Articles By Steven Lassan

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With Chip Kelly leaving Oregon for the NFL, the 2013 Pac-12 title race got a little more interesting. The Ducks return a bevy of key contributors but must replace standout running back Kenjon Barner, linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay, and defensive end/linebacker Dion Jordan. Oregon has a trip to Stanford next season, but the rest of the schedule is very favorable.

Although the Ducks get the edge in Athlon’s very early predictions for 2013, there’s not much separating Oregon and Stanford. The Cardinal is coming off a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin and claimed the Pac-12 title in 2012. The defense should be strong once again, while quarterback Kevin Hogan will be better in his second season as the starter.

The South Division isn’t as strong as the North, but UCLA, Arizona State and USC could all be preseason top-25 teams in 2013. The Bruins have won back-to-back division titles and will get a battle from a fast-improving Sun Devil team next season. 

Early North Division Predictions for 2013

1. Oregon

Key Returnees: QB Marcus Mariota, RB De’Anthony Thomas, RB Byron Marshall, WR Josh Huff, WR Daryle Hawkins, TE Colt Lyerla, LT Tyler Johnstone, C Hroniss Grasu, RT Jake Fisher, DE Taylor Hart, DE DeForest Buckner, DT Wade Keliikipi, DT Arik Armstead, LB Derrick Malone, LB Boseko Lokombo, LB Tyson Coleman, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB Terrance Mitchell, CB Avery Patterson, S Brian Jackson, S Erick Dargan

Key Departures: RB Kenjon Barner, LG Kyle Long, RG Ryan Clanton, DE/LB Dion Jordan, DT Isaac Remington, LB Kiko Alonso

Even though Chip Kelly left Oregon for the NFL, the Ducks maintain a slight edge over Stanford for the No. 1 spot in the early Pac-12 North power rankings. Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is expected to replace Kelly, which will keep continuity for 2013. Expect much of the same from the Ducks next year, as quarterback Marcus Mariota leads a high-powered offense, and the defense should be in good shape despite losing Dion Jordan, Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso. Finding a running back to replace Kenjon Barner will be the top priority for Helfrich and the rest of the offensive staff in the spring. Oregon has a favorable schedule but must play at Stanford – a game that will define the Pac-12 North and could have national title implications.

Related Content: Chip Kelly's Departure Significantly Impacts 2013 Pac-12 Title Race

2. Stanford

Key Returnees: QB Kevin Hogan, RB Anthony Wilkerson, WR Ty Montgomery, LT David Yankey, LG Khalil Wilkes, RG Kevin Danser, RT Cameron Fleming, DE Henry Anderson, DE Ben Gardner, LB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov, LB A.J. Tarpley, CB Alex Carter, S Ed Reynolds, S Jordan Richards, DB Usua Amanam

Key Departures: RB Stepfan Taylor, WR Drew Terrell, WR Jamal-Rashad Patterson, TE Zach Ertz, TE Levine Toilolo, C Sam Schwartztein, LB Chase Thomas, CB Terence Brown

Oregon checks in at No. 1 in Athlon’s very early power rankings for 2013, but Stanford isn’t far behind. And with Chip Kelly’s departure, the gap between the Cardinal and Ducks has narrowed. If Stanford wants to contend for the BCS title, improving the passing attack will be a top priority for coach David Shaw. Quarterback Kevin Hogan helped spark the offense in 2012 and should be better with another offseason to work as the starter. However, the bigger problem for the Cardinal will be replacing running back Stepfan Taylor and tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. Linebacker Chase Thomas will be missed, but Stanford should have one of the nation’s best defenses in 2013.

3. Oregon State

Key Returnees: QB Sean Mannion, QB Cody Vaz, RB Storm Woods, WR Brandin Cooks, HB Connor Hamlett, LT Michael Philipp, C Isaac Seumalo, RG Grant Enger, DE Scott Crichton, DE Dylan Wynn, LB Michael Doctor, LB D.J. Alexander, CB Rashaad Reynolds, CB Sean Martin, S Ryan Murphy, S Tyrequek Zimmerman

Key Departures: WR Markus Wheaton, RT Colin Kelly, DT Castro Masaniai, DT Andrew Seumalo, LB Feti Unga, CB Jordan Poyer

The No. 3 spot in the early North Division projections is a tossup between Oregon State and Washington. For now, a slight edge goes to the Beavers. The big question for coach Mike Riley and his offensive staff this spring will be deciding between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz as the team’s starting quarterback. If Oregon State can get consistent play under center, the offense should rank among the top five in the Pac-12, especially with the emergence of running back Storm Woods and the return of receiver Brandin Cooks. The defense made major improvement after a horrendous 2011 season, but coordinator Mark Banker must replace his top two defensive tackles, along with top cornerback Jordan Poyer.

4. Washington

Key Returnees: QB Keith Price, RB Bishop Sankey, WR Kasen Williams, WR Jaydon Mickens, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, LT Micah Hatchie, LG Dexter Charles, RT Ben Riva, DE Andrew Hudson, DE Hau’oli Jamora, DE Josh Shirley, NT Danny Shelton, LB Travis Feeney, LB John Timu, CB Marcus Peters, S Sean Parker, DB/LB Shaq Thompson

Key Departures: C Drew Schaefer, DE Semisi Tokolahi, DE Talia Crichton, CB Desmond Trufant, S Justin Glenn

The Huskies have made three consecutive bowl appearances under Steve Sarkisian, but the program is still looking to emerge as a contender in the Pac-12 North. Is this the year Washington challenges Stanford or Oregon for the top spot? Probably not. However, the Huskies could surpass last season’s win total. Quarterback Keith Price regressed last year after throwing 33 touchdowns in 2011 but didn’t have much help from his offensive line. Improving and developing consistency on the line could be the difference between Washington making a push for nine wins or just getting bowl eligible. Thanks to the arrival of coordinator Justin Wilcox, the Huskies owned one of college football’s most-improved defenses in 2012. With eight starters back, along with the return of defensive end Hau’oli Jamora from an injury, Washington’s defense could be even better in 2013. 

5. Washington State

Key Returnees: QB Connor Halliday, RB Teondray Caldwell, WR Brett Bartolone, WR Gabe Marks, WR Isiah Myers, WR Dominique Williams, LG John Fullington, C Elliot Bosch, DL Xavier Cooper, DE Logan Mayes, T Ioane Gauta, LB Darryl Malone, LB Cyrus Coen, LB Justin Sagote, CB Anthony Carpenter, SS Deone Bucannon, FS Casey Locker

Key Departures: QB Jeff Tuel, WR Marquess Wilson, RT Wade Jacobson, DE/LB Travis Long, CB Daniel Simmons

With the arrival of Mike Leach as the Cougars’ new coach, expectations were high in Pullman in 2012. Instead of making a run at a bowl game, Washington State finished with a disappointing 3-9 mark. The second season of Leach’s tenure should bring more improvement, but a winning record may be a year away. The Cougars struggled to adapt Leach’s offense and will be looking for more consistency from quarterback Connor Halliday in 2013. Even though Leach doesn’t need a 1,000-yard rusher for his offense to work, Washington State needs to average more than 29.1 yards per game on the ground next season. The defense also has room to improve, finishing ninth in the Pac-12 in total yards allowed in 2012.

6. California

Key Returnees: RB Brendan Bigelow, WR Chris Harper, WR Bryce Treggs, WR Darius Powe, TE Richard Rodgers, LG Jordan Rigsbee, RG Chris Adcock, DE Deandre Coleman, LB Jalen Jefferson, LB Brennan Scarlett, LB Chris McCain, LB Nick Forbes, LB Chris McCain, LB Nathan Broussard, CB Kameron Jackson, S Michael Lowe, S Avery Sebastian

Key Departures: QB Zach Maynard, RB Isi Sofele, RB C.J. Anderson, WR Keenan Allen, LT Tyler Rigsbee, C Brian Schwenke, DE Kendrick Payne, NG Aaron Tipoti, LB Robert Mullins, CB Steve Williams, CB Marc Anthony, S Josh Hill

New coach Sonny Dykes is a great fit in Berkeley, but California could be looking at a finish in the North Division cellar next year. If the Golden Bears want to climb higher in the standings, Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin have to find a quarterback to run their spread attack. Allan Bridgford has the most experience, but Zach Kline, Austin Hinder and Kyle Boehm will get a chance to win the job in the spring. Even though quarterback play is a question mark, the receiving corps has plenty of talent, while running back Brendan Bigelow could be one of the Pac-12’s top breakout players next season. Fixing the defense is also another priority for Dykes, as California allowed 441.3 yards and 33.1 points a game last season. 

Early South Division Predictions for 2013

1. UCLA

Key Returnees: QB Brett Hundley, RB Damien Thigpen, WR Shaq Evans, WR Steven Manfro, WR Devin Fuller, WR Jordan Payton, LT Torian White, LG Xavier Su’a-Filo, C Jake Brendel, DE Cassius Marsh, DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE Ellis McCarthy, LB Anthony Barr, LB Eric Kendricks, LB Jordan Zumwalt, CB Randall Goforth, S Tevin McDonald

Key Departures: RB Johnathan Franklin, WR Jerry Johnson, TE Joseph Fauria, RG Jeff Baca, DE Datone Jones, LB Damien Holmes, CB Aaron Hester, CB Sheldon Price, SS Andrew Abbott

Can the Bruins make it three Pac-12 South titles in a row? The early odds suggest UCLA should be the early favorite to win the division and will be in the mix to be a top 15-20 team in most preseason polls. The Bruins ended 2012 with three consecutive defeats, but there’s no shame in losing to Stanford (twice) and to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl. The offense needs to find a replacement for running back Johnathan Franklin, but quarterback Brett Hundley returns, along with standout guard Xavier Su’a Filo. The defense finished eighth in the Pac-12 in yards and points allowed, so head coach Jim Mora and coordinator Lou Spanos have some work to do this offseason. Convincing linebacker Anthony Barr to return to UCLA for his senior year was a huge break for Mora, but the secondary loses Sheldon Price, Andrew Abbott and Aaron Hester.

2. Arizona State

Key Returnees: QB Taylor Kelly, QB Michael Eubank, RB DJ Foster, RB Marion Grice, WR Kevin Ozier, WR Chris Coyle, WR Richard Smith, LT Evan Finkenberg, LG Jamil Douglas, C Kody Koebensky, DT Will Sutton, DE/LB Carl Bradford, DE Junior Onyeali, DE Davon Coleman, DT Jaxon Hood, LB Chris Young, LB Steffon Martin, CB Osahon Irabor, CB Robert Nelson, S Alden Darby

Key Departures: RB Cameron Marshall, WR Rashad Ross, WR Jamal Miles, RG Andrew Sampson, RT Brice Schwab, LB Brandon Magee, CB Deveron Carr, FS Keelan Johnson

Thanks to defensive tackle Will Sutton’s decision to return to Tempe in 2013, Arizona State was one of the Pac-12’s early offseason winners. With Sutton back in the mix, the Sun Devils should have one of the conference’s top defensive lines. And an improved defense will allow Todd Graham’s team to push UCLA for the top spot in the division. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell needs to find a couple of new receivers for quarterback Taylor Kelly, but DJ Foster and Marion Grice will be one of the conference’s top duos on the ground next year. Arizona State catches a break in scheduling, as USC and Arizona must visit Tempe, while there’s no Oregon on the slate for 2013. However, the Sun Devils must play at UCLA and Stanford.

3. USC

Key Returnees: QB Max Wittek, RB Silas Redd, WR Marqise Lee, WR Nelson Agholor, TE Randall Telfer, LT Max Tuerk, RG John Martinez, RT Kevin Graf, DE Morgan Breslin, DT George Uko, DT Leonard Williams, DT Antwaun Woods, LB Dion Bailey, LB Hayes Pullard, LB Lamar Dawson, LB Anthony Sarao, CB Josh Shaw, S Jawanza Starling

Key Departures: QB Matt Barkley, RB Curtis McNeal, WR Robert Woods, C Khaled Holmes, DE Wes Horton, CB Nickell Robey, S T.J. McDonald

USC is at a crossroads. The Trojans are coming off a disappointing 7-6 season, which is magnified even more when you consider this team had a chance to make a run at the national title. Coach Lane Kiffin has recruited well, and even though there’s a handful of key players leaving, there’s no excuse for USC to win just seven games in 2013. Max Wittek will likely open the year as the starting quarterback and has the benefit of throwing to All-American receiver Marqise Lee. Assuming Wittek settles into the starting role, the Trojans have the weapons to have one of the Pac-12’s most potent offenses. The defense was a question mark entering 2012 but finished fifth in the conference in points allowed and fourth against the pass. This unit still has a lot of room to improve next year, especially when it comes to defending spread offenses. With a schedule that features a favorable road schedule and no Oregon, USC should be able to exceed its 2012 win total. If not, the Trojans will be looking for a new coach by December.

4. Arizona

Key Returnees: RB Ka’Deem Carey, WR Austin Hill, WR David Richards, WR Johnny Jackson, LT Mickey Baucus, LG Chris Putton, RT Fabbians Ebbele, DE Reggie Gilbert, DT Dan Pettinato, NT Sione Tuihalamaka, LB Jake Fischer, LB Marquis Flowers, LB Sir Thomas Jackson, LB/DB Jared Tevis, CB Shaquille Richardson, CB Jonathan McKnight, S Tra’Mayne Bondurant, S Vince Miles

Key Departures: QB Matt Scott, WR Dan Buckner, C Kyle Quinn, RG Trace Biskin

Rich Rodriguez’s first season in Tucson was a success. The Wildcats won eight games – including a bowl victory over Nevada – and lost three contests by a touchdown or less. There’s no question Rodriguez will have Arizona contending for South Division titles in the coming seasons, but the Wildcats may not top 2012’s win total next year. Quarterback Matt Scott must be replaced, and the job could fall to former USC passer Jesse Scroggins. Running back Ka’Deem Carey is back after leading the nation with an average of 148.4 rushing yards per game, but the offensive line loses two key starters. Although the offense might not be as explosive as it was in 2012, the defense returns nearly everyone and should be one area that Arizona can show improvement next season

5. Utah

Key Returnees: QB Travis Wilson, RB Kelvin York, WR Dres Anderson, WR Kenneth Scott, TE Jake Murphy, RT Jeremiah Poutasi, DE Nate Fakahafua, DE/LB Trevor Reilly, LB Jason Whittingham, LB LT Filiaga, S Brian Blechen, FS Eric Rowe

Key Departures: RB John White, WR DeVonte Christopher, LT Sam Brenner, C Tevita Stevens, RG Miles Mason, DE Joe Kruger, DE Dave Kruger, DT Star Lotulelei, CB Reggie Topps, CB Ryan Lacy

Lost in USC’s disappointing season was a surprise 5-7 record by Utah. The Utes were picked by most to finish second in the South Division, yet won only three games in conference play and missed out on a bowl game for the first time since 2002. For Utah to get back in the postseason next year, both sides of the ball have significant question marks to address. The offense must replace 1,000-yard rusher John White, along with getting quarterback Travis Wilson settled into the starting role. The defense must replace three key contributors on the defensive line, including All-American Star Lotulelei. Utah’s task of getting back to a bowl game is also made difficult by the schedule, which features Oregon and Stanford in crossover games with the North.

6. Colorado

Key Returnees: QB Jordan Webb, RB Christian Powell, WR Paul Richardson, WR Nelson Spruce, WR Tyler McCulloch, LG Alex Lewis, C Daniel Munyer, RG Jack Harris, DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, NT Josh Tupou, LB Derrick Webb, CB Yuri Wright, CB Kenneth Crawley, CB Greg Henderson, SS Terrel Smith, SS Marques Mosley, S Parker Orms

Key Departures: TE Nick Kasa, LT David Bakhtiari, DE Will Pericak, LB Doug Rippy, LB Jon Major, S Ray Polk

After a failed two-year stint under Jon Embree, the Buffaloes hit a home run with the hire of former San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre. Although Colorado should be more competitive in 2013, escaping the cellar of the Pac-12 South is unlikely. The offense was one of the worst in college football last season and finding stability and production from the quarterback position will be MacIntyre and coordinator Brian Lindgren’s No. 1 priority in spring practice. Helping the passing attack in 2013 will be the return of receiver Paul Richardson, who missed all of 2012 with a knee injury. The defense was the worst in the Pac-12 last season and must replace a handful of key players, including end Will Pericak and linebacker Jon Major. Improvement will be noticeable for Colorado in 2013, but the Buffaloes are at least one more year away from contending for a bowl game. 


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Teaser:
<p> Early Pac-12 Football Predictions for 2013</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 17, 2013 - 06:30
Path: /college-football/chip-kelly%E2%80%99s-departure-significantly-impacts-pac-12-title-race-2013
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College football’s national title and Pac-12 championship outlook changed dramatically on Wednesday, as Oregon coach Chip Kelly decided to leave Oregon for the NFL. The timing of Kelly’s departure is especially curious, as he was believed to be staying in the college ranks after turning down the Eagles just after the Fiesta Bowl.

Kelly was one of college football’s top coaches and will be missed. Oregon is expected to promote offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich to the top spot, which should provide a seamless transition. However, Helfrich has no head coaching experience and even though he was listed as the team’s offensive coordinator, Kelly called the plays.

With Kelly off to the NFL, here’s a look at some of the key questions facing Oregon, the Pac-12 and national title picture:

Who is Mark Helfrich and how does this impact Oregon for the future?

Although Helfrich didn’t call the plays under Kelly, the Oregon native has gained valuable experience serving as the team’s offensive coordinator since 2009. Before joining Kelly in Eugene, Helfrich worked as Boise State’s quarterback coach from 1998-2000 and served in the same role at Arizona State from 2001-05. He worked under Dan Hawkins as an offensive coordinator at Colorado from 2006-08 but has never served as a head coach.

Continuity is a huge part of Oregon’s decision to promote Helfrich to replace Kelly. There’s no doubt the Ducks can continue their success in 2013 and 2014, but it’s fair to question if the program can maintain its current pace for the future. Why? For now, no one has any idea what to expect out of Helfrich. He could be the next David Shaw or this transition could end up like Miami after Larry Coker was promoted to head coach after Butch Davis left for the NFL.

Until Helfrich proves the program won’t miss a beat, there will be doubts about Oregon for 2015 and beyond. However, with a foundation built for success, Helfrich should be able to keep the Ducks playing at a high level for the immediate future.

Of course, there’s one issue hanging over the program that could have a long-term effect: NCAA sanctions. With the Ducks under NCAA investigation, a bowl ban or scholarship losses could be coming in the future. While it’s a huge issue for the program, most don’t expect crippling sanctions like USC has experienced. Even if Oregon faces a postseason ban or a reduction in scholarships, this is still one of the premier programs in college football and should fall too far behind.

How does this impact Oregon in 2013?

The good news for Oregon? Most of its key players are back for 2013. Sure, running back Kenjon Barner, defensive end/linebacker Dion Jordan and linebacker Michael Clay are big losses, but the Ducks have recruited well and there’s no shortage of talent on the roster. Quarterback Marcus Mariota will be in the mix for All-American honors, and the defense should get a boost from sophomore Arik Armstead.

While the roster is in good shape, there will be a drop off from Kelly to Helfrich. Any program that has a coaching change will experience a few ups and downs, and the players have to adapt to a new leader.

Which Pac-12 teams benefit the most from Oregon’s coaching change?

This one is easy. How about Stanford? The Cardinal has been on a roll over the last three years, winning 35 games during that span. Oregon and Stanford are neck-and-neck for the top spot in the Pac-12 North next season, and Kelly’s departure could help swing the battle in favor of the Cardinal.

Outside of Stanford, Washington is the other big winner. The Huskies are coming off a disappointing 7-6 season but return most of their core on both sides of the ball. Although finishing ahead of Oregon in the Pac-12 North in 2013 is unlikely, the gap between the Ducks and Washington could close in the next few years. If Oregon declines under Helfrich, the Huskies will have a chance to push Stanford as the division’s No. 1 team.

What other factors might affect Oregon with Chip Kelly’s departure?

Will any assistant coaches follow Kelly to the NFL?

Although the Oregon coaching staff doesn’t get a lot of credit, it’s one of the best in the Pac-12 – if not the nation. Considering how quickly the Ducks’ offense scores, it’s often overlooked at the job defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti does each year. The Ducks held opponents to just 21.6 points a game this year and averaged 2.2 sacks a game. Defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro and secondary coach John Neal also do a tremendous job, as Oregon never has a problem finding players to fill the void by departing starters each year.

For now, it’s uncertain if Oregon will lose any coaches to the NFL. If Helfrich can keep this staff together, it will go a long ways towards easing his transition into the head coaching role.

Recruiting

With Kelly leaving just weeks before Signing Day, it’s important for Oregon and Helfrich to hit the recruiting trail as quickly as possible. Although the Ducks won’t lose every one of their current commitments, opposing teams are already contacting recruits trying to pry them away from Oregon.

How the Ducks recruit under Helfrich and whether or not all of their current commitments end up in Eugene will be one of the top Pac-12 storylines to watch on Signing Day.

Bottom line...is Oregon still the Pac-12 North favorite and a national title contender?

Yes. While the long-term health of the program is a wait-and-see situation, the Ducks will be one of college football’s top-five teams in 2013. The schedule is favorable, although trips to Stanford and Washington in conference play won’t be easy. Outside of Alabama, there are no clear BCS title contenders. If Oregon can knock off the Cardinal and win the conference championship game, a matchup against the Crimson Tide in the national title is a very real possibility.


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Teaser:
<p> Chip Kelly’s Departure Significantly Impacts Pac-12 Title Race in 2013</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - 14:07
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-nfl-draft-deadline-winners-and-losers
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The early entry deadline to the NFL Draft is always a nervous time for many coaches in college football. Even though most coaches have an idea of which players will be back for the next season, there’s always a few surprises. And of course, it’s never easy to replace a potential first-round pick with an unproven player.

With a record amount of underclassmen set to enter the NFL Draft, it’s time to take a look at which teams are the biggest winners and losers from the deadline. LSU is the biggest loser from the deadline, as 11 Tigers are set to leave for the next level. Although Les Miles has recruited well, there’s no question a drop off should be expected in 2013.

On the flip side, Clemson was the biggest winner of the draft deadline. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins will be missed, but the return of quarterback Tajh Boyd will keep the Tigers in the mix to win a national championship. With Chip Kelly leaving Oregon, the decision by linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy to return to Stanford will also allow the Cardinal to make a run at the BCS Championship. 

College Football’s Top 10 Winners from the NFL Draft Deadline

1. Clemson
The Tigers lost receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the NFL but the return of quarterback Tajh Boyd puts Clemson in the thick of the national title discussion for 2013. Boyd ranked seventh nationally in total offense per game and recorded 46 overall scores in 2012. With another offseason to work under coordinator Chad Morris, the senior will make a run at All-America honors, as the Tigers should have a chance to be a top-five team. Hopkins will be missed, but the receiving corps will get a boost from a healthy Sammy Watkins, while Martavis Bryant, Adam Humphries and Charone Peake are ready for bigger roles next year. 

2. Stanford
Losing tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo is a huge blow to Stanford’s offense, but the damage could have been worse for coach David Shaw. Linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy, along with defensive lineman Ben Gardner decided to return to the Farm for their senior season. Skov and Murphy should be in the mix for All-America honors in 2013 and both players will be crucial to keeping Stanford’s defense among the best in the Pac-12. Gardner is another key cog in the front seven, finishing 2012 with 14.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. Ertz and Toilolo will be missed but keeping three key defenders will allow Stanford to challenge for the national title.

3. Alabama
Make no mistake: Losing tackle D.J. Fluker, running back Eddie Lacy and cornerback Dee Milliner are huge losses for Alabama. However, the Crimson Tide bring back the most important piece to their national title hopes in 2013: quarterback AJ McCarron. He led the nation in passing efficiency in 2012 and has thrown just eight interceptions over the last two years. Although McCarron isn’t going to post the monster statistical numbers that Johnny Manziel does for Texas A&M, his leadership and efficiency has Alabama poised to win its fourth national championship in five seasons in 2013.

4. Michigan
The Wolverines scored one of the biggest surprises of the early entry deadline when standout left tackle Taylor Lewan decided to return to Ann Arbor for his senior year. The Arizona native was picked as the Big Ten’s top offensive lineman for 2012 and was a first-team All-America selection. Lewan was regarded as one of the NFL Draft’s top-15 prospects for 2013, but his return will bolster a Michigan offensive line that returns just one other starter. And his presence will be crucial for quarterback Devin Gardner, who played well in the final stretch of 2012.

5. Notre Dame
Despite the blowout defeat to Alabama in the national championship, the offseason news wasn’t all bad for Notre Dame. Coach Brian Kelly decided to stay in South Bend after a brief flirtation with the NFL. And the Fighting Irish will regain the services of left tackle Zack Martin and nose guard Louis Nix III for another season. Martin has started all 39 games in his career and will be in the mix for All-American honors next year. Nix was a key cog in Notre Dame’s rush defense this year, plugging the lanes to allow linebacker Manti Te’o to make plays at the line of scrimmage. Although the Fighting Irish are losing a few key players, the return of Nix and Martin will help this team to compete for a BCS bowl in 2013.

6. Arizona State
In a mild surprise, defensive tackle Will Sutton decided to return to Tempe for his senior year. Sutton terrorized opposing quarterbacks in the Pac-12 last season, recording 63 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks. In addition to earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors, he was named the conference’s defensive player of the year and was an Associated Press first-team All-American. Although it’s only one player, Sutton’s return is enough for Arizona State to be one of college football’s top winners from the NFL Draft deadline. And it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Sun Devils win the Pac-12 South in 2013.

7. BYU
The Cougars won’t register on many preseason top 25 lists next season, but Bronco Mendenhall’s team will be a dangerous opponent in 2013. BYU has a challenging schedule next year, including road dates at Virginia, Utah State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame, along with home games against Texas, Utah, Georgia Tech and Boise State. The Cougars were a big winner around the draft deadline, as linebacker Kyle Van Noy and receiver Cody Hoffman decided to return to Provo for their senior years. Van Noy led the BYU defense with 13 sacks and 22 tackles for a loss and should be in the mix for first-team All-American honors next season. Hoffman caught 100 passes for 1,248 yards and 11 scores in 2012 and will be the top target once again for new quarterback Taysom Hill.

8. Virginia Tech
After throwing for 3,013 yards and 19 touchdowns in his first year as a starter, high expectations surrounded quarterback Logan Thomas for 2012. Instead of taking another step forward in his development, Thomas regressed and finished the year with 16 interceptions and completed only 51.3 percent of his throws. Despite having a bad season, Thomas gave serious thought to entering the NFL Draft, before deciding to return to Blacksburg just before the deadline. Virginia Tech isn’t going to be a national title contender next season, but thanks in part to Thomas’ return and a decision by defensive end James Gayle to come back for his senior year, the Hokies should be in the mix to finish atop the ACC's Coastal Division.

9. Fresno State
If you are looking for a BCS buster outside of Boise State next season, take a look at Fresno State. The Bulldogs finished 2012 with a 9-4 mark and their only loss in conference play came on the blue turf against the Broncos. Quarterback Derek Carr wasn’t expected to go in the first round of the draft but was pegged as one of the top 10 quarterbacks on the board. Carr’s decision to return to Fresno State is huge for a team that returns its top three wide receivers from last season, as well as faces a schedule that features BCS opponents in Rutgers and Colorado. If the Bulldogs sweep their non-conference schedule and beat Boise State, there’s a good chance Fresno State could rank inside of the top 15 of the BCS standings at season's end.

10. UCLA
The Bruins are the early favorite to win the Pac-12 South in 2013. With quarterback Brett Hundley back, there’s no question UCLA should have no trouble scoring points. However, the defense will decide just how high the Bruins can climb in the top 25. Linebacker Anthony Barr was a revelation for Jim Mora this season, moving from tight end to linebacker in spring practice. The position switch was a huge success for the UCLA defense, as Barr recorded 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss. Although he is still developing, Barr has enormous potential and should get better with another offseason to work with the defensive staff.
 

College Football’s Top 10 Losers from the NFL Draft Deadline

1. LSU
Regardless of how well the Tigers have recruited, replacing 11 key players from the 2012 team is no easy task. Both sides of the ball were hit with departures. The offense lost running backs Michael Ford and Spencer Ware, along with tackle Chris Faulk. The losses were heavier on defense, as linemen Bennie Logan, Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo departed, while linebacker Kevin Minter, cornerback Tharold Simon and safety Eric Reid also announced their intentions to leave LSU early. Another departure that shouldn’t be overlooked is punter Brad Wing, who averaged 44.8 yards per kick in 2012. Considering the players leaving, LSU is clearly behind Alabama and Texas A&M in the early SEC rankings for 2013.

2. Texas A&M
The NFL Draft deadline was a mixed bag of results for Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin. Keeping Jake Matthews in the fold was a huge boost to the offensive line next year, but the Aggies lost two of the top players on their roster with the departure of left tackle Luke Joeckel and defensive end Damontre Moore. Matthews will slide from the right side to replace Joeckel, but the offensive line will take a step back in performance in 2013. Moore was one of the top defenders in the SEC this year, recording 85 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, 12.5 sacks and one forced fumble. There’s no clear replacement for Moore on the roster, so finding productive pass-rushers will be a top priority for defensive coordinator Mark Snyder.

3. Michigan State
Considering the Spartans were coming off an 11-win season, expectations for 2012 were high in East Lansing. Instead of building off the success from the previous year, however, Michigan State took a step in the wrong direction. The Spartans finished a disappointing 7-6 and averaged a paltry 20 points a game. Quarterback play was largely to blame for the offensive struggles, which will be magnified even more in 2013 without running back Le’Veon Bell. The junior bolted to the NFL after rushing for 1,793 yards on 382 attempts and was followed by tight end Dion Sims and defensive end William Gholston. Sims was a valuable target for quarterback Andrew Maxwell and will be missed. Gholston led the team with 13 tackles for a loss in 2012, but Michigan State has some depth at defensive end with Marcus Rush and Shilique Calhoun.

4. Georgia
Although the Bulldogs managed to keep quarterback Aaron Murray for one more season, the defense was hit hard by early departures. Linebackers Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones and defensive tackle Kwame Geathers left for the NFL, leaving Georgia’s defense with just four returning starters. Jones was a unanimous first-team All-SEC selection and was one of college football’s top playmakers on defense. Ogletree led the team with 111 stops last season, while Geathers was a key cog in Georgia’s rush defense. Considering the losses on defense, the Bulldogs will need their offense to carry the team early in the season.

5. Tennessee
With the Volunteers coming off three underwhelming seasons under Derek Dooley, Butch Jones has a tough task ahead of him to get Tennessee back in a bowl game in 2013. And that mission got even tougher this offseason, as quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson decided to leave for the NFL. Bray threw for 3,612 yards and 34 scores in 2012, while Patterson and Hunter combined for 119 receptions, 1,861 yards and 14 touchdown catches. Vincent Dallas is Tennessee’s top returning wide receiver, recording just nine receptions for 149 yards and one score in 2012. Justin Worley is the frontrunner to replace Bray, but the new coaching staff will take a look at redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman in the spring.

6. Florida
After a disappointing performance in the Sugar Bowl, the bad news continued for Florida with the departure of safety Matt Elam, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, linebacker Jelani Jenkins and tight end Jordan Reed to the NFL. Elam is the biggest loss out of the early departures, as he led the team with four interceptions, while earning first-team All-American honors. Floyd was the team’s top defensive lineman this season, while Jordan Reed led the team with 45 receptions. The Gators have recruited well, so talent isn’t going to be an issue in Gainesville. However, considering the losses on defense, Florida may struggle to finish fifth nationally again in scoring and total defense in 2013.

7. Oklahoma
With quarterback Landry Jones out of eligibility and the defense having to replace a handful of players from the front seven, the Sooners likely won’t start 2013 as the favorite to win the Big 12. Bob Stoops’ reloading project received even more bad news when safety Tony Jefferson, linebacker Tom Wort and receiver Kenny Stills declared for the NFL. Jefferson thrived under new defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, recording 119 tackles, two interceptions and 3.5 tackles for a loss. Stills didn’t have a monster season but still caught 82 passes for 959 yards and 11 scores. The Sooners are better equipped to soften the blow from Stills’ early departure, as Jalen Saunders, Sterling Shepard and Trey Metoyer will be a solid trio for new quarterback Blake Bell. Gabe Lynn and Julian Wilson will be counted upon for bigger roles in the secondary with Jefferson’s departure. The news wasn’t all bad for Oklahoma, as cornerback Aaron Colvin decided to return to Norman for his senior year.

8. Florida State
Although the Seminoles haven’t climbed back into national title contender status, 2012 wasn’t a bad season in Tallahassee. Florida State claimed its first ACC title in seven years in 2012 and beat Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl to win 12 games. Matching those marks in 2013 will prove difficult, especially with the departure of end Bjoern Werner and cornerback Xavier Rhodes to the NFL Draft. Werner was the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, recording 42 tackles and 13 sacks to lead Florida State’s defense. Rhodes picked off three passes this season and was one of the top defensive backs in the ACC. Werner’s loss is the bigger obstacle for the Seminoles to overcome, as Brandon Jenkins and Cornellius Caradine expired their eligibility after the season. Keeping safety Lamarcus Joyner and linebacker Christian Jones was huge for new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, but it’s hard to envision the Seminoles ranking second nationally in total defense once again in 2013.

9. USC
The Trojans were one of college football’s most disappointing teams in 2012, finishing 7-6 and suffered losses in five out of their last six games. The offense managed only 20 points in the final two contests and must replace quarterback Matt Barkley next season. In addition to Barkley’s departure, the Trojans lost receiver Robert Woods to the NFL Draft. Woods caught 252 passes over the last three years, leaving sophomore Nelson Agholor to step into a larger role next season. While the Trojans have options to replace Woods, the defense suffered the bigger loss with cornerback Nickell Robey leaving Los Angeles a year early. Robey isn’t going to be selected in the first round but earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors and was USC’s top cornerback. Coach Lane Kiffin enters 2013 as one of the top coaches on the hot seat and losing Robey and Woods certainly won’t help his cause.

10. Rutgers
Even before the draft deadline, Rutgers was poised to take a step back in 2013. Standout linebackers Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais expired their eligibility after the Champs Sports Bowl, and while the defensive line lost three seniors off of its two-deep. The Scarlet Knights are losing only two players early to the draft, but both had first-team All-Big East potential for 2013. Cornerback Logan Ryan finished second on the defense with 94 tackles in 2012 and recorded four interceptions. In addition to the losses on defense, running back Jawan Jamison decided to leave early for the NFL after rushing for 1,972 yards the past two seasons. Savon Huggins is a capable replacement for Jamison, but the depth in the Scarlet Knights’ backfield is certainly weaker. And with the shaky performance of quarterback Gary Nova at the end of the year, Rutgers needs to lean on the ground game to have a chance to push Louisville for the Big East title.

 

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2013 is shaping up to be an interesting year in the Big 12. Kansas State claimed the conference title in 2012, but a new champion should be expected next season. Oklahoma tied the Wildcats for the Big 12’s top spot, but the Sooners must replace quarterback Landry Jones, as well as a handful of key defenders. The Wildcats face similar problems, but coach Bill Snyder will find a way for K-State to stay in the hunt.

With Oklahoma and Kansas State expected to take a step back next season, look for Oklahoma State and TCU to emerge as the conference’s top teams. The Cowboys had to replace quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon but still possessed one of college football’s top offenses. The Horned Frogs finished 7-6 in their first year in the Big 12 and return 10 starters on defense for 2013. Quarterback Casey Pachall is back after leaving the team in early October due to off-the-field issues.

Texas is the Big 12’s wildcard team for next season. The Longhorns have the talent to compete for the conference crown but need improved quarterback play to finish higher in the standings next year. 

Early Big 12 Predictions for 2013

1. Oklahoma State

Key Returnees: QB Clint Chelf, QB Wes Lunt, QB J.W. Walsh, RB Jeremy Smith, RB Desmond Roland, WR Josh Stewart, WR Charlie Moore, WR Blake Jackson, LT Parker Graham, RT Daniel Koenig, DT James Castleman, DT Calvin Barnett, LB Shaun Lewis, LB Caleb Lavey, LB Lyndell Johnson, CB Justin Gilbert, CB Kevin Peterson, S Daytawion Lowe, S Shamiel Gary

Key Departures: RB Joseph Randle, C Evan Epstein, RG Lane Taylor, DE Ryan Robinson, DE Nigel Nicholas, LB Alex Elkins, CB Brodrick Brown, K/P Quinn Sharp

There’s no clear early frontrunner to win the Big 12 in 2013, but Athlon gives a slight pre-spring edge to Oklahoma State. Without Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon leading the offense, the Cowboys were expected to take a step back in the win column but lost three games by a touchdown or less. Despite losing Weeden and Blackmon and having to start three different quarterbacks, the offense still averaged 45.7 points a game. The Cowboys need to settle on a starter in spring practice, but the rest of the offense is in good shape. Joseph Randle departs after rushing for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, but Jeremy Smith and Desmond Roland is a dangerous one-two combination. Defensive coordinator Bill Young was released after Oklahoma State finished 80th in total defense and 110th nationally against the pass. Glenn Spencer was promoted to replace Young and is tasked with getting the defense to create more turnovers, as well as generating better pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

2. TCU

Key Returnees: QB Trevone Boykin, QB Casey Pachall, RB Waymon James, RB B.J. Catalon, WR Brandon Carter, WR LaDarius Brown, LT Tayo Fabuluje, DE Devonte Fields, DT Chucky Hunter, DT Davion Pierson, LB Joel Hasley, CB Jason Verrett, CB Kevin White, SS Sam Carter, FS Elisha Olabode, S Chris Hackett

Key Departures: RB Matthew Tucker, WR Josh Boyce, WR Skye Dawson, C James Fry, RG Blaize Foltz, DE Stansly Maponga, LB Kenny Cain

TCU’s 7-6 record isn’t going to wow many observers, but it’s more impressive when you consider starting quarterback Casey Pachall was forced to leave the team early in the year, and the team had to transition to a tougher conference. Pachall rejoined the team in mid-January and is expected to compete with Trevone Boykin for the starting nod. Although Boykin had an effective run as TCU’s quarterback, Pachall is a much better passer and would allow the offense to stretch the field through the air. The rushing attack struggled in 2012 but will get a boost from the return of Waymon James from a knee injury, along with the arrival of transfer Aaron Green from Nebraska. Defense has been a strength for TCU under coach Gary Patterson, and the Horned Frogs could have the best in the Big 12 next season. Nine starters are back in 2013, including standout end Devonte Fields and cornerback Jason Verrett.

3. Oklahoma

Key Returnees: QB Blake Bell, RB Damien Williams, FB Trey Millard, WR Jalen Saunders, WR Sterling Shepard, LG Adam Shead, C Gabe Ikard, RT Daryl Williams, DE Chuka Ndulue, LB Corey Nelson, LB Frank Shannon, CB Aaron Colvin, DB Gabe Lynn

Key Departures: QB Landry Jones, WR Kenny Stills, WR Justin Brown, LT Lane Johnson, DE David King, DT Jamarkus McFarland, DT Casey Walker, LB Tom Wort, CB Demontre Hurst, S Tony Jefferson, S Javon Harris, P Tress Way

The Sooners may not start the year as the No. 1 team in most preseason Big 12 predictions, but Bob Stoops’ team won’t fall too far in 2013. While there are some personnel losses, it’s difficult to call next season a transition year. New quarterback Blake Bell has shown promise in limited snaps but needs to develop as a passer this spring. Helping Bell’s adjustment into the starting lineup, Oklahoma returns running back Damien Williams and one of the Big 12’s top offensive lines. The defense has more question marks than the offense, as the secondary and line each lose three starters. This unit did receive some good news just before the NFL Draft deadline with Aaron Colvin deciding to return to Norman for his senior year. Although the Sooners will have some new faces in the lineup, this team should push for double-digit victories once again.

4. Texas

Key Returnees: QB David Ash, RB Malcolm Brown, RB Joe Bergeron, RB Johnathan Gray, WR Mike Davis, WR Jaxon Shipley, LG Trey Hopkins, RG Mason Walters, DE Jackson Jeffcoat, DT Desmond Jackson, LB Jordan Hicks, LB Steve Edmond, LB Kendall Thompson, LB Tevin Jackson, CB Quandre Diggs, CB Carrington Byndom, S Adrian Phillips, S Josh Turner

Key Departures: DE Alex Okafor, DT Brandon Moore, S Kenny Vaccaro

The personnel is in place for the Longhorns to contend for the Big 12 title. But is this team ready to take the next step in 2013? Much of Texas’ chances at winning the conference crown will rest on the right arm of quarterback David Ash. With one of the nation’s top backfields and a solid offensive line returning to Austin, Ash will be the difference between a nine-win season and a BCS berth. The Longhorns’ defense was a disappointment in 2012 but returns nearly everyone in 2013. End Alex Okafor and safety Kenny Vaccaro are huge losses, but the return of end Jackson Jeffcoat from a season-ending injury should help ease the departure of both players. Improving the run defense, along with generating more turnovers will be the top priority for coordinator Manny Diaz.

5. Baylor

Key Returnees: RB Lache Seastrunk, RB Glasco Martin, WR Tevin Reese, WR Levi Norwood, LG Cyril Richardson, LT Spencer Drango, RT Troy Baker, DE Terrance Lloyd, DE Chris McAllister, LB Bryce Hager, LB Eddie Lackey, CB Joe Williams, S Ahmad Dixon, S Sam Holl

Key Departures: QB Nick Florence, RB Jarred Salubi, WR Terrance Williams, WR Lanear Sampson, C Ivory Wade, RG Cameron Kaufhold, DT Gary Mason Jr., CB Chance Casey, S Mike Hicks

The Bears were one of college football’s hottest teams at the end of the regular season, finishing with four consecutive victories, including a 52-24 win over Big 12 champ Kansas State. Despite losing quarterback Robert Griffin, the offense didn’t miss much of a beat. Baylor averaged 44.5 points a game behind quarterback Nick Florence and running back Lache Seastrunk, while receiver Terrance Williams led the nation with an average of 140.9 receiving yards per game. Florence departs, but the Bears have a promising passer ready to emerge as the new starter (Bryce Petty). The defense allowed 502.2 yards per game but played better at the end of 2012. If Petty keeps the offense performing at a high level, Baylor should finish in the top half of the Big 12 in 2013.

6. Kansas State

Key Returnees: RB John Hubert, WR Tyler Lockett, WR Tramaine Thompson, LT Cornelius Lucas, C B.J. Finney, LG Cody Whitehair, DE Ryan Mueller, LB Jonathan Truman, S Ty Zimmerman, CB Randall Evans, S Jarard Milo, S Dante Barnett

Key Departures: QB Collin Klein, RB Angelo Pease, WR Chris Harper, TE Travis Tannahill, DE Meshak Williams, DE Adam Davis, DT Vai Lutui, LB Arthur Brown, LB Jarell Childs, CB Allen Chapman, CB Nigel Malone

As long as Bill Snyder is on the sidelines in Manhattan, it’s difficult to rank the Wildcats in the second half of the Big 12 standings. However, Kansas State has some significant holes to fill, starting at quarterback with the departure of Collin Klein. Daniel Sams showcased potential in limited action, rushing for 235 yards and three scores on 32 attempts. He will compete with junior college transfer Jake Waters for the No. 1 job in the spring. With Klein out of eligibility, the Wildcats will likely lean on running back John Hubert and an offensive line that returns all five starters in 2013. There’s no question Klein is a huge loss, but the defense is losing most of its key contributors. Linebacker Arthur Brown was one of the Big 12’s top defenders over the last two years, while defensive end Meshak Williams was Kansas State’s best pass rusher, and cornerback Nigel Malone picked off five passes in 2012. The Wildcats remain dangerous but repeating as Big 12 champions is a tall task. 

7. Texas Tech

Key Returnees: QB Michael Brewer, RB Kenny Williams, WR Eric Ward, WR Jakeem Grant, TE Jace Amaro, RG Le’Raven Clark, DE Dartwan Bush, DT Kerry Hyder, LB Will Smith, LB Sam Eguavoen, DB Tre Porter, CB Bruce Jones,

Key Departures: QB Seth Doege, RB Eric Stephens, WR Darrin Moore, WR Tyson Williams, LT LaAdrian Waddle, C Deveric Gallington, DT Leon Mackey, CB Eugene Neboh, S Cody Davis, S D.J. Johnson

Tommy Tuberville left for Cincinnati, opening the door for a Texas Tech legend to return home. Kliff Kingsbury is only 33 years old, but the former Red Raider quarterback is the perfect fit to lead Texas Tech back into Big 12 contention. However, it will take Kingsbury a year or two to replenish the roster with his recruits. Quarterback Seth Doege will be missed, but backup Michael Brewer is a promising option and was sharp in limited action. The sophomore has talent around him, including running back Kenny Williams and receiver Eric Ward. If there’s a concern on the offense, it’s a line that loses center Deveric Gallington and tackle LaAdrian Waddle. The Red Raiders showed significant improvement on defense in 2012, finishing 38th nationally in yards allowed and 15th in pass defense. This unit returns most of its core but is still a work in progress.

8. West Virginia

Key Returnees: RB Andrew Buie, WR Jordan Thompson, LT Quinton Spain, DE Will Clarke, DT Shaq Rowell, LB Isaiah Bruce, LB Doug Rigg, LB Shaq Petteway, CB Brodrick Jenkins, S Karl Joseph, S Darwin Cook

Key Departures: QB Geno Smith, RB Shawne Alston, WR Stedman Bailey, WR Tavon Austin, WR J.D. Woods, LG Josh Jenkins, C Joe Madsen, RG Jeff Braun, DE Jorge Wright, LB Josh Francis, CB Pat Miller, S Terence Garvin

After a promising 5-0 start, the Mountaineers needed wins in their final two regular season games just to get bowl eligible. The offense was one of the best in college football, but the defense was horrendous and prompted staff changes at the end of the year. With quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey departing, 2013 will be a rebuilding year for West Virginia. Regardless of whether Paul Millard or Ford Childress wins the starting quarterback job, the offense will struggle to match its average of 39.5 points a game from 2012. For the Mountaineers to make a bowl game, the defense needs to show marked improvement. If there’s any good news about the defensive performance from 2012, most of the starters were underclassmen and return next season. Another set of practices to work with the coaching staff should help, but the Mountaineers can’t feel too good about the defense going into 2013. It won’t be easy, but West Virginia should find a way to get six wins and into a bowl game next year.

9. Iowa State

Key Returnees: QB Sam Richardson, RB James White, RB Shontrelle Johnson, WR Jarvis West, TE Ernst Brun, C Tom Farniok, DE Willie Scott, LB Jeremiah George, LB Deon Broomfield, CB Jansen Watson, FS Jacques Washington, P Kirby Van Der Camp

Key Departures: WR Aaron Horne, WR Chris Young, LT Carter Bykowski, DE Roosevelt Maggitt, DE Jake McDonough, DT Cleyon Laing, LB A.J. Klein, LB Jake Knott, CB Jeremy Reeves, SS Durrell Givens

The Cyclones and West Virginia are virtually interchangeable in the early power rankings for 2013. And considering Iowa State’s history of exceeding preseason predictions, it’s dangerous to predict Paul Rhoads’ team in this spot. For the Cyclones to make their third consecutive bowl game, the offense needs quarterback Sam Richardson to settle into the starting job, while getting more production from running backs James White and Shontrelle Johnson. The defense ranked third in the Big 12 in points allowed but must replace All-Big 12 linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, along with three starters on the defensive line.

10. Kansas

Key Returnees: QB Jake Heaps, RB James Sims, RB Tony Pierson, WR Justin McCay, WR Andrew Turzilli, DT Jordan Tavai, LB Ben Heeney, LB Huldon Tharp, LB/S Jake Love, CB Tyler Patmon

Key Departures: WR Kale Pick, WR Daymond Patterson, LT Tanner Hawkinson, LG Duane Zlatnik, C Trevor Marrongelli, DE/LB Toben Opurum, DE Josh Williams, CB Greg Brown, S Bradley McDougald, S Lubbock Smith

As expected, the Jayhawks are still a long ways away from contending in the Big 12. Kansas was more competitive in 2012 than it was in 2011 in conference play but still finished 1-11 and winless in the Big 12. Coach Charlie Weis went the transfer route to upgrade the Jayhawks’ talent level last season, landing quarterback Jake Heaps from BYU and receiver Justin McCay from Oklahoma to start in 2013. Heaps has talent but struggled in his sophomore year at BYU. Running back James Sims should threaten 1,000 yards once again in 2013, but the Jayhawks must replace three key starters on the line. Depth and talent is an issue on defense, and coordinator Dave Campo must find a replacement for end/linebacker Toben Opurum and safety Bradley McDougald. 


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With 21 wins from 2011-12, Clemson is coming off the best two-year stretch in school history. The Tigers will have a chance to earn their third consecutive season of double-digit victories in 2013, as quarterback Tajh Boyd turned down a chance to enter the NFL Draft for another year in Death Valley. Receiver DeAndre Hopkins did leave for the next level, but Sammy Watkins should regain his freshman form in 2013. With a neutral site matchup against Georgia in Week 1, Clemson has an early chance to stamp its place in the national title mix.

Florida State should be the ACC’s No. 2 team next season, but the Seminoles have holes to fill. Quarterback EJ Manuel, defensive end Bjoern Werner and cornerback Xavier Rhodes are significant losses, while the defense will have a new coordinator after Mark Stoops left for Kentucky.

The Atlantic Division is home to the ACC’s top two teams, but the Coastal Division may have more depth. A case could be made for Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech or North Carolina for the No. 1 spot in the division, while Pittsburgh and Virginia won’t be easy outs. 

Early Atlantic Predictions for 2013

1. Clemson

Key Returnees: QB Tajh Boyd, RB Roderick McDowell, WR Sammy Watkins, WR Adam Humphries, LT Brandon Thomas, LG David Beasley, DE Corey Crawford, DT Josh Watson, DT DeShawn Williams, DT D.J. Reader, NG Grady Jarrett, LB Spencer Shuey, LB Stephone Anthony, CB Bashaud Breeland, DB Travis Blanks

Key Departures: RB Andre Ellington, WR DeAndre Hopkins, WR Jaron Brown, TE Brandon Ford, C Dalton Freeman, DE Malliciah Goodman, LB Jonathan Willard, CB Xavier Brewer, S Rashard Hall, S Jonathan Meeks

Thanks to quarterback Tajh Boyd’s decision to return to Clemson, the Tigers will be a heavy favorite to win the ACC in 2013. Boyd threw for 3,896 yards and 36 scores last season and despite the departure of DeAndre Hopkins, could improve on those numbers in his senior season. Clemson needs receiver Sammy Watkins to regain his freshman form, while the offense has to find a replacement for running back Andre Ellington and center Dalton Freeman. The defense showed slight improvement in the first season under coordinator Brent Venables but must replace three starters in the secondary, defensive end Malliciah Goodman (seven sacks) and linebacker Jonathan Willard (95 stops).

2. Florida State

Key Returnees: RB Devonta Freeman, RB James Wilder Jr., WR Rashad Greene, WR Kenny Shaw, WR Kelvin Benjamin, TE Nick O’Leary, LT Cameron Erving, C Bryan Stork, RG Tre’ Jackson, DE Mario Edwards Jr., DT Timmy Jernigan, DT Demonte McAllister, LB Christian Jones, LB Telvin Smith, CB Ronald Darby, SS Lamarcus Joyner, S Karlos Williams

Key Departures: QB EJ Manuel, RB Chris Thompson, WR Rodney Smith, RT Menelik Watson, DE Bjoern Werner, DE Brandon Jenkins, DE Cornellius Carradine, DT Everett Dawkins, LB Vince Williams, CB Xavier Rhodes, K Dustin Hopkins

Although Jimbo Fisher hasn’t quite elevated Florida State into an annual national title contender, the program is in much better shape than it was before his arrival. Fisher’s work on the recruiting trail has helped to improve the depth, which is why the Seminoles aren’t going to fall too far in the top 25 next season. Clint Trickett, Jameis Winston and Jacob Coker will compete to replace quarterback EJ Manuel in spring practice, but Florida State’s strong supporting cast should help ease the transition of the new signal-caller. With coordinator Mark Stoops leaving to become the head coach at Kentucky, plus the departure of standouts Bjoern Werner, Cornellius Carradine and Xavier Rhodes, the Seminoles defense will take a step back in 2013. Although Florida State could still push for 10 victories, traveling to Death Valley to play Clemson could be the deciding factor in the ACC Atlantic.

3. Maryland

Key Returnees: QB C.J. Brown, QB Perry Hills, RB Brandon Ross, RB Wes Brown, WR Stefon Diggs, WR Marcus Leak, OG De’Onte Arnett, DE Quinton Jefferson, DT Darius Kilgo, LB Cole Farrand, LB L.A. Goree, CB Dexter McDougle, CB Jeremiah Johnson, S Anthony Nixon, S Matt Robinson

Key Departures: WR Kevin Dorsey, TE Matt Furstenberg, OG Bennett Fulper, RT Justin Gilbert, DE Joe Vellano, DE A.J. Francis, LB Kenny Tate, LB Darin Drakeford, LB Demetrius Hartsfield, S Eric Franklin

The Terrapins were hit hard by the injury bug in 2012 but managed to double their win total from the previous season. The quarterback position was decimated the most, losing C.J. Brown before the first game with a torn ACL, while Perry Hills, Caleb Rowe and Devin Burns each suffered season-ending injuries before the month of November. With the top four quarterbacks out with injuries, Maryland was forced to turn to converted linebacker Shawn Petty as the starter for the final four games. With a healthy cache of quarterbacks, the Terrapins should make strides on offense in 2013. Receiver Stefon Diggs is back after a standout freshman year, while the rushing attack will benefit from the return of promising backs Brandon Ross, Albert Reid and Wes Brown. Although the offense should be improved, the defense needs a lot of work in the spring. The Terrapins lost first-team All-ACC selection in defensive end Joe Vellano, as well as four other key performers from the front seven.

4. Syracuse

Key Returnees: RB Jerome Smith, RB Prince-Tyson Gulley, WR Jarrod West, TE Beckett Wales, C Macky MacPherson, RT Sean Hickey, DE Markus Pierce-Brewster, NT Jay Bromley, LB Marquis Spruill, LB Dyshawn Davis, LB Cameron Lynch, CB Keon Lyn, CB Ri’Shard Anderson, CB Brandon Reddish, FS Jeremi Wilkes, S Durell Eskridge

Key Departures: QB Ryan Nassib, WR Marcus Sales, WR Alec Lemon, LT Justin Pugh, LG Zack Chibane, DE Brandon Sharpe, DT Deon Goggins, LB Siriki Diabate, LB Dan Vaughan, SS Shamarko Thomas

Head coach Doug Marrone departed for the NFL, but there’s no question he left Syracuse in much better shape than he found it in 2009. New coach Scott Shafer was a popular hire among the players but has no previous head coaching experience and must replace offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. Quarterback Ryan Nassib finished his eligibility after the Pinstripe Bowl, leaving Charley Loeb and Terrel Hunt to battle for the job. Neither player has a start under their belt and has combined to throw just six passes in their career. In addition to finding a new quarterback, Syracuse needs to rebuild the offensive line and replace Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales at receiver. The Orange suffered some key losses on defense, headlined by end Brandon Sharpe, safety Shamarko Thomas and linebacker Siriki Diabate.

5. NC State

Key Returnees: RB Shadrach Thornton, RB Tony Creecy, WR Quintin Payton, WR Bryan Underwood, TE Asa Watson, LT Rob Crisp, DE Darryl Cato-Bishop, DE Art Norman, DT Thomas Teal, DT T.Y. McGill, LB Rickey Dowdy, LB Rodman Noel, LB Brandon Pittman, CB Dontae Johnson, CB Juston Burris

Key Departures: QB Mike Glennon, WR Tobais Palmer, TE Mario Carter, LG R.J. Mattes, C Camden Wentz, RG Andrew Wallace, DE Brian Slay, LB Sterling Lucas, CB David Amerson, S Brandan Bishop, S Earl Wolff

There’s a clear drop in the Atlantic Division after Clemson and Florida State, and the pecking order only gets more crowded after Maryland at No. 3. Even though the Wolfpack made one of the top coaching hires of 2012 (Dave Doeren), it may be a struggle for NC State just to get bowl eligible. The biggest question mark for Doeren will be replacing quarterback Mike Glennon, which will likely be a battle between sophomore Manny Stocker and Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas. The offensive line also needs to be a focal point for Doeren, as the Wolfpack lose center Camden Wentz and guards Andrew Wallace and R.J. Mattes. On defense, the secondary needs to be rebuilt, but the front seven should be solid.  

6. Wake Forest

Key Returnees: QB Tanner Price, RB Josh Harris, RB Deandre Martin, WR Michael Campanaro, WR Sherman Ragland III, DE Zach Thompson, DE Kris Redding, NG Nikita Whitlock, LB Justin Jackson, LB Mike Olson, LB Zachary Allen, CB Merrill Noel, CB Kevin Johnson, FS A.J. Marshall, S Daniel Mack

Key Departures: FB Tommy Bohanon, WR Terence Davis, C Garrick Williams, DE Joey Ehrmann, LB Riley Haynes, CB Chibuikem Okoro

After snapping a two-year bowl drought in 2011, the Demon Deacons took a step back in 2012. Wake Forest opened 3-1 last season but proceeded to lose six out of its last eight games. The biggest factor in the slide was an offensive line that had four new starters in 2012, which struggled to open up holes for the running game and protect quarterback Tanner Price. The line will be under the spotlight once again, as Price and receiver Michael Campanaro could be one of the ACC’s top pass-catch combinations if the duo has enough time to attack downfield. There’s also room for the defense to improve, especially after finishing 11th in the ACC in points allowed. Wake Forest doesn’t lose many players, so the potential is there to get back to a bowl game in 2013.

7. Boston College

Key Returnees: QB Chase Rettig, RB Andre Williams, RB Rolandan Finch, WR Alex Amidon, WR Johnathan Coleman, LG Bobby Vardaro, C Andy Gallik, DE Kasim Edebali, DE Mehdi Abdesmad, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB Steele Divitto, CB Sean Sylvia, CB Manual Asprilla, FS Spenser Rositano, FS Justin Simmons

Key Departures: TE Chris Pantale, LT Emmett Cleary, RT John Wetzel, LB Nick Clancy

The Eagles don’t have many personnel departures, but it’s also hard to envision this team showing major progress after finishing 2-10 in 2012. Quarterback Chase Rettig had his best season in his career last year, throwing for 3,060 yards and 17 scores. Rettig and receiver Alex Amidon formed a solid connection, but new coach Steve Addazio ran a ground-based attack at Temple and will look to establish Boston College’s ground game more next season. Andre Williams and Rolandan Finch are capable backs, but the offensive line must replace tackles Emmett Cleary and John Wetzel. Although the Eagles struggled on defense last year, Addazio’s hire of Don Brown as the team’s defensive coordinator should help this unit improve immediately.

Early Coastal Predictions for 2013

1. Miami

Key Returnees: QB Stephen Morris, RB Duke Johnson, WR Phillip Dorsett, WR Rashawn Scott, TE Clive Walford, LG Jonathan Feliciano, RG Brandon Linder, RT Seantrel Henderson, DE Anthony Chickillo, DE Shayon Green, DT Olsen Pierre, DT Tyriq McCord, LB Denzel Perryman, LB Eddie Johnson, LB Jimmy Gaines, CB Tracy Howard, S Kacy Rodgers II, S Deon Bush

Key Departures: RB Mike James, K Jake Wieclaw, P Dalton Botts

There’s not much separating the top four teams in the Coastal Division next season. For now, Athlon gives a slight edge to Miami. The Hurricanes were banned from postseason play, yet finished 7-5 and won three out of their last four games. Considering most of the starting lineup is back for 2013, it’s not out of the question Miami could be a top-25 team. Quarterback Stephen Morris and running back Duke Johnson will be a handful for opposing defenses, while the offensive line returns all five starters and could be the best in the conference. The biggest obstacle to winning a Coastal Division title rests with finding improvement for a defense that allowed 486.4 yards per game in 2012. While all signs on paper point to a big season for the Hurricanes, there’s the black cloud of a NCAA investigation hanging over the program, which could change the outlook of this division once the penalties are known.

2. North Carolina

Key Returnees: QB Bryn Renner, RB A.J. Blue, RB Romar Morris, WR Quinshad Davis, WR Sean Tapley, TE Eric Ebron, LT James Hurst, C Russell Bodine, DE Kareem Martin, LB Tommy Heffernan, CB Jabari Price, CB Tim Scott, S Tre Boston, S Darien Rankin

Key Departures: RB Giovani Bernard, WR Erik Highsmith, LG Jonathan Cooper, RT Travis Bond, DT Sylvester Williams, LB Kevin Reddick, LB Dion Guy, LB/S Gene Robinson

Larry Fedora’s first season in Chapel Hill was a success. Despite having nothing to play for due to NCAA sanctions, the Tar Heels finished 8-4 and recorded a victory over in-state rival NC State. And even though running back Giovani Bernard and guard Jonathan Cooper are huge losses, North Carolina could be the biggest threat to Miami in the Coastal Division. Quarterback Bryn Renner is back after throwing for 28 touchdowns, while Quinshad Davis is a rising star to watch at receiver. The offense isn’t the only side of the ball with personnel losses, as the defense must replace standouts Sylvester Williams (tackle) and linebacker Kevin Reddick. The good news for the Tar Heels? There’s no Clemson or Florida State on the schedule, and North Carolina hosts Miami in a game that could decide the Coastal Division.

3. Virginia Tech

Key Returnees: QB Logan Thomas, RB Michael Holmes, RB J.C. Coleman, WR Demitri Knowles, TE Ryan Malleck, LG David Wang, RG Brent Benedict, DE Corey Marshall, DE James Gayle, DT Derrick Hopkins, DT Luther Maddy, DT J.R. Collins, LB Jack Tyler, CB Antone Exum, CB Kyle Fuller, S Kyshoen Jarrett, S Detrick Bonner

Key Departures: WR Corey Fuller, WR Dyrell Roberts, WR Marcus Davis, LT Nick Becton, LB Bruce Taylor, LB Alonzo Tweedy

With 11 returning starters from a team that went 11-3 in 2011, there were high expectations surrounding Virginia Tech last season. Instead of contending for a spot in the ACC Championship, the Hokies needed wins in their last two regular season games just to get bowl eligible. Quarterback Logan Thomas decided to return to Blacksburg for his senior year and will be under the tutelage of new coordinator Scot Loeffler. Thomas didn’t have much help from his offensive line and rushing attack last season but needs to cut down on the interceptions (16). While the offense will be a work in progress early next year, the defense could be the best in the conference.

4. Georgia Tech

Key Returnees: QB Vad Lee, RB Zach Laskey, RB David Sims, RB Robert Godhigh, LT Ray Beno, C Jay Finch, RT Will Jackson, DE Emmanuel Dieke, DE Euclid Cummings, LB Jabari Hunt-Days, LB Quayshawn Nealy, LB Brandon Watts, LB Jeremiah Attaochu, LB Anthony Harrell, CB Louis Young, S Isaiah Johnson, S Jemea Thomas

Key Departures: QB Tevin Washington, RB Orwin Smith, RG Omoregie Uzzi, DE Izaan Cross, DT T.J. Barnes, CB Rod Sweeting

The Yellow Jackets check in at No. 4 in the early ACC Coastal rankings for 2013, but there’s very little separating this team from No. 1 Miami. Vad Lee steps in for Tevin Washington at quarterback, and the sophomore should give the offense a more dynamic playmaker under center. Running back Orwin Smith’s big-play ability will be missed, but David Sims, Zach Laskey and Robert Godhigh is a good trio to build the rushing attack around next season. Fixing the defense is the No. 1 priority for coach Paul Johnson, and former Duke head coach and Georgia Tech alum Ted Roof was brought in to find the right answers this offeseason. 

5. Virginia

Key Returnees: QB Phillip Sims, RB Kevin Parks, WR Darius Jennings, WR Dominique Terrell, WR E.J. Scott, WR Tim Smith, TE Jake McGee, RT Morgan Moses, DE Jake Snyder, DT Chris Brathwaite, LB Daquan Romero, LB Eli Harold, CB Demetrious Nicholson, CB Maurice Canady, FS Anthony Harris, SS Brandon Phelps

Key Departures: RB Perry Jones, LT Oday Aboushi, DT Will Hill, LB Steve Greer, LB La’Roy Reynolds

After an 8-5 record in 2011, Virginia was one of the ACC’s biggest disappointments from 2012. The Cavaliers started 2-6 but finished 2-2 in their final four games. Despite the setback, Mike London’s team could rebound into a bowl game in 2013. With Michael Rocco transferring, there’s no quarterback controversy with Phillip Sims entrenched as the No. 1 passer. Running back Kevin Parks should contend for All-ACC honors, while the receiving corps is stocked with options for Sims. The defense finished fourth in the conference in yards allowed, but coordinator Jim Reid was fired in favor of former NC State assistant Jon Tenuta. The top task for Tenuta will be helping the defense create more turnovers, as well as bolster the pass rush. Considering Virginia lost four games by a touchdown or less, it’s a reasonable expectation for London to lead this team back into the postseason in 2013.

6. Pittsburgh

Key Returnees: RB Rushel Shell, WR Devin Street, TE J.P. Holtz, LT Cory King, RT Matt Rotheram, DE Bryan Murphy, DE T.J. Clemmings, DT Aaron Donald, NT Tyrone Ezell, LB Eric Williams, LB Shane Gordon, LB Nicholas Grigsby, CB K’Waun Williams, CB Lafayette Pitts, S Jason Hendricks

Key Departures: QB Tino Sunseri, RB Ray Graham, WR Mike Shanahan, WR Cameron Saddler, LG Chris Jacobson, C Ryan Turnley, DE Shayne Hale, S Jared Holley, S Andrew Taglianetti

As expected, the Panthers had an up and down season under first-year coach Paul Chryst. Losing to Youngstown State in Week 1 was one of the worst defeats by a BCS team in 2012, and Pittsburgh needed a win over South Florida in the regular season finale to get bowl eligible. Chryst is a good fit in the Steel City, but the Panthers aren’t quite ready to contend for the conference title next year. Tino Sunseri must be replaced at quarterback, but Rutgers transfer Tom Savage is a capable and experienced option. Rushel Shell should be one of the ACC’s top running backs, and the defense will be solid after losing just four seniors in the two-deep. The schedule will be tougher with a move to the ACC, but Pittsburgh looks like a six or seven-win team in 2013.

7. Duke

Key Returnees: QB Anthony Boone, QB Brandon Connette, RB Jela Duncan, RB Josh Snead, RB Juwan Thompson, WR Jamison Crowder, TE Issac Blakeney, LG Dave Harding, RG Laken Tomlinson, RT Perry Simmons, DE Justin Foxx, DE Kenny Anunike, NG Sydney Sarmiento, LB C.J. France, LB David Helton, LB Kyler Brown, CB Ross Cockrell, S Dwayne Norman, K Ross Martin, P Will Monday

Key Departures: QB Sean Renfree, WR Conner Vernon, WR Desmond Scott, C Brian Moore, LB Austin Gamble, CB Tony Foster, S Walt Canty, S Jordon Byas

After making their first bowl appearance since 1994, the Blue Devils enter 2013 with momentum on their side. Although David Cutcliffe has significantly elevated the program since his arrival, Duke will struggle to match last season’s six victories. Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette will likely share quarterback duties, replacing Sean Renfree after he threw for 9,465 yards in his career. Losing receiver Conner Vernon is a huge blow, but the Blue Devils return three promising running backs and four starters on the offensive line. With a transition to a new quarterback likely to slow down the offense some early in the year, Duke needs its defense to cut down on the yards (469.2) and points allowed (36).


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Teaser:
<p> Early ACC Football Predictions for 2013</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - 06:42
Path: /college-football/early-big-ten-football-predictions-2013
Body:

The Big Ten had a year to forget in 2012. Two of the conference’s best teams (Ohio State and Penn State) were ineligible to compete for the postseason, while Michigan State underachieved and finished with a 7-6 mark.

While the 2012 season will go down as a year to mostly forget, the Big Ten should be in better shape for 2013. Ohio State will be a national title contender and has a chance to run the table to finish unbeaten once again next season. The Buckeyes rank as the No. 2 team in Athlon’s early top 25 for 2013.

The Legends Division will be a tight battle between Nebraska, Michigan and Northwestern next season. The Cornhuskers are the early favorite to win the division crown, but don’t overlook Michigan. The Wolverines got a huge boost when tackle Taylor Lewan turned down the NFL, while quarterback Devin Gardner had a strong finish to the season. 

Early Leaders Division Predictions for 2013

1. Ohio State

Key Returnees: QB Braxton Miller, RB Carlos Hyde, RB Jordan Hall, WR Corey Brown, WR Devin Smith, LT Jack Mewhort, LG Andrew Norwell, C Corey Linsley, DE Noah Spence, DT Adolphus Washington, LB Ryan Shazier, CB Bradley Roby, S Christian Bryant, S C.J. Barnett

Key Departures: WR/TE Jake Stoneburner, RT Reid Fragel, DE John Simon, DE Nathan Williams, DT Johnathan Hankins, NT Garrett Goebel, LB Etienne Sabino, LB Zach Boren, CB Travis Howard, S Orhian Johnson

After a 12-0 season with nothing to play for, the stakes are much higher for Ohio State in 2013. The Buckeyes are expected to be in the mix to play for the national championship and will be heavily favored to win the Big Ten. Quarterback Braxton Miller is one of the top Heisman contenders next season, but the junior needs more help from the supporting cast. Although Miller was able to start all 12 games in 2012, he took a pounding from recording 227 carries. Although the Buckeyes need their quarterback to be a factor on the ground, running backs Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall have to shoulder more of the workload next season. While the offense should lead the Big Ten in scoring again in 2013, the defense has a few question marks to answer. The line loses four key contributors, including end John Simon and tackle Johnathan Hankins. Although Ohio State has a few holes to fill, expect Urban Meyer’s team to make another run at a perfect season.

2. Wisconsin

Key Returnees: QB Curt Phillips, QB Joel Stave, RB James White, RB Melvin Gordon, WR Jared Abbrederis, TE Jacob Pedersen, LG Ryan Groy, RG Kyle Costigan, RT Rob Havenstein, DE David Gilbert, DE Tyler Dippel, DT Beau Allen, DT Brendan Kelly, LB Chris Borland, LB Ethan Armstrong, FS Dezmen Southward

Key Departures: RB Montee Ball, LT Rick Wagner, C Travis Frederick, LB Mike Taylor, CB Devin Smith, SS Shelton Johnson

There’s a new coach in Madison but expect much of the same success from the Badgers. Gary Andersen comes to Wisconsin from Utah State, where he compiled a 26-24 record and helped to elevate the program to a conference title contender. Andersen will have plenty to work with in 2013, as Wisconsin returns most of its core from offense and nearly everyone on defense. Curt Phillips and Joel Stave will compete for the starting quarterback job, while James White and Melvin Gordon should be a capable combination to replace Montee Ball. The offensive line will miss tackle Rick Wagner and center Travis Frederick, but Ryan Groy, Kyle Costigan and Rob Havenstein is a good place to start reloading. Linebacker Mike Taylor is a tough loss, but Wisconsin could have one of the Big Ten’s best front sevens next year.  

3. Penn State

Key Returnees: RB Zach Zwinak, WR Allen Robinson, TE Kyle Carter, LT Donovan Smith, RG John Urschel, DE Deion Barnes, DT DaQuan Jones, LB Glenn Carson, LB Mike Hull, CB Adrian Amos, FS Malcolm Willis, S Stephen Obeng-Agyapong

Key Departures: QB Matt McGloin, C Matt Stankiewitch, RT Mike Farrell, DE Sean Stanley, DT Jordan Hill, LB Michael Mauti, LB Gerald Hodges, CB Stephon Morris

Despite interest from NFL teams, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien will be back in Happy Valley for 2013. And that's huge for a program in need of stability under the upcoming NCAA scholarship sanctions. O’Brien did wonders with the Nittany Lions’ offense in 2012, leading the unit to an average of 417.5 yards per game and transforming quarterback Matt McGloin into an All-Big Ten candidate. O’Brien will have his work cut out for him in 2013, as McGloin has expired his eligibility, leaving Steven Bench (eight career passes), junior college recruit Tyler Ferguson and true freshman Christian Hackenberg to compete for the starting nod. With uncertainty surrounding the quarterbacks, look for running backs Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton to shoulder much of the early workload. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof left for Georgia Tech, and O’Brien promoted assistant John Butler to call the plays. Butler will have his hands full too, as first-team All-Big Ten selections in linebacker Michael Mauti and defensive tackle Jordan Hill will be difficult to replace.

4. Indiana

Key Returnees: QB Cameron Coffman, QB Tre Roberson, RB Stephen Houston, WR Cody Latimer, WR Shane Wynn, WR Kofi Hughes, TE Ted Bolser, LT Jason Spriggs, RG Dan Feeney, DE Ryan Phillis, DE Zack Shaw, LB David Cooper, LB Chase Hoobler, LB Flo Hardin, CB Brian Williams, S Greg Heban, S Mark Murphy

Key Departures: C Will Matte, DT Adam Replogle, DT Larry Black

The Hoosiers showed marked improvement in Kevin Wilson’s second season. Indiana increased its win total by three games and suffered four losses by four points or less. With nearly everyone back for 2013, Indiana should be able to push for six wins and a bowl appearance. The Hoosiers averaged 311.2 passing yards per game and return three capable starting quarterbacks. Tre Roberson started the first two games of the year but suffered a season-ending leg injury against UMass. In his absence, Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld combined for 22 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. Whichever quarterback wins the job will have a solid supporting cast, which includes one of the Big Ten’s top receiving corps and an offensive line that returns four starters. Fixing the defense was a top priority for Wilson when he arrived in Bloomington, but Indiana has ranked 100th or worse in total and scoring defense over the last two years. Although Adam Replogle and Larry Black are huge losses for the defensive line, there’s some hope for a turnaround since nearly everyone else on the  two-deep is back for 2013.

5. Purdue

Key Returnees: QB Rob Henry, RB Akeem Hunt, WR O.J. Ross, WR Gary Bush, WR Dolapo Macarthy, DE Ryan Russell, DT Bruce Gaston, LB Will Lucas, LB Joe Gilliam, CB Ricardo Allen, CB Frankie Williams, SS Landon Feichter, S Taylor Richards

Key Departures: QB Robert Marve, RB Ralph Bolden, RB Akeem Shavers, WR Antavian Edison, LG Peters Drey, C Rick Schmeig, DT Kawann Short, LB Robert Maci, CB Josh Johnson

Despite taking Purdue to back-to-back bowl games, coach Danny Hope was fired shortly after the regular season finale against Indiana. New coach Darrell Hazell is charged with elevating the program back to Big Ten contender status, but 2013 could be a difficult year for the Boilermakers. Hazell’s rebuilding project will start on offense, as Purdue loses quarterback Robert Marve and running backs Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers. Rob Henry will likely get the first shot at replacing Marve under center, but he has thrown only 38 passes since starting seven games in 2010. Despite losing All-Big Ten defensive tackle Kawann Short, Purdue’s defense should show some improvement after finishing near the bottom of the Big Ten in total and scoring defense last year. Hazell did a good job of rebuilding Kent State in a short amount of time. Can he find the same quick fixes in West Lafayette in 2013?

6. Illinois

Key Returnees: QB Nathan Scheelhaase, RB Donovonn Young, RB Josh Ferguson, WR Ryan Lankford, WR Darius Millines, RG Ted Karras, LB Jonathan Brown, LB Mason Monheim, LB Mike Sventina, S Earnest Thomas

Key Departures: LT Hugh Thornton, C Graham Pocic, DE Michael Buchanan, NT Akeem Spence, DT Glenn Foster, CB Terry Hawthorne, CB Justin Green, S/LB Ashante Williams, S Suppo Sanni

Tim Beckman’s first season in Champaign was a disaster. The Fighting Illini won just two games for the first time since 2006 and snapped a streak of back-to-back bowl games. While a few ups and downs can be expected in a coaching transition, considering the returning talent at Illinois in 2012, no one could have predicted a season full of blowout losses and zero wins in Big Ten play. Beckman fired co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty and demoted Billy Gonzales to receivers coach. Staff changes on offense were necessary after finishing 119th nationally in scoring, but personnel is also an issue. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is a capable player but had very little help from the running game, offensive line and receiving corps in 2012. While Scheelhaase has to play better than he did last year, the coaching staff has to get better production from the surrounding cast. The defense allowed 387.6 yards per game last season and loses a chunk of its core, including nose tackle Akeem Spence, cornerback Terry Hawthorne and defensive end Michael Buchanan. The roster isn’t devoid of talent, but for now, the Fighting Illini will be the early favorite to finish in the cellar of the Leaders Division.
 

Early Legends Division Predictions for 2013

1. Nebraska

Key Returnees: QB Taylor Martinez, RB Ameer Abdullah, RB Braylon Heard, WR Kenny Bell, WR Jamal Turner, WR Quincy Enunwa, LT Brent Qvale, RG Spencer Long, RT Jeremiah Sirles, DE Jason Ankrah, DT Thad Randle, DT Chase Rome, LB David Santos, CB Andrew Green, CB Josh Mitchell, DB Ciante Evans

Key Departures: RB Rex Burkhead, LG Seung Hoon Choi, C Justin Jackson, DE Eric Martin, DE Cameron Meredith, DT Baker Steinkuhler, LB Will Compton, LB Sean Fisher, LB Alonzo Whaley, S Daimion Stafford, S P.J. Smith, K/P Brett Maher

While the loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship and the 45-31 defeat to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl put a damper on the end of the season, Nebraska did win 10 games for the third time in four seasons. The Cornhuskers will start 2013 as a slight favorite to win the Legends Division, but Michigan and Northwestern won’t be far behind. With heavy personnel losses on defense, the offense will have to carry the team early in the season. Quarterback Taylor Martinez was one of the Big Ten’s most-improved players in 2012 and has one of the conference’s top receiving corps, as well as two rising stars at running back in Ameer Abdullah and Braylon Heard to use in 2013. Coach Bo Pelini will have his work cut out for him on defense, as 12 seniors are gone from the two-deep. The cupboard isn’t bare, as end Jason Ankah, linebacker David Santos and defensive backs Andrew Green and Ciante Evans are a good place to start rebuilding. Nebraska’s schedule isn’t particularly difficult in conference play, but a road trip to Michigan on Nov. 9 could decide the division title.

2. Michigan

Key Returnees: QB Devin Gardner, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, WR Jeremy Gallon, WR Drew Dileo, TE Devin Funchess, LT Taylor Lewan, RT Michael Schofield, DE Frank Clark, DT Jibreel Black, NT Quinton Washington, NT Ondre Pipkins, LB Jake Ryan, LB Desmond Morgan, LB James Ross III, LB Joe Bolden, CB Raymon Taylor, CB Blake Countess, S Thomas Gordon

Key Departures: QB Denard Robinson, WR Roy Roundtree, LG Ricky Barnum, C Elliott Mealer, RG Patrick Omameh, DT Will Campbell, DE Craig Roh, LB Kenny Demens, CB J.T. Floyd, SS Jordan Kovacs

As mentioned in the Nebraska writeup, there’s very little separating Nebraska and Michigan for the top two spots in Athlon’s early Big Ten predictions for 2013. Although an arm injury to quarterback Denard Robinson was a huge setback for the offense in the late October matchup against Nebraska, Devin Gardner was able to gain valuable experience. He finished with 11 touchdown tosses and 1,219 yards and clearly opens the year No. 1 on the depth chart for Michigan. While Gardner is set at quarterback, the Wolverines need a No. 1 back to emerge and must replace three starters on the interior of the line. Michigan held opponents to 320 yards per game but ranked 51st nationally against the run and loses nose tackle Will Campbell and end Craig Roh. Cornerback Blake Countess will return to the lineup after suffering a torn ACL against Alabama, while coordinator Greg Mattison is counting on a big season from sophomore nose tackle Ondre Pipkins.

3. Northwestern

Key Returnees: QB Kain Colter, QB Trevor Siemian, RB Venric Mark, WR Christian Jones, WR Rashad Lawrence, C Brandon Vitabile, RT Jack Konopka, DE Tyler Scott, DT Sean McEvilly, LB Chi Chi Ariguzo, LB Damien Proby, CB Nick VanHoose, CB Daniel Jones, S Ibrahiem Campbell, K Jeff Budzien

Key Departures: WR Demetrius Fields, LT Patrick Ward, LG Brian Mulroe, DE Quentin Williams, DT Brian Arnfelt, LB David Nwabuisi, CB Quinn Evans, S Jared Carpenter

The Wildcats are coming off a 10-win season and their first bowl victory since 1949. So what does Pat Fitzgerald have planned for an encore? How about contending for the Legends Division title? Considering the returning personnel and the losses suffered by Michigan and Nebraska, it’s not out of the question Northwestern could win the division crown in 2013. The offense averaged 31.7 points a game in 2012 and brings back most of its key personnel, including quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, along with running back Venric Mark. The biggest concern for the offense will be replacing three starters on the line. The defense gave up some big plays in key moments but finished 47th nationally in total defense and fifth in the Big Ten in points allowed. The schedule isn’t easy – especially since Northwestern plays Ohio State and Wisconsin in crossover games with the Leaders Division – but the Wildcats should be a top-25 team in 2013.

4. Michigan State

Key Returnees: QB Andrew Maxwell, QB Connor Cook, WR Keith Mumphery, WR Bennie Fowler, WR Aaron Burbridge, LT Dan France, C Jack Allen, DE Marcus Rush, DT James Kittredge, LB Max Bullough, LB Denicos Allen, LB Taiwan Jones, CB Darqueze Dennard, S Isaiah Lewis, FS Kurtis Drummond

Key Departures: RB Le’Veon Bell, TE Dion Sims, RG Chris McDonald, DE William Gholston, NT Anthony Rashad White, LB Chris Norman, CB Johnny Adams

After recording 11 wins and an Outback Bowl victory over Georgia in the 2011 season, all signs seemed to indicate Michigan State was a program on the rise for 2012. Not so fast. The Spartans backtracked, needing a bowl win over TCU just to get over .500. Quarterback play was partly to blame, as Andrew Maxwell was unable to replicate Kirk Cousins’ production. Maxwell and Connor Cook will compete for the job in the spring. Running back Le’Veon Bell left early for the NFL Draft, which leaves Nick Hill (48 yards) as the team’s leading returning rusher. Defensively, the Spartans lose a couple of key contributors but should be a strength once again in 2013. 

5. Minnesota

Key Returnees: QB Philip Nelson, RB Donnell Kirkwood, RB Rodrick Williams, WR Isaac Fruechte, LT Ed Olson, LG Tommy Olson, C Zac Epping, RT Josh Campion, DE Michael Amaefula, NT Ra’Shede Hageman, DT Roland Johnson, DT Cameron Botticelli, LB Aaron Hill, LB James Manuel, S Derrick Wells, S Brock Vereen

Key Departures: QB MarQueis Gray, DE D.L. Wilhite, LB Keanon Cooper, LB Mike Rallis, CB Troy Stoudermire, CB Michael Carter

The Golden Gophers used a favorable non-conference schedule to open 2012 4-0 and scored two victories in Big Ten play to make a bowl game for the first time since 2009. While the program isn’t ready to contend for a conference championship, Minnesota is clearly on the right track under coach Jerry Kill. For the Golden Gophers to take another step forward in 2013, quarterback Philip Nelson needs to have a big season. He threw for 873 yards and eight scores, while adding 184 yards on the ground in 2012. Nelson should be better with another offseason to work with the Golden Gophers’ offensive staff, but he needs more help from the receiving corps, as well as more punch from the running game. The defense made strides from 2011, ranking fifth in the Big Ten in total defense and fourth against the pass. Coordinator Tracy Claeys has some work to do in the back seven for 2013, especially in the secondary where cornerbacks Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire are gone.

6. Iowa

Key Returnees: RB Mark Weisman, WR Kevonte Martin-Manley, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, RG Austin Blythe, DE Dominic Alvis, DT Louis Trinca-Pasat, DT Darian Cooper, LB Anthony Hitchens, LB James Morris, LB Christian Kirksey, CB B.J. Lowery, S Tanner Miller

Key Departures: QB James Vandenberg, WR Keenan Davis, LT Matt Tobin, C James Ferentz, DE Joe Gaglione, DT Steve Bigach, CB Micah Hyde

Coming off their first losing season since 2006, the Hawkeyes will be looking to rebound in 2013. Although there’s not a bevy of personnel losses, getting back to a bowl game won’t be easy. The first year under offensive coordinator Greg Davis was a disaster, as the Hawkeyes ranked 114th nationally in total offense and averaged just 19.3 points a game. Davis is back in 2013, and Iowa must replace quarterback James Vandenberg and top receiver Keenan Davis. The defense returns nearly intact for next year but must find a replacement for cornerback Micah Hyde and two key players in the defensive line rotation. Iowa has outperformed preseason expectations in the past. But the pressure is building on Kirk Ferentz after a disappointing season, and there’s not enough in the returning personnel to suggest a significant turnaround. 


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Teaser:
<p> Early Big Ten Football Predictions for 2013</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 06:40
Path: /college-football/early-big-east-football-predictions-2013
Body:

With college football’s 2012 season in the books, it’s never too early to start thinking about 2013.

The Big East has gone through a lot of changes since 2011 and more shuffling is expected in the next year.

With Syracuse and Pittsburgh joining the ACC, the Big East will welcome four teams from Conference USA – Memphis, Houston, SMU and UCF – into the fold for 2013. UCF will be the top contender out of the new Big East teams and could push for a spot among the top three in the final standings.

After finishing 2012 with a Sugar Bowl victory over Florida, Louisville is a clear favorite to win the Big East in 2013. The Cardinals return a Heisman contender at quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater) and could make a run at the national championship with a favorable schedule.

Very Early Big East Predictions for 2013

1. Louisville

Key Returnees: QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Senorise Perry, WR DeVante Parker, WR Eli Rogers, RG Jake Smith, DE Lorenzo Mauldin, DT Roy Philon, LB Preston Brown, LB Keith Brown, S Hakeem Smith, S Calvin Pryor

Key Departures: LT Alex Kupper, C Mario Benavides, CB Adrian Bushell

Coming off a Sugar Bowl victory against Florida, Louisville enters 2013 with momentum on its side. The Cardinals will be a heavy favorite to win the Big East and returns most of its core from 2012’s 11-2 team. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should make a run at All-American and Heisman honors, while the return of Senorise Perry should boost the team’s rushing attack. Finding replacements for center Mario Benavides and tackle Alex Kupper will be the top priority for offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. The defense loses only one starter (cornerback Adrian Bushell), so improvement can be expected from a unit that allowed 23.8 points a game in 2012. With the Big East losing Syracuse and Pittsburgh and gaining SMU, UCF, Houston and Memphis, Louisville’s path to an unbeaten record is favorable.

2. Cincinnati

Key Returnees: QB Brendon Kay, RB Ralph David Abernathy IV, WR Anthony McClung, LT Eric Lefeld, LG Austen Bujnoch, DT Jordan Stepp, DT Camaron Beard, LB Nick Temple, LB Greg Blair

Key Departures: RB George Winn, WR Kenbrell Thompkins, TE Travis Kelce, DE Dan Giordano, DE Brandon Mills, LB Maalik Bomar, CB Camerron Cheatham, S Drew Frey

There’s no question Louisville is the No. 1 team in the Big East for next season. As for second place? Well, that’s anyone’s guess at this point. For now, a slight edge goes to Cincinnati. There will be a coaching transition from Butch Jones to Tommy Tuberville, but the Bearcats bring back quarterback Brendon Kay and all five starters on the offensive line. Running back Ralph David Abernathy IV should have a bigger role in the offense next season, especially as Cincinnati looks to replace 1,000-yard rusher George Winn. The Bearcats finished second in the Big East in scoring defense in 2012 but must replace ends Brandon Mills and Dan Giordano, linebacker Maalik Bomar and couple of key contributors in the secondary. Tuberville is a proven winner and should keep Cincinnati among the best in the Big East in 2013.

3. Rutgers

Key Returnees: QB Gary Nova, RB Savon Huggins, WR Brandon Coleman, LT Kaleb Johnson, LG Antwan Lowery, DT Jamil Merrell, LB Jamal Merrell, SS Lorenzo Waters

Key Departures: RB Jawan Jamison, WR Mark Harrison, WR Tim Wright, RT R.J. Dill, DE Ka’Lial Glaud, DT Scott Vallone, LB Khaseem Greene, LB Steve Beauharnais, CB Logan Ryan, CB Marcus Cooper, S Duron Harmon

The Scarlet Knights started 2012 with a lot of promise but finished on a down note. After opening 9-1, Rutgers lost its final three games, including a de facto Big East title game against Louisville. The defense allowed just 14.2 points a game but must replace standouts in linebacker Khaseem Greene, cornerback Logan Ryan and defensive lineman Scott Vallone. With the defense reloading, coach Kyle Flood and his staff need to find a way to jumpstart the offense. Running back Jawan Jamison left early for the NFL, but Savon Huggins is capable of picking up the slack on the ground next year. Quarterback Gary Nova threw 13 interceptions in the final seven games and with the losses on defense, he will be counted on for a bigger role in 2013. Rutgers isn’t short on talent, but is Flood and his staff capable of finding the right answers for this team next year?

4. UCF

Key Returnees: QB Blake Bortles, RB Storm Johnson, WR Rannell Hall, WR J.J. Worton, WR Jeff Godfrey, LT Torrian Wilson, LG Jordan McCray, DE Victor Gray, DE Deion Green, DT Thomas Niles, DT E.J. Dunston, LB Terrance Plummer, CB Brandon Alexander, SS Clayton Geathers

Key Departures: RB Latavius Murray, WR Quincy McDuffie, C Jordan Rae, RT Phil Smith, DE Troy Davis, LB Jonathan Davis, LB Ray Shipman, CB A.J. Bouye, S Kemal Ishmael

The Knights are the first of the new Big East teams to factor in the preseason predictions for 2013. Making the move from Conference USA is a step up in competition, but UCF returns most of its core and its four losses from 2012 came against good competition – Ohio State, Missouri and Tulsa (twice). Quarterback Blake Bortles threw for 3,059 yards and 25 scores in his first full season as the starter and will be joined by Miami transfer Storm Johnson in the backfield. The Knights also return their top three receivers and second-team All-Conference USA left tackle Torrian Wilson on the offensive line. The defense loses a couple of key players but shouldn’t suffer a huge drop in performance. UCF has upside, so this team could easily surpass Rutgers and Cincinnati for the second spot in the Big East in 2013.

5. South Florida

Key Returnees: WR Andre Davis, WR Terrence Mitchell, C Austin Reiter, RT Quinterrius Eatmon, DE Ryne Giddins, DE Tevin Mims, DT Elkino Watson, LB DeDe Lattimore, LB Reshard Cliett, FS Mark Joyce, SS JaQuez Jenkins

Key Departures: QB B.J. Daniels, RB Demetris Murray, OL Mark Popek, DT Cory Grissom, LB Sam Barrington, LB Michael Lanaris, CB Kayvon Webster

Even though the Bulls are coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons, they could be the Big East’s surprise team in 2013. New coach Willie Taggart was one of the offseason’s best hires and should work a quick turnaround in Tampa. Taggart’s background on offense will help spark an attack that averaged just 20.6 points a game in 2012. However, the Bulls need to break in a new quarterback, as well as find a running back that can handle 20-25 carries a game. The defense ranked a disappointing seventh in the Big East in yards and points allowed but returns most of its starting core. With question marks on offense, expect South Florida to lean on its defense early in the year to win games.

6. Connecticut

Key Returnees: QB Chandler Whitmer, RB Lyle McCombs, WR Geremy Davis, WR Shakim Phillips, DE Angelo Pruitt, DT Shamar Stephen, LB Yawin Smallwood, S Byron Jones, S Ty-Meer Brown

Key Departures: WR Michael Smith, WR Nick Williams, TE Ryan Griffin, OG Adam Masters, DE Trevardo Williams, DT Ryan Wirth, LB Sio Moore, LB Jory Johnson, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Dwayne Gratz

After back-to-back 5-7 seasons, Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni will be on the hot seat entering 2013. Pasqualoni probably needs to get to a bowl game to save his job, but that task won’t be easy with heavy personnel losses. The offense has ranked among the worst in college football over the last two years and fixing this unit largely rests with finding answers on the offensive line. Quarterback Chandler Whitmer showed some promise but has to cut down on the interceptions (16). The Huskies led the Big East in total defense but loses two first-team All-Big East selections and both starting cornerbacks. Unless the offense makes major strides, it’s hard to see Connecticut getting bowl eligible in 2013.

7. Houston

Key Returnees: QB David Piland, RB Charles Sims, RB Kenneth Farrow, WR Dewayne Peace, WR Deontay Greenberry, WR Larry McDuffey, LT Rowdy Harper, C Bryce Redman, DE Zeke Riser, DT Joey Mbu, LB Derrick Matthews, CB Zach McMillian, FS Trevon Stewart, SS Kent Brooks

Key Departures: RG Jacolby Ashworth, DE Lloyd Allen, LB Phillip Steward, LB Everett Daniels

The last few spots in the early Big East power rankings are really a tossup at this point. Here’s the good news for Houston: Nearly all of its starting lineup from 2012 returns for 2013. However, the Cougars went 5-7 last year and ranked near the bottom of college football in total defense. And there’s also plenty of doubt surrounding coach Tony Levine and whether or not he can pickup where Kevin Sumlin left off. Add all of those factors in and it’s easy to see why Houston will be picked near the bottom of the Big East in 2013. The offense averaged 479.6 yards a game but lost 35 turnovers and struggled to get consistency from quarterback David Piland. The defense will be the under the direction of a new coordinator, who will be tasked to find immediate improvement after the Cougars allowed 36 points a game in 2012. 

8. Temple

Key Returnees: QB Chris Coyer, QB Juice Granger, WR Jalen Fitzpatrick, TE Cody Booth, LT Zach Hooks, LG Jeff Whittingham, NT Hershey Walton, NT Levi Brown, LB Tyler Matakevich, LB Nate D. Smith, CB Anthony Robey, CB Zamel Johnson

Key Departures: RB Montel Harris, RB Matt Brown, RT Martin Wallace, DE John Youboty, DE Marcus Green, FS Vaughn Carraway, SS Justin Gildea, K/P Brandon McManus

Steve Addazio left for Boston College, so Temple turned to a familiar face for its next head coach. Matt Rhule returns to Philadelphia after one year in the NFL, and the former Penn State linebacker will have his hands full in 2013. The Owls averaged only 322 yards a game in 2012 and must replace running backs Montel Harris and Matt Brown. Quarterback Chris Coyer was benched in favor of Juice Granger late in the year, and both will compete for the starting job in the spring. The Owls were young in some spots on defense last season and allowed 31.2 points a game. The linebacking corps is the strength, especially with Tyler Matakevich and Nate D. Smith returning after standout freshman campaigns. 

9. SMU

Key Returnees: QB Garrett Gilbert, WR Jeremy Johnson, WR Der’rikk Thompson, LT Ben Gottschalk, LB Randall Joyner, LB Stephon Sanders, CB Kenneth Acker, CB Chris Parks, S Jay Scott

Key Departures: RB Zach Line, WR Darius Johnson, LG Jordan Free, RT Bryan Collins, DE Margus Hunt, NT Torian Pittman, LB Ja’Gared Davis, LB Taylor Reed

The Mustangs haven’t quite made the jump most expected when June Jones arrived in Dallas, yet have made four consecutive bowl appearances and have at least seven victories in each of their last four seasons. SMU could be a bowl team once again in 2012, but this team has some significant holes to address. Running back Zach Line (4,185 career yards) is gone, and quarterback Garrett Gilbert never got comfortable as a passer in Jones’ offense. Gilbert is back and will have plenty of help at receiver, but SMU loses three starters on the line. In addition to the question marks on offense, the Mustangs must replace impact defenders like end Margus Hunt and linebackers Ja’Gared Davis and Taylor Reed.

10. Memphis

Key Returnees:
QB Jacob Karam, RB Brandon Hayes, RB Jai Steib, WR Keiwone Malone, TE Alan Cross, RT Al Bond, DE Martin Ifedi, NT Johnnie Farms, NT Terry Redden, LB Anthony Brown, LB Charles Harris, LB Tank Jakes, SS Lonnie Ballentine, P Tom Hornsey

Key Departures: WR Marcus Rucker, LT Jordan Devey, LB Akeem Davis, CB Robert Steeples, S Cannon Smith

Behind second-year coach Justin Fuente, there’s no doubt Memphis is on the right track. The Tigers closed 2012 on a three-game winning streak and showcased a much-improved defense by finishing third in Conference USA in yards allowed. The offense still has a ways to go, but quarterback Jacob Karam and running backs Jai Steib and Brandon Hayes are back in 2013. The Tigers lose only five starters off the defensive two-deep and returns three of its top four tacklers from 2012. Expect more improvement from Memphis in 2013, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Tigers escape the basement in the Big East.


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The 2012 college football season ended with another SEC Championship. And the SEC’s run of dominance probably won’t end in 2013, as Alabama returns most of its core and is a heavy favorite to win the national title.

While the Crimson Tide isn’t likely to see a drop in its win total, there are a few teams poised to see a decrease in victories in 2013.

While Florida State should be one of college football’s top 20 teams next year, the Seminoles will struggle to win the conference title (and record 12 victories) with Tajh Boyd returning to Clemson for his senior year. 

Bill Snyder will reload at Kansas State but asking the Wildcats to repeat as Big 12 champions in 2013 is simply unrealistic.

LSU is losing 11 players early to the NFL Draft and still needs more production from quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

These five teams aren’t on the decline for the long haul, but they will have trouble matching their win totals from 2012.

Five College Football Teams on the Decline for 2013

Florida State
While the Seminoles met most preseason expectations with a 12-win season and an ACC Championship, matching those totals in 2013 will be difficult. EJ Manuel wasn’t an All-American quarterback, but he did throw for 41 touchdowns over the last two seasons. While Clint Trickett or Jameis Winston will need some time to learn the ropes as a full-time starter, the rest of the offense should be solid, especially with the return of Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. at running back. The defense finished 2012 ranked second nationally in yards allowed but will struggle to reach that mark in 2013. The line loses talented ends Bjoern Werner and Brandon Jenkins and must replace standout cornerback Xavier Rhodes. New coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is regarded as an excellent recruiter but has not called the plays on the collegiate level. Florida State isn’t going to fall out of the top 25, but the Seminoles will have trouble matching 12 wins and an ACC title next season.

Kansas State
There’s a very simple rule to follow when making predictions for the upcoming Big 12 season: Never count out the Wildcats as long as Bill Snyder is on the sidelines in Manhattan. Although Snyder is one of college football’s top coaches, Kansas State has a lot of personnel losses to overcome if it wants to repeat as Big 12 champions. Heisman finalist Collin Klein will be missed at quarterback, while receiver Chris Harper also departs after leading the team with 58 catches in 2012. While the offense shouldn't suffer much of a drop in production with one of the Big 12's top offensive lines and running back John Hubert returning, the defense is another story. The Wildcats are losing a handful of key players, including end Meshak Williams, linebacker Arthur Brown and cornerback Nigel Malone. Expect another bowl berth for Kansas State in 2013 but another conference title is out of reach.

LSU
No team has been impacted by the NFL Draft’s early entry deadline quite like LSU. The Tigers lost 11 players, including defensive linemen Barkevious Mingo, Bennie Logan and Sam Montgomery, along with cornerback Tharold Simon and safety Eric Reid. Although LSU always recruits top talent, it will be difficult to replace the departing talent in just one offseason. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger showed some progress at the end of the year but needs to shoulder more of the offensive workload in 2013. Defensive coordinator John Chavis is regarded as one of the best in the nation but will have his hands full with a rebuilt line, the departure of linebacker Kevin Minter and two starters leaving from the secondary. LSU will be a top-15 team in 2012 but contending for a BCS bowl or SEC West title is unlikely.

Oklahoma
The Sooners have been one of college football’s most consistent winners since Bob Stoops arrived in Norman. Since 2000, Oklahoma has only two seasons of less than 10 wins and has won 32 games over the last three years. After losing 41-13 in the Cotton Bowl to Texas A&M, Stoops and his staff have been heavily criticized, especially for a defense that allowed 192.2 rushing yards per game and finished 64th nationally in yards allowed. There’s no shortage of talent in Norman, but Oklahoma will have trouble recording a double-digit win total in 2013. Quarterback Landry Jones is gone, and there’s plenty of uncertainty about who emerges as the new No. 1 passer. Blake Bell has shown promise in a limited role, but can he be the full-time quarterback? Considering the defense loses at least seven starters, it may take half of the season for Oklahoma to find the right pieces on that side of the ball. The Sooners aren’t going to fall out of the top 25, but it’s hard to envision this team winning a Big 12 title next year or matching the 10 victories from 2012.

Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights were on the doorstep of winning the Big East title in 2012 but lost in what was a de facto Big East title game to Louisville in the regular season finale. First-year coach Kyle Flood did a good job of keeping continuity from Greg Schiano’s tenure, but Rutgers lost its last three games and struggled to establish its offense. Flood will be tested even more in 2013, as the Scarlet Knights lose seven starters on defense, including standout linebacker Khaseem Greene and cornerback Logan Ryan. The offense must replace running back Jawan Jamison and needs to get quarterback Gary Nova back on track after a disappointing finish. The Big East isn’t a deep league in 2013, so the Scarlet Knights could be picked by most to finish as one of the conference’s top four teams. However, Rutgers may not reach nine victories in his final season of Big East play next year.

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With college football’s 2012 season completed, it’s time to take a look back at the season that was and review the performance of all 124 teams before 2013 kicks off.

Twenty-eight coaches made their debut at a new program in 2012 and produced a mix bag of results.

Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Penn State’s Bill O’Brien get a slight nod as the top three new coaches, but Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze, UCLA’s Jim Mora, Arizona State’s Todd Graham and Memphis’ Justin Fuente also had a strong debut year.

While those coaches are at the top, it’s a different story for Southern Miss’ Ellis Johnson, Arkansas’ John L. Smith and Illinois’ Tim Beckman. Smith wasn’t retained, Johnson was fired, and Beckman is already making staff changes after a disappointing 2012 season.

Ranking the Performance of College Football's New Coaches from 2012

1. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
2012 Record: 12-0
Grade: A+

What Went Right: Despite NCAA sanctions and a postseason ban, motivation wasn’t an issue for the Buckeyes. Behind Meyer’s leadership and the play of quarterback Braxton Miller, Ohio State completed its first unbeaten season since 2002 and served notice to the rest of college football that the Buckeyes will be back and better than ever in 2013. Ohio State also claimed its eighth victory in nine games over rival Michigan.

What Went Wrong: It’s hard to find much that went wrong with Meyer’s first season. The Buckeyes struggled to find playmakers at receiver, and the defense had its share of struggles through the first part of the season. Obviously, both issues are just being nitpicky but will be worth watching in 2013.
 

2. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
2012 Record:
11-2
Grade: A+

What Went Right: New coach. New quarterback. New conference. Three factors that should have made 2012 a difficult year for Sumlin and Texas A&M. Instead, the Aggies finished as one of college football’s top 10 teams, and quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy after recording over 5,000 yards of total offense. Texas A&M knocked off No. 1 Alabama in mid-November and its only losses came by five points or less. Sumlin is on fire on the recruiting trail, and Texas A&M should be a national title contender in 2013.

What Went Wrong: Just as we mentioned with Urban Meyer, it’s hard to find many faults in Sumlin’s debut season. The Aggies lost offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, and it’s imperative for Sumlin to pick the right replacement this offseason. Texas A&M’s only defeats came to Florida and LSU – a combined 21-5 – so there’s nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to the loss column.
 

3. Bill O’Brien, Penn State
2012 Record: 8-4
Grade: A+

What Went Right: After starting 0-2, Penn State rallied to finish 8-4 and beat Big Ten champ Wisconsin 24-21 in Happy Valley. Considering the personnel losses and NCAA sanctions on the program, O’Brien did an outstanding job of keeping the team together, as well as rallying the team after a tough start. Under O’Brien’s direction, the offense showed significant improvement, averaging 417.5 yards and 29.1 points a game.

What Went Wrong: With the NCAA sanctions and scholarship limitations, it’s hard to criticize O’Brien for anything that happened in Happy Valley this year. He navigated the team through a difficult season, improved the offense and so far, hasn’t lost any key players to a transfer for 2013. O’Brien has a tough task ahead of him but appears to be the right person for the job.
 

4. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
2012 Record: 7-6
Grade: A-

What Went Right: After finishing 2-10 and 0-8 in SEC play in 2011, Ole Miss was one of college football’s most improved teams. The Rebels won seven contests, including the in-state rivalry against Mississippi State and the BBVA Compass Bowl over Pittsburgh. Ole Miss hung tough against Alabama and lost by only six points to LSU. The Rebels are recruiting well, so more help is on the way for a roster that showed marked improvement in 2012.

What Went Wrong: Nothing.
 

5. Jim Mora, UCLA
2012 Record: 9-5
Grade: A-

What Went Right: Mora wasn’t the first choice for UCLA, but his debut season was very successful. The Bruins improved their win total by three games, claimed another Pac-12 South crown and defeated rival USC 38-28. Overall, not a bad season. UCLA returns most of its core next season, and the Bruins should be the early favorite to win the Pac-12 South for the third consecutive year.

What Went Wrong: The Bruins closed with three consecutive losses, including a disappointing 49-26 loss to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl. Mora’s strong suit is defense, but UCLA finished eighth in the Pac-12 in total and scoring defense. The Bruins are on the right track, but Mora and his staff still have plenty of work to do.
 

6. Justin Fuente, Memphis
2012 Record: 4-8
Grade: A-

What Went Right: While it may seem strange to have a coach with a losing record ranked inside of the top 10, Memphis was one of college football’s worst teams in the previous two years. Fuente guided the Tigers to a three-game winning streak to close out the season and nearly defeated Arkansas State (Sun Belt champion).

What Went Wrong: Although Fuente got Memphis on track late in the year, the Tigers lost to FCS opponent Tennessee-Martin in the season opener. Statistically, this team still has a long ways to go to be competitive in the Big East. Memphis averaged only 318.3 yards per game and struggled to find a passing attack. Fuente wasn’t handed much to work with, so it’s no surprise there will be growing pains in 2013 and beyond.
 

7. Larry Fedora, North Carolina
2012 Record: 8-4
Grade: B+

What Went Right: Similar to Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Penn State's Bill O'Brien, Fedora deserves credit for keeping North Carolina motivated with nothing to play for. The Tar Heels were banned from postseason play but tied for first place in the Coastal Division and snapped a five-game losing streak to rival NC State.

What Went Wrong: Finishing 8-4 in a year with no postseason possibility doesn’t leave much room for criticism. However, North Carolina lost three games by four points or less, so there’s some room to improve in close contests. Obviously, that’s being very nitpicky for a team that could win the Coastal Division in 2013. However, the division will be a tight race next year, so there’s little margin for error.
 

8. Todd Graham, Arizona State
2012 Record: 8-5
Grade: B+

What Went Right: The Sun Devils were on the doorstep of playing for the Pac-12 Championship. A 45-43 loss to UCLA in late October was the tiebreaker for the South Division title, but Arizona State still finished with eight wins and a huge victory over rival Arizona. The Sun Devils also crushed Navy 62-28 in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. One of Graham’s biggest accomplishments was bringing discipline to the roster, as Arizona State finished 10th nationally in fewest penalties per game – a big improvement after ranking last in college football in 2011.

What Went Wrong: Just like many of the coaches in the top 10 of this ranking, it’s hard to criticize Graham for anything at Arizona State in 2012. Statistically, the Sun Devils have room to improve against the run and need to cut down on the sacks allowed next year. Barring any unexpected injuries, Graham has Arizona State positioned to start in the top 25 next season.  
 

9. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
2012 Record:
8-5
Grade: B+

What Went Right: Rodriguez was one of the best hires of last offseason and didn’t disappoint in his first year in Tucson. After winning four games in 2011, the Wildcats rebounded to post eight victories, including a New Mexico Bowl win over Nevada. Arizona nearly knocked off Stanford, defeated USC and beat Oklahoma State for a solid non-conference win in Week 2.

What Went Wrong: With the Wildcats having to adjust to Rodriguez’s scheme on offense and the personnel issues on defense, an 8-5 record was Arizona’s best-case scenario. Failing to score in a loss to Oregon was a disappointment, but the only real negative mark this year was a defeat to rival Arizona State.
 

10. Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State
2012 Record: 9-4
Grade: B+

What Went Right: DeRuyter’s first season was a success. The Bulldogs claimed a share of the Mountain West title, averaged 477.5 yards per game on offense and ranked 22nd nationally in total defense. Although Fresno State lost four games, there’s no shame in losing to Tulsa, Oregon and Boise State.

What Went Wrong: While the Bulldogs were one of the Mountain West’s best teams during the regular season, the bowl loss to SMU was one of the postseason’s biggest surprises. Fresno State was thoroughly dominated in the Hawaii Bowl, which prevented the program from having its first double-digit win season since 2001.
 

11. Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State
2012 Record: 10-3
Grade: B

What Went Right: The Red Wolves needed a few games to adapt to Malzahn, but once this team got acclimated to their new coach, they emerged as the top team in the Sun Belt. Arkansas State finished 7-1 in conference play and reeled off eight consecutive victories to finish the year.

What Went Wrong: As expected, the Red Wolves took their lumps early on, losing 57-34 at Oregon and 42-13 at Nebraska. Arkansas State’s offense wasn’t as prolific as most expected but still averaged 34.9 points a game.
 

12. Matt Campbell, Toledo
2012 Record: 9-4
Grade: B-

What Went Right: Campbell was college football’s youngest head coach in 2012 but nearly guided Toledo to the MAC West title. The Rockets lost two conference games by a touchdown, dropped the season opener to Arizona in overtime, beat Cincinnati in mid-October and fell to Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Despite a few key injuries late in the year, Campbell kept Toledo on track and has the Rockets poised to push for the conference crown once again in 2013.

What Went Wrong: The Rockets were just a couple of plays away from finishing with an unbeaten regular season record, so Campbell doesn’t deserve much criticism. One area Campbell and his staff will look to improve in the offseason is the defense, which allowed 473.2 yards per game in 2012.
 

13. Kyle Flood, Rutgers
2012 Record: 9-4
Grade: C

What Went Right: After Greg Schiano bolted just before Signing Day to the NFL, hiring Flood was all about continuity. So far, so good. Rutgers just missed out on winning the Big East title but finished with nine victories and scored a road win over Arkansas in late September. The defense allowed just 14.2 points a game and ranked 10th nationally in yards allowed.

What Went Wrong: Although Rutgers won nine games, there’s a sense of disappointment. The Scarlet Knights had an excellent opportunity to win the Big East crown and fell just short. After starting 7-0, Rutgers finished 2-4 and lost its final three games. Flood has to rebuild the defense next season, as well as get quarterback Gary Nova back on track after a rough finish to 2012.
 

14. Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh
2012 Record: 6-7
Grade: C

What Went Right: After starting 0-2, most thought the Panthers would have trouble getting bowl eligible. However, Pittsburgh rallied to get to six victories, which included an upset over Rutgers and a 35-17 blowout victory over Virginia Tech. The Panthers also held their own against Notre Dame, losing 29-26 in three overtimes. Also, under Chryst’s direction, quarterback Tino Sunseri showed marked improvement. Considering the coaching turmoil that has surrounded Pittsburgh over the last few years, Chryst’s decision to not pursue the Wisconsin opening brought some much-needed stability to the program.  

What Went Wrong: The season opener. The Chryst era at Pittsburgh got off to an awful start with a 31-17 loss to FCS opponent Youngstown State. And the season didn’t get much better in Week 2, as the Panthers lost 34-10 at Cincinnati.
 

15. Bob Davie, New Mexico
2012 Record: 4-9
Grade: C

What Went Right: After winning just three games in the three previous seasons, the Lobos recorded four victories in 2012. Considering Davie was in the television booth and away from the sidelines since 2001, New Mexico’s quick improvement was a surprise. Davie’s decision to switch to an option offense paid dividends, as the Lobos ranked near the top of the nation in time of possession and averaged 301.3 rushing yards per game. Although New Mexico finished with nine losses, five of the defeats came by a touchdown or less.

What Went Wrong: Although the Lobos were more competitive in Davie’s first season, they finished with a six-game losing streak and was throttled 35-7 by a bad UNLV team.
 

16. Jim McElwain, Colorado State
2012 Record:
4-8
Grade: C-

What Went Right: New Mexico, UNLV and Hawaii isn’t exactly the toughest gauntlet of late-season scheduling but credit the Rams for finishing with three wins over their final five games. Colorado State also knocked off rival Colorado in the season opener. McElwain may have found a potential breakout player at running back, as Donnell Alexander rushed for at least 100 yards in three out of his final four games.

What Went Wrong: Outside of the victories, Colorado State struggled to be competitive in Mountain West games. The Rams lost by over 20 points to Air Force, Fresno State, San Diego State and Boise State. McElwain had bad luck with injuries at quarterback, but Colorado State’s passing game needs to get better in 2013.
 

17. Garrick McGee, UAB
2012 Record:
3-9
Grade: C-

What Went Right: It’s hard to find a lot of good news in a 3-9 season, but the Blazers won two out of their last four games. UAB also lost to Ohio State by only 12 points and was defeated by Conference USA champion Tulsa by just a touchdown. Even though UAB didn’t make significant gains in the win column, this team was competitive and found a quarterback (Austin Brown) and running back (Darrin Reaves) to build on in 2013.

What Went Wrong: While UAB showed promise on offense, the defense needs a lot of work. The Blazers allowed 37.5 points a game and registered only 1.7 sacks a game. If UAB can improve on defense and cut down on the turnovers, the Blazers could surprise in Conference USA next year.
 

18. Mike Leach, Washington State
2012 Record: 3-9
Grade: D

What Went Right: The season got off to a rough start for Washington State, but it rebounded to win its next two games to start 2-1 before Pac-12 play. The Cougars recorded only one victory within the conference, defeating rival Washington 31-28 in overtime.

What Went Wrong: There’s no doubt Leach was the biggest disappointment of college football’s new coaches for 2012. Washington State was predicted by some to reach a bowl game, and Leach’s high-powered offense never really got on track. The Cougars also had a horrible loss to Colorado and suffered blowout defeats to Arizona State, Utah, Oregon and BYU.
 

19. Curtis Johnson, Tulane
2012 Record: 2-10
Grade: D

What Went Right: Johnson didn’t have much to work with in 2012, so finishing with a 2-10 mark wasn’t much of a surprise. Despite winning only two games, Tulane showed some signs of progress. The Green Wave knocked off SMU and UAB, lost three conference games by five points or less and held their own against Rutgers in the season opener.

What Went Wrong: Tulane ranked 109th nationally in total offense and was largely hindered by injuries to starting quarterback Ryan Griffin and running back Orleans Darkwa. The defense was one of the worst in the nation, and the Green Wave ranked 101st in turnover margin. Both sides of the ball need a lot of work before next season, so there’s plenty for Johnson and his staff to work on during spring practice.
 

20. Charlie Weis, Kansas
2012 Record: 1-11
Grade: D

What Went Right: Weis was able to upgrade Kansas’ talent by adding a few transfers, but the new personnel didn’t change the success on the gridiron. The Jayhawks had only one win in 2012 but was more competitive in Big 12 play than they were in 2011.

What Went Wrong: Expectations were low for Kansas in 2012, so finishing with a 1-11 mark wasn’t a surprise. The biggest shock of the season was the lack of improvement from the passing attack, especially since Weis pulled in Dayne Crist from Notre Dame to start at quarterback.
 

21. Carl Pelini, FAU
2012 Record: 3-9
Grade: D

What Went Right: Pelini’s tenure at FAU got off to a rough start, as the Owls barely beat FCS opponent Wagner in the season opener and was 1-6 before a win over Troy. FAU showed some improvement over the second half of the year, picking up a win over Western Kentucky and losing its last three games by 10 points or less.

What Went Wrong: Pelini didn’t inherit a full cupboard, so there’s no doubt 2012 was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Also contributing to the early struggles was a difficult schedule, which featured games against Georgia and Alabama. FAU simply doesn’t have the talent right now to push for a winning record, but the Owls will soon step into a tougher conference. Pelini needs to get both sides of the ball playing better, while finding a way to quickly close the gap in talent.
 

22. Tony Levine, Houston
2012 Record:
5-7
Grade: D

What Went Right: After starting his career with a bowl win over Penn State, Levine’s first full season as Houston’s head coach was a disappointment. There weren’t many positives, but the Cougars defeated Rice 35-14 to keep the Bayou Bucket. Levine’s team lost by only a touchdown against Louisiana Tech and finished the season on a high note by beating Tulane 40-17.

What Went Wrong: There were already plenty of doubts about Levine due to his lack of head coaching experience and so far, he’s done nothing to suggest he’s the long-term answer for Houston. The Cougars lost some key personnel, so it was inevitable this team would take a step back in the win column. However, 2012 was a weak year for Conference USA, and Houston had enough talent to get to a bowl game. With a move to a tougher conference next season, Levine will be under pressure to show this program is headed back in the right direction.
 

23. Norm Chow, Hawaii
2012 Record: 3-9
Grade: D

What Went Right: The Warriors finished 2012 with some momentum, winning their last two games against UNLV and South Alabama. First-year coach Norm Chow struggled to find the right pieces on offense, but the defense ranked 41st nationally in yards allowed and generated 2.3 sacks a game.

What Went Wrong: Chow came home to Honolulu to lead the Warriors to championships. But it’s clear Hawaii is far from contending for a Mountain West title. Chow’s specialty is on offense, so it was surprising to see Hawaii finish with just 297.4 yards per game in 2012. The Warriors were largely uncompetitive throughout Mountain West play and their only victories came against two FBS teams with a combined four wins and a FCS squad with a losing record.
 

24. Charley Molnar, UMass
2012 Record: 1-11
Grade: D

What Went Right: Considering UMass was in its first season of FBS play, the expectations were low for 2012. The Minutemen were more competitive late in the season, beating Akron 22-14 and losing to Buffalo by 10 points.

What Went Wrong: As expected, UMass struggled to be competitive and was blown out in a handful of games. The offense managed only three first downs in a loss to Connecticut and scored less than 10 points five times. Molnar seems to be a good fit at UMass, but he will need at least three seasons to get the program competitive within the MAC.
 

25. Terry Bowden, Akron
2012 Record: 1-11
Grade: D

What Went Right: Bowden inherited a disaster, so this ranking is really more reflective of the state of the program, rather than his coaching job this year. The Zips’ only victory came against FCS opponent Morgan State 66-6, but they lost four games by 10 points or less. Akron showed marked improvement on offense, averaging 427.2 yards per game in 2012.

What Went Wrong: Bowden was a good hire at Akron, but it’s clear he needs more time to get the program competitive within the conference. The Zips didn’t record a win in MAC play and gave up at least 30 points in five out of the last six games.
 

26. Tim Beckman, Illinois
2012 Record:
2-10
Grade: F

What Went Right: The only piece of good news for Illinois is that year one of the Beckman era could have been worse. The Fighting Illini earned two victories but failed to win a game in conference play. The lackluster season is resulting in staff changes, as co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty was fired, and his replacement is expected to be former Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit.

What Went Wrong: Before Illinois played a game this year, Beckman earned plenty of bad publicity by trying to attract transfers from Penn State. Whether or not all of the reports were true about sending the staff to Happy Valley to recruit, it was a bad moment for Beckman. Illinois also had to report Beckman for a NCAA secondary violation after he chewed tobacco during the 35-7 loss to Wisconsin. Overall, it was a horrible beginning for Beckman in Champaign, but he will at least get 2013 to show the program is making some progress in the right direction.
 

27. John L. Smith, Arkansas
2012 Record:
4-8
Grade: F

What Went Right: For a team that began the year in most preseason top 25 polls and ended with a 4-8 record, it’s hard to find much that went right. Arkansas did win two SEC games, nearly knocked off LSU and defeated a good Tulsa team 19-15 in early November.

What Went Wrong: Considering the timing of the coaching change, it’s hard to blame everything on Smith. The Razorbacks never seemed to recover from losing head coach Bobby Petrino, especially on offense where they averaged just 23.5 points a game. Although it’s unfair to blame Smith for all of Arkansas’ woes, the Razorbacks only won two games in SEC play and struggled to be competitive against the bowl teams in the conference.
 

28. Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss
2012 Record: 0-12
Grade: F

What Went Right: Nothing.

What Went Wrong: Everything. Johnson is a good defensive coordinator but is obviously not head coaching material. Southern Miss had some key personnel losses and a tough schedule, but the Golden Eagles should not have finished 0-12. Johnson was fired after the regular season finale against Memphis.


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The 2012 college football season ended the same way the last one did with Alabama and the SEC on top.

Teams who rose up and exceeded expectations, though, were among one of the major hallmarks of the year.

Texas A&M, a team few though would compete immediately in the SEC, knocked off the eventual national champion on the road, produced a freshman Heisman winner and won the Cotton Bowl.

On the other side of the country, Stanford lost Andrew Luck but gained a Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl win.

Even Notre Dame found a way to surprise us with an undefeated regular season and an appearance in the BCS title game.

While Alabama will be tough to knock from the No. 1 spot, there are plenty of teams poised to climb even higher in the polls next season.

It’s early, but here’s a look at five teams poised to improve their win total in 2013. Could Clemson's Tajh Boyd be among the teams on the rise next season?

5 Teams on the Rise for 2013 Season

Arizona State - No. 24 in early top 25 for 2013
The Sun Devils finished the 2012 season by winning their final three games, including a huge 41-34 road victory over in-state rival Arizona and a 62-28 blowout win over Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. There’s no question Todd Graham’s first season in Tempe was a success, especially when you consider the program had eight victories in 2012 – the most since winning 10 in 2007 – and lost by two points to Pac-12 South champion UCLA. The offense averaged 38.4 points a game in 2012 and returns two capable quarterbacks in Taylor Kelly and Michael Eubank, while D.J. Foster and Marion Grice will pickup the slack for the departed Cameron Marshall at running back. Arizona State’s defense received good news when defensive tackle Will Sutton decided to return for his senior year. Although Sutton is back, the Sun Devils need to find replacements for linebacker Brandon Magee and safety Keelan Johnson. However, this unit held opponents to 24.3 points a game last season and could improve on that number in 2013.

Clemson - No. 9 in early top 25 for 2013
Since winning the Chick-fil-A Bowl, not much has gone wrong for Clemson. Quarterback Tajh Boyd turned down the NFL Draft for one more season on campus, and with all of the head coaching vacancies filled, offensive coordinator Chad Morris will also return to Death Valley for 2013. The combination of Boyd and Morris is a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators, and Clemson should once again threaten to average over 500 yards and 40 points a game next season. The Tigers weren’t among the nation’s elite on defense but held LSU to just 99 rushing yards in the bowl game. Although Clemson has a few holes to fill on both sides of the ball, it should be a heavy favorite to win the ACC and has a chance at a marquee win in the season opener against Georgia.

Louisville - No. 10 in early top 25 for 2013
The Cardinals were one of the biggest surprises of the bowl season, upsetting a Florida team that was favored by nearly 15 points. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater surgically carved the Gators’ secondary for 266 yards on 20 completions, while Louisville’s defense held Florida to 286 yards and registered three sacks. With coach Charlie Strong turning down Tennessee, and Bridgewater back on campus for at least one more season, the Cardinals are poised to make a run at an unbeaten record. There’s no clear challenger to Louisville in the Big East next year, and the non-conference slate is very manageable. As long as the Cardinals stay healthy, finishing in the top five next year is a very realistic possibility.

Oklahoma State - No. 14 in early top 25 for 2013
Despite losing two of the nation’s top offensive players (quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon), the Cowboys still finished third nationally in scoring offense and fourth in yards per game. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider Oklahoma State started three different quarterbacks and had only one returning starter on the offensive line from 2011. The Cowboys are in good shape on both sides of the ball for next season and should be the early favorite to win the Big 12 in 2013. Although coach Mike Gundy needs to find an offensive coordinator, Oklahoma State’s offense shouldn’t miss a beat next year. The Cowboys also have a huge schedule advantage in 2013, as they play arguably their biggest challengers in the Big 12 – Oklahoma and TCU – in Stillwater.

TCU - No. 15 in early top 25 for 2013
Making the jump from the Mountain West to the Big 12 was a step up in competition, but as 2012 showed, the Horned Frogs are more than ready to challenge for a conference title. Although Trevone Boykin filled in admirably for quarterback Casey Pachall after he was forced to leave the team in early October, the offense lacked a consistent passing attack. Assuming Pachall regains his starting spot, the Horned Frogs should see a jump across the board in offensive production next year. The rushing attack will get a boost from the return of Waymon James from a knee injury, along with the arrival of Nebraska transfer Aaron Green. TCU led the Big 12 in total defense last season and returns 10 starters from that group. A schedule that features road dates at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State, along with a neutral site matchup against LSU will be challenging. However, the Horned Frogs have the returning personnel to challenge for the Big 12 title or a BCS bowl.  

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With the 2012 season officially in the books, it’s time to take an early look at college football’s top 25 teams for 2013. Alabama will be losing a few key players from its national championship team, but there’s plenty of talent returning to Tuscaloosa for the Crimson Tide to claim their third consecutive national title. While Alabama is a heavy favorite to repeat, determining the No. 2 team is a much tougher task. Ohio State and Oregon will be top-five teams, but Stanford, Clemson, Louisville and Notre Dame will be the top challengers to end the SEC’s run of seven consecutive national championships. Needless to say, expect some changes in this early ranking before Athlon’s official top 25 release in May. 

College Football's Early Top 25 for 2013

1. Alabama
Despite a few personnel losses, the stage is set for the Crimson Tide to win their third consecutive national championship. Quarterback AJ McCarron is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and is surrounded by plenty of All-SEC talent, led by running back T.J. Yeldon and receiver Amari Cooper. The offensive line has to at least replace center Barrett Jones and guard Chance Warmack and could lose right tackle D.J. Fluker to the NFL. As usual, the defense will be strong once again in Tuscaloosa. Nose guard Jesse Williams departs, and cornerback Dee Milliner is expected to leave for the NFL Draft. However, the Crimson Tide returns one of the nation’s top linebacking corps and experience on the line and secondary should make up for the personnel departures.

2. Ohio State
While Alabama is a clear No. 1 going into next season, the second spot in the early top 25 for 2013 is up for grabs. For now, the edge goes to the Buckeyes. Despite a postseason ban, Ohio State had no problem finding motivation in 2012, completing a 12-0 season in Urban Meyer’s first year in Columbus. And here’s a scary thought for the Big Ten: With another offseason to work with Meyer and his coaching staff, the Buckeyes could be even better in 2013. Quarterback Braxton Miller is poised to make a run at the Heisman Trophy, while he should have more help carrying the offense next season, as running backs Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall return, along with four starters on the offensive line. The defense will be the biggest concern, especially since linemen John Simon and Johnathan Hankins depart. Ohio State’s schedule isn’t daunting and it should have no trouble starting the year 4-0 with Buffalo, San Diego State, California and Florida A&M on the non-conference slate.

3. Oregon
Chip Kelly's decision to leave for the NFL will impact the Pac-12 title picture. But for now, the Ducks remain ahead of Stanford in the Pac-12 North. Kelly was one of college football's top coaches, and his influence on one of the nation's best offenses will be missed. Even though Kelly is gone, the Ducks have the pieces in place to compete for a national title. Quarterback Marcus Mariota had an outstanding debut season in 2012 and should be even more comfortable with the offense after another spring practice's worth of work as the starter. Oregon needs to find a new go-to running back to replace Kenjon Barner, while De’Anthony Thomas returns to his role as one of the nation’s top all-around threats. The defense has holes to fill, especially with a front seven that loses Dion Jordan, Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso. The Ducks' 2013 schedule isn’t too demanding, but they do have road trips to Stanford and Washington next season.

4. Texas A&M
With LSU losing a handful of key players to the NFL, the Aggies appear to be the biggest challenger to Alabama in the SEC West. Although Kliff Kingsbury won’t be calling the plays next year, quarterback Johnny Manziel should have a good chance to equal his numbers from 2012, while Texas A&M should remain one of the top offenses in college football. The offensive line lost Luke Joeckel to the NFL, but Jake Matthews decided to return to College Station and will slide from right to left tackle in 2013. The defense has question marks of its own, as end Damontre Moore declared for the draft, and linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart have expired their eligibility. Texas A&M is bringing in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, so plenty of help is on the way for Kevin Sumlin’s team in 2013.

5. Georgia
With Aaron Murray’s decision to return to Athens for his senior year, the Bulldogs narrowly edge Florida and South Carolina for the top spot in the SEC East. And for Georgia, it’s a good thing Murray is back, as the defense is losing nearly everyone. Linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree declared for the draft, while nose tackle John Jenkins, cornerback Sanders Commings and safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams have expired their eligibility. Murray will be one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC, and running back Todd Gurley should contend for All-America honors as a sophomore next year. Helping Murray’s cause is a receiving corps that returns Malcolm Mitchell, and an offensive line that brings back all five starters from 2012.

6. Stanford
The balance of power in the Pac-12 is clearly in the North Division next season. Oregon and Stanford should rank among the top 5-10 teams next season, while Oregon State and Washington could be in the top 25 on some preseason lists. The Cardinal has won at least 11 games in each of its last four years and claimed 12 victories in 2012 despite the departure of quarterback Andrew Luck and two first-team all-conference linemen. Coach David Shaw will have some holes to fill, but Stanford will be in the mix to play for the national title. Running back Stepfan Taylor, center Sam Schwartzstein and linebacker Chase Thomas will be missed. However, the Cardinal can lean more on sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan, along with a defense that should be one of the best in the Pac-12. Although Taylor is a huge loss for the rushing attack, redshirt freshman Barry Sanders Jr. could be one of college football’s breakout stars next year.

7. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish were soundly defeated by Alabama in the national championship game, but Brian Kelly clearly has this program on the right track. Linebacker Manti Te’o, tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Theo Riddick are huge losses, but Notre Dame has a solid core of returning talent on defense, while the offense should be better after quarterback Everett Golson has another offseason to work with Kelly. The schedule is very manageable, but the Fighting Irish will have a hard time finishing the regular season unbeaten and making a return trip to the BCS title game.

8. South Carolina
Georgia is the early favorite to win the SEC East, but South Carolina isn’t far behind. The Gamecocks have two proven quarterbacks in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson and will be throwing behind an offensive line that returns four starters. Talented, but largely unproven running backs Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis will be charged with jumpstarting the rushing attack in 2013. The defense loses a handful of players, but end Jadeveon Clowney is a good cornerstone to start reloading around.

9. Clemson
With quarterback Tajh Boyd's decision to return for another season, Clemson is a heavy favorite to win the ACC in 2013. The Tigers’ offense will be one of the best in the nation, but running back is a concern with the departure of Andre Ellington. If the Tigers want to make a run at the national championship, the defense has to get better in coordinator Brent Venables’ second year. However, Clemson loses end Malliciah Goodman and must replace three starters in the secondary.

10. Louisville
The Cardinals scored one of the postseason’s most impressive victories, dominating Florida in a 33-23 Sugar Bowl win. Expect Louisville to build off of its 11-win season in 2013, as both sides of the ball return almost intact. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should be in the Heisman discussion, and he has no shortage of weapons to throw to with the return of Eli Rogers, DeVante Parker and Damian Copeland. Although Bridgewater can carry this team to another Big East title, the Cardinals need to jumpstart their rushing attack and find replacements for center Mario Benavides and tackle Alex Kupper on the line. The defense loses only two seniors from the Sugar Bowl depth chart but needs to get better against the run and generate more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

11. Florida
The Gators were on the doorstep of playing for the national title in 2012, but the season ended with a blowout loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. Despite the disappointing bowl result, Florida had a strong regular season resume, defeating Texas A&M, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State. Matching 11 wins in 2013 could be difficult unless the offense makes significant strides in the offseason. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is back, but the Gators have no proven running back or any weapons on the outside. The defense finished fifth nationally in yards allowed but lost tackle Sharrif Floyd, linebacker Jelani Jenkins and safety Matt Elam to the NFL Draft.

12. LSU
The Tigers were hit hard by early departures to the NFL Draft, losing safety Eric Reid, cornerback Tharold Simon, defensive linemen Barkevious Mingo, Bennie Logan, Sam Montgomery, punter Brad Wing, linebacker Kevin Minter and running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford. However, LSU is never short on talent and should be back in the mix for the SEC West title. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger showed some improvement late in the year but finished with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. Even with Ware and Ford leaving for the NFL, the Tigers will have no trouble moving the ball on the ground, as Jeremy Hill, Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue form a capable trio. The defense is losing a handful of key contributors, but coordinator John Chavis should be able to find the right pieces to keep this unit among the best in the SEC.

13. Boise State
Before they even played a game, the Broncos’ stint in the Big East is over, and Boise State is headed back to the Mountain West. The Broncos will be a heavy favorite to win the conference title next season but will be pushed by Fresno State and Utah State. As expected last preseason, the Broncos took a step back on offense in 2012. However, quarterback Joe Southwick got better as the year progressed, and Jay Ajayi should be a capable replacement for D.J. Harper at running back. The offensive line is a concern with only two starters returning, while the receiving corps is stocked with Matt Miller, Kirby Moore and Geraldo Boldewijn back in the mix. Despite having only one returning starter on defense, Boise State allowed just 15.8 points a game in 2012. This unit needs to replace cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins, but expect the Broncos to rank among the Mountain West’s best defenses once again in 2013.

14. Oklahoma State
Despite losing quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon to the NFL, the Cowboys averaged 45.7 points a game and won at least eight games for the fifth consecutive year in 2012. Oklahoma State’s offensive numbers are even more impressive when you consider three quarterbacks received starts this year, and the receiving corps lost Tracy Moore early in the season due to an injury. The Cowboys need to settle on a starting quarterback next year, but the offense returns one of the Big 12’s top lines and even though running back Joseph Randle is leaving for the NFL, the backfield is in good shape with Jeremy Smith and Desmond Roland. The defense must replace linebacker Alex Elkins, cornerback Brodrick Brown and end Nigel Nicholas but most of the core will return intact.

15. TCU
As expected, the Horned Frogs had some growing pains adjusting to life in the Big 12, but Gary Patterson’s team is poised to challenge for the conference title in 2013. Casey Pachall left the team early in the season due to off-the-field issues but returned in mid-January and will compete with Trevone Boykin for the No. 1 job. Pachall would help boost the team’s passing attack, while the ground game should get some help from the return of Waymon James from a knee injury, along with the arrival of Nebraska transfer Aaron Green. The Horned Frogs led the Big 12 in total defense this season and return 10 starters for 2013. End Devonte Fields and cornerback Jason Verrett should challenge for All-America honors next season.

16. Oklahoma
The Sooners have claimed at least a share of the Big 12 title in five out of the last seven years and there’s not much separating Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU in the early Big 12 predictions. The Sooners have plenty of question marks to answer in the spring, namely under center as it looks to replace Landry Jones. Blake Bell has shown flashes of promise in a limited role, but he will face competition from Drew Allen, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson in the preseason. While the passing game could be a work in progress early in the year, running back Damien Williams should be in the mix for all-conference honors, and the offensive line is one of the best in the Big 12 with four returning starters. The defense allowed 192.2 rushing yards per game in 2012, and the line will need to be revamped in 2013. Oklahoma has some landmines on the schedule next season, as they make trips to Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and host TCU in its Big 12 opener.

17. Florida State
After winning 12 games for the first time since 1999, the Seminoles are due to take a step back in 2013. Both sides of the ball have concerns to address but none bigger than the question mark under center. Clint Trickett and Jameis Winston enter spring practice as the favorites, with Trickett owning two starts under his belt, while Winston ranked as the top quarterback in the 2012 recruiting class. The defense will be the under the direction of a new coordinator (former Alabama assistant Jeremy Pruitt) and needs to find a replacement for defensive stalwarts Bjoern Werner (end) and Xavier Rhodes (cornerback). Florida State’s ACC schedule is still undetermined, but the Seminoles have to travel to Clemson and host an improving Miami team. 

18. UCLA
The defending Pac-12 South champs should be in good shape to make their third consecutive appearance in the conference title game. Quarterback Brett Hundley is back after a standout freshman season, and the offseason should allow the Bruins to find a few answers for an offensive line that allowed 3.7 sacks a game in 2012. The biggest question mark for UCLA will be finding a replacement for running back Johnathan Franklin. The defense should have one of the Pac-12’s top linebacking corps, as Anthony Barr turned down the NFL for one more season with the Bruins. The conference slate is challenging, as UCLA hits the road to play Arizona, Oregon, Stanford and USC but hosts its biggest challenger in the South (Arizona State).

19. Texas
Are the Longhorns ready to challenge for the Big 12 title? The talent is certainly in place, but there are also enough concerns for this team to not match 2012’s nine-win mark. The backfield of Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron is one of the best in the nation, but the offense will only go as far as quarterback David Ash takes it. The defense was one of the most disappointing units in the nation in 2012 but loses only two starters. The return of Jackson Jeffcoat should ease Alex Okafor’s departure at end.

20. Wisconsin
Getting back to the Rose Bowl for the fourth consecutive season is no easy task for Wisconsin. New coach Gary Andersen was one of college football’s top hires for 2013 but there figures to be some transition period as the team adjusts to the new staff. Montee Ball must be replaced at running back, but the cupboard is far from bare with Melvin Gordon and James White returning. Getting a full year from Joel Stave at quarterback will be a huge boost to the Wisconsin passing attack. The defense has a few positions to plug in the secondary, but the front seven should be salty.

21. Oregon State
Mike Riley’s team was one of college football’s biggest surprises this year, going from 3-9 in 2011 to 9-4 in 2012. The Beavers lost three out of their last five games but two of those defeats came by four points, while the other was to in-state rival Oregon. If Oregon State wants to improve its win total in 2013, settling the quarterback position will be a priority. Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz each received a significant share of snaps this year but neither managed to play well enough to secure the job going into spring practice. The offense also needs to find a replacement for receiver Markus Wheaton. The defense ranked second in the conference in points allowed and most of the core is back for 2013. However, the Beavers must replace both starting defensive tackles and All-Pac-12 cornerback Jordan Poyer.

22. Nebraska
There’s a razor-thin margin separating the Cornhuskers and Michigan or Northwestern for the No. 1 spot in the Legends Division. With quarterback Taylor Martinez, running back Ameer Abdullah and receiver Kenny Bell returning, scoring points shouldn’t be a problem. However, the defense is virtually starting over from scratch. Nebraska loses major contributors at each level of the defense and must replace All-Big Ten safety Daimion Stafford and end Eric Martin. The Cornhuskers host Northwestern and Michigan State in Big Ten play but travel to Michigan on Nov. 9 and play UCLA in the non-conference slate.

23. Michigan
Even with significant personnel losses, don’t count out the Wolverines from the Big Ten title picture. Denard Robinson will be missed, but the offense shouldn’t suffer much with Devin Gardner stepping in at quarterback. Finding a running back that can shoulder 20-25 carries a game, along with rebuilding the offensive line will be the top priorities for coach Brady Hoke and coordinator Al Borges this spring. The defense needs to replace Will Campbell and Craig Roh on the line, but this unit will get a boost from the return of cornerback Blake Countess from a torn ACL suffered in the season opener against Alabama.

24. Arizona State
A two-point loss to UCLA in late October was all that separated Arizona State from a berth in the Pac-12 Championship this season. And with most of the core returning for 2013, Todd Graham’s team should make a run at UCLA for the No. 1 spot in the South Division. The Sun Devils will need to find new weapons at receiver for quarterback Taylor Kelly, but sophomore running back DJ Foster is ready for a breakout campaign. The defense received good news when tackle (and likely All-American) Will Sutton returned to Tempe for his senior year. Arizona State catches a huge break in scheduling, as it misses Oregon in crossover play and hosts USC, Washington, Oregon State and Arizona – all crucial swing games for Pac-12 positioning.

25. Northwestern
After ending a 63-year bowl victory drought and winning 10 games for the first time since 1995, the Wildcats enter 2013 with momentum on their side. Quarterback Kain Colter is one of the Big Ten’s top all-around playmakers, and the rushing attack is in good hands with the speedy and elusive Venric Mark. One area of concern on offense for coach Pat Fitzgerald is an offensive line that loses three starters, including left tackle Patrick Ward. The defense must replace four starters and has to improve the pass defense after allowing 250.5 yards per game in 2012.

 

Next in line:

Arizona
Baylor
Fresno State
Georgia Tech
Kansas State
Miami
Michigan State
Mississippi State
North Carolina
Northern Illinois
Ole Miss
USC
Vanderbilt
Virginia Tech
Washington

 

Visit AthlonSports.com regularly for updated Top 25 college football preseason rankings and predictions. 


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With college football’s 2012 season in the books, it’s never too early to start thinking about 2013. Alabama crushed Notre Dame in Miami to earn its third national title in four seasons and is a heavy favorite to win next season in Pasadena. In the early odds released by Bovada Sportsbook, the Crimson Tide are a 5/1 favorite to repeat next year, while Oregon and Ohio State are the top two challengers. The start of the 2013 college football season isn’t until August but here’s an early look at some of the top bets from Bovada’s early odds.

Best Bets

Alabama (5/1) – It may seem crazy to consider the Crimson Tide a best bet at 5/1 odds, but there’s not exactly a wealth of challengers to stop Alabama’s championship run next season. Ohio State and Oregon are the biggest threats to Nick Saban’s team, but the Crimson Tide return one of the nation’s top quarterbacks (AJ McCarron) and budding stars in running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver Amari Cooper. The defense has a few holes to fill but will once again rank among the best in the nation. The schedule is also very manageable, with a road trip to Texas A&M in Week 2 the toughest game on the slate. Even if Alabama loses in College Station, there's plenty of time to get back into the top two spots by the end of the year. 

Georgia (28/1) – The Bulldogs were just a couple of yards away from playing for the national championship in 2012. And despite the losses on defense, Georgia will be in the mix to win the BCS title in 2013. Quarterback Aaron Murray turned down the NFL for another year in Athens and will team with running back Todd Gurley to form one of the top backfields in college football. The Bulldogs need a lot of help on defense, but the schedule is favorable, headlined by home matchups against South Carolina and LSU.

Oklahoma State (40/1) – This pick is a little off the board, but the Cowboys are Athlon’s early favorite to win the Big 12 in 2013. With Oklahoma reloading and Texas not ready to climb back into the national title conversation, the Big 12 isn’t as strong as it has been in recent years. However, if Oklahoma State can run the table and finish unbeaten, it would have a chance to play for the national title. The Cowboys have a favorable schedule, playing TCU and Oklahoma in Stillwater.

Stanford (30/1) – This is the biggest surprise on the board. The Cardinal closed the year with an eight-game winning streak, including a 17-14 overtime road victory over Oregon. Running back Stepfan Taylor and tight end Zach Ertz must be replaced, but the passing attack should be better with the emergence of Kevin Hogan at quarterback. The defense should be the best in the Pac-12, while the schedule features home games against Oregon, Notre Dame, Arizona State and UCLA. Although Stanford has a few personnel losses, this team could play for the national title in 2013.

Others to like:

Boise State (75/1)
TCU (66/1)

Don't Bother

Florida State (14/1) – One of the most interesting aspects of the 2013-14 odds is Bovada considers the Seminoles an early favorite in the ACC. While that’s not far fetched, Florida State shouldn’t be ahead of Clemson in early conference predictions. The Seminoles suffered some key losses on both sides of the ball, including quarterback EJ Manuel, defensive end Bjoern Werner and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Florida State should push for 10 wins next year but contending for the national championship is unlikely.

LSU (12/1) – Even though LSU suffered a plethora of personnel losses to the NFL Draft, the Tigers aren’t going to drop too far in preseason rankings. However, it would be a big surprise if LSU gets to the national title. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger made strides late in the year, and Jeremy Hill is headed for a 1,000-yard season in 2013. While the Tigers may show improvement on offense, the defense will take a step back. The line has to replace ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, while tackles Bennie Logan and Josh Downs also depart. Linebacker Kevin Minter will be missed, and the secondary has to replace Eric Reid and Tharold Simon. Expect LSU to be in the mix for a finish inside of the top 10, but considering the personnel losses, winning a national title seems unrealistic.

Miami (25/1) – There’s no doubt the Hurricanes are on the right track under coach Al Golden. However, Miami is still under NCAA investigation and the hammer could drop at any point. With the uncertainty surrounding the program and a potential bowl ban on the table for sanctions, motivation could be an issue for this team in 2013. The Hurricanes could be the favorite to win the ACC Coastal Division but are a longshot to win the national title.

USC (33/1) – After a disappointing 2012 season, it’s fair to wonder what direction USC is headed going into 2013. The Trojans began the year as one of the favorites to win the national title but finished with a disappointing 7-6 record. USC now has to replace quarterback Matt Barkley and receiver Robert Woods, while the defense will be under the direction of a new coordinator. There’s no question Lane Kiffin has recruited plenty of talent to Los Angeles. However, it’s time for the talent to turn into victories. Although winning the Pac-12 South title is a reasonable goal, the Trojans will be a longshot to reach the national title game. 

Stay Away From:

Arkansas (100/1)
Mississippi State (50/1)
West Virginia (150/1)

Bovada's Early 2013-2014 National Championship Odds

Team Early 2013-2014 Odds
Alabama 5/1
Oregon 8/1
Ohio State 17/2
LSU 12/1
Texas A&M 12/1
Florida 14/1
Florida State 14/1
Clemson 22/1
Louisville 22/1
Notre Dame 22/1
Miami 25/1
Oklahoma 25/1
South Carolina 25/1
Georgia 28/1
Nebraska 28/1
Stanford 30/1
Texas 30/1
Michigan 33/1
USC 33/1
Oklahoma State 40/1
UCLA 40/1
Mississippi State 50/1
Wisconsin 50/1
TCU 66/1
Virginia Tech 66/1
Boise State 75/1
Michigan State 75/1
North Carolina 75/1
Oregon State 75/1
Arizona 100/1
Arkansas 100/1
Kansas State 100/1
Rutgers 100/1
Tennessee 100/1
Washington 100/1
Cincinnati 125/1
BYU 150/1
Pittsburgh 150/1
West Virginia 150/1
Auburn 200/1
Georgia Tech 200/1
Iowa 200/1
Missouri 250/1
Boston College 300/1
California 300/1
South Florida 300/1

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Alabama became the first team in the BCS era to win back-to-back titles by defeating Notre Dame 42-14 on Jan. 7 in Miami. The victory over the Fighting Irish gave the SEC its seventh consecutive national championship, and the stage is set for the Crimson Tide to make another run at the BCS title in 2013. Alabama is already an early favorite to win the national championship next season and has plenty of talent returning on both sides of the ball. And with Nick Saban at the helm, expect another crop of youngsters to develop into key contributors throughout the year.

Who’s Back: QB AJ McCarron, RB T.J. Yeldon, WR Amari Cooper, LT Cyrus Kouandjio, RG Anthony Steen, LB Trey DePriest, LB C.J. Mosley, LB Adrian Hubbard, LB Xzavier Dickson, CB Deion Belue, S Vinnie Sunseri, S HaHa Clinton-Dix

Who’s Gone: LG Chance Warmack, C Barrett Jones, TE Michael Williams, DE Damion Square, NG Jesse Williams, LB Nico Johnson, S Robert Lester

NFL Draft Early Entry Possibilities: RB Eddie Lacy, RT D.J. Fluker, CB Dee Milliner

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 – Virginia Tech (Atlanta)
Sept. 14 – at Texas A&M
Sept. 21 – Colorado State
Sept. 28 – Ole Miss
Oct. 5 – Georgia State
Oct. 12 – at Kentucky
Oct. 19 – Arkansas
Oct. 26 – Tennessee
Nov. 9 – LSU
Nov. 16 – at Mississippi State
Nov. 23 – Chattanooga
Nov. 30 – at Auburn

Offensive Preview for 2013

After earning second-team All-SEC honors in 2012, quarterback AJ McCarron will set his sights even higher in 2013. McCarron will be one of college football’s top 10 returning quarterbacks and should be able to make a run at the Heisman Trophy. The senior will have plenty of help next year, as T.J. Yeldon is back at running back, while receiver Amari Cooper will be one of the best in the SEC. Yeldon could become the team’s feature back if Eddie Lacy leaves for the NFL, but the Crimson Tide will also work Dee Hart, Kenyan Drake and Jalston Fowler into the rotation at running back.

The biggest concern for Alabama in 2013 will be the offensive line. Center Barrett Jones has been one of college football’s top linemen of the BCS era, and his leadership will be missed. Guard Chance Warmack also departs, and right tackle D.J. Fluker could declare for the NFL Draft. Left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and right guard Anthony Steen will anchor the rebuilt line, while Ryan Kelly has played well in limited snaps at center. There’s no question Alabama will take a step back on the offensive line, but this unit won’t suffer a dramatic drop off as some may expect after losing Jones, Warmack and possibly Fluker.

Defensive Preview for 2013

Despite losing nearly everyone off the national title defense from the 2011 season, Alabama didn’t miss much of a beat. The Crimson Tide finished in the top five of rushing, total, pass and scoring defense, while generating over two sacks a game. And consider this: Alabama could be even better on defense in 2013.

Although the Crimson Tide will have to replace nose guard Jesse Williams, end Damion Square and safety Robert Lester, this unit will be in the mix to lead the nation in total and scoring defense. The linebacking corps could be the best in college football, as Adrian Hubbard, Trey DePriest, C.J. Mosley and Xzavier Dickson and Denzel Devall all return. The secondary could lose cornerback Dee Milliner to the NFL Draft, but Deion Belue, Geno Smith and John Fulton are experienced options.

Chance of playing for the national title in 2013 season: Very High

As long as Nick Saban is on the sidelines in Tuscaloosa, Alabama will simply reload from personnel departures and remain a national title contender each year. Expect that to be the case in 2013. The Crimson Tide will have some key losses but nothing that will deter it from making a run at the BCS crown. The schedule isn’t overwhelming, with a date against Texas A&M in Week 3 the toughest matchup on the slate. Considering what transpired in Tuscaloosa in November this year, expect Alabama to have revenge on the mind when it meets the Aggies in 2013.

Very Early Preseason Rank for 2013: 1

Teaser:
<p> Can Alabama Repeat as College Football's National Champs in 2013?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - 11:39
Path: /college-football/can-notre-dame-return-national-championship-2013
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The Fighting Irish were the only bowl eligible team to finish the regular season unbeaten but were soundly defeated by Alabama in the BCS National Championship. While the blowout loss to the Crimson Tide was a huge disappointment, coach Brian Kelly has this team on the right track. Notre Dame returns a handful of key contributors next year, including improving quarterback Everett Golson and two potential All-American defensive linemen in Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt.

Who’s Back: QB Everett Golson, WR TJ Jones, WR DaVaris Daniels, LT Zack Martin, LG Chris Watt, DE Stephon Tuitt, NG Louis Nix III, LB Prince Shembo, LB Carlo Calabrese, LB Dan Fox, CB Bennett Jackson, CB KeiVarae Russell, S Matthias Farley

Who’s Gone: RB Theo Riddick, WR Robby Toma, TE Tyler Eifert, C Braxston Cave, LB Manti Te’o, S Zeke Motta

NFL Draft Early Entry Possibilities: RB Cierre Wood

2013 Schedule:

Aug. 31 – Temple
Sept. 7 – at Michigan
Sept. 14 – at Purdue
Sept. 21 – Michigan State
Sept. 28 – Oklahoma
Oct. 5 – Arizona State (Arlington)
Oct. 19 – USC
Oct. 26 – at Air Force
Nov. 2 – Navy
Nov. 9 – at Pittsburgh
Nov. 23 – BYU
Nov. 30 – at Stanford

Offensive Preview for 2013:

As expected, quarterback Everett Golson had an up-and-down season in his first year as a starter. The redshirt freshman topped 200 passing yards only once through his first eight games but finished with at least 200 yards in each of his final five contests. Golson’s development will be crucial to Notre Dame’s offense next year, especially with the question marks surrounding the running backs. Theo Riddick has expired his eligibility, while Cierre Wood is considering a jump to the NFL. With Golson having another year to work with Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin, he will be counted on to carry more of the offense in 2013.

In addition to the question marks at running back, Notre Dame lost tight end Tyler Eifert to the NFL. The junior led the team in receptions and receiving yards during the regular season. With Eifert gone to the NFL, receivers TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels need to step up next season, especially while the Fighting Irish look for a new go-to option at tight end.

Despite the loss of center Braxston Cave and guard Mike Golic Jr., Notre Dame should be solid on the offensive line. Left tackle Zack Martin will be in the mix for All-America honors, while guard Chris Watt and right tackle Christian Lombard are experienced, proven options.

Defensive Preview for 2013:

Although Brian Kelly won with offense at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, he smartly realized his best chance to win in 2012 rested with his defense. The Fighting Irish finished in the top 10 of total and scoring defense this year and allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns of any team in college football.

This unit has some holes to fill but will be one of the best in the nation once again in 2013. Replacing linebacker Manti Te’o’s leadership and production won’t be easy, but the Fighting Irish return one of the top defensive lines in college football, along with Prince Shembo, Dan Fox, Danny Spond and Carlo Calabrese at linebacker.

The secondary had to replace both starting cornerbacks going into 2012 but the new starters held up well all season. KeiVarae Russell should be better in his second year as a starter, while Bennett Jackson is back after ranking second on the team in interceptions. The secondary could get a boost if safety Jamoris Slaughter is awarded an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA after tearing his Achilles against Michigan State.

Chance of playing for the national title in 2013 season:

Notre Dame’s chances of getting back to the national championship aren’t as high as Alabama. However, the Fighting Irish should be a top-10 team in most preseason polls and should be in the mix for a BCS bowl. Although Notre Dame should win at least 10 games next year, replacing the leadership and production from Manti Te’o won’t be easy. Te’o was a huge part of the Fighting Irish’s success and simply won’t be replaced in 2013. While the defense may take a small step back, the offense figures to be better, and the schedule isn’t overwhelming. If Notre Dame can survive an early road trip to Michigan and a home date against USC, the season finale against Stanford could be for a trip to the BCS title game.

Very Early Preseason Rank for 2013: Top 10

Teaser:
<p> Can Notre Dame Return to the National Championship in 2013?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - 11:37
Path: /college-football/bcs-national-championship-preview-and-prediction-notre-dame-vs-alabama
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Two of college football’s storied programs will meet on Jan. 7 in the most-anticipated title matchup of the BCS era. For Alabama, a trip to the national championship has almost become routine. The Crimson Tide is making their third appearance in the BCS Championship in the last four seasons and are 2-0 under Nick Saban in this setting. Alabama is also looking to become the first back-to-back champion of the BCS era.

On the other sideline represents a return to glory. Notre Dame is back in a BCS bowl for the first time since 2007 and returned to the national title conversation for the first time since 1993 this year. The Fighting Irish was the only bowl eligible team to finish with an unbeaten record in 2012, while linebacker Manti Te’o finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting. After finishing 8-5 in back-to-back seasons, coach Brian Kelly has Notre Dame back on track to national prominence once again. The Fighting Irish are on a roll on the recruiting trail, so don’t expect Notre Dame to slip back into mediocrity anytime soon. 

These two teams have met six times, with Notre Dame owning a 5-1 series edge. The Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish have not played since 1987, when Notre Dame claimed a 37-6 victory in South Bend. Alabama’s only victory against the Fighting Irish came in 1986.

BCS National Championship – Alabama (12-1) vs. Notre Dame (12-0)

Date and Time: Jan. 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Network: ESPN
Location: Miami, Fla.

When the Notre Dame Fighting Irish has the ball:

The Fighting Irish aren’t as dynamic as some of Brian Kelly’s offenses at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, but this unit made steady progress over the last half of the season. After scoring more than 20 points twice through the first seven games, Notre Dame topped that mark in each of its final five contests.

Quarterback Everett Golson was a key factor in the late season improvement, finishing with seven touchdowns to just two interceptions over his final five games. Not only is Golson a threat to beat teams through the air, but his mobility could give Alabama’s defense plenty of headaches. The redshirt freshman rushed for 305 yards and five scores on 89 attempts this season. The Crimson Tide defense didn’t face a plethora of dual-threat quarterbacks in 2012 but struggled to contain Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel in early November. Although Golson has delivered in some key spots this year, he doesn’t have to throw for 300 yards for Notre Dame to win this game. Efficiency and playing mistake-free ball are bigger issues for Golson and will be crucial for the Fighting Irish’s hopes at winning.

The Fighting Irish don’t have a standout wide receiver, but help is on the way for the matchup with Alabama. DaVaris Daniels missed the final two games of the season with a clavicle injury and should be able to contribute on Monday night. The redshirt freshman caught 25 passes for 375 yards in 10 games. TJ Jones and Robby Toma should be the other top targets for Notre Dame at wide receiver, but the No. 1 weapon for Golson will be tight end Tyler Eifert. The senior led the team with 44 receptions for 624 yards and four touchdowns and needs to have a standout performance against a tough Crimson Tide defense.

Led by a veteran offensive line, Notre Dame will challenge Alabama’s No. 1 ranked rush defense. The Irish ranked 29th nationally in rushing offense, spearheaded by the one-two punch of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. Riddick led the team with 880 yards and five rushing scores, while Wood wasn’t far behind, generating 740 yards and four touchdowns on 110 attempts. Look for both players to see action in Monday night’s game, but rushing lanes could be difficult to find with Alabama allowing only 79.8 yards on the ground each contest. The Crimson Tide held opponents to nine rushing touchdowns and 2.5 yards per carry.

Make no mistake: There’s no glaring weakness with Alabama’s defense. Although the Fighting Irish lean slightly with the run, they may need to pass early to setup the ground attack. The Crimson Tide’s defense allowed only two opponents to score more than 20 points and generated 2.5 sacks per game. With over a month to prepare for this game, expect Alabama’s defense and Notre Dame’s offense to each have a few new looks and wrinkles to throw at the opposition. Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly has done a good job at bringing the offense along this season, but this matchup against the Crimson Tide will be Notre Dame’s toughest assignment of this year.

When the Alabama Crimson Tide has the ball:

Despite breaking in a new offensive coordinator and losing running back Trent Richardson to the NFL, Alabama’s offense improved its points and yardage generated per game. The Crimson Tide also displayed balance, averaging 224.6 yards per game on the ground, while throwing for 214.5 per contest.

Quarterback AJ McCarron thrived under new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, throwing for 2,669 yards and 26 touchdowns. Additionally, the junior tossed only three picks and led the nation in passing efficiency. McCarron doesn’t have a deep group of proven receivers but there’s no shortage of weapons. True freshman Amari Cooper is one of the nation’s top rising stars at receiver, grabbing 53 receptions for 895 yards and nine scores this year. Cooper isn’t the only weapon for Alabama, as Kevin Norwood (26 catches), Christion Jones (25 catches) and tight end Michael Williams (21 catches) are all dependable targets. This group could get a boost in this game with the return of Kenny Bell. The junior suffered a broken leg against Auburn but has made a quick recovery and could play on a limited snap count against Notre Dame. 

Although Alabama’s offense was balanced this year, there’s no question the success of this unit begins with the offensive line and rushing attack. The Crimson Tide’s front five is one of the nation’s best, allowing only 1.8 sacks a game and paving the way for running backs to generate 5.6 yards per carry. Center Barrett Jones suffered a foot injury against Georgia but is expected to play against the Fighting Irish.

Alabama’s offensive line faces a tough assignment on Monday night, as it looks to get a push against one of the nation’s top defenses. Notre Dame allowed only 92.4 rushing yards per game and held opponents to just two touchdowns on the ground. Jones’ battle against nose guard Louis Nix III could be one of the best one-on-one matchups of the bowl season, while the Fighting Irish rely on senior Kapron Lewis-Moore and sophomore Stephon Tuitt to lead the pass rush. In addition to the stout defensive line, senior linebacker and Heisman runner up Manti Te’o is a key presence in stopping the run.

Even if Alabama’s rushing attack struggles early, don’t expect Saban and Nussmeier to go away from handing the ball to Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. Lacy and Yeldon combined for 2,182 yards and 27 rushing scores this year and each brings a different skill set to the offense. Lacy is more of a power runner, while Yeldon provides a home-run threat to the lineup.

Final Analysis

Considering the defensive prowess on the Alabama and Notre Dame sideline, points could be at a premium in the BCS National Championship. The Crimson Tide has the edge on offense, especially at quarterback with the continued improvement of AJ McCarron. However, the Fighting Irish certainly won’t be intimidated by Alabama or the fact the SEC has won the last six national titles.

Will it be another national championship for the SEC? Or is Notre Dame ready to return to glory and win its first title since 1988?

Athlon’s editors make their pick for Monday night’s title game:

Editor Rob Doster David Fox Braden Gall Steven Lassan Mitch Light Charlie Miller Mark Ross Nathan Rush
Prediction: Alabama 17, ND 16 Alabama 27, ND 20 Alabama 20, ND 17 Alabama 24, ND 20 Alabama 23, ND 21 Alabama 17, ND 3 ND 20, Alabama 17 ND 17, Alabama 16
MVP Prediction: C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama Manti Te'o, LB, ND Manti Te'o, LB, ND

Teaser:
<p> BCS National Championship Preview and Prediction: Notre Dame vs. Alabama</p>
Post date: Monday, January 7, 2013 - 06:50
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After leading Syracuse to a 25-25 mark over the last four years, Doug Marrone decided it was time to try his hand at the NFL. Marrone was picked as the new head coach for the Buffalo Bills and leaves Syracuse on a high note after beating West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl. Marrone’s overall record wasn’t impressive, but he did a good job of resurrecting the program after a horrible stint under Greg Robinson. The Orange are moving from the Big East to the ACC and are caught in some bad timing, especially with Signing Day less than a month away.

11 Coaches to Replace Doug Marrone at Syracuse

Rob Ambrose, head coach, Towson – Ambrose is a longshot to become Syracuse’s next coach, but he’s worth a mention due to his success at Towson. The Illinois native inherited a struggling team and won just three games through his first two years. However, the Tigers have won 16 contests over the last two seasons and made a playoff appearance in 2011. Ambrose has FBS experience as well, working on the Connecticut staff from 2002-08.
 

Dave Clawson, head coach, Bowling Green – Clawson took a lot of heat for Tennessee’s struggles on offense in 2008, but he is a proven head coach at three different stops. The New York native went 29-29 in five seasons at Fordham (1999-2003), which also included a trip to the FCS playoffs in 2002. Clawson jumped to Richmond in 2004 and led the Spiders to two playoff appearances, including an 11-3 mark in 2007. After the failed season at Tennessee, Clawson landed at Bowling Green and went 7-6 in his debut year and 8-4 in 2012. The Falcons played in their first bowl game since 2009 this season and have made steady improvement since going 2-10 in 2010. 
 

Mario Cristobal, former FIU head coach – In perhaps the most ridiculous coaching move of this year, FIU decided to fire Cristobal after the 2012 season. While Cristobal’s overall mark (27-47) at FIU isn’t impressive, he is the perfect case of why coaching records can be deceiving. Cristobal inherited a program that was in awful shape and had just made the jump to FBS play. After winning nine games in the first two years with the Golden Panthers, Cristobal led FIU to back-to-back bowl games in 2010-11. Although most of Cristobal’s experience has come in Miami, he spent three seasons in the Northeast at Rutgers. Don’t let FIU’s poor decision to fire Cristobal fool you: He’s a very good coach and will be back on the sidelines in the near future.
 

Bob Diaco, defensive coordinator, Notre Dame – Diaco has quickly emerged as one of college football’s top assistant coaches and is ready for a chance to run his own program. The New Jersey native has never worked as a head coach but worked as an assistant at Iowa, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Virginia, Cincinnati and since 2010 with Notre Dame. Under Diaco’s leadership, the Fighting Irish have shown big improvement on defense, ranking first nationally in points allowed and fifth in total defense before the national championship. Diaco won the Broyles Award for the top assistant coach in the nation this year and despite his lack of head coaching experience, he should be near the top of Syracuse’s short list to replace Marrone.
 

Nathaniel Hackett, offensive coordinator, Syracuse – If Syracuse wants to promote from within, Hackett is a strong possibility to replace Marrone. The California native started his coaching career in 2003 at UC Davis, before coming to Stanford later that year. After spending three seasons with the Cardinal, he jumped to the NFL and worked two years with the Buccaneers and then two seasons with the Bills. Hackett joined Syracuse in 2010 and has been a key part of the offensive improvement over the last few years. The only downside to Hackett is his lack of head coaching experience.
 

Pep Hamilton, offensive coordinator, Stanford – Hamilton’s stock has been on the rise over the last two years and has been an instrumental part of Stanford’s success under David Shaw. Hamilton played quarterback at Howard from 1993-96 and later coached there from 1997-2001. After that stint at his alma mater, Hamilton worked as an assistant in the NFL with the Jets, 49ers and Bears, before returning to the college ranks in 2010. Hamilton was promoted to offensive coordinator with the Cardinal after Jim Harbaugh left for the NFL.
 

Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State – Although Narduzzi has helped to mold Michigan State’s defense into one of the Big Ten’s best over the last few years, he hasn’t had many looks to be a head coach. The Connecticut native has worked as an assistant since 1993, including stops as a defensive coordinator in 2003 with Miami (Ohio), from 2004-06 at Cincinnati and since 2007 with Michigan State. Narduzzi’s defense ranked fourth nationally in yards allowed and ninth in scoring defense this year.
 

Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Considering Syracuse needs to move quick on finding a head coach due to recruiting, Roman could be out of the mix to replace Marrone, especially if the 49ers advance far in the playoffs. The New Jersey native has no head coaching experience but has stops as an NFL assistant with the Panthers, Ravens and Texans. With the success of David Shaw at Stanford and Willie Taggart at Western Kentucky, Roman is the next Jim Harbaugh assistant to land a head coaching gig. Roman also worked with Harbaugh at Stanford and helped to coordinate one of the nation’s best offenses.
 

Scott Shafer, defensive coordinator, Syracuse – If Syracuse doesn’t promote Nathaniel Hackett, Shafer is the other in-house option for the Orange. The Ohio native has worked as an assistant on the college level since 1991, making stops at Rhode Island, Northern Illinois, Illinois, Western Michigan, Stanford, Michigan and at Syracuse since 2009. Shafer led Syracuse’s defense to a top-10 ranking in yards allowed in 2010 and held opponents to just 19.3 points a game. Shafer doesn’t have any head coaching experience, but is familiar with the current personnel and would provide an easy transition from Marrone. 
 

David Walker, running backs coach, Indianapolis Colts – Walker is a name many Syracuse fans are familiar with, as he played for the Orange from 1989-92. He rushed for over 2,000 yards in his career with Syracuse and joined the coaching ranks in 1994 as a high school assistant. Walker was named Syracuse’s running backs coach in 1995 and served in that capacity until 2004. He worked at Pittsburgh from 2005-2010 and has coached for the last two years with the Colts. Although Walker has strong ties to the university, he has no experience has a coordinator or head coach.
 

Bobby Wilder, head coach, Old Dominion – Wilder is a bit of an unknown commodity on the FBS level but he has experienced a lot of success in a short time at Old Dominion. In four seasons with the Monarchs, he has compiled a 38-10 record, which includes two appearances in the FCS playoffs. Wilder is no stranger to life in the Northeast, as he spent some time as an assistant at Boston College and Maine. 

Related College Football Content

A Very Early College Football Top 25 for 2013
College Football's Most Surprising Hires of the BCS Era

Teaser:
<p> 11 Coaches to Replace Doug Marrone at Syracuse</p>
Post date: Monday, January 7, 2013 - 06:44
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, San Diego Chargers, NFL, News
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After an up-and-down tenure in San Diego, the Chargers have finally decided to pull the plug on Norv Turner. The embattled coach was nearly fired at the end of last season but finished with a 4-1 record in the final five games to save his job. Turner led San Diego to the AFC Championship in 2007 but missed the playoffs in each of his last three seasons. The Chargers were one of the league’s most inconsistent teams under his watch, often starting slow before finishing as one of the hottest teams in the NFL. Who might replace Turner? Athlon takes a look at 10 names to watch in the coaching search.

10 Coaches to Replace Norv Turner at San Diego
 

Bruce Arians, offensive coordinator, Indianapolis Colts – Arians is highly regarded for his work as an offensive coordinator but had his first taste of head coaching experience on the NFL level in 2012. With Chuck Pagano stepping away from the team due to leukemia, Arians became the interim coach and led the Colts to an 8-3 record under his watch. The New Jersey native has done a tremendous job of helping rookie quarterback Andrew Luck quickly adapt to the NFL, and Indianapolis ranked as one of the league's top passing teams. Arians went 21-45 as Temple’s head coach from 1983-88 but as the interim stint with the Colts showcased, he can be a successful leader in the NFL. 
 

Jay Gruden, offensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals – Gruden is considered a rising star in the assistant ranks and is due for a chance to be a head coach in the next few years. The brother of former NFL head coach Jon Gruden, Jay worked his way through the Arena Football ranks, before coming to the NFL in 2011. His coaching has been instrumental in the development of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green, which also helped to lead the Bengals to the playoffs in 2011.
 

Mike Holmgren, former Cleveland Browns team president – Holmgren stepped off the field after the 2008 season. He served as Green Bay’s head coach from 1992-98 and worked in Seattle from 1999-2008. After taking a year off (2009), Holmgren was hired to serve as Cleveland’s team president and held that role for three years. However, with new ownership coming in, Holmgren was essentially let go and is interested in getting back in the coaching ranks. The California native would be a good fit for a veteran team like the Chargers, but he may also want control over personnel decisions. 


Chip Kelly, head coach, Oregon – Kelly nearly left for Tampa Bay last offseason and with NCAA sanctions likely coming at Oregon, he is ready to jump to the NFL in 2012. The New Hampshire native is regarded as one of college football’s top offensive minds, helping the Ducks record an average of 50.8 points per game during the 2012 regular season. Kelly’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense has been used to some extent in the NFL, as he visited with the Patriots in previous offseasons to swap ideas with Bill Belichick.  Kelly is not particularly fond of the media, injury reports or open practices and has no NFL coaching experience, so it will be interesting to see how he adapts to life away from the college game.
 

Dirk Koetter, offensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons – Considering the success of Atlanta’s offense this year, expect Koetter’s name to be in the mix for any head coach openings. The Idaho native has no experience as a head coach in the NFL but went 26-10 in three years at Boise State and 40-34 in six seasons with Arizona State. After he was fired in Tempe, Koetter was named Jacksonville’s offensive coordinator in 2007 and worked with the Jaguars until joining the Falcons this season.
 

Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots – McDaniels had a failed two-year stint as a head coach in Denver, recording a disappointing 11-17 mark. Despite his lack of success with the Broncos, he will get another opportunity to be a head coach in the future. McDaniels is regarded as one of the NFL’s top offensive minds and is back with the Patriots after spending one year with the Rams in 2011.
 

Andy Reid, head coach, Philadelphia Eagles – If Reid is let go in Philadelphia, he won’t be out of work for very long. Although Reid’s tenure with the Eagles went south over the last two years, he still led the team to nine playoff appearances in 14 seasons. Reid had only three losing seasons with Philadelphia and took the Eagles to a Super Bowl in 2004. Considering he is a California native, Reid could be enticed to return to the West Coast and work for a team that should be a factor in the playoff mix next year.


Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Roman’s name has been mentioned with college openings, but he should also get a look for NFL jobs. The New Jersey native has worked in the NFL with the Panthers, Texans, Ravens and 49ers and was a key member of Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Stanford. Roman doesn’t have any head coaching experience but his work with the 49ers' offense and quarterback Colin Kaepernick has showcased why he is one of the NFL’s top assistant coaches.
 

Kyle Shanahan, offensive coordinator, Washington Redskins -Mike Shanahan's son may only be 33 years old, but his football IQ is advanced beyond his years. In 2008, a 28-year-old Shanahan became the youngest coordinator in history when Mike Shanahan's former right-hand man Gary Kubiak hired him to run the show for the Texans. The younger Shanahan may want to coach star quarterback Robert Griffin III for a few more seasons, and possibly even take over the reins when his father retires. But after the success he's had, Shanahan's meteoric rise will continue with head coaching interest from teams around the league this offseason.


Mike Zimmer, defensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals – Zimmer has no head coaching experience but has been one of the NFL’s top defensive coordinators since coming to Cincinnati. The Bengals have ranked inside of the top 15 in total defense in every season since Zimmer arrived, and he has a wealth of experience from stops as an assistant with the Cowboys and the Falcons. 

Teaser:
<p> 10 Coaches to Replace Fired Norv Turner with the San Diego Chargers</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 13:58
All taxonomy terms: NFC, NFC East, Philadelphia Eagles, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/10-coaches-replace-andy-reid-philadelphia-eagles
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Andy Reid’s 14-year run as the Eagles’ head coach has ended. Philadelphia’s front office decided to go in another direction after the Eagles’ first losing season since 2005. Philadelphia also missed out on the playoffs the last two years and has not won a postseason game since 2008. Reid had a solid career with the Eagles and will land another head coaching job in the near future. However, Philadelphia has a big decision to make for its next coach, especially since Washington made big strides this year, and the Giants should be better in 2013. There’s a lot of promising pieces for the next Eagles’ head coach to work with, and a run at the playoffs next year wouldn’t be unexpected. 

10 Coaches to Replace Andy Reid in Philadelphia

Bruce Arians, offensive coordinator, Indianapolis Colts – Arians is highly regarded for his work as an offensive coordinator but had his first taste of head coaching experience on the NFL level in 2012. With Chuck Pagano stepping away from the team due to leukemia, Arians became the interim coach and led the Colts to an 8-3 record under his watch. The New Jersey native has done a tremendous job of helping rookie quarterback Andrew Luck quickly adapt to the NFL, and Indianapolis ranked as one of the league's top passing teams. Arians went 21-45 as Temple’s head coach from 1983-88 but as the interim stint with the Colts showcased, he can be a successful leader in the NFL. 
 

Perry Fewell, defensive coordinator, New York Giants – Fewell has been a NFL assistant since 1998 and served as Buffalo’s interim head coach for seven games in 2009. The North Carolina native helped to lead the Giants to a ranking inside of the top 10 in total defense in 2010, along with developing one of the NFL’s top defensive lines. Fewell’s defenses have given up a lot of yards over the last two years, but the Giants have also had bad luck with injuries.
 

Jay Gruden, offensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals – Gruden is considered a rising star in the assistant ranks and is due for a chance to be a head coach in the next few years. The brother of former NFL head coach Jon Gruden, Jay worked his way through the Arena Football ranks, before coming to the NFL in 2011. His coaching has been instrumental in the development of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green, which also helped to lead the Bengals to the playoffs in 2011. Considering his development of Dalton, Gruden could be a perfect choice to help mold Nick Foles over the next couple of seasons. 
 

Jon Gruden, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach – Gruden is expected to be one of the top targets for any NFL team looking for a head coach this offseason. But will he return to coaching? After being fired by Tampa Bay in 2008, Gruden has been away from the sidelines and worked in the broadcast booth with ESPN. Although Gruden has insisted he is happy working as analyst, most believe he could be lured back to the sidelines. The Ohio native is 95-81 in his NFL career and led the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title in the 2002 season. Gruden may say no, but it can’t hurt the Eagles to ask.
 

Mike Holmgren, former Cleveland Browns team president – Holmgren stepped off the field after the 2008 season. He served as Green Bay’s head coach from 1992-98 and worked in Seattle from 1999-2008. After taking a year off (2009), Holmgren was hired to serve as Cleveland’s team president and held that role for three years. However, with new ownership coming in, Holmgren was essentially let go and is interested in getting back in the coaching ranks. The California native could be a good fit for a team like the Eagles, especially considering the talent on offense. However, he may want control over personnel decisions. 
 

Ray Horton, defensive coordinator, Arizona – If Ken Whisenhunt is let go with Arizona, Horton is expected to be one of the top candidates to lead the Cardinals in 2013. However, the veteran assistant could choose to look at the other openings. With Arizona struggling to generate anything on offense, the defense has a lot of pressure on its shoulders every week. The Cardinals rank in the top 15 of the NFL in total defense in 2012, which is a slight improvement after finishing 18th in the league last season. Horton has done a good job of developing defensive backs in his career and gained valuable experience working with Dick LeBeau in Pittsburgh. Horton does not have any head coaching experience.
 

Chip Kelly, head coach, Oregon – Kelly nearly left for Tampa Bay last offseason and with NCAA sanctions likely coming at Oregon, he is ready to jump to the NFL in 2012. The New Hampshire native is regarded as one of college football’s top offensive minds, helping the Ducks record an average of 50.8 points per game during the 2012 regular season. Kelly’s up-tempo, no-huddle offense has been used to some extent in the NFL, as he visited with the Patriots in previous offseasons to swap ideas with Bill Belichick.  Kelly is not particularly fond of the media, injury reports or open practices and has no NFL coaching experience, so it will be interesting to see how he adapts to life away from the college game.
 

Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator, Denver Broncos – McCoy is considered one of the NFL’s rising stars in the coordinator ranks, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets a chance to be a head coach. The California native worked with the Panthers from 2000-08, before joining the Broncos as the team’s offensive coordinator in 2009. McCoy did a good job of molding Denver’s offense around Tim Tebow last season and revamped the attack for Peyton Manning in 2012. 
 

Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots – McDaniels had a failed two-year stint as a head coach in Denver, recording a disappointing 11-17 mark. Despite his lack of success with the Broncos, he will get another opportunity to be a head coach in the future. McDaniels is regarded as one of the NFL’s top offensive minds and is back with the Patriots after spending one year with the Rams in 2011.
 

Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Roman’s name has been mentioned with college openings, but he should also get a look for NFL jobs. The New Jersey native has worked in the NFL with the Panthers, Texans, Ravens and 49ers and was a key member of Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Stanford. Roman doesn’t have any head coaching experience but his work with the 49ers' offense and quarterback Colin Kaepernick has showcased why he is one of the NFL’s top assistant coaches.

Teaser:
<p> 10 Coaches to Replace Andy Reid with the Philadelphia Eagles</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 09:47
Path: /college-football/orange-bowl-preview-and-prediction-northern-illinois-vs-florida-state
Body:

In terms of intrigue, the Florida State-Northern Illinois matchup in the Orange Bowl has to be one of the must-see games of the postseason. After cracking the top 16 of the BCS standings, the Huskies became a polarizing case study and a lightning rod for criticism. Northern Illinois has plenty of doubters and there’s no shortage of bulletin board material for this team to rally around. The Huskies will be under the direction of a new coach, as Dave Doeren departed to NC State after the MAC Championship win over Kent State. Rod Carey was promoted from co-offensive coordinator to head coach and has a huge stage for debut on the Northern Illinois’ sideline.

While this is the first BCS bowl appearance for Northern Illinois, Florida State is back in a BCS bowl for the first time since losing 26-23 to Penn State in 2006. The Seminoles are slowly working their way back into a national power, winning 30 games over the last three years. Despite the success under Jimbo Fisher, there’s also a feeling of disappointment surrounding the program. Florida State was handled by rival Florida in Tallahassee and suffered a surprising defeat to NC State on Oct. 6. The Seminoles had the talent to compete for a national championship, yet finished 11-2 and could have some motivation issues playing Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl.

This will be the first meeting between these two teams. Florida State is 3-0 against teams from the MAC, and Northern Illinois is 2-6 against teams currently in the ACC.

Orange Bowl – Northern Illinois vs. Florida State

Date and Time: Jan. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Network: ESPN
Location: Miami, Fla. (Sun Life Stadium)

When the Northern Illinois Huskies have the ball:

The mission for Florida State’s defense is simple: Stop Jordan Lynch. Of course, that’s easier said than done. The junior was one of the nation’s top quarterbacks this year, rushing for 1,771 yards and 19 touchdowns and throwing for 2,962 yards and 24 scores. Lynch tossed only five picks and was held under 100 rushing yards only one time in 2012.

Lynch clearly carries the offense for Northern Illinois, but he is far from a one-man show. Running backs Leighton Settle, Akeem Daniels and Keith Harris each had more than 200 rushing yards, with Daniels recording nine touchdowns on the ground. However, the Huskies will be without the services of Settle and Harris for the Orange Bowl, which means Daniels needs to have a big performance. 

The receiving corps is loaded with solid targets, including first-team All-MAC receiver Martel Moore. The senior caught 71 passes for 1,054 yards and 12 scores this year, which included six 100-yard performances. Lynch needs a big game from Moore, but Florida State’s secondary ranked third nationally against the pass. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Lamarcus Joyner were first-team All-ACC selections and were a key reason why opposing quarterbacks completed just 50 percent of their passes against the Seminoles.

Helping to keep opposing passing attacks grounded for Florida State is one of the nation's top defensive lines. Considering the Seminoles can generate a consistent pass rush with their front four, opposing quarterbacks don't have a lot of time to wait for their receivers to come open. This line held opponents to under 100 rushing yards per game (93) and averaged 2.5 sacks a game. If there is a concern about the defensive line, depth has become an issue this year. Ends Tank Carradine and Brandon Jenkins were lost for the year, which forced top recruit Mario Edwards, Jr. into more snaps than the coaching staff expected to give him this season. Although Carradine and Jenkins were big losses, Bjoern Werner had a standout season (18 TFL, 13 sacks) and is tasked with generating a pass rush against a Northern Illinois’ offensive line that averaged just one sack allowed a game this year. 

After averaging 40.7 points and nearly 500 yards a game (485.7) in the regular season, the Orange Bowl will be the toughest defensive test Northern Illinois has faced this year. The Huskies faced only two BCS opponents in 2012, recording 17 points against Iowa and 30 against Kansas. Florida State’s defense is much better than the Hawkeyes and Jayhawks but is also dealing with the loss of coordinator Mark Stoops. Defensive line coach D.J. Eliot will call the plays for the Seminoles in this game and will join Stoops at Kentucky at the conclusion of the Orange Bowl.

Stopping Lynch will be the top priority for Florida State’s defense. Expect the Seminoles to load up the box to prevent Lynch from getting over 100 yards on the ground and allow their cornerbacks to play man against Northern Illinois’ wide receivers. Lynch doesn’t have to generate huge gains on each play to be a factor. If the junior can generate three or four yards a carry, the Huskies can keep the chains moving, which should allow them a chance to hang around in this game. 

When the Florida State Seminoles have the ball:

For the fifth consecutive season, Florida State averaged over 30 points a game. The Seminoles were relatively balanced on offense, recording 203.4 yards per game on the ground and 263.3 passing yards a contest.

Despite those numbers, the Seminoles' offense bogged down at times. Quarterback EJ Manuel finished 10th nationally in pass efficiency but can be a streaky passer. Manuel threw for 3,106 yards and 22 touchdowns, while tossing 10 picks on 349 attempts. The senior has struggled at times in the early portion of games, so it’s important for Fisher to get Manuel comfortable in the first quarter.

Florida State boasts a deep collection of targets at receiver, along with an emerging weapon at tight end. Sophomore Rashad Greene led the team with 52 receptions for 696 yards and five touchdowns. Rodney Smith, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw each recorded over 400 receiving yards, while Greg Dent chipped in 24 catches for 313 yards. Tight end Nick O’Leary became a bigger factor in the offense late in the season, catching six passes (with two going for scores) over the final three contests.

The Seminoles’ rushing attack suffered an early blow this year, losing Chris Thompson to a torn ACL against Miami. After coming back from a serious back injury, Thompson was well on his way to a 1,000-yard season. Sophomores Devonta Freeman and James Wilder have been steady in Thompson’s absence, combining for 1,218 yards and 19 rushing scores. Expect both players to find running room against a Northern Illinois defense allowing 139 rushing yards per game. 

As mentioned above with Northern Illinois’ offense, this is its toughest test of the season. While the MAC is known for offense, Florida State has more depth, speed and talent than any team the Huskies have played this year. Northern Illinois' defense was one of the best in the MAC this year, allowing only 19 points a game and recording 2.9 sacks per contest.

Forcing turnovers will be a huge component of Northern Illinois’ upset bid, especially considering Florida State ranks 96th nationally in turnover margin. The Huskies need a few breaks to go their way to pull the upset, and it may take a touchdown on defense or special teams to knock off the Seminoles.

Final Analysis

The Huskies will have their moments in this game but it won’t be enough to beat Florida State. Even without Stoops coordinating the defense, the Seminoles’ front seven will hold Lynch in check, while the secondary will prevent many big plays. Northern Illinois should be able to hold its own early on the defensive side, but Florida State’s depth and speed will eventually take control in the second half. Motivation is an issue for the Seminoles, and they cannot afford to take Northern Illinois’ lightly. The Huskies will hang around for three quarters, while the Seminoles pull away in the fourth quarter to earn their fifth consecutive bowl victory.

Prediction: Florida State 38, Northern Illinois 20


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Teaser:
<p> Orange Bowl Preview and Prediction: Northern Illinois vs. Florida State</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:48
Path: /college-football/chick-fil-bowl-preview-and-prediction-clemson-vs-lsu
Body:

Considering the success of Clemson and LSU this year, the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl could easily be a BCS matchup and should be one of the postseason’s must-see bowl games. Clemson’s two losses came at the hands of South Carolina and Florida State, a combined 21-4. LSU suffered two close defeats to Florida and Alabama – both teams in BCS bowls.

Although Clemson fell short of repeating as ACC champions, coach Dabo Swinney has the program on the right track. Swinney has assembled a solid coaching staff, which is a key reason why the program has back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since 1989-90. Clemson went 1-1 against the SEC this season, losing 27-17 to South Carolina in the regular season finale, while beating Auburn in Atlanta 26-19 to open the year. Taking on LSU will be an even tougher challenge for Clemson, especially with the matchup in the trenches.

LSU had preseason expectations of playing for the national championship once again but narrow losses to Alabama and Florida relegated Les Miles’ team to a bowl game outside of the BCS. However, LSU has been on an incredible run over the last three years, recording a 34-5 mark during that span.

These two teams have met only twice, with LSU winning both games. Interestingly enough, the two meetings between Clemson and LSU occurred in bowl games.

Chick-fil-A Bowl – Clemson (10-2) vs. LSU (10-2)

Date/Time: Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN
Location: Atlanta, Ga.

When the Clemson Tigers have the ball:

Since the arrival of Chad Morris as coordinator, Clemson has emerged as one of the top offenses in the ACC. The Tigers averaged 33.6 points per game last season but increased that number to 42.3 per contest in 2012. Morris’ scheme has been a major factor in Clemson’s offensive improvement but a ton of credit also goes to quarterback Tajh Boyd.

The junior passer has thrived under Morris, throwing for 67 scores and 7,378 yards over the last two seasons. Boyd has 25 picks over the last two years but showed improved mobility in 2012, which allowed him to record 492 yards and nine scores on the ground this season.

Although Boyd has been one of college football’s top-10 quarterbacks the last two seasons, he has struggled against SEC defenses. Take out his 386-yard performance against Auburn in 2011 and Boyd has thrown for 474 yards, three touchdowns and four picks in three previous contests against SEC opponents.

With Boyd and receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins capable of scoring 30 points, the offensive line will be under the microscope on New Year’s Eve. This unit allowed 2.2 sacks a game this season and faces it’s toughest test of the year in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. LSU has one of the best defensive lines in the nation, filled with depth, speed, talent and experience. Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo combined for 11 sacks this season, while tackles Bennie Logan, Anthony Johnson and Josh Downs are active around the line of scrimmage. 

Pass protection is a huge question mark for Clemson’s offensive line in this matchup, but it also has to be concerned about clearing the way for running back Andre Ellington. LSU ranks ninth nationally against the run and allowed only one player – Florida’s Mike Gillislee – to reach the 100-yard mark. Ellington rushed for 228 yards in the opener against Auburn but had only two 100-yard performances the rest of the year.

It may seem simple and perhaps too obvious, but the Chick-fil-A Bowl is going to be won or lost in the trenches. Clemson’s offensive line has to play better than it did against South Carolina. If LSU’s defensive line wins the battle up front, Boyd won’t have opportunities to stretch the field. If Boyd has time to throw, there’s no shortage of weapons with Watkins and Hopkins outside at receiver, along with tight end Brandon Ford working the middle of the field.

When the LSU Tigers have the ball:

There’s quite a contrast in style of play between Clemson and LSU. While Clemson prefers a no-huddle spread offense, LSU has old school, run-first mentality. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with running an old-school offense, especially when it has worked to win 34 games over the last three years.

LSU leans with the run but is fairly balanced on offense. The rushing attack is generating 179.9 yards per game, while the passing offense ranks 90th nationally at 207.3 yards per contest.

Quarterback Zach Mettenberger was under heavy pressure to perform in his first season as the starter and didn’t get comfortable until late in the year. Mettenberger recorded only two games of more than 200 passing yards through the first eight weeks but finished with at least 217 yards in each of his final four games. Mettenberger seemed in control and showed more poise than he did at the start of the season, which allowed LSU’s passing attack to take a few more chances.

LSU has an underrated group of receivers, headlined by Odell Beckham (40 catches), Jarvis Landry (52 catches), Kadron Boone (24 catches) and Russell Shepard. This group is capable of stretching the field against Clemson’s secondary, which ranked eighth in the ACC and allowed 250.3 yards per game.

Even though Mettenberger showed improvement at the end of the regular season, LSU isn’t going to go away from its bread and butter. Les Miles’ team has an embarrassment of riches in the backfield, as five players could start for a handful of SEC teams. Freshman Jeremy Hill led the team with 631 rushing yards and 10 scores, but Kenny Hilliard (456 yards), Michael Ford (393 yards), Spencer Ware (358 yards) and Alfred Blue (270 yards) will all see touches. Ware was a key contributor out of the backfield for Mettenberger, catching 15 passes for 212 yards and one score.

LSU’s offensive line suffered some key injuries this season, including the loss of potential All-America tackle Chris Faulk early in the year. Despite the new faces in the lineup, LSU averaged 4.3 yards per rush. Clemson’s defensive line averaged 2.3 sacks a game during the regular season, which could create some problems for LSU’s passing attack. However, the bigger problem for Clemson is a rush defense allowing 160.7 yards per game.

Final Analysis

Although Clemson can put up points in a hurry, LSU’s edge in the trenches will control the tempo of this game. Boyd should be able to hit on a few big plays but the time off between the regular season finale and bowl game could create some early rust for Clemson. LSU won’t need too much from its passing attack, as Jeremy Hill and Spencer Ware should be able to grind out plenty of yards against Clemson’s defensive line.

Prediction: LSU 34, Clemson 24


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Teaser:
<p> Chick-fil-A Bowl Preview and Prediction: Clemson vs. LSU</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:46
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-new-years-resolutions-2013
Body:

The end of every year is always a good time for reflection and examining what improvements could be made for the following 12 months. And that’s the case with college football, especially as the sport gets ready to close the books on a crazy 2012 season and move on to 2013 with another interesting race for the national title ready to unfold. There are still plenty of big events coming to college football in the next few days, including the anticipated Notre Dame-Alabama BCS championship game on Jan. 7. With the 2012 season nearly over, it’s time to start thinking about how college football could be better in 2013. With that in mind, here are six resolutions for fans to consider for next season:

Six College Football New Year's Resolutions for 2013

A quiet year for realignment
Nebraska to the Big Ten. Texas A&M to the SEC. Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC. Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten. Will the realignment carousel ever stop? Unfortunately for college football fans, realignment will probably continue into 2013, 2014 and 2015. With the uncertainty surrounding the Big East, along with rumors about the Big Ten wanting to poach a few more teams from the ACC, it’s likely there will be a few more programs changing addresses in 2013. However, all fans should hope for less realignment and more news devoted to the on-field product in 2013. Speaking of realignment and affecting games…

Resuming defunct rivalries
Although conference realignment will create new rivalries, some historical matchups like Texas-Texas A&M, Pittsburgh-West Virginia and Kansas-Missouri should be played every year. Although schools don’t want to overload their non-conference schedules, there’s really no excuse for Texas to be unwilling to schedule Texas A&M because it changed conferences. Programs that won't schedule a rivalry game are only hurting their fans and pocketbook, especially as they will likely fill the void on the schedule with an easy non-conference win. Let’s hope 2013 brings some changes at those schools, which gets the defunct rivalries back on the schedule for 2014 and beyond.

An increased emphasis on non-conference scheduling
With a four-team playoff coming in 2014, some schools are ramping up their future non-conference schedules to become more attractive for the selection committee. Can some of that scheduling happen for 2013? It’s understandable why most of the SEC was playing FCS or non-BCS opponents the week before playing their rival. However, it’s also embarrassing for a conference to have no marquee matchup for an entire week. LSU-TCU, Georgia-Clemson, Virginia Tech-Alabama and Notre Dame-Oklahoma are some of the more enticing non-conference matchups for 2013, but college football needs more marquee non-conference games - and less of Alabama-Western Carolina, Auburn-Alabama A&M and Oklahoma State-Savannah State.

A defensive player to get more consideration for the Heisman
Considering college football has become a very offense-heavy sport, it’s no surprise quarterbacks and running backs get the most attention in Heisman races. While high-scoring games and spread offenses are the talk of college football, let’s see defensive players get more attention for the Heisman. Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o finished second to Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel in 2012, and South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney has already been tabbed one of the frontrunners for 2013. Although defensive players may not have the highlight reel plays or big stats like quarterbacks, their impact is just as crucial to the outcome of any game or success of their team.

Less complaining about the BCS
Frankly, the constant whining and complaining about the BCS is nauseating. And it’s even worse when fans complain about where their team ranks on Oct. 10. With the playoff coming in 2014, college football fans (at least most of them) got what they wanted. Instead of spending the next year complaining about the system and rankings until it matters in late November, let’s try to enjoy the on-field action more in the 2013 season, while engaging in more healthy debates like the Heisman, non-conference scheduling for the future and how to fix off-the-field scandals. And please, no debates about expanding the playoff to eight teams. 

No more off-the-field scandals
For the past couple of years, it seems college football has had one ongoing scandal after another. Whether it is Miami, North Carolina, Oregon or Penn State, the off-the-field news is getting ridiculous. How about a year where there are no NCAA investigations or letters of inquiry sent to schools? Miami and Oregon could be hearing from the NCAA this spring, but college football fans should hope no new scandals will break in 2013. 


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<p> College Football's New Year's Resolutions for 2013</p>
Post date: Monday, December 31, 2012 - 06:05
Path: /college-football/holiday-bowl-preview-and-prediction-baylor-vs-ucla
Body:

If you like offense, the Holiday Bowl is one of the postseason’s must-watch matchups. Baylor and UCLA each averaged over 35 points and 470 yards a game, so this game could be one of the highest-scoring contests of the bowl season

UCLA has claimed back-to-back Pac-12 South titles, but this season's team showed big improvement after finishing 6-8 last year. New coach Jim Mora assembled an excellent staff, while making the Bruins more relevant on the recruiting trail. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone deserves a ton of credit for his work with quarterback Brett Hundley, who ranked as one of the top redshirt freshmen in college football in 2012. The Bruins lost four games in Pac-12 play but nearly beat Stanford in the conference championship and knocked off USC 38-28 to win the division title.

The post-Robert Griffin III era at Baylor went the way most expected. Well, sort of. The Bears started 3-0 but lost their next four games. However, both sides of the ball found their rhythm late in the year, which allowed Baylor to finish with victories in four out of its final five games. The Bears knocked off conference champ Kansas State in mid-November, came within eight of beating Oklahoma and defeated Oklahoma State in the regular season finale.

Holiday Bowl – UCLA vs. Baylor

Date and Time: Dec. 27 at 9:45 p.m. ET
Network: ESPN
Location:  San Diego, Calif.

When the UCLA Bruins have the ball:

After dealing with injuries and inconsistency at quarterback over the last couple of years, UCLA finally found its answer with redshirt freshman Brett Hundley. In 13 games this year, he threw for 3,411 yards and 26 touchdowns, while adding 365 yards and nine scores on the ground. Hundley is a perfect fit for coordinator Noel Mazzone’s spread attack, as the offense allows the redshirt freshman to quickly deliver the ball to the receivers, while taking advantage of his mobility on read-option plays.

When Hundley throws, his favorite receivers this year have been Shaquelle Evans and tight end Joseph Fauria. Evans leads the team in receptions (53) and yards (795), while Fauria ranked first with 11 scores. Jerry Johnson, Steven Manfro and Jordan Payton are other key targets for Hundley, but expect Evans and Fauria to see most of the targets.

Although the offense took a huge step forward thanks to Hundley’s development, the play of running back Johnathan Franklin shouldn’t be overlooked. The senior recorded his second 1,000-yard season of his career in 2012, rushing for 1,700 yards and 13 touchdowns on 268 attempts. Franklin is a key factor in the passing game, catching 32 passes for 319 yards and two scores.

Baylor’s defense was expected to be better in coordinator Phil Bennett’s second year, but the Bears finished 119th nationally in yards allowed and gave up 38.2 points a game. However, this unit played showed some signs of life at times, holding Kansas State to 24 points and ended the year with 25 forced turnovers.

The Bears will have their hands full in this matchup, as UCLA was held under 20 points only two times this year. The Bears have to find a way to slow down Franklin on early downs, while keeping Hundley in the pocket. Baylor hasn’t generated much pressure this year, so forcing turnovers will be a priority.

When the Baylor Bears have the ball:

Despite having to replace Robert Griffin, Baylor’s offense finished first nationally in total offense and averaged 44.1 points a game. Senior Nick Florence isn’t as mobile as Griffin, yet finished with 531 rushing yards and nine scores. Through the air, Florence tossed 31 touchdowns and 4,121 yards on 451 attempts.

With USC’s Marqise Lee and West Virginia’s Tavon Austin stealing the national spotlight, Baylor’s receiving corps often gets overlooked. However, the Bears have one of the top receiver trios in the nation, starting with senior and Biletnikoff finalist Terrance Williams. The senior grabbed 95 receptions for 1,764 yards and 12 scores this season. Tevin Reese and Lanear Sampson were solid No. 2 and No. 3 options, each catching 51 balls this year. Levi Norwood chipped in 39 receptions and Antwan Goodley stepped up late in the season by catching seven passes over his final three games.

Baylor’s offense became even more dangerous late in the year with the emergence of Lache Seastrunk at running back. The Oregon transfer had only 15 carries through the first five weeks but closed out the regular season with four 100-yard efforts in his final five contests. Seastrunk provides big-play ability in the backfield, averaging 7.6 yards per attempt and had an 80-yard touchdown run this year.

UCLA’s defensive stats weren’t as bad as Baylor but were nothing for Jim Mora to be pleased about. The Bruins ranked in the second half of the Pac-12 in total, scoring and pass defense but made up for the yards allowed by generating 3.3 sacks a game. Linebacker Anthony Barr was shifted from offense in the preseason and was a pleasant surprise for this unit. The junior generated 13.5 sacks and finished third on the team with 74 tackles.

This game is a huge test for the Bruins’ secondary, which has to matchup against one of the nation’s top receiving corps. Even if UCLA finds a way to slow down Williams, Reese and Sampson are capable of connecting with Florence on big plays. Considering the depth and talent in Baylor’s receiving corps, the Bruins have to get a consistent pass rush on Florence, which will help reduce the amount of pressure on the secondary. UCLA lost a key piece of the secondary for this game in late December, as safety Tevin McDonald was suspended due to a violation of team rules.

Final Analysis

There should be no shortage of yards and points in this game. The Holiday Bowl is usually one of the more entertaining postseason matchups, so this game should be one of the top-10 bowl games in 2012. Considering the offensive ability on both sidelines, timely stops and turnovers will be crucial. Baylor and UCLA will have plenty of highlights on offense, but the Bruins are slightly better on defense, which is just enough to pull out the victory.

Prediction: UCLA 41, Baylor 38


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Teaser:
<p> Holiday Bowl Preview and Prediction: Baylor vs. UCLA</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 27, 2012 - 06:48
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-most-surprising-head-coach-hires-bcs-era
Body:

No college football head coaching search ever goes according to plan. However, anytime a job opens during or after the season, there’s a good idea of which candidates will be interested or the most likely targets. Despite having a general feel of where a particular program might go with its hire, there are times where a school makes a decision that blindsides or surprises everyone. Arkansas made a solid hire when it pulled Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin, but the move came as a complete surprise.

What other coaching moves came out of nowhere or caught everyone off guard? Check out these 12 coaching moves of the BCS era. 

College Football's Most Surprising Head Coach Hires of the BCS Era

Bret Bielema, Arkansas from Wisconsin (2012)
With the rise of social media, keeping a coaching search under wraps for any program is nearly impossible. Somehow, Arkansas kept its courtship of Bielema off the radar and was able to hire him away from Wisconsin just after winning the Big Ten Championship. Considering Bielema’s background as a player in the Big Ten and his successful stint at Wisconsin (68-24 and three consecutive Rose Bowls), it was a surprise to see him make the move to Arkansas. Moving to Fayetteville will help Bielema pay his assistants a little more, but making the jump from the Badgers to the Razorbacks really isn’t a huge leap in terms of moving up the coaching ladder. 
 

Rich Brooks, Kentucky from unemployment (2003)
Brooks was instrumental in jumpstarting Oregon as a top-25 program. He led the Ducks to 91 victories from 1977-94, which included a Rose Bowl appearance and a nine-win season in 1994. After his tenure with the Ducks, Brooks jumped at an opportunity to go to the NFL but was fired after a 13-19 record in two years with the Rams. The California native served as a defensive coordinator for the Falcons for the next four years and was selected as Kentucky’s head coach in 2003. Brooks was not a popular hire at Kentucky, especially considering he was out of football for two years before coming to Lexington. The California native only added fuel to the fans' disappointment, starting his tenure with a 9-25 mark through the first three years. However, credit athletic director Mitch Barnhart for sticking with Brooks after a bad start. Kentucky made four consecutive bowl appearances from 2006-09 and finished in a tie for third place in the SEC in '06. 
 

Bill Callahan, Nebraska from the Oakland Raiders (2004)
Callahan is regarded as an excellent assistant but probably isn’t built to be a head coach. Even though he led the Raiders to the Super Bowl in the 2002 season, Oakland slumped to an awful 4-12 mark the next year, which resulted in Callahan’s firing. After the terrible 2003 season with the Raiders, Callahan somehow managed to land at Nebraska. Yes, there’s something appealing about a coach with NFL experience, but Callahan rode the coattails of former Raider head coach Jon Gruden to get Oakland to a Super Bowl and lost the team the next year. Callahan led Nebraska to a 27-22 mark during his four seasons, which included a Big 12 North division title in 2006. However, the Cornhuskers were just 15-17 overall in Big 12 play under Callahan’s watch and recorded two seasons with just five victories.
 

Bob Davie, New Mexico from ESPN (2012)
For a program that was trying to recover from the disastrous Mike Locksley era, Davie seemed to be a good fit in Albuquerque. The veteran coach brought some much-needed stability and helped the Lobos improve their win total by three games from 2011 to 2012. Although Davie wasn’t a bad hire, it came as a surprise when you consider his last coaching experience came in 2001. Working as an ESPN analyst certainly helped Davie keep in touch with the latest trends in college football, but it’s never easy returning to the sidelines after a 10-year absence.
 

Gerry DiNardo, Indiana from the XFL (2002)
DiNardo had some success in his career, recording a 19-25 mark in four seasons at Vanderbilt and started his tenure at LSU with three winning campaigns. However, the Tigers trailed off during DiNardo’s last two years, and he was fired with one game remaining in 1999. After spending one year out of football, the New York native resurfaced in the XFL with Birmingham and then turned up at Indiana after the XFL folded. Although DiNardo won 51 games during his previous two college stops, it was a strange to see Indiana make this hire, especially after the way his tenure at LSU ended.
 

Randy Edsall, Maryland from Connecticut (2011)
Dream job. That’s how Edsall summed up his decision to leave Connecticut for Maryland. While it’s a stretch to say Edsall moved up far on the coaching ladder, this move caught everyone by surprise. The Pennsylvania native was coming off of a Fiesta Bowl appearance in 2010 and led the Huskies to four consecutive postseason appearances. In two years with the Terrapins, Edsall is just 6-18 but seems to have the program back on track after a miserable debut in 2011.  

Jim Mora, UCLA from Fox (2011)
The Bruins had an extensive coaching search to find Rick Neuheisel’s replacement at the end of the 2011 regular season. Some big candidates (Chris Petersen) weren’t interested in leaving their current school, and when the pool of candidates began to get thin, UCLA decided to go with Mora as its next head coach. Considering he had no collegiate coaching experience since 1984 and was just 31-33 in four seasons as a NFL head coach, Mora’s hire came as a big surprise. However, Mora has been a good fit so far, assembling an excellent coaching staff and leading the Bruins to the Pac-12 South Division title in 2012.
 

Paul Pasqualoni, Connecticut from the Dallas Cowboys (2010)
Even though Pasqualoni is a Connecticut native and recorded a 107-59-1 mark during his tenure at Syracuse, this hire made little sense at the time and has not worked out well for the Huskies. Pasqualoni was out of college football for six seasons, spending all of that time in the NFL. Considering the last three years of his Syracuse tenure resulted in a 16-20 record, coupled with his time away from the college game, Connecticut’s hire of Pasqualoni made little sense.  
 

Bill Snyder, Kansas State from retirement (2009)
After a failed three-year stint under Ron Price, Kansas State re-hired the most successful coach in its school history. While it’s no surprise that Snyder is having tremendous success in his second stint in Manhattan, it was a mild shock the retired coach decided to dust off his purple jacket and return to the Wildcats’ sideline. Snyder's first tenure at Kansas State ended with back-to-back losing seasons, so it was fair to wonder if the program had slipped. Snyder was always expected to be restless throughout his retirement, but a return to full-time coaching seemed like a distant possibility. 
 

Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati from Texas Tech (2012)
The marriage between Tuberville and Texas Tech always seemed a little odd from the start. However, no one could have expected Tuberville to jump from Texas Tech to Cincinnati, especially considering the uncertainty surrounding the Big East. If anything, Tuberville was expected to get in the mix for openings at Tennessee and Arkansas. The Arkansas native has left each of his three stops with a winning record and led Texas Tech to a 20-17 mark in three years. As a program, Cincinnati has upside. And the Bearcats are making a commitment to facility upgrades, which should help the program become more attractive for future conference realignment. Tuberville wasn’t expected to stick around at Texas Tech for 10 years, but he also wasn’t expected to land at Cincinnati or in the Big East.
 

Charlie Weis, Kansas from Florida offensive coordinator (2011)
Weis started off his career at Notre Dame with a solid 19-6 mark, which included back-to-back appearances in BCS bowls. Despite the early success, Weis was never able to elevate the program into national title contention and never won more than seven games in each of his final three years in South Bend. After getting fired from Notre Dame, he spent one year with the Chiefs and then one season with Florida as its offensive coordinator. Although Weis is a highly regarded assistant, he’s done little to suggest he can lead a program for the long haul. The Jayhawks went 1-11 in his first season in Lawrence, which continues to raise the question of why Weis got a second head coaching gig after his performance at Notre Dame. 
 

Ron Zook, Illinois from Florida (2004)
With an elite recruiting base and the success of Florida under Steve Spurrier, Zook’s 23-14 record was a major disappointment in Gainesville. The Gators never won more than eight games in a season under Zook’s watch and he was fired with two games remaining in 2004. Considering his less than stellar stint at one of the nation’s top programs, Illinois’ decision to hire Zook didn’t make a lot of sense. Zook did lead Illinois to a Rose Bowl appearance but had four losing seasons. The Ohio native was always regarded as an excellent recruiter but was never able to mesh the talent with results on the field. 

Just off the radar

Gene Chizik, Auburn from Iowa State (2009)
Chizik was not a popular hire at Auburn but led the Tigers to the 2010 national championship. However, his success was short lived, going 11-14 over the last two years. Chizik had some success in his career, but at the time, it was hard for Auburn to justify hiring a coach that went 5-19 in two years at Iowa State.

Stan Parrish, Ball State from offensive coordinator (2008)
With the success of Brady Hoke, it’s understandable the Cardinals wanted to stick with continuity and promote Parrish to head coach. However, his last tenure as a head coach was awful, recording a 2-30-1 mark in three seasons at Kansas State. Of course, winning in Manhattan isn’t easy, but Parrish was a poor fit for a program that was coming off of 19 wins from 2007-08.

Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky from unemployment (2012)
Considering what transpired at Arkansas, it’s no surprise Petrino was forced to land at a non-BCS school. However, there will still be some shock involved when Petrino leads the Hilltoppers out of the tunnel for their season opener next year.

Buddy Teevens, Stanford from Florida assistant coach (2002)
Why? That’s about the only word to sum up Teevens’ hire at Stanford. He went 11-45 in five years at Tulane and considering all of his coaching experience was East of Texas, Teevens was an odd fit on the West Coast. As expected, Teevens didn’t produce any results, going 10-23 in three years with Stanford. 

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Post date: Thursday, December 27, 2012 - 06:40
Path: /college-football/las-vegas-bowl-preview-and-prediction-boise-state-vs-washington
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With Boise State and Washington returning most of its starting core for 2013, the Las Vegas Bowl is a chance for both teams to establish momentum and use the postseason as a springboard for an improvement in the win column next year.

The Broncos have played in the Las Vegas Bowl in each of the last two seasons, beating Utah and Arizona State by a combined score of 82-27. By reaching 10 victories in 2012, Boise State has achieved seven consecutive seasons of double-digit victories. The Broncos had to replace a plethora of talent on both sides of the ball and its only two losses were by a combined six points.

Washington is making slow progress under coach Steve Sarkisian but most expected the Huskies to finish better than 7-5. Fixing the defense was a top priority for Sarkisian in the offseason, and the hire of coordinator Justin Wilcox has paid big dividends. The Huskies are making back-to-back trips to a bowl game for the first time since 2001-02. Washington played a tough schedule in 2012, losing to two top-10 teams in LSU and Oregon. However, the Huskies lost to Washington State in the season finale and was blown out 52-17 by Arizona in mid-October.

These two teams have met only one time (2007), with Washington beating Boise State 24-10 in Seattle.

Las Vegas Bowl – Boise State (10-2) vs. Washington (7-5)

Date/Time: Dec. 22 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN
Location: Las Vegas

When the Boise State Broncos have the ball:

The departure of six starters is a lot for any offense to overcome. But try replacing one of college football’s top quarterbacks of the BCS era, a 1,000-yard rusher and a stalwart left tackle. That’s the obstacle Boise State had to overcome this season, and the offense certainly had its share of ups and downs. The Broncos finished 54th nationally in scoring offense and 76th in total offense.

Quarterback Joe Southwick had big shoes to fill in replacing Kellen Moore, and he finished with 2,466 passing yards and 17 touchdowns. The junior completed 66.7 percent of his throws and did not toss a pick in the final three games of the season. Southwick’s favorite target is Matt Miller (60 catches), but five players have at least 20 receptions in 2012.

Helping Southwick along this year has been the steady performance of running back D.J. Harper. The senior has battled knee injuries in his career but stayed healthy for all 12 games and finished with 1,065 yards and 15 scores. When Harper needs a rest, promising redshirt freshman Jay Ajayi is averaging 6.9 yards per carry and has four touchdowns this year.

Thanks to the arrival of Justin Wilcox, Washington has emerged as one of the nation’s most-improved defenses. Wilcox came to Seattle after spending two years as Tennessee’s defensive coordinator. The Huskies allowed 35.9 points a game last season but cut that total to just 23.8 in 2012. Washington also ranks 30th nationally in yards allowed and finished the regular season second in the Pac-12 in pass defense.

While the secondary ranks near the top of the Pac-12, the rush defense has been a bigger issue. The Huskies are allowing 164.3 yards per game on the ground, which should work into Boise State’s favor. Expect Harper and Ajayi to see plenty of carries, as the Broncos use the run to setup the pass.

When the Washington Huskies have the ball:

Although the Huskies took a step forward on defense this year, the offense regressed after averaging 409.9 yards and 33.4 points a game last season. Despite the return of quarterback Keith Price, the Huskies were unable to match last season’s totals, largely due to the offensive line. Injuries and inexperience hindered this unit in 2012, as Washington allowed 2.8 sacks per game. Protecting Price was an issue for most of the year, which was a big reason why the junior quarterback watched his passing yards drop from 3,063 (2011) to 2,486.

When Price has time to throw, he has two of the Pac-12’s rising stars to target. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is one of the nation’s best, catching 63 passes for 791 yards and six scores. Kasen Williams had a breakout year as he emerged as the No. 1 wide receiver and led the team with 71 receptions. Outside of Seferian-Jenkins and Williams, Washington needs more from its receiving corps. Jaydon Mickens is a promising freshman but ranked second among wide receivers with 18 receptions.

The battle between Washington’s passing game and Boise State’s secondary could be the defining matchup on Saturday. The Broncos are generating 2.8 sacks a game and rank fourth nationally against the pass. Senior cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins were both All-Mountain West selections, and safety Jeremy Ioane ranked second on the team with 65 stops. Even if Price has time to throw, the secondary won’t allow for the Huskies to have many chances for big plays.

While the passing attack has struggled, the running game has thrived under first-year starter Bishop Sankey. The sophomore quietly rushed for 1,234 yards and 15 scores and caught 27 passes for 175 yards. Sankey figures to test a Boise State defense that ranks 39th nationally against the run and lost tackle Mike Atkinson for the season with a torn ACL in early November.

Boise State’s defense had to replace 10 starters from last year’s team, so it’s a credit to the work of coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski to keep this unit among the best in the nation. Despite the heavy losses from last season’s defense, the Broncos ranked ninth in total defense and allowed just 14.9 points a game.

Final Analysis:

Both teams could start next year in the top 25, so this is a key opportunity to seize momentum. Interestingly enough, Boise State and Washington will meet in the season opener in 2013, so this is a chance to get some early scouting done for next year. Although both teams are capable of putting points on the scoreboard, expect a low-scoring defensive game. Washington’s defense is one of the nation’s most-improved units, but Boise State should be to find some running room with senior back D.J. Harper. This game should go deep into the fourth quarter, but a slight edge goes to the Broncos over the Huskies.  

Prediction: Boise State 24, Washington 20


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Post date: Friday, December 21, 2012 - 05:49
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The New Orleans Bowl features a matchup of two teams riding a wave of momentum to close out the regular season. East Carolina won five out of its last six games, with the only loss coming to Navy. The Pirates didn’t beat a team with a winning record during that span but recorded two victories by 20 or more points. The Ragin’ Cajuns won four out of their last five games and nearly upset Florida on Nov. 10.

Louisiana-Lafayette is making its second consecutive postseason trip to the New Orleans Bowl. The Ragin’ Cajuns won a 32-30 thriller against San Diego State last season and are a slight favorite to win on Saturday. The Pirates are back in a bowl after a one-year absence and will be looking to end a three-game losing streak in postseason appearances.

These two teams have met 10 times, with Louisiana-Lafayette owning a 6-4 series edge. The Pirates and Ragin’ Cajuns last met in 1990, with East Carolina claiming a 20-10 victory.

New Orleans Bowl

Date and Time: Dec. 22 at 12 p.m. ET
Network: ESPN
Location: New Orleans

When the Ragin’ Cajuns have the ball:

Despite losing quarterback Blaine Gautier to a hand injury early in the year, Louisiana-Lafayette’s offense really hasn’t missed a beat. Houston transfer Terrance Broadway stepped into the starting lineup and finished with 3,192 total yards and 24 scores. The sophomore completed 65.4 percent of his throws and averaged 6.4 yards per rush.

Broadway should have plenty of opportunities to attack an East Carolina defense that allowed 30.7 points a game and ranked 105th nationally against the pass. The Ragin’ Cajuns have a solid group of receivers, which is led by Harry Peoples with 61 receptions, Javone Lawson and all-purpose threat Darryl Surgent.

Louisiana-Lafayette didn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher during the regular season, but Alonzo Harris rushed for 761 yards and eight touchdowns. The sophomore finished with two 100-yard efforts to close out the season and will be spelled by Torrey Pierce and Effrem Reed.

East Carolina was better against the run than it was against the pass but still allowed 145.7 rushing yards per game. If there was one bit of good news for the defense, it’s the fact the Pirates were solid in the forced turnover department (20) and averaged 2.1 sacks per game.

Getting pressure on Broadway will be crucial for East Carolina, especially with a secondary that ranked near the bottom of Conference USA in yards allowed. If the Pirates can get pressure on Broadway, they will have a chance to slow down Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns won’t generate a ton of huge gains on the ground, but Broadway’s ability to make plays when things break down in the pocket is a huge bonus for the Louisiana-Lafayette offense.

When the Pirates have the ball:

Sophomore Shane Carden took over the Pirates’ quarterback duties after the second game of the season and got more comfortable as the year progressed. Carden finished the year with 2,838 yards and 21 passing scores and added eight touchdowns on the ground. The sophomore also completed 66.8 percent of his passes.

Carden’s favorite target has been Justin Hardy, but East Carolina has seven players with at least 20 receptions this year. Hardy caught 83 passes for 1,046 yards and 10 scores in 2012, which included 16 receptions in the 65-59 shootout win over Marshall on Nov. 23. Carden to Hardy should be a popular connection on Saturday, especially considering Louisiana-Lafayette is allowing 283.9 passing yards per game.

Protecting Carden is going to be a crucial element for the Pirates on Saturday afternoon. The Ragin’ Cajuns are averaging 2.2 sacks a game, while East Carolina’s front five is allowing 2.3 a contest. Carden is far from a statue in the pocket, but Louisiana-Lafayette’s defense can be active around the line of scrimmage, which helps it in the turnover department.

Although East Carolina leans on the pass, don't overlook running back Vintavious Cooper. The junior college transfer amassed 1,030 yards and seven touchdowns this year, while also catching 24 passes for 226 yards and one score. Cooper doesn’t have to have a huge game, but the Pirates need to establish some balance to keep Louisiana-Lafayette guessing.

Final Analysis

With a short trip from Lafayette to New Orleans, expect the Ragin’ Cajuns to have a home crowd advantage. Louisiana-Lafayette fans packed the Superdome for last season’s game and should be out in full force once again on Saturday. Both teams will have plenty of success moving the ball on offense, so it’s up to whichever defense can make a key stop in the fourth quarter. This one is a tossup, but with a home field advantage, a slight edge goes to Louisiana-Lafayette.

Prediction: Louisiana-Lafayette 34, East Carolina 31


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Post date: Friday, December 21, 2012 - 05:45

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