Articles By Steven Lassan
Texas enters a critical offseason as the first BCS team to open spring practice in 2013. After recording nine consecutive double-digit win seasons, the Longhorns have failed to reach that mark in each of the last three years. Texas hit rock bottom by going 5-7 in 2010 but has rebounded by going 8-5 in 2011 and 9-4 in 2012. Although Mack Brown’s team is making progress, the Longhorns are still a ways off from contending for a national championship. And at Texas – a place with all of the resources necessary to compete for a title every year – going 22-16 in the last three years is unacceptable.
Texas Longhorns 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 9-4 (5-4)
Spring practice dates: Feb. 21-March 30
Returning Starters: Offense – 9 Defense – 9
Passing: David Ash, 214 of 318, 2,699 yds., 19 TDs, 8 INTs
Rushing: Johnathan Gray, 149 car., 701 yds., 3 TDs
Receiving: Jaxon Shipley, 59 rec., 737 yds., 6 TDs
Tackles: Steve Edmond, 103
Sacks: Jackson Jeffcoat, 4
Interceptions: Quandre Diggs, 4
Redshirts to Watch: OL Curtis Riser, DB Bryson Echols, DT Alex Norman, QB Connor Brewer, OL Camrhon Hughes, DT Paul Boyette, DL Hassan Ridgeway, QB Jalen Overstreet, LB Tim Cole
Early Enrollees to Watch: LB Deoundrei Davis, OL/DE Jake Raulerson, TE Geoff Swaim, QB Tyrone Swoopes
JUCO Transfers to watch: TE Geoff Swaim, OL Desmond Harrison
Aug. 31 New Mexico State
Sept. 7 at BYU
Sept. 14 Ole Miss
Sept. 21 Kansas State
Oct. 5 at Iowa State
Oct. 12 Oklahoma (Dallas)
Oct. 26 at TCU
Nov. 2 Kansas
Nov. 9 at West Virginia
Nov. 16 Oklahoma State
Nov. 28 Texas Tech
Dec. 7 at Baylor
Offensive Strength: Skill players. The Longhorns have amassed an array of skill players, including one of the nation’s deepest backfields in Johnathan Gray, Malclom Brown and Joe Bergeron. The receiving corps is in good shape with the return of Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley, while Daje Johnson, Cayleb Jones and Kendall Sanders are promising options.
Offensive Weakness: The biggest weakness for Texas undoubtedly rests under center. Although David Ash has shown some flashes of promise, he struggled against Oklahoma and Kansas and nearly lost his starting job to Case McCoy. Ash holds the keys to Texas’ season. If he’s continues to improve, Texas can win the Big 12 title in 2013.
Defensive Strength: It’s hard to find a ton of superlatives for a defense that allowed 29.2 points a game last year. However, Texas returns standouts in defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and cornerback Quandre Diggs, while linebacker Jordan Hicks is back after missing most of last season with an injury. The secondary ranked 36th against the pass last season and should be a strength with Diggs, Adrian Phillips and Carrington Byndom returning.
Defensive Weakness: If Texas wants to win the Big 12 title, it has to find a way to stop the run. The Longhorns ranked 88th against the run last year and was steamrolled for 29 rushing scores. An injury to linebacker Jordan Hicks hindered the front seven last year, but questions remain about the front seven even with his return.
Spring Storylines Facing the Longhorns
1. With Bryan Harsin leaving to become the head coach at Arkansas State, Major Applewhite has been handed the reins to coordinate the offense in 2013. The former Longhorn quarterback had a so-so debut in the Alamo Bowl, as Texas scored only 10 points in the first half and never managed to get its rushing game on track against Oregon State. However, the Longhorns came alive in the fourth quarter, scoring two touchdowns to pickup a 31-27 Alamo Bowl victory. Applewhite will make a few changes from Harsin’s offense, as Texas wants to increase the pace on offense. Increasing the tempo and spreading the ball around through the air is an opportunity for Texas to spark an offense that ranked seventh in the Big 12 in scoring last year. How much of the new offense can Applewhite implement this spring? That’s the big question, just behind this one…
2. Is David Ash the answer at quarterback? Through his first two seasons on campus, Ash has shown flashes of promise but needs to be more consistent. Thanks to his performance in the fourth quarter of the Alamo Bowl, the junior finished 2012 on a high note. With some building confidence, the Texas coaching staff now wants to see Ash take the next step in his development. If Ash struggles early, redshirt freshmen Connor Brewer and Jalen Overstreet, along with senior Case McCoy will have an opportunity to replace him. Ash is a good fit for Applewhite’s desire to speed up the tempo, but can he elevate Texas offense into a position where it can contend for the Big 12 title?
3. In addition to seeking more consistency and production from Ash, the Longhorns need a big spring from receivers Daje Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Cayleb Jones, along with the offensive line. While Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley are entrenched as the top two receivers, the Longhorns lack proven options as the No. 3 and No. 4 spots. Johnson, Sanders and Jones have the talent and will be counted upon to fill the void left by Marquise Goodwin. The front five showed improvement last season and should have more depth in 2013. Is that enough to help the Longhorns contend for the Big 12 title?
4. There’s no doubt Texas was one of the most disappointing defenses in the nation last season. The good news for coordinator Manny Diaz is nine starters are back, including end Jackson Jeffcoat who missed seven games due to an injury. Jeffcoat’s return is crucial for this defense, especially since Alex Okafor has exhausted his eligibility. The Longhorns also unexpectedly lost defensive tackle Brandon Moore to the NFL Draft, which should provide an opportunity for sophomore Malcom Brown to have a huge season, along with a chance for redshirt freshmen Paul Boyette, Alex Norman and Hassan Ridgeway to work their way into the mix. Fixing the rush defense starts with interior play, so the spotlight is on Desmond Jackson, Brown and Ashton Dorsey this spring.
5. Not far behind the concerns on the defensive line are question marks at linebacker and in the secondary. Getting Jordan Hicks back in the lineup will immediately improve Texas’ linebacking trio, but the rest of the unit has to play better. Steve Edmond and Kendall Thompson could be pushed for snaps from Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens. The linebacking corps has question marks, but considering the talent in place, this unit could end up among the best in the Big 12 by the end of the year. The secondary is in a similar position, as Quandre Diggs could be moved to safety, which would ease the loss of first-team All-Big 12 selection Kenny Vaccaro. If Diggs is moved to safety, sophomore Duke Thomas is the likely his replacement at cornerback and will be someone the coaching staff has to monitor closely in spring practice. Finding the right mix of talent and players in both units will be crucial for Texas this spring.
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The start of spring practice for all 125 FBS college football teams is officially right around the corner. Army kicked off its spring practice on Feb. 12, while Tulane begins one day later on Feb. 13. Texas is the first BCS team to open spring practice, starting on Feb. 21 and Pac-12 rivals California and Stanford both start on Feb. 25.
With spring practice in the air, it’s time to turn the page from signing day to the action on the field. Quarterback battles will be heating up over the next few weeks, and several new faces could emerge as a star in 2013. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel wasn’t guaranteed to start after the conclusion of spring practice last year, yet won the Heisman Trophy and led the Aggies to an 11-2 record. Oregon's Marcus Mariota was locked into a tight battle with Bryan Bennett for the No. 1 spot last spring and was named as the Pac-12's Freshman of the Year for 2012. Considering Manziel and Mariota were both question marks after spring practice and ranked among the best quarterbacks in the nation, there will be other names that go from unknown to all-conference recognition in 2013.
Although these five players might not be household names in February, it could be a different story by the end of the 2013 season.
5 College Football Quarterbacks on the Rise for 2013
Blake Bell, Oklahoma
While it’s unfair to compare Bell to Tim Tebow, he is following a similar career path to the former Heisman Trophy winner. Tebow was used mostly as a running threat during his first year, which is the same role Bell has fulfilled for Oklahoma in the last two years. After spending the last two seasons as a change of pace player, Bell will make the transition to starting quarterback this spring. The junior has recorded 372 rushing yards and 24 scores on 104 career carries but has only thrown 20 passes. Bell isn’t guaranteed the starting job, as Kendal Thompson and Trevor Knight will get a chance to push him for the No. 1 spot in the spring. If Bell shows he can move the offense through the air, his dual-threat ability would provide a different dimension for Oklahoma’s offense, which ranked fifth in the Big 12 last season with an average of 38.2 points a game.
Michael Brewer, Texas Tech
With Kliff Kingsbury returning to Lubbock, the Red Raiders will be one of college football’s most intriguing teams in 2013. The former Texas Tech quarterback coordinated one of the nation’s top offenses in 2012 at Texas A&M and helped to engineer a similar attack at Houston with record-setting quarterback Case Keenum. With Seth Doege expiring his eligibility, Brewer is expected to become Texas Tech’s next prolific quarterback. As a backup to Doege in 2012, he threw for 375 yards and four touchdowns on 48 attempts. And the sophomore has been well-versed in spread offenses, playing under Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris when he was the head coach at Lake Travis (Texas) High School. Even though the Red Raiders lose Doege and receiver Darrin Moore, Brewer’s emergence and Kingsbury’s offense should keep Texas Tech in the hunt to match last season’s win total (eight).
Devin Gardner, Michigan
Gardner is a familiar name to most in the Big Ten, but he is poised to be a household name by the end of 2013. In three seasons in Ann Arbor, Gardner has thrown for 1,480 yards and 13 touchdowns, while also rushing for 175 yards and catching 17 passes for 268 yards. With Denard Robinson entrenched as the starter going into 2012, the Detroit native was slated to play receiver. However, Gardner shifted back to quarterback once Robinson suffered an elbow injury and started four out of the final five games under center. The junior had a strong showing in the last weeks of the season, throwing for 314 yards and recording six overall touchdowns in a 42-17 win over Iowa. Gardner completed 18 of 36 throws for 214 yards and three scores against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl and never threw more than one interception during his five-game stint at quarterback. Michigan will miss Robinson’s playmaking ability, but Gardner is plenty capable of leading the Wolverines to a Legends Division title. With left tackle Taylor Lewan returning to Ann Arbor, along with the arrival of touted true freshman running back Derrick Green, there figures to be plenty of help for Gardner in his first full season as the starter.
Kevin Hogan, Stanford
Considering he started the last five games of 2012, Hogan is far from an unknown commodity. However, Hogan’s performance in limited action was promising and the rising sophomore will be a key cog in Stanford’s run at another Pac-12 title in 2013. The Virginia native’s first start came against Oregon State, in which he threw for 254 yards and three touchdowns, while also adding 49 yards on the ground. Hogan wouldn’t top 254 passing yards the rest of the way, but he didn’t toss an interception over his final three games and averaged 4.8 yards per carry on 55 attempts. With tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo departing for the NFL, Stanford needs to find more playmakers for Hogan in the passing game. However, with one of the Pac-12’s top offensive lines returning, along with Tyler Gaffney and Barry Sanders at running back, Hogan should be surrounded by plenty of help. The Cardinal needs to throw the ball better to reach the national title, which should be easy for Hogan to do with a full spring practice to work as the starter.
Bryce Petty, Baylor
Despite a new quarterback taking over in Waco, the Bears should still have one of the best offenses in the Big 12. With the emergence of running back Lache Seastrunk and receiver Tevin Reese, as well as the play of All-American guard Cyril Richardson, Petty will have a chance to ease his way into the starting lineup. The 6-foot-3 junior has played sparingly through his first two years on campus but was regarded as a top-100 recruit in Texas coming out of high school. Petty played in six games and completed 7 of 10 throws for 97 yards and one touchdown in 2012. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that he had a chance to work under Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence over the past three seasons on campus. Petty isn’t guaranteed the job, especially with the arrival of true freshman Chris Johnson this spring. However, considering his experience in the system for the past three years, it will be difficult to keep him out of the starting lineup. And considering the success of the last two Baylor quarterbacks, look for Petty to have a big season – if he’s the starter – in 2013.
Others to Watch:
Terrance Broadway, Louisiana-Lafayette
Started the final nine games of 2012 and averaged 278.2 total yards per game.
Ford Childress, West Virginia
Childress will have to beat out Paul Millard, but the 6-foot-5 Texan could be Dana Holgorsen’s next standout quarterback.
Jake Heaps, Kansas
Threw for 3,768 yards in two years at BYU but was benched after a disappointing start to sophomore year.
Vad Lee, Georgia Tech
North Carolina native is a perfect fit for Paul Johnson’s option attack.
Philip Nelson, Minnesota
Threw for 873 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012 and will benefit by working as the No. 1 quarterback during spring practice.
Daniel Sams, Kansas State
Showcased big-play potential on the ground last year (235 yards) but an unproven commodity through the air (55 yards).
Jameis Winston, Florida State
If Winston wins the starting nod, he should be one of college football’s top breakout passers for 2013.
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With signing day in the books, spring practice is just around the corner for all 125 FBS teams. And it’s never too early to start thinking about the upcoming season and some of the key games on the schedule. Alabama is widely considered the preseason favorite for 2013 and will be helped by a favorable schedule. The Crimson Tide has to take on Texas A&M in College Station but hosts LSU and misses Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in crossover play.
The SEC West should be one of the most competitive divisions in college football next season, as all seven teams have a legitimate chance to get bowl eligible. Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M could each rank as a top-10 team this preseason, while Ole Miss is a program on the rise after reeling in a top recruiting class. Arkansas and Auburn have new coaches that should get the program pointed in the right direction, while Mississippi State has made solid progress under Dan Mullen.
With spring practice getting ready to start across the nation, Athlon takes a look at the schedules for each of the SEC West teams and examines some of the interesting storylines, scheduling tidbits and trends to watch.
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SEC West Football 2013 Schedule Analysis
Aug. 31 Virginia Tech (Atlanta)
Sept. 7 Bye Week
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. 2 Bye Week
Nov. 9 LSU
Nov. 16 at Mississippi State
Nov. 23 Chattanooga
Nov. 30 at Auburn
* For the third time in six seasons, the Crimson Tide will open the year for a neutral site game in Atlanta. And this will be the second time Alabama takes on Virginia Tech in this setting. In 2009, the Crimson Tide defeated the Hokies 34-24. Alabama also knocked off Clemson 34-10 in the Georgia Dome in 2008.
* Alabama’s bye weeks come before arguably its biggest games of 2013. The Crimson Tide has an off date on Sept. 7, one week before traveling to Texas A&M. And Alabama’s second bye is on Nov. 2, a week before playing LSU on Nov. 9.
* Despite being scheduled for Week 3, expect the Sept. 14 showdown between Texas A&M and Alabama to play a key role in deciding the SEC West title. The Crimson Tide’s only loss in 2012 came against the Aggies and this will be Alabama’s first trip to College Station since 1988.
* Former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain brings Colorado State to Tuscaloosa on Sept. 21. McElwain went 4-8 in his debut season in Fort Collins last year.
* In a bit of odd scheduling, Alabama plays four games in October and each team has a new coach for 2013: Georgia State (Trent Miles), Kentucky (Mark Stoops), Arkansas (Bret Bielema) and Tennessee (Butch Jones).
* Can Alabama break a recent streak in the series versus LSU on Nov. 9? The road team has won the last two regular season meetings in this annual SEC West matchup.
* Alabama faces one of the easiest crossover schedules in the West Division. The Crimson Tide misses on playing Georgia, South Carolina and Florida during the regular season and will play at Kentucky and host Tennessee – arguably the bottom two teams in the SEC East.
* Can the Crimson Tide continue their dominance against rival Auburn? In their last two meetings, Alabama has outscored the Tigers 91-14.
Aug. 31 Louisiana-Lafayette
Sept. 7 Samford
Sept. 14 Southern Miss
Sept. 21 at Rutgers
Sept. 28 Texas A&M
Oct. 5 at Florida
Oct. 12 South Carolina
Oct. 19 at Alabama
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Nov. 2 Auburn
Nov. 9 at Ole Miss
Nov. 16 Bye Week
Nov. 23 Mississippi State
Nov. 30 at LSU
* Bret Bielema’s tenure in Fayetteville opens against a dangerous Louisiana-Lafayette team. The Ragin’ Cajuns are 18-8 over the last two years and return quarterback Terrance Broadway (3,616 total yards in 2012), along with running back Alonzo Harris.
* Arkansas will make its first trip to Rutgers in 2013. The Scarlet Knights defeated the Razorbacks 35-26 in Fayetteville last season.
* Arkansas and Texas A&M have played in each of the last four seasons but this will be their first meeting in Fayetteville since 1990. The Razorbacks own a 3-1 edge in the last four matchups against the Aggies.
* The Razorbacks face one of the toughest road schedules in the SEC, making trips to Florida, Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU. The Crimson Tide is heavily favored to win the SEC title in 2013, while the Gators and Tigers could each begin the year in the preseason top 10.
* Speaking of tough schedules…Arkansas might have one of the toughest four-game road stretches in college football next season. The Razorbacks play Texas A&M on Sept. 28, make a road trip to Gainesville on Oct. 5, then return home to play South Carolina, before finishing at Alabama on Oct. 19. Needless to say, Arkansas’ bye week on Oct. 26 will be a deserved break for the coaches and players.
* The SEC West should be college football’s toughest division in 2013 and if Arkansas wants to escape the cellar, it needs to take advantage of a schedule that features home swing games against Auburn and Mississippi State.
Aug. 31 Washington State
Sept. 7 Arkansas State
Sept. 14 Mississippi State
Sept. 21 at LSU
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 Ole Miss
Oct. 12 Western Carolina
Oct. 19 at Texas A&M
Oct. 26 FAU
Nov. 2 at Arkansas
Nov. 9 at Tennessee
Nov. 16 Georgia
Nov. 23 Bye Week
Nov. 30 Alabama
* Frequent flyer miles? Washington State will be traveling just over 2,500 miles to play Auburn in the season opener. This isn’t the first time these two teams have met, as the Tigers defeated the Cougars 40-14 in 2006.
* Let’s go ahead and officially title the Sept. 7 matchup between Arkansas State and Auburn the Gus Malzahn Bowl. Malzahn led the Red Wolves to a 9-3 regular season mark and a Sun Belt title last season and left for Auburn before Arkansas State’s bowl game against Kent State.
* For a team that is hoping to erase a horrible 2012 season, starting with three home games and a bye week in September isn’t a bad way to open. Of course, Auburn has a date at LSU on Sept. 21, which should be a good measuring stick to see how far the program has improved since the end of last year.
* Bowl game? If Auburn wants to get back to a bowl, winning home games against Mississippi State and Ole Miss are a must. The Tigers should be able to sweep its non-conference schedule, which means two victories in SEC play will be required to get to six wins.
* It’s not out of the question the defining moment of Auburn’s season could rest from Oct. 19-Nov. 16. The Tigers have three SEC road games during that stretch and host likely SEC East favorite Georgia. Auburn has lost six out of its last seven matchups to the Bulldogs, including a 45-7 defeat in 2011 and a 38-0 whipping last year.
* Auburn’s Oct. 19 trip to Texas A&M will be the first meeting between these schools in College Station. The Tigers are 0-3 against the Aggies but these two teams have played only once since 1987.
* With Gus Malzahn taking over at Auburn, can the Tigers find a way to narrow the gap against Alabama? In their last two meetings, Auburn was defeated by a combined score of 91-14 and has lost four out of its last five meetings against the Crimson Tide.
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Aug. 31 TCU (Arlington)
Sept. 7 UAB
Sept. 14 Kent State
Sept. 21 Auburn
Sept. 28 at Georgia
Oct. 5 at Mississippi State
Oct. 12 Florida
Oct. 19 at Ole Miss
Oct. 26 Furman
Nov. 2 Bye Week
Nov. 9 at Alabama
Nov. 16 Bye Week
Nov. 23 Texas A&M
Nov. 30 Arkansas
* LSU opens 2013 with one of college football’s marquee non-conference games. The Tigers will meet TCU – likely one of the top three teams in the Big 12 next season – for a matchup in Cowboys Stadium. These two teams have met eight times, with LSU owning a 5-2-1 series edge. However, the last matchup between TCU and LSU occurred in 1968.
* After the huge test against TCU in Arlington, LSU returns to Baton Rouge for home games against UAB, Kent State and Auburn. The three-game homestand will be the longest of the year for LSU, as the Tigers don’t have back-to-back home contests the rest of the year.
* The Sept. 28 matchup against Georgia will be a good barometer test for both teams. LSU lost a handful of key players to the NFL, while Georgia returns only three starters on defense. Both teams have SEC title aspirations and while an early loss won’t derail those hopes, it would put whichever squad loses in an early hole. Interestingly enough, three out of the last six meetings between the Bulldogs and Tigers have occurred in the SEC title game.
* Upset? LSU travels to Oxford on Oct. 19 to face a fast-improving Ole Miss team. The Rebels nearly defeated the Tigers in Baton Rouge last year but have lost the last three meetings in this series. LSU has dominated this series since 2002, and this game is a chance for the Rebels to make a statement in the middle of SEC play.
* LSU drew one of the toughest crossover schedules in the SEC for 2013. The Tigers have to play at Georgia on Sept. 28 and host Florida on Oct. 12. And there’s also a brutal stretch in November, which features Alabama (followed with a bye week), then Texas A&M and Arkansas.
* The Nov. 23 meeting for LSU and Texas A&M will be the first meeting in Baton Rouge between these two teams since 1994.
* Can the Tigers keep the road magic going in the Alabama-LSU series? Excluding the BCS title game matchup in 2012, the last two games have been won by the road team.
* The Nov. 30 date for the regular season finale between LSU and Arkansas is the latest meeting between these two teams since the Razorbacks joined the SEC in 1991.
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Aug. 31 Oklahoma State (Houston)
Sept. 7 Alcorn State
Sept. 14 at Auburn
Sept. 21 Troy
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 LSU
Oct. 12 Bowling Green
Oct. 19 Bye Week
Oct. 26 Kentucky
Nov. 2 at South Carolina
Nov. 9 at Texas A&M
Nov. 16 Alabama
Nov. 23 at Arkansas (Little Rock)
Nov. 30 Ole Miss
* The Bulldogs open 2013 with a tough neutral site game in Houston against Oklahoma State. Mississippi State hasn’t had a matchup against a Big 12 team (West Virginia was a Big East member when these two teams played in 2006-07) in a regular season game since 1999. The Cowboys are considered one of the favorites to win the Big 12 title in 2013, so this will easily be the Bulldogs’ toughest opener under Dan Mullen.
* One of the first observations when examining Mississippi State’s schedule is the split between the first and second half of the season. The Bulldogs will play three bowl teams in their first seven games but face four in their last five matchups.
* In keeping with the difficult close to the season theme, the Bulldogs will play three out of their final five games on the road.
* Could one of the biggest games of the season be against Auburn on Sept. 14? Considering the Bulldogs closed out 2012 by losing five out of their last six games, it’s important to start SEC play with a victory. The Tigers should be improved but finished winless in conference games last year.
* The Nov. 2 road date against South Carolina will be only the third meeting against the Gamecocks since 2007. Mississippi State has lost six consecutive games to South Carolina, including a 14-12 matchup in Starkville during the 2011 season.
* Trap game? Although Mississippi State will likely be favored to beat Arkansas on Nov. 23, it’s a crucial swing game that comes at a bad time. After the Bulldogs play at Texas A&M and host Alabama, they have to head to Little Rock to play the Razorbacks – which is one week before hosting rival Ole Miss.
* Expect plenty of intrigue around the Egg Bowl this season. After winning three consecutive games against Ole Miss from 2009-2011, Mississippi State was soundly defeated 41-24 in Oxford last year. A victory against the Rebels would give the Bulldogs some momentum, especially on the recruiting trail after Ole Miss brought in one of the nation’s top classes.
Aug. 31 at Vanderbilt
Sept. 7 SEMO
Sept. 14 at Texas
Sept. 21 Bye Week
Sept. 28 at Alabama
Oct. 5 at Auburn
Oct. 12 Texas A&M
Oct. 19 LSU
Oct. 26 Idaho
Nov. 2 Bye Week
Nov. 9 Arkansas
Nov. 16 Troy
Nov. 23 Missouri
Nov. 30 at Mississippi State
* The Ole Miss-Vanderbilt opener might not register as one of the top early-season games, but this matchup has plenty of intrigue. Both programs feature rising stars at head coach, while Vanderbilt and Ole Miss have been making a lot of noise on the recruiting trail recently. The Commodores narrowly edged the Rebels in Oxford last year and another close game should be expected in 2013.
* After a tough opener at Vanderbilt, the Rebels catch a breather against SEMO. The matchup against the FCS opponent comes at a good time for Ole Miss, especially with a road trip to Texas in Week 3, followed by a date at Alabama on Sept. 28.
* While the Rebels have four road games in their first five games, they won’t have to leave the state for the rest of the year until the postseason. The final road game for Ole Miss will be at rival Mississippi State on Nov. 30.
* Could Ole Miss push for a finish among the top three in the SEC West next year? It’s possible, especially with a schedule that features home games against LSU, Texas A&M and Arkansas. If the Rebels can upset the Tigers and Aggies, they will be in good shape to easily exceed last season’s three SEC victories.
* After dealing with a grueling start to the year, the second half of the schedule is very manageable. Ole Miss plays only one bowl team in its final five games and hosts two SEC teams that will likely struggle to have a winning record (Arkansas and Missouri).
Aug. 31 Rice
Sept. 7 Sam Houston State
Sept. 14 Alabama
Sept. 21 SMU
Sept. 28 at Arkansas
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 12 Ole Miss
Oct. 19 Auburn
Oct. 26 Vanderbilt
Nov. 2 UTEP
Nov. 9 Mississippi State
Nov. 16 Bye Week
Nov. 23 at LSU
Nov. 30 at Missouri
* The Aggies open 2013 with four consecutive home games, including a huge Sept. 14 showdown against Alabama. Considering both teams are expected to be among the top-five teams in the nation next season, the early clash will play a huge role in shaping the SEC West and national title picture
* Texas A&M’s trip to Fayetteville on Sept. 28 will be its first since 1990. The Aggies and Razorbacks have played in each of the last four seasons but three of those matchups were neutral site games. Texas A&M blasted Arkansas 58-10 last season, but the Razorbacks have won three out of the last four in this series.
* All four of Texas A&M’s non-conference games are against teams located in Texas. The Aggies host Rice and Sam Houston State in the first two weeks of the season, take on SMU on Sept. 21 and UTEP on Nov. 2. None of the four opponents should be an upset threat to Texas A&M.
* In a scheduling quirk, Texas A&M will play at Ole Miss for the second consecutive year.
* For a team that has national title aspirations, Texas A&M drew one of the most favorable crossover schedules in the SEC. The Aggies won’t play Georgia, South Carolina and Florida during the regular season and host Vanderbilt (likely to be picked No. 4 in the East).
* For the first time since 2008, Texas A&M will finish the season with back-to-back road games. The Aggies play at LSU on Nov. 23 and at Missouri on Nov. 30.
* Speaking of Texas A&M’s late-season matchup with LSU, the Aggies will be making their first trip to Baton Rouge since 1994. LSU has won the last two games in this series, including a 41-24 victory in the Cotton Bowl in 2011. However, Texas A&M won five consecutive games from 1991-95.
* Texas A&M closes out its regular season at Missouri, where it has not won since 1999. The Aggies are 1-3 in their last four matchups against the Tigers and have lost the last two meetings in Columbia.
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College Football's Top 15 Impact JUCOs for 2013
Most of the talk on college football’s national signing day centers around which true freshman can make the biggest impact for a program for that upcoming season. While true freshman often make big contributions, the impact junior college recruits can have on the BCS level shouldn't be overlooked. While recruiting a JUCO prospect is risky, they are solid stop-gap solutions and a short-term answer for a team that might be short on depth at a particular position.
Kansas State is usually one of the top programs for JUCO talent, so it’s no surprise the Wildcats signed six community college prospects. In-state rival Kansas topped Kansas State in JUCO signees this year, as Charlie Weis is bringing in a whopping 17 recruits. For a team that won just one game last year, loading up on JUCO prospects should bring hope the Jayhawks can make some progress in 2013. However, relying on junior college prospects also cuts down on the amount of freshmen a team can bring in, which is a concern for the long-term outlook of the program.
Identifying which junior college prospects will make the biggest impact is no easy task. Athlon has compiled a list of 15 impact junior college transfers, as well as a list of other players to watch in 2013.
15 Impact JUCO Transfers to Watch in College Football for 2013
Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Auburn
Gus Malzahn is one of the best offensive minds in college football, but he will have his hands full after Auburn finished 2012 ranked 115th nationally in total offense and 112th in scoring. The Tigers need to find an answer at quarterback but also need help at running back. Tre Mason rushed for 1,002 yards and eight scores last season, but depth is an issue with Onterio McCalebb expiring his eligibility and Mike Blakely deciding to transfer. Mason should be the lead back for Malzahn, but Artis-Payne should see plenty of carries. The Pennsylvania native rushed for 2,048 yards and 25 touchdowns at Allan Hancock (Calif.) College in 2012 and ranked as the No. 1 JUCO running back by Rivals. Expect to see plenty of Artis-Payne in 2013.
Leon Brown, OT, Alabama
With the departures of center Barrett Jones, guard Chance Warmack and tackle D.J. Fluker, Alabama’s offensive line must be rebuilt in 2013. The Crimson Tide have recruited well, so there’s no shortage of options for Nick Saban. Adding to the rebuilding project will be a new coach, as Jeff Stoutland left for the NFL. Brown spent the last two years at ASA College in New York and ranked as the No. 10 JUCO recruit by ESPN. At 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, he has the strength to move defensive linemen in the rush game, while possessing the athleticism to hold his own in pass protection. As with any JUCO recruit, Brown could use some development. However, he’s expected to help replace one of the three standout linemen Alabama lost after winning its third national title in four seasons.
Marquel Combs, DT, Kansas
After winning just three games over the last two years, Charlie Weis turned to the JUCO ranks for immediate help. The Jayhawks signed 17 junior college recruits this year, which Weis hopes will turn Kansas into a more competitive team in 2013. Combs ranked as the No. 3 prospect by ESPN and comes to Lawrence after two years at Pierce College in California. As a sophomore last season, he recorded 7.5 tackles for a loss, along with two sacks. Combs may not be a force in terms of statistics, but he should factor prominently into the rush defense, which could use a lot of help after allowing 192.6 yards per game last year.
Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
The Cornhuskers gave up only 105 points during their final six regular-season games but allowed 115 combined points in losses to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship and Georgia in the Capital One Bowl. In addition to finding the right solutions for a defense that struggled to get stops late in the year, Nebraska loses five key contributors from its defensive line. Gregory is one of six defensive linemen joining the Cornhuskers this season but is the only junior college prospect. He missed 2012 due to injury, yet ranked as the No. 2 JUCO prospect by ESPN. In his freshman season at Arizona Western College, Gregory recorded 82 tackles and nine sacks. After missing a year, Gregory will have to knock off some rust this spring. However, with the personnel losses and the struggles Nebraska had on defense late in the year, Gregory is being counted on to be a key member of the line in 2013.
Marcus Hardison, DT, Arizona State
Despite having the Pac-12 Defensive Player of Year (Will Sutton) anchoring the middle of the line, Arizona State allowed 182.9 rushing yards per game. If the Sun Devils want to push for the Pac-12 South title, addressing the run defense is one of the offseason’s top priorities. And landing Hardison from Dodge City (Kan.) Community College should be a huge help for Sutton and Arizona State’s defense. The 6-foot-5, 290-pound tackle ranked as the No. 5 JUCO prospect by ESPN and No. 14 by Rivals, while recording 50 tackles and four sacks last season. Hardison brings a good mix of speed and athleticism to Tempe, and coach Todd Graham and coordinator Paul Randolph are counting on him to contribute right away in 2013.
Lavon Hooks, DT, Ole Miss
Not only did Ole Miss land the nation’s No. 1 high school prospect (Robert Nkemdiche), but it also picked up the services of the top JUCO recruit (according to ESPN) in Hooks. The 6-foot-4, 290 pound defensive tackle recorded 9.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for a loss at Northeast Mississippi Community College last season. In addition to his time on the gridiron, Hooks showcased his athletic ability by playing basketball and leading the MACJC in rebounding as a freshman. Depth and talent in the trenches is always needed in the SEC, and it appears Hugh Freeze and his staff did an excellent job of rebuilding the Rebels’ defensive line for 2013. With defensive tackles Gilbert Pena and Uriah Grant departing, Hooks will be counted on to have a key role in the defense this year.
Deon Long, WR, Maryland
Long started his collegiate career at West Virginia but transferred to New Mexico before playing a down in Morgantown. The Washington D.C. native starred in his one and only season with the Lobos, catching 47 passes for 809 yards and four touchdowns. Long transferred to Iowa Western Community College after Mike Locksley was fired at New Mexico and led the NJCAA with 100 receptions, 1,625 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns in 2012. Long is reunited with Locksley in College Park and should team with emerging star Stefon Diggs to form a solid tandem for the Maryland quarterbacks.
Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn
Marshall is undoubtedly one of the most interesting JUCO prospects in the class of 2013. He was an excellent athlete in high school and played defensive back with Georgia in 2011, recording five tackles in 13 games. However, Marshall was dismissed from the team last February and landed at Garden City (Kan.) Community College in an attempt to resurrect his career. Instead of playing defensive back, he shifted back to his high school position of quarterback and threw for 3,142 yards and 18 touchdowns, while adding 1,095 yards and 19 scores on the ground last year. Marshall’s dual-threat ability is a good fit for Gus Malzahn’s offense, but he will have to compete against two quarterbacks that have experience at the SEC level in preseason practice (Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier).
Chris Martin, DE, Kansas
Martin is no stranger to BCS teams, as he signed with Cal coming out of high school and spent the 2010 season with Florida. Martin was regarded as one of the top-20 high school recruits by Rivals and ranked No. 13 on its list of top JUCO players for 2013. Martin spent 2012 at City College of San Francisco, recording 65 tackles and 4.5 sacks. The California native isn’t the only junior college recruit headed to Lawrence, as coach Charlie Weis signed 16 other JUCO players, including defensive tackle Marquel Combs. Martin should help add some punch to a pass attack that averaged just one sack a game, while helping to fill the void left behind by departing seniors Josh Williams and Toben Opurum.
Chris Mayes, DT, Georgia
For any 3-4 defense to work, it has to have a big, space-eating defensive tackle on the interior. With Georgia losing John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers (each over 350 pounds), the Bulldogs needed to land a potential starter on the recruiting trail. Mayes initially signed with Georgia in 2011 but did not qualify academically. He recorded 17 tackles and a forced fumble in 2011 at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College but redshirted in 2012. Mayes is still a work in progress but with his size, he figures to contribute to the Georgia defensive line rotation prominently in 2013.
Kyle Peko, DT, Oregon State
Led by defensive end Scott Crichton and tackles Castro Masaniai and Andrew Seumalo, the Beavers showcased one of the nation’s most-improved rush defenses in 2012. After allowing 196.8 yards per game in 2011, Oregon State held opponents to 129.5 yards per contest in 2012. Crichton is one of the Pac-12’s top defensive ends, but the Beavers must replace Masaniai and Seumalo, leaving a gaping hole on the interior of the line. Peko was ranked as the No. 22 JUCO prospect by ESPN and recorded 46 tackles and three sacks last season at Cerritos (Calif.) College. Considering the losses on the line, Peko is expected to contribute for a starting spot this fall.
Quincy Russell, DT, Oklahoma
Fixing the rush defense is a top priority for Bob and Mike Stoops this offseason, especially after the Sooners allowed 192.2 yards per game on the ground last year. Making matters worse for Oklahoma is the departure of tackles Casey Walker, Stacy McGee and Jamarkus McFarland, along with ends R.J. Washington and David King. Considering the personnel departures and the spread offenses in the Big 12, the Sooners may mix in more 3-4 personnel in 2013. Russell was a key pickup for Oklahoma on the recruiting trail, as he adds much-needed bulk to the interior. The Texas native was a first-team NJCAA All-American at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College and ranked as the No. 39 JUCO prospect by ESPN. Even if Russell doesn’t make a huge impact, he’s a valuable depth addition and should help Oklahoma improve its rush defense.
Corey Smith, WR, Ohio State
With a 12-0 record last season and most of its core returning for 2013, the Buckeyes are among the top contenders to play for the national title. While there are some concerns about the defensive line, the offense is hoping to jumpstart a passing attack that ranked 101st nationally last year. To help take some of the pressure off of quarterback Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes are bringing in running back Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott, along with receivers James Clark and Jalin Marshall. However, perhaps the most interesting addition came through the junior college ranks. Ohio State doesn’t recruit JUCO players often, which means Smith isn’t being brought in to sit on the bench. The Ohio native caught 51 passes for 733 yards and nine touchdowns at East Mississippi Community College last year, while posting 28 receptions for 438 yards as a freshman at Grand Rapids Community College in 2011. Smith doesn’t need to emerge as Miller’s go-to threat, but he should be a valuable pickup for a team that had only two wide receivers catch more than 15 passes last year.
Jake Waters, QB, Kansas State
Replacing Collin Klein is no easy task, but the Wildcats have two talented options waiting in the wings. Daniel Sams showcased potential in limited action last year, while Waters led Iowa Western Community College to a national title last season. The 6-foot-2 passer finished the year with 3,501 yards and 39 touchdown tosses, while throwing just three interceptions. Waters ranked as the No. 1 JUCO quarterback by Rivals, and he will have an opportunity to steal the starting job away from Sams in the spring.
Sam Wren, DE, Oklahoma State
With both of the Cowboys’ defensive ends departing seniors, Mike Gundy and coordinator Glenn Spencer dipped into the JUCO ranks to pick up Wren, who could be a potential starter in 2013. The Texas native ranked as a top-20 junior college recruit by ESPN and was a first-team All-Western States Football League selection in 2012. Wren also recorded 14.5 sacks last season at Arizona Western College and possesses good speed and explosiveness off of the edge. Although Wren could add some bulk and contribute in an every-down role, his best fit right away appears to be as a pass-rush specialist in 2013.
Others to Watch
Ben Bradley, DT, Auburn
Nick Brassell, ATH, Ole Miss
Chris Brown, DT, Kansas State
Bear Cummings, DT, Florida
Tyler Ferguson, QB, Penn State
Shaquille Fluker, DB, Georgia
d’Vante Henry, LB, West Virginia
Andre Lewis, WR, Utah
Vincent Mayle, WR, Washington State
Tanner McEvoy, QB, Wisconsin
Devon Nash, DE, Kansas State
Damond Powell, WR, Iowa
Jonathon Rumph, WR, Georgia
Beau Sandland, TE, Miami
Dreamius Smith, RB, West Virginia
Za’Darius Smith, DE, Kentucky
Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
Aaron Wimberly, RB, Iowa State
Related College Football Content
The first Wednesday in February for college football coaches is almost like Christmas morning. With national signing day in the books, each coach can officially talk about their recruiting class after months of hard work, which includes anywhere from 10-30 prospects. While no coach will admit they aren’t happy with their signing class, there are plenty of clear winners. Alabama brought in another loaded class, which includes standouts Robert Foster, Derrick Henry, Reuben Foster, Dee Liner and O.J. Howard. In addition to Alabama, Ohio State, Florida, Ole Miss and Notre Dame reeled in some of the nation’s top classes.
It’s never easy to predict which freshmen could make an early impact in 2013 but here’s an early look at 10 players that can make a big splash on the gridiron next season.
10 True Freshmen Likely to Make an Impact in 2013
Max Browne, QB, USC
Lane Kiffin’s 2013 signing class suffered some late hits, but Browne never waivered in his commitment to the Trojans and will be in the mix to win the starting job this season. Matt Barkley missed the last two games of the season due to a shoulder injury, which allowed redshirt freshman Max Wittek to get an early start on the starting quarterback competition. However, Wittek’s two-game trial was a mixed bag of results. He threw for 388 yards and three touchdowns but also tossed five picks and completed just 52.2 percent of his throws. Browne enrolled early and has an opportunity to surpass Wittek and sophomore Cody Kessler on the depth chart. The Washington native ranked as the No. 1 quarterback recruit by Athlon Sports in the 2013 signing class.
Greg Bryant, RB, Notre Dame
With Theo Riddick out of eligibility and Cierre Wood leaving for the NFL, the Fighting Irish are counting on Bryant to play right away. George Atkinson III rushed for 365 yards last season but is best suited to play in a change of pace role. Bryant ranked as the No. 46 overall prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and brings a good blend of power and elusiveness to South Bend. Atkinson and Amir Carlisle will start ahead of Bryant in spring practice, but Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin will find it difficult to keep Bryant on the sidelines.
Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Fuller’s commitment to Virginia Tech really came as no surprise since he had three older brothers play their collegiate career in Blacksburg. However, his commitment to the Hokies became even more important when Antone Exum suffered a torn ACL during the offseason and is questionable to play in the season opener. Fuller ranked as the No. 4 defensive back in the 2013 recruiting class by Athlon Sports and the No. 16 overall prospect. At 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, Fuller has the size and athleticism to match the top receivers in the ACC. With Exum’s status in doubt, Fuller could join his brother Kyle in the starting lineup.
Derrick Green, RB, Michigan
Although Michigan ranked fifth in the Big Ten in rushing last season, one of the top spring priorities for Brady Hoke and coordinator Al Borges was finding a go-to running back. Quarterback Denard Robinson led the team with 1,266 rushing yards last season, with the top rushing total from a running back being Fitzgerald Toussaint with 514 yards. Toussaint suffered a leg injury late in the year and won’t return to the team in time for spring practice. With Toussaint hobbled and no clear No. 1 option, Green will be awarded an opportunity to play right away. The Virginia native ranked as the No. 5 running back recruit by Athlon Sports and has the size and power to be an every down back. With Devin Gardner entrenched as the starting quarterback, if Green is as good as advertised, the Wolverines could be the favorites to win the Legends Division in 2013.
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Matt McGloin thrived in his only season under Bill O’Brien, throwing for 3,271 yards and 24 touchdowns to only five interceptions. With all of the turmoil surrounding the program in the offseason, the senior quarterback was a stabilizing force for an offense that lost running back Silas Redd to a transfer and had to break in four new starters on the line. With McGloin out of eligibility, O’Brien is searching for a new No. 1 passer. Sophomore Steven Bench has the most experience on the roster, completing two of eight passes for 12 yards. However, Bench will face plenty of competition in spring ball. Junior college recruit Tyler Ferguson has three seasons of eligibility remaining, while Hackenberg ranked as the No. 2 quarterback by Athlon Sports in the 2013 signing class. In his senior year at Fork Union Military Academy, Hackenberg threw for 2,144 yards and 24 scores. Hackenberg isn’t a lock to see any action in 2013, but if he gets on the field, he should thrive under O’Brien’s tutelage. The Nittany Lions have a tough road to navigate, especially with the loss in scholarships and no postseason appearances over the next few years. However, if Hackenberg is as good as advertised, Penn State may not take as big of a step back as most anticipated after the NCAA sanctions were announced last summer.
Robert Nkemdiche, DE, Ole Miss
By landing a top-10 recruiting class, the Rebels were the biggest surprise of signing day. And after a 7-6 season under first-year coach Hugh Freeze, the future of Ole Miss football is very bright. The Rebels’ recruiting class has plenty of names that can make an instant impact but none bigger than Nkemdiche. The Georgia native has the potential to be a game-changer for Ole Miss’ defense, similar to South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney. Nkemdiche ranked as the No. 1 recruit in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100 and will immediately bolster a defensive line that allowed 129.3 rushing yards and generated 2.9 sacks a game. Even if Nkemdiche doesn’t become an All-SEC player in 2013, he will be a valuable contributor in the rotation.
Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M
The Aggies' high-powered offense took the SEC by storm last year, averaging 44.4 points and 558.5 yards a game and producing a Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Johnny Manziel. Coordinator Kliff Kingsbury left to be the head coach at Texas Tech, but Texas A&M isn’t expected to miss much of a beat on offense next year. Coach Kevin Sumlin recruited Manziel plenty of help on the recruiting trail, including Seals-Jones and Sebastian Larue at receiver. Seals-Jones is a big target at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds but is still developing as a receiver after playing a variety of positions during his high school career. With the Aggies losing Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu, Seals-Jones' size and physical presence will be needed in the red zone and across the middle of the field.
Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona
After the Wildcats averaged 526.2 yards and 38.2 points a game last season, it’s safe to say Rich Rodriguez’s debut as Arizona’s head coach wasn’t a disappointment. Now the Wildcats head into 2013 with a question mark under center, as Matt Scott expired his eligibility after the New Mexico Bowl. Former USC quarterback Jesse Scroggins will compete with last season’s backup (B.J. Denker) and redshirt freshman Javelle Allen this spring, but the real battle will begin in the fall when Solomon arrives on campus. The Las Vegas native ranked as the No. 17 quarterback in the 2013 signing class by Athlon Sports and has the skill set to thrive in Rodriguez’s offense. Starting a freshman quarterback is nothing new for Rodriguez, as Pat White started after a redshirt season at West Virginia, while Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson saw playing time as true freshmen at Michigan.
Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida
Even though Florida finished last season 11-2 and made an appearance in the Sugar Bowl, Will Muschamp has a lot of work to do if the Gators want to remain in the hunt to win the SEC East in 2013. Improving the offense is the top priority, especially a passing attack that finished 114th nationally last season. While quarterback Jeff Driskel remains a work in progress, Florida must find a replacement for Mike Gillislee. The departing senior ran for 1,152 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and there’s no proven backup on the roster. Matt Jones rushed for 275 yards on 52 attempts last year and will likely open spring practice as the No. 1 back. Taylor is the son of former NFL standout Fred Taylor and ranked as the No. 3 running back in the 2013 signing class by Athlon. Even if Jones starts the opener, look for Taylor to see plenty of action next season.
Thomas Tyner, RB, Oregon
Even though Chip Kelly bolted for the NFL, the Ducks aren’t expected to miss a beat in 2013. New coach Mark Helfrich spent the last four seasons as Kelly’s offensive coordinator and isn’t expected to change Oregon’s up-tempo attack in 2013. Despite the return of De’Anthony Thomas and Byron Marshall, the Ducks need some help at running back. While Tyner may not handle 25 carries a game, he is expected to contribute significantly in the backfield rotation. The Oregon native has excellent speed and is another big-play threat for the Ducks to use in 2013.
15 More Recruits to Watch:
Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Vernon Hargreaves III, DB, Florida
Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
Frank Herron, DE, LSU
O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
Ty Isaac, RB, USC
Dorian Johnson, OL, Pittsburgh
Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
Jalin Marshall, WR, Ohio State
Marquez North, WR, Tennessee
Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State
Max Redfield, DB, Notre Dame
Robbie Rhodes, WR, Baylor
Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
Related Recruiting Content
The first Wednesday in February is essentially Christmas for every college football head coach. After months of hard work on the recruiting trail, coaches will hit the offices bright and early on Wednesday for National Signing Day to welcome a new class full of freshmen and maybe a few junior college transfers to chase a national championship. With a new crop of players joining the program on National Signing Day, each coach now has a good idea about how their roster looks for the upcoming season and beyond. While National Signing Day is an important moment in building a national title contender, it also signifies the official start of next year’s recruiting class.
With most college football teams signing over 20 prospects on Wednesday, there’s over 2,000 players coming to the FBS ranks next season. And it’s no surprise there are some rather entertaining names among the new group of college players. Athlon combed through the recruits for the 2013 signing class by using the databases at Rivals, Scout and ESPN and rounded up the best (and most interesting) names joining an FBS roster next season.
2013 College Football Recruiting All-Name Team
Lars Blix, Wahkiakum (Cathlamet, Washington)
Boeing Brown, Brookfield (Brookfield Connecticut)
Quade Coward, Cleburne (Cleburne, Texas)
Bucky Hodges, Salem (Virginia Beach, Virginia) – Virginia Tech
Brogan Roback, St. John’s (Toledo, Ohio) – Eastern Michigan
E.J. Speed, North Crowley (Fort Worth, Texas)
Quinterris Toppings, Blount (Eight Mile, Alabama)
Skyler Windmiller, Mill Valley (Shawnee, Kansas)
Shermand Badie, John Curtis (New Orleans, Louisiana) – Tulane
Kamari Cotton-Moya, Ridgeview (Bakersfield, California) – Iowa State
Miguel Hermosillo, Ottawa Township (Ottawa, Illinois) - Illinois
Jabo Lee, Dillon (Dillon, South Carolina) – East Carolina
Manusamoa Luuga, Polytechnic (Long Beach, California)
RJihaad Pretlow, Blair Academy (Blairstown, New Jersey) – Temple
L.A. Ramsby, Colerain (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Superiorr Reid, Mount San Jacinto C.C. (San Jacinto, California)
Dishan Romine, DuPont Manual (Louisville, Kentucky)
Diocemy Saint Juste, Santaluces (Lantana, Florida) - Hawaii
Dreamius Smith, Butler County C.C. (El Dorado, Kansas) – West Virginia
Altee Tenpenny, North Little Rock (North Little Rock, Arkansas) - Alabama
Quanties Armand, West Jefferson (Harvey, Louisiana)
Beau Artist, Logan (Logan, Utah)
Dazz Bush, Austin (Decatur, Alabama)
River Cracraft, Santa Margarita Catholic (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.) – Washington State
Andre Cumberbatch, Oak Harbor (Oak Harbor, Washington)
Christian Cumberlander, Jireh Prep (Matthews, North Carolina)
Corn Elder, Ensworth (Nashville, Tennessee)
Brisly Estime, Atlantic (Delray Beach, Florida)
Dameon Gamblin, Mesquite (Mesquite, Texas)
Pharoah McKever, South Columbus (Tabor City, North Carolina) – NC State
Jazz Peavy, Kenosha Tremper (Kenosha, Wisconsin) - Wisconsin
James Quick, Trinity (Louisville, Kentucky) – Louisville
Ladarious Spearman, West Brook Senior High (Beaumont, Texas)
Hunter Bull, Southhaven (Southhaven, Mississippi)
Jake Butt, Pickerington North (Pickerington, Ohio) – Michigan
Standish Dobard, Edna Karr (New Orleans, Louisiana) – Miami
Durham Smythe, Belton (Belton, Texas) – Notre Dame
Nicholas Bonaparte, Dunbar (Baltimore, Maryland) – Coastal Carolina)
Eric Bonenberger, Pottsgrove (Pottstown, Pennsylvania)
Dane Crane, Santa Margarita Catholic (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.) - Washington
Emerald Faletuipapai, Junipero Serra (Gardena, California) – Houston
Gardner Fish, Pelham (Pelham, Alabama)
Grant Hill, Huntsville (Huntsville, Alabama) – Alabama
Dallas Hinkhouse, Iowa Western C.C. (Council Bluffs, Iowa) - Illinois
Chongo Kondolo, Fresno City C.C. (Fresno, California) - Nebraska
Grant Lingafelter, Chagrin Falls (Chagrin Falls, Ohio) – West Virginia
Karl Malone, Cedar Creek (Ruston, Louisiana) – LSU
Chuddy Nwachukwu, Dighton Rehboth Regional (North Dighton, Massachusetts)
Sunny Odogwu, Hargrave Military Academy (Chatham, Virginia) - Miami
JonRyheem Peoples, Rigby (Rigby, Idaho) – BYU
Bailey Pepper, Madison (Madison Central)
Buster Posey, Gadsden City (Gadsden, Alabama)
Kenneth Santa Marina, McDonogh 35 (New Orleans, Louisiana) – Tulane
Dan Skipper, Ralston Valley (Arvada, Colorado) - Arkansas
Stone Underwood, Copiah-Lincoln C.C. (Wesson, Mississippi) – West Virginia
Wolfgang Zacheri, Broughton (Raleigh, North Carolina) – UNC Charlotte
Taco Charlton, Central (Pickerington, Ohio) – Michigan
Rashaad Coward, Sheepshead Bay (Brooklyn, New York) – Old Dominion
Bear Cummings, East Mississippi C.C. (Scooba, Mississippi) – Florida
Carmine Goldsack, Bergen Catholic (Oradell, New Jersey)
Dee Liner, Muscle Shoals (Muscle Shoals, Alabama)
Finesse Middleton, Gadsden City (Gadsden, Alabama) - Louisville
Naim Mustafaa, Alpharetta (Alpharetta, Georgia) – Oklahoma State
Roc-m Nesbitt, Carver (Atlanta, Georgia)
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Alief Taylor (Houston, Texas) - Oklahoma
Kingsley Opara, Mandarin (Jacksonville, Florida) - Maryland
Jock Petree, West Orange (Winter Garden, Florida)
Stone Sander, Placer (Auburn, California)
Buddy Shutlock, Dallas SHS (Dallas, PA)
Junius Smalls, West Jefferson (Harvey, Louisiana)
Wyatt Teller, Liberty (Bealeton, Virginia) – Virginia Tech
Wa’Keem Whipper, Atlantic (Port Orange, Florida)
Buddy Brown, Williamstown (Williamstown, New Jersey) – Temple
Dance Estes, Bay (Panama City, Florida)
Holland Fisher, Manchester (Midlothian, Virginia) – Virginia Tech
Pierre Gee-Tucker, Belleville (Belleville, Illinois)
Courtney Love, Cardinal Mooney (Youngstown, Ohio) – Nebraska
Ebenezer Ogundeko, Thomas Jefferson (Brooklyn, New York) – Clemson
Money Peterson, Wilmer-Hutchins (Dallas, Texas)
Johnny Ragin III, Wilsonville (Wilsonville, Oregon) - California
Matt Smallbone, St. Joseph’s (South Bend, Indiana) – Miami (Ohio)
Eli Apple, Eastern (Voorhees, New Jersey) – Ohio State
Will Barrow, Skyline (Dallas, Texas) – Tulsa
Stormy Butler, College of the Sequoias (Visalia, California)
Money Hunter, Prosper (Prosper, Texas)
William Likely, Glades Central (Belle Glade, Florida) – Maryland
Montrel Meander, Palo Duro (Amarillo, Texas) - Texas
Atem Ntantang, Woodgrove (Purcellville, Virginia) – Boston College
Montavious Smoke, Stanhope Elmore (Millbrook, Alabama)
Weston Steelhammer, Calvary Academy (Shreveport, Louisiana)
Mason Stone, Mountlake Terrace (Mountlake-Terrace, Washington)
Mike Tyson, Hargrave Military Academy (Chatham, Virginia) – Cincinnati
Priest Willis, Marcos De Niza (Tempe, Arizona) – UCLA
Chocolate Wilson, Myrtle Beach (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina) – Marshall
Diquon Woodhouse, Altus (Altus, Oklahoma) – Navy
Related Recruiting Content
With college football’s national signing day coming up next week, coaches are hitting the recruiting trail in full force. And it’s no surprise every coach is doing whatever they can to win every prospect battle. The war that is recruiting is magnified in the SEC, where programs are going head-to-head for several big-name prospects.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin made a stop in Macon, Ga. for a high school football banquet and took a small jab at Alabama, calling head coach Nick Saban “Nicky Satan.”
You can’t blame Franklin for pumping up his program after the last two years, especially since he follows up his “Nicky Satan” comments by mentioning how he plans to outwork him.
Needless to say, this is a perfect example of life in the SEC.
Who knows, maybe it'll inspire a movie?
Philadelphia's decision to pick Chip Kelly as its head coach will be one of the most intriguing and heavily scrutinized hires in NFL history. Kelly was a traditional college coach, as he ran an up-tempo, spread offense that most don’t believe will work on a consistent basis in the NFL.
Although he’s yet to coach a game in the NFL, some have already called Kelly’s hire one of the worst ever. Needless to say, there are a lot of misconceptions about Kelly and his offensive scheme that will be played out in the NFL. Will he win multiple Super Bowl titles? Probably not. Will he finish his tenure with Philadelphia as the worst college coach to make the jump to the NFL? Absolutely not.
Hiring a college coach hasn’t produced much in the way of success for NFL franchises. Jimmy Johnson, Tom Coughlin and Barry Switzer won Super Bowl titles, while Dennis Green, Bobby Ross, Pete Carroll, Steve Mariucci and Butch Davis led their teams to playoff appearances. And of course, there’s Jim Harbaugh, leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl in his second season.
With Kelly’s hire in mind, Athlon ranked the top 15 head coaches that jumped from college to the NFL since 1989. The criteria was simple. In order to be ranked, the coach had to be a college head coach, with their next job being in the same position in the NFL. Although Jim Caldwell, Tom Cable and Cam Cameron were head coaches on both levels, all three held positions outside of being a head coach after leaving college.
Ranking the 15 Best College Head Coaches that left for the NFL Since 1989
1. Jimmy Johnson, Miami and Dallas
It’s a close call for the No. 1 spot in these rankings, as Johnson or Tom Coughlin is a worthy candidate. Johnson jumped to the NFL after successful college head coaching stints at Oklahoma State and Miami, recording an 81-34-3 mark from 1979-88. His debut season with the Cowboys resulted in a miserable 1-15 record but the team quickly improved with the emergence of quarterback Troy Aikman. Dallas went 7-9 in Johnson’s second year but made the playoffs – with two Super Bowl wins – in his final three seasons. Johnson left the Cowboys after the 1993 season and resurfaced with the Dolphins in 1996. He led Miami to three playoff games from 1996-99 but never advanced to the AFC Championship game.
2. Tom Coughlin, Jacksonville and New York Giants
If Jimmy Johnson is 1 in these rankings, Coughlin is essentially 1b. After three years as Boston College’s head coach, the New York native was selected to be the first coach in Jacksonville’s history. The Jaguars went 4-12 in their debut season but made the playoffs in each of the next four seasons. Coughlin took Jacksonville to the AFC Championship game twice but was never able to take the Jaguars to the Super Bowl. He was fired from Jacksonville at the end of the 2002 season and spent 2003 out of football. Coughlin was scooped up by the Giants in 2004 and led New York to a playoff appearance in his second season. The Giants won the Super Bowl in the 2007 and 2011 seasons, while accumulating an 83-61 record under Coughlin’s watch.
3. Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco
Give Harbaugh a couple more seasons and he could climb to the No. 1 spot on this list. In two years with the 49ers, the former NFL quarterback has an impressive 24-7-1 mark, which includes two division titles and two playoff appearances. San Francisco narrowly missed a Super Bowl trip in 2011 and navigated a tough path to get to New Orleans in 2012, beating Green Bay and knocking off No. 1 seed Atlanta.
4. Bobby Ross, San Diego and Detroit
Ross wasn’t the flashiest coach, but he was a proven winner in both college and the NFL. The Virginia native guided Georgia Tech to a national championship in 1990, before joining the Chargers in 1992. San Diego went 11-5 in Ross’ first year and made the Super Bowl after upsetting the Steelers in the AFC Championship game during the 1994 season. After five successful years with the Chargers, Ross left for Detroit in 1997. Despite his solid tenure in San Diego, he was never able to experience the same success with the Lions. Detroit made two playoff appearances under Ross’ watch but never won more than nine games.
5. Dennis Green, Minnesota and Arizona
Green didn’t have the best pick of jobs on the college level, finishing with a 26-63 mark in eight years. However, it’s not exactly easy winning at Northwestern and Stanford on a consistent basis. After going 8-4 with the Cardinal in 1991, Green left to become the Vikings’ head coach. Minnesota went 11-5 in Green’s first season and made the playoffs in each of his three years. After missing the playoffs in 1995, the Vikings rebounded with five consecutive postseason appearances from 1996-2000, which included a painful, narrow miss at a Super Bowl berth in 1998. Green was canned after winning just five games in 2001 and resurfaced with the Cardinals in 2004. Although Green was a good coach in Minnesota, he had a miserable tenure in Arizona, winning just 16 games from 2004-06.
6. Pete Carroll, New England, New York Jets, Seattle
Carroll was a relatively average coach in his first two stops, leading the Jets to a 6-10 record in 1994 and then the Patriots to a 27-21 mark with two playoff appearances from 1997-99. However, after leading USC to one of the most successful stints by a program in the BCS era, Carroll has returned to the NFL better than ever. The Seahawks made the playoffs with a losing record in 2010 and then went 7-9 in 2011 despite undergoing a roster transformation. However, Seattle went 11-5 in 2012 and a narrow loss to Atlanta was all that separated it from making it to the NFC Championship game. Carroll is pushing the right buttons with the Seahawks and should rise on this list over the next few years.
7. Barry Switzer, Dallas
After resigning as Oklahoma’s head coach in 1988, Switzer was out of football when the Cowboys came calling after the 1993 season. Dallas was coming off back-to-back Super Bowl wins and needed a coach after Jimmy Johnson decided to leave. Switzer went 12-4 in his first season with the Cowboys, before leading Dallas to a Super Bowl victory over the Steelers in 1995. The win over Pittsburgh was the pinnacle of Switzer’s NFL career, as the Cowboys went 10-6 in 1996 and finished with a disappointing 6-10 mark in 1997. Switzer was handed an excellent roster to work with, so it’s hard to judge just how effective a NFL head coach he really was.
8. Steve Mariucci, San Francisco and Detroit
Mariucci experienced a fast rise through the coaching ranks, working as an assistant in Green Bay from 1992-95 and then taking over at California for just one season in 1996. The Michigan native was picked to lead the 49ers after one year in Berkeley and went 57-39 during his six seasons in San Francisco. Mariucci was never able to lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl but had four playoff appearances. He was fired from San Francisco after 2002 and resurfaced with the Lions in 2003. Mariucci had very little success with Detroit, going 15-28 in three years.
9. Nick Saban, Miami
Whenever Saban finishes his career at Alabama, there’s no question he will be regarded as one of the most successful coaches to work on the collegiate level. Success in the NFL? Well, that’s a different story. Saban wasn’t awful during his Miami tenure, but he bolted after just two seasons to go back to the college game. The Dolphins went 9-7 in Saban’s first season but backtracked to a 6-10 mark in 2006. Had he stayed in Miami, Saban likely would have eventually led the Dolphins to the playoffs. However, the West Virginia native is clearly at home in the college ranks.
10. Butch Davis, Cleveland
Davis is the third Miami coach since 1989 to leave Coral Gables for the NFL. Jimmy Johnson was the most successful of the trio, while Davis and Dennis Erickson struggled to find their footing. Davis had some success with Cleveland, leading the Browns to a 7-9 mark in 2001 and a 9-7 record with a playoff appearance in 2002. Despite his early success, Davis never elevated Cleveland to be a contender in the AFC North, finishing his last two seasons with an 8-18 record.
11. Steve Spurrier, Washington
In one of the most puzzling coaching moves of recent memory, Spurrier decided to leave one of college football’s premier jobs (Florida) for a spot in the NFL. After compiling a 122-27-1 mark with the Gators, Spurrier gave his Fun N’Gun offense a shot in the NFL. The results were disappointing for Washington, as the Redskins went 12-20 under his watch. Spurrier did finish 7-9 in his first year, but it’s clear the head ball coach belongs in college.
12. Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay
Schiano is just one season into his NFL tenure, but the Buccaneers showed marked improvement under his watch. Tampa Bay’s win total improved by three games from 2011 to 2012 and had a differential of only five points this year. The Buccaneers also had a handful of close losses in 2012 and got significant contributions from a few rookies, including running back Doug Martin, linebacker Lavonte David and safety Mark Barron. Schiano still has much to prove heading into the 2013 season. However, the former Rutgers coach seems to have Tampa Bay back on track.
13. Dennis Erickson, Seattle and San Francisco
Erickson was largely a mediocre coach in the NFL, never having one season over .500, while missing the playoffs after all six of his seasons. The Washington native had most of his success in college by following Jimmy Johnson at Miami and Mike Riley at Oregon State and struggled to establish himself as a quality NFL coach. Erickson had plenty to work with during his stint with Seattle, which included a roster featuring quarterback Warren Moon, running back Ricky Watters and receiver Joey Galloway. Despite a mediocre tenure with the Seahawks, San Francisco decided to give Erickson another change. As expected, he was a disaster. The 49ers went 7-9 in 2003 but plummeted to 2-14 in 2004.
14. Rich Brooks, St. Louis
Brooks played a central role in turning around two college programs (Oregon and Kentucky) but was never able to work the same type of magic in the NFL. He inherited a team that just moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis and had five consecutive losing seasons. Brooks improved the Rams’ win total by three in his first season but finished a disappointing 6-10 in his second year.
15. Mike Riley, San Diego
Riley has done a tremendous job on the college level, elevating Oregon State from a Pac-12 doormat to a consistent bowl team. However, his work in the NFL was a forgettable three-year stint. Riley went 8-8 in his debut season but recorded a 6-26 mark in the other two years. Of course, it’s hard to evaluate Riley when he was forced to work with Ryan Leaf at quarterback.
Two other failed tenures:
Bobby Petrino, Atlanta
Not only was Petrino awful in his only season in the NFL (3-10), he quit on his team in the middle of the year to take a college job.
Dick MacPherson, New England
MacPherson was a good college coach, but he was awful in the NFL. He went 8-24 in two seasons with the Patriots.
Check out Athlon Sports' special Super Bowl section for more coverage on the Ravens vs. 49ers and the history of the big game.
Trick shot videos have been a popular offseason craze in college football over the last few years. Connecticut’s Johnny McEntee seems to have started this recent trend, but several other players have attempted to create their own viral videos, including Pittsburgh kicker Kevin Harper.
While Harper and McEntee’s videos were impressive, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel might take the prize as the best one. The Heisman Trophy winner recently teamed with Dude Perfect to create a ridiculous trick shot video, which showcases the redshirt freshman's accuracy and arm strength.
Manziel and one of Dude Perfect’s members attempt several different tricks, including throwing a football into a basketball (known as the laser shot), hitting a target in the air, nailing a balloon on the goal post, as well as a deep pass from the top of the stadium to a basketball goal on the field.
Needless to say, this is worth five minutes of your time.
College football’s coaching carousel was in full effect this offseason. Thirty programs will have a new head coach in 2013, ranging from Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee in the SEC to FBS newcomer Georgia State in the Sun Belt.
As with every offseason of coaching changes, there will be hits and misses among the new hires. And some programs (FIU) are just clueless from the start. Most of the schools looking for a new head coach did a good job of filling their vacancy this year and deserve a passing grade. For example, even though Western Michigan’s hire of P.J. Fleck is ranked near the bottom, the school did a good job of adding a coach that can bring some much-needed energy to the program.
Grading the new hires is an inexact science but previous head coaching experience, background/resume and how well they fit a program factored heavily in the rankings and letter grade.
Grading and Ranking College Football's New Coach Hires for 2013
1. Willie Taggart, South Florida
Previous Job: Head coach at Western Kentucky
Career Record: 16-20 (3 years)
Considering its location in a fertile recruiting area and lack of success in recent years, South Florida is a program that has a lot of room to grow. And the Bulls have taken the first step to elevating the program, hiring Taggart from Western Kentucky to be the third coach in school history. Taggart went 16-20 in three years with the Hilltoppers but significantly improved a program that had just made the jump to the FBS level and won two games in the two seasons prior to his arrival. He also gained valuable experience from his three-year stint as an assistant with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. Additionally, Taggart is a Florida native and played high school football in Bradenton, which is just an hour outside of USF’s campus. Taggart should have no trouble attracting talent to South Florida, especially with his familiarity with the area. After the Bulls underachieved during the Skip Holtz tenure, look for Taggart to bring some much-needed toughness and consistency to Tampa.
2. Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky
Previous Job: Head coach at Arkansas
Career Record: 75-26 (8 years)
Considering what transpired at Arkansas, BCS programs with a vacancy weren’t ready to give Petrino a shot to be a head coach once again. But for Western Kentucky, this is a move that could pay big dividends - even if Petrino leaves after a couple of seasons. In eight years as a college head coach, Petrino has a 75-26 record with only one losing season (Arkansas in 2008). And with the Sun Belt race wide open next year, Petrino’s arrival could be enough for the Hilltoppers to win the conference championship. While the messy end to his tenure in Fayetteville will force Western Kentucky to keep a close eye on Petrino, there’s no reason to expect the Hilltoppers to see a decrease in wins after going 7-6 in 2012. Petrino will eventually jump to a BCS job, but the short-term risk is worth it for Western Kentucky.
3. Gary Andersen, Wisconsin
Previous Job: Head coach at Utah State
Career Record: 30-31 (5 years)
After a rebuilding project at Utah State, Andersen inherits a team at Wisconsin that can compete for the Big Ten title in 2013. Andersen took over in Logan in 2009, with the Aggies coming off 11 consecutive losing seasons. Utah State went 8-16 in his first two years but showed steady improvement by going 7-6 in 2011 and claimed an outright WAC title in 2012. Most of Andersen’s coaching experience has occurred out West, as he spent one year at Southern Utah and worked at Utah from 2004-08. The Utah native was hired by current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer when he was leading the Utes in 2004 and that insight could be valuable when the Buckeyes and Badgers meet this season. Wisconsin has been on a roll in recent seasons, making three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances, along with claiming double-digit victories in three out of the last four years. At Utah State, Andersen proved he can build a program from the ground up, while also showing he can take it to the next level. That task will be tougher in the Big Ten, but Andersen is one of college football’s top up-and-coming coaches and will have Wisconsin in the mix for the Big Ten title in 2013 and beyond.
4. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Previous Job: Head coach at Arkansas State
Career Record: 9-3 (1 year)
After one season away, Malzahn has returned to Auburn to push the Tigers back into SEC West title contention. The former offensive coordinator was clearly one of the masterminds behind Auburn’s success from 2009-11 and will provide the program with some much-needed improvement in that area in 2013. In his only season at Arkansas State, Malzahn went 9-3 and led the Red Wolves to the Sun Belt title. While Malzahn is short on head coaching experience, his one season at Arkansas State should pay dividends at Auburn. The Tigers were awful on offense last season, averaging only 305 yards per game. Malzahn helped recruit a majority of the players on that side of the ball, including quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who could hold the keys to Auburn’s 2013 season. Malzahn should find a way to jumpstart the Tigers’ offense next year, and hiring Ellis Johnson as his defensive coordinator could be one of the top assistant moves of the offseason. Digging out of the mess Gene Chizik left behind won’t be easy, but Auburn should have a shot at a winning record in 2013.
Related Content: Big Questions Face New Coaches in the SEC
5. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator at Texas A&M
Career Record: First Season
Kingsbury has been on a meteoric rise through the coaching ranks and returns to his alma mater after successful stints as an offensive coordinator at Houston and Texas A&M. The Texas native threw for over 12,000 yards under former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach and had a short stint in the NFL with the Patriots, Saints and Jets. Kingsbury’s first coaching gig came under Kevin Sumlin at Houston in 2008, and during his time there and with Texas A&M, helped to coordinate some of the nation’s best offenses. At 33 years old, Kingsbury will be one of college football’s youngest head coaches, so expect a few bumps in the road for the Red Raiders. Despite his youth and inexperience, Kingsbury is the perfect fit in Lubbock. Considering his ties to the area and offensive prowess, Kingsbury should make Texas Tech one of the Big 12’s most intriguing programs to watch over the next few seasons, while remaining a consistent winner and annual bowl team.
6. Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Previous Job: Head coach at Wisconsin
Career Record: 68-24 (7 years)
Outside of Tommy Tuberville leaving Texas Tech for Cincinnati, the biggest surprise of the coaching carousel was Bielema leaving Wisconsin for Arkansas. After accumulating a 68-24 mark and three Rose Bowl appearances in seven years, Bielema may have felt he took Wisconsin football as far as it could go in this current climate. With Ohio State and Michigan back on the rise once again, the rest of the teams in the Big Ten face an uphill battle to win the conference title. While moving from Wisconsin to Arkansas is almost a lateral move in terms of job prestige, Bielema has more money to pay his assistants and has a chance to prove he can coach among the best of the best in the SEC. The Razorbacks are facing an uphill battle in 2013, largely due to the departure of a handful of key players. However, the potential is there for this program to turn things around in 2014, as Bielema pieced together an impressive group of assistants, and athletic director Jeff Long is committed to giving the coaching staff whatever it takes to succeed. One downside for Arkansas and Bielema: The SEC isn’t getting any easier.
7. Sonny Dykes, California
Previous Job: Head coach at Louisiana Tech
Career Record: 22-15 (3 years)
Jeff Tedford had a successful tenure as California’s head coach, but the program grew stale over the last few years, recording a 15-22 mark from 2010-12. Although the Golden Bears have slipped recently, Dykes is the right coach to get California back on track. In three seasons at Louisiana Tech, he led the Bulldogs to a 22-15 record, including one bowl appearance in 2011. Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin are two of the top offensive minds in college football, helping to guide Louisiana Tech to an average of 51.5 points a game in 2012. Although Dykes has no coaching experience in California, he worked under Mike Stoops at Arizona from 2007-09. The Texas native also served as a wide receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator at Texas Tech from 2000-06. With no proven quarterback and holes on defense to fill, California may struggle to get bowl eligible in 2012. However, Dykes is a good fit and the right hire to get the Golden Bears competitive once again in the Pac-12 North.
8. Dave Doeren, NC State
Previous Job: Head coach at Northern Illinois
Career Record: 23-4 (2 years)
Although Tom O’Brien led NC State to four bowl games in the last five years, it wasn’t enough for athletic director Debbie Yow. Hoping to elevate the Wolfpack into a contender in the ACC Atlantic, Yow moved quickly in hiring Doeren away from Northern Illinois. The Kansas native has been on the fast track through the coaching ranks, which includes stops at USC, Kansas and Wisconsin as an assistant, before leading the Huskies to a 23-4 mark over the last two years. Although Doeren played a key role in leading Northern Illinois to the Orange Bowl this season, he did inherit plenty of talent from former coach Jerry Kill. Additionally, Doeren has no ties to the ACC and will need time to develop recruiting connections within the state. Although there are question marks for Doeren to answer over the next few years, he built a solid coaching staff, which includes former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada and Dave Huxtable as defensive coordinator. NC State isn’t likely to consistently beat Florida State and Clemson in the ACC Atlantic, but there’s no reason why the Wolfpack can’t be more successful in the win column. And fulfilling that challenge will be Doeren’s goal in 2013 and beyond.
9. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
Previous Job: Head coach at San Jose State
Career Record: 16-21 (3 years)
MacIntyre is the perfect case of why records for a head coach can be deceiving. At first glance, a 16-21 record isn’t much of an accomplishment. However, dig a little deeper and it’s easy to see why MacIntyre was one of the top non-BCS coaches on the market. The Spartans were coming off a 2-10 season prior to MacIntyre’s arrival and hit rock bottom with a 1-12 mark in 2010. MacIntyre brought steady improvement to San Jose State in his second year, leading the Spartans to a 5-7 record and then a 10-2 mark during the 2012 regular season. After turning around one program, MacIntyre will have a similar task ahead of him in Boulder. Colorado has not had a winning season since 2005 and is in need of facility improvements. MacIntyre is the right coach for the job, but the Buffaloes need to be patient. Expect progress in 2013, but if Colorado is going to have long-term success, MacIntyre needs to build by recruiting freshmen (not JUCOs), while the administration makes a commitment to winning, as well as provides the staff with the necessary facility upgrades.
10. Trent Miles, Georgia State
Previous Job: Head coach at Indiana State
Career Record: 20-36 (5 years)
Miles is the highest-ranked coach from a non-BCS conference in Athlon’s look at the new hires for 2013. The Indiana native has made several stops as an assistant in his career, beginning at Indiana State in 1987, then on to New Mexico, Oklahoma, Northern Illinois, Hawaii, Fresno State, Stanford, Washington, Notre Dame and in the NFL with the Packers for one season. After serving as an assistant from 1987-2007, Miles landed his first coaching gig at his alma mater – Indiana State. The Sycamores were a disaster prior to his arrival, recording a dismal 1-32 mark from 2005-07. Although Miles went just 1-22 in his first two seasons, Indiana State improved to 19-14 over his last three years and finished 2012 ranked in the FCS Top 25. The Sycamores were also the only team to beat FCS champion North Dakota State last season. Just as he did at Indiana State, Miles isn’t inheriting much to work with at Georgia State. The Panthers are coming off a 1-10 season and will be playing a full Sun Belt schedule in 2013. With a fertile recruiting area to work with, Miles should get Georgia State football competitive within the conference in the next two years.
11. Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati
Previous Job: Head coach at Texas Tech
Career Record: 130-77 (17 years)
In perhaps the coaching carousel’s biggest offseason surprise, Tuberville decided to bolt Texas Tech for Cincinnati. Tuberville wasn’t in any real danger of losing his job in Lubbock, although athletic director Kirby Hocutt wanted to see the program improve from its 2012 record (7-5) in 2013. Adding to the curiosity of this move is the uncertain conference future surrounding Cincinnati. While this move has plenty of question marks, there’s no denying Tuberville is a good coach. He went 25-20 in four seasons with Ole Miss and 85-40 in 10 years with Auburn. After spending most of his time in the South, Tuberville will need some time to get acquainted with Cincinnati’s recruiting area. The Arkansas native prefers to lean on his defense to win but adapted to the style of play in the Big 12, keeping the Red Raiders’ offense among the best in the conference. One question that will play out over the next few years is whether or not Tuberville is committed to Cincinnati for the long haul. The Bearcats are on their fourth head coach in 10 seasons and establishing stability, as well as continuing to elevate the program's profile for the next round of conference expansion, will be crucial.
12. Butch Jones, Tennessee
Previous Job: Head coach at Cincinnati
Career Record: 50-27 (6 years)
For the second time in three years, Tennessee’s coaching search didn’t go smoothly. The Volunteers had to find a replacement in mid-January of 2010 once Lane Kiffin left to replace Pete Carroll at USC. And this time around, Tennessee had trouble attracting a big-name coach. While Rocky Top might not be as desirable of a job as it was 10 years ago, the Volunteers still have all of the resources in place to consistently compete for SEC East titles. Although Jones doesn’t bring the national reputation that Charlie Strong would have, this is still a solid hire for Tennessee. Jones started his coaching career in 1990 at Rutgers, then made stops at Wilkes, Ferris State, Central Michigan and West Virginia. The Michigan native took over at Central Michigan in 2007, leading the Chippewas to a 27-13 record in three seasons. Jones then went to Cincinnati and compiled a 23-14 mark from 2010-12. Considering this is his first coaching gig in the SEC, Jones will have an adjustment period in getting acquainted with the 13 other teams and coaches. Additionally, he also will have to overcome questions about building a program on his own for the first time, as Jones followed Brian Kelly at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, never staying at either program for more than three years. There are question marks surrounding Jones, but he should be an improvement over Derek Dooley.
13. Darrell Hazell, Purdue
Previous Job: Head coach at Kent State
Career Record: 16-10 (2 years)
After four mediocre seasons under Danny Hope, Purdue hopes Hazell is the right coach to lead the program back into Big Ten title contention. Hazell comes to West Lafayette after two seasons with Kent State, which included the program’s first MAC East title and second bowl appearance in school history. The Golden Flashes took eventual MAC champion Northern Illinois to overtime, and a victory in the conference championship game would have sent Kent State to the Orange Bowl. The New Jersey native is familiar with the surroundings in the Big Ten, as he worked as an assistant under Jim Tressel at Ohio State from 2004-10. Hazell’s resume is solid, and the only negative to find about this hire is the lack of long-term success as a head coach.
14. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Previous Job: Defensive coordinator at Florida State
Career Record: First Season
With Vanderbilt’s recent ascension and the expansion of the conference to include Texas A&M and Missouri, Kentucky needed to make a coaching change to avoid falling too far behind the rest of the SEC. While Stoops doesn’t have any previous head coaching experience, he has brought some much-needed energy into the program, along with making Kentucky a factor on the recruiting trail. The Ohio native has good bloodlines, as his brothers Mike (Arizona) and Bob (Oklahoma) have head coaching experience and are a good soundboard for advice for the first-year coach. Stoops was one of the nation’s top assistants during his time at Florida State, leading the Seminoles to back-to-back top-10 finishes in total defense. So far, Stoops has made all of the right moves in Lexington. He hired a top-notch staff, which includes bringing former Kentucky player Neal Brown back to coordinate the offense. Brown is considered one of college football's rising stars in the assistant ranks, guiding Texas Tech to a rank of second nationally in passing offense in 2012. The Wildcats are also making some noise on the recruiting trail and should finish with a solid class. Stoops still has a lot to prove, but the Wildcats are on the right track.
15. Mark Helfrich, Oregon
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator at Oregon
Career Record: First Season
There’s no question Helfrich will be one of the most-scrutinized head coaches in 2013. The Oregon native has been handed the keys to a Ferrari and with no head coaching experience, is tasked with keeping the Ducks among the nation’s perennial national title contenders. No pressure right? While Helfrich’s lack of head coaching experience is a concern, he has spent the last four years working closely with Chip Kelly. Helfrich didn’t call the plays on offense but had a hand in developing the Ducks’ up-tempo, high-scoring attack. Promoting from within worked well for Oregon in the past, as Mike Bellotti was tabbed to replace Rich Brooks after his departure, and Kelly succeeded Bellotti. However, the stakes are higher for Oregon in 2013. The Ducks are under NCAA investigation, and Stanford has emerged as a national title contender in the Pac-12 North. Is Helfrich the next Larry Coker or the next Chris Petersen? Only time will tell, but the Oregon native should keep the Ducks in the mix to win a national championship in 2013.
16. Bryan Harsin, Arkansas State
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator at Texas
Career Record: First Season
After working as Boise State’s offensive coordinator from 2006-10, Harsin was regarded as one of college football’s rising stars in the coaching ranks. Two seasons in Texas have slightly dimmed Harsin’s prospects, however. The Longhorns struggled to get consistent quarterback play under his watch but averaged 35.7 points a game in 2012. Harsin fits the mold of Arkansas State’s recent head coaches, as the school has targeted younger, offensive-minded coordinators (Gus Malzahn and Hugh Freeze). Harsin doesn’t have any head coaching experience but the Boise native gained valuable experience by working under Chris Petersen and Mack Brown.
17. Todd Monken, Southern Miss
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State
Career Record: First Season
Southern Miss made one of the worst coaching hires of 2012, choosing Ellis Johnson to replace Larry Fedora. After a failed one-year stint for Johnson, the program got it right by hiring Monken. The Illinois native has made stops as an assistant at Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Louisiana Tech, LSU, and Oklahoma State where he served as Mike Gundy’s offensive coordinator since 2011. He also has NFL experience, working with the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2007-10. Monken tutored first-round draft picks Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon in 2011, and despite starting three different quarterbacks in 2012, still led the Cowboys to an average of 45.7 points a game. Monken doesn’t have any head coaching experience, but his background on offense is a perfect fit for Southern Miss and Conference USA. The Golden Eagles still have plenty of talent in the program, so going from 0-12 in 2012 to a bowl game in 2013 is certainly possible. The only downside for Southern Miss? If Monken is successful, he may not stick around too long in Hattiesburg.
18. Steve Addazio, Boston College
Previous Job: Head coach at Temple
Career Record: 13-11 (2 years)
Boston College has fallen on hard times over the last two years. The Eagles were once one of the ACC’s most consistent teams, recording 12 consecutive winning seasons from 1999-2010. After a failed stint under Frank Spaziani, Addazio is a good pickup to get the program back on track. Considering Addazio’s ties in the Northeast, he should be able to help Boston College keep some of the top talent from leaving the area. In addition to his work as a relentless recruiter, Addazio went 13-11 in two seasons with Temple and led the program to just its fourth bowl appearance in school history in 2011. The Connecticut native isn’t flashy but is bringing much-needed energy into the program. Boston College may not win an ACC title under Addazio, but the program will be more competitive and is in better shape than it was under Spaziani.
19. Matt Rhule, Temple
Previous Job: Assistant OL coach with the New York Giants
Career Record: First Season
Steve Addazio’s decision to bolt Temple for Boston College came as a small surprise, but the Owls made a good decision to bring Rhule back to Philadelphia. The former Penn State player joined the Temple staff under Al Golden in 2006, before becoming the team’s offensive coordinator from 2008-10. Rhule stayed under Addazio for one season (2011) before joining the Giants as an assistant offensive line coach in 2012. The Pennsylvania native doesn’t have head coaching experience but there’s a lot to like about this hire. Considering Rhule worked at Temple under Golden and grew up in the Quaker State, building recruiting connections in the area won’t be a problem. Rhule is inheriting some promising young talent, and the Owls are in much better shape than when he was an assistant back in 2006.
20. Scott Shafer, Syracuse
Previous Job: Defensive coordinator at Syracuse
Career Record: First Season
Doug Marrone’s decision to leave for the NFL in early January left Syracuse in a difficult situation. Starting a coaching search in the prime recruiting season is never ideal, and most of the top head coaches and assistants looking to improve their current position had already accepted a new job. With those factors in mind, promoting Shafer to replace Marrone makes a lot of sense for Syracuse. Shafer joined Marrone’s staff in 2009 but has never served as a head coach since becoming a collegiate assistant in 1991. The Ohio native also has stops as a defensive coordinator at Michigan, Syracuse, Stanford, Western Michigan and Northern Illinois. Losing Marrone is a big blow to Syracuse, but Shafer has experience in the program and will have an opportunity to build on the culture that worked from the past few seasons.
21. Matt Wells, Utah State
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator at Utah State
Career Record: First Season
Replacing a successful head coach like Gary Andersen is no easy task, but Wells’ familiarity with Utah State should pay big dividends for the program. The Oklahoma native played in Logan under former Utah State head coaches Charlie Weatherbie and John L. Smith from 1993-96. Wells started his coaching career at Navy in 1997 and stayed with the Midshipmen until leaving for Tulsa in 2002. After five seasons with the Golden Hurricane, he spent two years at New Mexico, one with Louisville and then another season with the Lobos, before joining Andersen’s staff in 2011. Wells was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2012, guiding the Aggies to an average of 34.9 points a game. Wells has never been a head coach but his work as the team’s offensive coordinator, along with the experience as a former player should have Utah State feeling optimistic he can continue to build off of Andersen’s success.
22. Brian Polian, Nevada
Previous Job: Special teams coordinator/Tight Ends coach at Texas A&M
Career Record: First Season
Polian has big shoes to fill in Reno, as he replaces Nevada coaching legend Chris Ault. The former coach was one of college football’s most innovative head coaches, bringing the Pistol Offense to life in 2005, and he played a key role in shaping the current overtime rules. While Ault leaves behind quite a legacy in Reno, Polian seems to be a good hire for a program that should be a bowl team in 2013. Brian has been around football all of his life, as his dad Bill worked in the front office for the Colts, Panthers and Bills. Brian started his coaching career at Michigan State in 1997 and quickly rose through the ranks, making stops at Buffalo, Baylor, UCF and then Notre Dame in 2005. After five years in South Bend, Polian joined Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Stanford as the special teams coordinator and worked in that role until 2012, leaving to take the same position at Texas A&M. Polian doesn’t have head coaching or coordinator experience but is regarded as an excellent recruiter and made a good decision to retain current offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich. It’s always risky to hire someone with no head coaching experience, but Polian’s ability to recruit should be a positive for a program that can compete for the Mountain West title each year.
23. Ron Caragher, San Jose State
Previous Job: Head coach at San Diego
Career Record: 44-22 (6 years)
In just four years, San Jose State has moved from WAC doormat to a potential Mountain West title contender in 2013. Much of the credit goes to former coach Mike MacIntyre, who led the Spartans to their first double-digit win total since 1987. Although MacIntyre left for Colorado, he is leaving the program in better shape than how he found it in 2010. Caragher succeeded Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, leading the Toreros to a 44-22 mark in six seasons. While Caragher still has much to prove, this seems to be a good fit for both parties. As a California native and with his experience coaching within the state, Caragher should have plenty of ties to help San Jose State on the recruiting trail. Although he followed Harbaugh, Caragher had back-to-back losing seasons in 2009-10 but steered the program back on track with a 17-5 mark from 2011-12.
24. Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech
Previous Job: Head coach at South Florida
Career Record: 88-71 (13 years)
Holtz’s failed tenure at South Florida is one of the most puzzling coaching stints in recent memory. After leading Connecticut to a 34-23 record in five seasons and a 38-27 mark in five years with East Carolina, Holtz was pegged as the right coach to take the Bulls into Big East title contention. After an 8-5 debut season, South Florida went 8-16 in the next two years, which included just two wins in conference play. Considering what transpired at USF, Louisiana Tech fans have to be curious about whether the coach is in decline or whether the program had more issues than appeared on the surface, making it a difficult place to win. Holtz has experienced a lot of success in his career and landing at a program like Louisiana Tech is a good opportunity to prove he’s still a good coach and one that’s capable of taking over at a BCS program once again. It’s easy to point to Holtz’s failures at USF, but his win totals at Connecticut and East Carolina are hard to ignore.
25. Rod Carey, Northern Illinois
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator at Northern Illinois
Career Record: 0-1 (first full season)
With Dave Doeren’s leaving for NC State, Carey was handed the keys to one of the MAC’s top programs. Northern Illinois has won at least 11 games in each of the last three years and has posted only two losing seasons since 2000. Carey has experienced a fast rise through the coaching ranks, starting his career as a graduate assistant at Minnesota in 1998, before working his way up to offensive line coach at North Dakota in 2008. Carey joined Doeren in DeKalb in 2011 and was the team’s offensive coordinator in 2012. Promoting from within is often the best way to keep continuity, as well as build on recent success. Carey will have a chance to do that in 2013, as the Huskies will be the preseason favorite to win the MAC. Although his debut resulted in a loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl, Carey’s real test will come this season, as he must guide a program for a full season for the first time.
26. Paul Petrino, Idaho
Previous Job: Offensive coordinator at Arkansas
Career Record: First Season
Considering the uncertain conference future facing Idaho, the program wasn't going to attract a proven coach. Petrino isn’t as proven or established as his brother Bobby, but the Montana native is ready for his first head coaching job after working as an assistant in the college and NFL ranks since 1990. Paul worked as the offensive coordinator under Bobby at Louisville from 2003-06, Arkansas from 2008-09 and then again wtih the Hogs under John L. Smith in 2012. Considering the Vandals are without a conference home for at least the next few years, Petrino is inheriting one of college football’s toughest coaching jobs. The 45-year-old coach has prior experience at the school and having the last name Petrino certainly doesn’t hurt on the recruiting trail.
27. Paul Haynes, Kent State
Previous Job: Defensive coordinator at Arkansas
Career Record: First Season
After recording a 16-10 mark and one MAC East title under Darrell Hazell, Kent State is turning to a former player to maintain the program as a conference title contender in 2013. Haynes is a good fit for the Golden Flashes, as he is an Ohio native, played at Kent State from 1987-91 and has a wealth of experience as an assistant. Haynes has stops at Northern Iowa, Kent State, Louisville, Michigan State, Ohio State and served as Arkansas’ defensive coordinator in 2011. While it’s hard to glean much from serving one year as a coordinator in Fayetteville, the Razorbacks ranked 73rd nationally in yards allowed and gave up 30.4 points a game. Although Haynes’ background should be a positive for Kent State, his lack of head coaching experience and a less than stellar season at Arkansas leaves this hire near the bottom of the new coaches for 2013.
28. P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan
Previous Job: Wide receivers coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Career Record: First season
At 32 years old, Fleck is college football’s youngest head coach. And the Illinois native has brought some much-needed enthusiasm to the program since his appointment in mid-December. Although hiring a young coach with no experience to lead a program is risky, this could be a good fit for Western Michigan. Fleck played at Northern Illinois in the MAC from 1999-2003 and caught 77 passes for 1,028 yards and six scores as a senior. He started as a graduate assistant in 2006 at Ohio State, spent two years at Northern Illinois (2007-09) and Rutgers (2010-11), before joining Greg Schiano in Tampa Bay for 2012. The lack of coordinator or head coaching experience is a concern, but Fleck’s background on offense is a good fit in the MAC and is a low-risk option for Western Michigan.
29. Sean Kugler, UTEP
Previous Job: Offensive line coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers
Career Record: First season
Kugler is a familiar face in El Paso, as he played at UTEP from 1984-88 and worked as an assistant for the school from 1993-2000. The New York native has spent most of his coaching career in the NFL, making stops with the Lions, Bills and Steelers. Kugler has one year of experience from coaching offensive linemen at Boise State but has never served as a coordinator or head coach. Although the Steelers dealt with injuries on the offensive line over the last three seasons, the unit was never a strength, allowing 122 sacks during that span. Despite his familiarity with the program, Kugler’s lack of head coaching experience and mediocre performance in Pittsburgh has UTEP on the wrong end of the new coach rankings for 2013.
30. Ron Turner, FIU
Previous Job: Quarterbacks coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Career Record: 42-61
In the worst coaching move of the offseason, FIU traded a good coach (Mario Cristobal) for a retread. Even though Cristobal’s overall mark was 27-47 in six years with the Golden Panthers, he clearly elevated a program that was in disarray prior to his arrival in 2007. Turner spent one season as the head coach at San Jose State in 1992 and at Illinois from 1997-2004. Under his watch, the Fighting Illini went 35-57 and made only two bowl appearances. Turner has NFL experience but outside of one season with the Buccaneers, has never coached in the state of Florida. Considering how important recruiting ties are in the Miami area, Turner is clearly a bad fit for a program that shouldn’t have made a coaching switch.
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Early SEC Predictions for 2013
Can the rest of college football stop the SEC from its eighth straight national championship? That’s the big question facing coaching staffs in the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and at Notre Dame this offseason. Alabama is a heavy favorite to win its fourth BCS title in five years in 2013, but the No. 2 spot in most preseason polls is expected to be a tossup between Oregon and Ohio State. The Buckeyes are coming off an undefeated regular season but was unable to play in a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions. The Ducks finished 2012 with 12 victories but a 17-14 loss to Stanford ended their hopes of playing for the national title.
Even though the 2013 season is still months away, it’s never too early to take an early look at how Oregon and Ohio State might stack up next year.
Although the Ducks are picked by most to be the No. 2 team next year, Athlon’s early top 25 has the Buckeyes ranked just behind Alabama.
5 Reasons Why Ohio State (Not Oregon) Is Alabama’s Biggest Threat in 2013
Urban Meyer versus Mark Helfrich? No offense to the Oregon first-year head coach but this intangible is heavily favored in Ohio State’s direction. Helfrich was promoted to keep continuity from the Chip Kelly era but has no previous head coaching experience. Although Helfrich knows the Ducks’ culture and has played a role in developing their offense, there will be a drop-off from Kelly.
Meyer has been one of college football’s most successful coaches of the BCS era, recording a 39-8 record from stops at Bowling Green and Utah and a 65-15 mark at Florida. Meyer won two national championships during his tenure in Gainesville and is 12-0 in his only season with the Buckeyes.
Neither team has a difficult schedule, but Ohio State’s slate is slightly easier than what Oregon will face. The Buckeyes face Buffalo, San Diego State, California and Florida A&M in the non-conference portion, and Oregon will play Nicholls State, Nevada and Tennessee.
While the non-conference portion is essentially even, Ohio State has an easier path to a national championship in the Big Ten. Outside of the Buckeyes, the Big Ten isn’t expected to have another team inside of most preseason top-15 lists. Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska and Northwestern will be ranked outside of the top 15 but will still present a challenge for the Buckeyes. Ohio State has four conference road games, with the toughest being a matchup against Michigan.
Oregon’s road to an unbeaten record is more difficult, especially with a date at Stanford on Nov. 7. The Ducks also face Washington in Seattle, and the Huskies could be one of the Pac-12’s most-improved teams next season. Oregon also plays UCLA – the preseason favorite in the South Division – but misses USC and Arizona State.
There will always be a game that is tougher than most expect once the season kicks off, however, Ohio State has a favorable path to another 12-0 mark in the regular season.
3. Improving playmakers
Even though quarterback Braxton Miller started all 12 games in 2012, Ohio State can’t rely on the junior passer to survive another season with 227 carries. Miller is a perfect fit for coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense, and with another offseason to work with the coaching staff, he is expected to be one of the top Heisman contenders in 2013.
Taking some of the pressure off Miller will be essential to a national championship run. The good news for Ohio State is nearly all of its skill players from last season return, and running back Jordan Hall is back after missing nearly all of 2012 due to injury. Hall has potential to play in a Percy Harvin role for the Buckeyes, along with serving as a complement back to starter Carlos Hyde. Although Hyde finished the year with less than 1,000 yards, he had two 100-yard efforts in the final three games and scored 16 touchdowns in 10 games.
Hyde and Hall will be one of the Big Ten’s top running back duos next season, and the receiving corps returns four out of its top five statistical receivers from 2012. Corey Brown is back after catching 60 passes for 669 yards and three scores, and Devin Smith heads into his junior year with 10 career touchdown receptions.
There’s no shortage of playmakers in Eugene, starting with running back De’Anthony Thomas. Receiver Josh Huff averaged 15.4 yards per reception, and tight end Colt Lyerla is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. However, with the departure of running back Kenjon Barner, the Ducks lack a proven running back that can handle 20-25 carries a game.
Oregon may have more overall playmakers, but Ohio State’s supporting cast next season is in better shape than it was in 2012.
4. Defensive improvement in Columbus?
The Buckeyes’ defense started off Big Ten play on a bad note last season. Ohio State allowed 38 points to Nebraska and 49 against Indiana. Although both games resulted in a victory for the Buckeyes, it wasn’t a vintage defensive effort most in Columbus were used to seeing. Ohio State’s defense was better in the second half of the season, allowing 20.4 points over the final five contests and generating four sacks in three out of the final four games.
Even though the defense loses linemen John Simon, Johnathan Hankins, Garrett Goebel and Nathan Williams, this unit has potential to show improvement in 2013. Co-coordinators Everett Withers and Luke Fickell have a full offseason to get the players acquainted with the scheme, while Meyer has brought in two of the nation’s best recruiting classes in 2012 and 2013. The back seven of the defense should be the strength for Ohio State, especially thanks to the decision of cornerback Bradley Roby to return for another year in Columbus.
Due to the success of its offense, Oregon’s defense often gets overlooked. The Ducks allow 374.2 yards per game but held opponents to 21.6 points per contest and forced 40 turnovers. Oregon’s defense was also hit hard by personnel departures, losing standouts Dion Jordan (defensive end) and linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay to graduation. Even though the Ducks have a few holes to fill, this unit shouldn’t suffer too much of a drop-off.
The edge in defense should slightly favor Oregon, but the Buckeyes have plenty of time to let their new starters get acquainted with the lineup. With Buffalo, San Diego State, California and Florida A&M in the first four games of the season, Ohio State should work out the kinks by the time it plays Wisconsin and Northwestern to open Big Ten play.
5. Braxton Miller’s development as a passer
Although Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller had an outstanding sophomore campaign, he still has room to grow in Meyer’s offense. Miller completed 54.1 percent of his throws as a freshman and improved that number to 58.3 percent in 2012. With another offseason to work with Meyer and coordinator Tom Herman, Miller could push that total to over 60 percent. The Ohio native averaged 169.9 passing yards per game in 2012 and that total could easily be over 200 next year.
In addition to Miller’s development in Ohio State’s spread attack, his surrounding cast is improving, and the receiving corps has emerging weapons like Corey Brown and Devin Smith. And with the Buckeyes likely to take some carries off his shoulders, Miller will have an opportunity to focus more of his attention on attacking defenses with his arm.
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The start of spring practice is still over a month away, but college football coaches have already turned the page from 2012 to 2013. With the passing of the NFL Draft deadline and new recruits coming in after Signing Day, coaches have a good idea about their roster and some of the holes facing their team.
Even though it’s January, it’s never too early to start thinking about replacements for some of college football’s top departing players.
USC had a disappointing 2012 campaign, but the Trojans still have the talent to compete for the Pac-12 South title. However, replacing quarterback Matt Barkley will be no easy task. Max Wittek made two starts late in the year and will begin spring practice as the favorite to start under center for USC.
In addition to Wittek, the spotlight will be on Oklahoma’s Blake Bell, Stanford’s Barry Sanders and Wisconsin’s James White and Melvin Gordon – just to name a few.
10 Players Replacing the Biggest Names in College Football
Max Wittek, QB, USC
Matt Barkley finished his USC career with a solid 2012 season but it certainly wasn’t the year most expected. Pegged as a heavy Heisman favorite in the preseason, Barkley finished the year with 3,273 yards and 36 touchdowns but missed the last two games with a shoulder injury. While not having Barkley certainly contributed to USC’s disappointing close to the year, his absence allowed Max Wittek to get a head start on 2013. In eight games this season, Wittek threw for 388 yards and three touchdowns but also tossed five picks and completed just 52.2 percent of his throws. With wide receiver Marqise Lee and running back Silas Redd returning next season, if Wittek quickly settles into the starting role, the Trojans will have a chance to push UCLA and Arizona State for the Pac-12 South title.
Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma
While Landry Jones never led Oklahoma to a national championship or emerged as a serious Heisman contender, the New Mexico native threw for 16,646 yards and 123 touchdowns over the last four seasons. Jones also guided the Sooners to 32 victories over the last three years, one BCS bowl appearance and an outright conference title in 2010. Bell is the frontrunner to replace Jones, although he will face competition in the spring from Drew Allen, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson. Bell has played sparingly over the last two seasons, throwing only 20 passes for 115 yards and no scores. The Kansas native has been a bigger factor on the ground, rushing for 372 yards and 24 touchdowns. There’s no question Bell will be a major factor in Oklahoma’s rushing attack. However, he has to show he can beat defenses with his arm on a consistent basis.
Mario Edwards Jr., DE, Florida State
Injuries to Brandon Jenkins and Cornellius Carradine forced Edwards into a bigger role than he anticipated in the preseason. However, stepping into significant snaps wasn’t an issue for the No. 2 rated recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100. Edwards played in 11 games, recording 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks. The freshman made three stops in the Orange Bowl victory over Northern Illinois and picked up seven tackles in the ACC Championship win over Georgia Tech. Even though Florida State will have a new defensive coordinator (Jeremy Pruitt), the addition of Sal Sunseri and Charles Kelly as assistants should keep this unit among the best in the nation. If he picks up where he left off at the end of 2012, Edwards Jr. has potential to be an All-ACC selection in 2013.
Ego Ferguson/Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
No team was hit harder by the NFL Draft deadline than LSU. The Tigers lost 11 players a year early, including defensive linemen Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Bennie Logan. In addition to the early departures, Josh Downs and Lavar Edwards expired their eligibility after the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Ferguson and Johnson enter their junior season poised to emerge as standouts for LSU’s defense. Both tackles played in all 13 games this season, with Ferguson recording 14 stops, while Johnson made 30 tackles and three sacks. The Tigers need some time to let the new pieces on defense come together, but if Ferguson and Johnson emerge early in the year, LSU’s defensive line won’t miss a beat.
Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
Kelly has some of the biggest shoes to fill in college football next season. Barrett Jones departs Alabama as one of the most successful linemen of the BCS era, garnering first-team All-American honors for 2011 and 2012. Jones battled a foot injury last season, which allowed Kelly to gain valuable experience. The Ohio native played in 10 games in 2012 and is a key piece to Alabama’s offensive line next year. Kelly probably won’t match Jones’ postseason accolades next season, but he should keep the Crimson Tide line playing at a high level.
Julien Obioha, DE, Texas A&M
Obioha isn’t technically replacing Damontre Moore, but the sophomore will be counted on for a bigger role in the defense next season. Moore was one of the SEC’s top defenders in 2012, leading Texas A&M with 85 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss and 12.5 sacks. Obioha started 12 games as a true freshman, making 25 tackles and one sack. With Moore no longer in College Station, it’s up to Obioha to keep the Aggies’ pass rush among the top half of the SEC. Texas A&M will need more than Obioha to replace Moore, but considering he started 12 games as a true freshman, bigger things could be in store for the Louisiana native in 2013.
Daniel Sams/Jake Waters, QB, Kansas State
Replacing Collin Klein’s production is no easy task for Kansas State in 2013. However, with Bill Snyder on the sidelines in Manhattan, the Wildcats can’t be counted out of the Big 12 title mix. Klein finished 2012 with 3,561 yards and 39 total scores and ranked third behind Johnny Manziel and Manti Te’o in Heisman voting. Sams played eight games in 2012, throwing for 55 yards on six completions and rushing for 235 yards and three scores on 32 attempts. Considering his experience last season, Sams should be the frontrunner to open 2013 as the starter. However, junior college recruit Jake Waters will compete with Sams in the preseason. Waters is regarded as one of the top junior college recruits in the nation and certainly isn’t being brought to Manhattan to hold a clipboard.
Barry Sanders, RB, Stanford
Coming off a 12-win season and a victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, Stanford will be a legitimate national title contender in 2013. The Cardinal does have a few concerns to address in the offseason, starting on offense with the departure of running back Stepfan Taylor. The Texas native had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and scored 40 rushing touchdowns in his career. While Taylor is a huge loss, coach David Shaw does have capable options on the bench. Anthony Wilkerson has been a dependable backup over the last three years, while sophomore Remound Wright was a top-25 running back coming out of high school. Although Wilkerson and Wright will see a share of the carries, redshirt freshman Barry Sanders is ready for a breakout season. The Oklahoma native was regarded as one of the top 50 recruits in last year’s signing class and will have one of the Pac-12’s top offensive lines paving the way next season.
Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State
The pieces are in place for Ohio State to compete for a national title in 2013. However, there’s one glaring area of concern for coach Urban Meyer. The defense is losing ends John Simon and Nathan Williams, along with tackles Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel. If the Buckeyes quickly reload up front, Ohio State could be making a trip to Pasadena to play for the BCS title. Spence was one of the Buckeyes’ top recruits last season and recorded 12 tackles in 11 games this year. The Pennsylvania native should benefit with another offseason to work in the weight room and is a key centerpiece in Ohio State’s defense in 2013.
James White/Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
Even though record-setting running back Montee Ball expired his eligibility after the Rose Bowl, there’s not too much concern about the rushing attack in Madison. And despite a coaching change, Wisconsin won’t stray too far from its usual ground and pound offense. James White rushed for 1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2010 and has 1,519 yards and 18 scores over the last two years. Gordon redshirted in 2011 and rushed for 621 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman in 2012. His breakout performance came against Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship, gashing the Cornhuskers for 216 yards on nine carries. White isn’t built to handle 200-250 carries a year, which makes Gordon the perfect complement back at 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds.
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Early SEC Predictions for 2013
New helmets, alternate colors and different uniforms combinations are some of the biggest trends with nearly every team in college football over the last few years. Some of the alternate jersey and helmet combinations are done to appeal to recruits and it certainly doesn’t hurt with extra revenue coming through the program in the way of merchandise sales.
With the 2013 season months away, plenty of programs will be unveiling new looks for the next season.
Baylor got a head start on continuing this recent trend, as assistant coach Jeff Lebby tweeted a picture of the Bears’ new gold (and very shiny) helmets for 2013:
With Alabama’s convincing victory over Notre Dame in early January, the SEC ran its streak of consecutive national champions to seven. The bad news for the competition? The SEC isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s bigger and better than ever. Texas A&M is a program on the rise after winning 11 games in its first season in the conference, while quarterback Johnny Manziel claimed the 2012 Heisman Trophy. In addition to the Aggies, Ole Miss showed big improvement last season, and Vanderbilt made consecutive bowl appearances for the first time in program history.
What does it mean for 2013? Expect much of the same from the SEC. The conference is poised for another national championship, as Alabama is a heavy favorite to win the BCS title next season. While the Crimson Tide is a clear No. 1 pick in the preseason, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M could all play their way into the national championship conversation.
After disappointing seasons at Tennessee and Auburn, both programs changed head coaches. Butch Jones joins the Volunteers after three seasons at Cincinnati, while the Tigers hired former offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn away from Arkansas State. Those two aren’t the only new coaches in the SEC next season, as Kentucky hired Mark Stoops to replace Joker Phillips, and Arkansas surprisingly pulled Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin.
There’s no easy out in the SEC, and it’s possible the conference has 11 or 12 bowl teams in 2013.
Early SEC East Predictions for 2013
Key Returnees: QB Aaron Murray, RB Todd Gurley, RB Keith Marshall, WR Malcolm Mitchell, WR Michael Bennett, WR Chris Conley, TE Arthur Lynch, LT Kenarious Gates, C David Andrews, RG Chris Burnette, RT John Theus, DE Ray Drew, DE Garrison Smith, LB Jordan Jenkins, LB Amarlo Herrera, CB Damian Swann
Key Departures: WR Tavarres King, WR Marlon Brown, DE Cornelius Washington, NT Kwame Geathers, DT John Jenkins, LB Jarvis Jones, LB Alec Ogletree, CB Sanders Commings, FS Bacarri Rambo, SS Shawn Williams
The No. 1 spot in the SEC East should be a tight battle between Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in 2013. For now, the Bulldogs have a slight edge in Athlon’s very early predictions for next season. Quarterback Aaron Murray turned down the NFL for one more season in Athens, which is crucial for Georgia’s national title hopes considering the losses on defense. Linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree decided to leave early for the next level, while defensive tackle John Jenkins, cornerback Sanders Commings and safety Bacarri Rambo each expired their eligibility after the Capital One Bowl. Considering the personnel to replace on defense, the Bulldogs may need to win a lot of high-scoring games early in the season. Mark Richt’s team has a favorable home conference schedule, which features South Carolina and LSU in September. If the defense comes together early in the year, Georgia could make a run at a national championship.
2. South Carolina
Key Returnees: QB Connor Shaw, QB Dylan Thompson, RB Brandon Wilds, RB Mike Davis, WR Bruce Ellington, WR Damiere Byrd, WR Shaq Roland, LT Corey Robinson, LG A.J. Cann, RT Brandon Shell, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DE Chaz Sutton, DT Kelcy Quarles, DT Gerald Dixon Jr., CB Jimmy Legree, S Brison Williams
Key Departures: RB Marcus Lattimore, WR Ace Sanders, TE Justice Cunningham, C T.J. Johnson, DE Devin Taylor, DT Byron Jerideau, LB Shaq Wilson, LB Reginald Bowens, CB Akeem Auguste, S DeVonte Holloman, S D.J. Swearinger
There’s not much separating South Carolina and Georgia for the top spot in the early SEC predictions. The Gamecocks have won 22 games over the last two years and are poised to contend for a BCS bowl in 2013. Steve Spurrier isn’t shy about rotating quarterbacks, and South Carolina has two dependable options (Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson) to rely on next season. Considering there’s no clear go-to back, the offense will likely lean on Shaw and Thompson to win a huge SEC showdown in Week 2 against Georgia. The defense loses a handful of key players, but defensive end (and Heisman candidate) Jadeveon Clowney is back for one more season in Columbia. After facing a difficult conference crossover schedule over the last few years, South Carolina does not play Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M or Ole Miss – arguably the top four teams in the SEC West.
Key Returnees: QB Jeff Driskel, RB Matt Jones, FB Trey Burton, WR Quinton Dunbar, C Jonotthan Harrison, RG Jon Halapio, RT Chaz Green, DE Dominique Easley, DE Jonathan Bullard, DE Dante Fowler, LB Antonio Morrison, LB Michael Taylor, CB Loucheiz Purifoy, CB Jaylen Watkins, CB Marcus Roberson, P Kyle Christy
Key Departures: RB Mike Gillislee, TE Jordan Reed, LT Xavier Nixon, LG James Wilson, DT Sharrif Floyd, DT Omar Hunter, LB Jelani Jenkins, LB Jon Bostic, S Matt Elam, S Josh Evans, K Caleb Sturgis
Are the Gators ready to emerge as an annual top-10 team once again? Or is Florida a year or two away from reaching that mark? That’s the big question facing this team in 2013. The Gators navigated a difficult schedule to finish 11-2 last season but was destroyed by Louisville in the Sugar Bowl and still averaged only 334.4 yards per game. With running back Mike Gillislee out of eligibility, Florida needs a big year from quarterback Jeff Driskel. After throwing for 1,646 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012, the junior will be asked to shoulder more of the offensive workload. The Gators lost coordinator Dan Quinn to the NFL and must replace standouts in defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, safety Matt Elam and linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic. Even though Florida has talent on this side of the ball, it may be difficult to finish fifth in total and scoring defense once again.
Key Returnees: RB Warren Norman, RB Brian Kimbrow, RB Wesley Tate, WR Jordan Matthews, WR Chris Boyd, OT Wesley Johnson, DE Walker May, DE Caleb Azibuke, LB Chase Garnham, LB Karl Butler, LB Darreon Herring, CB Andre Hal, S Kenny Ladler, S Javon Marshall
Key Departures: QB Jordan Rodgers, RB Zac Stacy, OT Ryan Seymour, DE Johnell Thomas, DT Rob Lohr, LB Archibald Barnes, CB Trey Wilson, P Richard Kent
The Commodores enter 2013 with a seven-game winning streak and momentum on their side. Coach James Franklin has led Vanderbilt to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in program history and earning No. 3 is certainly within reach. Quarterback Jordan Rodgers and running back Zac Stacy must be replaced, but the offense caught a break when receiver Jordan Matthews decided to turn down the NFL for another season in Nashville. Bob Shoop is one of the SEC’s most underrated coordinators, and Vanderbilt should rank among the top-five defenses in the conference next year.
Key Returnees: RB Rajion Neal, RB Marlin Lane, LT Antonio Richardson, C James Stone, RG Zach Fulton, RT Ja’Wuan James, NG Daniel McCullers, DE Maurice Couch, LB A.J. Johnson, LB Jacques Smith, LB Curt Maggitt, CB Justin Coleman, S Byron Moore, S LaDarrell McNeil, DB Jaron Toney
Key Departures: QB Tyler Bray, WR Justin Hunter, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, TE Mychal Rivera, OG Dallas Thomas, DE Darrington Sentimore, LB Herman Lathers, CB Prentiss Waggner
After a disappointing three-year stint under Derek Dooley, Tennessee hopes new coach Butch Jones can get the Volunteers back on track. However, Jones is going to need some time to rebuild the roster, especially after quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson declared early for the NFL Draft. Although the skill positions need to be rebuilt, running backs Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane are back, along with four starters on the offensive line. The defense was a disaster under Sal Sunseri last season, but new coordinator John Jancek has some personnel to work with, including massive nose guard Daniel McCullers and linebackers A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt.
Key Returnees: QB James Franklin, RB Henry Josey, RB Marcus Murphy, WR Marcus Lucas, WR Dorial Green-Beckham, WR L’Damian Washington, LG Evan Boehm, RT Justin Britt, DE Kony Ealy, DE Michael Sam, NG Matt Hoch, LB Donovan Bonner, LB/S Andrew Wilson, CB E.J. Gaines, CB Randy Ponder, FS Braylon Webb
Key Departures: RB Kendial Lawrence, WR T.J. Moe, WR Gahn McGaffie, OT Elvis Fisher, DE Brad Madison, DT Sheldon Richardson, LB Will Ebner, LB Zaviar Gooden, CB Kip Edwards, SS Kenronte Walker
Even though the Tigers check in No. 6 in the early SEC East predictions, they could surprise in 2013. Quarterback James Franklin was never 100 percent after offseason shoulder surgery, throwing for just 1,562 yards and 10 touchdowns. Expect the senior to regain the form from his junior year, which resulted in 3,846 total yards and 36 overall scores. The Tigers also regain the services of running back Henry Josey, who missed 2012 with a serious knee injury. Considering the departure of defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and a couple of key players in the back seven, there’s more pressure on Missouri’s offense to deliver and likely win more shootouts next season.
Key Returnees: QB Jalen Whitlow, QB Patrick Towles, QB Maxwell Smith, RB Raymond Sanders, RB Jonathan George, WR Demarco Robinson, WR Daryl Collins, LT Darrian Miller, LG Zach West, RT Kevin Mitchell, DT Donte Rumph, DT Mister Cobble, DT Tristian Johnson, LB Avery Williamson, LB Alvin Dupree, LB/S Miles Simpson, CB J.D. Harmon, S Ashely Lowery
Key Departures: WR La’Rod King, WR Aaron Boyd, C Matt Smith, RG Larry Warford, DE Collins Ukwu, DE Taylor Wyndham, CB Cartier Rice, S Martavius Neloms
New coach Mark Stoops certainly has some work to do to get the Wildcats back in a bowl game. Kentucky’s offense ranked as one of the worst in college football last season, averaging just 17.9 points a game. Injuries to quarterback Patrick Towles and Maxwell Smith never allowed the offense to get on track, while freshman Jalen Whitlow was thrown into the fire too early. All three quarterbacks are back in 2013, and Kentucky’s offense should be better under new coordinator Neal Brown. Stoops’ background on defense will immediately help a unit that allowed 391 yards and 31 points a game last season. The Wildcats played a handful of young players on defense in 2012, which should give some hope that Kentucky can make considerable progress on this side of the ball in 2013.
Early SEC West Predictions for 2013
Key Returnees: QB AJ McCarron, RB T.J. Yeldon, WR Amari Cooper, WR Kevin Norwood, WR Christion Jones, LT Cyrus Kouandijo, OG Anthony Steen, C Ryan Kelly, DE Jeoffrey Pagan, NG Brandon Ivory, LB C.J. Mosley, LB Trey DePriest, LB Adrian Hubbard, LB Xzavier Dickson, LB Denzel Devall, CB Deion Belue, CB John Fulton, CB Geno Smith,S Vinnie Sunseri, S Nick Perry, S HaHa Clinton-Dix
Key Departures: RB Eddie Lacy, TE Michael Williams, LG Chance Warmack, C Barrett Jones, RT D.J. Fluker, DE Damion Square, NG Jesse Williams, LB Nico Johnson, CB Dee Milliner, S Robert Lester
The Crimson Tide enters 2013 as a heavy favorite to win their fourth national title in five seasons. The biggest area of concern for coach Nick Saban will be an offensive line that must replace guard Chance Warmack, center Barrett Jones and right tackle D.J. Fluker. However, quarterback AJ McCarron is back after a standout junior season, while running back T.J. Yeldon and receiver Amari Cooper will be in the mix for All-SEC honors. Nose guard Jesse Williams, linebacker Nico Johnson, cornerback Dee Milliner and safety Robert Lester are big losses, but Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart shouldn’t have any trouble keeping the Crimson Tide’s defense ranked among the best in college football. The Sept. 14 showdown at Texas A&M could decide the SEC West title. Even though the Aggies got the best of Alabama in 2012, the guess here is the Crimson Tide gets revenge for last season’s loss.
2. Texas A&M
Key Returnees: QB Johnny Manziel, RB Ben Malena, RB Trey Williams, WR Mike Evans, WR Malcome Kennedy, OT Jake Matthews, LG Jarvis Harrison, RG Cedric Ogbuehi, DE Julien Obioha, NG Kirby Ennis, LB Steven Jenkins, LB Toney Hurd, Jr., CB Deshazor Everett, CB De’Vante Harris, S Howard Matthews, S Tramain Jacobs
Key Departures: RB Christine Michael, WR Ryan Swope, WR Uzoma Nwachukwu, LT Luke Joeckel, C Patrick Lewis, DE Damontre Moore, DT Spencer Nealy, LB Jonathan Stewart, LB Sean Porter, CB Dustin Harris, S Steven Terrell
The Aggies’ debut season in the SEC was a huge success. What will coach Kevin Sumlin and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel do for an encore? How about a national championship? It’s certainly within reach for Texas A&M, as Manziel is back for his sophomore season, and the backfield is loaded with options with Ben Malena, Brandon Williams and Trey Williams. With Luke Joeckel moving to the NFL, Jake Matthews is expected to slide from right tackle to the left side. The defense is the biggest concern for Sumlin, as defensive end Damontre Moore left early for the NFL, and this unit ranked ninth in the SEC in yards allowed in 2012. The Aggies aren’t going to surprise anyone in 2013, but Sumlin has this team poised to make a run at the top five and a SEC Championship.
Key Returnees: QB Zach Mettenberger, RB Jeremy Hill, RB Kenny Hilliard, RB Alfred Blue, WR Jarvis Landry, WR Kadron Boone, WR Odell Beckham, LG La’el Collins, RG Trai Turner, RT Vadal Alexander, DT Anthony Johnson, DT Ego Ferguson, LB Lamin Barrow, LB Deion Jones, CB Jalen Mills, CB Jalen Collins, S Craig Loston, S Ronald Martin, S Micah Eugene
Key Departures: RB Michael Ford, RB Spencer Ware, LT Josh Dworaczyk, OT Chris Faulk, C P.J. Lonergan, DE Lavar Edwards, DE Barkevious Mingo, DE Sam Montgomery, DT Bennie Logan, DT Josh Downs, LB Kevin Minter, CB Tharold Simon, S Eric Reid
Although the Tigers have recruited as well as anyone in the SEC, replacing 11 early departures to the NFL won’t be easy. If LSU wants to challenge Alabama or Texas A&M for the SEC West title, quarterback Zach Mettenberger has to get better. He finished with 2,609 yards, 12 touchdown tosses and seven interceptions in 2012. Mettenberger will have plenty of help, as sophomore Jeremy Hill could be a 1,000-yard rusher, while the receiving corps is set with the return of Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Defensive coordinator John Chavis is among the best in college football, and he will certainly have his hands full in 2013. The Tigers must replace defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, defensive tackles Josh Downs and Bennie Logan, linebacker Kevin Minter, cornerback Tharold Simon and safety Eric Reid. Considering all of the early departures to the NFL, LSU’s defense may struggle early but will get stronger as the year progresses. The Tigers also have a challenging schedule, which starts with a neutral site matchup against TCU, followed by road games in the SEC against Georgia, Ole Miss and Alabama.
4. Ole Miss
Key Returnees: QB Bo Wallace, QB Barry Brunetti, RB Jeff Scott, WR Donte Moncrief, WR Ja-Mes Logan, WR Vince Sanders, LT Emmanuel McCray, LG Aaron Morris, C Evan Swindall, RT Pierce Burton, DE C.J. Johnson, DE Channing Ward, DT Isaac Gross, LB Denzel Nkemdiche, LB Mike Marry, CB Charles Sawyer, CB Senquez Golson, FS Cody Prewitt, S Trae Elston, DB Mike Hilton
Key Departures: TE Jamal Mosley, RG A.J. Hawkins, DT Gilbert Pena, DT Uriah Grant, LB Joel Kight
The Rebels were one of college football’s most-improved teams in 2012, going from 2-10 in 2011 to 7-6 last season. Hugh Freeze clearly has Ole Miss on the right track, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Rebels begin 2013 in some preseason top 25 lists. In addition to a top-15 recruiting class coming to Oxford, Ole Miss returns nearly all of its key players for 2013. Quarterback Bo Wallace will miss spring practice due to shoulder surgery, but backup Barry Brunetti can benefit from the extra snaps. The defense made considerable progress in 2012, finishing seventh in the SEC in yards allowed and averaged 2.9 sacks a game. With more depth and experience next season, Ole Miss’ defense should take another step forward.
5. Mississippi State
Key Returnees: QB Tyler Russell, RB LaDarius Perkins, RB Josh Robinson, WR Robert Johnson, TE Malcolm Johnson, LT Blaine Clausell, LG Gabe Jackson, C Dillon Day, RT Charles Siddoway, DE Denico Autry, DE Kaleb Eulls, DE Preston Smith, DT Curtis Virges, LB Benardrick McKinney, LB Deontae Skinner, LB Matthew Wells, S Nickoe Whitley, S Jay Hughes
Key Departures: WR Chad Bumphis, WR Chris Smith, WR Arceto Clark, TE Marcus Green, RG Tobias Smith, DT Josh Boyd, LB Cameron Lawrence, CB Johnthan Banks, CB Darius Slay, SS Corey Broomfield
2012 was a tale of two seasons for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs started 7-0 but finished a disappointing 1-5 in their final six games. Why the collapse? The schedule got tougher during the second half of the season, and the defense gave up 30 or more points in five out of the last six games. Coach Dan Mullen promoted Geoff Collins to defensive coordinator, hoping a more aggressive scheme will result in improvement next season. In addition to making improvement on defense, the Bulldogs have to get more production from quarterback Tyler Russell. Mullen has elevated the program, but Mississippi State will have a hard time finishing in the top four of the SEC West next season.
Key Returnees: QB Kiehl Frazier, QB Jonathan Wallace, RB Tre Mason, WR Trovon Reed, WR Quan Bray, LT Greg Robinson, C Reese Dismukes, RG Chad Slade, DE Dee Ford, DT Angelo Blackson, DT Gabe Wright, DE Nosa Eguae, LB Cassanova McKinzy, LB Jake Holland, CB Joshua Holsey, CB Chris Davis, CB Jonathon Mincy, S Demetruce McNeal, S Jermaine Whitehead
Key Departures: RB Onterio McCalebb, WR Emory Blake, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, LG John Sullen, DE Corey Lemonier, LB Daren Bates
After a disastrous 3-9 record in 2012, Auburn has made all of the right moves to put the program back on track. New coach (and former offensive coordinator) Gus Malzahn is back after spending last season at Arkansas State, and his return is crucial for an offense that averaged just 18.7 points a game. Malzahn’s first order of business is choosing between Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace as the team’s starting quarterback. Neither player was particularly impressive but didn’t have much help from their supporting cast. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has a wealth of experience from his stops at Alabama, Mississippi State and South Carolina and should help Auburn’s defense make noticeable improvement in 2013. The Tigers aren’t going to challenge for the SEC West title but a bowl game is a reasonable expectation.
Key Returnees: RB Jonathan Williams, WR Mekale McKay, WR Javontee Herndon, WR Brandon Mitchell, WR Julian Horton, C Travis Swanson, OT David Hurd, DE Chris Smith, DE Trey Flowers, DT Byran Jones, DT Robert Thomas, LB A.J. Turner, LB Otha Peters, CB Tevin Mitchel, S Rohan Gaines, S Eric Bennett
Key Departures: QB Tyler Wilson, RB Knile Davis, RB Dennis Johnson, WR Cobi Hamilton, TE Chris Gragg, OG Alvin Bailey, OG Tyler Deacon, DT Alfred Davis, LB Ross Rasner, LB Terrell Williams, LB Alonzo Highsmith
Time and patience. That’s the key words surrounding Bret Bielema’s first season in Fayetteville. Arkansas has a lot of roster turnover to overcome next year, starting at quarterback. Tyler Wilson has expired his eligibility, leaving Brandon Allen as the team’s likely No. 1 quarterback in the spring. Another problem for Allen will be the lack of a proven running back, along with the early departure of guard Alvin Bailey to the NFL. Jim Chaney was a good hire as the team’s offensive coordinator but points could be hard to come by in 2013. While the offense will be a work in progress, the defense has enough talent to be competitive next season. The Razorbacks have a solid defensive line with the return of Chris Smith, Trey Flowers, Byran Jones and Robert Thomas. And the secondary should be improved with a full year from cornerback Tevin Mitchel and safety Eric Bennett.
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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
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.
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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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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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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.
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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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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5 Teams on the Decline for 2013
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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