 42 to Alabama and 59 to Texas A&M and that was with star defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, now NFL-bound to the New York Jets.  With a projected 6-6 record, this is a bubble bowl team.  The Tigers should score more points but can the defense stop anybody?


Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even though Missouri loses defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and two key linebackers, I think the Tigers will be a better overall team in 2013. The biggest reason for optimism is quarterback James Franklin, as he should be closer to 100 percent in his second year removed from shoulder surgery. The offense will also get a boost with the return of running back Henry Josey, who missed all of 2012 due to a knee injury. Missouri’s offensive line should have more stability this year, and receiver Dorial Green-Beckham proved this spring he is ready to be the No. 1 receiver.

Even if Missouri is an overall better team in 2013, will it translate to more than five wins? I’m not sure it will. The Tigers should go 4-0 in non-conference play, but Indiana and Toledo won’t be easy outs. Missouri draws an improving Ole Miss team from the West Division in conference play, along with a home date against Texas A&M. The Tigers host Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee but it’s hard to see two wins against that trio. Is pulling an upset against Vanderbilt or winning on the road against Kentucky possible? Absolutely. However, the Wildcats and Commodores are both on the upswing and will be tough to beat.

Gary Pinkel has done a lot of good things at Missouri, but another 5-7 season could spell the end of his tenure in Columbia. The Tigers will be in the mix to get to six wins, but I think another 5-7 season is the most-likely scenario. 
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
Missouri endured a rough introduction into the SEC last season with key injuries only adding to the Tigers' woes. Gary Pinkel's team just missed out on a bowl in 2012 with a 5-7 overall record, but Mizzou also managed just two conference wins. On top of that, these wins came against Kentucky and Tennessee, who went a combined 1-15 in SEC play themselves. So with all of this said, things have to get better in 2013 right?

Maybe, but only if the Tigers make the most of a relatively soft non-conference slate and not slip up against an improving Indiana team in Bloomington or have Toledo or Arkansas State upset them at home. Three wins at minimum by the end of September are crucial to keeping any postseason hopes alive because after that it's all SEC action. Opportunities to beat Kentucky and Tennessee again are there and will need to be capitalized on, but more than likely an upset will be needed to against the likes of Ole Miss or Vanderbilt to get that necessary sixth win.

Missouri's got talent, especially if the Tigers catch a few more breaks on the injury front this season, but I still don't think they have the depth needed to compete in the SEC on a weekly basis. I believe the Tigers will be a better team, especially on offense, in 2013, but unfortunately I don't think it will be enough to get back to the postseason.
 


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Ranking the SEC Head Coaches for 2013

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Teaser:
<p> Will the Missouri Tigers Make a Bowl in 2013?</p>
Post date: Friday, May 3, 2013 - 07:40
Path: /college-football/boise-state-or-fresno-state-who-wins-mountain-west-2013
Body:

Three teams tied for the Mountain West title last season, but with the addition of Utah State and San Jose State, determining a conference champion will much easier in 2013.

With 12 teams, the Mountain West will hold a conference title game in early December, which should add plenty of intrigue for the league this year.

Boise State and Fresno State are the frontrunners to win the Mountain West in 2013. The Broncos return only nine starters, but Chris Petersen’s team always reloads. The Bulldogs lost by 10 points at Boise State in 2012 but return All-Mountain West quarterback Derek Carr, along with a talented group of receivers.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May. 

Boise State or Fresno State: Who Wins the Mountain West in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
What was supposed to be a down year for Boise State still yielded an 11-2 season, a share of the Mountain West title and a pair of losses by a combined six points. Oh man, what a let down. Meanwhile, Fresno State’s best season in in five years still produced a share of the MWC title, but a 10-point loss to Boise State and another puzzling bowl loss. The Broncos have won every meeting in this series since 2005, and although the gap is closing, there’s no reason to mess with Boise State’s track record. As one would expect, first-year starting quarterback Joe Southwick improved as the season went along, with an efficiency rating 15 points higher in his final five games compared to the first eight. After throwing nine touchdowns and six interceptions in the first two months of the season, he had a 10-to-1 ratio in the final two. Boise State will have some questions on defense, especially against the pass. That could be problematic against Derek Carr and Fresno State on the road in September or a potential MWC title game, but I still like Boise State’s defensive front with Demarcus Lawrence and Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe leading the way.
 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Boise State's two-point home loss to San Diego State was the deciding game in the Mountain West last season. It created a three-way tie between the Aztecs, Broncos and Bulldogs after Boise State slipped past Fresno State 20-10 at home. Boise State, behind leadership of second-year starter Joe Southwick, looks to be improved from a year ago and won't lose another league game in 2013 like it did against SDSU last fall. It will, however, have to visit Fresno State early in the year (Week 4) and the outcome of that game will likely decide the conference crown. Fresno State has an elite quarterback in Derek Carr and gets the game at home, but the rest of the team isn't as deep or talented as Boise, so I will take the Broncos to win the MWC for the second time in as many tries.
 

Jeremy Mauss, Mountain West Connection, (@JeremyMauss)
Based off of history, it is easy to say Boise State should win the Mountain West this year, and particularly against Fresno State who has always struggled against the Broncos. However, this year things look to be different for Fresno State as they have quarterback Derek Carr who is one of the nation's best, plus they have wide receiver Davante Adams who had 102 catches as a freshman as well as Isaiah Burse. That pair should be the best in the Mountain West.

A few of the concerns for Fresno State is that they lose All-Mountain West running back Robbie Rouse, and he will likely be replaced by BYU transfer Josh Quezada who was a three-star recruit in his own right coming out of high school. Also, their offensive line takes a hit by losing a pair of multi-year starters, but they do have some experience returners with five players who saw significant time or started this past year.

Getting Boise State at home is the first step in winning the Mountain West title, because a win would mean that Fresno State would likely host the conference title game. For Fresno State to win the title they will have to defeat Boise State for the first time since 2005, and also gave the Broncos two conference loses for the first time in over a decade. If this Fresno State team does not win the title it may be a long time before they do.


Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
It’s very tempting to pick Fresno State, but it’s hard to see Boise State losing the Mountain West in 2013. The Bulldogs’ only defeat in conference play last season came against the Broncos, losing 20-10 in Boise. Fresno State returns most of its core, including All-Mountain West quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Davante Adams. The defense will miss linebacker Travis Brown and safety Phillip Thomas, but nine starters are back from a unit that ranked 22nd nationally in yards allowed.

Boise State had a rebuilding season last year, yet still finished 11-2 overall and 7-1 in Mountain West games. A handful of key players are departing, but the Broncos should still end up as conference champs. Quarterback Joe Southwick will be more comfortable in his second year under center, and running back Jay Ajayi is a rising star. The front seven should be solid, but the secondary is a question mark with the departure of cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins.

If there’s a reason to pick Fresno State, it’s Boise State’s weakness in the secondary, along with a Sept. 20 home date against the Broncos. Considering the winner of that matchup could end up with homefield advantage in the conference title game, it’s crucial for Fresno State to win the early season matchup. Despite the reasons to like the Bulldogs, I still think Boise State claims the Mountain West title in 2013.  
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
Both Boise State and Fresno State are similar in that they are led by experienced quarterbacks who direct productive offenses, but also have defenses who can get the job done. I fully expect both teams to win their respective divisions in the new-look Mountain West this season, with Boise State reaching the apex of the Mountain Division and Fresno State showing its the best of the West Division.

Even though the Bulldogs are returning more starters (16 compared to Boise State's 9) and have a potential Heisman Trophy contender in quarterback Derek Carr, I still think the Broncos' overall talent and track record under head coach Chris Petersen will win out. Boise State Petersen is 51-4 in conference play (five seasons in the WAC, last two in the MWC) as the Broncos' head coach, which includes five outright or shared conference titles in seven seasons.

It's tough for me to pick against that type of sustained success, although Fresno State will get its chance to send a strong message when it hosts Boise on Sept. 20. Regardless of how the opening round goes, I'll take the Broncos to claim the contest that really counts - the MWC championship game on Dec. 7.
 

Related College Football Content

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Teaser:
<p> Boise State or Fresno State: Who Wins the Mountain West in 2013?</p>
Post date: Friday, May 3, 2013 - 07:35
Path: /college-football/which-team-will-win-pac-12-south-2013
Body:

The power in the Pac-12 is clearly titled to the North Division, which should have Oregon and Stanford ranked among the top-10 in most preseason polls.

The South Division lacks a top-15 team but four squads will be in the mix for the conference title.

UCLA is the back-to-back champion of the South Division. Arizona State and Arizona are headed in the right direction under second-year coaches, while USC has far too much talent to be finishing 7-6 each season.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May. 

Which Team Will Win the Pac-12 South in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
UCLA would be my favorite in the South, but we learned last year the Bruins can’t beat Stanford. Never mind defeating Oregon and Stanford in back-to-back weeks. What might be the best team in the South could be out of it by the end of October thanks to a brutal schedule. By default, the pick is Arizona State, the fewest major flaws and a team with a solid coach, no matter what you think of Todd Graham. As long as an early season schedule which includes a road trip to Stanford and games against Wisconsin and Notre Dame don’t take their toll on Arizona State. The Sun Devils are the pick here.


Kyle Kensing, Editor at SaturdayBlitz.com, (@kensing45)
Arizona State is primed for a run to the South division crown, and a Pac-12 championship appearance. The Sun Devils became the odds-on favorite for me when tackle Will Sutton eschewed the NFL draft. He is one of the best defensive lineman in the country and sets the tone for the No. 2 sacking defense last year. Linebacker Carl Bradford is another potential All-American keying the defensive side, while dual-threat quarterback Taylor Kelly settled into his role by season's end.

ASU put up a surprising 38.4 points per game -- only Oregon was more prolific among Pac-12 teams. Perhaps most importantly, the Sun Devils look like the only South team without glaring questions marks: USC is still paper thin, UCLA must replace its record-setting running back, and Arizona is replacing star quarterback Matt Scott while trying to solve its defensive woes. 
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
UCLA is the back-to-back champion of the Pac-12 South and returns most of its core, so it’s hard to pick against the Bruins. However, I think UCLA will be dethroned this year, as Arizona State is my pick to claim the division title in Todd Graham’s second season in Tempe.

The Sun Devils nearly won the South Division last year but a 45-43 defeat to UCLA in late October was just enough for the Bruins to play Stanford in the conference championship. Graham made a big difference in Tempe last season, as Arizona State cut down on the bad mental mistakes that plagued this team under Dennis Erickson and ranked in the top 30 of total offense and defense. Both units are in great shape for 2013, as the offense returns quarterback Taylor Kelly, one of the nation’s top running back duos in Marion Grice and DJ Foster, along with an offensive line that returns three starters. The defense has room to improve, but this unit can only get better with Will Sutton turning down the NFL for one more year in Tempe, along with the return of seven other starters.

In addition to the returning talent on both sides of the ball, Arizona State’s schedule is very favorable. Yes, the Sun Devils have to play at UCLA, but the other teams in contention for the South title – USC and Arizona – both come to Sun Devil Stadium. Also, Arizona State does not play Oregon in crossover play and hosts Oregon State and Washington in games with the North Division. 
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
An argument can be made for either California team (UCLA, USC) or either Arizona team (Arizona, Arizona State) to win the Pac-12 South this season. That's what happens when a team like USC, which was pretty much everyone's preseason national champion last fall, goes 7-6 and ends up in the Sun Bowl, not the BCS title game.

Can UCLA make it two division titles in a row for second-year coach Jim Mora Jr.? The Bruins have the quarterback in Brett Hundley, but gone is running back Johnathan Franklin and several other starters on both sides of the ball. Then there's the schedule, which is pretty brutal. Of the four South teams mentioned, UCLA is the only one that has to play both Oregon and Stanford from the North. And both of these games are on the road, as is a non-conference tilt with Nebraska and divisional games against Arizona and USC.

Speaking of the other team from Los Angeles, USC is trying to pick up the pieces from last season's debacle, but will have to do so without quarterback Matt Barkley and wide receiver Robert Woods, among others. Talent has never been an issue for the Trojans, but if last season showed us anything, it's that talent's not enough. I expect Lane Kiffin's crew to be better in 2013, but not division champion-caliber.

Out in the desert, Rich Rodriguez has Arizona fans excited about football thanks to a high-octane offense powered by the nation's leading rusher in 2012, Ka'Deem Carey. Quarterback, however, is a bit of a question mark with the departure of Matt Scott and even though every starter returns on defense, this is a unit that has a long ways to go (last in the Pac-12, No. 118 in the nation in yards allowed in 2012). Don't be surprised to see the Wildcats involved in a bunch of high-scoring affairs this fall.

No, my pick to reign supreme in the South is the Sun Devils. Todd Graham appears to have something brewing in Tempe and it could all come together in 2013. The offense is led by quarterback Taylor Kelly and a collection of productive backs and receivers. The defense has All-American lineman Will Sutton and seven other starters back. The Sun Devils were second only to Stanford last year in the Pac-12 in total defense and could be even better this season if they can improve against the run (182.9 ypg, 10th).

Arizona State will get a chance to show how good they are early with Wisconsin coming to Tempe on Sept. 14 followed by consecutive games against Stanford (road), USC and Notre Dame (both home). If the Sun Devils can navigate this part without too much difficulty, they should be in good shape as the sledding gets much easier with both Arizona and USC at home. I think Arizona State, true to its nickname, will "rise" to the occasion in 2013 and finish atop the Pac-12 South standings.

 

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Teaser:
<p> Which Team Will Win the Pac-12 South in 2013?</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 2, 2013 - 07:22
Path: /college-football/which-team-will-win-big-12-2013
Body:

Unpredictable is the best word to sum up the Big 12 heading into the 2013 season.

The defending Big 12 champs (Kansas State) lost several key pieces, including quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown. However, it’s hard to bet against Bill Snyder.

Texas seems to be on the right track after going 9-4 last year. But is the defense capable of turning things around after a disappointing 2012 campaign?

Oklahoma loses quarterback Landry Jones and is short on bodies on the defensive line, but the Sooners can’t be counted out of the title picture.

Oklahoma State and TCU could have the most upside of any of the teams in the conference and will be popular selections at the top of the league for 2013.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout May. 

Which Team Will Win the Big 12 in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Oklahoma State says it doesn’t know who will be the quarterback when the season starts, but even if you take that at face value (not saying that I do), there’s still more of a comfort level with the Cowboys quarterbacks than there was a year ago. Mike Gundy has good reason to feel comfortable with any of his QBs - Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh or Wes Lunt - to win their share of games in a watered-down Big 12. Oklahoma State lost its last three road games last season - Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas State - but the Cowboys comeback with more experience at QB and a veteran-laden defense. As much as I don’t want to pick against Oklahoma, a team that finds a way to win the Big 12 time and time again, or Texas, which should rebound, I’m sticking with Oklahoma State. Gundy went 8-5 in a year in which everyone thought the Cowboys would struggle and on top of that Okie State had a revolving door at quarterback. He’s a coach you can trust.
 

Allen Kenney, @BlatantHomerism, BlatantHomerism.com
Once dominated by its power programs, the Big 12 has morphed into possibly the most competitive conference in the country. Pound for pound, the Big 12 might have the best collection of coaches around, and with Oklahoma and Texas sliding back to the pack, the door has been cracked open for some of the league's upstarts to sneak in and grab the conference crown.

I really think you're talking about as many as five teams in contention to win the league this year: Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma, TCU and Oklahoma State. Ultimately, I'm betting it comes down to the Horned Frogs and Cowboys.

Gary Patterson's TCU team might be the best in the conference. The Horned Frogs have a defense led by defensive lineman Devonte Fields that is well-suited to slowing down the rocket-powered offenses in the Big 12. The bigger news is on the other side of the ball, where talented quarterback Casey Pachall returns to give TCU some offensive firepower.

I make the Cowboys the favorite this year, though. OSU went 7-5 in the 2012 regular, but the Cowboys lost close games to Baylor, Texas and OU. They also had a bizarre meltdown against Arizona that could be chalked up to inexperience.

The Pokes bring back the majority of their key performers from a season ago, including three quarterbacks who can win games. Yet, the biggest advantage OSU has is the schedule. Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU all come to Stillwater this fall. I expect that will tip the scales in favor of Mike Gundy's squad.


Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Big 12 is the toughest BCS conference to predict in 2013. There’s no clear frontrunner, as a case could be made that four teams are deserving of the No. 1 spot. And if Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and TCU are the top four favorites, Baylor and Kansas State aren’t far behind. A big reason for the unpredictability is the turnover at quarterback. Of the six teams mentioned above, three lost their starter, and Oklahoma State, Texas and TCU entered the offseason with some uncertainty under center.

Although Oklahoma State has some holes to fill, I like the Cowboys to win the Big 12 title in 2013. Mike Gundy’s team went 8-5 last season in a rebuilding year, and even though he hasn’t started a full year, Clint Chelf should be one of the Big 12’s top quarterbacks in 2013. The skill players are loaded with talent, including running back Jeremy Smith and receiver Josh Stewart. The biggest concern is a defense that is thin on proven ends and needs it secondary to play better after ranking 110th nationally against the pass last year.

While the Cowboys are in great shape personnel-wise, the schedule is one of the biggest reasons to pick Mike Gundy's team as the Big 12 favorite. Oklahoma State gets Kansas State, TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma at home. The Cowboys have to play Texas and Texas Tech on the road, but it seems two or three Big 12 losses may win the conference.

I have a hard time seeing any of the Big 12 teams being ranked inside of the top-10 in most preseason polls this year. However, this could be one of the most-competitive leagues in the nation with six teams having a shot to win the conference crown. 
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
In the Big 12, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas appear to be the likeliest contenders. Oklahoma will be breaking in a new quarterback, Oklahoma State has three solid ones to choose from, TCU could turn its offense back over to its former starter and Texas is hoping for more consistent production out of its signal caller.

That said, it shouldn't be that surprising that I am leaning towards the Cowboys or Horned Frogs to win the conference this season. Mike Gundy has built a consistent winner in Stillwater, Okla., and the same can be said for Gary Patterson in Forth Worth, Texas, who has show everyone that his Frogs belong in one of the so-called power conferences.

Oklahoma State's offense should be among the nation's most productive, but this team will only get as far as its defense, which returns seven starters, takes them. On the other hand, TCU's offense could be pretty potent in its own right with former starter Casey Pachall poised to reclaim the quarterback job and enough weapons returning in the backfield and at receiver. The difference between these two could be on defense. TCU returns nine starters from a defense that finished first or second in the Big 12 in total, scoring and rushing defense last season.

My only concerns when it comes to TCU is that the Frogs are still relatively new to the rigors of the Big 12 and their schedule. TCU opens the season against LSU in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and will play both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State on the road, as well as Kansas State. The Cowboys have a difficult season-opener of their own (vs. Mississippi State in Houston), but their toughest road conference games are against West Virginia and the Longhorns. TCU won't go down without a fight, but I think Gundy and the Cowboys lasso another Big 12 title this fall.
 

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Teaser:
<p> Which Team Will Win the Big 12 in 2013?</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 2, 2013 - 07:22
Path: /college-football/michigan-favorite-2013-legends-division-title
Body:

With four teams battling for the top spot, the Legends Division should be one of the most competitive title races in college football this season.

Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Northwestern each have a strong case to be ranked No. 1 in the division next year, but each team is chasing Ohio State in the overall Big Ten standings.

Nebraska claimed the division title last season, but the Cornhuskers enter 2013 with significant question marks on defense. Nebraska isn’t the only team dealing with its share of preseason issues, as Michigan has holes to fill on the offensive line and developing more skill players for quarterback Devin Gardner, Northwestern must replace a couple of key performers from its offensive line, and Michigan State has to develop consistency on offense after averaging only 20 points a game last season.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Is Michigan the Favorite for the 2013 Legends Division Title?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Michigan is a favorite in the Legends, but not the runaway favorite Ohio State is in the Leaders Division. Let’s not forget Nebraska won this division a year ago thanks to a 23-9 win over Michigan. I understand this was a game in which Denard Robinson got hurt before halftime, but Nebraska’s defense was a mess last season. Michigan managed only two field goals with Robinson and then a third thereafter with Russell Bellamy, not Devin Gardner, throwing three interceptions. The Wolverines should continue to improve, but we’re all assuming Gardner is going to be a standout player through the course of the season. What if he’s not? Nebraska has the more proven offense that led the league in rushing and total offense. I don’t think Northwestern is out of the Legends Division race, either. In other words, I’ll pick Michigan, but there are too many other things that could happen to make it a slam dunk.
 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Just because I think Michigan is the frontrunner in the Legends Division doesn't make them my pick to win it. Brady Hoke enters his third season with a quarterback that finally fits his system in Devin Gardner. Getting Taylor Lewan back to protect the blindside helps in a big way as well. That said, there are still minor questions along the line, in the running game and outside at wide receiver. The defense continues to evolve under Hoke, going from fourth in the Big Ten in total defense to second a year ago. There is a lot to like about the Maize and Blue and the odds will favor the Wolverines to win the Division this fall, however, the schedule is downright nasty. Home games with Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State will be brutal while road trips to Penn State, Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa won't be easy. Meanwhile, Nebraska features the league's best offense and won't have to play Ohio State or Wisconsin in crossover play. With two fairly evenly matched teams led by two electric senior quarterbacks, this division should be one of the most entertaining to watch all season long. A home win or loss against Ohio State in the season finale will likely determine if Michigan heads to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis or not.
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Northwestern all have legitimate Legends Division title hopes. But even though the Wolverines are a team with plenty of question marks, I like Brady Hoke’s team to win the division in 2013.

With only 11 starters returning, Hoke and his staff have some work to do this preseason. Quarterback Devin Gardner is a rising star, and the offense caught a break when tackle Taylor Lewan decided to turn down the NFL for his senior year in Ann Arbor. The biggest question mark for Michigan’s offense has to be skill players. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint is coming off a broken leg, which should open the door for true freshman Derrick Green to make an instant impact. Jeremy Gallon was a big-play threat last year, but the Wolverines need to develop more playmakers on the outside. The interior of the offensive line is an issue with only two starters returning.

Although linebacker Jake Ryan may miss the season with a torn ACL, I think Michigan’s defense will rank near the top of the Big Ten once again. Finding a pass rusher to replace Craig Roh is coordinator Greg Mattison’s top spring priority, but the return of cornerback Blake Countess from a torn ACL - and the emergence of linebacker James Ross III  - that should be enough to withstand Ryan’s injury and the lack of a proven edge rusher.

The Big Ten schedule is challenging, especially with road dates at Penn State, Michigan State and Northwestern and a home matchup against Ohio State in the regular season finale. Considering how competitive the Big Ten Legends Division will be in 2013, two or three conference losses could win the division. In terms of overall record, Michigan could finish 9-3 and play Ohio State once again in the Big Ten title for a chance to play in the Rose Bowl.
 

Kevin McGuire, No2MinuteWarning.com andNittanyLionsDen.com(@KevinonCFB)
Michigan is quite an interesting team in the Big Ten in 2013. They lose a good chunk of starters on both sides of the football, including a good portion of the offensive line and that concerns me in a year when the offense may be short on skill player depth. But the offense should have a new look this year and for that I think the Wolverines will be better suited to make a run to Indianapolis.  They must get back to basics on offense and trim down on the turnovers after finsihing 10th in the Big Ten in turnover differential in 2012. If they can establish a healthy ground game with a healthy Fitzgerald Toussaint and incoming stud freshman Derrick Green to take the pressure off of quarterback Devin Gardner, the Wolverines should be able to pick up a number of wins.  But are they the favorite?

I look at Michigan's schedule and I see some tough hurdles to get by, highlighted by a home game in the regular season finale against an Ohio State team I expect to conference's best. Michigan also gets their next toughest game in conference play at home, against Nebraska. Michigan also plays at Penn State in October. But there be no team in the Big Ten playing a more brutal November schedule. Road games at Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa combined with the home games against the Buckeyes and Cornhuskers means if Michigan comes out on top of the Legends Division, they will undoubtedly have earned it.
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
There are four teams in the discussion when it comes to contenders in the Legends Division - Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Northwestern. Sorry, Iowa and Minnesota fans, not this year. The first team I am eliminating is the Spartans. As much as I like that defense, I think MSU will struggle on offense, as there are questions at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. The offensive line should be solid, but last time I checked they don't throw, run or catch the football.

Next on my chopping block is Northwestern. I really want to like this team more, as I am big fan of coach Pat Fitzgerald, but the Wildcats drew a tough conference slate this season. Not only do they play both Ohio State and Wisconsin from the Leaders division, these two games are in a row. Northwestern should make it six straight bowl bids with no problem, but I don't foresee a trip to the Big Ten championship game in its future, at least not in 2013.

That leaves us with Michigan and Nebraska. Both the Wolverines and Cornhuskers have potent offenses led by dual-threat quarterbacks. And while Nebraska's Taylor Martinez clearly has the experience advantage over Michigan's Devin Gardner, who is entering his first season as the full-time starter, I think Gardner is better suited for the type of offense Wolverine head coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges want to run. If the Maize and Blue can find a reliable running game, I think Gardner could put up some decent numbers through the air.

As far as the respective defenses go, Michigan's has quickly developed into one of Big Ten's best under coordinator Greg Mattison. The Wolverines lost some key pieces from last year's unit, which finished second in the conference and 13th in the nation in total defense, but the cupboard is far from bare with young talent ready to step up. On the other hand, Nebraska loses all but one starter from last season's front seven, which struggled at times against the run (192.5 ypg) in 2012. The secondary should be one of the best in the Big Ten, but I'm not as confident in the other levels of the Cornhuskers' defense.

There's also this - Michigan hosts Nebraska at the Big House on Nov. 9. While I'm typically inclined to take the home team in these types of matchups, that's especially the case here because of who will be walking the sidelines. At home or on the road, I'll take Hoke over Nebraska's Bo Pelini when it comes to head coaches. That's why I think Michigan fans will have plenty of reasons to head to Indianapolis in early December.


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Teaser:
<p> Is Michigan the Favorite for the 2013 Legends Division Title?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 - 07:34
Path: /college-football/which-team-favorite-win-acc-coastal-2013
Body:

Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Miami all finished 5-3 in ACC play last season, making the Coastal Division one of the tightest races in college football.

Another close division battle should be expected in 2013, as all three 5-3 teams from last season, and Virginia Tech could make a case to be picked first.

Clemson is the heavy favorite to win the ACC this season, but all four challengers from the Coastal Division will try to crack the top 25, along with improving their win total from the previous year. 

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Which Team is the Favorite to Win the ACC Coastal in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
It really seems like tempting fate to pick against Virginia Tech given the Hokies track record. But I like Miami this season even though the Hurricanes face Florida State on the road (North Carolina and Virginia Tech miss Atlantic favorites Florida State and Clemson, Georgia Tech faces Clemson only). With Stephen Morris at quarterback, Duke Johnson at running back and a strong offensive line, Miami should have the most dynamic offense in the ACC other than Syracuse. The defense is a concern after giving up 6.1 yards per play, but the Hurricanes should be optimistic this side of the ball is going to get better. Guys like Anthony Chickillo need to play to their potential, and Miami’s top-10 signing class from 2012 needs to come into its own. Al Golden has done a great job holding the program together despite the cloud of sanctions. This seems as good a time as any to take the next step.
 

Jim Young, (@ACCSports), ACCSports.com
Might as well ask what one hand clapping sounds like. There are four teams - Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech - who can all reasonably expect to make a run at the Coastal Division crown. I'm not sold on any of them, so I'll go by process of elimination. While Larry Fedora's offenses typically take off in year two, the Tar Heels' defense needs a TON of work and Bryn Renner will miss the three offensive linemen recently taken in the NFL draft. Virginia Tech's finally making changes on offense, but that could result in some early struggles that might make playing at Georgia Tech and then against UNC too much to handle. Georgia Tech? There's a lot to like here, particularly if you think that the Yellow Jackets might actually be able to pass some with Vad Lee. But the schedule makers did Paul Johnson no favors. So Miami, the last team standing here, is my pick to win. Stephen Morris, Duke Johnson and ... I mean, that defense has to get better ... right?


Ryan Tice (@RyanTice), TheWolfpacker.com
It’s always hard to predict who will win a division title in April, especially in the ACC, and the Coastal Division is a toss-up. Every team has at least one major question mark, and while there are some nice pieces, there is no runaway favorite. Miami returns a division-best 20 starters, and they face just seven teams that were bowl eligible last season, but I also expect Virginia Tech to rebound from last season. The team that recorded last year’s best record, North Carolina (8-4), is also lurking but they return just 14 starters on offense and defense, and must replace the majority of their marquee weapons. If I have to gamble on one of those, I think the safest bet is banking on Frank Beamer finding a way to get it done once again at Virginia Tech behind a strong defense, but that will require a bounce back campaign from quarterback Logan Thomas.
 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This will be the most entertaining and wide-open division in all of college football. Four teams have a legitimate case to be the frontrunner in 2013 and five of the six were bowl eligible a year ago. North Carolina will score a bunch of points but has loads of talent to replace. Georgia Tech will be a tough out as usual, and Vad Lee could be an upgrade at quarterback, but this team may not have the upside of some of Paul Johnson's past teams. That leaves the talented but turnover prone Logan Thomas and the Hokies battling with the underrated Stephen Morris and the Hurricanes for top billing. The schedules are fairly even as both miss Clemson and Virginia Tech avoids Florida State in crossover play. The division crown could be decided Nov. 9 in South Florida when Tech visits Miami, possibly giving the Canes a small edge. Al Golden's team improved in his first offseason and tied for the division crown a year ago with a starting lineup stacked with freshmen and sophomores. There is no reason to believe this team won't continue to improve under his leadership in 2013. Meanwhile, there was a lot of turnover on the coaching staff in Blacksburg after the program took a major step back last fall. Give me The U to win the Coastal.
 

Anson Whaley, Founder and Editor of Cardiac Hill@AnsonWhaley
The ACC Coastal Division is wide open as far as I'm concerned and I could see any number of teams winning it. If my hand is forced, I'll take Miami, though. They return most of their offensive starters and quarterback Stephen Morris shook off some early jitters and played incredibly well down the stretch (12 TDs against only one interception in his last five games). And with running back Duke Johnson, the ACC Rookie of the Year, I can see them putting up a lot of points. The concern, obviously, is the defense. The unit was lackluster (okay, they were bad) in 2012 and I'm not sure it gets much better this fall. But I like what the offense can do and as long as the defense isn't horrendous, I could see Miami winning the division.
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
A strong case could be made that four teams – Miami, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Georgia Tech – have a legitimate case to win the Coastal. While this division battle should be entertaining to watch as it unfolds during the year, I’m not sold that any of these teams should be ranked inside of the top 25 in preseason polls.

Although I’m not convinced the defense will be much better, I have to go with Miami as my pick to win the Coastal Division. The Hurricanes went 2-1 against the other three challengers, with a four-point defeat to North Carolina in early October. New offensive coordinator James Coley doesn’t have much experience calling the plays, but he has plenty of talent to work with, including rising star Duke Johnson at running back, quarterback Stephen Morris, one of the ACC’s top offensive lines and a solid receiving corps. Miami’s schedule isn’t particularly overwhelming, as it misses Clemson and hosts Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

Al Golden has Miami moving in the right direction, and the Hurricanes are my pick to win another tight, competitive race in the Coastal. 
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
I may be the contrarian in this debate, but I am going to take North Carolina over Miami in the Coastal this year, with Virginia Tech lurking. The Hokies are the hardest team in the division to get a handle on at this point because while the defense should be pretty solid, the offense is working under a new coordinator and the early results from the spring game were less than encouraging.

That leaves us with the Tar Heels and the Hurricanes, both of which tied Georgia Tech for the best record (5-3) in the Coastal last season, but also were ineligible for the postseason, which is why the Yellow Jackets went to Charlotte to play Florida State in the ACC championship game. Both UNC and UM lost key personnel from last year's team, but they also each return quite a bit of talent and experience, so there's no reason to not expect similar, if not better, results from these two teams this fall.

Carolina's offense should be just as explosive and productive this season even without All-ACC running back Giovani Bernard because quarterback Bryn Renner is back and he won't lack for weapons. And as poorly as the defense may have played at times last season (namely in the Tar Heels' 68-50 blowout loss to the Yellow Jackets), statistically it still finished in the top half of the ACC in just about every major category.

The same cannot be said, the Hurricanes' defense, which ended up near the bottom of these same conference rankings. With a year of experience in coordinator Dan Disch's unique 4-2-5 system, I fully expect the Tar Heels, with seven returning starters, to be better on defense. Miami returns just five starters on that side of the ball and let's face it, they have farther to go in terms of improvement than Carolina when you look at last year's performances.

Don't get me wrong, the Hurricanes' offense should be pretty good in its own right, especially with All-America candidate Duke Johnson in the backfield, but this unit will be under the direction of a new coordinator, as James Coley comes over from in-state rival Florida State to replace Jedd Fisch. Miami returns nine starters on offense, but the experience factor could be somewhat tempered by the adjustment and acclimation period associated with a reworked coaching staff.

The other reason I like Carolina over Miami is because of their respective ACC schedules. With the addition of Pittsburgh (Coastal) and Syracuse (Atlantic) to the conference, division teams play just two crossover opponents. The Tar Heels will host Boston College and make the short trip to Raleigh to play in-state rival NC State from the Atlantic, while the Hurricanes get Wake Forest and will go to Tallahassee to face the Seminoles. I think it's fair to say advantage Tar Heels here, right? Also, and perhaps the clincher, if you will, is the fact that UNC will host Miami in Chapel Hill on Oct. 17. That Thursday night game may still be early as it relates to the calendar, but it very well could decide who wins the  division. I'll take the Tar Heels at home in the middle of October and to represent the Coastal in Charlotte in December. That is, unless the Hokies get their offensive act together by the fall.
 

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Teaser:
<p> Which Team is the Favorite to Win the ACC Coastal in 2013?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - 07:25
Path: /news/kansas-states-tyler-lockett-makes-crazy-juggling-grab-spring-game
Body:

Spring practice and final scrimmages aren’t always the most exciting part of college football, but there are a few noteworthy highlights each year.

Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett provided one of those moments on Saturday, as the junior was targeted by quarterback Daniel Sams in the back of the end zone. However, the ball was tipped by the safety, which resulted in Lockett bouncing it twice off his hands before catching it for a touchdown.

Lockett is one of college football's most dangerous return men, but now he can add this impressive highlight reel to his resume. 

Teaser:
<p> Kansas State's Tyler Lockett Makes Crazy, Juggling Grab in Spring Game</p>
Post date: Monday, April 29, 2013 - 08:05
Path: /college-football/ranking-secs-running-backs-2013
Body:

Eddie Lacy, Mike Gillislee and Zac Stacy are gone, but the SEC isn’t hurting for options at running back.

Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon are back after standout freshman seasons. And both players are due for a bigger workload in 2013.

Mississippi State’s LaDarius Perkins quietly rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, while Texas A&M’s Ben Malena is an underrated option in a deep stable of backs.

This group could get even deeper in 2013, especially if Missouri’s Henry Josey returns full strength from a knee injury.

College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top running backs in each conference. Note: Some projection of 2013 stats was considered for this ranking.

Ranking the SEC Running Backs for 2013

1. Todd Gurley, Georgia (SO)
The 6-foot-1, 218-pound sophomore from Tarboro (N.C.) High is anything but the vibe his surname portrays. The physical monster stepped right into the lineup as a freshman and made fans in Athens forget all about dismissed SEC Freshman of the Year Isaiah Crowell. Gurley was just the second UGA freshman to top 1,000 yards (1,385) and set the freshman school record with 17 touchdowns. He has the power to plow through the interior of SEC defenses and the speed to outrun SEC linebackers and safeties. He even returned kicks at times last year, scoring on an NCAA-record 100-yard return in his first career game.
 

2. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama (SO)
With Eddie Lacy moving on to the NFL, it’s Yeldon’s turn to be the premier back for Alabama. As a true freshman last season, he recorded 1,108 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns on 175 attempts. Yeldon posted back-to-back 100-yard efforts to end the season, including 153 on the ground in the SEC Championship Game victory over Georgia. Alabama has some holes to fill on the offensive line, and a cast of talented freshmen will join the team this summer. However, Yeldon is poised to easily surpass last year’s totals as he assumes the feature back role in 2013.
 

3. Jeremy Hill, LSU (SO)
Due to a recent arrest, Hill’s No. 3 ranking is in doubt. While the sophomore is one of the SEC’s most-talented rushers, there’s a good chance he misses some game action this year. Hill barely played through the first six weeks of 2012, with his best performance coming against Idaho – 61 yards and two touchdowns. However, Hill emerged as LSU’s top back in the second half of the season, recording three consecutive 100-yard efforts in SEC play and finishing with 124 yards and two touchdowns against Clemson. Against Alabama, Hill rushed for 107 yards and one score. If he’s on the field this year, Hill is a safe bet to earn All-SEC honors.
 

4. Keith Marshall, Georgia (SO)
The complementary piece to Gurley in the Georgia backfield is fellow sophomore Keith Marshall. Also from the Tar Heel State — Raleigh's Millbrook High School — Marshall competed against Gurley on the football field and on the track team in high school. His speed played immediately in the SEC, rushing for 759 yards and eight scores as the primary backup in Athens. He will stretch the defense to the sidelines and can score on any play. Packaged with Gurley, the Dawgs may boast the best backfield in the nation.
 

5. LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State (SR)
The senior tailback from Greenville (Miss.) St. Joseph burst onto the scene in Starkville with 101 carries and 566 yards as a freshman. He provided an excellent change of pace option behind Vick Ballard and on special teams until last season when he finally got the chance to start full-time. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound speedster blossomed into one of the league’s better backs, rushing for 1,024 yards on 5.0 yards per carry and scoring 10 total touchdowns. He is a great fit in Dan Mullen’s spread offense and should once again reach 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns in 2013.
 

6. Ben Malena, Texas A&M (SR)
Malena may not have the numbers that T.J. Yeldon or Todd Gurley will produce, but the senior has the talent to rank among the best running backs in the SEC. In his first full season as a starter, Malena rushed for 808 yards and eight scores on 138 attempts. He also factored into the passing attack, catching 18 passes for 111 yards and one touchdown. For a running back that is only 5-foot-8, Malena has surprising power and averaged 5.9 yards per carry in 2012. Malena will share time with Tra Carson, Brandon Williams and Trey Williams, but the senior is one of the SEC’s top backs.
 

7. Jeff Scott, Ole Miss (SR)
A dynamic South Florida prospect from Miami has watched his production slowly improve year after year. The tiny tailback — 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds — has increased his carries, yards and touchdowns for three straight seasons, but has yet to explode into the spotlight. With Hugh Freeze’s new offense spreading the ball around, Scott may never be a true workhorse, but will certainly be the most experienced and dependable runner in the crowded Ole Miss backfield.
 

8. Marlin Lane, Tennessee (JR)
If disciplinary reasons do not get in the way, Lane could be in for a breakout junior season. The Daytona Beach (Fla.) Mainland prospect is shifty, fast and tough at the point of attack. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry a year ago and was less than 50 yards away from leading the team. The 5-foot-11, 205-pounder is the better overall player than Raijon Neal but the duo should work perfectly in tandem behind what should be one of the nation’s best offensive lines. Again, if he is reinstated (which seems likely) and can walk the straight and narrow.
 

9. Rajion Neal, Tennessee (SR)
The senior from Fayetteville (Ga.) Sandy Creek had his best season last fall as a Vol. He led the team in rushing with 708 yards and five touchdowns while providing support as a receiver. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound tailback never separated himself from Marlin Lane, however, and will have to split time with Lane, his backfield mate in 2013. If he can play with more consistency, dependability and toughness, he could have a big year behind a great O-line.
 

10. Tre Mason, Auburn (JR)
Mason was one of the lone bright spots on Auburn’s offense last season. After rushing for 161 yards and one touchdown as a true freshman in 2011, Mason rushed for 1,002 yards and eight scores last season. He didn’t record a 100-yard effort in SEC play, averaging 59.1 yards per game. Cameron Artis-Payne will split time with Mason, but the junior could rush for 1,000 yards once again in 2013.


11. Wesley Tate, Vanderbilt (SR)
A local product from Hendersonville (Tenn.) Pope John Paul II, Tate enters his final season on West End with a chance to be a star. The big (6-1, 215) running back was No. 2 on the team behind Zac Stacy in carries (107) and touchdowns (8) and was given important carries throughout the season in key situations. He will battle with former star recruit Brian Kimbrow for carries all season long but is much better suited to be the workhorse James Franklin wants. After playing multiple positions throughout his career at Vandy, Tate is finally settled as a running back and could have a huge season for the Dores.
 

12. Alfred Blue, LSU (SR)
Before a knee injury sidelined him after the third game last season, Blue was poised to emerge as LSU’s feature back. In his career in Baton Rouge, Blue has rushed for 910 yards and 10 touchdowns, including 101 against Washington last year. With Jeremy Hill’s status in doubt, Blue and Kenny Hilliard could be asked to shoulder more of the workload this year. Even if Hill is on the team, Blue will see more than a handful of touches as LSU’s No. 2 back.
 

13. Henry Josey, Missouri (JR)
Josey sat out last year after suffering a serious knee injury during the 2011 season. Before the injury, the Texas native had 1,168 yards rushing and nine scores, averaging 8.1 yards per carry. Considering the severity of the injury, it’s uncertain if Josey can come back at full strength. However, having the junior back in the mix should help Missouri’s offense, even if he doesn’t average 8.1 yards per carry this year.
 

14. Mike Davis, South Carolina (SO)
The short, burly runner from Lithonia (Ga.) Stephenson has workhorse written all over him. He is just 5-foot-9 but checks in at 215 pounds, making Davis difficult to tackle and find in open space. He carried for 275 yards and two scores as a true freshman last year and appears to be the heir apparent to Marcus Lattimore for Steve Spurrier. He got plenty of looks down the stretch once Lattimore got hurt — 13 carries against Arkansas and 12 against Clemson — and should have a breakout 2013 season.
 

15. Brian Kimbrow, Vanderbilt (SO)
The smallish sophomore-to-be was one of the most heralded recruits to ever sign with Vanderbilt out of Memphis (Tenn.) East. He checks in at just 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds but has speed to burn and is an incredibly versatile player. As just a true freshman, Kimbrow rushed for 413 yards and three scores while also returning kicks. Look for the coaching staff to get him the ball in a variety of ways all over the field. So while he won’t be considered the workhorse starter, he will figure prominently into the offensive gameplan all season long.
 

16. Kenny Hilliard, LSU (JR)
As mentioned with Alfred Blue, Hilliard’s role in the backfield could increase in 2013. With Jeremy Hill’s status in doubt, Hilliard should shift from the No. 3 to the No. 2 role behind Blue. In 12 games last year, Hilliard rushed for 464 yards and six touchdowns. His most impressive performance came against North Texas, which resulted in 141 yards rushing and two scores on 13 attempts. At 6-foot and 231 pounds, the Louisiana native may split time at fullback, but his role won’t be defined until Hill’s status is cleared for 2013.
 

17. Kelvin Taylor, Florida (FR)
One the top running back prospects in the nation comes to Gainesville with a high-profile prep resume and familiar surname to match. Fred Taylor’s son has been a star in the Sunshine State for years and will undoubtedly get carries as a prototypical workhorse back.
 

18. Derrick Henry, Alabama (FR)
Henry ranked as the No. 12 prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and is one of four freshmen backs stepping onto campus for Alabama in 2013. Henry is a load for opposing defenses at 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds and is expected to factor prominently into the backfield this year. He missed the spring game due to a leg injury, but all signs point to a return to full strength by fall practice.
 

19. Brandon Williams, Texas A&M (SO)
Williams ranked as one of the top running back recruits in the 2011 signing class. The Texas native spent one season at Oklahoma, rushing for 219 yards on 46 attempts. Williams transferred to Texas A&M after that season and is eligible after sitting out 2012 due to NCAA regulations. Ben Malena will receive the bulk of the carries for Texas A&M, but Williams should see plenty of touches this fall.
 

20. Trey Williams, Texas A&M (SO)
After averaging 5.8 yards per carry as a true freshman, the Texas A&M coaching staff plans to get Williams more involved with the offense in 2013. The Texas native ranked as one of the top running back recruits in the nation in the 2012 signing class and contributed right away on special teams with an average of 22.3 yards per return. With his 4.4 speed, Williams is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.


21. Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn (JR)
Tre Mason is Auburn’s No. 1 running back, but Artis-Payne wasn’t brought in to sit on the bench. The top-50 junior college recruit made quite an impression this spring, which included 117 yards rushing in the A-Day Game. At 208 pounds, Artis-Payne brings impressive power to the backfield and will be counted on to serve as Auburn’s No. 2 back this year.
 

22. Brandon Wilds, South Carolina (SO)
The in-state sophomore had an excellent true freshman season in 2011 subbing for the injured Marcus Lattimore. However, he missed all of 2012 with an ankle injury. He will have to earn his carries back but should be an excellent complementary piece in 2013.
 

23. Jonathan Williams, Arkansas (SO)
With Dennis Johnson and Knile Davis departing, Arkansas is essentially starting over in the backfield. After rushing for 231 yards on 45 attempts last year, Williams is the front-runner to shoulder the bulk of the carries for the Razorbacks in 2013. However, the Texas native will be pushed by incoming freshman Alex Collins.
 

24. Alex Collins, Arkansas (FR)
Collins was one of the top catches in Bret Bielema’s first recruiting class at Arkansas. The Florida native ranked as the No. 41 recruit in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and has the skill set to be the Razorbacks’ feature back. Collins will compete with Jonathan Williams for the starting job this fall.
 

25. Raymond Sanders, Kentucky (SR)
The diminutive runner from Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson posted his best career numbers last fall (669 yards, 5 TD) and will look to build on those in 2013. He is shifty and versatile in space so look for new offensive coordinator Neal Brown to take full advantage.

Others to Watch

26. Kenyan Drake, Alabama (SO)
27. Jerron Seymour, Vanderbilt (SO)
28. Josh Robinson, Mississippi State (SO)
29. Jalston Fowler, Alabama (JR)
30. Matt Jones, Florida (SO)
31. Mark Dodson, Ole Miss (FR)


by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)


Related College Football Content

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Teaser:
<p> Ranking the SEC's Running Backs for 2013</p>
Post date: Monday, April 29, 2013 - 07:45
Path: /college-football/which-team-louisvilles-biggest-challenger-big-east-2013
Body:

Louisville is a heavy favorite to win the Big East/American Athletic Conference in 2013. With quarterback Teddy Bridgewater returning, along with one of the conference’s best defenses, the Cardinals have a good opportunity to finish the season with a perfect 12-0 mark.

While Louisville is a clear No. 1, there’s a lot of debate about which team should be projected to finish second.

Cincinnati, UCF and Rutgers are the most likely candidates for the No. 2 spot, but there’s plenty of division among early preseason predictions.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Which Team is Louisville's Biggest Challenger in the Big East in 2013?

Mark Ennis, SBNation.com College Football Contributor, (@Mengus22)
It might surprise some to see this, but if I had to name the team most likely to challenge Louisville for the Big East title next year, I'd say it'll be one of the newcomers: UCF. These transitions to new leagues don't always go well. West Virginia got a bit of a rude awakening in the Big 12, and Temple struggled mightily in year one of the Big East as well. Still, there are reasons to believe UCF will hit the ground running in the Big East. First, the schedule. The Knights don't play Cincinnati, and get Rutgers, (new) rival South Florida, Connecticut, and Houston all at home. They do have to travel to Louisville, but even then, they get 13 days to prepare for the Cardinals and their Friday night game in October. Second, UCF returns quarterback Blake Bortles, who quietly had a fantastic 2012 season, throwing for 3,059 yards and 25 touchdowns. It also helps that Bortles returns several of his top receiving targets and Storm Johnson at running back. Third, UCF was looking at playing the 2013 season with no chance of a conference title or a bowl game. However, with the rather stunning upset of the NCAA, the postseason ban was lifted and now George O'Leary will have a chance to win a conference title and reach the postseason. Fourth, UCF might be in somewhat new territory, but it enters an America Athletic Conference with one of the more stable head coaching situations. All but three other programs in the conference will be in their first or second year under a new head coach. The stability at Central Florida should pay off with a successful initial season in a new league and make them the biggest contender to Louisville in 2013.
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
With 13 starters back – including potential All-American quarterback Teddy Bridgewater – it’s hard to see any team threatening Louisville in the final American/Big East standings. I like UCF as a sleeper team to watch in the conference title picture, but I have to go with Cincinnati as the No. 2 team in the Big East/American. 

The Bearcats return 13 starters, and quarterback Brendon Kay played well over the final five games of 2013. Cincinnati is solid in the trenches, including an offensive line that could rank among the top 10 in the nation. The biggest concern is the coaching transition, as Tommy Tuberville looks to put his own stamp on the program. New offensive coordinator Eddie Gran is regarded as an excellent recruiter but has never served as a playcaller for a full season. Considering Gran’s lack of experience as a coordinator, along with Tuberville’s conservative tendencies in the past, how will that mesh with personnel that was recruited to run a spread attack?

Cincinnati’s schedule in conference play does have a few obstacles, including a Nov. 16 road date at Rutgers. However, with the strength in the trenches, and Kay’s performance at the end of 2012, I think the Bearcats will be Louisville’s top competition in 2013.  
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
Louisville may be the overwhelming favorite in the newly minted American Athletic Conference, not to mention a potential darkhorse national title contender, but the Cardinals won't win the inaugural AAC title in a cakewalk. While I think both UCF and Rutgers will be solid teams, the one I expect to push Louisville the most is Cincinnati. The Bearcats have a new head coach in Tommy Tuberville, but he's no stranger to success, as he's been a winner at his previous stops in both the SEC (Ole Miss and Auburn) and Big 12 (Texas Tech).

Tuberville has a decent amount of talent and experience returning, which should help the transition to the new coaching staff and offensive and defensive systems. On offense, the entire line is back among the seven offensive returning starters, while two starters from each level of the defense (line, linebackers and secondary) also is back. The Bearcats' offense has a budding playmaker in junior running back Ralph David Abernathy IV, although he may not fit the mold of the power running back Tuberville has preferred during his coaching career. The starting quarterback situation also will have to be settled, but both candidates, Brendon Kay and Munchie Legaux, are seniors and have starting experience.

If anything, the Bearcats' non-conference schedule - Purdue, at Illinois, Northwestern St., at Miami (Ohio) - should help the offense and the defense get more acclimated to their new systems and coaching staff, allowing both sides of the ball the opportunity to be clicking on all cylinders by the time conference play begins in October. The toughest league tests for Tuberville's team appear to be at the end with consecutive road games against Rutgers and Houston in November leading into the Dec. 5 showdown with Louisville. That game is on the Bearcats' home turf on a Thursday night and, if everything goes well up to that point, this Cincinnati team may have the chance to see that Louisville finishes its final season in the Big East/AAC without a conference title, and more importantly, a second straight BCS bowl berth.


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Teaser:
<p> Which Team is Louisville's Biggest Challenger in the Big East for 2013?</p>
Post date: Monday, April 29, 2013 - 07:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas Longhorns, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/where-will-texas-longhorns-finish-big-12-2013
Body:

With each of the top contenders experiencing some key personnel departures, the Big 12 is easily the toughest conference to predict for 2013.

Texas has underachieved in recent years, but the Longhorns appear to be back on track after a 9-4 record last season. After going 5-7 in 2010, Texas has made the climb back to Big 12 title contention, but another 7-5 or 8-4 year could spell the end of Mack Brown’s tenure in Austin.

Most of the key players are back for Texas, and the schedule sets up favorably for a run at the Big 12 title. However, can the Longhorns have question marks on defense and need a big season from quarterback David Ash.  

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Where Will the Texas Longhorns Finish in the Big 12 in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Texas is on a slide, and it’s trendy to to pile on the Longhorns after the last few seasons. The upcoming year might not be the turnaround Texas fans want with UT winning the Big 12 again, but there’s enough talent here to think Texas can finish in the top three in the Big 12 again. And I don’t mean third like Texas finished third last season -- at 5-4 behind two teams that finished 8-1. We forget David Ash looked pretty good early in the season, completing 78 percent of his passes for 1,007 yards with 10 touchdowns and an interception in the first four games. Five offensive linemen and Johnathan Gray back means the offense should get better from last season, but that’s not the question. That defense was a mess last year. Nine starters are back, and the Big 12 won’t be as good an offensive league as it was a year ago. That’s going to even things out for Texas, enabling to at look like a Big 12-contending team in 2013.
 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
I know this sounds insane, but I am going with the Texas Longhorns to win the Big 12. Now, it may happen with two losses, but this is a critical season that Mack Brown has been pointing to for years. The offensive line and running game has steadily improved the last two seasons and will feature one of the best backfields in the nation. David Ash took a huge step forward as a sophomore and could be ready to be much more than a game manager as a junior. And the much-maligned defense has plenty of star power. Most importantly, a once QB-rich conference now appears devoid of talent at the position. Offenses won't be as potent this time around and it means the Longhorns will win the league based on tie-breakers.
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Outside of the Big East, the Big 12 is probably the toughest BCS conference to predict in 2013. The lack of a clear favorite is largely due to the state of the quarterback position within the conference, which experienced a lot of turnover from 2012 to 2013. 

There’s no question the talent is in place for the Longhorns to win the Big 12 title in 2013. The offense returns nine starters, including one of the best running back corps in the nation, along with an offensive line that has made steady progress the last few seasons. Quarterback David Ash wasn’t awful last year but needs to take another step forward in 2013.

The biggest question mark for Texas is a defense that surprisingly finished sixth in the Big 12 in points allowed. This unit was pushed around by opposing offensive lines, allowing 192.2 rushing yards per game. Losing end Alex Okafor and safety Kenny Vaccaro are huge setbacks, but the Longhorns return end Jackson Jeffcoat from injury, and the offseason should help some of the younger players get more acclimated to the defense.

Although the talent and schedule is in place to win the Big 12, I think Texas will finish third in the conference. The Longhorns are moving in the right direction, but there are enough concerns about the defense and passing attack to push this team down a few spots in the conference. The Big 12 race is a wide-open affair, but I would give Oklahoma State and Oklahoma a slight edge over Texas right now. 
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
The natives down in Austin have been restless for the last few seasons as Texas hasn't won at least 10 games and played in a BCS bowl since 2009. The Longhorns are 22-16 in the past three seasons combined and have fared even worse, 11-15, in Big 12 play. Despite amassing 150 wins and one national championship (2005) in his 15 seasons at Texas, the pressure is on head coach Mack Brown to return the Longhorns back to where the fan base is accustomed to seeing them, atop the Big 12.

Will that happen this fall? It very well could as Texas returns nine starters on each side of the ball. These returnees were part of a team that went 9-4 last season, with all of those losses coming in Big 12 play. The Longhorns will get tested early as their non-conference slate has them going to BYU and hosting Ole Miss the first two Saturdays in September. That should get this team more than ready for conference play, which opens with Kansas State at home. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU figure to be the other Big 12 contenders and Texas will get a shot at each of them. These three games could very well decide not only the eventual conference champion, but the difference between finishing second and fourth.

Texas has seemingly lost some of its mystique and swagger because of the lack of typical Longhorn success over the past three seasons. And as good as this Texas defense may be, I like the defenses at TCU and Oklahoma a little bit more. It should be a fairly tight race for the top spot in the Big 12, but I have the Longhorns coming up short of another conference title. I think the program will continue to get back to where it once was, but as far as this fall goes, I have Texas a step or two behind both Oklahoma and TCU, resulting in the Longhorns finishing third. I also wouldn't be shocked if they somehow ended up second, but don't see enough to crown them, at least not this season.
 

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Teaser:
<p> Where Will the Texas Longhorns Finish in the Big 12 in 2013?</p>
Post date: Friday, April 26, 2013 - 07:40
Path: /college-football/will-michigan-state-win-more-seven-games-2013
Body:

After a disappointing 2012 season, Michigan State hopes to climb back into discussion for the Big Ten Legends Division title.

The Spartans had a top-10 defense last year, but the offense was one of the worst in the Big Ten. Question marks remain about this unit in 2013, especially with the departure of running back Le’Veon Bell and tight end Dion Sims.

Michigan State has a favorable schedule and should win more than seven games in 2013. However, with a questionable offense, getting to eight or even nine victories won’t be easy.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Will Michigan State Win More Than Seven Games in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Michigan State should come close to matching the 2012 win total (seven) just by virtue of the schedule -- Western Michigan, USF, Youngstown State, Indiana, Purdue and Illinois are six right there. And that doesn’t include Iowa on the road and Minnesota at home. The schedule is manageable and all the close losses last season indicate a team that’s going to turn around, but I’m going against the trends I usually like. Michigan State is going to continue to slide. This is a team that had a top-10 defense and a running back that rushed for nearly 1,800 yards and still went 3-5 in the Big Ten with a team that was painful to watch. Le’Veon Bell is gone as are play-making defenders William Gholston and Johnny Adams. With Ohio State and Michigan rebounding, I fear Michigan State is headed to a similar fade as what we’ve seen out of Iowa in recent years. Last season may have been the first indication.
 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
If the 6-6 regular season record is the benchmark then the answer is yes. Ohio State, Boise State and Wisconsin are no longer on the schedule, which automatically bodes well for the Spartans. Michigan State won't play Penn State either as Mark Dantonio's squad will play the three worst teams in the Leaders Division — Indiana, Illinois, Purdue. And on the whole, this team should be better and more balanced. The defense is still stacked with All-Big Ten talent on all three levels and Andrew Maxwell can only get better in his second season. Losing Le'Veon Bell hurts but Dantonio always finds someone to carry the ball. Without pulling a single upset — at Notre Dame, at Nebraska, at Northwestern and Michigan at home — Michigan State could easily finish two games better in 2013.


Kevin McGuire, No2MinuteWarning.com and NittanyLionsDen.com(@KevinonCFB)
Michigan State should be an interesting team in Big Ten play this season but I would have to consider them a bit of a rebuilder in 2013 more than anything else. The offense has a good formula with a solid offensive line and experienced starting quarterback but must find some new legs to run with, while the defense will be a mystery backed up by a solid linebacking unit. All of that said, can Mark Dantonio's program scratch out seven wins? I think so.

Michigan State should pick up three wins right out of the gate, and if they can establish an identity early on they could sneak out of South Bend with an upset win against rival Notre Dame. In Big Ten play, as I look over the schedule now, I am already jotting down four wins in conference play (home vs. Indiana, Purdue, Minnesota and on road vs. Illinois). That gives the Spartans seven wins in my book, with a number of toss-ups scattered throughout.
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Despite having a defense that ranked in the top 10 nationally of the four major statistical categories (rush, pass, total and scoring), the Spartans finished 7-6 and needed a second-half rally against TCU in the bowl game just to get over the .500 mark. While the defense was one of the best in the nation last year, the offense averaged only 20 points a game and struggled to get consistency from quarterback Andrew Maxwell.

The bad news for Michigan State? The same scenario is setting up for 2013. The Spartans will have one of the Big Ten’s top defenses, but the offense is a major issue. Although everything that happens in spring isn’t a good indication of what will happen during the regular season, Michigan State’s passing game looks questionable once again, and there’s no clear No. 1 back to replace Le’Veon Bell.

Despite the personnel concerns on offense, I think Michigan State can get to eight wins. The Spartans play Indiana, Purdue and Illinois – arguably the three worst teams from the Leaders Division – in crossover action and should go 3-1 in non-conference games. If Michigan State wins those six matchups, it would just need to beat Minnesota or win at Iowa to match last year’s win total, with the potential to beat Michigan or claim a bowl victory.

Considering the suspect offense, getting to eight wins won’t be easy. However, the schedule certainly sets up well for Mark Dantonio’s team.


Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
Michigan State won seven games in 2012, and that's only because the Spartans eked out a 17-16 win over TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Can Mark Dantonio's bunch top that this fall? Thanks in large part to a manageable schedule they'll have a chance.

The non-conference schedule is fairly easy with Western Michigan, South Florida and FCS member Youngstown State the first three on tap. After that, things get much tougher, starting with a visit to South Bend, Ind., to take on Notre Dame. Ohio State is not on this season's Big Ten slate, which is a break for Sparty, as is the fact that the Buckeyes are replaced by Illinois. The worst stretch for Michigan State will come in November, which opens with a home game against Michigan and also includes back-to-back road trips to Lincoln, Neb., and Evanston, Ill. As difficult as that trifecta is, the rest of the Spartans' slate is very favorable, making eight wins in the regular season alone realistic.

However, the issue for Michigan State is Le'Veon Bell, the Big Ten's leading rusher last season, has left campus, as has Dion Sims, one of the top tight ends in the nation, and William Gholston, the anchor of last season's defensive line. There will be a drop off of some sort with whoever takes their places in the lineup. The defense should be fine with enough talent and experience returning, the question lies with the offense. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell struggled in his first season as the starter under center, completing less than 53 percent of his passes for just 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He must show improvement, especially since the running game is basically starting over from scratch after Bell's departure, who accounted for 84 percent of the team's rushing production last season.

The schedule sets up very nicely for the Spartans to surpass last season's seven wins before the postseason, it's just a matter of the team taking advantage of it. As good as the defense should be, I think there are too many questions on offense for me to fully endorse eight wins by the end of November. Anything less than seven, however, would have to be considered a disappointment. 


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Teaser:
<p> Will Michigan State Win More Than Seven Games in 2013?</p>
Post date: Friday, April 26, 2013 - 07:35
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Maryland Terrapins, News
Path: /college-football/will-maryland-terrapins-make-bowl-2013
Body:

Maryland is just 6-18 in the last two years, but there’s some optimism surrounding this team for 2013.

Despite a rash of injuries at the quarterback position, the Terrapins were able to improve their win total by two games last year. And with a full complement of passers back for 2013, Maryland should be in better shape on offense. There’s also a handful of playmakers ready to emerge on offense to help sophomore standout Stefon Diggs, including junior college transfer Deon Long and running backs Albert Reid, Brandon Ross and Wes Brown.

The schedule isn’t overwhelming, but Maryland has to rebuild a defense that ranked third in the ACC in yards allowed last season.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Will the Maryland Terrapins Make a Bowl in 2013?

Patrick Stevens, D1scourse.com, (@D1scourse)
It might seem a bit optimistic given how the last couple years have gone in College Park, but there's a very real chance this happens.

Maryland is not without its questions. Will quarterback C.J. Brown, who established himself as a capable rusher in 2011, come back and be effective after his ACL tear last August? Can the Terrapins stitch together even a decent offensive line? With five starters lost in the front seven, how much of a drop-off will occur there?

If Brown is good to go, it will help solve the offensive line question. Maryland's offense was probably at its sharpest in the second half of its loss to N.C. State, when it put the elusive Devin Burns in at quarterback after Perry Hills got hurt. With someone who could nimbly run the zone read, the Terps suddenly could move the ball. But then Burns got hurt and didn't play for the rest of the year, and within a couple weeks Maryland was playing a linebacker at quarterback. That turned out pretty much as expected.

If the best thing going for Maryland is an influx of skill position talent (notably sophomore Stefon Diggs and junior college transfer Deon Long at wideout), the schedule isn't too far behind. The Terps won't be in the neighborhood of Clemson or Florida State, but the rest of their division games (Boston College, N.C. State, Syracuse and Wake Forest) are all winnable. So is a date with Virginia, an opening stretch against Florida International, Old Dominion and Connecticut and perhaps even a meeting with depleted West Virginia in Baltimore.

There's six wins to be had there --- it is hardly a certainty, but it is far from an impossibility. Barring another absurd rash of injuries, Maryland has the look of a roster that could wind up in one of the ACC's lower-tier bowls (perhaps the nearby Military Bowl?) without too much trouble and perhaps do better with a few breaks.
 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
This may be the year where Randy Edsall and Maryland stop being a punchline. Now, that doesn’t mean Maryland will be particularly good, but there’s enough here for the Terrapins to get to six or seven wins. The Terps finally have a little bit of stability after all the transfers in Edsall’s first season and all the injuries in his second. Maryland had the second-most turnovers in the ACC last season, thanks to the most lost fumbles. The Terrapins’ 18 lost fumbles in 2012 was more than the last two seasons combined (11). That kind of bad luck, along with the deluge of quarterback injuries, isn’t going to happen again. C.J. Brown, who ascended to the starting job in 2011, will be healthy, and he just has to find a way to get the ball to Stefon Diggs. The Terps also found a quality running back tandem in Brandon Ross and Albert Reid, who both topped 100 yards in the spring game. Improving personnel on offense along with a defense that allowed five yards per play (fourth in the ACC) and 3.5 yards per carry (second in the ACC), means Maryland has the ability to turn some close losses into wins. 
 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
In a word? Yes. Randy Edsall was left little in the way of talent or camaraderie when he arrived in College Park and has slowly, but surely rebuilt the roster. He doubled his win total from 2011 to 2012 and it could have been even better had the Terrapins finished one or two of their four losses which came by one score or less. There is no possible way his team could endure as many quarterback injuries as they did a year ago and Stefon Diggs is a special player who will break onto the national scene in 2013. This should allow the offense — rated 12th in the ACC last year — to catch up with the defense — rated third in the ACC last year. With a weak schedule in the weaker Atlantic Division, Maryland has a chance at seven wins this fall.
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Randy Edsall’s tenure in College Park got off to a rough start, but it seems the Terrapins are back on track in their final year in the ACC. After going 2-10 in 2011, Maryland went 4-8 last season, despite numerous injuries at the quarterback position. With C.J. Brown, Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe returning from injury, along with the arrival of transfer Ricardo Young, there’s plenty of depth at the quarterback position, and the passing attack should show significant progress in 2013. The receiving corps is solid, led by Stefon Diggs and junior college transfer Deon Long. And the running back position has some intriguing options ready to break out in 2013.

The biggest obstacle for Maryland to get back to a bowl is the personnel losses on defense. Replacing the production from linemen A.J. Francis and Joe Vellano, linebackers Demetrius Hartsfield and Kenny Tate won’t be easy. However, getting defensive end Andre Monroe back from injury should ease the losses in the trenches, and the secondary returns three key performers from a unit that ranked 30th nationally against the pass.

Helping Maryland’s case to return to the postseason is a weak conference. Outside of Florida State and Clemson, there are no guaranteed top-25 ACC teams for 2013. The Terrapins also won’t play Georgia Tech, North Carolina or Miami – arguably three of the top four teams from the Coastal Division – in crossover play. With Virginia, Syracuse and Boston College coming to College Park, there’s enough wins on the schedule for Maryland to get to 6-6 or 7-5 this year and go bowling for the first time under Edsall.
 

Anson Whaley, Founder and Editor of Cardiac Hill@PittPantherBlog
Maryland returns a pretty big core of their offense in quarterbacks Perry Hills, Shawn Petty, and CJ Brown, running backs Brandon Ross and Wes Brown, and receivers Stefon Diggs and Marcus Leak. The good news for the Terrapins is that, with the exception of Brown, all of those guys were underclassmen last year and should improve significantly in 2012. And with all of the injuries the offense endured, it's hard to envision that side of the ball being as bad as it was last year when they ranked near the bottom of the FBS in several statistical categories. The schedule is also manageable in my mind. Maryland gets some winnable games at home with FIU, Old Dominion, Boston College, Virginia, and Syracuse. And while road games against Wake Forest and North Carolina State aren't gimmes by any stretch for them, those teams didn't finish very far ahead of the Terrapins last season. It'd be easy to look at their four wins from last year and wonder if they can improve enough. But in 2010, Maryland won nine games fresh off of a two-win 2009, making a huge turnaround. And don't forget, the team was more competitive than their record would indicate in 2012, losing three games by three points or less. I'll go ahead and tentatively predict at least six wins for the Terps in 2013.

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
Maryland still has plenty of work to do, but things are starting to look up for Randy Edsall's Terrapins. Injuries were a big issue for this team last year, especially under center, and still are a bit of a question mark entering the fall. If projected starting quarterback C.J. Brown can make it back from knee surgery and be ready to go in the fall, this could be a sneaky offense with Brown, running back Wes Brown and dynamic wide receiver/return specialist Stefon Diggs leading the way.

The defense suffered some pretty big losses in All-American defensive lineman Joe Vellano and a pair of linebackers in Demetrius Hartsfield and Kenneth Tate. Still, the talent level and depth has been getting better in College Park, as evidenced by the Terps' doubling their win total last season compared to 2011. Don't get me wrong going from two to four wins isn't that big of an accomplishment, but Maryland also lost three games last season by three points or fewer.

What's more, Maryland's 2013 schedule shapes up pretty well, as the Terps open with FIU and Old Dominion at home and also get Virginia, Syracuse and Boston College at home. Early road tests at Connecticut and a matchup with a rebuilding West Virginia team in Baltimore, will serve as a barometer for how far this team has come. If Maryland can continue to get better as the season progresses it could be playing for a bowl bid by the time the aforementioned Eagles come calling and the Terrapins travel to Raleigh to face NC State to finish the regular season. The optimist in me says that Edsall has enough talent and will get a few more breaks injury-wise this fall to earn that much-desired postseason invite. The only caveat is it's critical that the Terrapins get off to a good start as their margin of error is razor thin.


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Teaser:
<p> Will the Maryland Terrapins Make a Bowl in 2013?</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 10:40
Path: /college-football/ranking-pac-12s-running-backs-2013
Body:

The Pac-12 is loaded with potential standout running backs for 2013.

Leading the way is Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey, who should be a first-team All-American selection this year. Carey rushed for 1,929 yards and 23 touchdowns last season and should be well over 1,500 yards once again in 2013. Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas should see more carries with Kenjon Barner off to the NFL, and the junior could establish himself as one of the nation’s top all-around running backs. Washington’s Bishop Sankey quietly rushed for 1,439 yards last season and could exceed those numbers in 2013 with more help from his offensive line.

Outside of the top four names, California’s Brendan Bigelow, Oregon State’s Storm Woods and Stanford’s Barry Sanders are running backs that could have a breakout year.

College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top running backs in each conference.

Ranking the Pac-12 Running Backs for 2013

1. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona (JR)
The star tailback from Tucson (Ariz.) Canyon del Oro might have been the most underrated player in the nation in 2012. Yet, after leading the nation in rushing (1,929 yards), setting multiple school and Pac-12 records and a few ugly off-the-field incidents, the junior-to-be is flying anything but under the radar in 2013. He is a workhorse back who can do anything he wants on the field and needs to learn that doesn’t apply to his personal life. A domestic abuse incident with his girlfriend as well as a run-in with campus police has his long-term future in question at Arizona. Should he walk the straight and narrow, Carey will be a Heisman candidate in Rich Rodriguez’ zone-read option scheme. If he cannot behave himself, he will find himself suspended or worse.
 

2. De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon (JR)
Gone is LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, leaving ‘DAT’ a shot at a huge 2013 season. The diminutive do-everything dynamo from Los Angeles has electric speed to burn and the ability to contribute in a variety of ways. He has scored 18 rushing touchdowns on 147 attempts, 14 receiving touchdowns on 91 receptions and four return touchdowns through just two seasons of action. He is a perfect fit for Oregon’s offense, be it run by Chip Kelly or Mark Helfrich, and could see his workload increase in 2013. Pac-12 defenses beware.
 

3. Bishop Sankey, Washington (JR)
Steve Sarkisian might not be able to provide consistent production on both sides of the ball from year to year, but he has proven the ability to develop tailbacks. Sankey, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound junior-to-be from Spokane, Wash., exploded for 1,439 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2012 — numbers good for 17th and 15th nationally. More impressively, he produced those numbers behind a porous and oft-injured offensive line. With improved play from Keith Price at quarterback, Sankey could be in for a big season this fall.
 

4. Silas Redd, USC (SR)
With Penn State dealt a postseason ban, Redd transferred to USC in hopes of competing for a national title. Things didn’t quite go according to plan last year, as the Trojans finished 7-6, and Redd finished with 905 yards and nine touchdowns. The Connecticut native had three games of 100 yards or more, including 155 in the 24-14 win over Washington. In his career, Redd has 2,583 yards and 18 rushing scores. With USC breaking in a new starting quarterback, the senior should be the focal point of the offense early in the year. Redd has the talent to be an All-American, and in his final year in college, expect him to produce more than 1,000 yards on the ground for the second time in his career.
 

5. Marion Grice, Arizona State (SR)
In his first year at Arizona State, Grice led the team with 679 yards and 11 scores. The junior college transfer finished the year by recording back-to-back 100-yard performances, including 156 in the win over in-state rival Arizona. Grice also was a factor in the passing attack, catching 41 passes for 425 yards and eight touchdowns. The Texas native was one of the top big-play threats for the Sun Devils, averaging a touchdown every 7.6 touches. With Cameron Marshall departing, Grice should handle more of the workload this year. DJ Foster will see plenty of carries, but the senior has the size to approach 200 carries. After finishing off 2012 with momentum, look for Grice to top 1,000 rushing yards in '13.
 

6. Storm Woods, Oregon State (SO)
Oregon State has a rich history of producing great running backs since Ken Simonton helped lead the Beavers to a Fiesta Bowl win in 2000. This includes great freshman performers like Yvenson Bernard and Jacquizz Rodgers. Woods, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman last year, is just the next in this long line of OSU tailbacks. The Pflugerville (Texas) High product finished his first season strongly by scoring seven touchdowns in the last four games. He is ready to make a name for himself in 2013.
 

7. Brendan Bigelow, California (JR)
Yet another star sophomore out West, Bigelow teased the fans with glimpses of brilliance in 2012. His two long touchdown runs against Ohio State were jaw-dropping — he rushed four times for 160 yards in the Horseshoe. But he was buried behind Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson on the Cal depth chart. As an upperclassman now, the Fresno (Calif.) Central East has the football all to himself and a new offensive whiz calling plays in Sonny Dykes. Look for the explosive all-purpose back to continue to drop jaws and pop eyes in 2013.
 

8. Byron Marshall, Oregon (SO)
As a freshman from San Jose (Calif.) Valley Christian, Marshall quickly endeared himself to Ducks fans. He earned the No. 3 job (behind Barner and Thomas) last year and averaged more than five yards per carry for the season. He didn’t get a ton of work (87 carries) but has a more physical style of running and posted a career high 125 yards against Tennessee Tech. Look for him to complement Thomas perfectly in the Oregon backfield as the next potential developing star in Eugene.
 

9. DJ Foster, Arizona State (SO)
Just like Marion Grice, Foster made a huge impact in his first season on campus. The Arizona native rushed for 493 yards and two scores on 102 attempts and caught 38 passes for 533 yards and four touchdowns. Foster didn’t record a 100-yard rushing effort, but he had 49 yards in the huge in-state win over Arizona and 61 in the 45-43 loss to UCLA. With Cameron Marshall out of eligibility, Arizona State will lean even more on Grice and Foster in the backfield. Foster should see an increase in carries and overall touches, which certainly isn’t a bad thing for the Sun Devils, especially since the Arizona native averaged 4.8 yards per rush last year.


10. Anthony Wilkerson, Stanford (SR)
Trying to continue the power running tradition started by Toby Gehart and Stepfan Taylor is a tall order. But the senior from Foothill Ranch (Calif.) Tustin might get the first crack after playing the role of primary backup to Taylor last year (224 yards, TD). The 220-pounder will battle with fellow senior powerback Tyler Gaffney and young speedster Barry Sanders Jr for primary ball-carrying honors in 2013. There may not be a true workhorse in Palo Alto but fans can bet David Shaw will run it early and often.
 

11. Christian Powell, Colorado (SO)
There were few bright spots for Colorado last season, but Powell quietly turned in a productive year. Despite missing two games due to injury, he recorded 691 yards and seven scores. Powell only caught seven passes for 30 yards but with receiver Paul Richardson sidelined with an ACL tear, he was Colorado’s most reliable player on offense last year. The converted fullback should see plenty of carries in 2013, as the Buffaloes enter the season with uncertainty surrounding the quarterback situation, but return a veteran offensive line. If Powell stays healthy, surpassing last year’s totals are a reasonable expectation.
 

12. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford (SR)
A two-sport star from San Diego (Calif.) Cathedral Catholic, Gaffney enters his senior season ready to compete for lead back carries on The Farm. The 220-pounder is a physical back who gives Shaw what he wants from that position but to earn carries he will have to beat out Anthony Wilkerson and Barry Sanders Jr. for time.


13. Thomas Tyner, Oregon (FR)
The record-setting in-state true freshman with elite power and speed might be the most talented running back recruit to sign with Oregon. Yes, that includes De'Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall, LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, Lache Seastrunk and Jonathan Stewart. He’s that good.


14. Barry Sanders Jr., Stanford (FR)
There’s no question Sanders has the talent to be an All-Pac-12 running back. However, Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney are likely to see more carries than the talented freshman this season, so he may have to wait until 2014 for his turn as the starter. The son of former NFL standout Barry Sanders should at least see limited action this year, before emerging as Stanford’s top back next season.
 

15. Kelvin York, Utah (SR)
John White’s departure leaves some big shoes to fill in the Utah backfield. York is expected to get the first opportunity to start for the Utes. The Louisiana native showed potential in limited opportunities last season, rushing for 273 yards on 60 attempts. Interestingly enough, York shared time as a high school senior with former Alabama running back Eddie Lacy and was committed to USC before joining Utah. The Utes have the makings of a solid offensive line, and York seems to have the talent to have a productive year if he holds off Lucky Radley, James Poole and Devontae Booker for the starting job.
 

16. Paul Perkins, UCLA (FR)
Replacing Johnathan Franklin’s production won’t be easy for UCLA in 2013. The Bruins lack a clear replacement, as Perkins, Damien Thigpen, Jordon James and Malcolm Jones are all battling for time. Perkins was a high school teammate of Bruins’ quarterback Brett Hundley and ranked as a three-star recruit by Rivals.com in the 2012 signing class. Perkins is the early frontrunner, but UCLA could use a committee of backs in 2013.
 

17. Jordon James, UCLA (JR)
James was rated as one of the top high school backs in the nation in 2010 but has yet to make an impact during his first three years on campus. He rushed for 54 yards and one touchdown as a redshirt freshman in 2011 and recorded 215 yards and two scores on 61 attempts last year. With Johnathan Franklin out of eligibility, James, Paul Perkins, Malcolm Jones and Damien Thigpen will compete for the starting nod this preseason.
 

18. Justin Davis, USC (FR)
Although Silas Redd is entrenched as USC’s No. 1 back, don’t be surprised if Davis sees plenty of carries this year. The true freshman enrolled early and impressed the coaching staff in the spring, staking his claim to the backup spot and playing time in 2013. Davis ranked as the No. 16 running back by Athlon Sports in the 2013 recruiting class and is someone to watch once the season kicks off.
 

19. Terron Ward, Oregon State (JR)
The junior-to-be from Antioch (Calif.) De La Salle came on in the second half of the 2012 season. He rushed for 383 of his 415 yards and all six touchdowns over the final six games of the year. The 200-pounder plays much bigger than his 5-foot-7 frame would indicate.
 

20. Teondray Caldwell, Washington State (SO)
The 5-foot-8, 197-pound sophomore-to-be came to Pullman from Los Angeles (Calif.) Venice. The Cougars rushing attack was pathetic last year but at almost five yards per carry, Caldwell is their best hope at reestablishing some sort of ground attack.
 

by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)


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Teaser:
<p> Ranking the Pac-12's Running Backs for 2013</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 07:19
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-tens-running-backs-2013
Body:

The Big Ten doesn’t have the deepest set of running backs in the nation, but the 2013 group still boasts plenty of talented options.

Northwestern’s Venric Mark shined in his first full year at running back, while Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah kept the Cornhuskers’ rushing attack going with Rex Burkhead sidelined due to a knee injury. Montee Ball is gone at Wisconsin, but James White and Melvin Gordon could be among the nation’s best one-two combinations.

After the top group, there’s plenty of intriguing options waiting to step up, including Michigan’s Derrick Green, Purdue’s Akeem Hunt and Ohio State’s Jordan Hall.

College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top running backs in each conference.

Ranking the Big Ten Running Backs for 2013

1. Venric Mark, Northwestern (SR)
In his first full season at running back, Mark emerged as one of the Big Ten’s top rushers. Mark spent the first two years at receiver but caught only six passes during that stretch. Moving the Texas native to running back proved to be a shrewd coaching decision by Pat Fitzgerald, as Mark ended the year with 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns, while catching 20 passes for 104 yards. His best performance came against Minnesota, recording 182 yards and two touchdowns on 20 attempts. Mark also rushed for 162 yards against Iowa and 104 yards against Michigan. At 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, Mark isn’t the biggest back, so Northwestern will have to be careful not to overwork him in 2013.
 

2. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska (JR)
Despite losing Rex Burkhead to a knee injury early last season, Nebraska’s rushing attack never missed a beat. Abdullah became the Cornhuskers go-to back in 2012, recording 1,137 yards and eight scores. He also caught 24 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns. Abdullah recorded six 100-yard efforts, including four consecutive games in the middle of the season. His best performance came against Arkansas State, rushing for 167 yards and two touchdowns, while recording 116 in the 32-23 win over Penn State in early November. With Burkhead out of eligibility and Braylon Heard transferring, Abdullah is clearly set as Nebraska’s top back for 2013. With one of the top offensive lines in the conference blocking for him, Abdullah should push for first-team All-Big Ten honors.
 

3. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin (SO)
The heir apparent to Montee Ball’s ridiculous production will be the redshirt sophomore from Kenosha (Wisc.) Bradford. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder is one of the most talented runners in the Big Ten and has a chance to pick up where Ball left off. Gordon has the power and burst through the hole as he averaged over 10 yards per carry as a freshman in 2012. He showed the nation how good he could be in last season's Big Ten title game against Nebraska, rushing for 216 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries. James White will get plenty of touches but Gordon is the most talented runner on the UW roster.
 

4. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State (SR)
The 240-pound bowling ball from Naples (Fla.) High had a breakout second half in 2012. After missing two games early in the year to injury, Hyde returned to the lineup and rushed for 14 of his 16 touchdowns over the final seven games. He posted four games of at least 137 yards rushing over that span and was just 30 yards shy of 1,000 for the season. The Ohio State system will always spread the ball around but the senior-to-be’s proficiency around the goal line and in short yardage situations makes him the ideal complement to dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller.


5. James White, Wisconsin (SR)
The 5-foot-10, 197-pound runner is destined to be one of the best No. 2 backs in history. Even in high school, White was second fiddle to Giovani Bernard at prep powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. White then rushed for 1,052 yards as a freshman behind John Clay before spending the next two seasons behind the record-setting Montee Ball. White enters his final season with an impressive 2,941 career yards from scrimmage and 33 total touchdowns. Yet, he should once again be a more of a complimentary piece to new workhorse Melvin Gordon.
 

6. Zach Zwinak, Penn State (SR)
The burly senior-to-be from Frederick (Md.) Linganore didn’t get the starting call until Week 4 last year but was unstoppable from the word go. He rushed for 94 yards in his first extensive action against Temple before rattling off six 100-yard games in a total of eight Big Ten contests. He rushed for exactly 1,000 yards — all but two of those yards coming in Penn Sate's final nine games — and scored seven total touchdowns. He is a physical, bruising 234-pound converted fullback who will be asked to carry more of the load as Penn State breaks in a new quarterback.
 

7. Mark Weisman, Iowa (JR)
Iowa’s bad luck with running backs continued last season, as an injury to Damon Bullock opened the door for Weisman to become the No. 1 back in Iowa City. After recording just two carries in the first two games, Weisman posted four consecutive 100-yard performances, including 217 yards and three scores against Central Michigan. Weisman also battled injuries late in the year but finished with 91 yards against Nebraska in the season finale. With three starters back on the offensive line and an unproven quarterback taking over, Iowa should lean on Weisman and Bullock to carry the offense in 2013. If Weisman stays healthy, 1,000 yards should be within reach.


8. Stephen Houston, Indiana (SR)
The former junior college transfer hails originally from Little Rock (Ark.) Lakota West. But after 1,082 yards at Independence (Kan.) Community College., Houston landed in Bloomington. In his first season, he sparked the Hoosiers' rushing attack with 711 of his 802 yards and seven of his eight touchdowns in Big Ten play. He increased his workload as a junior last year, scoring 16 times on 198 offensive touches. The 225-pounder has power and speed and gives Kevin Wilson exactly what he wants in his backfield. But keep an eye on sophomore Tevin Coleman, as he could cut into Houston's workload in 2013.
 

9. Akeem Hunt, Purdue (JR)
The Covington (Ga.) Newton prospect has played in 25 of 26 possible career games since coming to Purdue. He has rushed for 622 yards in his first two seasons, acting primarily as a backup to Akeem Shavers (’12) and Ralph Bolden (’11). The 5-foot-9, 184-pound tailback now has a chance to shine as the starter for new head coach Darrell Hazell — who had extremely productive all-purpose backs at Kent State.
 

10. Donnell Kirkwood, Minnesota (JR)
Inconsistency on the offensive line prevented Minnesota’s ground game from getting on track last season, but Kirkwood still finished with 926 yards and six scores. He recorded three 100-yard performances, including 152 yards on 28 attempts against Illinois. Kirkwood had a solid game against Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, rushing for 77 yards and one score on 19 attempts. With sophomore Phillip Nelson still learning the ropes at quarterback, it’s important for Minnesota’s rushing attack to have a big season. Kirkwood has shown potential but needs to top 1,000 yards and become the clear go-to back for the Golden Gophers.
 

11. Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan (SR)
Toussaint had a year to forget in 2012. After a suspension to open the year, he suffered a broken leg against Iowa on Nov. 17. Toussaint finished last season with 514 yards and five scores and never topped 100 yards in any one game. Some of the blame for Michigan’s struggles on the ground was due to the offensive line, but Toussaint will be under pressure to perform this fall, especially with top freshman Derrick Green poised to push for time. Considering Toussaint is coming off a significant leg injury, he could be rusty to start the season.
 

12. Derrick Green, Michigan (FR)
Even though Fitzgerald Toussaint is expected to return by the season opener from a serious leg injury, Green could be tough to keep off the field. The Virginia native ranked as the No. 26 overall prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and has the size and skill set necessary to be an every-down back for Michigan. Even if Green plays in just a complementary role, expect him to see plenty of action for the Wolverines as a true freshman.
 

13. Jordan Hall, Ohio State (SR)
The small, speedy Buckeyes running back has played in at least six games in four straight seasons in Columbus. However, the Jeannette (Pa.) High product spent most of last year sidelined with a bizarre foot injury and eventual PCL tear in his knee. He brings speed and big-play ability to the backfield when healthy and should easily top his career highs of 99 carries, 405 yards and two rushing touchdowns in 2013.
 

14. Imani Cross, Nebraska (SO)
With Braylon Heard transferring, Cross is firmly entrenched as the backup to Ameer Abdullah. Last season, the Georgia native rushed for 324 yards and seven scores on 55 attempts. Cross rushed for 100 yards against Idaho State and recorded 35 yards and one score against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. At 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds, Cross provides more power than Abdullah and should easily surpass last year’s rushing totals.
 

15. Donovonn Young, Illinois (JR)
The 220-pound junior-to-be led the Illini in carries (131) and yards (571) while scoring more rushing touchdowns (3) than every other running back combined. Illinois needs more production from its running game and that responsibility falls on Young in 2013.
 

16. Nick Hill, Michigan State (JR)
Replacing Le’Veon Bell will be a tough task for Michigan State. The Spartans finished spring practice without much clarity in the backfield, and the picture was clouded even more when linebacker Riley Bullough switched to running back and shined in the spring game. Hill is the team’s leading returning rusher, recording 48 yards and one touchdown on 21 attempts last year. Although Hill has the edge on the stat sheet, he needs a big performance in the fall to secure the top spot on the depth chart.
 

17. Akeel Lynch, Penn State (FR)
Lynch, a 215-pounder from Ontario, Canada, redshirted last season but showed fans in spring practice what to expect in 2013. The longtime PSU fan rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown in the spring, giving Bill O’Brien another talented option in the backfield.
 

18. Damon Bullock, Iowa (JR)
The Mansfield (Texas) High product enters his third year after an effective year of spot duty for Iowa. Bullock only played in six games but got at least 22 carries in five of those six and posted 85.5 yards per game when he played.
 

19. Josh Ferguson, Illinois (SO)
The third-year running back from Naperville (Ill) Joliet Catholic saw limited action a year ago, rushing for 312 yards on 75 carries. Yet, he provided a boost in the passing game, catching 29 balls for 251 yards. Look for more work from the all-purpose back this fall.
 

20. R.J. Shelton, Michigan State (FR)
This spot is essentially a placeholder for one of Michigan State’s three incoming freshmen running backs. Shelton, Delton Williams and Gerald Holmes all will have an opportunity to battle Nick Hill, Riley Bullough, Jeremy Langford and Nick Tompkins for the starting job. Shelton was a three-star recruit by Rivals.com and could see significant action in 2013.
 

by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
 

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Teaser:
<p> Ranking the Big Ten's Running Backs for 2013</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/will-tennessee-volunteers-make-bowl-game-2013
Body:

After a 15-21 record in three years on Rocky Top, Derek Dooley was fired as Tennessee’s coach and was replaced by Butch Jones. The Volunteers have missed out on a bowl game in each of the last two seasons and have just two conference wins during that stretch.

Jones did a good job in two previous coaching stops, recording a 27-13 mark in three years with Central Michigan and a 23-14 record at Cincinnati.

Jones seems to have Tennessee back on track, but the Volunteers have a lot of question marks to answer in 2013. 

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Will Tennessee Make a Bowl Game in 2013?

Jon Cooper, lead writer and editor Saturday Down South, (@JonSDS)
No doubt, the goal for Butch Jones in his first year is a bowl game, but there could be rough waters ahead for the near future. Welcoming Jones to Knoxville is just an overall brutal schedule as the new leader, with road games in back-to-back weeks to Oregon and Florida followed up by the remorseless stretch of Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. Those five alone will make the hair stand up on any coach’s neck.

Can Tennessee make a bowl game? Sure, but there are too many personnel questions right now to say they will make a bowl game. I could see another 5-7 season for the Vols, but rest assured, there are brighter days ahead with The Butch in command. The only area of the Vols’ team that Jones can even feel remotely positive about is the offensive line. Outside of the big uglies, who are SEC Championship caliber, there are questions all over the roster.

Don’t get me wrong; I love the momentum and direction Jones has created in just his first five months on the job. Tennessee has their man. Now, they must give him time to succeed. But the learning curve for Jones’ first year is just too great to feel good about going to a bowl game, especially with the talent lost on offense. Ironically, Tennessee could be sitting at four wins with Vanderbilt and Kentucky in the last two weeks. The key to the whole season is the Vandy game. 


David Fox (@DavidFox615)
In a few years, Tennessee is going to be happy with Butch Jones. He’s unfairly labeled as standing on Brian Kelly’s shoulders after following him at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. On the contrary, last season was probably his best coaching job. But that’s partly because he rebuilt the foundation with the Bearcats before going 10-3 in 2012. In Knoxville, he may as well be starting from scratch. The defense was so bad last season that even a top-20 offense nationally couldn’t win more than one SEC game. And now Tyler Bray is gone. With a veteran offensive line -- one that allowed the fifth-fewest sacks in the country last season -- the regression for the offense will be mitigated. And this coaching staff already worked miracles with a bad Cincinnati defense it inherited from Kelly’s final season. Tennessee will have to win a handful of games they couldn’t last season, but they were closer to bowl eligibility than we remember last season. The Vols lost in four overtimes to Missouri, by a field goal to South Carolina, by a touchdown to Georgia, not to mention a Florida game that got away from them in a span of a few minutes in the second half. Tennessee should be counted on to win four games, and after that the season hinges on a road trip to Missouri and a home game against Auburn. A bowl seems plausible to me.
 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Despite the worst two-year SEC run in program history, there are things to like about the Tennessee Volunteers in 2013. New head coach Butch Jones has built a competitive coaching staff that knows how to win (and recruit). But most importantly, the Vols will boast one of the nation's best offensive lines. The ability to run the ball and protect the quarterback will help whoever is under center or catching passes. The schedule has some huge obstacles — at Oregon, Florida and Alabama to go with home games with South Carolina and Georgia. Assuming Tennessee loses all five, that leaves five winnable and two swing games for the Vols to compete for the postseason. Austin Peay, Western Kentucky, South Alabama, Auburn and Kentucky should be wins, leaving a home game with new rival Vanderbilt and a road trip to Missouri left to determine bowl eligibility. One win in those two and Tennessee will likely make it to a bowl. The change from Derek Dooley to Jones should be worth at least one game, right?
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
So far, Butch Jones is making all of the right moves at Tennessee. But winning the off-the-field battles and games in the SEC are two totally different matters.

With the departure of quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, the Volunteers have some gaping holes on offense at both positions. The good news is the offensive line could be the best in the SEC, and running back combination of Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane is solid.

While the quarterback battle is getting the most attention in Knoxville, Tennessee has to find some answers for a defense that was one of the worst in the nation last year. The Volunteers probably weren’t as bad as the numbers indicated, especially since the talent never meshed with Sal Sunseri’s 3-4 approach. With seven starters back, this unit should show some improvement in 2013.

In order to get to a bowl game, Tennessee has to go 3-1 in non-conference play. With Austin Peay, Western Kentucky and South Alabama on the schedule, getting three wins outside of the SEC should be attainable. However, finding three victories in the SEC won’t be easy. The Volunteers’ best chances at victories in conference play will likely come in November, as they play Missouri, Auburn, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. I don’t think it will be easy, but Tennessee should find a way to get to 6-6 and play in a bowl in Butch Jones’ first season. 
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
As much as I like the Butch Jones hiring, I think he will need some time to get things going in Knoxville. Besides starting over from scratch from not only a coaching standpoint but also the players having to learn new offensive and defensive systems, Tennessee saw a lot of talent leave for the NFL, especially on offense. While the offensive line should be a strength for the Volunteers, there's no Taylor Bray under center or Justin Hunter or Cordarelle Patterson (or Zach Rogers or Mychal Rivera for that matter) to catch passes. Then there's UT's schedule, which has two "guaranteed" wins on it - the season opener against Austin Peay and a Sept. 28 visit from South Alabama - and then four more potential winnable games at best. That would get the Vols to six wins and bowl-eligible, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit if Western Kentucky, Missouri, Auburn or dare I say it, even Kentucky was able to beat Tennessee this season. I think it's going to be a rocky road for "Rocky Top" this fall as the Vols will miss out on a bowl for the third straight season.
 

Nathan Rush (@AthlonSports)
Butch Jones is no Derek Dooley — and as a result, the Volunteers will make a bowl game this year. But there is little room for error, and the postseason party will almost certainly by an in-state affair at either the Music City or Liberty Bowls, respectively. Gone are the days when you couldn't spell Citrus (now the Capital One Bowl) without "UT," as Steve Spurrier famously quipped during the 1990s heyday of Phillip Fulmer's Big Orange machine. The Volunteers' schedule has five losses built in (at Alabama, at Oregon, at Florida, Georgia and South Carolina). Plus, the "easy" SEC games are on the road (at Missouri and at Kentucky). The cupcakes are South Alabama and Austin Peay. That leaves James Franklin's Vanderbilt, Gus Malzahn's Auburn and Bobby Petrino's Western Kentucky — three winnable (but losable) home games at Neyland Stadium — to decide the fate of Tennessee. Coach Jones needs at least two of those three to take the Vols bowling for the first time since 2010. If Jones can't make that happen, he better plan a Lane Kiffin exit strategy because patience is a thing of the past in Knoxville after the doomed Dooley era.
 

Barrett Sallee, Lead SEC College Football Writer for Bleacher Report (@BarrettSallee)
As long as the secondary can turn things around under first-year defensive coordinator John Jancek, I'd say that's not only a realistic goal, but an attainable one on Rocky Top.

Butch Jones takes over a program that's in a similar state as it was when former head coach Derek Dooley took over before the 2010 season. Scheme changes plus personnel changes doesn't typically equal immediate success, but that doesn't mean that the Vols are set for another rebuilding year.

The front seven for Tennessee will benefit tremendously from the switch back to the 4-3, and you'll see more consistency from the secondary as a result. A stout pass rush creates opportunities in the back end, and that will pay dividends for the Vols in 2013.

The schedule is brutal, and doesn't lend itself to a major turnaround in Year 1. But a .500 record and a lower-tier bowl game is progress. Jones will make that happen with this team.


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Ranking the SEC Head Coaches for 2013

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College Football's Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

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Teaser:
<p> Will the Tennessee Volunteers Make a Bowl Game in 2013?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - 07:10
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-12s-running-backs-2013
Body:

With Lache Seastrunk’s emergence late in the 2012 season, and another solid year from Kansas’ James Sims, the Big 12 has two top-tier options for 2013. Seastrunk was on a tear at the end of the year and should post even bigger numbers with a full season as Baylor’s No. 1 back. Sims missed three games last year, yet finished with more than 1,000 yards.

After Seastrunk and Sims, the Big 12 has a group of rushers waiting to emerge. Texas’ Johnathan Gray should be better as a sophomore, while Oklahoma State’s Jeremy Smith should step into the lineup to replace Joseph Randle.

There’s plenty of other proven options for the Big 12, as West Virginia’s Andrew Buie, Oklahoma’s Damien Williams, Kansas State’s John Hubert, Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams and TCU’s Waymon James could threaten 1,000 yards this year.

College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top running backs in each conference.

Ranking the Big 12 Running Backs for 2013

1. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor (JR)
After rushing for just 181 yards through the first seven games of 2012, Seastrunk went on a tear over the final six contests. The Texas native averaged 138.5 yards per game over the final six games, including four straight 100-yard performances to close out 2012. Seastrunk’s best game came against Kansas State, rushing for 185 yards and one touchdown on 19 attempts. After breaking into the starting lineup late last season, Seastrunk now has the full confidence of the coaching staff and is poised to record another 1,000-yard season. The junior should be one of the top running backs in the nation and a first-team All-Big 12 pick for 2013.
 

2. James Sims, Kansas (SR)
Despite a three-game suspension to open 2012, Sims finished as the Big 12’s leading rusher at 112.6 yards per game. And Sims’ production is even more impressive when you consider the lackluster passing attack Kansas had last season, which forced even more attention on the ground game. In nine games last year, the Texas native finished with 1,013 yards and nine scores, while catching 14 passes for 168 yards and one touchdown. For his career, Sims has 2,482 rushing yards and 27 scores. Although Kansas will have to rebuild its offensive line, expect Sims to close out his career on a high note.


3. Johnathan Gray, Texas (SO)
The No. 1 running back recruit in the nation last year from Aledo (Texas) High is ready for the spotlight. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder played in all 13 games but eventually became Mack Brown’s top option in the backfield, starting five of the last six games. He posted two 100-yard games and finished with 701 yards as a true freshman. He led the team in rushing and could explode in 2013 should the offense continue to develop around him. He is the complete package at running back — running for power, running with speed, catching passes and protecting his quarterback.
 

4. Jeremy Smith, Oklahoma State (SR)
After three very productive seasons in Stillwater, Joseph Randle decided to leave for the NFL. Although Randle is a big loss, Oklahoma State’s backfield is far from bare. Smith moves from the No. 2 role to the top spot in 2013 and is poised to make a run at 1,000 yards. Over the last three seasons at Oklahoma State, Smith has rushed for 1,439 yards and 25 touchdowns. He is averaging 6.2 yards per carry and recorded 119 yards and two scores in the 44-10 blowout win over Oklahoma in 2011. Although it’s a bit of a projection to place Smith this high in his first year, the talent is in place for a huge senior season.
 

5. Damien Williams, Oklahoma (SR)
The Sooners' leading rusher from a year ago originally signed with Arizona State from San Diego (Calif.) Mira Mesa. Yet, after two stellar junior college seasons at Arizona Western, Williams landed in Norman and quickly proved he was ready for big-time college football. He averaged nearly six yards per carry and was just 95 yards shy of 1,000. The 5-foot-11, 215-pounder is an excellent receiver and will be Blake Bell’s best friend in 2013.


6. John Hubert, Kansas State (SR)
An underrated recruit from Waco (Texas) Midway, the diminutive 5-foot-7 running back had been a perfect complement to now-departed quarterback Collin Klein. Hubert, at 190 pounds, plays more physical than his small stature would indicate and has proven to be effective in tough yardage situations — he scored 15 touchdowns a year ago. Without Klein, Hubert will have to shoulder more of the load, and, undoubtedly, is looking for his first 1,000-yard season after rushing for 947 yards a year ago and 970 in 2011.


7. Malcolm Brown, Texas (JR)
Before Johnathan Gray there was Malcolm Brown. He too was the No. 1-rated running back recruit in the nation when he signed with the Longhorns out of Cibolo (Texas) Steele in 2011. Despite missing three games as a freshman, Brown rushed for 742 yards and was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. His sophomore season was off to a quality start — two 100-yard games in the first two — before getting hurt and missing five games. The 6-foot, 225-pounder has all the talent in the world to succeed, but he needs to prove his proclivity for injury was just bad luck and not a concerning trend.
 

8. Glasco Martin, Baylor (SR)
Lost in Lache Seastrunk’s breakout performance at the end of 2012 was a solid performance by Martin. The Texas native recorded 889 yards and reached paydirt 15 times last season. Martin had two 100-yard performances, including 113 in the upset victory over Kansas State. Prior to 2012, Martin had only 289 rushing yards in his career but he is averaging 5.2 yards per rush attempt over the last three years. Although Seastrunk will garner the All-American attention, Martin could quietly approach 1,000 yards and should be a tough option for defenses to stop around the goal line.
 

9. Waymon James, TCU (SR)
The Sherman (Texas) High star posted over 1,300 yards rushing in his first two seasons on campus. He was slated to power the TCU rushing attack last year and was ripping off 9.9 yards per carry through two games last season before season-ending knee surgery. The 5-foot-8, 205-pounder is compact and explosive and, should he prove to be fully recovered, could easily push for All-Big 12 honors as the starter in Fort Worth.
 

10. Kenny Williams, Texas Tech (JR)
The 5-foot-9, 220-pound bowling ball posted a sneaky-good sophomore season in 2012. The honorable mention All-Big 12 back rushed for 824 yards and scored six total touchdowns for the pass-happy Red Raiders. Williams is poised to become the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher since another Williams, Ricky, did so for Texas Tech in 1998 (1,582 — yes, there were two Ricky Williams in the Big 12 in 1998).
 

11. James White, Iowa State (SR)
The fifth-year senior from famed Dallas (Texas) Skyline split time with Shontrelle Johnson a year ago. White was more effective, as he rushed for more yards and posted a better per-carry rate than Johnson — who is recovering from offseason ACL surgery. White, a 5-foot-8, 192-pounder, now heads what could be one of the deeper running back corps in the conference. He has rushed for 1,249 yards over the last two years.
 

12. Andrew Buie, West Virginia (JR)
With Geno Smith moving on to the NFL, the Mountaineers may lean a little more on the run in 2013. Luckily for coach Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia has a stable of proven backs, headlined by Buie. In 13 contests last year, he rushed for 851 yards and seven scores, while adding 28 catches for 318 yards. Buie’s best game came against Texas, gashing the Longhorns for 207 yards and two touchdowns. If he has more carries in 2013, Buie could approach 1,000 yards.


13. Joe Bergeron, Texas (JR)
The 6-foot-1, 240-pounder plays in the same backfield with the nation’s last two No. 1 RB prospects. Yet, it was the Mesquite (Texas) North product who scored a team-best 16 times last year. He is a great — maybe, one of the best in the nation — complementary piece for the Longhorns.
 

14. Tony Pierson, Kansas (JR)
James Sims was forced to miss the first three games of last season, but the Jayhawks’ rushing attack was in good hands with Pierson. The Illinois native rushed for 100 yards in back-to-back games to open the season and finished 2012 with 760 yards and four scores. On a team that’s thin in proven receivers, Pierson is one of the team’s most dangerous weapons in the passing game, as he caught 21 passes for 291 yards and two scores last year. Although Sims remains Kansas’ workhorse back, Pierson should see plenty of opportunities this season.
 

15. Brennan Clay, Oklahoma (SR)
A big-time recruit from San Diego, Clay has yet to live up to his elite hype but has been more than productive for Bob Stoops. He has increased his carries, yards, touchdowns and yards per carry each year of his three-year career.
 

16. Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State (JR)
With Joseph Randle leaving early for the NFL, the Cowboys need a big season from new starter Jeremy Smith, along with Roland in a secondary role. The Texas native has 63 rushing attempts in his career, recording 396 yards and four scores during his limited work. Roland is averaging an impressive 6.5 yards per carry and recorded 104 yards against Savannah State last season. Look for Roland to approach 500 rushing yards as Smith’s top backup in 2013.
 

17. Aaron Green, TCU (SO)
After finishing eighth in the Big 12 in rushing offense last season, it’s clear TCU needs to get more from its ground attack in 2013. The return of Waymon James from a knee injury should help, along with the arrival of Aaron Green via transfer (Nebraska). Green was a top-15 national recruit by ESPN in the 2011 signing class but managed only 105 yards in his only season at Nebraska. The talent is certainly there for Green to have a breakout performance for TCU. But can he surpass James and B.J. Catalon on the depth chart?


18. B.J. Catalon, TCU (SO)
Forced into action due to injury, Catalon played well as just a 5-foot-9, 190-pound freshman. He led all TCU backs with 123 carries and led the team with 582 yards rushing. He is an excellent No. 2 option for Gary Patterson.


19. Dustin Garrison, West Virginia (JR)
Garrison had a solid freshman campaign in 2011, rushing for 742 yards and six scores. However, his season ended prematurely when he tore his ACL in Orange Bowl practices, and his recovery extended into 2012. Although Garrison played in 11 contests, he clearly wasn’t the same player and rushed for only 207 yards and two scores. Now that he is a full year removed from his injury, expect Garrison to see more carries in 2013.
 

20. Dreamius Smith, West Virginia (JR)
There’s no question Dreamius Smith is a first-teamer on the college football all-name team for 2013. However, West Virginia needs to know: Can this junior college performer help the rushing attack? So far, it seems he can. Smith totaled 38 yards on seven attempts in the spring game and is expected to feature prominently in the offense in 2013.

 

by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
 

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Teaser:
<p> Ranking the Big 12's Running Backs for 2013</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - 07:21
Path: /college-football/can-california-improve-its-win-total-2013
Body:

After 11 seasons under Jeff Tedford, California decided it was time for a change. Tedford was fired after the season finale, and former Arizona offensive coordinator and Louisiana Tech head man Sonny Dykes was hired as the team’s new coach.

The Golden Bears have plenty of talent in the program but slipped to a disappointing 3-9 mark last year. If the pieces come together, California could challenge for a bowl game in 2013.

However, there’s a couple of obstacles to overcome, including a tough schedule and quarterback uncertainty.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Can California Improve Its Win Total in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
At first look, asking Cal to exceed its three wins from a season ago doesn’t seem like a big deal. You could pick just about any major conference team to win four games by accident. Only 15 teams in the BCS automatic-qualifying conferences won four or fewer games last season. But looking at Cal’s schedule there aren’t a whole lot of sure wins. We can probably count Portland State as one of them, but after that the Bears have to defeat Washington State at home, Colorado on the road and then ... who else? Northwestern, Arizona or Oregon State at home? I like Sonny Dykes’ ability to adapt to his personnel, as he did in his first two seasons at Louisiana Tech, but I’m not sure how he’s going to build this group into a team that can compete with Oregon, Stanford and Ohio State. At Cal, Dykes has an intriguing playmaker in Brendan Bigelow and then an unsettled quarterback situation and a lackluster defense. Even though, Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham and Jim L. Mora all had quick success in the Pac-12, Dykes may have trouble matching those three first-year performances. The Pac-12 North is a gauntlet and coaches like Mora, Rodriguez and Mike Leach at Washington State all have a year’s head start on Berkeley. This may be a push for Cal in Dykes’ first season.
 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Sonny Dykes will improve the Golden Bears in his first season, it just may not show up in the win column. There is talent all over the roster, including a future star in redshirt freshman quarterback Zach Kline. However, the non-conference schedule is nasty with Ohio State and Northwestern coming to town with a combined 22 wins from a year ago. Road trips to Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and Washington is about as tough a road slate as there is in the league. So a home game against Portland State is lone gimmie. To improve on last year's three wins, Cal would have to win three of the following five: Washington State, Oregon State, Arizona, USC and at Colorado. It's certainly possible but not likely, so I will say California is 3-9 once again.


Kyle Kensing, Editor at SaturdayBlitz.com, (@kensing45)
Offensive inefficiency plagued Cal for much of the latter half of Jeff Tedford's run as head coach, but especially so in 2012. Sonny Dykes was a home run hire, especially for reinvigorating the Golden Bear offense. Louisiana Tech was the nation's highest scoring team a season ago, and Dykes was largely responsible for Arizona's two eight-win teams in 2008 and 2009.

Teams must be able to score in the Pac-12, and Dykes will get Cal to that point with his version of the air raid spread. It just won't be his first season. Cal returns the fewest starters of any team in the conference with nine -- four are on offense. A fresh start is probably a good thing for restructuring the system in the long-term, but replacing Keenan Allen and Isi Sofele is difficult in the short run.

Dykes also faces an absolutely brutal schedule in his first year. The Golden Bears face two Big Ten teams in the non-conference. First is Northwestern, which should be in the preseason Top 25, and Ohio State. The Buckeyes are preseason top five material.

The Bears do draw Colorado out of the South, but have to travel to Boulder. Washington State at home is a likely win, and any of Oregon State, Arizona or USC could be upset material at Memorial Stadium. UA in particular has struggled in Berkeley for years.

Four wins are likely. A bowl probably isn't. 
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think California will win more than three games and has an outside shot to push for a bowl game in 2013. Sonny Dykes was an excellent hire and should be a good fit in Berkeley, and former coach Jeff Tedford isn’t leaving the cupboard bare of talent. Provided he can stay healthy, running back Brendan Bigelow is a future star, and the receiving corps has a handful of talented players, including Chris Harper. The defense returns six starters and linemen Deandre Coleman, Chris McCain and Viliami Moala could contend for All-Pac-12 honors. The secondary is the biggest question mark, but Stefan McClure is back after missing all of 2012 with a knee injury.

If the Golden Bears are going to challenge for a winning record, the two biggest obstacles to overcome is a tough schedule and uncertainty at quarterback. Zach Kline has a bright future at California but has no game experience on the FBS level. How quickly can he get acclimated to being a starting quarterback in the Pac-12? The schedule features non-conference games against Northwestern and Ohio State and crossover games with the South Division against UCLA, USC and Arizona. With a likely 1-2 record in non-conference play, California needs to find five wins in Pac-12 action to get bowl eligible. It’s unlikely, especially with Colorado and Washington State the only games the Golden Bears will likely be favored to win. However, I think California gets better as the year progresses and could pull off an upset or two, likely finishing at 4-8 or 5-7. 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
Considering California won just three games last season, you would think topping that wouldn't be that difficult of a task for new Golden Bears head coach Sonny Dykes. After all, his Louisiana Tech offense led the nation in both total (577.9 ypg) and scoring (51.5 ppg) offense last season. However, Berkeley, Calif., is nearly 2,000 miles away from Ruston, La., and I expect the offensive production between this year's Golden Bears and last year's Bulldogs to be just as vast. Dykes does have a promising running back in Brendan Bigelow and potential big-play threat at wide receiver in Bryce Treggs, but after that it's anyone guess, including along the offensive line (two returning starters). The defense does return six starters, but it's from a unit that ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12 in just about every major statistical category last season. Couple these factors with a non-conference schedule that has Big Ten opponents Northwestern and Ohio State lined up in the first three weeks of the season, and a Pac-12 crossover schedule that features Arizona, UCLA and USC, and it looks like Dykes will be in for a tough first season with the Golden Bears. Forget improving on last season's 3-9 mark, simply matching that win total would have to be considered a positive debut this fall for Dykes.

 

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Teaser:
<p> Can California Improve Its Win Total in 2013?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - 07:20
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-easts-running-backs-2013
Body:

The Big East doesn’t have many household names returning at running back for 2013.

Houston’s Charles Sims is one of the best all-around backs in college football and leads the way for the Big East in 2013. Joining Sims atop the rankings is UCF’s Storm Johnson, Connecticut’s Lyle McCombs and Rutgers’ Savon Huggins. McCombs had a disappointing 2012 season but should top 1,000 yards in 2013.

After the top four, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding this group of rushers. However, Louisville has two talented options in Dominique Brown and Senorise Perry, and SMU has an intriguing junior college recruit in Traylon Shead.

College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top running backs in each conference.

Big East Running Back Rankings for 2013

1. Charles Sims, Houston (SR)
Sims only had 142 carries in 2012, but he certainly made the most of his opportunities. Against UAB, he recorded 133 yards on 26 attempts and posted a season best of 210 yards against North Texas in early October. Sims is a key receiver for Houston out of the backfield, catching 37 passes for 373 yards and three scores last year. For his career, the Houston native is averaging 6.2 yards per carry and has scored 37 times. Don’t expect Sims to have 250 rushes in 2013, but he should easily exceed last year’s 142 attempts and is the Big East’s top all-purpose back.
 

2. Lyle McCombs, Connecticut (JR)
It hasn’t taken long for fans in Storrs to appreciate the tiny runner from Staten Island (N.Y.) St. Joseph. He rushed for 1,151 yards as a freshman in 2011 and posted 860 yards last fall as a sophomore. He has reached paydirt 14 times in his career and has proven to be an excellent receiver (43 career receptions). With a little help from the passing game, McCombs should return to the 1,000-yard club in 2013.


3. Storm Johnson, UCF (JR)
After a one-year stint at Miami, Johnson transferred to UCF and sat out the 2011 season due to transfer rules. Even with a crowded backfield last year, Johnson managed to work his way into the lineup, recording 507 yards and four touchdowns on 113 attempts. With Latavius Murray out of eligibility, the Knights will turn to Johnson as the team’s feature back. As one of the top running backs in the nation in the 2011 signing class, the talent is there for Johnson to be a 1,000-yard rusher this year. Expect Johnson to be one of the Big East’s leading rushers at the end of 2013.
 

4. Savon Huggins, Rutgers (JR)
Few players have ever started their career at Rutgers with more hype than the five-star recruit from Jackson (N.J.) St. Peter’s Prep. His career began as fans had hoped, with two touchdowns in his first game. However, his true freshman season was cut short with injury and his sophomore year saw Jawan Jamison take the reigns of the offense. Still, Huggins showed improvement last year and is poised to become the next in a line of quality Scarlet Knights running backs.


5. Senorise Perry, Louisville (JR)
Before a torn ACL ended his 2012 season in early November, Perry was on track to lead Louisville in rushing yards. The Georgia native recorded three 100-yard efforts, including 118 against Southern Miss and 108 against Kentucky. Perry posted 101 yards and four touchdowns on 12 attempts against Pittsburgh and rushed for 86 yards against North Carolina. Assuming Perry is at full strength, he should be Louisville’s No. 1 back in 2013. However, Dominique Brown is expected to see his share of carries, which makes Louisville’s backfield a likely 50-50 split in terms of overall yards and touches.
 

6. Dominique Brown, Louisville (JR)
Brown committed to Louisville as a quarterback but was shifted to running back after he arrived on campus. The Cincinnati native sat out 2012 as a redshirt, giving him two more years of eligibility. In 2011, he rushed for 533 yards and four scores, while catching 16 passes for 98 yards and one touchdown. With Jeremy Wright leaving the team after the Sugar Bowl victory over Florida, Brown and Senorise Perry will be charged with carrying the rushing attack. Brown is still looking for his first 100-yard game but that should come with more opportunities in 2013.
 

7. Ralph David Abernathy IV, Cincinnati (JR)
Isaiah Pead gave way to George Winn who will give way to RDA-4. The speedster from Atlanta (Ga.) Westminster has big-play potential every time he touches the ball. He rushed for over five yards per carry, caught 28 passes and four touchdowns through the air and averaged 25 yards per kickoff return (32 returns., 801 yards). He has the skill to be extremely effective but can his 5-foot-7, 160-pound frame withstand the pro-style beating Tommy Tuberville’s new offense might ask of its running backs?
 

8. Marcus Shaw, USF (SR)
The senior from Arcadia (Fla.) De Soto has played in a lot of games for the Bulls (28 career games) but hasn’t gotten the chance to showcase his skills (three career starts). The 5-foot-9, 180-pounder came on late last fall getting double-digit carries against quality competition (Cincinnati, Miami, UConn). Look for new coach Willie Tagart — who got the most out of smaller backs at Western Kentucky — to find a way to use Shaw effectively.
 

9. Traylon Shead, SMU (JR)
Zach Line expired his eligibility after the Hawaii Bowl, leaving SMU without a No. 1 back for 2013. Rishaad Wimbley and Jared Williams have experience, but the Mustangs hope Shead is the answer for the rushing attack. The former Texas Longhorn transferred to SMU after a year at Navarro (Texas) College and should be the new go-to back for SMU in 2013. In his one season on the junior college level, Shead rushed for 1,194 yards and 17 touchdowns.
 

10. Brandon Hayes, Memphis (SR)
The former junior college transfer didn’t get into a game until Week 4 last year, but Hayes was effective once he took over. He posted 576 yards and six touchdowns while topping 100 yards in the season’s final two games.
 

11. Kenneth Farrow, Houston (SO)
In his first season on a college field, the 215-pound tailback from Hurst (Texas) L.D. Bell showed fans a glimpse of the future as a freshman. Farrow should only build on his 631 yards from scrimmage in 2013.
 

12. Jai Steib, Memphis (SR)
Steib matched Hayes' six rushing touchdowns a year ago for the team lead. Yet, on one more carry in three more games, Steib finished 149 yards behind Hayes in production. Look for both to get plenty of looks in 2013.
 

13. Kenneth Harper, Temple (JR)
With Montel Harris and Matt Brown out of eligibility, Temple is essentially starting over in the backfield. Harper is a slight favorite over Jamie Gilmore to begin the year as the Owls’ No. 1 back. He rushed for 65 yards and two scores on 13 attempts last season and has only 193 yards and three rushing touchdowns in his career.
 

14. Jamie Gilmore, Temple (SO)
Gilmore is competing with Kenneth Harper and incoming freshman Zaire Williams for the starting running back spot. As a true freshman last year, Gilmore rushed for 94 yards on 20 attempts, with his best performance coming against Army (49 yards). 
 

15. Tion Green, Cincinnati (SO)
The mid-level recruit from Sanford (Fla.) Lake Brantley saw limited action as a freshman last season but has the perfect build (6-foot, 211 pounds) to complement potential starter Ralph David Abernathy IV.


by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
 

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Ranking the Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era

Teaser:
<p> Ranking the Big East's Running Backs for 2013</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - 07:20
Path: /college-football/ranking-acc-running-backs-2013
Body:

Running back is a position in transition in the ACC.

Miami’s Duke Johnson should contend for All-American honors, but there’s not much in the way of proven, all-conference options outside of the sophomore. Florida State’s James Wilder and Syracuse’s Jerome Smith rank as the next two players, but Virginia’s Kevin Parks and Clemson’s Roderick McDowell could have breakout seasons in 2013.

Although the ACC doesn’t have a lot of proven all-conference options, there’s some quality depth with names like Wake Forest’s Josh Harris, Virginia Tech’s J.C. Coleman and Boston College’s Andre Williams capable of reaching 1,000 yards – if they have the opportunities.

College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top running backs in each conference.

Ranking the ACC's Running Backs for 2013

1. Duke Johnson, Miami (SO)
In one short season of action, the Miami (Fla.) Norland speedster already has a litany of accolades. He earned Freshman of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Special Teams Player of the Year honors in the ACC and was a Freshman All-American last season. He played all 12 games as a true freshman, rushing for 947 yards on the ground, along with 221 yards receiving and leading the ACC in kickoff returns (33.0 ypr). He scored 13 times and even threw a touchdown pass against Virginia. As the season went along, Al Golden trusted The Duke more with the ball in the backfield as Johnson rushed for 492 yards in the last four games. Look for Golden to give the 5-foot-9, 195-pounder as many carries as his smallish frame can handle in 2013.
 

2. Jerome Smith, Syracuse (JR)
After rushing for only 134 yards in 2011, Smith burst on to the scene in 2012. In 13 games, he recorded 1,171 yards and three touchdowns on 227 attempts. Smith didn’t factor much into the passing attack, catching only eight passes for 83 yards. The Delaware native emerged as a bigger factor in Syracuse’s offense over the second half of last year, recording four straight 100-yard efforts and posting his best performance against West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl (152 yards). Looking ahead to the fall, Syracuse's offense will be led by a new coordinator, new quarterback and also must revamp its offensive line after the departure of tackle Justin Pugh. With a lot of uncertainty on the Orange’s offense, look for Smith to see a heavy workload in 2013.
 

3. James Wilder Jr., Florida State (JR)
With Florida State expected to hand the quarterback duties to redshirt freshman Jameis Winston, the rushing attack will be counted on to carry the offense early in 2013. Wilder Jr. rushed for only 160 yards as a true freshman but recorded 640 yards and 11 touchdowns on 110 attempts in 2012. The Tampa native’s best performance came against Murray State (106 yards), while recording 65 yards on nine attempts against Clemson. After Chris Thompson’s injury against Miami, Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman became the focal point for the ground attack, and the duo should build on that success in 2013. Wilder Jr. was a big-time recruit in the 2011 signing class and is poised for a breakout season.
 

4. Kevin Parks, Virginia (JR)
The Cavaliers' rushing attack took a major step back in 2012 and the junior-to-be from Salisbury (N.C.) West Rowan is looking to reestablish the ground attack this fall. One of the most prolific rushers in American prep football history, Parks has been contributing since the first game of his career. He is only 5-foot-8 but has a compact and physical frame (around 200 pounds). He is tough at the goal line, and after leading the team in rushing a year ago, is poised for his best season. Parks has topped 700 yards in each of his first two seasons and owns the single-season school touchdown rushing record (9). He could be in for a big season as the Cavaliers' workhorse in 2013.
 

5. Devonta Freeman, Florida State (JR)
After Chris Thompson’s season-ending knee injury against Miami, Freeman became Florida State’s No. 1 back. He rushed for 104 yards against Duke, 148 against Maryland and recorded 59 yards in the ACC Championship victory over Georgia Tech. Freeman finished the year with 660 yards and eight scores, which was a slight improvement from his numbers as a freshman – 579 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. The Miami native is expected to split time with James Wilder Jr. and with a career per carry average of 5.9 yards, should provide plenty of pop for the Seminoles' rushing attack in 2013.
 

6. David Sims, Georgia Tech (SR)
Paul Johnson’s triple option attack once again led the ACC in rushing and the St. Matthews (S.C.) Calhoun County native is Georgia Tech's leading return rusher. The 6-foot, 220-pounder missed two games early in the year last fall but was given double-digit carries — a rarity for running backs in Johnson’s offense — in eight of the last nine games. He capped the season with his four best performances, topping 70 yards in each of the final four games. Sims enters his third season starting as the B-Back and is poised for his best year in 2013.
 

7. Roderick McDowell, Clemson (SR)
With Andre Ellington expiring his eligibility after the Chick-Fil-A Bowl win over Clemson, McDowell is set to become the No. 1 back for the Tigers in 2013. The South Carolina native has only been a reserve so far in his career, recording 674 yards and seven rushing scores on 129 attempts. McDowell showed promise late in 2012 as he rushed for 83 yards on 13 attempts against Duke and posted 83 yards on 12 carries against NC State. McDowell probably won’t be as effective as Ellington, but he should have a solid year if he can hold off Zac Brooks and D.J. Howard for playing time.
 

8. Shadrach Thornton, NC State (SO)
Thornton became a key contributor as a true freshman last season, finishing 2012 with 694 yards and three scores. He also was a factor in the passing attack, catching 30 passes for 274 yards and one score. Thornton had three 100-yard efforts over the final four games, including 114 yards and one touchdown against Clemson. With a new quarterback taking over at NC State, the rushing attack will be needed to help take the pressure off of the passing game. Thornton and teammate Tony Creecy could be one of the ACC’s top running back combinations at the end of the year.
 

9. Josh Harris, Wake Forest (SR)
Harris could be higher on this list, but he has struggled to stay healthy over the last two years and has yet to capitalize from the potential of a standout freshman season – 720 yards and seven scores – in 2010 . Harris had only one 100-yard effort in 2012, recording 129 yards and two touchdowns on 12 attempts against Army. He also rushed for 84 yards against Duke and Boston College. Wake Forest’s offensive line also is a huge concern going into 2013. But if the Demon Deacons can give Harris more room to run, he could top the 1,000-yard mark.
 

10. A.J. Blue, North Carolina (SR)
The senior-to-be from Dallas (N.C.) North Gaston appears poised to take over for the departing Giovani Bernard. The 6-foot-2, 215 pounder had some legal issues early in his Tar Heels career and has played sparingly in three season. He didn’t get his first start until last season (at Wake Forest) and showed flashes of ability by delivering his first and only 100-yard game. It isn’t likely that just one name takes over for Bernard but fans can expect heavy doses of Blue in 2013.


11. Romar Morris, North Carolina (SO)
The Salisbury (N.C.) High prospect debuted in college last season and is poised to complement the bigger A.J. Blue in the Chapel Hill. Morris is a much smaller (5-10, 185), all-purpose player who will be used out of the backfield, on third downs and in the return game. He brings excellent speed and burst to the offense and will be the lightning to Blue’s thunder for Larry Fedora.
 

12. Tony Creecy, NC State (JR)
Creecy was a key part of NC State’s rushing attack in 2012, finishing with 476 yards and five scores. He also caught 34 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown. Although Shadrach Thornton is poised to lead the Wolfpack ground game this year, Creecy should see plenty of carries and will be a factor in catching passes out of the backfield.
 

13. J.C. Coleman, Virginia Tech (SO)
The top returning running back for Virginia Tech is the 5-foot-7, 170-pound Chesapeake (Va.) Oscar Smith product. The sophomore-to-be missed time this spring with leg and ankle issues but he should be ready to go come fall camp. Look for Coleman to build on his 492-yard freshman campaign.
 

14. Prince Tyson-Gulley, Syracuse (SR)
Tyson-Gulley is the perfect complement to Jerome Smith’s power in the Syracuse backfield. The Ohio native rushed for 830 yards and nine scores and caught 33 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns last year. With Smith and Tyson-Gulley returning, Syracuse should have one of the ACC’s top backfields in 2013.
 

15. Andre Williams, Boston College (SR)
New coach Steve Addazio wants to improve the rushing attack, and with Deuce Finch’s departure, the starting spot should go to Williams. The senior has 1,562 yards and 10 scores in three seasons in Chestnut Hill, including 191 yards and two touchdowns against Army in 2012. With an emphasis on the run for Boston College, the potential is certainly there for Williams to have a solid year.
 

16. Wes Brown, Maryland (SO)
The Terrapins averaged only 103 rushing yards per game last season. Getting more production from the ground attack is a must, and Brown, Brandon Ross and Albert Reid will likely share carries. Brown flashed potential last year, rushing for 121 yards against NC State.
 

17. Isaac Bennett, Pitt (JR)
With Ray Graham departing for the NFL and Rushel Shell transferring to UCLA, Bennett appears to be the heir apparent in Paul Chryst’s backfield. The Tulsa (Okla.) Booker T. Washington product has just 87 career rushes and 22 career receptions but filled in admirably for an injured Graham in 2011.
 

18. Jela Duncan, Duke (SO)
From famed Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek, Duncan led the Blue Devils in rushing a year ago as just a freshman. He tallied just 533 yards and four scores and with Sean Renfree moving on, more should be expected from the 5-foot-10, 200-pound runner.
 

19. Zach Laskey, Georgia Tech (JR)
Sims’ partner at B-Back last year, Laskey is the Yellow Jackets' No. 2 leading returning rusher. The dependable Georgia native posted two 100-yard efforts against lowly opponents Presbyterian and Boston College and should be counted on in 2013 for a bigger contribution this fall.
 

20. Khris Francis, North Carolina (FR)
With the departure of Giovani Bernard, the Tar Heels will turn to A.J. Blue, Romar Morris and Francis to carry the workload. Francis is a true freshman but made an impression in the spring and will be in the mix for time in the fall.


by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)


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College Football's Top Assistant Coach Hires for 2013
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Teaser:
<p> Ranking the ACC Running Backs for 2013</p>
Post date: Monday, April 22, 2013 - 07:25
Path: /college-football/rutgers-or-ucf-who-will-finish-higher-big-east-2013
Body:

Change has seemingly surrounded the Big East for the last couple of years. And the conference is undergoing a massive makeover later this offseason, as it will officially change names to the American Athletic Conference.

Houston, Memphis, SMU and UCF join the Big East from Conference USA, with UCF expected to be the best team out of the newcomers.

Rutgers started 7-0 last season but finished just 2-4. The Scarlet Knights suffered some significant personnel losses, including standout linebacker Khaseem Greene.

Although UCF is moving up in the conference pecking order, can it beat Rutgers in the Big East standings?

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Rutgers or UCF: Who Will Finish Higher in the Big East in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Texas A&M and Boise State are the exceptions. Nearly every other team moving to a new league needed at least a year to feel out its surroundings. UCF won’t need to adjust to Houston, Memphis or SMU, so that helps. Still, Rutgers has challenged for a Big East title before, even if the Scarlet Knights crumbled late last year. Most of Rutgers’ season will depend on Gary Nova’s ability to rebound from his turnover-filled second half of last season. He still has a veteran offensive line with four starters back and a standout receiver in Brandon Coleman. It’s also time for Savon Huggins, one of their top recruits in 2011, to deliver at running back. On defense, Khaseem Greene, Logan Ryan, Steve Beauharnais and Scott Vallone will hurt. Those are three all-league caliber players on all three levels. They’ll need to find answers there, and they can’t afford an offense that put them in bad spots. Meanwhile, UCF has nice momentum, but there’s enough reason to be skeptical. The Knights - especially quarterback Blake Bortles - struggled to get over the hump against teams like Tulsa. UCF will face more teams like that in the new league.
 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Trying to pinpoint league records in the newly named American Athletic Conference has historically been as impossible as getting Nick Saban to smile on the record. The 2013 campaign shouldn't be any different as four new faces show up in the standings this time around. So gauging how new additions like UCF will perform is extremely difficult, but generally, teams stepping up in competition have growing pains. Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, TCU, West Virginia and Missouri all experienced major struggles in their new league debuts. With brutal non-conference game with Penn State and South Carolina also on the slate, UCF could be in for a rude awakening. Rutgers has recruited at a dramatically higher level and is comfortable playing at this level. Yes, UCF has won plenty of games in C-USA, but this is a different beast. Rutgers will win at UCF on Thursday night late in the year and I wouldn't be shocked if the Knights from New Jersey finish well ahead of the Knights from Orlando.
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even though this is UCF’s first year in a BCS conference, I like the Knights to finish ahead of Rutgers in the Big East standings. And UCF received some extra motivation recently, as its postseason ban for 2013 was been lifted, allowing the Knights to play in a bowl game in their first season in the Big East. UCF has more stability on offense with quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson, while the receiving corps returns four players with at least 25 receptions. The biggest question mark for UCF is a defense that returns only four starters. The schedule also favors the Knights, as they won’t play Cincinnati – arguably the No. 2 team in the Big East in 2013.

Despite having some promising talent in the program, Rutgers suffered some heavy losses and it may be too much to overcome. Savon Huggins is a capable running back, but Jawan Jamison will be missed. Quarterback Gary Nova started off 2012 as one of the Big East’s top quarterbacks but struggled in the second half of the year. The defense was decimated by departures, including linebackers Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais, cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Duron Harmon. Also, the Scarlet Knights have two new coordinators, so there will be a transition on the coaching staff.

Both teams should be around eight overall wins, but I give UCF the edge to finish ahead of Rutgers in the final standings.
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
I'll take the Golden variety of Knight here because I have a little more faith in Blake Bortles than Rutgers' Gary Nova under center and I also think the Scarlet Knights lost more on defense even though UCF has fewer returning starters on that side of the ball.

Schedule-wise their conference slates are basically the same, but there is one difference and it could very well decide who finishes above the other. Both teams play preseason favorite Louisville, as well as UConn, Houston, SMU, South Florida, Temple and will face off against one another on Nov. 21 down in Orlando, Fla. The one game that's different? UCF plays at Memphis, while Rutgers hosts Cincinnati.

Even though that's a home game for Rutgers, I think UCF gets the edge in terms of opponent and I think this one game could be all the Golden Knights need to be the top Knight in the conference formerly known as the Big East in 2013.
 

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Teaser:
<p> Rutgers or UCF: Who Will Finish Higher in the Big East in 2013?</p>
Post date: Monday, April 22, 2013 - 07:23
Path: /college-football/how-many-games-will-penn-state-win-2013
Body:

Penn State is banned from postseason play in 2013, but optimism is still running high in Happy Valley.

Bill O’Brien wasn’t lured away from Penn State by the NFL, and the second-year coach is clearly proved he ranks among the Big Ten’s best coaches after going 8-4 in 2012.

The Nittany Lions suffered some key personnel losses, including the departure of linebacker Michael Mauti, quarterback Matt McGloin and defensive tackle Jordan Hill.

Despite the departure of a handful of key players, Penn State returns running back Zach Zwinak and receiver Allen Robinson, and incoming freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg could be a future star.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

How Many Games Will Penn State Win in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Penn State can get to seven wins, but it won’t be easy. I was skeptical about Penn State even fielding a winning team last season, but Bill O’Brien earned his coach of the year nods thanks to his transformation of the passing game. Quarterback is still a question, but player development has come a long way. The defense will be the major concern, particularly from a leadership standpoint. Guys like Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Jordan Hill held this group together, and now they’re gone. Then throw in dismal special teams play. Still, the schedule is manageable. We can probably count on games against Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin as losses and games against Eastern Michigan, Kent State and Illinois as wins, but the rest is up for grabs. The worst of the sanctions is yet to come, so this may be the most competitive Penn State team we see for a couple of years.
 

Kevin McGuire, No2MinuteWarning.com and NittanyLionsDen.com, (@KevinonCFB)
Despite some relative uncertainty surrounding the key position of quarterback to start the 2013 season, Penn State should be able to manage to get through their non-conference portion with a winning record. Games against Eastern Michigan and Kent State at home should be marked down as wins and a home game against Central Florida should also be a possible win. The Syracuse game to open the year in MetLife Stadium, to me, is a toss up for now but a 4-0 start to the year is certainly not out of the question.

When I look at the schedule now I see three games I feel are likely losses: Michigan, at Ohio State and Nebraska. The road game at Wisconsin to end the year I would mark as a loss but who knows how things will end up at the end of the year.

Right now I think eight wins is the likely ceiling for Penn State, but seven wins may be more likely unless Bill O'Brien finds a way to work some more magic with the offense.


Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
There are serious issues at quarterback and with leadership on defense — at linebacker, in particular — but this Penn State roster is in much better shape than most fans would think considering what the Nittany Lions have dealt with over the last 18 months. The skill positions on offense are stacked and both lines of scrimmage should be a strength of the team overall. And frankly, the schedule isn't all that daunting. A 4-0 record in the four non-conference games (three at home, one nuetral) is all but guaranteed — Syracuse, Eastern Michigan, UCF and Kent State — and the bye weeks set up nicely before tough stretches of the season. Lets assume that road trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin and home games against Michigan and Nebraska are losses, that leaves extremely winnable games with Indiana, Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota. A 4-4 conference record would give Penn State another eight-win season under miracle worker Bill O'Brien — which would have to be considered an extremely successful campaign. 
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even though Penn State has some significant personnel losses, I think eight wins is a reasonable goal for 2013. Finding a new quarterback is the top priority for Bill O’Brien, but considering his work with Matt McGloin, he should be able to turn Steven Bench, Tyler Ferguson or Christian Hackenberg into a reliable starter. Breaking in a new quarterback is never easy, but the Nittany Lions have good skill players, and the offensive line returns three starters. The defense has six starters returning, including rising star defensive end Deion Barnes. The biggest question mark on defense will be replacing the leadership and production from linebackers Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and defensive tackle Jordan Hill, especially since all three players held the team together after the sanctions were announced.

While Penn State is far from a perfect team, the schedule works in its favor. Syracuse, Eastern Michigan and Kent State should be three guaranteed wins in non-conference play. UCF is a dangerous opponent, but Penn State should win that game to start 4-0. In Big Ten games, the Nittany Lions don’t have to play Northwestern or Michigan State and host Michigan and Nebraska in crossover play. Bill O’Brien’s team travels at Ohio State and Wisconsin – two games it was likely to lose to this season regardless of where it was played. Considering Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota and Indiana are all winnable games, matching last season’s 8-4 record seems very likely for Penn State.
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
No one predicted that Bill O'Brien would lead Penn State to eight wins last season, let alone an impressive 6-2 showing in Big Ten play. Not only was O'Brien in his first season as a head coach on any level, he also was tasked with picking up the pieces in the wake of the worst scandal in NCAA history.

Even though the memory and the damage done by the scandal will never go away, one could argue that O'Brien has just as difficult a task facing him as it relates to the football field this season. O'Brien lost several key pieces from last season's senior-laden team and will have break in a new quarterback this fall. The offense could struggle to repeat last season's production, which puts more pressure on a defense that is replacing five starters, including two each on the line and among the linebackers.

That said, I am a firm believer in O'Brien and what he is building at Penn State, especially after what he accomplished last season. Thanks to a relatively soft non-conference schedule, I think the defense will be able to carry the team early which will allow the offense to develop and get better as the season progresses. In the end, call me optimistic, but I like the Nittany Lions to finish no worse than 7-5 overall and .500 in the conference.


Nathan Rush (@AthlonSports)
The over-under for Penn State this season is eight wins. On paper, losses to Michigan, at Ohio State, Nebraska and at Wisconsin are good bets. Make no mistake, these aren't Joe Paterno's national title-contending Nittany Lions of yesteryear. Even with players' names on the backs of the old school blue and white jerseys, it's hard to recognize the new Penn State of this post-Paterno era. But the Bill O'Brien brand appears to be growing in popularity following an overachieving 8–4 record (6–2 in Big Ten) in his debut season and a solid recruiting haul that includes early enrollee 5-star quarterback Christian Hackenberg. The "Grand Experiment Redux" has not become the Patriots of Pennsylvania juggernaut envisioned by O'Brien, who was Tom Brady's play-caller prior to PSU. But another eight-win season should help bring a little light to Happy Valley as it continues to recover from the dark days of the Jerry Sandusky scandal — which will prevent Penn State from playing in a bowl game this season.


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Teaser:
<p> How Many Games Will Penn State Win in 2013?</p>
Post date: Friday, April 19, 2013 - 07:45
Path: /college-football/ranking-secs-quarterbacks-2013
Body:

The SEC is one of college football’s top conferences for quarterback play in 2013.

Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel clearly ranks as the No. 1 quarterback for this season, as the sophomore hopes to repeat as a Heisman Trophy winner, while leading the Aggies to a SEC West title. Alabama’s AJ McCarron ranks as the No. 2 quarterback, with Georgia’s Aaron Murray not too far behind.

South Carolina’s Connor Shaw ranks as the No. 4 starting quarterback but is expected to share time with Dylan Thompson this fall.

Two quarterbacks that could rise significantly in this ranking in 2013 will be LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and Florida’s Jeff Driskel. With both passers in their second year as a starter, improvement from 2012 should be expected.

College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top quarterbacks in each conference. One important note: This is just a ranking of starters and backups weren’t included for this article. Also, some projection for how we think quarterbacks are going to play for 2013 factored into this ranking.

Ranking the SEC Starting Quarterbacks for 2013

1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (SO)
Manziel’s 2012 season is one of the best years by a freshman in college football history. In 13 games, Manziel threw for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushed for 1,410 yards and 21 scores. He tossed only nine picks and won the Heisman Trophy after leading Texas A&M to a 10-2 regular-season mark. Repeating his numbers from last season will be difficult, as the Aggies won’t have Kliff Kingsbury calling the plays and left tackle Luke Joeckel departed early for the NFL. Also, SEC defenses have a full offseason to study Manziel, so the road figures to be tougher for the sophomore in 2013. However, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner is still in for a big season and should be a preseason first-team All-American.
 

2. AJ McCarron, Alabama (SR)
McCarron isn’t going to post huge numbers like Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, but the senior is one of college football’s top quarterbacks and has a chance to finish his career as one of the most prolific of the BCS era. McCarron is coming off his best year under center, throwing for 2,933 yards and 30 scores in 2012. For his career, McCarron has tossed only eight interceptions in 690 attempts and has two national championships as Alabama’s No. 1 quarterback. Alabama has one of the SEC’s top receiving corps and despite the loss of three key offensive line starters, McCarron could improve on his 2012 totals.
 

3. Aaron Murray, Georgia (SR)
There is only one thing left unfinished on Murray’s pristine college resume: He needs to cap a season with a win in Atlanta to cement his legacy as one of the top SEC quarterbacks of all-time. He already holds the Georgia school record for passing efficiency after finishing second in the nation a year ago with a 174.82 rating, while his 3,893 yards and 36 touchdowns were UGA benchmarks as well. The 6-foot, 210-pound gunslinger needs less than 1,500 yards and just 19 passing scores, both of which are obviously well within reach, to set both SEC all-time records. The star from powerhouse Tampa (Fla.) Plant has started every one of his possible 41 career games, leading the Dawgs to a 22-6 record and two East Division titles over the last two seasons. A win in the SEC Championship game is all that Murray has left to accomplish.
 

4. Connor Shaw, South Carolina (SR)
Shaw won’t wow anyone with elite passing talent or overall accuracy, but he brings so much more to the offense than just throwing the football. The Flowery Branch (Ga.) High senior-to-be boasts a 17-3 record as a starter and brings an unquestioned level of toughness to the huddle. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder also has an uncanny ability to extend plays with his legs. However, this toughness and inclination to run the ball also has led to consistent injury trouble for the Gamecocks quarterback. He has missed five games over the last two seasons and was absent from spring football after offseason foot surgery. Backup Dylan Thompson is a more polished passer and Steve Spurrier has made it clear that both will play this fall, but Shaw’s leadership and toughness makes him the starter in Columbia. An underrated starter at that.


5. Tyler Russell, Mississippi State (SR)
In the first half of the season, Russell looked like an All-SEC quarterback. Through the first seven games, Russell threw 15 touchdowns and just one interception. However, in the next seven contests, he managed only nine scores and tossed nine interceptions. So where is Russell? Probably somewhere in the middle. The senior is clearly capable of playing better than he did at the end of last season. However, Russell is losing some of his best receivers and struggled to produce against the SEC West’s best teams. If Russell can regain his early 2012 form, he should be one of the SEC’s top-five quarterbacks this fall.

Related Content: Ole Miss or Mississippi State: Who Will Have More Wins in 2013?


6. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss (JR)
Wallace was one of the SEC’s top newcomers last year, throwing for 2,994 yards and 22 touchdowns, along with 390 rushing yards and eight scores. The Tennessee native tossed eight touchdowns over the final two games and threw for 310 yards in a narrow loss to LSU in mid-November. After a solid debut, the Ole Miss fan base is holding its breath about Wallace for 2013. The 6-foot-4 passer had shoulder surgery after the BBVA Compass Bowl but is expected to return by the season opener. However, shoulder surgeries – as evidenced by Missouri’s James Franklin – aren’t a guaranteed return to full health immediately. If Wallace does return to 100 percent, he should easily improve on last season’s numbers.
 

7. Zach Mettenberger, LSU (SR)
Big things were expected of Mettenberger in his first season as LSU’s No. 1 quarterback, but he fell short of those expectations. In 13 starts, he threw for 2,609 yards and 12 touchdowns and tossed seven picks. Mettenberger had a solid performance against Alabama, torching the Crimson Tide for 298 yards and one score. However, he had only two other contests of more than 250 passing yards and finished the year on a down note with just 120 yards against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Mettenberger has a new coordinator in former NFL coach Cam Cameron and another offseason should help the Georgia native get more comfortable with his supporting cast. Mettenberger has room to improve and could rise in these rankings if he and Cameron can get on the same page.
 

8. Jeff Driskel, Florida (JR)
The Oviedo (Fla.) Hagerty prospect was the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation coming out of high school in 2011. He saw action in just five games as a freshman when John Brantley was injured and he was clearly out over his skis. But as a sophomore, the burly 6-foot-4, 240-pounder settled in as the starter and began to control the offense. Driskel is entering his third season on campus and his second full season as the unquestioned starter and it should be his best. He brings an elite level of athleticism — his 177 yards rushing against Vanderbilt is a school record for a quarterback — and is at his best on the run, out of the pocket and improvising. So if he can learn to play more consistent and efficient football within the confines of the designed offense, he could blossom into one of the SEC’s best quarterbacks.
 

9. James Franklin, Missouri (SR)
A highly-touted dual-threat prospect from Corinth (Texas) Lake Dallas, Franklin had a breakout 2011 campaign by throwing for 2,865 yards, rushing for 981 yards and accounting for 36 touchdowns. So expectations were sky high heading into 2012 before a serious shoulder injury last spring slowed his development. He also was limited by a balky knee last season. Transitioning into the physical and extremely competitive SEC is tough enough when fully healthy, so Franklin struggled mightily in his second season as the starter. He rushed for 859 fewer yards, threw for 1,303 fewer yards and produced 26 fewer touchdowns. He has the talent and the system to be productive but needs to stay healthy if he wants to get Mizzou back to the postseason as an SEC program. Franklin will be pushed by Maty Mauk for playing time in the fall.
 

10. Austyn Carta-Samuels, Vanderbilt (SR)
The senior-to-be from San Jose (Calif.) Bellarmine Prep was a star at Wyoming before transferring to Vandy. He earned Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors in 2009 after a dynamic first season in Laramie. He produced more than 2,000 yards of total offense as a sophomore before deciding he needed a change of scenery. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound athlete — he has 786 career rushing yards — lost the battle to start to Jordan Rodgers a year ago but is the guy for the Commodores in 2013. He has the ability to extend plays with his legs and will have elite talent around him at running back and wide receiver to lean on. Carta-Samuels should be capable of leading the Dores to an unprecedented third straight bowl game. If he struggles, redshirt freshman Patton Robinette will get a chance to lead the offense.
 

11. Jalen Whitlow, Kentucky (SO)
Four different Wildcats attempted at least 30 passes a year ago, but Whitlow (161) led the team. The wide spread of playing time portrays the struggles with productivity and injuries at the quarterback position for Kentucky a year ago. Enter new head coach Mark Stoops. The battle will rage deep into the summer but the 6-foot-2, 210-pound dual-threat option appears to be the early front-runner over fellow sophomores Maxwell Smith and Patrick Towles. Whitlow brings an athletic dimension to the spread offense that new playcaller Neal Brown is looking for — see his 206 yards rushing and three touchdowns in seven starts a year ago — and he showcased his skills by dominating the heavily attended spring game in Lexington. The Prattville (Ala.) High prospect has some sneaky upside if he can hold on to the starting job.
 

12. Justin Worley, Tennessee (JR)
Sitting behind the brittle Tyler Bray the last two seasons gave Worley a leg up in the 2013 race for Tennessee’s starting quarterback job. He got work in three games as a freshman, throwing for 604 yards on 87 attempts, and saw time in three more games as a sophomore. This small bit of experience gives the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Rock Hill (S.C.) Northwestern product the inside track on Nathan Peterman and incoming four-star freshman Joshua Dobbs. The pro-style passer has a solid arm and big frame but it remains to be seen exactly who new coach Butch Jones is leaning towards. This position battle might run well past the season opener unless Worley proves he has developed in an SEC starter.


13. Brandon Allen, Arkansas (SO)
With Tyler Wilson expiring his eligibility, the Razorbacks are expected to hand the keys to the offense to Allen. The sophomore made one start last season (Alabama), throwing for 60 yards on 10 completions. The Arkansas native finished 2012 with 186 passing yards and three interceptions on 21 completions. Considering all that transpired with the Razorbacks last season, Allen shouldn’t be judged too much on his numbers from 2012. The 6-foot-3 quarterback was a four-star prospect coming out of high school by Rivals.com and has the size and skill-set to be a good fit in new coordinator Jim Chaney’s offense. Allen held an edge over Brandon Mitchell in spring ball and should take the first snap for Arkansas in 2013.
 

14. Kiehl Frazier, Auburn (JR)
Auburn’s offense was simply a disaster last season. The Tigers averaged 18.7 points a game and ranked 112th nationally in passing offense. A big reason for the sluggish offense was the departure of Gus Malzahn to Arkansas State at the end of 2011, which prompted Gene Chizik to hire Scot Loeffler as the team’s new coordinator. Loeffler implemented a pro-style attack, which didn’t mesh with Auburn’s personnel. Frazier and backup Jonathan Wallace are the biggest beneficiaries of Malzahn’s return to The Plains, as both quarterbacks are a better fit for the spread. Frazier finished 2012 with 753 passing yards and two touchdowns, along with eight interceptions. The junior has the most experience of any quarterback on the roster, which should give him the edge to start in the season opener.

 

by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)


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Teaser:
<p> Ranking the SEC's Quarterbacks for 2013</p>
Post date: Friday, April 19, 2013 - 07:35
Path: /college-football/ranking-pac-12-quarterbacks-2013
Body:

Even though coach Chip Kelly left for the NFL, Oregon’s offense is in good hands with quarterback Marcus Mariota. After earning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors last year, Mariota should be the Pac-12’s No. 1 quarterback in 2013 and could be in the mix for All-American honors.

The Pac-12 has plenty of talent returning in addition to Mariota, as UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly and Washington’s Keith Price rank as the top four options.

There’s also plenty of intrigue with the rest of the conference, as Utah’s Travis Wilson and California’s Zach Kline could be in for a breakout season.

College football’s 2013 season is still months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the top players in the nation. With spring practice coming to a close around the nation, Athlon will rank the top quarterbacks in each conference. One important note: This is just a ranking of starters and backups weren’t included for this article. Also, some projection for how we think quarterbacks are going to play for 2013 factored into this ranking.

Ranking the Pac-12 Starting Quarterbacks for 2013

1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon (SO)
The redshirt sophomore-to-be with a calm demeanor has quickly become a fan and coach favorite in Eugene. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound signal caller is poised in the pocket and rarely gets flustered while operating one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. In his first season under center as a freshman, the Honolulu (Hawaii) St. Louis product accounted for 37 total touchdowns and 3,429 yards of offense (2,677 passing, 752 rushing) and nearly led the Ducks to a perfect record. Mariota paced the Pac-12 in passing efficiency and led the nation in road passer rating, proving his ability to stay cool under pressure. He is efficient, productive, leads by example and is only a sophomore. Watch out West Coast.
 

2. Brett Hundley, UCLA (SO)
Hundley had a record-setting debut for UCLA last season and was a key piece to the Bruins’ Pac-12 South title. As a redshirt freshman in 2012, he started all 14 games and set UCLA single-season records for passing yards (3,740), total offense (4,095 yards), and completions (318). Hundley tossed only 11 picks, with four coming in UCLA’s 43-17 loss to California. One of his best performances came against Nebraska, recording 358 yards and four passing scores in a 36-30 win for the Bruins. Despite the departure of running back Johnathan Franklin and tight end Joseph Fauria, UCLA’s offense shouldn't miss much of a beat in 2013. Hundley should be a lock for All-Pac-12 honors and will keep UCLA in the mix for the Pac-12 South title once again.
 

3. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State (JR)
Kelly was one of the Pac-12’s biggest surprises last season, as he went from third on the depth chart after spring practice to starter by the first game. The Idaho native quickly showed why he was the team’s No. 1 quarterback, throwing for 249 yards and one touchdown in the Sept. 8 matchup against Illinois, and he opened Pac-12 play with back-to-back three-touchdown games. Kelly finished the season with 3,039 passing yards and 29 touchdowns, along with 516 yards and one score on the ground. He also ranked ninth nationally in passing efficiency. Kelly tossed only nine picks and went without an interception in each of the final three games. With an offseason to work as the No. 1 starter, look for Kelly to improve and challenge for All-Pac-12 honors.
 

4. Keith Price, Washington (SR)
Price’s 2012 season has to be considered a disappointment, considering how he played in '11. The Compton (Calif.) St. John Bosco quarterback set all types of school records two years ago, including single-season records for touchdown passes (33), completion percentage (66.9) and passing efficiency (161.09). It was arguably the best single-season by a Huskies passer in school history. So his major regression in every statistical category last fall has the 6-foot-1, 200-pound gunslinger entering a pivotal senior season. Certainly, widespread offensive line injuries were a major cause of Price’s struggles a year ago, but Steve Sarkisian needs his offensive leader to be more effective in 2013 if U of W expects to compete in the North. All signs point to Price returning to 2011 form in his final season at Washington.
 

5. Kevin Hogan, Stanford (SO)
It took eight games but David Shaw found his replacement for Andrew Luck when he inserted the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder into the lineup a few plays into the Colorado game. Hogan proceeded to lead the Cardinal to a 6-0 record to end the season — including the school’s first Rose Bowl win since 1972 — with efficient and dynamic play under center. He passed for 1,096 yards on 71.7-percent passing with nine touchdowns and just three interceptions while providing a spark on the ground with 263 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns. The McLean (Va.) Gonzaga product is a sneaky good athlete and quickly proved to be a savvy leader on The Farm. Should some pass-catchers develop around him, Hogan could be in for a huge season in 2013.
 

6. Sean Mannion, Oregon State (JR)
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound quarterback posted one of the best freshman seasons in Pac-12 history two seasons ago (3,328 yards). Mannion was off to a hot start in 2012 before suffering a knee injury four games into his sophomore season. The Pleasanton (Calif.) Foothill recruit was rushed back into action just three weeks later — coach Mike Riley has admitted as much — and it led to four interceptions and the team’s first loss of the year against Washington. Mannion was benched to heal properly and eventually returned to the field in the regular season’s final three games. The Beavers passer averaged over 300 yards passing per game (305.8 ypg) in his eight showings last year and could be in for a big junior season in Corvallis if he can stay healthy.
 

7. Cody Kessler, USC (SO)
There’s a clear drop-off in Pac-12 quarterbacks after the first six options are ranked. While Kessler has only thrown two passes in his career, it’s hard to ignore the potential of the starting quarterback at USC. The sophomore is still locked into a tight battle for the No. 1 spot with Max Wittek, but Kessler seemed to edge ahead this spring. The California native isn’t the biggest quarterback at 6-foot-1, but he brings more mobility to the table and elevated his performance this spring. Even though Kessler is unproven, if he picks up where he left off in the spring game, combined with the weapons at receiver and running back, the sophomore could have a huge season as USC looks to replace Matt Barkley.
 

8. Connor Halliday, Washington State (JR)
The Spokane (Wash.) Ferris prospect broke onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2011 when he threw for 494 yards and four touchdowns in a rare Pac-12 win over Arizona State. And that was before Mike Leach was calling plays for the Cougars. Last season, in just five starts, the 6-foot-4, 185-pound gunslinger threw for 1,878 yards and 15 touchdowns. With Jeff Tuel out of the picture after what seemed like a decade-long career in Pullman, Halliday is poised for a huge statistical season in Leach’s second season on the job. It remains to be seen, however, if those numbers will translate in the win column.
 

9. Zach Kline, California (FR)
Kline was an elite prospect coming out of Danville (Calif.) San Ramon Valley last season. The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder was one of the most college-ready quarterbacks in the nation, and, after one season of redshirting, appears ready to take over as the star of the Golden Bears offense. He has a lightning quick release, accurate arm and deceptive mobility. He is a perfect fit in Sonny Dykes' patented high-flying passing attack, and while he should experience some freshman growing pains in 2013, fans in Berkeley have to be excited to have the Kline era officially underway.
 

10. Travis Wilson, Utah (SO)
Due to an injury to Jordan Wynn, Wilson was pushed into the starting lineup as a true freshman last season. And as expected, Wilson had his share of ups and downs. The California native threw for 311 yards and two touchdowns against Arizona but completed only 8 of 23 throws against Washington. He finished the year with 1,311 yards and seven touchdowns and added 40 yards and four scores on the ground. At 6-foot-6, Wilson clearly has the size and skill set to eventually become one of the Pac-12’s top quarterbacks. However, the sophomore still has a ways to go, and in addition to the arrival of Dennis Erickson as co-offensive coordinator, the Utes must replace top running back John White. In time, Wilson will rise in the rankings. But for 2013, he’s still an unknown commodity.
 

11. B.J. Denker, Arizona (SR)
With Anu Solomon arriving on campus later this offseason, and Jesse Scroggins recovering from a foot injury, Denker holds on to the top spot for Arizona – at least for now. The junior college recruit made one start for the Wildcats last year, throwing for 136 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 44 yards and one score against Colorado. Denker finished 2012 with 259 yards passing and three scores. Although Denker finished spring atop the depth chart, the battle to replace Matt Scott will pickup once Solomon and Scroggins are able to compete. Denker played well in limited action last year, but don’t expect the senior to replicate Scott’s numbers if he is the No. 1 quarterback.
 

12. Connor Wood, Colorado (JR)
The Buffaloes opened spring practice with six quarterbacks vying for the starting spot. And the race appeared to be down to two candidates: Nick Hirschman and Connor Wood. However, Hirschman decided to transfer in mid-April, leaving Wood as the team's No. 1 quarterback. The wildcard to watch will be true freshman Sefo Liufau, as he will get a chance to steal the starting spot in the fall. Hirschman and Wood both played significant snaps last season, but neither played well enough to secure the No. 1 spot. Wood threw for 265 yards and one touchdown last year in his first chance at major action on the FBS level. New coach Mike MacIntyre should generate some improvement from Colorado’s offense in 2013, but the quarterback situation is still a major concern.


by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)


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Teaser:
<p> Ranking the Pac-12 Quarterbacks for 2013</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 07:31
Path: /college-football/will-west-virginia-mountaineers-make-bowl-2013
Body:

With the departure of quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, West Virginia is expected to be picked near the bottom of the Big 12 in 2013.

As expected under coach Dana Holgorsen, the Mountaineers should find a way to be solid on offense. However, the team doesn’t have much clarity in its quarterback race, and the defense was one of the worst in the nation last year.

The non-conference schedule is favorable for West Virginia, but there’s not a lot of guaranteed victories once Big 12 play arrives. 

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Will West Virginia Make a Bowl Game in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Missing a bowl game is a legitimate concern for West Virginia after going 7-6 with Geno Smith and Tavon Austin. The Mountaineers may flirt with a losing record, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Despite inexperience at quarterback and wide receiver, Dana Holgorsen will find some way to score points, probably centered around his running backs Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison. Both are capable of big games, but neither has proven it consistently or against top defenses. The biggest advantage for West Virginia is a lackluster Big 12, especially at quarterback. No Big 12 team is a clear pick for the top-15  at this point. And the West Virginia pass defense, abysmal a year ago, won’t face many top-flight quarterbacks, as indicated by our Big 12 quarterback rankings earlier this week. West Virginia is not in great shape right now, but there’s enough to work with to help the Mountaineers to bowl.
 

Tony Dobies, Staff Writer, BlueGoldNews.com, (@DOBIEST)
Two years ago, I would’ve laughed if you asked me whether West Virginia would make a bowl or not. “Of course they will,” I’d say. But, that’s just the way things have gone for this program over the past seven months.

West Virginia has quickly gone from a top-5 team to one that might not even challenge for a bowl. Without stars like Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, it’s going to be a new era in Morgantown.

Head coach Dana Holgorsen, now in his third year, has by far his hardest job yet. He’s forced to rebuild his high-powered attack and has to try to fix the gaping holes from last year’s defense. After a few offseason changes, the Mountaineers are headed into 2013 with hope.

The team seems to have bought into the T.E.A.M. acronym Holgorsen and his staff developed. It spent time learning about the history and tradition of the program earlier this year and that seemed to build camaraderie, something the players said was missed at times a year ago.

West Virginia will have a quarterback few have heard of (likely Ford Childress or Paul Millard) and a group of young receivers with potential but little experience. The offense will most likely rely on the running game, which doesn’t really fit what Holgorsen has done in the past.

The defense will be better. It can’t be worse. It seems the players have bought into a new, simpler system. The talent seems to be there, specifically at safety, to see some progress. Special teams could get a boost, too, from some youth at kicker.

The Big 12 Conference is expected to be down compared to a year ago. Seven of the top 10 quarterbacks in a pass-heavy league including four 4,000-yard passers are gone.

In addition, the Mountaineers could be a bit more comfortable with the Big 12 after the experience of a year ago.

For that reason, West Virginia should challenge for bowl eligibility. It will win no more than seven games and likely no less than five. I’ll say WVU finishes 6-6 and heads to another mediocre bowl.

In what should be considered a rebuilding year, six wins would be a decent season.
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Considering West Virginia won seven games last season and must replace its top three players from that team – quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey – getting to a bowl game will be quite a challenge in 2013.

Despite the personnel losses and defensive question marks, I think West Virginia will find a way to get to six victories. It’s not going to be easy, but the Mountaineers have a path to a bowl game. Winning the three non-conference games is a must, and West Virginia has to beat Kansas and Iowa State in Big 12 play. If the Mountaineers win those five games, they should be able to steal a victory against Texas Tech or Oklahoma State in Morgantown to get bowl eligible.

While the quarterback position is getting most of the spring buzz, the bigger question mark for West Virginia is a defense that was one of the worst in the nation last year. With seven starters back, the Mountaineers should be able to show some improvement on this side of the ball. However, there are a lot of new players stepping into key roles on offense, which makes West Virginia arguably the biggest wildcard in the Big 12 in 2013.

Even though the Mountaineers are a team in transition, I think they will find a way to get to six wins and play in a bowl game for the 12th consecutive season.


Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
After starting out last season 5-0, West Virginia proceeded to lose five in a row and had to scramble with wins in its last two games to secure a bowl bid. The Mountaineers' trip to the Pinstripe Bowl to face Syracuse didn't go as planned, as the Orange dominated their former Big East foes 38-14. That put a disappointing ending to a season that held so much promise in early October. Unfortunately, I think the sledding in 2013 will be even tougher as Dana Holgorsen will have to try and reverse the trend of last season's 2-6 finish without record-setting quarterback Geno Smith and basically all of his wide receiver production from '12. The only reason the Mountaineers finished above .500 last season was because of their prolific offense, which is now pretty much starting over from scratch. Even with seven starters returning on defense, I think this team will be hard-pressed to manufacture six wins this fall, because I am pretty certain these Mountaineers won't be able to generate 500 yards and 40 points a game. Remember that's what last year's team produced and it managed just seven wins.


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Teaser:
<p> Will the West Virginia Mountaineers Make a Bowl in 2013?</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 07:30

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