Articles By Steven Lassan

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Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task. 

Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of breakout players for 2012 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season.

Predicting the SEC's Breakout Players for 2012

Denico Autry, DE, Mississippi State Despite Fletcher Cox leaving early for the NFL Draft, Mississippi State should still have a productive defensive line. Josh Boyd is a standout on the interior, while sophomore Kaleb Eulls had a solid freshman campaign last year. Autry earned first-team NJCAA All-American honors last season and was rated as one of the top junior college recruits in the nation. The Bulldogs would like to upgrade their pass rush, and a key part of that equation is Autry and his performance in 2012.

Trey DePriest/Adrian Hubbard/Xzavier Dickson, LB, Alabama Rather than single out one of these three sophomores, we are highlighting the entire trio as breakout candidates. DePriest, Hubbard and Dickson will be part of Alabama’s rebuilding effort on defense, as the Crimson Tide must replace Donta Hightower, Courtney Upshaw and Jerrell Harris at linebacker. DePriest had the best statistical season last year, recording 25 tackles in 13 games. If Alabama’s defense wants to finish No. 1 in the nation once again, it needs a big year from this sophomore linebacking trio.

Alvin Dupree, LB, KentuckyWith Danny Trevathan moving onto the NFL, the Wildcats are searching for a new leader in the linebacking corps. As a true freshman last year, Dupree played in all 12 games and recorded 21 stops. At 6-foot-4 and 249 pounds, the sophomore has the size and strength to hold up against the run, while remaining a threat to get after the passer. Dupree is slated to play in Kentucky’s hybrid end/linebacker role, which should allow him to thrive in only his second season of college ball.

Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri It’s hard to be a breakout candidate if you rank as the No. 1 player in the 2012 signing class. However, it will be a major surprise if Green-Beckham isn’t a household name by the end of this year. The freshman has been as good as advertised in fall camp, leading the Tigers with six catches for 68 yards during the team’s second fall scrimmage. As long as quarterback James Franklin’s shoulder isn’t an issue, Green-Beckham should finish as college football’s most decorated freshman receiver for 2012.

Todd Gurley/Keith Marshall, RB, GeorgiaKen Malcome is expected to enter the season as the starter, but Mark Richt will find it difficult to keep Gurley and Marshall off the field. Both backs were ranked among the top 15 running backs in the 2012 signing class by Athlon Sports and will be counted upon to see a handful of carries each game. All signs point to a committee approach, but Gurley and Marshall should make plenty of noise in 2012.

Anthony Johnson, DT, LSUDespite losing Michael Brockers to the NFL Draft, LSU isn’t too concerned about its defensive line. Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo are back to wreck havoc against opposing quarterbacks off the edge, while the interior is solid with Bennie Logan, Johnson and Ego Ferguson in the rotation. Johnson ranked as the No. 7 overall prospect in the 2011 Athlon Consensus 100 and played in all 14 games last year, recording 12 tackles and one sack. The sophomore is primed for a monster year and could challenge for All-SEC honors.

Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt The SEC is loaded with talent on the offensive line this season, but Johnson shouldn’t be overlooked when discussing some of the top tackles in the conference. The Nashville native has started every game on the line for the Commodores over the last two years and was named the team’s Offensive Lineman of the Year for 2011. Johnson played at left tackle, center and guard last season but is expected to stay at left tackle for 2012. The Commodores have a few holes to plug on the offensive line, but there’s no question Johnson should be a reliable presence on the left side.

Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M Manziel finished spring practice just behind Jameill Showers for the starting quarterback spot. However, the redshirt freshman staked his claim for the job in the fall and was picked as Texas A&M’s starting quarterback for the season opener against Louisiana Tech. New coach Kevin Sumlin and coordinator Kliff Kingsbury produced some of the nation’s top offenses while at Houston, but will likely seek more balance as the Aggies’ transition to the SEC. Manziel is a slightly different quarterback than the ones Sumlin tutored at Houston, as the freshman brings more of a dual-threat approach to the lineup. There’s no question Manziel has the talent – he was ranked among the top quarterbacks in the 2011 signing class - however, having no game experience and learning a new offense will be a challenge.

Mekale McKay, WR, Arkansas With Jarius Wright and Joe Adams catching passes in the NFL, the Razorbacks are searching for a new group of receivers for quarterback Tyler Wilson. Cobi Hamilton is slated to be the No. 1 option, and the Razorbacks have tight end Chris Gragg, but there’s no clear No. 2 target at receiver. McKay was ranked among the top 50 receivers in the 2012 recruiting class and has been one of the standouts of fall practice. At 6-foot-6, the freshman has potential to be a valuable weapon inside of the redzone and instant impact player for Arkansas.

Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU After finishing 10th in the SEC in passing yards per game last season and watching Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee struggle at times, LSU fans are excited for Mettenberger’s potential under center. He only threw 11 passes last year, but is expected to be the missing piece for LSU’s offense. Mettenberger began his career at Georgia but was dismissed from school and spent one season at Butler Community College. There will be growing pains with the junior quarterback, especially since 2012 will be his first year as a starter on the FBS level. There’s little doubt Mettenberger should be an upgrade at over Lee and Jefferson, but it may take a couple of games for him to get comfortable as the team's No. 1 quarterback.

LaDarius Perkins, RB, Mississippi State Vick Ballard wasn’t the flashiest running back, but he amassed 2,157 yards and 29 rushing scores during his tenure in Starkville. Replacing Ballard is no easy task, but the Bulldogs have two capable options. Perkins is expected to ascend to No. 1 on the depth chart after rushing for 988 yards and five scores over the last two years. At 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, Perkins doesn’t have Ballard’s size or power, but he should be a big-play threat for Mississippi State. Sophomore Nick Griffin will also figure into the battle for carries. 

Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida Purifoy was thrown right into the mix as a true freshman last season, playing in all 13 games and recording 27 tackles. He also forced one fumble during his limited action. At 6-foot-1 and 189 pounds, Purifoy has the size and athleticism to go up against the top receivers in the SEC and should be ready for a breakout year after spending much of 2011 in a reserve role.

Antonio Richardson, OT, TennesseeIf Tennessee wants to have any shot at finishing among the top three in the SEC East , the offensive line and rushing attack has to perform much better than it did in 2011. The Volunteers finished 12th in the SEC in rushing offense last season and recorded just 332.7 yards per game. The coaching staff shuffled the line in the spring, sliding Dallas Thomas from tackle to guard and promoting Richardson to the starting group. Richardson was ranked by most as a top-100 recruit coming out of high school and played in 12 contests last year. If Richardson can stabilize the offensive line, Tennessee should have no trouble improving on last season’s paltry rushing totals.

Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri Richardson’s path to Missouri took a slight detour, as he spent two years at the College of the Sequoias, before making his first appearance at Missouri last season. Richardson made a huge impact in his first year in Columbia, recording 37 stops, three sacks, eight tackles for a loss and one forced fumble. A shoulder injury sidelined him in the spring but all signs point to a return to full strength in the fall. With another offseason under his belt, look for Richardson to pickup his performance even more in 2012.

Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn With only one returning starter on the offensive line last season, the Tigers were a work in progress most of 2011. The line allowed 2.5 sacks per game but led the way for Auburn to average 182.3 yards per game on the ground. This unit should be one of the most improved in the SEC this season, especially with the emergence of Robinson and sophomore center Reese Dismukes. Robinson was one of the top linemen in the 2011 signing class but redshirted his freshman year. With a full offseason to build strength, look for the Louisiana native to excel in his first season as Auburn’s starting left tackle.

Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina Alshon Jeffery is gone, meaning South Carolina needs a new No. 1 receiver to emerge. Sanders doesn’t have Jeffery’s size, but the Florida native developed a nice rapport with quarterback Connor Shaw over the second half of last year, finishing with 29 receptions for 383 yards and three touchdowns. The junior is also a valuable contributor on special teams, averaging 9.3 yards on 16 punt returns last year. Even though Sanders doesn’t have Jeffery’s skill set, look for the junior to push for 50 receptions in 2012.

Jeff Scott, RB, Ole MissThe Rebels were one of the worst offenses in the SEC last season, averaging only 16.1 points per contest and ranking 114th nationally in total offense. New coach Hugh Freeze should help improve the offense, especially after leading Arkansas State to the No. 1 rank in the Sun Belt for total offense, scoring and passing in 2011. Scott is one of the few proven playmakers for Ole Miss and should be a bigger part of the offense after recording only 116 attempts last year. At 5-foot-7 and 175 pounds, Scott probably won’t handle 275 carries, but he should finish with over 1,000 all-around yards in 2012.
 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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<p> SEC Football's Breakout Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 06:14
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-offensive-linemen-2012
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Playing on the offensive line is one of the least glamorous positions on the field. However, the players in the trenches are some of the most important, as the offense can't move the ball with a line that struggles to block. The 2012 college football season has plenty of talented linemen ready to challenge for All-American honors, led by Alabama's Barrett Jones. The senior is switching from left tackle to center but is expected to have another standout year. 

When compiling the rankings, Athlon considered how each player will perform in 2012, some past performance, personnel losses around the quarterback, conference difficulty and pro potential. 

College Football's Top Offensive Linemen for 2012

Top 5 Centers for 2012

1. Barrett Jones, Alabama
Three years, three different positions. That’s how valuable Jones has been to Alabama’s offensive line during his career in Tuscaloosa. The Tennessee native started the first 25 games of his career at right guard and shifted to left tackle last season. He earned first-team All-SEC honors in each of the last two years and will slide inside to man the center spot with the departure of William Vlachos. Jones is the nation’s most versatile offensive lineman and the defending Outland Trophy winner should be one of college football’s top performers in 2012.

2. Khaled Holmes, USC
With Matt Kalil moving onto the NFL, it’s up to Holmes to become the leader for USC’s offensive line. That shouldn’t be a problem for the California native, as he has started in each of the last two years and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last season. Holmes made a seamless transition from guard to center in 2011 and should be one of the top linemen in college football this year. 

3. Travis Frederick, Wisconsin
After starting most of last season at left guard, Frederick slides over to center to replace Peter Konz, a second-round pick by the Falcons in the 2012 NFL Draft. Frederick is not entirely new to the position, however; he started two games at center in ’11 — vs. Penn State on Nov. 26 and the Big Ten Championship Game vs. Michigan State. A 6-4, 328-pound junior, Frederick earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last fall. 

4. Gabe Ikard, OG/C, Oklahoma
With Ikard leading the way, Oklahoma expects to have one of the Big 12’s top offensive lines. He started 12 games as a freshman in 2010 and earned first-team All-Big 12 honors for his performance in 2011. Ikard’s value to the team was on full display after he moved from guard to center to replace the injured Ben Habern last year. The junior is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for 2012 and will likely slide back to center with Habern deciding to retire before fall camp.

5. Dalton Freeman, C, Clemson 
The 6-foot-5, 285-pound senior from Pelion, S.C., is the unquestioned leader of the Tigers offensive line. He is the lone returning starter from a group that led the ACC in passing offense and finished second in scoring. Protecting the deep collection of skill players is atop his priority list, and should he do that, Clemson could repeat as ACC champs.
 

Top 15 Offensive Tackles for 2012

1. Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin
Entering his third season in the starting lineup, Wagner will anchor what should be the best offensive line in the Big Ten from the all-important left tackle spot. A 6-6, 322-pound fifth-year senior from West Allis, Wis., Wagner arrived in Madison as a walk-on tight end but has made a successive transition to the offensive line. He started at right tackle in 2010 but made the move to the left side last fall to replace former All-American Gabe Carimi. 

2. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M 
Not too many players step into a BCS conference and start all 13 games as a true freshman. Joeckel did just that back in 2010 before earning first-team All-Big 12 honors last fall. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound bookend has played in all 26 possible career games and helped lead an O-Line that finished fourth nationally in sacks allowed per game last fall (0.69). The Aggies will experience growing pains shifting into the SEC, but the Joeckel-led offensive line shouldn’t be an issue.

3. Alex Hurst, LSU
The 6-foot-6, 340-pound senior right tackle was a force last season in paving the way for the powerful LSU running game. Three different Tigers running backs reached the 500-yard mark last season, and LSU compiled 35 touchdowns on the ground. Hurst was recognized as first-team All-SEC by the league’s coaches in 2011, and he will be a top All-America candidate this season. Hurst and Chris Faulk should form the best tackle duo in the country in 2012.

4. Chris Faulk, LSU 
After redshirting in 2009, the big left tackle from Slidell, La., worked his way into a starting spot by the end of his freshman season. Despite dealing with a severe ankle sprain against Mississippi State, Faulk still started 13 of the 14 games en route to the BCS national championship game. He earned second-team All-SEC honors while protecting the blindside of both Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson. Behind Faulk and company, LSU finished second in the run-heavy SEC in rushing offense at 202.6 yards per game.

5. Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Lewan, a 6-8, 302-pound junior, has started 22 games over the past two seasons at left tackle. A second-team All-Big Ten pick last season (by the coaches), Lewan will be asked to be the leader of the Wolverines’ offensive line following the graduation of Rimington Award-winning center David Molk.

6. D.J. Fluker, Alabama
Fluker has started 21 games in his first two years in Tuscaloosa but is on the verge of a breakout year. The Alabama native was a key cog in the Crimson Tide’s rushing attack, allowing backs to average 5.5 yards per carry and record 34 scores on the ground. At 6-foot-6 and 335 pounds, Fluker has the strength to dominate on the right side of the line and continues to improve as a pass blocker. Look for the junior tackle to push for first-team All-SEC honors this season.

7. Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
The son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews helped pave the way for an Aggies offense that ranked No. 7 in the country and scored over 39 points per game last season. Texas A&M might not be able to equal that type of production in the physical SEC, but the transition will be much easier because of the quality of the A&M offensive line led by left tackle Luke Joeckel, center Patrick Lewis and a powerful right tackle in Matthews.

8. Oday Aboushi, Virginia
The Brooklyn, N.Y., lineman has started the last two seasons on an improving Cavaliers offensive line. Aboushi was twice the ACC’s offensive lineman of the week on the way to second-team all-conference honors. Aboushi, whose parents moved to the U.S. from Palestine, was honored at a reception last season for Muslim-Americans hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

9. James Hurst, North Carolina
Hurst has started every game but one in his first two seasons as North Carolina’s left tackle. He got his first start in the second game of his true freshman season and has been a mainstay at left tackle since. A Freshman All-American in 2010, Hurst received second-team All-ACC honors last season. He and teammate Jonathan Cooper became the first Tar Heel offensive line tandem to receive all-conference honors since 1993.

10. Justin Pugh, Syracuse
One of the nation’s top offensive tackles, Pugh enters his junior season with high expectations. He has started all 25 games over the last two seasons, culminating in two all-conference awards (2nd team in 2010 and 1st team in 2011). He has paved the way for back-to-back 1,000-yard rushers and is charged with protecting star quarterback Ryan Nassib this fall. With a great year at Syracuse, Pugh could leave early for the NFL. However, the junior is dealing with an injury that could force him to miss the start of 2012.

11. David Bakhtiari, Colorado
The junior left tackle is one of the few veteran, Pac-12-caliber players for Colorado, earning coaches’ second-team all-conference last season. Bakhtiari is entering his third season a starter.

12. LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders anchor up front is this senior from Columbus, Texas. Waddle has started 25 consecutive games and enters his final season in Lubbock as a reigning second-team All-Big 12 selection. Fans can bet on a first-team-type of season from the 6-foot-6, 320-pounder.

13. Morgan Moses, Virginia
The Cavaliers resurgence under Mike London began with recruiting victories like Moses, who came to UVa with five stars next to his name. He helped pave the way for Jones and Kevin Parks en route to finishing fourth in the ACC in rushing last fall. Additionally, the 6-foot-6, 335-pounder helped the Virginia finish third in the league (23rd nationally) with only 1.23 sacks allowed per game. Look for Moses to lead the Wahoo rushing attack once again in 2012.

14. Zack Martin, Notre Dame
Getting consistent play from the offensive line has been an issue for Notre Dame in recent years, but 2012 could be different. Martin has been a steady performer in his first two years and could challenge for All-American honors this season. He started all 13 games at left tackle last year and enters 2012 with 26 consecutive starts. The Irish allowed only 17 sacks last season and could improve upon that number with Martin returning for 2012. 

15. Kevin Graf, USC
Protecting Matt Barkley might be considered the single most important charge of any unit in the nation. The former top 100 recruit turned All-Pac-12 junior is the most accomplished of the bunch and will be asked to lead in Matt Kalil's absence. The Agoura Hills, Calif., native is the third Graf to call Heritage Hall home — his brother and father both played at USC.
 

Top 15 Guards for 2012

1. Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech
Uzzi is the leader of Georgia Tech’s offensive line, starting 24 games over the last two years and earning first-team All-ACC honors in 2011. He is a good fit in Georgia Tech’s blocking scheme, largely due to his good lateral ability and physical presence when clearing the way for rushers. The senior is an Athlon Sports second-team All-American for 2012 and was a big reason why the Yellow Jackets ranked second in the nation in rushing last season.

2. Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
A two-time second-team All-ACC honoree, Cooper has the most starts (35) of any player on North Carolina’s roster. Cooper is a four-year starter on the Tar Heels’ offensive line as he made 10 starts at left guard as a redshirt freshman in 2009. For his career, Cooper has started every game he has played in, missing three in his first season because of injury. He pairs with tackle James Hurst to form one of the top left sides in the ACC.

3. Chance Warmack, Alabama
Barrett Jones is clearly the No. 1 offensive lineman for Alabama, but don’t overlook Warmack. The steady senior has started 25 straight contests and earned second-team All-SEC honors last season. The Georgia native is regarded as one of the top offensive guards for the 2013 NFL Draft and should increase his stock with another outstanding year.

4. Larry Warford, Kentucky
Warford is probably one of the nation’s most underrated players. He enters 2012 with 25 consecutive starts and has earned All-SEC honors in each of the last two seasons. At 6-foot-3 and 343 pounds, Warford has the size and strength to be a road grader on the ground, while helping to keep opposing linemen off the quarterback. The senior is an Athlon Sports first-team All-SEC selection for 2012.

5. Cyril Richardson, Baylor
Circle Richardson’s name if you are looking for someone who could emerge as one of the nation’s best linemen in 2012. He started all 13 games at left tackle last season and earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. Richardson will move back inside to guard this year, and has massive frame (6-foot-5, 335 pounds) should give quarterback Nick Florence plenty of protection, while opening up rushing lanes for Jarred Salubi and Lache Seastrunk.

6. Alvin Bailey, Arkansas
There’s no question Bailey has the talent to be one of the top offensive linemen in the nation. However, he didn’t have the best spring, and the coaching staff isn’t guaranteeing him a starting spot for the opener. Bailey has started the first 26 games in his career and was selected as a second-team All-SEC selection last year. If the Oklahoma native plays up to his ability, he should finish higher on this list at the end of 2012.

7. Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
Jackson was the anchor for the Bulldogs' offensive line, which averaged 175.3 rushing yards per game last season. The 6-foot-4 guard started all 13 games in 2011 and earned second-team All-SEC honors. The SEC is loaded with talent on the offensive line, but Jackson should not be overlooked.

8. David Yankey, Stanford
The redshirt sophomore from Roswell, Ga., has big shoes to fill now that Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro have moved on. But the cupboard isn't bare with big Yankey leading the way. This unit was No. 17 nationally in rushing (trailing only Oregon inside the league) and seventh nationally in protecting the quarterback. Yankey should only be that much better in his second full season on the field.

9. Braden Hansen, BYU
Hansen has been a steady presence for BYU's offensive line and enters 2012 with 39 consecutive starts. The senior has been named to the Lombardi and Outland Trophy watch lists for 2012 and is on the radar for scouts in the 2013 NFL Draft.

10. Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
The leader of the Pokes offensive line, Taylor returns for his final season with 36 career starts under his belt. As the only returning starter up front for one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, the Arlington, Texas native will be counted on for more leadership this fall.

11. Spencer Long, Nebraska
A walk-on from Elkhorn, Neb., Long didn’t even see any game action until last season when he started every game at guard. Long was a key blocker for an offense that averaged 217.2 rushing yards per game, which ranked third in the Big Ten and 15th in the nation.

12. Chris McDonald, Michigan State
McDonald has been a nearly automatic presence in the Spartans’ starting lineup, making 17 consecutive starts and 26 overall at right guard. With a new starting quarterback, McDonald may have to pave the way for running back Le’Veon Bell to carry the offense.
 
13. Mason Walters, Texas
The top blocker on a unit that has underachieved, Walters has started all 25 games of his two-year career at right guard. He is hoping to build upon his honorable mention All-Big 12 selection from last year.
 
14. Carson York, Oregon
York has been a stabilizing force on Oregon’s offensive line, starting 36 career games. However, his status for the season opener is in doubt, as he suffered a serious knee injury in the bowl win over Wisconsin. If healthy, York should be one of the best guards in the nation.
 
15. Blaize Foltz, TCU
With only two returning starters, the offensive line is the Horned Frogs' biggest question mark on offense. However, TCU has a solid duo to build around on the interior. Foltz should be leader for this unit after earning first-team All-Mountain West honors in 2011 and will be expected to challenge for All-Big 12 accolades in 2012.
Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top Offensive Linemen for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 05:15
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-30-wide-receivers-2012
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The Pac-12 and Big 12 are two of college football's top conferences for offense, so it's no surprise that eight of the top 10 receivers hail from those two leagues. USC's Robert Woods is coming off a stellar sophomore season and can only get better in 2012, especially if he is 100 percent recovered from an ankle injury. Clemson's Sammy Watkins will miss the first two games of the year but will be one of college football's top receivers by the end of 2012.

When compiling the rankings, Athlon considered how each player will perform in 2012, some past performance, personnel losses around the quarterback, conference difficulty and pro potential. 

College Football's Top 30 Wide Receivers for 2012

1. Robert Woods, USC
One half of USC’s impressive receiver duo, Woods was one of eight players in the country to catch more than 100 passes -- and he was the only one to do so in 12 games thanks to USC’s bowl ban. Woods will get his chance to play in the postseason after accounting for 176 catches for 2,084 yards and 21 touchdowns (15 last season) in his first two years at USC.

2. Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Despite his two-game suspension to start 2012, Watkins checks in as Athlon’s No. 1 player in the ACC. High expectations surrounded Watkins from the moment he arrived on campus, and he quickly emerged as Clemson’s top target, catching 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 scores. The Florida native was also a dangerous weapon on special teams, averaging 25 yards per kickoff return and taking one back for a touchdown in the win over Maryland. Although Watkins could have trouble matching last season’s totals, expect the sophomore to finish as a first-team All-American.

3. Keenan Allen, California
Few players in the nation have as much raw physical talent and skill as Allen possesses. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound stud from Greensboro, N.C., flashed first-round NFL talent as only a sophomore last year by catching 82 passes for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns. He is the half-brother of quarterback Zach Maynard and clearly has an unspoken rapport with Cal signal caller. Look for this to be Allen’s final year in a Golden Bear uniform.

4. Tavon Austin, West Virginia
At 5-foot-9 and 174 pounds, Austin isn’t your prototypical wide receiver. Don’t be fooled though, the Baltimore native is one of college football’s top playmakers and will give Big 12 defenses plenty of headaches in 2012. He led the team with 101 receptions, ranked second with 1,186 yards, while catching eight touchdowns and taking two returns for a score on special teams. Austin closed out 2011 on a high note, catching 12 passes for 123 yards and four touchdowns in the Orange Bowl victory over Clemson. The senior is one of college football’s top all-purpose threats and should top 100 receptions once again in 2012.

5. Marquess Wilson, Washington State
Most Pac-12 fans are familiar with Wilson but expect to see him become a household name nationally after 2012. With Mike Leach’s pass-first attack coming to Pullman, the Cougars should be one of the top offenses in the nation. Wilson has recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and caught 18 touchdown passes over the last two years. His best performance came against San Diego State in 2011, grabbing six passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns. With Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and Keenan Allen returning, it will be a battle to get first-team all-conference honors. However, there’s no question Wilson will have the stats to get in the mix for first-team All-Pac-12 and All-American honors.

6. Marqise Lee, USC
With Robert Woods posting a record-setting season on the other side, it was easy to overlook Lee’s performance in 2011. As a true freshman, he finished with 73 receptions for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Lee came on strong over the second half of the season, catching at least seven passes in each of the final five games. Woods is still USC’s No. 1 receiver, but Lee will see plenty of passes in his direction. Expect the sophomore to surpass last season’s totals, while pushing for All-American honors.

7. Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
Bailey was a high school teammate of quarterback Geno Smith, and the chemistry showed. Bailey caught 72 passes, including 12 touchdowns. His 1,279 receiving yards set a school record and his eight 100-yard receiving game tied one. He’s the other half of the Big 12’s best receiving tandem along with Tavon Austin.

8. Justin Hunter, Tennessee
The talented receiver caught seven touchdown passes as a freshman in 2010 while averaging a staggering 25.9 yards on 16 receptions. The expectations for Hunter were sky-high last season before he suffered a torn ACL in the third game of the year at Florida. Hunter did total 302 yards and two scores in the first two games before his injury. If he returns to his former elite athlete level, Hunter will be one of the most explosive weapons in the SEC.

9. Terrance Williams, Baylor
Robert Griffin and Kendall Wright are gone, but the Baylor passing attack shouldn’t suffer too big of a drop in 2012. Williams will take over as the team’s No. 1 receiver after catching 59 passes for 957 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011. At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, the senior has the size and speed combination that will be very attractive for NFL teams next April. 

10. Kenny Stills, Oklahoma
Bob Stoops said Landry Jones’ late-season swoon wasn’t all on the shoulders of the quarterback. Certainly, that means Stills needs to improve his consistency. He was more productive last season as a No. 2 receiver to Ryan Broyles, but failed to catch a touchdown or produce a 100-yard game after the calendar turned to November. He has great potential, so now it’s time to put it all together.

11. Da’Rick Rogers, Tennessee
Update: Rogers has been suspended indefinitely and may not play at Tennessee in 2012.

Few players are a bigger anomaly than Mr. Rogers. He has NFL size, speed, explosiveness and upside. He is a nightmare match-up for any NCAA defensive back and will make huge plays after the catch. But the knucklehead factor is strong with the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Calhoun, Ga., native. He has had multiple issues off the field and his dedication/commitment to his team and craft remain a large question mark. He also has a tendency to drop the easy pass. Should things fall right and Rogers stays focused, he could be the best WR in the SEC. If not, he might be the third-best WR on his own team.

12. Josh Boyce, TCU
Boyce is TCU’s top big-play threat at receiver, with nearly twice as many yards last season than the Horned Frogs’ No. 2 wideout. Boyce finished last season with 61 catches for 998 yards for an average of 14.9 yards per catch. Three of his nine touchdowns came in the upset of Boise State, including two touchdowns that torched the Broncos secondary for 74 and 69 yards.

13. Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas
The 6-foot-3 wide receiver should be quarterback Tyler Wilson’s favorite target this season. Hamilton had 34 catches for 542 yards and four touchdowns a year ago, averaging 15.9 yards per reception. He has the size and speed combination to be one of the top wideouts in the SEC and a star for the Razorbacks in 2012.

14. Ryan Swope, Texas A&M
Swope was one of the Big 12’s top receivers last season, catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 scores. His six 100-yard games and 89 catches were a school record. Matching those numbers could be difficult in 2012, especially with Texas A&M breaking in a new quarterback and offensive scheme. New coach Kevin Sumlin’s spread offense should allow for Swope to have plenty of looks in the open field, but he needs the new quarterback to quickly settle into the starting role. Even if Swope’s numbers drop a bit, expect the senior to challenge for first-team All-SEC honors. 

15. Nick Harwell, Miami (Ohio)
Harwell looks to be the next receiver in the list of standout receivers from the MAC. As a freshman in 2010, he caught 64 passes for 871 yards and six scores. Harwell was even better as a sophomore last year, grabbing 97 receptions for 1,425 yards and nine touchdowns. The Texas native had five games of at least 10 receptions, including 15 in the 24-21 loss to Temple. Harwell has been named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list for 2012.

16. Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech
Patton was one of 2011's top impact junior college transfers, recording 74 catches for 1,135 yards and 10 scores. He was a first-team All-WAC selection and is on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award for 2012. Patton had one 200-yard game (Central Arkansas) last year and should be Louisiana Tech's No. 1 target once again this season.  

17. Markus Wheaton, Oregon State
In a league stacked with future NFL stars at wide receiver, it is easy for Wheaton to get overlooked. With a freshman quarterback throwing the ball, the dynamic athlete caught 73 passes for 986 yards to go with 190 yards rushing. It would not be going out on a limb to suggest Wheaton reaches paydirt more than the one touchdown he scored last fall.

18. Darrin Moore, Texas Tech
A suspension for a DWI arrest has clouded Moore’s status with the team for 2012. Before a leg injury against Nevada last year, Moore was one of college football’s leading receivers with 21 receptions through the first two games. If he avoids a lengthy suspension, the senior should contend for first-team All-Big 12 honors. There's certainly some risk by ranking Moore this high, but there's also a lot of potential based on what we saw last year. 

19. Odell Beckham, LSU
Beckham had an impressive debut as a true freshman in 2011, catching 41 passes for 475 yards and two scores. The New Orleans native is primed for a breakout year, especially with Rueben Randle moving onto the NFL. New quarterback Zach Mettenberger should be able to stretch the field more than Jordan Jefferson or Jarrett Lee did, which should allow Beckham to use his speed and athleticism even more in 2012. 

20. Tracy Moore, Oklahoma State
Justin Blackmon is gone, and so is Josh Cooper and their 193 catches between them. Moore is the Cowboys’ top returning receiver with 45 receptions for 692 yards and four touchdowns. The early returns on his move from inside receiver to outside have been positive.

21. Tevin Reese, Baylor
With Kendall Wright catching passes in the NFL, Reese and teammate Terrance Williams will be a bigger part of the offense in 2012. Reese has been a big-play threat for Baylor over the last two years, averaging 17.2 yards per catch last season, including a 69-yard touchdown against Oklahoma. Reese should post career-highs in catches, yards and touchdowns in 2012.

22. Conner Vernon, Duke
Vernon has racked up 2,675 receiving yards and 13 touchdown passes on 198 catches in three seasons for the Blue Devils, leading the team in receiving the last two seasons. He could threaten school and ACC records by the end of the season.

23. DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
Hopkins is a clear No. 2 receiver on a team with Sammy Watkins, but he’s poised to make a statement of his own in 2012. The junior caught 72 passes last season (fourth-most in Clemson history) for 978 yards with five touchdowns. He also had three 100-yard receiving games in the final seven.

24. Rashad Greene, Florida State
Thanks to Sammy Watkins’ emergence last season, it was easy to overlook Greene’s freshman totals in the ACC. He caught 38 passes for 596 yards and seven scores but was slowed by an injury that forced him to miss four games midway through the year. With a full offseason to heal back to 100 percent, Greene should be one of the ACC’s top receivers and the No. 1 target for quarterback EJ Manuel.

25. Emory Blake, Auburn
Injuries and quarterback play limited Blake's numbers last season, but he has potential to be one of the top receivers in the SEC. In 11 games last season, Blake caught 36 passes for 613 yards and five scores. He also averaged an impressive 17 yards per catch, while posting three 100-yard efforts last season. 

26. Cody Hoffman, BYU
Hoffman came on strong at the end of 2010 and picked up where he left off early in 2011. The California native caught eight passes for 138 yards against BYU in the third week of the season and closed out 2011 by recording three 100-yard performances. Hoffman is the No. 1 target for quarterback Riley Nelson and has a chance to improve on his numbers in 2012.

27. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
A former high school quarterback, Abbrederis gives the Badgers a big-play threat in the passing game. Last season, he caught 55 passes for a team-high 933 yards and eight touchdowns, and his 17.0 yards-per-catch average ranked second in the Big Ten behind Michigan’s Junior Hemingway.

28. Keenan Davis, Iowa
The Hawkeyes’ record-breaking receiver Marvin McNutt drew most of the attention last season, but Davis had the breakout season. Davis finished with 50 catches last year, after catching 15 total passes his first two seasons on campus. His 713 receiving yards and 14.3 yards per catch were respectable stats for a No. 2 receiver. Now, Iowa will learn how he takes to being No. 1.

29. Kasen Williams, Washington
With Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar expiring their eligibility at the end of 2011, the Huskies are looking for a new go-to target. Williams should be Keith Price’s preferred receiver in 2012, especially after catching 36 passes for 427 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman last year. 

30. Trey Metoyer, Oklahoma
Finding weapons for quarterback Landry Jones is the biggest fall priority for the Sooners’ offense. Kenny Stills is one of the Big 12’s top receivers, but after that is where the question marks begin. Metoyer did not qualify last season and attended Hargrave Academy in preparation for 2012. He was one of the top receivers in the 2011 recruiting class and did not disappoint in spring practice, catching six passes for 72 yards in the Red-White game. Although Ryan Broyles will be missed, Metoyer’s emergence should ease concerns about the Oklahoma receiving corps.

The Next 12

Michael Campanaro, Wake Forest
DeVonte Christopher, Utah
Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
Noel Grigsby, San Jose State
Darius Johnson, SMU
Alec Lemon, Syracuse
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia
T.J. Moe, Missouri
Jaxon Shipley, Texas
Devin Street, Pittsburgh
Eric Ward, Texas Tech

20 Freshmen to Watch (True and Redshirt)

Nelson Agholor, USC
Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
Joel Caleb, Virginia Tech
Amari Cooper, Alabama
Quinshad Davis, North Carolina
Stefon Diggs, Maryland
Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
Deontay Greenberry, Houston
Cayleb Jones, Texas
Gabe Marks, Washington State
Trey Metoyer, Oklahoma
Andre McDonald, Minnesota
Davonte' Neal, Notre Dame
Durron Neal, Oklahoma
Jordan Payton, UCLA
Shaq Roland, South Carolina
Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
Michael Thomas, Ohio State
Jordan Thompson, West Virginia
Bryce Treggs, California

10 Transfers to Watch

DeAnthony Arnett, Michigan State (from Tennessee)
Brice Butler, San Diego State (from USC)
Chris Dunkley, South Florida (from Florida)
Bryce McNeal, Louisville (from Clemson)
Javares McRoy, Texas Tech (from Florida)
Shakim Phillips, Connecticut (from Boston College)
Kyle Prater, Northwestern (from USC)
Je'Ron Stokes, Bowling Green (Michigan)
Darryl Stonum, Baylor (Michigan)
Tyson Williams, Texas Tech (from West Texas A&M)

by David Fox (@DavidFox615), Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Mark Ross and Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

Related College Football Content

Ranking College Football's Top 15 Tight Ends for 2012
Ranking College Football's Top 30 RBs for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 30 QBs for 2012

Ranking the SEC's Top 75 Players for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Top 50 Players for 2012

College Football's Top 10 Players Returning From Injury

Projecting College Football's Win Totals for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 30 Wide Receivers for 2012</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 05:33
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-15-tight-ends-2012
Body:

The tight end position has been lacking in recent years, but there's a good crop of players ready to emerge in 2012. Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert ranks as Athlon's No. 1 tight end for this season, while Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins will only get better after a solid freshman campaign in 2011. Ohio State's Jake Stoneburner and Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz are two players who should easily surpass last year's totals, while non-BCS standouts Jack Doyle, Ryan Otten and Gavin Escobar should not be overlooked.

When compiling the rankings, Athlon considered how each player will perform in 2012, some past performance, personnel losses around the quarterback, conference difficulty and pro potential. 

College Football's Top 15 Tight Ends for 2012

1. Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
An elite tight end is a rarity in college football in recent years. Luckily for Notre Dame, Eifert turned down the NFL Draft to return to South Bend and should be the nation’s best at his position going into the 2012 season. He ranked second on the team with 63 receptions, 803 yards and five receiving scores last year. Eifert had at least one catch in every game last season and caught eight passes for 75 yards and one touchdown in the win against Pittsburgh. With Michael Floyd finishing his eligibility in South Bend, Eifert is the now the leader of the receiving corps and should be targeted more by Notre Dame quarterbacks in 2012. 

2. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
As only a true freshman, the big-time prep star from Gig Harbor High School produced a season no Washington freshman tight end has ever posted. His 538 yards receiving were No. 2 all-time in UW history for a freshman of any position while ranking No. 3 all-time for any tight end of any age. He did all of that on 41 catches to go with six touchdowns. He has a chance to be the best player at his position nationally with continued development.

3. Joseph Fauria, UCLA
The nephew of NFL veteran tight end Christian Fauria, Joseph Fauria caught 39 passes for 481 yards with six touchdowns last season. He’ll be a top target for new Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley in the new “Y” position.

4. Chris Gragg, Arkansas
The veteran tight end had an excellent season in 2011, ranking third on the team in receptions. Gragg totaled 41 catches for 518 yards and two scores, and he was a star (8 catches, 119 yards, 1 TD) in the Mississippi State game. Arkansas will look for more of the same in 2012.

5. Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin
Pederson was a reliable red zone threat for former Badger quarterback Russell Wilson, with eight of his 30 receptions resulting in a touchdown. The 6-4, 240-pound Illinois native caught at least one pass in all but one game — with a high of six for 80 yards and two scores vs. Oregon State — and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors.

6. Levine Toiolo, Stanford
Stanford’s three-tight end attack is down to two with juniors Zach Ertz and Toilolo. Though Toilolo was the third of the tree, he finished 348 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

7. Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State
Stoneburner ran into some off-the-field trouble in the offseason but is expected to return to the roster in time for the opener against Miami (Ohio). The Dublin, Ohio native has 37 career catches for 445 yards and is expected to have a more prominent role in the offense in 2012. New coach Urban Meyer is installing a spread attack but Stoneburner’s athleticism and speed will be too attractive to keep on the bench. The senior could be Ohio State’s leading receiver in 2012. 

8. Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn
Lutzenkirchen has 14 career touchdowns on 44 catches combined, while CBS broadcast team ensures we’ll never forget how to pronounce his name.

9. Ryan Griffin, Connecticut
Griffin will never be the flashiest pass-catching tight end in any league, but his all around play as both an in-line blocker and experienced receiver make him the best tight end in the Big East. His leadership will be invaluable along the line this fall.

10. Gavin Escobar, San Diego State
Escobar was the Mountain West's top tight end last season, catching 51 passes for 780 yards and seven scores. Repeating those numbers in 2012 could be difficult, especially with the Aztecs breaking in a new quarterback and the departure of running back Ronnie Hillman. The good news for San Diego State? New quarterback Ryan Katz has experience at Oregon State, and there's plenty of weapons on the outside, which should allow Escobar to continue to thrive over the middle.

11. Ryan Otten, San Jose State
Otten emerged as a key part of San Jose State's offense last year, posting career highs in catches (52), receiving yards (739) and scores (5). Injuries prevented Otten from reaching his potential in 2009 and 2010, as he combined for just 27 receptions over that span. The senior will have a new quarterback in 2012 but should push for 50-60 receptions once again.

12. Jack Doyle, Western Kentucky
Doyle has been a steady performer over the last three years and has been named to the Mackey Award watch list for the second consecutive year. He is coming off his best overall season, catching 52 passes for 614 yards, including nine for 89 yards in the 31-21 win over North Texas. The Hilltoppers will miss running back Bobby Rainey, but quarterback Kawaun Jakes should have his best season, which should allow Doyle to threaten last season's numbers.

13. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
Fiedorowicz has just 16 catches through two seasons at Iowa but is expected to have a breakout 2012 campaign. He came on strong over the final four games of 2011, catching 12 passes (three went for scores) over the final four weeks. New coordinator Greg Davis expects to get Fiedorowicz involved early and often in Iowa's offense this year.

14. Randall Telfer, USC
It's easy to overlook Telfer with Robert Woods and Marqise Lee dominating the catch totals each week. However, Telfer grabbed 26 receptions for 273 yards and five touchdowns as a true freshman last season. Expect the sophomore to become a bigger part of USC's offense in 2012.

15. Zach Ertz, Stanford
Ertz is the second Stanford tight end to crack the top 15 of this list. With Coby Fleener catching passes in the NFL, look for Ertz to see more looks in 2012. He caught 27 passes for 346 yards and four scores last season and will be a valuable safety valve for Stanford's new quarterback.

The Next 11

Matt Furstenburg, Maryland
Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State
Hubie Graham, Pittsburgh
Chase Harper, Texas State
Andrei Lintz, Washington State
Colt Lyerla, Oregon
Nick O'Leary, Florida State
Jordan Reed, Florida
Dion Sims, Michigan State
Michael Williams, Alabama
Luke Willson, Rice

 

by David Fox (@DavidFox615), Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Mark Ross and Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

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Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Top 50 Players for 2012

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 15 Tight Ends for 2012</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 - 05:30
Path: /college-football/ranking-college-footballs-top-25-quarterbacks-2012-0
Body:

With the college football season right around the corner, it's time to countdown the best of the best. Athlon continues the countdown to kickoff with a look at the top quarterbacks in college football for 2012. It should be no surprise USC's Matt Barkley tops the rankings as the No. 1 quarterback in the nation. The senior is the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and has the Trojans as one of the frontrunners to claim the 2012 national title. 

When compiling the rankings, Athlon considered how each player will perform in 2012, some past performance, personnel losses around the quarterback, conference difficulty and pro potential. 

College Football's Top 25 Quarterbacks for 2012

1. Matt Barkley, USC
After throwing 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions over his final four games in 2011, the consensus was Barkley was gone to the NFL. Instead, he surprised a lot of folks with his decision to return for one more shot at a national title and has USC poised to play for the championship in January. Barkley enters 2012 with 9,054 yards and 80 touchdowns and is Athlon’s first-team All-American quarterback for 2012. The senior ranks third in school history with 9,013 career yards, and his 80 touchdown passes are fifth in Pac-12 history. The only missing pieces on Barkley’s resume? A Pac-12 title, national championship and Heisman. All three are certainly within reach in 2012.

2. Geno Smith, West Virginia
After throwing for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns in his first year working in Dana Holgorsen’s spread attack, Smith is primed for an even bigger 2012 season. He finished 2011 by throwing for 407 yards and six touchdowns in the 70-33 rout over Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Smith tied or set 21 career, season or game school records last year and earned first-team All-Big East honors. With one of the nation’s top receiving corps returning, the senior quarterback should be in for an even bigger statistical season. The Big 12 is known for its offense, and West Virginia should fit in well in 2012, especially with Smith more comfortable in the second year of Holgorsen’s offense.

3. Denard Robinson, Michigan
The man they call Shoelace has been one of the most dynamic playmakers in college football over the past two seasons. Robinson has struggled at times with consistency in the passing game, but he led the nation last year by averaging 15.3 yards per completion and ranked fourth in the Big Ten in passing efficiency. Robinson does his best work on the ground, however; he has rushed for 3,229 yards on a 5.9-yard average in his three years in Ann Arbor.

4. Aaron Murray, Georgia
It’s a close call for the No. 1 quarterback spot in the SEC. Murray and Tyler Wilson are both deserving, but with Arkansas losing coach Bobby Petrino and receivers Joe Adams and Jarius Wright, the edge goes to the Bulldogs’ signal-caller. Through Murray’s first two years in Athens, he has thrown for 6,198 yards and 59 touchdowns. His interception total increased last year (8 as a freshman, 14 as a sophomore), which will be one area the coaching staff wants to see him improve in 2012. The Bulldogs have to replace a couple of key offensive line starters, and receiver Malcolm Mitchell may spend the majority of the first part of the year at cornerback. There are concerns about Murray, but we think he will end up with first-team All-SEC honors at the end of 2012.

5. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
Wilson successfully stepped into Ryan Mallett’s shoes as Arkansas’ starting quarterback last season, carrying on the Razorbacks’ best run of passers in program history. Wilson’s 3,638 yards was the second-highest total in school history as he became the program’s first All-SEC first-team quarterback. After the sudden coaching change, Wilson also was a stabilizing presence on the roster. He and Mallett are the only two quarterbacks to pass for 3,000 yards in school history.

6. Collin Klein, Kansas State
Klein emerged from obscurity last season to account for 40 total touchdowns, leading the Wildcats to 10-3 season and the Cotton Bowl. Kansas State’s emotional leader, Klein rushed for 27 touchdowns, tying the Division I record held by Navy’s Ricky Dobbs, and became the first Big 12 quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards since Missouri’s Brad Smith in 2005. The Wildcats also learned they could rely more on his arm as the season went along.

7. Landry Jones, Oklahoma
Jones wasn’t the same near the end of the season when injuries to Ryan Broyles and Dominique Whaley took their toll on the Sooners offense. On Nov. 5, Jones had 28 touchdown passes and nine interceptions, but threw one touchdown pass and six picks over the final four games. After passing for 12,379 career yards and 93 touchdowns, Jones could set a number of Big 12 records, but can he lead Oklahoma to a national title.

8. Keith Price, Washington
Replacing Jake Locker was no easy task, but it didn’t take long for Price to emerge as one of the conference’s top quarterbacks last year. The California native threw for 3,063 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, while adding three scores on the ground. Knee injuries limited Price in the second half of last season, but he will be 100 percent for the season opener. The Huskies still have question marks on defense, but Price’s emergence should allow Washington to push Stanford for second in the Pac-12 North.

9. Tajh Boyd, Clemson
The junior from Hampton, Va., led the ACC in total offense last year (289.0 ypg) and was a key reason why Clemson hoisted the conference championship trophy a year ago. He accounted for an ACC record 38 touchdowns in 2011 and ranks first in Tigers’ history in most every major passing category. His 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame fits Chad Morris’ system perfectly, and with a variety of supremely talented skill players around him, he should post another huge statistical season in Death Valley. The key for Boyd’s long-term legacy, however, will be how his team finishes the season. Cutting back on his interceptions, he threw nine of his 12 during Clemson’s 2-4 finish, will go a long way to repeating as ACC champs.

10. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
Thomas wasted little time in establishing himself as the latest productive and dangerous dual-threat quarterback to wear a Virginia Tech uniform. Last season, the sophomore set a new school single-season mark for total yards with 3,482 and accounted for a total of 30 touchdowns. He was the team’s second-leading rusher (469 yards) and passed for more than 3,013 yards, the second-most by a Hokie quarterback in a season, with all of this coming as a first-year starter.

11. Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Based upon his performance in 2011, ranking Miller among the top 15 quarterbacks in the nation. However, that’s where projecting for 2012 comes into play. Urban Meyer’s spread attack should jumpstart Ohio State’s offense, while turning Miller into one of the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks. The sophomore should have no trouble surpassing last season’s 1,159 passing yards and will top over 500 yards on the ground once again in 2012.

12. Tyler Bray, Tennessee
The 6-foot-6 quarterback has shown a ton of promise over his first two seasons in Knoxville, compiling 3,832 yards and 35 touchdown passes in 16 games. However, Bray must find a way to stay healthy for an entire season. He threw for 17 scores against six interceptions in seven games last year and has an elite receiving crew coming back. If a Vols rushing attack that ranked 116th nationally last year improves, Bray could have a monster 2012 campaign.

13. AJ McCarron, Alabama
McCarron finished the 2011 season by playing some of his best football, throwing for 234 yards on 23 completions in the 21-0 victory over LSU in the national championship. He also threw for 184 yards and three touchdowns against Auburn and has not thrown a pick since the Nov. 12 victory over Mississippi State. With Trent Richardson moving onto the NFL, Alabama will put more on McCarron’s shoulders this season. New coordinator Doug Nussmeier should open up the offense a little more, which will allow McCarron to easily surpass last season’s totals and challenge for All-SEC honors.

14. EJ Manuel, Florida State
Despite a shoulder injury and little help from his offensive line and rushing attack, Manuel finished 2011 with 2,666 yards and 18 passing scores. Even more impressive than his passing yards was his 65.3 completion percentage and eight interceptions over 311 attempts. Manuel had plenty of highlights, throwing for 249 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl and 321 yards against NC State. With a loaded group of receivers, Manuel should have a chance to surpass last season’s totals. However, Florida State’s offense needs the offensive line to give him more protection, and the rushing attack to provide more balance in 2012.

15. Mike Glennon, NC State
In many ways, NC State’s offense didn’t miss a beat in 2011 even with first-year starter Mike Glennon assuming the reigns from All-ACC performer Russell Wilson, who transferred to Wisconsin for his final season. Glennon tossed 31 touchdown passes, which is the second-most in a single season in school history, while passing for more than 3,000 yards and completing nearly 63 percent of his attempts.

16. James Franklin, Missouri
The biggest unknown surrounding Franklin is the status of his throwing shoulder. He was injured during spring practice but had successful surgery and returned in time to participate in the fall. Will Franklin have the same arm strength? How will the timing be with his receivers? Those are two key questions to watch for Missouri in fall practice. If healthy, Franklin should be one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks. He rushed for 981 yards and 15 touchdowns last year, while throwing for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns.

17. Bryn Renner, North Carolina
After sitting behind then-starter and current Houston Texans backup quarterback T.J. Yates, Renner took full advantage of his first opportunity to shine. The sophomore set a North Carolina single-season record in 2011 with 26 touchdown passes while becoming only the second player in school history to pass for more than 3,000 yards in a season. He also led the ACC and was 10th in the nation in passing efficiency as he completed nearly 70 percent of his throws.

18. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska
Martinez, who arrived at Nebraska as an athlete, has been one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation over the past two seasons. His efficiency was down a bit in 2011, but his yards passing (2,089) and touchdown passes (13) were up. He continues to be a threat in the running game, with 1,839 yards and 21 touchdowns during his career.

19. James Vandenberg, Iowa
The Big Ten may have the nation’s best collection of athletic quarterbacks, so it may be tempting to overlook the league’s best dropback passer. Vandenberg was the Big Ten’s third-leading passer at 3,022 yards last season and was second only to Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins in attempts and completions. Vandenberg will be even more of a key player for the Iowa offense this season, but he’ll have to improve his play on the road and overcome the loss of clutch receiver Marvin McNutt. The concerns about the offensive line and rushing attack will only add to the pressure on Vandenberg's shoulders in 2012.

20. Casey Pachall, TCU
In filling in for the greatest QB in the history of TCU football, all Pachall did as a sophomore was set single-season school records for yards, completions and completion rate. The burly — 6-5, 226 — passer has above average athletic ability and led the Frogs to a conference championship that featured a brilliant 473-yard, 5-TD road performance against then unbeaten Boise State. Now, he steps into a league known for its quarterback play. Yet, Pachall should have no problem fitting right in. His 2,921 yards, 66.5% and 25:7 TD:INT ratio plays no matter what league he is in.

21. Jeff Tuel, Washington State
The injury bug bit Tuel last season, as he played in only three games and completed 29 of 45 throws for 276 yards and one score. The California native suffered a broken collarbone in the season opener but returned later in the year, only to miss the final five games with a leg injury. Tuel has flown under the radar in his career, as most expected him to emerge as an all-conference candidate last season, especially after throwing for 2,780 yards and 18 scores in 2010. With Mike Leach arriving in Pullman, the Cougars should have one of the nation’s top passing threats. If Tuel can stay healthy, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns is easily within reach.

22. Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State
Aplin has quietly been one of the nation's most productive quarterbacks over the last two years and should thrive under the coaching of Gus Malzahn. Aplin threw for 3,588 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, while adding 588 yards and 10 scores on the ground. Malzahn engineered some of the nation's top offenses at Tulsa and Auburn, and Aplin should easily shatter his previous season high in passing and rushing yards.

23. Seth Doege, Texas Tech
It was easy to overlook Doege with Brandon Weeden, Landry Jones, Collin Klein and Robert Griffin all lining up under center in the Big 12. Doege finished 2011 with 4,004 yards and 28 touchdowns, including 441 yards and four scores in the upset win over Oklahoma. The senior should have a chance to push those numbers even higher in 2012, as the Red Raiders bring back receivers Eric Ward, Darrin Moore and Alex Torres, while running back Eric Stephens should be near full strength for the opener in his return from a torn ACL.

24. Tyler Tettleton, Ohio
Tettleton shined in his first season as the starter, throwing for 3,306 yards and 28 touchdowns, while rushing for 666 yards and 10 scores. He led the Bobcats to 10 wins, including a 24-23 victory over Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Ohio must replace a couple of key receivers, but Tettleton should be the MAC's top quarterback in 2012. 

25. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
As expected, Bridgewater experienced ups and downs as a freshman last season. He threw an interception in his only pass attempt in the opener against Murray State but finished the year with five touchdown tosses over the final two games. Bridgewater’s play was crucial to keeping Louisville in the Big East title hunt last season and will only get better as a sophomore. With plenty of weapons at his disposal and a talented offensive line, Bridgewater should finish 2012 ranked among the top five players in the Big East.

10 Transfers to Watch

1. Danny O'Brien, Wisconsin (from Maryland)
2. Dayne Crist, Kansas (from Notre Dame)
3. Cody Green, Tulsa (from Nebraska)
4. Garrett Gilbert, SMU (from Texas)
5. Phillip Sims, Virginia (from Alabama)
6. Ryan Katz, San Diego State (from Oregon State)
7. Jordan Webb, Colorado (from Kansas)
8. Jacob Karam, Memphis (from Texas Tech)
9. Sean Schroeder, Hawaii (from Duke)
10. Tyler Gabbert, UCF (from Missouri)

15 Freshman Quarterbacks to Watch

1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon 
2. Wes Lunt, Oklahoma State
3. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
4. Brett Hundley, UCLA
5. Everett Golson, Notre Dame
6. Michael Eubank, Arizona State
7. Perry Hills, Maryland
8. Anthony Alford, Southern Miss
9. Patrick Towles, Kentucky
10. Gunner Kiel, Notre Dame
11. Travis Wilson, Utah
12. Nick Patti, Boise State
13. Zach Kline, California
14. Chad Voytik, Pittsburgh
15. Connor Brewer, Texas

Five Junior College Transfers to Watch

1. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
2. Chandler Whitmer, Connecticut
3. David Fales, San Jose State
4. Cameron Coffman, Indiana
5. David Fisher, Kent State

by David Fox (@DavidFox615), Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Mark Ross and Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

Related College Football Content

Ranking the SEC's Top 75 Players for 2012
Ranking the Pac-12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012
Ranking the Big Ten's Top 50 Players for 2012
College Football's Top 10 Players Returning From Injury

Projecting College Football's Win Totals for 2012
Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 25 Quarterbacks for 2012</p>
Post date: Monday, August 20, 2012 - 06:22
Path: /college-football/ranking-college-footballs-top-30-running-backs-2012
Body:

A torn ACL ended Marcus Lattimore's 2011 season in mid-October, but all signs point to a full return by the junior in 2012. Although the Gamecocks may take it easy on Lattimore early, he should be in the mix as one of the top 10 Heisman candidates by the end of the year. Not far behind Lattimore is Wisconsin's Montee Ball. Repeating last season's numbers won't be easy for Ball, but he will be the focal point of an offense that loses quarterback Russell Wilson. 

When compiling the rankings, Athlon considered how each player will perform in 2012, some past performance, personnel losses around the quarterback, conference difficulty and pro potential. 

College Football's Top 30 Running Backs for 2012

1. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
Before his season ending knee injury on Oct. 15, Lattimore was a Heisman frontrunner. The week before the injury, Lattimore was sixth in the nation in rushing with 129.8 yards per game. Lattimore’s health will be one of the major storylines in the SEC. If he’s fully healthy, the Gamecocks could make a run at their first SEC championship. Although Montee Ball's production has outweighed Lattimore so far in his career, the South Carolina back is the nation's most talented all-around back.

2. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Ball emerged as one of the elite tailbacks in his junior season at Wisconsin, leading the nation with 1,923 rushing yards and an astounding 33 rushing touchdowns. His 39 total TDs last year tied the NCAA record originally set by Barry Sanders in 1988. Ball has rushed for at least 100 yards in 16 of the last 20 games dating back to November 2011. Don’t be surprised if Ball is on the podium in New York in early December accepting the Heisman Trophy.

3. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska
Burkhead thrived in his first full season as Nebraska’s No. 1 back, rushing for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns. He averaged 106 yards per game in Big Ten play and earned first-team all-conference honors last season. Although quarterback Taylor Martinez should get better as a passer in 2012, the Cornhuskers will lean heavily on Burkhead to win games. The senior is capable of recording 300 overall carries and will also be a factor in the passing game, as evidenced by his 21 receptions last year. Burkhead is a sleeper candidate to watch in the Heisman race and should be one of the Big Ten’s top offensive players this season.

4. Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State
With Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon playing on Sundays now, Randle will have to carry the offense. He rushed for 1,216 yards and 24 scores, while catching 43 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns last year. Randle earned second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2011 and is an Athlon Sports first-team All-Big 12 selection for 2012. With freshman Wes Lunt taking over under center, defenses will be gearing up to stop Randle, but the junior back’s all-around ability makes him one of the top 10 players in the Big 12 for 2012.

5. De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
Even at Oregon, where speed and explosiveness runs aplenty, Thomas found a way to stand out as a freshman. The 5-foot-9, 173-pound running back from Los Angeles averaged a 16-yard gain every time he touched the ball. That was half a yard more than any other Ducks’ regular and twice as much as either LaMichael James or Kenjon Barner. Thomas scored 18 total touchdowns as a rookie (nine rushing, seven receiving, two on kickoff returns).

6. Knile Davis, Arkansas
Expectations are high for Davis to return to the lineup at full speed after missing the 2011 season with a broken ankle. In 2010, Davis emerged over the final seven games of the season to rush for 1,028 yards and 12 touchdowns during that span. The Hogs’ will look forward to his power, speed and vision to return to the lineup after Arkansas ranked ninth in the SEC in rushing last season.

7. Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
Bernard burst on the scene in his first season in a North Carolina uniform as he became the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 1997. The leading rusher among all FBS freshmen, Bernard finished the season third in the ACC In rushing with 1,253 yards, scored 14 total touchdowns and was a first-team all-conference selection.  Bernard redshirted in 2010 after tearing his ACL on the third day of fall practice, but made an immediate impact in 2011 and enters this season as one of the ACC’s top running backs.

8. Kenjon Barner, Oregon
Oregon isn’t panicking over the loss of running back LaMichael James, mainly because Barner has shown what he can do with the ball in his hands the last two seasons. Oregon’s run game didn’t miss a beat when Barner subbed for James. Barner has averaged 6.1 yards per carry and has scored 20 touchdowns in his career. Now it’s his turn to be the No. 1 running back.

9. Ray Graham, Pittsburgh
After Oct. 15, Graham was second in the nation in rushing at 134 yards per game. Alas, his season came to an end the following week with a torn ACL against Connecticut. When healthy, Graham, who is Khaseem Greene’s half brother, was a big-play back (5.8 yards per carry) despite subpar offensive line play. He could flourish in Paul Chryst’s offense.

10. Andre Ellington, Clemson
When healthy, Ellington is one of the top backs in the ACC. He missed part of 2010 with a toe injury and was hobbled at various times last season. Ellington still managed to run for the eighth-best total in Clemson history in 2011 with 1,178 yards. The 5-9, 190-pound back has carried Clemson’s tradition of big-play backs by averaging 5.8 yards per carry in his career.

11. Silas Redd, USC
Redd’s decision to transfer to USC alleviated a major concern about the offense. Although Curtis McNeal had a solid 2011 season, the Trojans needed more depth at the position, and Redd is one of the top 15-20 backs in the nation. In two years with Penn State, he recorded 1,678 yards and nine touchdowns. Redd posted six 100-yard efforts last season, including 164 in the 34-24 win over Northwestern. Redd won’t see 250 carries, but having an every-down back is a key pickup for USC’s offense.

12. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford
With Andrew Luck gone to the NFL, more of the focus of the offense will be on Taylor. There’s no reason to think Taylor’s not up to the challenge. He’s topped 220 carries in each of the last two seasons, rushing for a combined 2,467 yards and 25 touchdowns. The Stanford offense has been more or less a power-run game even with Luck at quarterback, so Taylor should be ready for what’s coming.

13. John White, Utah
The junior college transfer set a school record with 1,520 rushing yards in his first season on campus. With starting quarterback Jordan Wynn hurt, Utah relied on White to be a workhorse in the Utes’ first season in the Pac-12. White delivered as one of only seven quarterbacks in the country to top 300 carries. He also rushed for 15 touchdowns.

14. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State
With Kirk Cousins finishing his eligibility in East Lansing, the focus for Michigan State’s offense will shift back to the rushing attack. Bell is expected to be the Spartans’ workhorse in 2012 after rushing for 948 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. At 6-foot-2 and 244 pounds, the junior brings an intriguing blend of power and speed and should surpass 1,000 yards for the first time in his career this year.

15. Eddie Lacy, Alabama
Lacy steps into the top running back role after rushing for 674 yards (7.1 yards per carry) last season. He’ll be a big-play back even if Bama drifts to a committee approach.

16. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt
Stacy set a school record for rushing yards (1,193) thanks to a burst over the second half of the season. Stacy rushed for 809 yards and 13 touchdowns in the final eight games of the season to earn second-team All-SEC honors.

17. Christine Michael, Texas A&M
If healthy, Michael should rank much higher on this list at the end of 2012. Through three years in College Station, he has rushed for 2,374 yards and 22 scores, while recording 36 receptions for 275 yards and one touchdown. A broken leg ended Michael's season in 2010, while a torn ACL in early November forced him to miss the final four games of 2011. 

18. Cameron Marshall, Arizona State
Marshall was essentially a one-man show at running back last season, carrying 230 times. No other Sun Devil running back topped 13 attempts. Marshall delivered with 1,050 yards and 18 touchdowns, tied with LaMichael James for the post in the Pac-12.

19. Robbie Rouse, Fresno State
At 5-foot-7 and 190 pounds, Rouse isn't your prototypical running back. However, he's quietly been one of the nation's most productive rushers over the last two years, recording back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and posting 21 touchdowns. Rouse had back-to-back 200-yard games in 2010 and rushed for 176 yards in a victory over Hawaii last year. Fresno State will have a new coordinator in 2012, but Rouse should expect another heavy workload once again. 

20. Spencer Ware, LSU
Stats simply don't tell the full story when it comes to LSU running backs. With Ware, Michael Ford, Alfred Blue, Kenny Hilliard, Terrence Magee and Jeremy Hill all in the mix, it's not easy for one rusher to get to 1,000 yards. Ware led the Tigers with 177 carries last season and should push for 200 touches once again in 2012.

21. Michael Ford, LSU
Just like teammate Spencer Ware, stats don't tell the story for Ford. With an abundance of talent in the backfield, Ford won't see 200 carries, but could start for more than half of the teams in college football. The junior led LSU with 756 rushing yards last season.

22. Cierre Wood, Notre Dame
Wood’s 1,102 yards last season was the most by a Notre Dame back since Darius Walker rushed for 1,267 in 2006. The Irish struggled to find balance on offense, as the passing attack struggled to find consistency most of the year, but Wood’s production was a bright spot. He recorded three 100-yard performances, including 191 and a touchdown on 20 attempts against Purdue. Wood also chipped in 27 receptions for 189 yards. 

23. Zach Line, SMU
June Jones is known for his pass-first offenses, but Line has been SMU's workhorse over the last two years. He rushed for 1,494 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2010 and totaled 1,224 yards before an injury forced him to miss the final three games of 2011. Line will be playing behind a rebuilt offensive line but should be one of the top offensive performers in Conference USA.

24. Malcolm Brown, Texas
The talent is there, the offensive line is there and the one full year of experience is there. The only real question surrounding Brown's potential breakout sophomore campaign is his workload. Mack Brown has such a loaded backfield to work with that Brown may not get the full compliment of touches, which pushes this sophomore down the list.

25. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA
Although the Bruins will have a new offense, don’t expect Franklin’s role to change much in 2012. The Los Angeles native rushed for 1,127 yards as a sophomore in 2010, while recording 976 yards and five scores last season. Expect Franklin to see more carries in 2012, especially with Brett Hundley taking over under center and Derrick Coleman expiring his eligibility at the end of last year.

26. Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan
The emergence of Touissant in late October took some of the pressure off quarterback Denard Robinson in the Michigan offense. He rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Purdue on Oct. 29 and then went on to run for 508 yards in the month of November, more than anyone in the Big Ten not named Montee Ball.

27. Perry Jones, Virginia
Few backs in the nation play as versatile a role as Jones does for the Wahoos. He had 20+ carries only three times last year and nearly got to 1,000 yards rushing, but he also posted 48 receptions for 506 yards in the passing game. His big-play, open-space ability even landed him on the punt return team for a few games. Expect another solid year from the non-traditional running back from Chesapeake, Va.

28. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona
With Rich Rodriguez taking over at Arizona, Carey should be in for a big sophomore season. The Tucson native rushed for 425 yards and six touchdowns as a true freshman, including 92 in the win over Arizona State. Carey should be one of the top breakout performers at running back in 2012.

29. Charles Sims, Houston
Sims was forced to sit out 2010 due to academic issues but quickly emerged as one of the top all-around threats in Conference USA last season. He rushed for 821 yards and nine scores, while catching 51 passes for 575 yards and four touchdowns. With Michael Hayes and Bryce Beall out of eligibility, Sims should rush for 1,000 yards this season.

30. Branden Oliver, Buffalo
Oliver exploded onto the scene last year, rushing for 1,395 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also chipped in 38 catches for 365 yards. Oliver's totals were even more impressive when you consider the lack of passing attack at Buffalo last season. The junior will be running behind one of the top offensive lines in the MAC, which should allow him to push for 1,500 yards.

The Next 11

D.J. Harper, Boise State
Montel Harris, Temple
Lyle McCombs, Connecticut
Curtis McNeal, USC
Chris Nwoke, Colorado State
Orwin Smith, Georgia Tech
Isi Sofele, California
Eric Stephens, Texas Tech
Matthew Tucker, TCU
Dominique Whaley, Oklahoma
James White, Wisconsin

10 Transfers to Watch

1. Silas Redd, USC (from Penn State)
2. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor (from Oregon)
3. Montel Harris, Temple (from Boston College)
4. Storm Johnson, UCF (from Miami)
5. DeLeon Eskridge, San Jose State (from Minnesota)
6. Mike Blakely, Auburn (from Florida)
7. Amir Carlisle, Notre Dame (from USC)
8. Mike Cox, UMass (from Michigan)
9. Toney Williams, Ball State (from Tennessee)
10. Corey Grant, Auburn (from Alabama)

Freshmen to Watch

Wes Brown, Maryland
J.C. Coleman, Virginia Tech
Bri'onte Dunn, Ohio State
Josh Ferguson, Illinois
Dee Hart, Alabama
Greg Garmon, Iowa
Johnathan Gray, Texas
Todd Gurley, Georgia
Michael Holmes, Virginia Tech
Duke Johnson, Miami
Brian Kimbrow, Vanderbilt
Anthony Knight, Nevada
Steven Manfro, UCLA
Keith Marshall, Georgia
Alex Ross, Oklahoma
Brandon Ross, Maryland
Rushel Shell, Pittsburgh
Trey Williams, Texas A&M
Storm Woods, Oregon State
T.J. Yeldon, Alabama

by David Fox (@DavidFox615), Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Mark Ross and Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

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Teaser:
<p> Ranking College Football's Top 30 Running Backs for 2012</p>
Post date: Monday, August 20, 2012 - 06:21
Path: /college-football/acc-coaches-talk-anonymously-about-conference-foes
Body:

It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches in the ACC to talk anonymously about their opponents.

ACC Coaches Anonymously Scout Their Conference Foes

Boston College

Opposing coaches size up the Eagles: 

“Losing Montel Harris, that’s big. He is a really good player. I know he had some injury issues, but he was such a big part of what they did. Without him Boston College was a completely different team last year. They really were. You no longer had to worry about the running game and could just sit back and wait for quarterback Chase Rettig to make a mistake.

Fair or not, (Frank) Spaziani’s job security isn’t very good. Their fans don’t want to hear about injuries or excuses; all they know is they finished last in the ACC with, what was it, three or four wins (BC was 4–8).

Rettig is much less effective without the threat of a running game, so it’s imperative one of their other backs, (Rolandan) Finch or (Andre) Williams, can step in and produce. Both of those guys have talent.

Spaziani’s teams have always been strong on defense, but this year will be interesting. For the first time in three years they won’t have either a Mark Herzlich or Luke Kuechly anchoring the defense. Kuechly was awesome. Such a great player on the college level, and he will be a good pro.”

Clemson

Opposing coaches size up the Tigers: 

“Everyone is going to start with the Orange Bowl blowout. How in the world do you give up 70 points — in a football game? I think (Dabo) Swinney actually can use that game as a positive this year. Obviously it will be a major source of motivation, and he’ll certainly have to spin it the right way or the Tigers could regress this season.

Don’t feel too bad for Swinney: He’s gonna be just fine, especially with what he has back on offense. By no means is quarterback Tajh Boyd an unknown, but I really think he’s still vastly underrated. A terrific dual-threat that continues to get better and better and better.

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins was a beast last year. It’s scary to think how much better he can get. With Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson’s got two of the nation’s top receiving threats. And don’t forget about running back Andre Ellington. The Tigers have some serious talent on the offensive side of the ball.

The defense had some issues last year, surrendering a ton of points late in the regular season. New coordinator Brent Venables needs to have an immediate impact.

The sad thing for Clemson is last year’s 8–0 start seems like it was five years ago. Has a conference championship ever felt so dissatisfying?"

Duke

Opposing coaches size up the Blue Devils:

“The Blue Devils seem so close to putting together a winning record, but for whatever reason just can’t get over the hump. Last year was a prime example: They lost close games to Richmond, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech on their way to another losing season.

(David) Cutcliffe is a helluva coach, but Duke has now put together back-to-back three-win seasons. Still I think better days are ahead. I might be in the minority, but I think they could surprise some people this year. They have a decent nucleus back starting with wide receiver Conner Vernon, who has set a bunch of records and is primed for a big senior year.

Like most schools, the key will be the play at quarterback. At 6'5", Sean Renfree has the size to get the job done, but he absolutely must cut down on his interceptions. This is his final year and he wants to go out a winner.

The defense is never going to scare you at Duke. They were serviceable for the most part, but it looked like they got worn down in the second half of the season, ending the year on a seven-game losing streak.”

Florida State

Opposing coaches size up the Seminoles:

“Expectations again will be sky-high for (Jimbo) Fisher. Can the Seminoles finally live up to them this year? I’d hate to have those expectations to have to compete for a national title or bust every season, but I guess it’s better than the alternative.

If quarterback EJ Manuel can stay healthy this year, I think this is the year the Seminoles break through and make a national title run. Manuel is a very good quarterback in a league with a lot of nice quarterbacks.

The reason I like the Seminoles a lot this year is because of all the talent they return — nearly their entire offensive and defensive starting units are back.

What’s scary is that the defense can be even better than last season when they were dominating at times. After their midseason hiccup in consecutive losses to Oklahoma, Clemson and Wake Forest, they didn’t allow more than 19 points in their final eight games.

Defensive end Brandon Jenkins could have left early for the NFL, but instead returned for his senior season. That’s huge for them.

If FSU is ever going to live up to the lofty expectations, this is the year. They’ve got the talent. But we’ve heard that before.”

Georgia Tech

Opposing coaches size up the Yellow Jackets: 

“Stop me if you’ve already heard this before: Georgia Tech can run, but they can’t hide an inconsistent passing game. The system (Paul) Johnson runs annually makes the Yellow Jackets one of the nation’s best rushing offenses. It’s no secret if you’ve got more than a week to prepare that you can slow it down.

Tevin Washington is a solid quarterback for the system, and his experience running that system will be paramount for Georgia Tech if it’s going to improve on last season.

A year ago the Yellow Jackets raced out to a 6–0 start before they started leaking oil and limped home to a 2–5 finish.

While the offense is so predictable, the defense has had its ups and downs. They allowed at least 30 points in their final four games last season, but I wouldn’t blame Al Groh’s defense for the second-half slide. It had more to do with the offense’s ineffectiveness.

The defense suffered some big losses in their front seven, but I think they’ll have one of the ACC’s top secondaries, with two good cornerbacks like Rod Sweeting and Louis Young.

They can make a huge statement in the season opener if they can go into Blacksburg and pull off the upset.”

Maryland

Opposing coaches size up the Terrapins:

“I respect Randy Edsall a lot — I can’t emphasize that enough — but right now if you look in the dictionary under the word grease fire you see a picture of the Maryland program. The amount of player turnover they’ve had there is astounding. Believe me, I totally understand when a new coach comes on board, there’s going to be some personnel changes, but what has happened at Maryland has resembled a mass exodus. When you lose a quarterback as talented as Danny O’Brien that certainly can’t help morale.

They got that big win over Miami the first week of the season, and then it just went downhill. And when they did play well, they blew big leads against Clemson and NC State. Just a tough season.

Edsall did wonders at UConn — consistently exceeding expectations — but his first season, all the defections and a 2–10 record, was a disaster. I can’t remember a coach who had a more difficult first year. And a lot of it was his fault.

I’m not even sure who is still left on Maryland’s roster, but for Edsall’s sake he cannot repeat last year’s results on or off the field. Not if he wants to stay at his dream job.”

Miami (Fl)

Opposing coaches size up the Hurricanes: 

“What a first year in Miami for Al Golden: NCAA issues, suspensions and a bowl ban. Have the locusts descended yet? With all of the distractions and surprises that were popping up everywhere, Golden still did an admirable job. The guy won at Temple, so there’s no question he will eventually win at Miami.

They won’t have to worry anymore about Jacory Harris and his propensity for throwing interceptions. Stephen Morris obviously ­doesn’t have the starting experience at quarterback that Harris had, but I think he’ll end up being a more consistent player for them. Unfortunately for Morris, he won’t have as much talent around him this year as Harris did last season. Miami only returns a handful of starters each on offense and defense. The best of their returnees look to be wide receiver Allen Hurns, defensive lineman Anthony Chickillo and linebacker Denzel Perryman.

They lost a ton of talent, but the cupboard’s never really bare at Miami, is it?

The nonconference schedule could be tricky; they play at Kansas State, which beat them last year, and they play Notre Dame in Chicago. Luckily for Golden, the Hurricanes’ toughest stretch (consecutive games vs. Notre Dame, North Carolina, Florida State and Virginia Tech) is in the middle of the season, so they’ll have a chance to build an identity around Morris.”

NC State

Opposing coaches size up the Wolfpack: 

“It wasn’t easy, but NC State eventually survived last year without Russell Wilson. I’ve got to hand it to Tom O’Brien; his style of discipline doesn’t work with everyone, but the Wolfpack rallied from a disastrous early start, including a nationally televised blowout loss at Cincinnati, to win six of their last eight games. More impressive was that they didn’t give up on the season early on — which they could have done with Wilson at Wisconsin. Then they beat Clemson and Maryland to earn a bowl berth, where they beat a decent Louisville team.

They shouldn’t experience such a slow start this year with quarterback Mike Glennon back. He was steady last season and put up some decent numbers with 31 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. I like his size (6'6") and leadership qualities. O’Brien knows he can win with that kid.

On defense, I absolutely love cornerback David Amerson. All you need to know about him is that he had 13 interceptions. That is unreal. Talk about no respect. Teams continue to try and test him and he keeps proving people wrong. I can guarantee you this: We won’t throw much his way this fall. If others decide to keep testing him, good luck.”

North Carolina

Opposing coaches size up the Tar Heels: 

“I doubt Larry Fedora thought he wouldn’t be playing in a bowl in his first season at North Carolina, but that’s exactly what happened with the NCAA giving them a one-year bowl ban. Fedora knew he was going to be faced with some NCAA sanctions from the mess left behind by Butch Davis and John Blake. At least he now knows how severe the punishment is and can move on.

I think Fedora will be a hit in Chapel Hill. He’s a great offensive mind, and he has some good pieces to work with starting with quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Gio Bernard. Renner has tremendous accuracy and a good head on his shoulders. Bernard just had a super year as a freshman and he’s only going to get better.

Most of their offensive linemen also are back (four of five returning starters), so I think the Tar Heels, in Fedora’s first year, could have the ACC’s top offense.

You know Carolina also will be strong defensively. They always have a ton of talent on that side of the ball — linebacker Kevin Reddick and defensive linemen Sylvester Williams and Kareem Martin impress me the most.

Carolina will be very, very good this season. It’s a shame they won’t have anywhere to go after the season.”

Virginia

Opposing coaches size up the Cavaliers: 

“I have to admit, there were some who questioned whether Mike London was ready to make the jump from Division I-AA to Virginia a couple of years ago. I know he is a tremendous recruiter and had a great deal of success at Richmond, but his first season at Virginia was nothing to brag about. Make no mistake: Last season London proved his coaching chops. Sure they finished with a couple of blowout losses to Virginia Tech and to Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, but I was impressed by the 8–3 start, especially beating a Florida State team in Tallahassee late in the year that had so much more talent than the Cavaliers. Now the question is: Can London continue the momentum into this fall? I think so. The offense should be improved with a number of key guys returning like quarterback Michael Rocco, tailback Perry Jones and wide receiver Tim Smith.

London has a number of holes to fill on defense and not much time with a nonconference schedule featuring games against Penn State and TCU. The Cavaliers also will be tested at the end of the season with one of the ACC’s toughest finishing stretches, closing with consecutive games against Miami, North Carolina and at Virginia Tech.

They might not reach eight wins like last year, but it’s obvious now that London was more than ready and has Virginia on the upswing.”

Virginia Tech

Opposing coaches size up the Hokies: 

“Logan Thomas has slowly developed into one of the top quarterbacks in the country. I really believe that. He grew so much mentally last season and his game is at such a different level. With him back for his second season as a starter, the Hokies have to be considered one of the favorites to win the ACC.

Last year was supposed to be the year for Virginia Tech and Frank Beamer, but they couldn’t beat Clemson in the regular season or in the ACC title game. They have historically had a stud at tailback, but now with David Wilson gone early for the NFL, the Hokies might actually be a little down at the position.

Thomas is among a few returning starters on offense, so the defense might have to carry them, and with nearly everyone back, that is entirely possible.

While they had no solution for stopping Clemson, they did a good job handling their other opponents. They will be tough up front, returning the entire defensive line of James Gayle, J.R. Collins, Derrick Hopkins and Antoine Hopkins. I think they’ll have the ACC’s best defense. The biggest questions are if they can find a way to beat Clemson and will Thomas receive enough support from an unproven offense?”

Wake Forest

Opposing coaches size up the Demon Deacons:

“The Demon Deacons were one of the nation’s pleasant surprises midway though last season, and then the wheels fell off. Wake started 5–2 and really should have been 6–1, but imploded against Syracuse. They also had an impressive victory against Florida State, but looking back it seems pretty obvious the Seminoles were suffering a double hangover from back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Clemson. Still they got off to a great start only to struggle mightily down the stretch, losing five of their last six games.

I don’t think Wake was as good as it seemed early in the year or as bad as it looked to end the season, but I think they’ll be hard-pressed to get back to a bowl game. Tanner Price is a solid quarterback, but they don’t return much else on offense.

Losing (wide receiver) Chris Givens will hurt them. He was the one guy, when we looked at film, that we thought could really hurt us.

Their two backs were just okay.

Nose guard Nikita Whitlock is one of the league’s best and will anchor a defense that returns a lot of key players. I just don’t think the offense will be able to put up enough points.

Unlike last year, I don’t see Wake getting off to a fast start with its first two league games against North Carolina and a revenge-seeking Florida State team.”

 

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Teaser:
<p> ACC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes</p>
Post date: Friday, August 17, 2012 - 06:05
Path: /news/notre-dame-footballs-new-uniforms-are-disaster
Body:

Uniform changes at Notre Dame have been pretty rare. However, under Brian Kelly, the Irish tweaked the color of their helmet and wore alternate uniforms last season in the Saturday night game against Michigan.

While neither of those changes were a particularly a drastic switch, Notre Dame has shown some willingness to tweak its uniform, especially as alternate jerseys have become a new craze in college football.

However, any traditionalists will want to cover their eyes after looking at the new Notre Dame jerseys. Luckily for Fighting Irish fans, these will be worn in the Oct. 6 matchup in Chicago against Miami. 

Needless to say, these are quite different and aren't popular with the Notre Dame fanbase. Although the uniform colors aren't bad, the helmet is a disaster. The Irish's shining gold helmet is one of the best in college football and the new split look is a bad look for Notre Dame.

Teaser:
<p> Notre Dame Football's New Uniforms Are a Disaster</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 16:37
Path: /college-football/big-12-footballs-breakout-players-2012
Body:

Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task. 

Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of breakout players for 2012 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season.

Predicting the Big 12's Breakout Players for 2012

Brandon Carter, WR, TCU – The Horned Frogs should have no problem fitting in their first season with the Big 12. With quarterback Casey Pachall and a solid group of receivers returning, TCU’s offense will be one of the best in the conference. Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson are the team’s top two receivers, but Carter is a name to watch. He caught 23 passes for 352 yards and three scores as a true freshman last year, while averaging 13.7 yards on 10 punt returns. Carter may not lead the team in receptions, but he’s on the cusp of a breakout season in 2012.

Steve Edmond, LB, Texas – Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho were one of the best linebacker duos in college football last season, so there’s no question they will be missed. However, Texas is never short on talent, and Edmond looks like a future star in the Big 12. He played in 12 games and recorded 16 stops last season, while also forcing one fumble. Edmond ranked as one of the top 100 prospects in the 2011 signing class by most recruiting services and is slated to start at middle linebacker in 2012. At 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, the sophomore has the size and strength to help immediately against the run.

Tom Farniok, C, Iowa State – Offensive linemen simply don’t get enough credit nationally. With that in mind, it’s tough to say Farniok could be a household name by the end of the year, but he could emerge as one of the top centers in the Big 12. The Sioux Falls native redshirted in 2010 but started all 13 games at center last season. Farniok was named Iowa State’s most outstanding newcomer and will only get better in his second season as a starter.

Nick Florence, QB, Baylor – Florence isn’t a complete unknown to most around college football, but 2012 will be his first opportunity to start a full season. And there’s plenty of pressure on his shoulders, especially as he tries to replace Heisman winner Robert Griffin. Florence started seven games with Griffin sidelined for the year with a torn ACL in 2009, throwing for 1,786 yards and six scores. The senior is better equipped to succeed in 2012, especially with a solid offensive line returning, along with one of the Big 12’s top receiving corps. Don’t expect Florence to win the Heisman, but he should lead Baylor to its third consecutive bowl appearance.

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State – Fans around the Big 12 are certainly familiar with Gilbert, but it’s time for the rest of the nation to take notice. As a freshman in 2010, Gilbert played in 12 games and recorded 18 tackles. However, his biggest impact came on special teams, averaging 26.8 yards per kickoff return and taking two back for a score. Gilbert played a bigger role on defense in 2011, recording 59 stops and 10 pass breakups. He continued to be a dangerous option on special teams, averaging 27 yards per kickoff return and taking two for touchdowns. Gilbert should be even better as a cornerback with another offseason to develop and at 6-foot-0, 194 pounds, he has the size and athleticism to matchup against the top receivers in the conference.

Tyler Lockett, WR/RS, Kansas State – The last name Lockett is certainly familiar to Kansas State fans. Kevin Lockett caught 217 passes during his Wildcat career, while Aaron Lockett ranks fourth on the school’s all-time receiving list with 2,400 yards. Tyler Lockett was just emerging as a potential weapon for Kansas State’s offense last year but suffered a season-ending injury in early November. In nine games, Lockett rushed for 110 yards, caught 18 passes for 246 yards and averaged a whopping 35.2 yards per kick return. The sophomore should be a bigger part of Kansas State’s offense in 2012, while also keeping his spot as one of the most dangerous return men in the nation.

Wes Lunt, QB, Oklahoma State – Lunt has some of the biggest shoes to fill in the Big 12. Brandon Weeden led Oklahoma State to a Big 12 championship last season and threw for 9,260 yards and 75 touchdowns during his career in Stillwater. Lunt enrolled in time to participate in spring practice and impressed the coaching staff enough to earn the No. 1 spot over J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf. Asking Lunt to repeat Weeden’s success as a true freshman is nearly impossible, but Oklahoma State has a track record of developing good quarterbacks, and the offense can lean on running back Joseph Randle. Don’t expect Lunt to contend for All-American honors, but the Cowboys shouldn’t suffer much of a drop in production with the freshman at the controls.

Trey Metoyer, WR, Oklahoma – Finding weapons for quarterback Landry Jones is the biggest fall priority for the Sooners’ offense. Kenny Stills is one of the Big 12’s top receivers, but after that is where the question marks begin. Metoyer did not qualify last season and attended Hargrave Academy in preparation for 2012. He was one of the top receivers in the 2011 recruiting class and did not disappoint in spring practice, catching six passes for 72 yards in the Red-White game. Although Ryan Broyles will be missed, Metoyer’s emergence should ease concerns about the Oklahoma receiving corps.

Tracy Moore, WR, Oklahoma State – Replacing Justin Blackmon is no easy task, but the Cowboys have plenty of capable receivers ready to step up. Which one will become the clear No. 1 target is still up in the air, but Moore will probably finish with the team lead in catches and yards. Through three seasons in Stillwater, Moore has grabbed 73 receptions for 1,067 yards and eight touchdowns. He is coming off his best year (45 catches) and will move from one of the inside receiver spots to the outside. Blake Jackson, Charlie Moore and Josh Stewart are also breakout candidates, but Tracy Moore should push for All-Big 12 honors in 2012.

Tony Pierson, RB, Kansas – With James Sims sidelined for the first three games due to a suspension, the Jayhawks will lean on Pierson to carry the rushing attack. In a relief role last season, he recorded 71 carries for 396 yards and three touchdowns. Pierson’s best performance came in the 31-30 loss to Baylor, posting eight carries for 70 yards and one score. At 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, the sophomore doesn’t have ideal size to be an every down back. However, Pierson should team with James Sims to form an effective one-two punch at running back.

Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor – Terrance Ganaway was one of the Big 12’s breakout players last season, leading the Baylor rushing attack with 1,547 yards and 21 scores. With Ganaway out of eligibility, the Bears will turn to Seastrunk, Jarred Salubi and Glasco Martin to handle the bulk of the carries. Although Salubi and Martin have been steady in limited work, Seastrunk is the player most Baylor fans are excited to see this season. He ranked as one of the nation’s top running back recruits coming out of high school and redshirted at Oregon in 2010. Seastrunk transferred from the Ducks after his freshman season and made a splash in Baylor’s spring game, rushing for 138 yards and one touchdown. The sophomore has big-play potential and may not match Ganaway’s totals but should help to keep Baylor’s offense among the best in the Big 12.

Will Smith, LB, Texas Tech – Junior college recruits are hit-or-miss, but it looks like Texas Tech found a potential difference maker for its defense when Smith stepped onto campus. The California native had a strong showing in the spring, recording six tackles in the final spring scrimmage, along with earning the starting middle linebacker job. Smith wasn’t highly regarded coming out of the JUCO ranks, but all signs point to the 6-foot-3 linebacker making an instant impact in 2012.

Jordan Thompson, WR, West Virginia – With Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey entrenched as the top two receivers, Thompson will likely finish third on the team in catches. However, in West Virginia’s offense, there are plenty of receptions to go around, especially after quarterback Geno Smith threw 526 passes last season. Thompson isn’t a huge target (5-foot-7), but neither is Austin (5-foot-9). The freshman from Katy, Texas should team with Austin to form a dangerous pair of inside receivers, while emerging as one of West Virginia’s top players for 2013.

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Teaser:
<p> Big 12 Football's Breakout Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 06:38
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-fall-practice-quarterback-battles
Body:

The kickoff to the 2012 college football season is just around the corner, but quarterback battles remain in full swing across the nation. Most national title contenders have settled on a quarterback, but Oregon - ranked by most experts in the top 10 - has yet to settle on a starter. Texas could push Oklahoma for the Big 12 title but needs to pick between David Ash or Case McCoy. And there's plenty of other intriguing battles outside of the top 10-15 teams in the nation, including Rutgers, Kentucky, Iowa State and Notre Dame.

College Football's Top 15 Quarterback Battles for Fall Practice

1. Oregon – The battle to replace Darron Thomas is college football’s most intriguing quarterback battle. The Ducks have the pieces in place to compete for a national title but need a quarterback to settle into the starting role. Sophomore Bryan Bennett began spring practice with an edge, especially due to his experience last year. Bennett threw for 369 yards and six touchdowns in limited work, while also adding 200 yards on the ground. Marcus Mariota redshirted last season but had a strong showing in the spring game, throwing for 202 yards and adding 99 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Although it’s never a good thing to replace a solid starting quarterback, the Ducks have to feel good about their options. Bennett and Mariota are both capable of leading Oregon to a Pac-12 title, it’s just a matter of settling on one. Don’t be surprised if both players receive starts, but Mariota’s edge in athletic ability eventually gets the nod as Oregon’s No. 1 quarterback.
Predicted Winner: Mariota

2. Texas – The gap between the Longhorns and Oklahoma for the No. 1 spot in the Big 12 has narrowed this offseason. The Sooners lost two offensive linemen, but all signs point to a return to full strength for running back Dominique Whaley. Texas averaged just 189.9 passing yards a game last season, and its quarterbacks threw 15 interceptions on 357 attempts. David Ash edged Case McCoy for the No. 1 spot late last year and finished spring practice with the starting nod. True freshmen Connor Brewer and Jalen Overstreet are in the mix, but the battle is expected to be between Ash and McCoy for the top spot. Considering Texas improved by three wins from 2010 to 2011, if Ash can give the Longhorns just a little more through the air, it’s not out of the question this team can win the Big 12.
Predicted Winner: Ash

3. Stanford Just like Boise State and Kellen Moore, the Cardinal will find it impossible to replace Andrew Luck. In three seasons with Stanford, he threw for 9,430 yards and 82 touchdowns, while leading the program to two BCS bowl appearances. Vying to replace Luck are three candidates: sophomore Brett Nottingham, junior Josh Nunes and redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan. Nottingham completed 5 of 8 throws for 78 yards and one score last season, while Nunes dealt with a foot injury and did not record a snap. Hogan is a longshot to win the No. 1 spot, leaving Nottingham and Nunes as the two candidates battling to start. Both quarterbacks are inexperienced, but the Cardinal returns a solid offensive line and group of running backs for the offensive to lean on. Heading into the final days of fall practice, it’s a tight battle for the right to start in the season opener against San Jose State.
Predicted Winner: Nottingham

4. Notre Dame If the Irish want to have any shot at winning 10 games and reaching a BCS bowl, they have to find an answer at quarterback. Tommy Rees started most of last season, finishing with 2,871 yards and 20 touchdowns. However, he also tossed 14 picks and struggled in Notre Dame’s final two games. Rees is suspended for the season opener, leaving redshirt freshman Everett Golson, sophomore Andrew Hendrix and true freshman Gunner Kiel as the three candidates vying for the start against Navy. Hendrix played in five games last year, throwing for 249 yards and one touchdown, while rushing for 162 yards and one score on 25 attempts. Golson is an intriguing dual-threat option but has no game experience. Kiel rated as the No. 2 quarterback in the 2012 signing class by Athlon Sports but may need another year to develop.
Predicted Winner: Golson

5. Florida – Considering the offenses Florida fielded under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, it’s hard to understand how the Gators ranked 105thnationally in total offense and 71st in scoring last year. A multitude of problems appeared for Florida last season, starting with a lack of playmakers at running back and receiver, offensive line issues and trouble meshing with Charlie Weis’ system. New coordinator Brent Pease comes from Boise State and should be a much better fit in Gainesville. Sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel are locked into a tight battle for playing time. Brissett threw for 206 yards and two touchdowns in limited work last year, while Driskel threw for 148 yards and two picks. Brissett is a better passer, while Driskel offers more on the ground. Driskel suffered a shoulder injury in fall camp, which could impact how this race plays out. Considering how close this battle is, it wouldn’t be a shock to see both players split snaps early in the year. Will Muschamp would like to settle on one quarterback, but this battle may extend into the season.
Predicted Winner: Brissett

6. Wisconsin The Badgers are hoping another transfer can be the answer at quarterback in 2012. Russell Wilson’s only season in Madison was a huge success, leading Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl, while throwing for 3,175 yards and 33 touchdowns. Danny O’Brien spent the last two years with Maryland, throwing for 4,086 yards, 29 scores and 18 picks. He had a standout freshman season but struggled to adapt to a new offense in 2011. O’Brien doesn’t have Wilson’s mobility or ability to create plays on the run, but is better than his performance showed last year. Competing with O’Brien for the No. 1 spot is senior Curt Phillips and redshirt freshman Joel Stave. Injuries have hindered Phillips throughout his career, while Stave has no game experience. O’Brien may not be as effective as Wilson, but he should have a solid season and one that leads Wisconsin to the Leaders Division title.
Predicted Winner: O’Brien

7. Boise State Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: It will be impossible to make Bronco fans forget Kellen Moore. There’s simply no way to replace 14,667 career passing yards and 142 touchdowns in one offseason. However, Boise State usually reloads without much trouble, which should keep the offense performing at a high level in 2012. Joe Southwick has the edge to start the season opener against Michigan State, and he has 400 yards and two touchdowns in two seasons as a reserve. True freshman Nick Patti is similar to Moore in size (5-foot-10, 187 pounds) and had a good showing in the spring. Redshirt freshman Jimmy Laughrea and sophomore Grant Hedrick are also in the mix but are behind Southwick and Patti for playing time.
Predicted Winner: Southwick

8. Texas A&M – With a new coaching staff, conference and starting quarterback, the Aggies will be dealing with a lot of changes for the 2012 season. Kevin Sumlin was one of college football’s top head coaching hires, but he has a tough task ahead of him this year, especially with the move to the SEC and a young quarterback taking over. Jameill Showers finished spring practice atop the depth chart but has very little experience after throwing just five passes in relief duty last year. Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel is a better dual-threat option and is off to a strong start in fall practice. Sophomore Matt Joeckel has no game experience but threw for 3,145 yards and 40 touchdowns as a senior in high school. True freshman Matt Davis has the most upside of this group but likely needs a year to develop. Although Showers entered fall No. 1 on the depth chart, Manziel made enough of a push to win the job and was named Texas A&M's starting quarterback for the season opener against Louisiana Tech.
Named Winner: Manziel

9. Auburn A year after winning the national championship and owning one of college football’s top offenses, the Tigers slipped to 100thnationally in total offense and 70th with 25.7 points per game. Replacing Cam Newton was no easy task, especially with three inexperienced candidates vying for time. Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley combined for 16 touchdowns but also threw nine picks and failed to complete more than 60 percent of their throws. Kiehl Frazier played in all 13 games as a true freshman last season but completed only 5 of 12 passes for 34 yards. He made more of an impact on the ground, rushing for 327 yards and three scores. Gus Malzahn departed for Arkansas State, and Gene Chizik hired Scot Loeffler to coordinate the offense. Loeffler is bringing more of a pro-style attack to Auburn, but do the Tigers have a quarterback to execute the passing attack? With Trotter leaving after the 2011 season, it’s a two-man battle between Frazier and Moseley. Although Moseley has the edge in experience, Frazier should take the first snap for Auburn in 2012.
Predicted Winner: Frazier

10. Rutgers – After winning four out of their last five games in 2011, the Scarlet Knights are one of the favorites to win the Big East title. However, there’s a new coach (Kyle Flood) and a quarterback battle. Chas Dodd has 15 career starts, while throwing for 3,211 yards and 21 touchdowns during that span. Gary Nova started five games as a true freshman last year and finished with 1,553 passing yards and 11 touchdowns. Dodd has the edge in experience, but Nova has more upside and his arm strength should help Rutgers stretch the field more. Although Nova may have a few growing pains, it’s going to be hard to keep him off the field.
Predicted Winner: Nova

11. Arizona StateNew coach Todd Graham struggled to get his high-octane offense on track at Pittsburgh and could have similar issues if the Sun Devils can’t find a quarterback. Three candidates are locked into a battle for playing time: Redshirt freshman Michael Eubank and sophomores Mike Bercovici and Taylor Kelly. Kelly and Bercovici each played in two games last year, combining for seven pass attempts and 46 yards. Eubank has the most potential (and is the best fit for the offense) but doesn’t have any experience. Kelly was thought to be the odd man out exiting spring practice but is making a push for playing time this fall. Even if Kelly manages to edge the other two candidates for the starting nod, expect Eubank to start the most games for Arizona State in 2012.
Projected Winner: Eubank

12. Virginia – The right to be Cavaliers’ No. 1 quarterback wasn’t expected to be much of a battle at the end of the 2011 season. Michael Rocco held off David Watford early last year and finished by throwing for 312 yards in the bowl game against Auburn and 238 yards and one score in the upset victory over Florida State. However, Virginia landed Alabama transfer Phillip Sims, and the former Crimson Tide quarterback was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA. Although Rocco has the edge in experience, Sims has more long-term upside and could be difficult to keep off the field.
Predicted Winner: Rocco

13. Iowa State – Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett had their moments last season, but neither quarterback could gain enough of an edge to claim the outright starting spot. Jantz led Iowa State to a 3-0 start but lost the job to Barnett halfway through the year. Barnett finished 2011 with 1,201 passing yards and six scores, while leading the Cyclones to an upset victory over Oklahoma State. Although the position is unsettled, Paul Rhoads should feel confident that he has two options who can help to lead Iowa State back to a bowl game. It’s possible both quarterbacks play in 2012, but Barnett’s upside could be the deciding factor.
Predicted Winner: Barnett

14. CincinnatiThe Bearcats got an early look at 2012 when Zach Collaros missed three games late last season due to a leg injury. Cincinnati’s offense wasn’t the same without Collaros but did manage to score at least 30 points in two out of the three games in his absence. Munchie Legaux made three starts last season and finished with 749 passing yards and five scores, while adding 185 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. However, he threw four picks and completed just 47.4 percent of his throws. Pushing Legaux for time in the spring was senior Brendon Kay, but he has very little experience. Freshmen Bennie Coney, Patrick Coyne and Trenton Norvell have upside but will be longshots to ascend to No. 1 on the depth chart. Even though Legaux needs some work as a passer, he should get better with more experience and his rushing ability will be a valuable asset for Cincinnati.
Predicted Winner: Legaux

15. Kentucky With an 11-14 record through his first two years in Lexington, Joker Philips is on the hot seat. The Wildcats probably need to win five or six games to save his job, and their success in 2012 will largely hinge on whether or not they can find a quarterback. Maxwell Smith stepped into a tough situation last year, starting three games late in the season as a true freshman, finishing with 819 yards and four touchdowns. He also tossed four picks, including two in a 19-10 loss to Georgia. Morgan Newton entered last year as the starter but struggled mightily, throwing for 793 yards and seven picks, while completing just 47.7 percent of his throws. The wildcard to watch is true freshman Patrick Towles, ranked as the No. 1 prospect in Kentucky by most recruiting services.
Predicted Winner: Smith


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 15 Fall Practice Quarterback Battles</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:40
Path: /college-football/big-east-coaches-talk-anonymously-about-conference-foes
Body:

It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches in the Big East to talk anonymously about their opponents.

Big East Coaches Anonymously Scout Their Conference Foes

Cincinnati

Opposing coaches size up the Bearcats:

"Butch Jones had a nice bounce back season. After his 4-8 year replacing Brian Kelly, the Bearcats shocked a lot of people getting to 10 wins. And that was even though they lost quarterback Zach Collaros to injury.

They had the Big East’s offensive and defensive players of the year in running back Isaiah Pead and defensive end Derek Wolfe. But Collaros, Pead, Wolfe and also linebacker J.K. Schaffer, a leader the past three years on defense, are all gone.

This year, they’ll base the offense around quarterback Munchie Legaux, who did an admirable job filling in for Collaros. He’ll have to take over the reins for the Bearcats this season.

Cincinnati may have lost more key contributors than any other league team, but don’t sell Jones’ bunch short. They used the doubts about them last year as motivation to pull off 10 victories.

I think they took too many hits graduation wise to reach double-digit wins, but certainly a bowl trip is not out of the question.

Virginia Tech should be the only potential problem in a very weak non-conference schedule that also includes Delaware State, Miami (Ohio), Fordham and Toledo."

Connecticut

Opposing coaches size up the Huskies:

"Not surprisingly Paul Pasqualoni’s debut season at Connecticut didn’t live up to Randy Edsall’s final season with the Huskies. Edsall bolted for Maryland after leading UConn to the Big East title and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl. Pasqualoni took over for Edsall and had a fairly uneventful season.

The Huskies weren’t real impressive but weren’t horrible either. They were just – I’m not sure how to say this – but average.

They never played an exciting brand of football under Edsall and that has not changed with a new head coach.

Last year, their offense was very, very pedestrian  This year looks to be probably more of the same with six starters back on offense and eight starters back on defense.

Even though Johnny McEntee started every game last season, they used Scott McCummings in their wildcat formation. Neither way was particularly threatening from a defensive standpoint.

They do have a good young runner in Lyle McCombs. He’s going to be a good one. Unfortunately he’s about all they have an offense.

Unless they can get more out of the quarterback position, teams will focus on stopping McCombs.

Last year they only managed five wins and I’d say that sounds about right for this season especially with a non-conference schedule with back-to-back games against ACC teams N.C. State and Maryland."

Louisville

Opposing coaches size up the Cardinals:

"Two years, two bowl games for Charlie Strong. Good for him. I’m glad he’s having success because I think a lot of athletic directors missed the boat on him when he was defensive coordinator at Florida. Only Tom Jurich had the guts and was smart enough to take a chance on him and it’s paying off.

Not surprisingly Strong is winning at Louisville with defense. Last year the Cardinals only allowed more than 25 points twice and nobody scored more than 35 all season. Now they return virtually their entire lineup on the defensive side.

They’re also loaded on offense. Eight starters are back, but none are as significant as quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. He was thrown into the fire as a freshman last year and I thought he performed tremendously. Defenses sort of figured him out later in the season, but that’s to be expected for a first-year guy. I really think he is a terrific player and his performance can be the difference between Louisville winning the Big East and being a top 25 team or just languishing finishing with another seven-win season."

Pittsburgh

Opposing coaches size up the Panthers:

"For all the missteps, bad hires and musical chairs that have occurred with Pitt’s head coaching position, I think they’re very fortunate to end up with Paul Chryst. I thought they were in good shape with Todd Graham, after what happened with Mike Haywood. But then Graham bolted after one very mediocre season leaving the Panthers searching for yet another head coach.

Chryst had a great deal of success at Wisconsin and I think that can bring that same success with him to Pittsburgh.

I think Chryst’s style of offense will benefit Tino Sunseri. He’s been a whipping boy of Pitt fans, but I think he’ll do more by being asked to do less in Chryst’s system.

The biggest beneficiary will be Ray Graham. He was having a monster year last season before going down with a knee injury. Graham should get plenty of opportunities in Chryst’s offense.

That should also open up things considerably downfield for receivers Mike Shanahan and Devin Street.

The defense doesn’t return much but that shouldn’t be that big of a concern. If Pitt’s new offensive attack can grind it out, eat the clock and win the time of possession battle, the defense should be more than adequate.

The secondary should be strong. They’ve got some talent back there with safeties Jarred Holley and Andrew Taglianetti and cornerback K’Waun Williams."

Rutgers

Opposing coaches size up the Scarlet Knights:

"Greg Schiano had the best recruiting class in school history locked up. He had his best overall team since he got to Piscataway. All the pieces were in place for Rutgers to finally win a Big East championship under Schiano. But, of course, Schiano left just days before signing day to take the head coaching position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. So Schiano’s Big East title-less streak won’t end.

I think Rutgers’ non-title streak could end this fall even with new coach Kyle Flood. With West Virginia gone to the Big 12, the Scarlet Knights have the best shot to win the league championship.

Next to Schiano the biggest departure that will have the greatest impact is wide receiver Mohamed Sanu’s decision to leave early for the NFL. He was a game-changer and there’s no question he will be missed.

Other than Sanu, Rutgers has a good core back starting with running back Jawan Jamison.

Quarterbacks Chas Dodd and Gary Nova will battle for starting spot. Dodd had his moments last year, but was inconsistent.

Rutgers has always been tough defensively under Schiano and this year will be no exception.

Linebacker Khaseem Greene is a beast. Offenses have to account for him on every play. Safety Duron Harmon also is one of the league’s best at his position.

The best thing Schiano left Flood was a ridiculously easy non-conference schedule, which should guarantee four wins against Tulane, Howard, Kent State and Army."

South Florida

Opposing coaches size up the Bulls:

"Skip Holtz is one of the good guys in coaching, but he had to be one of the unluckiest coaches in the country last year. He had a solid first year leading South Florida to a bowl game but last season was a total and complete disaster. A 4-0 start had the Bulls thinking they might be headed to their first BCS bowl in program history. What followed was a disaster, losing seven of their last eight games. It wasn’t necessarily the losses, but how they lost. Other than a blowout at Pittsburgh, they could have easily won the other six games, four losses were by three points each and two others by 10 points or less.

This year is the final one for quarterback B.J. Daniels. He’s had more than his shares of ups and downs. He’s been plagued by inconsistency throughout his career, but I think he’s primed for a big year.

I know every year USF is picked as a sleeper team to win the Big East.

Running back Darnell Scott and wide receiver A.J. Love are the biggest losses, but with 17 returning starters this could be the year since Holtz has to have better luck this fall.

While they could compete for the Big East title, they might only go 2-3 in non-conference play visiting Nevada and Miami and hosting Florida State along with gimmies against Ball State and Chattanooga."

Syracuse

Opposing coaches size up the Orange:

"I thought Doug Marrone had finally turned Syracuse’s program around. After an 8-5 debut season, the Orange started last season 5-2 including a home thrashing of West Virginia. They only needed one victory to make a second consecutive bowl game and instead went in the tank. Syracuse ended the season losing their last five games. And they weren’t competitive in most of those contests. Only one was by fewer than 13 points.

So what’s ahead in Marrone’s third season? The first half success or the second half slump? I’d like to hope Marrone could have more success, but with their non-conference schedule I think there will be more losses than wins. They have games against USC, Missouri, Northwestern and Minnesota.

If the Orange is going to have a chance, they’ll need a big year from quarterback Ryan Nassib. There was a lot of hype when he came to Syracuse. Not sure if it was fair or not, but he hasn’t lived up to it. At least not that. That could change this year.

If the defense doesn’t make drastic improvements, that’s not going to matter. They held only three teams to fewer than four touchdowns. They just don’t impress me defensively.

Shamarko Thomas and Marquis Spruill can be big-time defenders, but after that they don’t have much. This is likely their last season in the Big East. I know they’d like to go into the ACC next year on an upswing of a bowl trip. I just don’t see that happening."

Temple

Note: The Owls did not play a Big East team last season, so Athlon was unable to get a scouting report from an opposing coach. However, a coach from the MAC offered this on Temple:

"The Big East better watch out, this team is bigger and faster than most may think. 

From of a physical standpoint they are certainly ready for the Big East."
 


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Teaser:
<p> Big East Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 16, 2012 - 05:33
Path: /college-football/college-football-2012-win-projections-athlon-vs-vegas
Body:

Even if you don't place any wagers on sports, the lines/projections from the good folks in Vegas are always something to check out before each season and before each week of games. Not only is it interesting content, but Vegas has a good pulse on the teams and is often one of the most accurate sources of predictions. 

To get ready for the upcoming college football season, Athlon took a look at how its predictions matched up against a couple of sports books and one excellent source of Vegas information (Beyond the Bets). 

Athlon and the sports books in Vegas largely agreed the win totals for teams, as there weren't many large variations in projections. However, below are a few props we like heading into 2012, as well as a few that should be avoided. 

BEST BETS

Boise State Despite having only seven returning starters, the Broncos are still the team to beat in the Mountain West. Quarterback Kellen Moore will be impossible to replace, but Boise State’s offense can lean on senior running back D.J. Harper and a veteran offensive line. Most books have the Broncos pegged at 9.5 wins, while Athlon has them slotted for 10. Outside of Michigan State, there’s not a sure loss on the schedule. Games against BYU, Nevada and Wyoming won’t be easy, but it’s hard to imagine Boise State losing all three of those games.

Boston CollegeThe Eagles closed out 2011 with some momentum, winning two out of their final three games, including a 24-17 upset win over Miami. Although Boston College has some momentum entering the offseason, the 5Dimes over/under total of 5.5 seems optimistic. The Eagles play Notre Dame, Army and Northwestern in the non-conference portion of the schedule, while catching Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech – arguably the two best teams from the Coastal – in ACC play. Outside of the Sept. 8 date against Maine, there’s really not a guaranteed win on Boston College’s schedule, so the under at 5.5 looks awfully enticing.

Hawaii Norm Chow is a popular hire for Hawaii, but his debut season could be a rough one. The Warriors open with USC and close out September with games against Nevada and BYU. A 1-3 start is likely, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier with road games against San Diego State, Colorado State and Fresno State in October/early November. The Warriors also have question marks at quarterback and are transitioning from the run and shoot to more of a pro-style attack. Although Hawaii has some talent returning on both sides of the ball, surpassing more than four wins seems unlikely.

Illinois Even though Athlon agrees with Vegas on the Fighting Illini’s win projection (6), this one has some potential. Illinois has one guaranteed win in non-conference play (Charleston Southern) and has three swing games against Western Michigan, Arizona State and Louisiana Tech. The Big Ten slate got a little easier too with the defections at Penn State. With games against Minnesota, Purdue and Indiana in conference play, it seems pretty reasonable the Fighting Illini should have a good shot to get to seven wins in 2012.

Iowa StateMost win projections have the Cyclones at four wins for 2012. However, that seems a little low considering Paul Rhoads’ teams have overachieved every year since he arrived in Ames. Iowa State has a difficult non-conference slate, which includes matchups against Tulsa and Iowa. Although a bowl game seems to be out of reach, getting to five victories and exceeding expectations once again is well within the reach of the Cyclones. This one is risky, but history suggests Iowa State will surprise once again.

Kansas State - Everything seemed to go the Wildcats' way last season, winning eight of their 10 games by seven points or less. Although Kansas State was outgained by an average of 106.8 yards per game in conference play, winning the turnover battle (+12) helped to close the gap on its Big 12 foes. It will be tough for Kansas State to repeat last season's 10 wins, but getting to eight or nine is a reasonable expectation. Most books have the Wildcats at 7 or 8 wins, which doesn't drift too far from Athlon's thinking (7-5). Even though Athlon likes Kansas State to finish with seven wins, if you can catch this prop at seven and take the over, there's a good chance the Wildcats pull off an upset or two and finish with eight or nine wins. 

LouisvilleMost books seem to have the Cardinals at 8 or 9 wins, while Athlon has this team projected at 10 victories. Considering Louisville is a young team and the Big East is unpredictable, this one certainly has some risk involved. However, the Cardinals return 12 starters, and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is primed for a breakout year after throwing for 2,129 yards last season. The schedule is also very manageable, as Louisville could be favored in every game, except the season finale at Rutgers. Considering the schedule and returning talent, 10 or 11 wins is a reasonable expectation for Charlie Strong's team.

LSUThe Honey Badger is gone, but don’t expect that to slow down the Tigers in 2012. LSU is Athlon’s pick to win the SEC and finish the regular season with an unbeaten 12-0 mark. Going undefeated in the SEC is never easy, but the Tigers managed to run through the conference slate without a loss last year. Most win total projections have LSU at 10/10.5, so the over looks like a good pick.

Miami The win projections all seem to agree Miami will have right around six or seven wins in 2012, but a schedule that features non-conference games against Kansas State, Notre Dame and South Florida could make it difficult just to get bowl eligible. Also, there’s still a NCAA investigation hanging over the program, and a bowl ban could impact how this team performs in 2012. Athlon projects Miami to get to six wins, so any place that has the Hurricanes at 6.5 or 7 is a good spot to take the under.

Nebraska Most of the win projections seem to agree the Cornhuskers will have around  8 or 9 wins in 2012. Athlon disagrees slightly with Vegas, projecting Nebraska to have 10 wins. Although the Cornhuskers are far from a perfect team, running back Rex Burkhead and quarterback Taylor Martinez from a dangerous one-two combination on offense, while the defense brings back seven starters. Non-conference games against Arkansas State and UCLA won’t be easy, but the Cornhuskers should be 4-0 by the time Big Ten play arrives. This team also catches a break with two swing games (Wisconsin and Michigan) in Lincoln. Even if Nebraska just gets to nine victories, taking the over on 8.5 is one we like for 2012.

USC It’s difficult to go undefeated, but you have to like the Trojans’ chances of running the table in 2012. The non-conference schedule is very favorable, and USC hosts Oregon, California and Notre Dame. Road tests against Washington, Stanford and Utah will be tricky, but the Trojans should emerge with an 11-1 or 12-0 record. Most books have USC pegged at 10.5, while Athlon projects 12 victories in 2012. Even if the Trojans drop one game, taking the over on 10.5 victories looks like one of the best bets on the board.

West Virginia One of the most surprising over/under win totals from this preseason has to be West Virginia. The Mountaineers are picked by most books at 8.5, while Athlon projects 10 wins. Sure, there will be an adjustment period by going into a new conference, but West Virginia’s schedule isn’t overwhelming. The Mountaineers should go 3-0 in non-conference play and catch Oklahoma, TCU and Kansas State at home. Road trips to Texas and Oklahoma State are the two potential losses. Even if West Virginia doesn’t get to 10 victories, it’s hard to see it losing more than three this year.

WORST BETS

Auburn There’s not much discrepancy in the win projections for Auburn, as most books have the Tigers at 7.5, while Athlon has Gene Chizik’s team at 7. The schedule isn’t easy, as Auburn opens up against Clemson, followed by dates against Mississippi State and LSU in September. There’s plenty of young talent at Auburn, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this team match last season’s eight wins. However, the schedule is difficult and there’s still a question mark about the quarterback play. Both sides of the ball will also have new coordinators. With a over/under projection of 7.5 wins, there’s a very narrow window to make this one a good bet.

ClemsonEvery year, it seems the Tigers have one of the ACC’s most-talented rosters, but struggle to reach expectations. Clemson won the ACC Championship last season but it won’t be easy to match that success in 2012. The Tigers must replace three solid starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, while this team closed out 2011 by losing three out of their final four games. Clemson has the talent to win the ACC, but the question marks on both lines are enough to give pause on the win total projection. Most books have the Tigers at 8.5 wins, while Athlon projects 9.

Michigan While the Wolverines make the worst pick category, it’s almost a don’t bother section. Michigan’s projected win total is in the 8-10 range, with Athlon having the highest pick on the board. The Wolverines took a step forward under Brady Hoke last season, and return Heisman candidate Denard Robinson at quarterback. Optimism in Ann Arbor is high after last season, but a difficult schedule and the loss of two key linemen could make repeating 11 wins unlikely. If you can get the Wolverines at 8 for the over/under projection, it’s worth a shot. However, at 9 or 9.5 victories, it’s hard to recommend that as one we like.

Missouri/Texas A&M - There's really not much of a difference in Vegas and Athlon's win total projections for 2012 for both Missouri and Texas A&M. However, moving from the Big 12 to the SEC will be a step up in competition, and both teams have question marks going into this season. Missouri quarterback James Franklin is coming off shoulder surgery, while the Aggies are searching for a new starter under center, while playing for a new coach (Kevin Sumlin). Missouri and Texas A&M aren't going to be overwhelmed in the SEC, but there's too many unknowns to consider this a safe pick this season.

Notre Dame Unless you are feeling really lucky, don’t bother taking a look at the Irish for any over/under win props this season. Most books have Notre Dame at 8.5 and Athlon has the projected win total at 8. With games against Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh and USC, the Irish are facing one of the most difficult schedules in college football. Eight wins seems to be the most likely outcome, but it’s going to be close.

Penn StateBefore the NCAA sanctions were announced, most books had the Nittany Lions pegged at 6.5 or 7 victories for 2012. However, there’s no telling what to expect from this team, especially after the departure of running back Silas Redd, receiver Justin Brown and kicker Anthony Fera. While the Penn State players have plenty of pride, there’s just no way of knowing if the motivation can hold up through a full season, especially with no bowl appearance on the line. Bottom line: Stay away from Penn State in the over/under win totals for 2012.

Note: Win totals do not take into account any conference championship/bowl game.

Note: All Penn State win projections were compiled before NCAA sanctions.

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

 
Air Force     6.5       5.5 6
Akron     2.5       2.5 2
Alabama 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10 11
Arizona     5.5       5.5 6
Arizona State   5.5 5   5   5 5
Arkansas 8.5 8.5 9 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 9
Arkansas State     6.5       8.5 9
Army     5.5       5.5 5
Auburn   7.5 7.5 7.5 7.5   7.5 7
Ball State     4.5       5.5 6
Baylor     6       6.5 7
Boise State 9.5 9.5 10 9.5 9.5 9.5 9.5 10
Boston College     4.5       5.5 3
Bowling Green     7       7.5 7
Buffalo     2.5       4.5 3
BYU 8.5 8.5 8.5   8 8.5 8 7
California   6.5 6.5   6.5   6.5 7
Central Michigan     4.5       4.5 3
Cincinnati   7.5 7.5   7.5   7.5 7
Clemson 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 9
Colorado     4       3.5 3
Colorado State     4.5       6.5 7
Connecticut     6.5       5.5 5
Duke   3.5 4       3.5 4
East Carolina     6       5.5 8
Eastern Michigan     5       5.5 5
FAU     2       3.5 2
FIU     7.5       7.5 8
Florida 8 7.5 8 7.5 8 8 8 8
Florida State 10 10.5 10 10 9.5 10 9.5 10
Fresno State     6       7.5 7
Georgia 9.5   9.5 9.5 9.5 9.5 9.5 10
Georgia Tech   7.5 7.5   8   8 8
Hawaii     3.5 5.5     4.5 4
Houston     9       9.5 8
Idaho     3.5       4.5 3
Illinois   6.5 6   6   6.5 6
Indiana     4       3.5 3
Iowa   7.5 8   7.5   7.5 7
Iowa State     4.5 4.5     4.5 4
Kansas     3.5       3.5 3
Kansas State 7 7.5 8   8 7 8 7
Kent State     5.5       5.5 6
Kentucky   4.5 4.5       5.5 4
Louisiana Tech     8       8.5 9
Louisiana-Lafayette     7       7.5 8
Louisiana-Monroe     5       4.5 5
Louisville 8 8.5 9   9 8 9 10
LSU 10 10.5 10.5 10.5 10 10 10 12
Marshall     5.5       6.5 6
Maryland     4       4.5 4
Memphis     2       2.5 3
Miami   6.5 6   7   7 6
Miami (Ohio)     6.5       5.5 5
Michigan 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 9 8.5 9 10
Michigan State 8.5 8.5 8 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 9
Minnesota     4.5       5.5 5
Mississippi State 7 7.5 7.5     7 7.5 6
Missouri 6.5 7.5 7   7 6.5 7 7
MTSU     4.5       4.5 3
Navy   7.5 6.5       6.5 7
NC State   7.5 8   7.5   7.5 8
Nebraska 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 10
Nevada 8.5 8.5 7.5 7.5   8.5 7.5 8
New Mexico     2.5       2.5 2
New Mexico State     3.5 4.5     5.5 5
North Carolina   7.5 7.5   7.5   7.5 8
North Texas     5       5.5 5
Northern Illinois     8.5       8.5 7
Northwestern     6       6.5 7
Notre Dame 8.5 8.5 8 8 8.5 8.5 8.5 8
Ohio     9.5       9.5 9
Ohio State 8.5 8.5 9 9 9 8.5 9 11
Oklahoma 10.5 9.5 10 10.5 10 10.5 10 11
Oklahoma State 8.5 8.5 8.5 8.5 7.5 8.5 7.5 8
Ole Miss   3.5 5       5.5 4
Oregon 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10 10.5 10 11
Oregon State     5.5       4.5 3
Penn State*   6.5* 6.5* 6.5* 7*   7* 7*
Pittsburgh   7.5 7   7   7 7
Purdue     6.5       6.5 6
Rice     3.5       3.5 3
Rutgers   7.5 8.5       7.5 8
San Diego State     6       5.5 5
San Jose State     5.5       5.5 5
SMU     6.5       6.5 6
South Alabama     2       2.5 2
South Carolina 8.5 8.5 9 9 8.5 8.5 8.5 9
South Florida     7.5   7.5   7.5 8
Southern Miss     7.5       8.5 6
Stanford 8 7.5 7.5   7 8 7 8
Syracuse     5.5       5.5 5
TCU 7.5 8.5 8.5   8.5 7.5 8.5 8
Temple     4       4.5 4
Tennessee 7.5 7.5 6.5   7 7.5 7 7
Texas 9 8.5 9 9 9 9 9 10
Texas A&M 7 7.5 6.5   7 7 7 7
Texas State     1       2.5 2
Texas Tech     7       6.5 6
Toledo     7       7.5 8
Troy     5.5       5.5 4
Tulane     1.5       2.5 2
Tulsa     8.5       7.5 8
UAB     3       3.5 4
UCF     8.5   8.5   8.5 8
UCLA 6 5.5 6 5.5 6 6 6 6
UMass     1       1.5 1
UNLV 3 2.5 3 3.5   3 4.5 3
USC 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10.5 10 12
Utah 8   8     8 7.5 7
Utah State     7       7.5 8
UTEP     4       4.5 4
UTSA     4       4.5 4
Vanderbilt   5.5 5.5       6.5 6
Virginia   6.5 6   7   7 7
Virginia Tech 9 9.5 9 9.5 9.5 9 9.5 10
Wake Forest     6       5.5 5
Washington   7.5 7.5 7 7.5   7.5 8
Washington State   5.5 5.5       5.5 6
West Virginia 8.5 8.5 8.5   8.5 8.5 8.5 10
Western Kentucky     6       6.5 5
Western Michigan     8.5       8.5 8
Wisconsin 9 8.5 9.5   9 9 9 9
Wyoming     6       5.5 8

All Penn State win projections were compiled before NCAA sanctions.

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Teaser:
<p> College Football 2012 Win Total Projections: Athlon vs. Vegas</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/byu-football-coaches-anonymously-scout-cougars
Body:

It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches around the nation to talk anonymously about BYU.

Opposing Coaches Anonymously Scout BYU

“Well, Jake Heaps is gone. Kid was the top-ranked high school quarterback at one point, and now he’s off to Kansas to play for Charlie Weis. I’ll be interested to see how that goes.

Riley Nelson is now the guy at quarterback. He probably feels less pressure now; he is no longer competing against the big recruit, the guy that every fan wanted to see in there. Nelson is a talented kid.

They put together a pretty nice schedule for an Independent team. They’ve got three Pac-12 schools (Washington State, Utah and Oregon State), an ACC school (Georgia Tech) and Notre Dame.

Michael Alisa did a good job for them (at running back).  He’s got decent size (6'1", 213). He’s a nice player.

(Cody) Hoffman, the receiver, is a big kid. Can be a tough matchup for the defense. He made some big plays for them last year. I know he played well in the bowl game.

This was not a great team last year. I know they won 10 games, but the schedule was pretty soft, and they won a bunch of close games. Give them credit — 10 wins is still 10 wins, but I’d be surprised if they did again, especially with a more difficult schedule.

Bronco (Mendenhall) always does a nice job with the defense. They are really good at what they do, and the guys buy into their system. They are solid.”

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Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

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Teaser:
<p> BYU Football: Coaches Anonymously Scout the Cougars</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:32
Path: /college-football/college-football-coaches-anonymously-scout-notre-dame
Body:

It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches around the nation to talk anonymously about Notre Dame.

College Football Coaches Anonymously Scout Notre Dame

Opposing coaches size up the Fighting Irish:

“So the Fighting Irish hired Brian Kelly to turn in consecutive 8–5 seasons? I don’t think so. Kelly’s been an improvement since taking over for Charlie Weis, but I believe the Irish have been a little bit underwhelming.

Last year they probably deserved better than 8–5, but they beat themselves in so many games.

I still can’t figure out how Notre Dame lost to South Florida or Michigan. The close Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State summed up the season.

The quarterback position obviously draws the most attention. I’ll be interested to see what Kelly does there. Does he stay with Tommy Rees or give Gunner Kiel a shot? It probably doesn’t matter; the way Kelly pulls his quarterbacks, they’re all going to play or not play the same amount.

I think it’s imperative Kelly picks a starting quarterback and stays with him. It’s tough to play that position, especially at Notre Dame, if you’re constantly looking over your shoulder.

The schedule has its share of minefields such as Michigan, USC, Stanford, Michigan State and Oklahoma. So maybe another 8–5 record wouldn’t be so bad this season, even if the alums won’t like it.”

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Teaser:
<p> College Football Coaches Anonymously Scout Notre Dame</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 06:16
Path: /college-football/pac-12-player-rankings-top-50-players-2012
Body:

The Pac-12 is one of the nation's top conferences for offense, so it should be no surprise that six of the top 10 players in Athlon's top 50 for 2012 check in on that side of the ball. USC's Matt Barkley is the frontrunner to win the Heisman, while receivers Robert Woods, Keenan Allen, Marqise Lee and Marquess Wilson are all All-American candidates. While the defense doesn't have as many players in the top 10, Utah's Star Lotulelei and USC's T.J. McDonald rank among the top six players. 

Compiling the top 50 players of any conference is never an easy task. However, Athlon established a criteria to help compile the rankings. 

Here are five factors that contributed to the criteria for the rankings:
1. Projection on 2012 Performance 
2. Importance to team
3. Positional importance
4. NFL Draft stock
5. Career performance 

(Published August 14, 2012)

Athlon's Top 50 Pac-12 Players for 2012

1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
After throwing 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions over his final four games in 2011, the consensus was Barkley was gone to the NFL. Instead, he surprised a lot of folks with his decision to return for one more shot at a national title and has USC poised to play for the championship in January. Barkley enters 2012 with 9,054 yards and 80 touchdowns and is Athlon’s first-team All-American quarterback for 2012. The senior ranks third in school history with 9,013 career yards, and his 80 touchdown passes are fifth in Pac-12 history. The only missing pieces on Barkley’s resume? A Pac-12 title, national championship and Heisman. All three are certainly within reach in 2012.

2. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
When the guys who are trying to block you officially vote you as the best defensive lineman in the league, it’s pretty hard to argue. Lotulelei earned such an honor last year when he was given the Morris Trophy, the award given to the best D-Lineman in the Pac-12 as voted on by starting offensive linemen. His 6-foot-4, 320-pound frame has NFL written all over it, as Utah hopes its Star in the middle can lead what was the league’s top scoring defense last year. The senior from South Jordan, Utah is a first-team All-American and looks to build on his 9.0 tackles for a loss and 44 total tackles.

3. Robert Woods, WR, USC
One half of USC’s impressive receiver duo, Woods was one of eight players in the country to catch more than 100 passes -- and he was the only one to do so in 12 games thanks to USC’s bowl ban. Woods will get his chance to play in the postseason after accounting for 176 catches for 2,084 yards and 21 touchdowns (15 last season) in his first two years at USC.

4. Keenan Allen, WR, California
Few players in the nation have as much raw physical talent and skill as Allen possesses. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound stud from Greensboro, N.C., flashed first-round NFL talent as only a sophomore last year by catching 82 passes for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns. He is the half-brother of quarterback Zach Maynard and clearly has an unspoken rapport with Cal signal caller. Look for this to be Allen’s final year in a Golden Bear uniform.

5. De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
Even at Oregon, where speed and explosiveness runs aplenty, Thomas found a way to stand out as a freshman. The 5-foot-9, 173-pound running back from Los Angeles averaged a 16-yard gain every time he touched the ball. That was half a yard more than any other Ducks’ regular and twice as much as either LaMichael James or Kenjon Barner. Thomas scored 18 total touchdowns as a rookie (nine rushing, seven receiving, two on kickoff returns).

6. T.J. McDonald, S, USC
The USC legacy — his father Tim was a two-time All-American at USC from 1983-1986 — is a powerful hitter at the back end of the No. 1 team in the nation. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior has 23 career starts, 163 career tackles and six career interceptions. The Fresno (Calif.) Edison product is an Athlon Sports All-American and Thorpe Award candidate heading into his final season.

7. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State
Most Pac-12 fans are familiar with Wilson but expect to see him become a household name nationally after 2012. With Mike Leach’s pass-first attack coming to Pullman, the Cougars should be one of the top offenses in the nation. Wilson has recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and caught 18 touchdown passes over the last two years. His best performance came against San Diego State in 2011, grabbing six passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns. With Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and Keenan Allen returning, it will be a battle to get first-team all-conference honors. However, there’s no question Wilson will have the stats to get in the mix for first-team All-Pac-12 and All-American honors.

8. Nickell Robey, CB, USC
An All-State second-team baseball player and district long jump champion, Robey faced no mystery of where he’d fit at USC. The junior has started every game in the secondary since he arrived on campus. Robey will make a bid at All-America status after recording 63 tackles, nine pass breakups and two interceptions last season (including one returned for a touchdown in the triple-overtime loss to Stanford).

9. John Boyett, S, Oregon
Playing for an underrated defense, Boyett’s status as one of the nation’s best safeties does not get much attention. Entering his fourth-season as a starter, Boyett has 276 career tackles. He fell one tackle short in 2010 of leading the Ducks in tackles in each of his three seasons on campus. Boyett is a touchdown-saving safety who also has nine career interceptions.

10. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
With Robert Woods posting a record-setting season on the other side, it was easy to overlook Lee’s performance in 2011. As a true freshman, he finished with 73 receptions for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Lee came on strong over the second half of the season, catching at least seven passes in each of the final five games. Woods is still USC’s No. 1 receiver, but Lee will see plenty of passes in his direction. Expect the sophomore to surpass last season’s totals, while pushing for All-American honors.

11. Keith Price, QB, Washington
Replacing Jake Locker was no easy task, but it didn’t take long for Price to emerge as one of the conference’s top quarterbacks last year. The California native threw for 3,063 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, while adding three scores on the ground. Knee injuries limited Price in the second half of last season, but he will be 100 percent for the season opener. The Huskies still have question marks on defense, but Price’s emergence should allow Washington to push Stanford for second in the Pac-12 North.

12. Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
The outside linebacker from Marietta, Ga., became an instant playmaker on on the Stanford defense the last three seasons, recording 46 tackles for a loss during that span. He led the Pac-12 last season with 2.1 tackles behind the line last season while forcing five fumbles. With Shayne Skov back, he and Thomas could be one of the nation’s best linebacker tandems.

13. Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
The senior from Piedmont, Calif., has had an up and down career at Stanford. He has NFL potential, a savvy on-the-field toughness that has helped the Cardinal develop into a West Coast power. He has also dealt with major injuries on more than one occasion and an off-the-field issue. The DUI will cost him one game with a suspension this fall, but should he stay healthy, the 6-foot-3, 242-pounder could be an All-American this fall.

14. Dion Jordan, DE/LB, Oregon
Athleticism and speed are two hallmarks of Oregon’s defense, so it was really no surprise when Jordan shifted from tight end to defensive end before the 2010 season. And after spending one year as a reserve, Jordan shined in his first full season as a starter in 2011, recording 42 tackles, 13 TFL and 7.5 sacks. He earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors and was named to the watchlists for the Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski and Hendricks Award for 2012. Jordan is Oregon’s top rush end and should only get better with another offseason to refine his skills on defense.

15. Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
The Astoria, Ore., cornerback is one of the most underrated players in the entire country. As a lockdown cover corner, few in the league can match the Oregon State Beaver who has returned an interception for a touchdown in two straight seasons. He also took a punt back for a score against UCLA last fall. His special teams prowess make Poyer one of the biggest impact players in all of the Pac-12.

16. Khaled Holmes, C, USC
With Matt Kalil moving onto the NFL, it’s up to Holmes to become the leader for USC’s offensive line. That shouldn’t be a problem for the California native, as he has started in each of the last two years and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last season. Holmes made a seamless transition from guard to center in 2011 and should be one of the top linemen in college football this year. 

17. Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
Oregon isn’t panicking over the loss of running back LaMichael James, mainly because Barner has shown what he can do with the ball in his hands the last two seasons. Oregon’s run game didn’t miss a beat when Barner subbed for James. Barner has averaged 6.1 yards per carry and has scored 20 touchdowns in his career. Now it’s his turn to be the No. 1 running back.

18. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
As only a true freshman, the big-time prep star from Gig Harbor High School produced a season no Washington freshman tight end has ever posted. His 538 yards receiving were No. 2 all-time in UW history for a freshman of any position while ranking No. 3 all-time for any tight end of any age. He did all of that on 41 catches to go with six touchdowns. He has a chance to be the best player at his position nationally with continued development.

19. Michael Clay, LB, Oregon
Clay is one of the Pac-12’s most underrated players heading into 2012. Despite missing two games last season, he recorded 102 tackles, three sacks, 8.5 tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles. Despite his standout year, Clay didn’t even earn honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. Expect that to change in 2012, as the San Jose native will be in the mix for first-team All-Pac-12 honors as the leader of Oregon’s linebacking corps.  

20. John White, RB, Utah
The junior college transfer set a school record with 1,520 rushing yards in his first season on campus. With starting quarterback Jordan Wynn hurt, Utah relied on White to be a workhorse in the Utes’ first season in the Pac-12. White delivered as one of only seven quarterbacks in the country to top 300 carries. He also rushed for 15 touchdowns.

21. David Yankey, OL, Stanford
The redshirt sophomore from Roswell, Ga., has big shoes to fill now that Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro have moved on. But the cupboard isn't bare with big Yankey leading the way. This unit was No. 17 nationally in rushing (trailing only Oregon inside the league) and seventh nationally in protecting the quarterback. Yankey should only be that much better in his second full season on the field.

22. Dion Bailey, LB, USC
As only a freshman, Bailey proved to be an invaluable member of the Trojan defense. He posted 81 tackles, a pair of sacks and a pair of interceptions en route to freshman All-American honors. Now, as a sophomore, Bailey has Butkus Award potential and the chance to lead the his team to a national championship.

23. Travis Long, DE/LB, Washington State
Long has quietly been one of the Pac-12’s most underrated defenders over the last three years. The Spokane native recorded 10 sacks and 25 tackles for a loss from 2010-11 and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last season. Long has played his first three years on the line but is expected to move into a hybrid rush end/linebacker spot. With the Cougars switching to a 3-4, the senior will be counted upon to be the team’s top pass rusher, while continuing to help stuff the run off the edge.

24. Silas Redd, RB, USC
Redd’s decision to transfer to USC alleviated a major concern about the offense. Although Curtis McNeal had a solid 2011 season, the Trojans needed more depth at the position, and Redd is one of the top 15-20 backs in the nation. In two years with Penn State, he recorded 1,678 yards and nine touchdowns. Redd posted six 100-yard efforts last season, including 164 in the 34-24 win over Northwestern. Redd won’t see 250 carries, but having an every-down back is a key pickup for USC’s offense.

25. Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
With Andrew Luck gone to the NFL, more of the focus of the offense will be on Taylor. There’s no reason to think Taylor’s not up to the challenge. He’s topped 220 carries in each of the last two seasons, rushing for a combined 2,467 yards and 25 touchdowns. The Stanford offense has been more or less a power-run game even with Luck at quarterback, so Taylor should be ready for what’s coming.

26. Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State
The injury bug bit Tuel last season, as he played in only three games and completed 29 of 45 throws for 276 yards and one score. The California native suffered a broken collarbone in the season opener but returned later in the year, only to miss the final five games with a leg injury. Tuel has flown under the radar in his career, as most expected him to emerge as an all-conference candidate last season, especially after throwing for 2,780 yards and 18 scores in 2010. With Mike Leach arriving in Pullman, the Cougars should have one of the nation’s top passing threats. If Tuel can stay healthy, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns is easily within reach.

27. Cameron Marshall, RB, Arizona State
Marshall was essentially a one-man show at running back last season, carrying 230 times. No other Sun Devil running back topped 13 attempts. Marshall delivered with 1,050 yards and 18 touchdowns, tied with LaMichael James for the post in the Pac-12.

28. David Bakhtiari, OL, Colorado
The junior left tackle is one of the few veteran, Pac-12-caliber players for Colorado, earning coaches’ second-team all-conference last season. Bakhtiari is entering his third season a starter.

29. Wes Horton, DE, USC
The 6-foot-5, 255-pound senior will be counted on by Lane Kiffin to lead the Trojan defensive line in 2012. This might be the key area of concern for a USC run at a national title and Horton will have to build on his four-sack third season.

30. Kevin Graf, OL, USC
Protecting Matt Barkley might be considered the single most important charge of any unit in the nation. The former top 100 recruit turned All-Pac-12 junior is the most accomplished of the bunch and will be asked to lead in Matt Kalil's absence. The Agoura Hills, Calif., native is the third Graf to call Heritage Hall home — his brother and father both played at USC.

31. Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford
The big defensive lineman was named Stanford's most outstanding sophomore last fall after starting 12 games and registering 35 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. Hailing from Mequon, Wisc., Gardner will be asked to rush the passer and keep offensive linemen off of the very talented Cardinal linebackers this fall.

32. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Crichton was one of the Pac-12’s top breakout players last season, recording 74 tackles, six sacks, 14.5 tackles for a loss and six forced fumbles – as a redshirt freshman. The Beavers need another big season from Crichton, especially since the defense was the worst in the Pac-12 against the run. The sophomore is only scratching the surface of his potential and should build upon his standout freshman campaign.

33. Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
In a league stacked with future NFL stars at wide receiver, it is easy for Wheaton to get overlooked. With a freshman quarterback throwing the ball, the dynamic athlete caught 73 passes for 986 yards to go with 190 yards rushing. It would not be going out on a limb to suggest Wheaton reaches paydirt more than the one touchdown he scored last fall.

34. Kiko Alonso, LB, Oregon
After a standout performance in the Rose Bowl (five tackles, one interception, 1.5 sacks), Alonso is primed for a breakout season as one of Oregon’s top defenders. The senior recorded 46 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions last year but should be a full-time starter for the first time in his career this season. 

35. Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA
The nephew of NFL veteran tight end Christian Fauria, Joseph Fauria caught 39 passes for 481 yards with six touchdowns last season. He’ll be a top target for new Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley in the new “Y” position.

36. Levine Toiolo, TE, Stanford
Stanford’s three-tight end attack is down to two with juniors Zach Ertz and Toilolo. Though Toilolo was the third of the tree, he finished 348 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

37. John Fullington, OL, Washington State
The junior to be made a quick impact after converting from tight end in his first year. He played in all 12 games as a freshman before starting all 12 games last fall at left guard. He earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention and now is a veteran on what could be the nation's most improved offense.

38. Taylor Hart, DL, Oregon
Hart was impressive in his first year as a starter, recording 44 stops, three tackles for a loss and two sacks. The Ducks like to rotate a lot of players on the line, but the junior should be one of the stalwarts in 2012. Hart earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors last year but should be in the mix for first or second-team accolades this season.

39. Hayes Pullard, LB, USC
Often overlooked because of Bailey's first-year success, this talented tackler had his own breakout freshman campaign last fall. The 6-foot-1, 235 pound linebacker from Inglewood posted 81 tackles of his own as well as 6.5 TFL and 4.0 sacks.

40. Carson York, OL, Oregon
York has been a stabilizing force on Oregon’s offensive line, starting 36 career games. However, his status for the season opener is in doubt, as he suffered a serious knee injury in the bowl win over Wisconsin. If healthy, York should be one of the best linemen in the conference.

41. Brian Blechen, S, Utah
Blechen improved upon his standout freshman season as a sophomore, recording 78 tackles with two sacks, nine tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles and three interceptions.

42. Sean Parker, S, Washington
The Huskies’ defense struggled, but Parker was among the standouts after recording 91 tackles and four interceptions last season.

43. Drew Schaefer, C, Washington
Schaefer is a versatile three-year starter who blocked for Chris Polk’s two most productive seasons.

44. Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
The younger brother of former Washington State star Marcus Trufant has been a solid contributor his entire career. While he may never reach the star status of his older sibling, Desmond should only build upon a season in which he posted 64 tackles and 14 pass breakups.

45. Isi Sofele, RB, California
Yet another productive running back under Jeff Tedford, Sofele rushed for 1,322 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, his first as the primary running back. His 252 carries was the third-most in the Pac-12.

46. Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
Although the Bruins will have a new offense, don’t expect Franklin’s role to change much in 2012. The Los Angeles native rushed for 1,127 yards as a sophomore in 2010, while recording 976 yards and five scores last season. Expect Franklin to see more carries in 2012, especially with Brett Hundley taking over under center and Derrick Coleman expiring his eligibility at the end of last year.

47. Kasen Williams, WR, Washington
With Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar expiring their eligibility at the end of 2011, the Huskies are looking for a new go-to target. Williams should be Keith Price’s preferred receiver in 2012, especially after catching 36 passes for 427 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman last year. 

48. Xavier Su’a Filo, OL, UCLA
After two years away from football on his LDS Mission, Su'a Filo returns to UCLA with the potential to change the direction of the Bruins offense. With talented skill players, the offensive line could be the difference between in gaining bowl eligibility — and finally keeping a Bruin QB healthy.

49. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
In a bit of a surprise, Mannion passed Ryan Katz as Oregon State's No. 1 quarterback early in the 2011 season. He had his share of ups and downs last year, throwing for 3,328 yards and 16 touchdowns. However, Mannion also tossed 18 picks. Expect Mannion to be better as a sophomore and should lead Oregon State back into bowl contention.

50. Shaq Thompson, S, Washington
This special freshman is a once in a decade type of prospect and it won't take long for wide receivers and running backs to take note of the massive safety. He should start right away and will be a force in run support as well as a head hunter in the passing game.

Team Breakdown of Athlon's Top 50 Players in the Pac-12 for 2012

Arizona - 0
Arizona State - 1
California - 2
Colorado - 1
Oregon - 8
Oregon State - 4
Stanford - 6
UCLA - 3
USC - 11
Utah - 3
Washington - 7
Washington State - 4

by David Fox (@DavidFox615), Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven

 

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Teaser:
<p> Pac-12 Player Rankings: The Top 50 Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 05:50
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-10-players-returning-injury
Body:

Injuries are a big part of any college football season. 2011 was no different, as losing Knile Davis was a key setback to Arkansas' hopes of winning the SEC West last year, while Missouri's offensive line had to shuffle some players around after Elvis Fisher was lost for the year with a knee injury. 

Although those players were missed in 2011, their return to the gridiron is an even bigger storyline for 2012. 

Top 10 Players Returning After Missing All of 2011 With Injury

Note: This list includes only players who missed all of 2011.

1. Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas With quarterback Tyler Wilson turning down the NFL Draft, the Razorbacks were already expected to be one of the SEC’s best offenses in 2012. However, this unit will be even more dangerous if Davis comes back at full strength from an ankle injury. The junior had a breakout season in 2010, rushing for 1,322 yards and 13 scores. He also added 19 receptions for 136 yards and one touchdown. With Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo returning, the Razorback coaching staff won’t be forced to throw Davis into a full workload early in the year. Although all signs point to a return to full strength, the junior could be brought along slow through the first two weeks of the year, as Arkansas prepares for its Sept. 15 showdown against Alabama.

2. Josh Dworaczyk, OG, LSU The Tigers owned one of college football’s top offensive lines last season, and this group is expected to be one of the best once again in 2012. Tackles Alex Hurst and Chris Faulk are two All-American candidates at tackle, while there’s plenty of experience returning with senior center P.J. Lonergan and guard Josh Williford. Dworaczyk made 26 consecutive starts prior to last season and will be expected to start at left guard in 2012. The senior suffered a knee injury in fall practice last season, but he did not experience any setbacks in his recovery and all signs point to a big senior season.

3. Elvis Fisher, OT, Missouri The SEC is home to some of college football’s best defensive lines, so getting Fisher back in the lineup will be a huge boost to Missouri’s offense. He missed all of 2011 with a knee injury and is expected to slide back into the lineup at left tackle. The injury snapped a 40-game start streak for Fisher, as he was expected to be one of the Big 12’s top linemen last year. The senior earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors in 2009 and 2010, and if he returns at full strength, expect Fisher to have a spot on one of the SEC’s first, second or third all-conference teams at the end of the season.

4. Josh Jenkins, OG, West VirginiaThe Mountaineers never seemed to jell on the offensive line last year, as the unit allowed 30 sacks and struggled to open up rushing lanes. This group should be better in 2012, especially with another offseason to work in coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense. Jenkins has yet to fulfill the hype surrounding him out of high school, but he has 24 career starts and will return to the lineup at left guard. Combine Jenkins’ coming back to full strength with three returning starters up front, and the Mountaineers should have an improved offensive line in 2012.

5. Brandon Magee, LB, Arizona StateA torn Achilles sidelined Magee for all of last season, and the Sun Devils are counting on him to be a team leader and one of the unit’s best players in 2012. Magee started 11 games in 2010 and recorded 73 stops. He also registered 34 tackles in 2009 and 11 as a freshman in 2008. An Achilles tear is one of the most difficult injuries for a football player to return from, but Magee is on track to return for the season opener. Even if the senior isn’t 100 percent early in the year, his leadership will be valuable for a defense that returns just four starters.

6. Herman Lathers, LB, TennesseeAfter recording 75 tackles and three sacks in 2010, Lathers was on the verge of a breakout season in 2011. However, he suffered a fractured ankle in early June, which forced him to sit out all of last year. Lathers returned at full strength for spring practice and should be the leader of a linebacking corps that returns promising sophomores A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt. With 14 teams in the SEC, it won’t be easy cracking one of the three all-conference teams. However, if Lathers picks up where he left off in 2010, he will have a chance to rank among the conference’s top 10-15 linebackers in 2012.

7. Jake Fischer, LB, Arizona 2011 was not a banner year for Arizona’s defense. The Wildcats allowed 35.4 points a game and ranked last in the Pac-12 in pass and total defense. This unit received a makeover during the offseason, as Jeff Casteel left West Virginia and brought his 3-3-5 scheme to Tucson. Depth is a major concern for Arizona at linebacker, but Fischer’s return should help bring some stability to this unit. He played in all 13 contests and recorded 58 stops and 7.5 tackles for a loss in 2010. Fischer suffered a torn ACL in the spring of 2011 and was forced to miss all 12 contests. With a new scheme and the recovery from a knee injury, the junior could start slow in 2012. However, Fischer will be Arizona’s top linebacker this year and needs to stay healthy with very little depth behind him.

8. Pete Massaro, DE, Penn State With the departures of defensive linemen Jack Crawford, Eric Latimore and Devon Still, Massaro’s return to the lineup is a welcomed addition for coach Bill O’Brien. He started the final 11 games in 2010 and recorded 37 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Massaro missed all of 2011 with a torn ACL, which was the second time in his career he suffered that injury (2009). It may take the senior a couple of games to knock off the rust, but his return is crucial for a unit that needs players to step up in 2012.

9. Dee Hart, RB, AlabamaWith Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy leading the way on the ground, Hart’s absence wasn’t a huge loss for Alabama last year. He was expected to be the Crimson Tide’s change-of-pace back and a potential weapon on special teams but suffered a torn ACL in summer workouts. With a full year to get healthy, Hart should be 100 percent for the season opener. He ranked among the top 100 recruits in the 2011 signing class by most services and flashed his potential with 76 total yards in the spring game. Eddie Lacy, Jalston Fowler and freshman T.J. Yeldon will all see carries, but Hart’s all-around ability should allow him to see a handful of snaps each game.

10. Rob Henry, QB, Purdue The Boilermakers have had some bad luck with knee injuries in recent years, and 2011 was no exception. Henry had a solid debut season in 2010, throwing for 996 yards and eight touchdowns, while also adding 547 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. He was ready to assume full control of Purdue’s quarterback spot but suffered a torn ACL in fall practice and was forced to sit out all of 2011. Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve handled the quarterback duties in Henry’s absence and both return to West Lafayette in 2012. With TerBush turning in a steady 2011 campaign under center last season, the coaching staff is considering using Henry in a variety of roles, including some snaps at running back and receiver. Even if he doesn’t start at quarterback, Henry is poised to play a key role in the Boilermakers’ offense in 2012.

Other Key Players Returning After Sitting Out 2011

Mustafa Greene, RB, NC State
Willie Haulstead, WR, Florida State
Deantre Lewis, RB, Arizona State
Jonathan McKnight, CB, Arizona
Warren Norman, RB, Vanderbilt
Michael Philipp, OL, Oregon State
Brandon Wimberly, WR, Nevada

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)


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2012 College Football Rankings: 1-124

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 10 Players Returning From Injury</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 05:22
Path: /college-football/sec-coaches-talk-anonymously-about-conference-foes
Body:

It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches in the SEC to talk anonymously about their opponents.

SEC Coaches Anonymously Scout Their Conference Foes

Alabama

Opposing coaches size up the Crimson Tide:

“The dropoff from Trent Richardson to Eddie Lacy might not be as much as people think. Lacy is actually bigger, I think, and he had some runs against North Texas, when we were breaking them down, where he looked like a clone of Richardson. He is very, very capable of being an 1,100- or 1,200-yard rusher next year.

They are so big and strong on defense. They can cover so much ground. They might not be the fastest, but they are all really good. They are long. Their secondary is unbelievable. They do a great job of recognizing run vs. pass, and when it is run, the safeties were awesome. The corners were awesome. Their defensive line, they weren’t great at rushing the passer; they were more middle-rush type guys and read-and-react guys. But they got the job done. And they are so well-coached.

Defensively, the just don’t make many mistakes. It’s hard to drive the ball up the field on them, but it’s also so hard to hit them with a big play.

I thought (tight end) Brad Smelley was great for them last year. Very underrated. He will be missed.

The quarterback (AJ McCarron) was underrated. Their receivers were underrated. Those guys made plays for the quarterback when they needed to make plays.

Alabama had the best offensive line in the league. They just pummeled you. They were awesome. Getting Barrett Jones back is huge. That’s like signing the No. 1 recruit in the nation, getting him to return.”

Related: Ranking the SEC's Top 75 Players for 2012

Arkansas

Opposing coaches size up the Razorbacks:

“They have a great scheme and great personnel. Losing Coach (Bobby) Petrino is a tough blow.  He is a unique playcaller, has a great feel for the game and a good command of the game. They still have the players, but his loss will be felt.

They have a great one in Tyler Wilson. They have tremendous amount of speed at the skill positions and gifted tight ends.

Here’s how good they were last year on offense: They lost Knile Davis, a first-team All-SEC running back from the year before, and they still had the No. 1 offense in the league.

Wilson gets beat up a lot. They have a lot of five-man protection packages where they are getting people out in routes quickly, and he recognizes that he has to get the ball off, and he knows that he is going to get hit. That being said, I don’t think they have an upper-level offensive line. That is one area on offense that can get better.

They can spread you out all over the field and still run the ball with some success.

They didn’t play well enough on defense, so I’m not really surprised they made a move and fired (Willy Robinson). The team was good, but the defense was just okay. They didn’t do a whole lot that confused you.

They are losing two really good players on defense in the end (Jake Bequette) and the linebacker (Jerry Franklin).”

Auburn

Opposing coaches size up the Tigers:

“Obviously it’s all about the coordinators and what kind of changes they make. Ted Roof is a good coordinator, but Brian VanGorder knows this league. That was a coup for Auburn, and I assume (Gene) Chizik will let him run the show. But on offense it’ll be hard for them not to have a downgrade from (Gus) Malzahn.

The guy Gabe Wright, the defensive tackle, he’ll probably have a big season this year, being his sophomore year. He made some plays last year. Their defensive ends are big and strong.

The linebacker they’re losing, (Eltoro Freeman), will be tough to replace. He was a good player.

I don’t know about the quarterback situation. I guess they don’t either. That’s never a good thing.

Their secret weapon, if it’s really a secret, could be (tight end) Philip Lutzenkirchen. I think he’ll have a big year. He’s coming off shoulder surgery, but he has the ability to make big plays.

Defensively, they’ll just be big and strong. That’s one thing I noticed last year — outside of LSU, Auburn’s defensive ends, in terms of physical presence, were the best in the league.

They definitely have a chance to make some noise in the West. They’ll be kind of a sleeper team coming off that 8–5 year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them contend. They have some really good young talent.”

Florida

Opposing coaches size up the Gators: 

“Consistency at quarterback was a big problem for them last year. John Brantley got hurt and lost some mobility.

I don’t think they had a great offensive line. That was an issue throughout the season.

Scheme was also a problem because they were trying to play a pro-style offensive with spread-style players. (Former offensive coordinator) Charlie Weis never seemed to have a handle on what he could do to get the offense going.

They were maybe the fastest team that we played against, but I did not think they were tough, and I think there were some issues between some players and coaches on the offensive side of the ball.

All of their receivers have tremendous potential, but none of them were very productive. In many ways, tight ends Trey Burton and Jordan Reed were their best receivers. Those guys and the two running backs, Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, scared me catching the ball more than any of their receivers.

They were better on defense than what we thought they would be, from watching them on film.

They still have good players running around. They should be better than what they were, though. They still have guys who can run, and they still have a couple of decent defensive linemen and (Jelani) Jenkins, the linebacker, is a good player. For some reason, they didn’t click defensively as much as they should have.

Will Muschamp has a good reputation. He has been with some good teams, very successful teams.”

Georgia

Opposing coaches size up the Bulldogs:

“If you look up quarterback in the dictionary, you would find a picture of Aaron Murray. He has nice composure, good leadership and a good handle of what they want to do. They might not be as sophisticated on offense as a team like Arkansas, but Murray knows what they want. He is a winner and has all the intangibles. From their perspective, the one thing I think they would say is that he has to cut down on his interceptions. He had some bad interceptions last year.

Orson Charles and Aron White will be big losses at tight end. Charles had the unique ability to flex out and be a wide receiver and create mismatches. He improved his blocking ability, too. He was also a dominant special teams player. He covered kicks. He did so much for them that a lot of people didn’t see. He is a high-character guy, too, from what I’ve heard.

I think Malcolm Mitchell and Tavarres King are an underrated wide receiver duo. Those guys are pretty good. Nobody talks about them as being among the best in the league, but they are very good.

Defensively, they might be 3-4 from a personnel standpoint, but they do a lot of four-down linemen fronts, so it’s a little deceiving. They have the one guy (Jarvis Jones) who is considered a linebacker, but they like him rushing the passer a lot.

Their secondary was outstanding last year. Made a lot of plays for them.”

Kentucky

Opposing coaches size up the Wildcats: 

“I don’t think Maxwell Smith is going to be the answer long term for them at quarterback. He came in and gave them a spark late in the year, but he is not a guy who is going to be a top-flight quarterback in this league.

CoShik Williams is a lower-level SEC back. He had some moments last year, but I think his best games were against Jacksonville State (148 yards) and Ole Miss (111).

Their personnel just wasn’t very good last year. They had higher expectations for Morgan Newton, who started off the season as their quarterback. He did some good things as a freshman a couple of years ago, but just didn’t pan out, for whatever reason.

They relied so heavily on Randall Cobb two years ago. He did everything for them, and they lacked that type of playmaker last year.

From a skill perspective, they didn’t put a whole lot of fear into the defense. And from a physical standpoint, with their offensive line and tight ends, you didn’t really need to load up the box to stop the run.

(Linebacker) Danny Trevathan was a good player. I liked him. He ran well. Ran like a defensive back. He was the one guy that stuck out when you prepared for them. Now, he’s gone. Not good for them.

They do a lot of good things on defense. They don’t necessarily have the personnel that other teams do, but they try to do a lot of different things.”

LSU

Opposing coaches size up the Tigers: 

“They have the best secondary in college football probably, even without Morris Claiborne. They did lose their secondary coach, Ron Cooper; he went to coach the Tampa Bay Bucs with Greg Schiano, and they brought the guy from Nebraska (Corey Raymond) in. I’m not sure losing Cooper is a big deal.

They are big and very, very good up front on defense. They have so many guys who can play.

Their performance in the national title game was disappointing. They should have played better. They were a better team than they showed that day.

One thing that is amazing about what they did last year — they scored nine non-offensive touchdowns. We used that as an example to our team throughout the spring. You can score points in so many other ways than just on offense.

I’ve heard good things about Zach Mettenberger. He’s a big kid who can make all of the throws. If he settles in, watch out. If that team gets really good play from the quarterback position, I’m not sure anyone can beat them.

John Chavis always does a good job. He’s well-respected. He has great players, but he is a very good coach.

They have so many good running backs it’s ridiculous. They can come at you with so many different looks. They will go five deep this year. They might not have the one All-American, but they have five who could start for 90 percent of the teams in the country.”

Missouri

Opposing coaches size up the Tigers: 

“The Tigers have had some nice teams in the past, but I’m not so sure ‘nice teams’ will cut it in the SEC. I think Missouri is going to experience some serious problems competing in their first year in the SEC. The offense will give them a chance to be fairly successful, but I don’t think they’ll be physical enough on defense.

My biggest question is if the Tigers can survive a conference schedule featuring South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Texas A&M plus nonconference games against Arizona State and Syracuse.

Quarterback James Franklin will immediately be one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC, but the Tigers will need big production out of their running game. Henry Josey emerged and had a tremendous season last year until he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Franklin underwent shoulder surgery and missed the entire spring. It looks like he’ll be fine, but I don’t know any scenario where it’s a good thing for your starting quarterback to miss spring drills.

Wide receiver T.J. Moe is the only top returning receiver, but he’s a good one. He literally catches everything thrown in his direction.

I’m interested to see how they hold up on the defensive line against some of the better offensive fronts in the SEC. Everyone is going to be watching them to see how they do in their first season in that league.”

Mississippi State

Opposing coaches size up the Bulldogs: 

“I look at them as scrappy. They’ve kind of had a couple down years, and they’re trying to re-invent themselves.

I’d say they’re a spread version of Georgia Tech, and that’s what they try to do. They try to run the ball. (Dan Mullen) might not have all the speed guys on the edge, like he did when he was at Florida working for Urban Meyer, but they are trying to do a lot of the same stuff. Once they get the players that fit their system completely, they could be dangerous, like Florida used to be.

They’re gonna be a well-coached team, especially with Mullen running the show. They always play hard. They’re fast.  

Losing (defensive tackle) Fletcher Cox will hurt in the middle. But I think they’ll have big strong kids.

I like the linebacker, Cameron Lawrence. He’s a good player.

With (quarterback) Chris Relf gone, they’ll have an opportunity to improve. I know they underachieved, but I think they’ll be able to do something this season.

They need Tyler Russell to play well at quarterback. He came in as a pretty hyped recruit, but he was never unable to completely beat out Relf, so that right there might tell you something. There is pressure on that kid this year.”

Ole Miss

Opposing coaches size up the Rebels:

“They turned the ball over too much and they didn’t get much out of the quarterback position. They couldn’t identify the guy they wanted to go with. They had Zack Stoudt, the junior college transfer, and Randall Mackey, and also Barry Brunetti, the kid who transferred from West Virginia.

They struggled to find an identity all season on offense, and it was because they couldn’t throw the ball.

They had two preseason all-conference guys on the offensive line (Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie). They had some good-looking guys up front.

They were inexperienced at the skill positions, and their best running back, Brandon Bolden, was hurt at times.

I like (running back) Jeff Scott. He can be really good. He is one of the leading punt returners in the conference. I think he can be a formidable upper-level SEC running back. But they need to get better on the offensive line. That is a big priority. And Scott will have to stay healthy. He was in and out of the lineup. He is one of the few playmakers they do have.

I don’t know much about the new coaching staff. I know Hugh Freeze was at Ole Miss before, and I know he did a good job at Arkansas State.

Their personnel on defense isn’t very good. That is their biggest problem.

They are near the bottom of the league from a talent standpoint. They’ve got to recruit better players.”

South Carolina

Opposing coaches size up the Gamecocks: 

“When you play South Carolina, you have to stop 21 (Marcus Lattimore). Their gameplan was to turn and hand the ball to him. So from a scheme perspective, they weren’t that hard to defend.

I have the utmost respect for them. They won with a different formula last season. They had an outstanding defense. They found unique ways to move the football. It wasn’t the pass-happy teams that we saw from Steve Spurrier at Florida in the ’90s. They utilized the strengths that Connor Shaw has, which are his feet and his mobility.

From an offensive standpoint, South Carolina was the most difficult team to prepare for. They were just so good up front. They can play guys that are defensive ends and put them in as tackles and that can really screw up your plan. You don’t know where they are going to be, so it’s hard to get a double-team on them.

(Defensive end) Jadeveon Clowney was very good. He is long, and he is athletic off the edge, and if he doesn’t get a rush he can knock a lot of balls down. He can beat you in so many ways.

I’m not so sure how much they will miss Alshon Jeffrey. The Alshon Jeffrey from 2010 was a great player. The Jeffrey from 2011, I’m not sure how much they will miss him. I thought he got a little bit out of shape. From what people tell me, (freshman) Shaq Roland will be a guy who can step in and produce.”

Tennessee

Opposing coaches size up the Volunteers: 

“When they played hard they were good. But there were times when they just did not play hard. You can see that on film. When they play fast, they are good. But when they got down, they just shut it down.

A healthy Tyler Bray is really, really good. Just put on the Cincinnati game from early last year (Tennessee won 45–23). He was incredible in that game. He has a lot of ability. He needs to get himself straight mentally.

With (wide receivers) Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter coming back, and throw in the junior college guy they have coming in (Cordarrelle Patterson), and they are going to be scary, I think.

If you look at their offensive linemen, I think they are more athletic than tough. I think they lacked toughness up front. If you were at a combine, they are all the right height, the right size and have the right athletic ability, but I thought they lacked toughness.

You assume we will see a lot of Alabama stuff defensively with Sal Sunseri coming in as the new coordinator. It’s always nice knowing what you are going to go against. I’m sure he will have his own stuff and they will evolve, but at least we know what type of system he comes from.

They didn’t have any real strengths defensively. They were just okay across the board. I guess they were pretty good up front, but not what you would expect from them.”

Texas A&M

Opposing coaches size up the Aggies: 

“Like Missouri, they’re going to find the going gets tougher now that they’re in the SEC. First the schedule now has Florida, Arkansas, LSU and Alabama — all of those are projected top 25 teams. Then add in former Big 12 member Missouri and trips to Mississippi State and Auburn. The Aggies will have a tough time adjusting, more so than Missouri because the Aggies lost more key players.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Cyrus Gray and wide receiver Jeff Fuller formed a pretty damn good nucleus and all three are gone. Jameill Showers was Tannehill’s back-up last season, so he’ll get first shot at replacing Tannehill.

I’m glad Kevin Sumlin finally got a shot at a BCS school. He has proven he can coach, and he’ll win at Texas A&M. Hopefully they’ll be patient with him. He obviously benefitted from having Case Keenum at Houston, but he did a solid job building that program. Now he must build another with a lot tougher degree of difficulty — and a much, much tougher schedule. He’s not in Conference USA anymore. There are no off weeks in the SEC, at least not in conference play. It’s going to be an interesting season in College Station.”

Vanderbilt

Opposing coaches size up the Commodores: 

“(James) Franklin came in as a recruiter, and he’s lived up to his reputation. But now that he’s getting his guys, he has to coach them up.

I love (running back) Zac Stacy. I think he is really good, one of the best in the league. I think he can be an NFL back if he continues to get better. He can catch and he can throw and he can run. He is tough guy.

Their offense improved so much during the season. Never seen anything like it. Their staff deserves a ton of credit. They seemed to re-invent themselves after the first few games.

Putting (quarterback) Jordan Rodgers in the lineup helped. He was better than anyone thought.

That receiver, Jordan Matthews, is really good. He could be an NFL wide receiver. I think he lacks flat-out speed, but if you can be an upper-level player in the this league, I would think you have a chance to be a pro football player. He creates mismatches with size and he can go up and get the ball in a crowd.

They have a few guys that can play at the next level. I think until they develop a bigger offensive and defensive line, it’ll be harder to compete with the bigger schools.”
 

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Teaser:
<p> SEC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes</p>
Post date: Monday, August 13, 2012 - 06:15
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Virginia Tech Hokies, News
Path: /news/virginia-tech-football-unveils-new-hokie-whiteout-helmet
Body:

New helmets and jerseys seem to be popping up every day during college football's offseason. Northwestern, Mississippi State, Nebraska and Wisconsin are just some of the teams that have unveiled new threads for 2012. 

And even if teams don't change their whole combination, there's always the one-game special. That's the case with Virginia Tech, as the Hokies unveiled a special whiteout helmet that will be worn on Sept. 8 against Austin Peay.

This is definitely an interesting look and a different one than we have seen Virginia Tech sport in recent years. 

Teaser:
<p> Virginia Tech Unveils New Hokie Whiteout Helmet</p>
Post date: Saturday, August 11, 2012 - 10:58
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-linebacker-units-2012
Body:

They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context.

Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature.

Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.

It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 12th annual Athlon Awards.

Athlon's Top 20 Linebacking Corps for 2012

1. Georgia – Thanks to the arrival of Jarvis Jones, the Bulldogs emerged as one of the top defenses in the SEC last year. After sitting out 2010 as a transfer from USC, Jones turned in a monster 2011 season, recording 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss. Ramik Wilson is expected to start at the other outside linebacker spot, while Mike Gilliard and Alec Ogletree anchor the middle. Ogletree recorded 52 tackles last year and is one of the SEC’s rising stars on defense.

2. Stanford – Even with Shayne Skov sidelined for nearly all of 2011 with a knee injury, the Cardinal still finished third nationally in rush defense. Chase Thomas has been a standout performer throughout his career with Stanford, earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors last year. Skov is expected to return at full strength early in the season and leads a deep group of linebackers that includes experienced options in Jarek Lancaster, AJ Tarpley, Trent Murphy and James Vaughters.

3. Michigan State – Thanks to the return of all three starters from last season, the Spartans own the Big Ten’s top linebacking corps for 2012. Max Bullough is a prototypical middle linebacker and should be better in his second year as a starter. Denicos Allen led the team with 11 sacks and also registered 83 stops. Chris Norman rounds out the starting trio, and he recorded honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last season.

4. Iowa State – A.J. Klein and Jake Knott are quietly two of the best linebackers in the nation. Klein earned Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year honors last season after registering 116 tackles and two sacks. Knott picked up second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2011 and has posted more than 100 tackles in each of the last two seasons. The third starting spot will likely go to sophomore C.J. Morgan.

5. Wisconsin – The Badgers finished 60th nationally against the run last year, but that number should improve in 2012 with two standouts returning in the linebacking corps. Chris Borland ranked second on the team with 143 tackles last year and picked up 19 tackles for a loss. Mike Taylor registered 150 stops and forced three fumbles in 2011. The unit must replace Kevin Claxton, but Ethan Armstrong and Conor O’Neill are experienced candidates.

6. Alabama – Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower will be missed, but the cupboard is far from bare for coordinator Kirby Smart. Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley should be in the mix for All-SEC honors, while sophomores Trey DePriest, Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson are on the cusp of a breakout season. Expect a small drop-off in performance early in the year, but this unit should rank as one of the SEC’s best by the end of 2012.

7. Florida – If the Gators want to challenge for the SEC East title, the defense will have to carry this team in the early part of the year. Will Muschamp and Dan Quinn have plenty of talent to work with, including senior Jon Bostic and junior Jelani Jenkins in the linebacking corps. Bostic recorded 94 tackles last season, while Jenkins made 75 stops. Freshman Antonio Morrison could break into the rotation as a backup on the outside this year.

8. Penn State – With the transfers of Silas Redd and Justin Brown, scoring points will be a challenge for the Nittany Lions’ offense this season. The good news for Penn State? The defense should be strong, especially at linebacker with senior Gerald Hodges and junior Glenn Carson back as starters. Hodges earned second-team All-Big Ten honors after recording 106 stops and 4.5 sacks last year. This unit could rank even higher at the end of the year if senior Michael Mauti can stay healthy. The depth took a hit with Khairi Fortt’s decision to transfer to California.

9. Notre Dame – Manti Te’o turned down a spot in the first round of the NFL Draft for one more year in South Bend. The senior led the team with 128 stops and 13.5 tackles for a loss last season and is a first-team Athlon Sports All-American for 2012. Joining Te’o as likely starters in the linebacking corps should be Prince Shembo, Dan Fox and Danny Spond. Sophomore Ishaq Williams will see plenty of snaps on the outside, and he will be counted upon to help ease the loss of Aaron Lynch. Having Te’o back boosts Notre Dame’s ranking in this list, but the rest of the unit needs to pickup their performance in 2012.  

10. Oregon – The Ducks must replace two key contributors from last season’s linebacking corps but don’t expect this unit to miss a beat in 2012. Senior Michael Clay is an underrated defender in the Pac-12 and he recorded 102 tackles and three sacks last year. Kiko Alonso had a breakout performance in the Rose Bowl (five tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1.5 sacks) and will help Clay anchor the interior. Boseko Lokombo will man one outside spot, while end/linebacker Dion Jordan will start at the hybrid rush position.

11. USC – With three sophomores likely to start, the Trojans could have the nation’s youngest starting trio at linebacker. Dion Bailey excelled after switching from safety last year, recording 81 tackles and Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. Hayes Pullard also had a standout freshman year, tying Bailey for the team lead in stops and recording four sacks and two forced fumbles. Lamar Dawson (25 tackles) is expected to start in the middle this season.

12. Rutgers – Three starters – including All-American candidate Khaseem Greene – are back to lead the Scarlet Knights’ linebacking corps in 2012. Greene led the team with 141 stops last season, while recording 3.5 sacks and 14 TFL. Steve Beauharnais anchors the interior, while making plenty of plays behind the scrimmage (16 TFL, 5 sacks). The third spot is expected to go to Jamal Merrell (44 tackles last year).

13. Oklahoma State – While the Cowboys’ offense garnered most of the attention last year, the defense led the nation in takeaways. A key reason for last season’s success was due to the trio at linebacker. Shaun Lewis picked up honorable mention All-Big 12 honors after recording 61 stops and 9.5 TFL last year. Alex Elkins didn’t play high school football, but excelled on the junior college level and finished second on the team with 90 stops last year. He should be better in his second year as a starter on the FBS level. Junior Caleb Lavey is expected to start at middle linebacker. With a few losses on the defensive line, the Cowboys need the linebacking corps to be active against the run.

14. Oklahoma – Travis Lewis was the heart and soul of the Sooners’ defense and there’s no question he will be missed. However, new linebacker coach Tim Kish will have plenty to work with. Juniors Tom Wort and Corey Nelson have played in Lewis’ shadow over the last two years and should be ready to push for All-Big 12 honors. The third spot is expected to be a hybrid linebacker/safety position, which could go to senior Joseph Ibiloye. 

15. Ohio State – Improvement. That’s the key word surrounding the Buckeyes after a disappointing 6-7 season. Even with three new starters taking over at linebacker, this unit should be one of the best in the Big Ten. Senior Etienne Sabino is due for a solid senior year, while sophomores Curtis Grant and Ryan Shazier are primed for breakout seasons. Shazier recorded 57 tackles in 13 appearances last year. The biggest question mark about this unit will be depth, as there is very little in the way of experience after the starting trio.

16. Virginia Tech – Injuries wrecked havoc on the Hokies’ linebacking corps last season, and there’s plenty of concerns about this group going into 2012. Bruce Taylor was off to a solid start in 2011 - 53 tackles and five sacks through the first eight games - but a foot injury ended his season prematurely. Tariq Edwards played in all 14 contests last year but a shin injury limited his availability for preseason workouts. Senior Jeron Gouveia-Winslow was sidelined for most of the year with a foot injury but is expected to regain a starting spot this fall. Alonzo Tweedy and Jack Tyler will be the top reserves and could play major snaps early in the season with Taylor and Edwards working their way back to full strength.

17. Kansas State – Arthur Brown was one of the nation’s top linebacker prospects in the class of 2008 but failed to make an impact during his two years with Miami. However, the light switch flipped on for the Wichita native last season, recording first-team All-Big 12 honors and 101 tackles. Brown should be one of the Big 12’s top 25 players in 2012 and an All-American candidate. Junior Tre Walker will return at one of the outside spots, while converted quarterback Justin Tuggle will likely man the other.

18. Texas – Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson were two of the Big 12’s top defenders over the last couple of years and won’t be easy to replace. However, the Longhorns aren’t short on talent in this area. Jordan Hicks is primed for a breakout year after making 65 stops last season. Sophomore Steve Edmond is another breakout candidate to watch at middle linebacker, while the coaching staff is high on junior Demarco Cobbs on the weakside.

19. Texas A&M – The Aggies are shifting from a 3-4 to a 4-3 attack, so the returning personnel will have an adjustment period. Sean Porter should be the headliner and the Aggies’ top playmaker on defense after recording 17 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks last year. Senior Jonathan Stewart returns after leading the team with 98 tackles in 2011, while Steven Jenkins is expected to win the third spot (61 tackles last year).

20. Michigan – This unit still has a ways to go before Brady Hoke or coordinator Greg Mattison consider it a strength, but it’s definitely on the right track. Senior Kenny Demens is back after leading the team with 94 tackles last year, while Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan are promising sophomores on the outside. Freshman Joe Bolden was one of the nation’s top linebacker recruits and will be tough to keep on the sidelines.


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 20 Linebacker Units for 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 05:52
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-defensive-back-units-2012
Body:

They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context.

Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature.

Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.

It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 12th annual Athlon Awards.

Athlon's Top 20 Defensive Backfields for 2012

1. Texas – The Longhorns allowed just over 200 passing yards per game last season, but opponents managed to score only 13 times through the air. Quandre Diggs broke up 13 passes and recorded four interceptions last season to earn Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. Cornerback Carrington Byndom earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors in his first season as a starter in 2011. Blake Gideon departs at safety, but Kenny Vaccaro and Adrian Phillips should be a standout duo in 2012.

2. LSU – The Tigers will miss shutdown corner Morris Claiborne but should still rank among the best in the nation in pass defense. Tyrann Mathieu can’t match Claiborne’s cover ability, but he is one of the team’s top defensive playmakers. Tharold Simon will start on the other side, while Jalen Collins will be the third corner. Eric Reid is coming off a standout season and will join Craig Loston as a starter at safety.

3. Michigan State – The Spartans allowed 20 touchdown passes last year but ranked 11th nationally in passing yards allowed per game. Three starters are back for 2012, including cornerback Johnny Adams. The senior emerged as a shutdown corner last season and could contend for All-America honors. Darqueze Dennard will start at the other corner spot. Isaiah Lewis is one of the Big Ten’s top safeties, while Kurtis Drummond and RJ Williamson will vie to replace Trenton Robinson at free safety.

4. Ohio State – Last season was considered a down year for defense in Columbus, but the Buckeyes still finished 14th nationally in pass defense. Four starters return for co-coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers, giving Ohio State one of the top defensive backfields in the nation. Cornerback Bradley Roby is an emerging star, while Travis Howard is expected to start at the other corner spot after recording 41 tackles and two interceptions last year. Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett could be the Big Ten’s top tandem at safety in 2012.

5. USC – The numbers weren’t particularly pretty for the Trojans last season. The secondary allowed 263.3 yards per game through the air, which ranked 102nd nationally and ninth in the Pac-12. While this unit gave up some yardage, it allowed only 17 passing scores. Expect USC to have the Pac-12’s top secondary in 2012, as all four starters return, including All-American safety T.J. McDonald. Cornerback Nickell Robey is an underrated player on the national level, while senior Isiah Wiley and Jawanza Starling look to build off their 2011 seasons.

6. Oklahoma State – Numbers don’t always paint a true picture of the effectiveness of any secondary. The Cowboys ranked 107th nationally in passing yards allowed last season but ranked 20th in pass efficiency defense. This group should improve upon those numbers in 2012, especially with three starters coming back to Stillwater. The cornerback duo of Brodrick Brown and Justin Gilbert is quietly among the nation’s best, while safety Daytawion Lowe is back after leading the team with 97 tackles last season.

7. Florida State – This unit suffered a setback with the dismissal of cornerback Greg Reid, but the Seminoles still rank No. 1 in the ACC and in the top 10 nationally of defensive backfields. Xavier Rhodes is a shutdown corner and could leave early for the NFL with a big 2012 season. Replacing Reid at the other corner spot will likely be sophomore Nick Waisome. Safety Lamarcus Joyner was a second-team All-ACC selection last year and will be joined by Terrence Brooks and Karlos Williams at free safety.

8. Florida – Here’s a scary thought for the rest of the SEC: The Gators ranked seventh in pass defense last year and could be even better in 2012. Junior Matt Elam is on the verge of becoming an All-American at strong safety, while sophomores Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy are coming off solid debut seasons. There’s plenty of proven depth in this unit, as Cody Riggs, Jaylen Watkins and De’Ante Saunders all have experience.

9. Oklahoma – The Sooners took a lot of criticism for their play in the secondary last season, but there is hope for a quick turnaround in 2012. New coordinator Mike Stoops is an excellent secondary coach, and this unit also has four starters from last year back in the mix. The only key departure from the defensive backfield is cornerback Jamell Fleming, but Demontre Hurst, Gabe Lynn and Aaron Colvin is a good trio to shut down opposing passing attacks. Tony Jefferson should be this unit’s best player, while senior Javon Harris is expected to get the nod at strong safety.

10. Virginia Tech – As long as the Hokies stay healthy, the secondary is one of the best in the ACC. Any injury could be a major issue, especially with very little proven depth in the defensive backfield. Kyle Fuller earned second-team All-ACC honors last season and will be joined by converted safety Antone Exum at cornerback. Sophomore safeties Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner have talent but lack experience.

11. NC State – With 14 returning starters from a team that closed out 2011 with wins in four out of their final five games, the Wolfpack are a popular sleeper pick in 2012. The defense should be one of the best in the ACC this year, especially with the return of cornerback David Amerson, who led the NCAA with 13 picks last year. Three seniors round out the starting jobs around Amerson, including Athlon Sports 2012 first-team All-ACC safety Earl Wolff.

12. Georgia – Suspensions have clouded the Bulldogs’ secondary in uncertainty early in the year, but this unit should rank among the best in the SEC at the end of 2012. Cornerback Sanders Commings is suspended for the first two games (including the SEC opener against Missouri), while safety Bacarri Rambo could miss the first four contests. Senior Branden Smith and safety Shawn Williams will anchor the other two starting spots in the secondary, and this group is expected to get a boost with receiver Malcolm Mitchell playing on both sides of the ball early in the year.

13. Alabama – There are some big shoes to fill this fall as the Crimson Tide look to find replacements for cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Mark Barron. There’s a solid foundation to build around with senior Robert Lester back at free safety and junior cornerback Dee Milliner returning with 17 career starts. John Fulton and junior college recruits Travell Dixon and Deion Belue will battle to replace Kirkpatrick. Sophomores Vinnie Sunseri and HaHa Clinton-Dix are locked into a tight battle to fill Barron’s strong safety spot.

14. Rutgers – The Scarlet Knights were quietly one of the nation’s stingiest pass defenses last season. This unit allowed only eight touchdown passes, while holding quarterbacks to a 51.8 completion percentage. David Rowe must be replaced at strong safety, but three other starters are back, including 2011 second-team All-Big East selection Logan Ryan. Strong safety Duron Harmon earned first-team honors last year after recording 49 tackles and five interceptions.

15. Oregon – Like the other units on Oregon’s defense, the secondary suffered a few losses, but there are few concerns about this group going into 2012. Coordinator Nick Aliotti does a good job of rotating players in and out of the lineup, which allows the reserves to gain plenty of valuable experience. The headliner for this group will be senior John Boyett. Sophomore cornerback Terrance Mitchell is a rising star to watch this season.

16. Mississippi State – The Bulldogs numbers against the pass were a little deceiving last year. Although they finished 11th in the SEC in pass defense, that placed them 27th overall in the nation. Cornerback Johnthan Banks is the SEC’s top cover corner and should be an All-American candidate in 2012. Senior Corey Broomfield doesn’t have the all-conference recognition that Banks gets but is a steady performer on the other side. Safety is a slight concern, especially with Nickoe Whitley recovering from a torn Achilles.

17. Utah – The Utes ranked 74th nationally against the pass last season but allowed only 18 passing scores and recorded 19 interceptions. Expect this unit to be solid once again in 2012 with three returning starters, including likely All-Pac-12 safety Brian Blechen. Fellow safety Eric Rowe started all 13 games as a freshman last year and should be even better as a sophomore. Seniors Mo Lee and Ryan Lacy should be steady options at cornerback.

18. Michigan – Much like the rest of the Wolverines’ defense in 2011, the secondary made significant improvement in the stat column. After allowing 261.9 passing yards per game in 2010, Michigan cut that number to 190.5 in 2011. Three starters are back for 2012, including promising sophomore Blake Countess at cornerback and senior Jordan Kovacs at safety.

19. Nebraska – Replacing Alfonzo Dennard (the Big Ten’s top defensive back in 2011) will be the top priority for new secondary coach Terry Joseph. The good news for the Cornhuskers is three starters are back, including senior safety Daimion Stafford and promising junior college transfer Mohammed Seisay.

20. Georgia Tech – The Yellow Jackets boast an underrated secondary, which returns three All-ACC candidates for 2012. Georgia Tech ranked second in the ACC in pass defense last year, and quarterbacks completed less than 56 percent of throws against this secondary. Cornerback Rod Sweeting and safety Isaiah Johnson should be the headliners for this unit in 2012.
 

 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 20 Defensive Back Units for 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 05:42
Path: /college-football/pac-12-coaches-talk-anonymously-about-conference-foes
Body:

It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches in the Pac-12 to talk anonymously about their opponents. 

Arizona

Opposing coaches size up the Wildcats: 

“It wasn’t a shock to me that (Mike) Stoops was fired last season, but I was surprised they pulled the plug on him midway through the year especially with the schedule they had last season. With Stoops gone, I don’t think they could have found a more perfect hire than Rich Rodriguez. I hate to say this, but I think he will be an absolute hit. It may not happen this season, but it’s inevitable. Rodriguez’s offensive attack will thrive in the Pac-12. He’s reunited again with former Michigan assistants Calvin Magee and Rod Smith, who will be his co-offensive coordinators. Of course, they won’t have the luxury of working with a talent such as Denard Robinson.  

This first year will be trying for Rodriguez offensively since the Wildcats lost quarterback Nick Foles and wide receiver Juron Criner. Senior Matt Scott is expected to run the offense. And they do have a great deal of talent on defense.  

I think the Week 2 visit by Oklahoma State could set the tone for the season if the Wildcats can pull off a victory. The biggest test will come two weeks later when Rodriguez makes his Pac-12 debut at Oregon.”

Arizona State

Opposing coaches size up the Sun Devils:

“I think one play that summed up how dysfunctional Arizona State’s program had become was during the Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State. (Dennis) Erickson had decided to punt on fourth down, but when the punt team started onto the field, Brock Osweiler turned and waved them back to the sideline. The quarterback, not the coach, was in charge of the team. That was just one of many issues with the Sun Devils. The handling of Vontaze Burfict was another. Now they bring in a nomad like Todd Graham, who seemingly floats from job to job every year or two. First he has to gain the trust of the team and the community that he won’t be bolting for another job after next season. That’s easier said than done. Plus he needs to improve from last year’s 6–7 season that ended with the embarrassing blowout loss to Boise State. Graham does not have an easy task. Osweiler is gone along with most of the offensive playmakers such as wide receivers Gerell Robinson and Aaron Pflugrad. 

They need to find a quarterback. The running backs are good, especially Cameron Marshall, but Graham needs the right quarterback to run his offense. He sure didn’t have one at Pitt last year.”

Cal

Opposing coaches size up the Golden Bears: 

“Last season wasn’t easy for Cal. They had no true home games, playing at a baseball park, while their home stadium was renovated. They managed another winning record under (Jeff) Tedford, but the offense was inconsistent. This year I expect more of the same. A game around .500. That’s sort of what Cal football has become — 5–7 two years ago, 7–6 last year. This year has 7–5 or 6–6 written all over it.  

They have some decent talent back. Quarterback Zach Maynard put up some numbers last year, and he gets wide receiver Keenan Allen, who I think is a big-time talent, and tailback Isi Sofele back this fall. Those three should give Cal three of the league’s top offensive skill players. Will they be able to score enough? The defense also has been inconsistent. It had some good moments — limiting Washington State and Oregon State to a TD or less. But it was no match against Oregon, UCLA and Washington. Three starters are back in the secondary while Aaron Tipoti is good on the defensive line.

Cal gets to play in its home stadium again this year, but I think we’ll get a better read on their season in their first two road games when they visit Ohio State and USC in back-to-back weeks. That is about as tough as it will get for any team in the nation next season.”

Colorado

Opposing coaches size up the Buffaloes: 

“Jon Embree’s first season was about what I expected — a lot more losses than wins. He was put in a very tough situation. First-time head coach taking over a program that had underachieved and playing their first season in a new league. Embree’s first season was set up to fail. There wasn’t a lot he could do. I was impressed, though, how they managed to win two of their last three, including an upset at Utah. That’s not an easy place to play. That showed me that Embree has the Buffaloes on the right track. It’s just going to take some time. 

The roster is still thin on talent. Quarterback Tyler Hansen and running back Rodney Stewart are both gone. They don’t return much at the skill positions. (Wide receiver) Paul Richardson’s injury (torn ACL) is a killer. They don’t have many really good players to begin with. He was one of them. 

Defensively they’ll be a little better after last year’s team allowed more than 40 points six times. Embree also didn’t catch any breaks with the schedule. He must play at Washington State in (Mike) Leach’s first Pac-12 game and also has consecutive road games against USC and Oregon and also visits Arizona. That’s tough.”

Oregon

Opposing coaches size up the Ducks:

“I was very surprised that Chip Kelly nearly bolted to the NFL. He has a great situation at Oregon, and for him to nearly leave that for the uncertainty of the Tampa Bay Bucs tells me one of two things: He was trying to get out of Dodge before the NCAA came calling, or he really has a strong desire to prove he could coach in the NFL. I’m honestly still not sure which one I believe. 

Now that Kelly finally decided to stay, he has to find a way to fill some serious holes. Quarterback Darron Thomas left early to the NFL, and running back LaMichael James also is gone. Those are two huge key cogs in Oregon’s offense. I think James can easily be replaced. They’ve got Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas to plug in at running back. How well they replace (Darron) Thomas I think will determine if they win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title. They like the guys they have there, but Thomas knew what he was doing in that offense.

Defensively, I think Nick Aliotti is vastly, vastly underrated. Oregon’s defense is better than most people give them credit for. He’s got a good nucleus back with six regulars returning. They will be good on that side of the ball.”

Oregon State

Opposing coaches size up the Beavers:

“Mike Riley made it look easy for a few years in Corvallis. But these past two seasons, they’ve slipped a little bit with the back-to-back losing seasons. It certainly made Riley’s job easier when he had the Rodgers brothers, but they’re finally out of eligibility. 

Last year was a tough one for Oregon State. I know they had a ton of injuries to several starters and that contributed to the 3–9 season. Because of that they were forced to play a lot of freshmen and their inexperience showed, especially on defense in blowout losses to Wisconsin, Stanford and Oregon.

I think Oregon State will be one of the league’s surprises this season. All of those younger players are back with a year of experience and combined with getting their injured players back, that should dramatically help their depth situation. The biggest beneficiary should be quarterback Sean Mannion, who replaced Ryan Katz early in the year and started the final 10 games as a freshman. He’s got a lot of potential and getting him so much experience should pay dividends this year. There will be no more drama at the position; he is the guy.

They are in a tough division. Oregon and Stanford have been really good. Washington is getting better, and Cal is solid. And now, Washington State has Mike Leach. Tough, tough division.”

Stanford

Opposing coaches size up the Cardinal:

“I have to admit I was wrong about David Shaw. I thought with him replacing Jim Harbaugh, the Cardinal would lose their toughness and personality and would flounder last season. Even with Andrew Luck at quarterback, I just didn’t think they could be as good as they were with Harbaugh. Well, I’m officially an idiot. Shaw did a tremendous job leading Stanford to an 11-win season and it should have been 12. There’s no way they should have lost to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. This year, though, I’m afraid Stanford will take a little dip. Of course, it’s got nothing to do with Shaw, but having to replace Andrew Luck will not be easy. There isn’t a clear cut favorite to replace him, and that’s something they certainly must get settled sooner than later.

Besides Luck, they also lost some hosses up front. They had some great offensive linemen.

I expect running back Stepfan Taylor to have to carry the offense with an unproven quarterback and some new starters on the offensive line. The question is, how effective can he be without an Andrew Luck-type at quarterback?

Defensively, I think they’ll be just fine with linebacker Chase Thomas back. He’s one of the nation’s best. Ben Gardner is one of the league’s top defensive ends. They’ve got some players on that side of the ball.”

UCLA

Opposing coaches size up the Bruins:

“Slick Rick has left the building. Neuheisel is no longer coaching his alma mater. I know some didn’t think that highly of him, but I actually thought he was an underrated coach. He may have been too cool for some, I guess. 

Jim Mora Jr. is an interesting, interesting hire. The guy has been out of coaching for a while and now comes to UCLA. I’m not sure what to make of this hire. Bottom line, like everyone else in our business — win and it’s a successful hire and if he doesn’t win enough, he’ll be gone in a few years.

Kevin Prince returns for his senior year. He’s had his share of ups and downs under Neuheisel. How will he fare under Mora or specifically under new coordinator Noel Mazzone? Or do they opt for another option, such as Richard Brehaut or Brett Hundley? Whoever they settle on will have the luxury of having Johnathan Franklin back at running back. He’s a really good player, a guy a lot of people don’t know about nationally because UCLA hasn’t been very good.

Overall, the Bruins do return a good core from last year. Can Mora get them all headed in the same direction? That’s something Neuheisel, unfortunately, didn’t do enough of during his time.”

USC

Opposing coaches size up the Trojans: 

“I don’t know how many people I talked to that laughed, yes laughed, when Lane Kiffin got the USC job. Then they got a two-year bowl ban and it was only a matter of time before the program imploded on itself. Well, Kiffin proved everyone wrong. The Trojans made drastic improvement last season, posting 10 victories, probably should have been 11. They let the Stanford game get away. The only stinker was at Arizona State. And now here comes this year. Watch out. The Trojans are loaded. They are the clear-cut favorites in the Pac-12, and if anyone has a chance to dethrone the SEC as national champions, I’m going with the Trojans.

Call it East Coast bias, but (quarterback) Matt Barkley should have received more Heisman consideration last season. That won’t be a problem this year. He’s got Robert Woods and Marqise Lee back at receiver along with tailback Curtis McNeal. They are absolutely loaded at wide receiver. Those guys are really, really good.

Safety T.J. McDonald and cornerback Nickell Robey give the Trojans one of the nation’s top secondaries. It all will come down to Nov. 3 when Oregon visits USC. At this point I wouldn’t bet against Kiffin.”

Utah

Opposing coaches size up the Utes:

“While some might question the thinking of Kyle Whittingham replacing offensive coordinator Norm Chow with 25-year-old Brian Johnson, I think it’s a great idea. It’s something different. The players are sure to be receptive to him; Johnson played the (quarterback) position so he has their respect in that aspect as well. Now can he call plays worth a darn? We’re certainly going to find out, but I think the kid will surprise some people. It doesn’t hurt that he has some good tools to work with in Jordan Wynn at quarterback and John White at running back. White was a big surprise last year. He was good.

The Utes return nearly their entire offense from a year ago and having some new young blood should help bolster last year’s numbers when they were held to 14 points or less five times, all losses.

(Defensive tackle) Star Lotulelei anchors the defense and might be the nation’s best at his position.

Last year, the Utes fared better than I thought in their first year in the Pac-12, finishing with eight victories. This year, I think they should be able to match that or exceed that many wins. This is a solid program. Just keeps on winning.”

Washington

Opposing coaches size up the Huskies: 

“What a way for Nick Holt to go out. That Alamo Bowl loss (67–56 defeat vs. Baylor) gave me whiplash. It reminded me of six-man football. That was possibly the worst defensive game I’ve seen so it’s not surprising that (Steve) Sarkisian fired the defensive coordinator after laying a major egg. They also looked defenseless against Stanford (allowing 65 points) and Nebraska (allowing 51 points). Sarkisian got a good one to replace Holt, bringing in Justin Wilcox from Tennessee. That’s a nice hire. I think Wilcox will do well out West. He also brought in Peter Sirmon to coach linebackers; he’s been at Tennessee with Wilcox. He’s a good recruiter and he played in the NFL.

Running back Chris Polk is off to the NFL. He carried the Huskies at times last season. They’ll experience a drop-off at running back but have a number of capable replacements in Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey.

Keith Price is a good quarterback, and he will be even better this year if he can stay healthy. He was banged up a lot last year. If they keep him upright, he will have a monster season.”

Washington State

Opposing coaches size up the Cougars: 

“I knew Mike Leach would eventually get back in coaching. I never thought it would be in Pullman, Washington. With that being said, I think Leach will do what Leach does best — provide tremendous sound bites and quotes for the media, and his offense will score a lot of points.

Paul Wulff doubled his win total last year, winning four games after two wins in 2010, but it wasn’t enough to save his job.

Quarterback Jeff Tuel and wide receiver Marquess Wilson should put up big numbers under Leach’s system. The Cougars won’t have trouble scoring points. That’s a certainty. Can they stop anyone? They couldn’t the past couple of years. That will be Leach’s biggest challenge. The talent level was getting better, but they still don’t have the players on defense to stop many teams in this league.

Ultimately I think Leach will be a huge success. Even if they don’t have an immediate turnaround, Leach will have enough quips and one-liners to keep everyone entertained at least for this season. He will be a breath of fresh air up there.”

 

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<p> Pac-12 Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 05:23
Path: /college-football/sec-player-rankings-top-75-players-2012-0
Body:

With the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M, the SEC is bigger and better than ever. While the Tigers and Aggies probably won't win the conference in 2012, the addition of both teams only adds to the depth in the legaue. The last six national champions have come from the SEC and the conference should have a good chance to add No. 7 in 2012. 

Simply put, there's no shortage of talent in the SEC. Athlon ranked 75 players for this list but could easily rank 100 with the amount of returning talent in the league for 2012. 

Compiling the top 75 players of any conference is never an easy task. However, Athlon established a criteria to help compile the rankings. 

Here are five factors that contributed to the criteria for the rankings:
1. Projection on 2012 Performance 
2. Importance to team
3. Positional importance
4. NFL Draft stock
5. Career performance 

(Published August 9, 2012)

Athlon's Top 75 SEC Players for 2012

1. Barrett Jones, C, Alabama
Three years, three different positions. That’s how valuable Jones has been to Alabama’s offensive line during his career in Tuscaloosa. The Tennessee native started the first 25 games of his career at right guard and shifted to left tackle last season. He earned first-team All-SEC honors in each of the last two years and will slide inside to man the center spot with the departure of William Vlachos. Jones is the nation’s most versatile offensive lineman and the defending Outland Trophy winner should be one of college football’s top performers in 2012.

2. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina 
It is hard to argue that any one player in the nation has more upside than this 6-foot-6, 260-pound freak of nature. As only a freshman, Clowney posted 8.0 sacks and forced five fumbles. He earned Defensive Freshman of the Year honors in the SEC and claimed a spot on the Freshman All-American team after his 36-tackle, 11.5-tackles for a loss debut season. The only thing keeping the star defensive end from being the top player in the league is his mental grasp of the game. He is still an underclassmen and still has some maturing to do before he becomes the most dominate defensive player in the nation. It may not take too long, however.

3. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
Before his season ending knee injury on Oct. 15, Lattimore was a Heisman frontrunner. The week before the injury, Lattimore was sixth in the nation in rushing with 129.8 yards per game. Lattimore’s health will be one of the major storylines in the SEC. If he’s fully healthy, the Gamecocks could make a run at their first SEC championship.

4. Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
The powerful defensive end was named first-team All-SEC last season, and the junior will be one of the top players in the country this year. Montgomery made 49 tackles (with 13.5 for loss) in 2011 and led the Tigers with nine sacks. The South Carolina native is the latest in a long line of stellar LSU defensive lineman. He will combine with fellow pass rusher Barkevious Mingo to form one of the best defensive end tandems in the country in 2012.

5. Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
This pass-rushing outside linebacker was sensational in his first season with the Bulldogs. He led the SEC with 13.5 sacks on his way to consensus All-American honors. Jones totaled 70 tackles last season, with a conference-leading 19.5 of them behind the line of scrimmage. He also added two forced fumbles and two pass breakups for a Georgia defense that ranked No. 5 in the country a year ago. Look for Jones and the Bulldogs defense to wreak more havoc on opponents in 2012.

6. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
It’s a close call for the No. 1 quarterback spot in the SEC. Murray and Tyler Wilson are both deserving, but with Arkansas losing coach Bobby Petrino and receivers Joe Adams and Jarius Wright, the edge goes to the Bulldogs’ signal-caller. Through Murray’s first two years in Athens, he has thrown for 6,198 yards and 59 touchdowns. His interception total increased last year (8 as a freshman, 14 as a sophomore), which will be one area the coaching staff wants to see him improve in 2012. The Bulldogs have to replace a couple of key offensive line starters, and receiver Malcolm Mitchell may spend the majority of the first part of the year at cornerback. There are concerns about Murray, but we think he will end up with first-team All-SEC honors at the end of 2012.

7. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
Wilson successfully stepped into Ryan Mallett’s shoes as Arkansas’ starting quarterback last season, carrying on the Razorbacks’ best run of passers in program history. Wilson’s 3,638 yards was the second-highest total in school history as he became the program’s first All-SEC first-team quarterback. After the sudden coaching change, Wilson also was a stabilizing presence on the roster. He and Mallett are the only two quarterbacks to pass for 3,000 yards in school history.

8. Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
While LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu will grab headlines for being one of the nation’s top playmakers at cornerbacks, Banks is quietly the SEC’s No. 1 coverman. He started all 13 games last season and earned first-team All-SEC honors, while recording 71 tackles and three forced fumbles. Banks is already drawing significant interest from the NFL, especially with his 6-foot-2 frame. The Mississippi native is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for 2012.

9. Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU 
As a sophomore on an undefeated team, Mingo finished second on the team in sacks (8.0) and led the team in tackles for a loss (15.0). While he may not be as complete a player as his defensive end counterpart Montgomery, Mingo might possess more explosiveness off the edge. He is long at 6-foot-5 and 240 pound and can get up the field with great quickness. He has first-round NFL potential and should only build upon his second-team All-SEC performance of 2011.

10. Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas
Expectations are high for Davis to return to the lineup at full speed after missing the 2011 season with a broken ankle. In 2010, Davis emerged over the final seven games of the season to rush for 1,028 yards and 12 touchdowns during that span. The Hogs’ will look forward to his power, speed and vision to return to the lineup after Arkansas ranked ninth in the SEC in rushing last season.

11. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Not too many players step into a BCS conference and start all 13 games as a true freshman. Joeckel did just that back in 2010 before earning first-team All-Big 12 honors last fall. The 6-foot-6, 310-pound bookend has played in all 26 possible career games and helped lead an O-Line that finished fourth nationally in sacks allowed per game last fall (0.69). The Aggies will experience growing pains shifting into the SEC, but the Joeckel-led offensive line shouldn’t be an issue.

12. Alex Hurst, OT, LSU
The 6-foot-6, 340-pound senior right tackle was a force last season in paving the way for the powerful LSU running game. Three different Tigers running backs reached the 500-yard mark last season, and LSU compiled 35 touchdowns on the ground. Hurst was recognized as first-team All-SEC by the league’s coaches in 2011, and he will be a top All-America candidate this season. Hurst and Chris Faulk should form the best tackle duo in the country in 2012.

13. Chris Faulk, OT, LSU
After redshirting in 2009, the big left tackle from Slidell, La., worked his way into a starting spot by the end of his freshman season. Despite dealing with a severe ankle sprain against Mississippi State, Faulk still started 13 of the 14 games en route to the BCS national championship game. He earned second-team All-SEC honors while protecting the blindside of both Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson. Behind Faulk and company, LSU finished second in the run-heavy SEC in rushing offense at 202.6 yards per game.

14. Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn
As only a sophomore, the former top 100 recruit realized his potential by leading the Tigers with 9.5 sacks. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound rush end finished his second season on The Plains with 47 total tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss and 15 QB hurries. He was the lone star on a defense that struggled mightily a year ago, but could emerge as an All-American superstar now that new coordinator Brian VanGorder is running the ship. Look for him to build around the future NFL draftee from Hialeah, Fla.

15. Eric Reid, S, LSU
The hard-hitting safety became a force during his sophomore season, tying for the team lead in tackles (76) with cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. Reid also forced two fumbles, had two interceptions and recovered a fumble last season for John Chavis’ stellar defense. Reid was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week after an excellent performance in LSU’s 9-6 victory at Alabama during the regular season. His critical fourth-quarter interception in that game was a top play of the 2011 campaign.

16. Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee
The 6-foot-6 quarterback has shown a ton of promise over his first two seasons in Knoxville, compiling 3,832 yards and 35 touchdown passes in 16 games. However, Bray must find a way to stay healthy for an entire season. He threw for 17 scores against six interceptions in seven games last year and has an elite receiving crew coming back. If a Vols rushing attack that ranked 116th nationally last year improves, Bray could have a monster 2012 campaign.

17. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
McCarron finished the 2011 season by playing some of his best football, throwing for 234 yards on 23 completions in the 21-0 victory over LSU in the national championship. He also threw for 184 yards and three touchdowns against Auburn and has not thrown a pick since the Nov. 12 victory over Mississippi State. With Trent Richardson moving onto the NFL, Alabama will put more on McCarron’s shoulders this season. New coordinator Doug Nussmeier should open up the offense a little more, which will allow McCarron to easily surpass last season’s totals and challenge for All-SEC honors.

18. Tharold Simon, CB, LSU 
When is comes to NFL upside and potential, few nickelbacks have as much talent as the sophomore from Eunice, La. He finished third in the SEC with 10 pass break-ups in only two starts. He has a huge frame for a corner at 6-foot-3 and 193 pounds and many believe he is the best coverman on the LSU roster. In fact, much like Morris Claiborne did last fall, Simon will likely be locked-up with the opposition’s top wide receiver. It won’t take long for Simon to become a household name nationally in 2012.

19. Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU
Note: Mathieu was dismissed after this article was published.
The LSU defensive back is a really, really, really good player with a tenacious attitude. But his Heisman candidacy was built more on a popular YouTube video, creative nickname, two punt returns in blowout wins and the support of the best defensive back in the nation more than anything else. Mathieu can be a game-changer on special teams and finds himself around the ball constantly. He is a welcome addition to any secondary, but he is not an elite coverman (see BCS title game) and does not have an NFL frame at 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds. The evidence? He never checks the other team’s top receiver.

20. Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
The talented receiver caught seven touchdown passes as a freshman in 2010 while averaging a staggering 25.9 yards on 16 receptions. The expectations for Hunter were sky-high last season before he suffered a torn ACL in the third game of the year at Florida. Hunter did total 302 yards and two scores in the first two games before his injury. If he returns to his former elite athlete level, Hunter will be one of the most explosive weapons in the SEC.

21. Bacarri Rambo, S, Georgia
Rambo may be absent for the start of the season due to a suspension, which would be a major blow to the Georgia defense. Rambo was an AP first-team All-American last season after recording 55 tackles with a team-leading eight interceptions. Rambo was the key playmaker for a secondary that helped Georgia finish fourth nationally in pass efficiency defense.

22. Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky
Warford is probably one of the nation’s most underrated players. He enters 2012 with 25 consecutive starts and has earned All-SEC honors in each of the last two seasons. At 6-foot-3 and 343 pounds, Warford has the size and strength to be a road grader on the ground, while helping to keep opposing linemen off the quarterback. The senior is an Athlon Sports first-team All-SEC selection for 2012.

23. Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
Barrett Jones is clearly the No. 1 offensive lineman for Alabama, but don’t overlook Warmack. The steady senior has started 25 straight contests and earned second-team All-SEC honors last season. The Georgia native is regarded as one of the top offensive guards for the 2013 NFL Draft and should increase his stock with another outstanding year.

24. D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
Fluker has started 21 games in his first two years in Tuscaloosa but is on the verge of a breakout year. The Alabama native was a key cog in the Crimson Tide’s rushing attack, allowing backs to average 5.5 yards per carry and record 34 scores on the ground. At 6-foot-6 and 335 pounds, Fluker has the strength to dominate on the right side of the line and continues to improve as a pass blocker. Look for the junior tackle to push for first-team All-SEC honors this season.

25. Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina
Taylor’s profile slipped a bit playing alongside All-American Melvin Ingram and freshman sensation Jadeveon Clowney, but he was an AP first-team All-SEC selection just two seasons ago. He finished 2010 with 7.5 sacks and 46 tackles. Last season, Taylor was third on the team with six. He’ll be a veteran leader for Clowney.

26. Da’Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee
Few players are a bigger anomaly than Mr. Rogers. He has NFL size, speed, explosiveness and upside. He is a nightmare match-up for any NCAA defensive back and will make huge plays after the catch. But the knucklehead factor is strong with the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Calhoun, Ga., native. He has had multiple issues off the field and his dedication/commitment to his team and craft remain a large question mark. He also has a tendency to drop the easy pass. Should things fall right and Rogers stays focused, he could be the best WR in the SEC. If not, he might be the third-best WR on his own team.

27. Alvin Bailey, OG, Arkansas
There’s no question Bailey has the talent to be one of the top offensive linemen in the nation. However, he didn’t have the best spring, and the coaching staff isn’t guaranteeing him a starting spot for the opener. Bailey has started the first 26 games in his career and was selected as a second-team All-SEC selection last year. If the Oklahoma native plays up to his ability, he should finish higher on this list at the end of 2012.

28. Matt Elam, S, Florida
Elam is the key player in a secondary that could be one of the SEC’s best. Elam was one of only five Gators to start every game last season, recording 78 tackles with 11 for a loss and seven pass break ups.

29. Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
After starting 11 games at defensive end last season, Floyd moves back into the interior this year. The Philadelphia native made 46 tackles last season. He’ll look to use his big body (6-3, 303) to open up the Gators’ pass rush.

30. James Franklin, QB, Missouri
The biggest unknown surrounding Franklin is the status of his throwing shoulder. He was injured during spring practice but had successful surgery and returned in time to participate in the fall. Will Franklin have the same arm strength? How will the timing be with his receivers? Those are two key questions to watch for Missouri in fall practice. If healthy, Franklin should be one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks. He rushed for 981 yards and 15 touchdowns last year, while throwing for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns.

31. Jon Bostic, LB, Florida 
The Wellington, Fla., prospect is now the elder statesman leader of the Gators defense. He led the team in tackles a year ago with 94 total stops and finished tied with second 10.0 tackles for a loss. He has played in 38 total games and made 19 career starts. His 6-foot-1, 250-pound frame makes him the most physical tackler on the Florida defense — a unit that will have to lead the team should it expect to compete in the East.

32. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews helped pave the way for an Aggies offense that ranked No. 7 in the country and scored over 39 points per game last season. Texas A&M might not be able to equal that type of production in the physical SEC, but the transition will be much easier because of the quality of the A&M offensive line led by left tackle Luke Joeckel, center Patrick Lewis and a powerful right tackle in Matthews.

33. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
The Tide lose three starters in the secondary, including two first-round draft picks, but Milliner has experience with 16 starts in the last two seasons. Like many on the Alabama roster, he’s a one-time stud recruit taking his turn in the spotlight. Three interceptions last season indicate he might be ready.

34. Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt
Stacy set a school record for rushing yards (1,193) thanks to a burst over the second half of the season. Stacy rushed for 809 yards and 13 touchdowns in the final eight games of the season to earn second-team All-SEC honors.

35. Bennie Logan, LSU
The powerful defensive tackle will lead the interior of an excellent LSU defensive line in 2012. As a sophomore, Logan totaled 57 tackles and three sacks. He was named the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week against Mississippi State last season after making five tackles, with three behind the line of scrimmage, in the 19-6 victory.

36. Robert Lester, S, Alabama
With Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick off to the NFL, the secondary needs a big year from Lester. The Alabama native been a starter over the last two years, earned second-team All-SEC honors in 2010 and has picked off 10 passes in his career. With inexperience at cornerback, Lester’s leadership will be valuable to a unit that could be under attack early in the year with games against Michigan and Arkansas. The senior is an Athlon Sports second-team All-SEC selection for 2012.

37. Jesse Williams, DL, Alabama
The big fella has had an interesting career path to BCS national champion. He is from Brisbane, Australia and attended Western Arizona C.C. before Nick Saban found him last fall. All he did was lock down the D-Line for the stingiest defense in modern college football history.

38. Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas
The 6-foot-3 wide receiver should be quarterback Tyler Wilson’s favorite target this season. Hamilton had 34 catches for 542 yards and four touchdowns a year ago, averaging 15.9 yards per reception. He has the size and speed combination to be one of the top wideouts in the SEC and a star for the Razorbacks in 2012.

39. Chris Gragg, TE, Arkansas
The veteran tight end had an excellent season in 2011, ranking third on the team in receptions. Gragg totaled 41 catches for 518 yards and two scores, and he was a star (8 catches, 119 yards, 1 TD) in the Mississippi State game. Arkansas will look for more of the same in 2012.

40. Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M
Swope was one of the Big 12’s top receivers last season, catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 scores. His six 100-yard games and 89 catches were a school record. Matching those numbers could be difficult in 2012, especially with Texas A&M breaking in a new quarterback and offensive scheme. New coach Kevin Sumlin’s spread offense should allow for Swope to have plenty of looks in the open field, but he needs the new quarterback to quickly settle into the starting role. Even if Swope’s numbers drop a bit, expect the senior to challenge for first-team All-SEC honors. 

41. Philip Lutzenkirchen, TE, Auburn
Lutzenkirchen has 14 career touchdowns on 44 catches combined, while CBS broadcast team ensures we’ll never forget how to pronounce his name.

42. Malcolm Mitchell, WR/CB, Georgia
There were plenty of other big-name freshman in the SEC last fall, but none were as explosive or versatile as the Valdosta, Ga., product. After leading the team in receptions per game last fall, Mark Richt decided the speedy Mitchell will provide his best Champ Bailey impersonation. Expect to see Mitchell in the defensive backfield and in open space on offense. He is certain to be explosive no matter where he lines-up.

43. Josh Boyd, DT, Mississippi State
With Fletcher Cox departing to the NFL, Boyd will see more attention from opposing defenses in 2012. There’s no question he’s capable of handling the extra defender, as his 6-foot-3 frame allows him to provide plenty of push on the interior against opposing offensive lines. Boyd is an Athlon Sports second-team All-SEC selection for 2012 and should pickup where he left off in 2011.

44. Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
Lacy steps into the top running back role after rushing for 674 yards (7.1 yards per carry) last season. He’ll be a big-play back even if Bama drifts to a committee approach.

45. Nico Johnson, LB, Alabama
The forgotten man of the 2011 Alabama linebacking corps, Johnson finished fourth on the team in tackles. This on a defense that allowed an astonishing 183.6 total yards per game and 8.2 points per game. The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder from Andalusia, Ala., will be the veteran presence on the reworked Bama defense in 2012.

46. Brad Wing, P, LSU
The Australia native was amazing during his All-America season as a freshman in 2011. He averaged 44.4 yards on 59 punts, with 20 of them over 50 yards. Wing also placed 27 punts inside the 20-yard line and earned SEC Special Teams Player of the Week honors twice last season.

47. Alonzo Highsmith, LB, Arkansas
A junior college transfer and the son of the former Miami running back of the same name, Highsmith had 91 tackles and a team-leading 12.5 tackles for a loss in his first season in Fayetteville.

48. Jelani Jenkins, LB, Florida
The Northeastern prospect was an elite recruit and has proven to have athleticism to match. The only thing left for Jenkins to develop is a physical, nasty streak. Should he develop this aspect of his game, he has All-American potential – especially, with 23 career starts in two seasons under his belt.

49. Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
The hard-hitting linebacker only played in eight games last season but still had a major impact. Ogletree compiled with 52 tackles (7.5 for loss), three sacks and two forced fumbles. He led the Bulldogs in tackles in each of the last five games, including 13 in the Outback Bowl against Michigan State.

50. Sean Porter, LB, Texas A&M
Porter was Texas A&M’s top defender last season, recording 79 stops, 9.5 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss. He earned first-team All-Big 12 honors and is expected to be the leader on the Aggies’ defense in 2012. Porter will have to adjust to a new scheme, as Texas A&M is shifting from a 3-4 to a 4-3 attack. New coordinator Mark Snyder still needs to find ways to let Porter attack off the edge, but the new scheme may prevent him from recording 17 tackles for a loss once again.

51. Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State
52. Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
53. John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
54. E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
55. Trey Wilson, CB, Vanderbilt
56. Christine Michael, RB, Texas A&M
57. Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt
58. Connor Shaw, QB, South Carolina
59. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
60. Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M           
61. Spencer Ware, RB, LSU
62. T.J. Johnson, C, South Carolina
63. Abry Jones, DE, Georgia
64. Shawn Williams, S, Georgia
65. Damion Square, DE, Alabama
66. Rob Lohr, DT, Vanderbilt
67. Prentiss Waggner, DB, Tennessee
68. Xavier Nixon, OL, Florida
69. Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas
70. P.J. Lonergan, C, LSU
71. Cameron Lawrence, LB, Mississippi State
72. Caleb Sturgis, K, Florida
73. A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee
74. Brad Madison, DE, Missouri
75. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri

Note: Florida's Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell were not rated due to injury.

Team Breakdown of Athlon's Top 75 Players in the SEC for 2012

Alabama - 11
Arkansas - 7
Auburn - 2
Florida - 6
Georgia - 8
Kentucky - 1
LSU - 12
Mississippi State - 4
Missouri - 4
Ole Miss - 0
South Carolina - 5
Tennessee - 5
Texas A&M - 6
Vanderbilt - 4


by David Fox (@DavidFox615), Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven) and Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)

 

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Teaser:
<p> SEC Player Rankings: The Top 75 Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 05:45
Path: /college-football/big-12-coaches-talk-anonymously-about-conference-foes
Body:

It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches in the Big 12 to talk anonymously about their opponents. 

Baylor

Opposing coaches size up the Bears:

“Of course the main focal point will be on having to replace Robert Griffin III, as it should be, but the Bears also lost a lot of other key players such as wide receiver Kendall Wright and running back Terrance Ganaway. Those guys were big-time threats on that offense. 

Senior Nick Florence has the difficult task of having to replace Griffin. He’ll still have a few viable targets like Lanear Sampson, Tevin Reese and Terrance Williams. 

They do such a great job at spreading out that offense and taking advantage of mismatches. Art Briles deserves a lot of credit for getting that thing going. While losing Griffin will be difficult to overcome, and it’s doubtful the offense can match last year’s numbers, the defense has eight returning starters and should be much better. They surrendered a lot of points and yards last season, but it didn’t matter because they could usually just outscore everyone. 

Baylor should have plenty of time getting adjusted to having Florence at quarterback since their first three games are against SMU, Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe.”

Iowa State

Opposing coaches size up the Cyclones:

“I love Paul Rhoads. He gets the absolute best out of every player and gives Iowa State the chance to win more games than they have any business winning. They got back to a bowl game last year, and this year I think they’ll be even better. First, they have to settle on a starting quarterback between senior Steele Jantz and sophomore Jared Barnett. Both bring different intangibles. I really think they can be effective with either one. Also, running back James White is part of a large group of returning starters on offense. They’ll work with new offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham. 

The defense features two of the best linebackers in the country in A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. Those guys should have monster seasons playing under Wally Burnham, who I think is one of the nation’s most underrated defensive coordinators.

With enough returning talent and seven home games, I think the Cyclones will have no problem getting back to a bowl game and believe they’ll be a surprise team in the Big 12.”

Kansas

Opposing coaches size up the Jayhawks: 

“There were a lot of interesting head coaching hires in the offseason. This one, though, had to rate near the top. I am dying to see if Charlie Weis can win at Kansas after not being able to win consistently with much better resources and tradition at Notre Dame. Whatever does happen it can’t be near the train wreck that they had with Turner Gill. They were at best a very, very average team talent-wise under Gill, yet they ran a spread offense. They just didn’t have the personnel to do that.

By bringing Weis on board and subsequently Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist, the Jayhawks will have an immediate upgrade at quarterback. Is there enough talent around Crist to give him a chance to do any damage? That’s doubtful and it certainly doesn’t help that running back James Sims was suspended for the first three games against South Dakota State, Rice and TCU.

Crist’s exploits on offense likely won’t matter much if the Jayhawks can’t shore up a porous defense. Last year, they were torched for at least 40 points in eight of 12 games. That is not easy to do. 

It will be a surprise if Kansas does not finish in last place in the league. They need more talent. It’s that simple.”

Kansas State

Opposing coaches size up the Wildcats:

“Here’s the bottom line: Bill Snyder’s teams will excel on special teams, be physical, won’t make mistakes and run some sort of option attack. The toughest thing about defending against them is they keep you honest at all times. That’s a compliment to the job offensive coordinator Dana Dimel does. As the talent continues to get better, Kansas State will continue to improve. 

One of the most impressive things about them is all their players buy in to Snyder’s way. He’s a no-nonsense guy, and quite frankly that’s not a quality that a lot of recruits are looking for. But he’s got guys that want to play for him, will run his system to perfection and they win because of it. Collin Klein is a perfect example. He is probably the most valuable, most underrated quarterback in the country. The guy just wins and he’s tough as nails. Got hit a lot last year, but just got up and kept playing. 

Winning 10 games last year was an overachievement. I think they’ve got the pieces in place to match that again this season.

Collin Klein was terrific last year. They were looking at moving the kid to wide receiver and he ends up being one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Isn’t a great thrower, but he really can hurt you with his legs. Tough kid, too. He took a pounding last year. They have to keep him healthy.”

Oklahoma

Opposing coaches size up the Sooners: 

“Landry Jones decided to return for his senior year, and Mike Stoops is back in Norman. Good times indeed. Last year I thought Jones was the league’s best quarterback. (Oklahoma State’s) Brandon Weeden proved me wrong. I think Jones decision to come back will pay huge dividends for the Sooners. 

Last year was a major disappointment in Norman. I know that. Everyone knows that. The preseason No. 1 team ending up in the Insight Bowl is not good. Ryan Broyles won’t be back, but Jones will be just fine. The Sooners offense will continue clicking. They’ve got some really good young receivers that will be a big part of the offense.

The biggest question marks are on the defense, but that’s where Mike Stoops comes into play. The Sooners lost some studs on that side of the ball. Guys like Travis Lewis, Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis. I still think Oklahoma is the most skilled team and most physical team in our conference. And I have a strong feeling after the bad taste in their mouth from last year, they’re going to prove it this year.

It will be interesting to see what happens with this team this year. They should be very, very hungry after what happened late last year. Their performance against Oklahoma State was not good. In a rivalry game? That surprised me.”

Oklahoma State

Opposing coaches size up the Cowboys: 

“Hats off — make that Cowboy hats off — to the job done by Mike Gundy. What he accomplished last year was remarkable. Just look at Oklahoma State’s history. You simply do not win like he did last year, winning the league title and nearly getting a shot at the national title. Obviously the money Boone Pickens has poured into facilities has made Gundy’s job a little easier, but still you can’t minimize the job Gundy has done in building a program.  

Now the fun starts for Gundy: How can he follow up last year’s record-breaking season without the duo of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon? One thing is for sure, you don’t have to worry about how Todd Monken will be as the offensive coordinator after replacing Dana Holgorsen. So who replaces Weeden? I don’t think it matters: Clint Chelf, Wes Lunt or J.W. Walsh. They won’t measure up to Weeden, but the offense will still scare you. They still have running back Joseph Randle. He’s big time. Will have a very good year for them.  

The defense sometimes is hit or miss, but it didn’t miss much last season. Bill Young’s group takes a lot of chances, but they pay off big-time. They also have eight starters back.

I think most people expect a huge drop-off for Oklahoma State. I don’t think it will be that drastic.”

TCU

Opposing coaches size up the Horned Frogs: 

“I think everybody is interested to see how they do in the Big 12 this season. I think they will be fine, but you never know. It’s a lot different when you’ve got to play three or four tough games in a row. They’ve beaten some good teams over the years, but they have not played a schedule like the one they will be playing this season.  

It was shocking to see their defense early last season. That Baylor game (TCU gave up 564 total yards) was very interesting. We all just assumed they could plug guys in. Didn’t happen. They got better late in the year, but that was clearly not what we were used to seeing from a Gary Patterson defense. 

They’ve got really good talent at the skill positions. They are loaded at running back. I like (Matthew) Tucker a lot. Their wide receivers aren’t as well known, but they have some guys who can play. We will find out this year.  

I thought (Casey) Pachall was pretty good last year. Taking over for Andy Dalton was not going to be easy, but the kid did a nice job. He will be even better this season.

Losing Tanner Brock (in the drug scandal) is big. That kid was good. And he was going to have a big season for them. … They’ve got some good players coming in. (Devonte) Fields, the defensive end, can really play. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him get on the field early. The quarterback, Tyler Matthews, is a good get, as well.”

Texas

Opposing coaches size up the Longhorns: 

“You see all that talent, all those resources, all that money and wonder why in the hell they aren’t winning big every year? The past two years Texas has been basically a .500 team. They haven’t been that physical, which surprises you, and they have some issues trying to find a quarterback.  

Last year (Mack) Brown figured he had to shake things up, bringing in Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz as his new coordinators. Texas was a little bit improved last year with those guys, but I don’t think the natives are going to settle for 7–5 regular seasons for any extended amount of time. While they had so much talent, a lot of it has been green.  

I think they could make a big jump this season if a quarterback can take control and command of the team. David Ash and Case McCoy will battle it out. They both have their bright spots and limitations. … Running back Malcolm Brown is going to be a good one. He’s scary. He had a super freshman season.  

For the most part the defense played well last year. They were fairly consistent, but were on the field a lot because of the inconsistency of the offense.”

Texas Tech

Opposing coaches size up the Red Raiders: 

“Tommy Tuberville really needs a big year this year. He managed eight wins and they won a bowl after replacing Mike Leach two years ago. Last year was a disaster. Five wins after they started out 4–0. Then they upset Oklahoma, I still don’t know how that happened. They got to 5–2, and only needed one more win to get to a bowl game only to lose their last five games; four of those they were run off the field.

This is a huge year for Tubs. He has a bunch of personnel back, so he needs to show some drastic improvement. What’s ironic is when he came on board, he stressed how much he wanted to run the ball and all they do is fling it around all the time. 

Quarterback Seth Doege is certainly a strength of the team. He can throw for a lot of yards and does a very good job spreading it around. The offense isn’t what’s been the problem in West Texas. It’s been the defense. Tuberville changes defensive coordinators more than he changes his socks. He’s got Art Kaufman as this year’s defensive coordinator, replacing Chad Glasgow, who replaced James Willis. They’ll also put in a new alignment, changing to the 4-3. 

I like Tuberville. Hopefully this new defensive system works better than the last one.”

West Virginia

Opposing coaches size up the Mountaineers: 

“Well, I guess that head coach-in-waiting arrangement worked out after all for (Dana) Holgorsen. He was thrown into the head coaching position a year early after West Virginia fired Bill Stewart. For a guy who had never been a head coach and didn’t have the year-long transition that he expected, I thought he did an exceptional job. Everyone knows he can run an offense, but taking control of an entire team is another matter.  

Bad news for Big 12 defensive coordinators is that the Mountaineers return plenty of talent from last season in quarterback Geno Smith and wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. They’ve also had a year to experience Holgorsen’s system so they’re only going to be that much more efficient. 

The biggest thing I’m interested to see is how the Mountaineers adjust to life in the Big 12 instead of the Big East. It will be a big difference facing teams like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas each week as opposed to the Big East teams. I think what will help Holgorsen is his time in the league as Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator. That will help with his familiarity with the league, but it’s still going to be a big adjustment making the upgrade in leagues and playing a much more difficult schedule. It will be a matter of will the Big 12 adjust to West Virginia or will West Virginia have to adjust to the Big 12.”

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Teaser:
<p> Big 12 Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 05:35
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-defensive-lines-2012
Body:

They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context.

Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature.

Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.

It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 12th annual Athlon Awards.

Athlon's Top 20 Defensive Lines for 2012

1. LSU Even when the Tigers lose a standout up front, this unit never seems to miss a beat. Tackle Michael Brockers is gone, but Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson are ready to emerge as key performers. Bennie Logan will be the anchor in the middle and should contend for All-SEC honors in 2012. The Tigers might have the top defensive end combination in college football, as Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo are back after combining for 17 sacks last year.

2. Florida StateEven though the Seminoles finished second nationally in rush defense and averaged 3.1 sacks per game last year, this unit could be better in 2012. Ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner quietly accumulated 15 sacks last season, and that duo will be spelled by top recruit Mario Edwards Jr. The interior of the line is overflowing with depth, and sophomore Timmy Jernigan could be one of the breakout players in the ACC this season. Seniors Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud, along with junior Demonte McAllister will provide Jernigan with plenty of help at tackle.

3. Texas The Longhorns finished sixth nationally in rush defense last year, and two starters return for 2012. Ends Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat combined for 14.5 sacks last season and should challenge for All-America honors in 2012. With Kheeston Randall and Calvin Howell departing, the interior will have some new faces stepping into the rotation. Ashton Dorsey recorded five tackles for a loss in 2011 and will start at one interior spot. The other spot is expected to go to sophomore Desmond Jackson, but junior college transfer Brandon Moore will push for playing time.

4. Virginia Tech Standout defenses have been a hallmark of Frank Beamer, and the Hokies are loaded on this side of the ball for 2012. End James Gayle had a breakout season last year, recording 38 tackles and seven sacks in 14 contests. J.R. Collins was disruptive from the other end spot, collecting 57 tackles and six sacks. The Hopkins brothers, Derrick and Antoine, will start at the tackle spots, but expect to see plenty of Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall in the rotation.

5. South Carolina Melvin Ingram won’t be easy to replace, but the Gamecocks should still have one of the SEC’s top defensive lines in 2012. Jadeveon Clowney terrorized opposing quarterbacks as a freshman last year, recording 36 tackles and eight sacks. Devin Taylor had a relatively quiet 2011 season but will join Clowney as a starter at end. The interior will be anchored by promising sophomore Kelcy Quarles and senior Byron Jerideau.

6. Ohio State - 2011 was a disappointing all-around year for the Buckeyes. However, expect a quick turnaround in Columbus. New coach Urban Meyer is one of the best in college football and even with a bowl ban, should have Ohio State pushing for 10 or 11 victories. The defense was solid last season but wasn’t as dominant as we have seen in recent years. With three returning starters, the line should be one of the nation’s best in 2012. End John Simon and tackle Johnathan Hankins will contend for All-American honors, while senior Garrett Goebel is a steady performer at nose guard. This group will get an infusion of depth with a stellar freshman class, namely Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington. 

7. Georgia – The Bulldogs are tough to evaluate on the defensive line, as their 3-4 alignment isn’t a conventional attacking unit like South Carolina or LSU. However, this group is one of the best in the SEC. Senior John Jenkins is a 358-pound immovable object on the interior. And the coaching staff can keep him fresh by rotating fellow senior Kwame Geathers into the interior. The end spots should go to seniors Cornelius Washington and Abry Jones.

8. Michigan State – Jerel Worthy’s departure is a huge blow for the Spartans’ defensive line. This unit led the Big Ten in rushing defense and recorded 44 sacks last year. Although Worthy will be missed, Michigan State returns ends William Gholston and Marcus Rush (combined for 9 sacks last season). The interior of the line will be watched closely early in the year, but Anthony Rashad White has experience, while Vanderbilt transfer James Kittredge finished spring with the edge at the other tackle spot.

9. Oregon – The Ducks have quietly transitioned into a 3-4 scheme and there’s no shortage of talent or depth returning in 2012. End/linebacker Dion Jordan is an athletic force off the edge, recording 42 stops, 13 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks last year. Taylor Hart is also coming off a strong season, picking up 44 tackles and honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. The interior of the line should be anchored by Wade Keliikipi and senior Isaac Remington but look for Jared Ebert and Ricky Heimuli to see plenty of snaps. True freshman Arik Armstead is expected to push for playing time at end this year.

10. Alabama – Just like Georgia, it’s not easy to evaluate Alabama’s 3-4 alignment against 4-3 teams like Florida State, LSU and South Carolina. The linebackers play a key role in the rush defense, but the front trio also deserves credit for finishing No. 1 overall last season. Seniors Damion Square and Jesse Williams are back as returning starters and both should be in the mix for All-SEC honors. Ed Stinson and Quinton Dial will likely battle for the third spot on the line. Finishing No. 1 overall again in rush defense seems unlikely. However, don’t expect the Crimson Tide to drop too far in the defensive statistics this year. 

11. Florida – If not for two injured knees, the Gators could rank much higher on this list. Ronald Powell was poised for a huge season but suffered a torn ACL in the spring game. Dominique Easley’s status for the opener is also up in the air, as he is also recovering from a knee injury suffered late in the 2011 season. Even with Easley and Powell questionable for the first game, Will Muschamp still has plenty to work with. Sharrif Floyd is a third-team Athlon Sports All-American for 2012, while senior Omar Hunter will man the other tackle spot. Look for true freshman Jonathan Bullard and junior college transfer Damien Jacobs to factor into the rotation.

12. Auburn – The Tigers should have one of the nation’s most improved defensive lines in 2012. All four starters are back from a unit that allowed 189.2 rushing yards per game last season, including All-American candidate Corey Lemonier. Joining Lemonier at the end spot will be junior Nosa Eguae. Juniors Jeffrey Whitaker and Kenneth Carter should start in the middle, but talented sophomores Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright will be tough to keep off the field.

13. Utah – The nation’s No. 1 defensive tackle resides in Salt Lake City. Senior Star Lotulelei is back to anchor Utah’s defensive line, and this unit gave Pac-12 offensive fronts all it could handle last year. Lotulelei will continue to take up two blockers, opening up senior Dave Kruger to wreck havoc from the other tackle spot. Joe Kruger and Nate Fakahafua will likely start at the end spots, but there’s very little in the way of proven depth after the top four.

14. Notre Dame – Aaron Lynch is gone, but the Fighting Irish still have plenty left in the tank to boast one of the nation’s top defensive lines. Nose guard Louis Nix III will be a difficult matchup for opposing offensive lines, while Kapron Lewis-Moore and Stephon Tuitt man the end spots. Depth is an issue, but the coaches are excited about the potential of Chase Hounshell and Sheldon Day.

15. Oklahoma – Potential is the key word surrounding the Sooners’ defensive line. Three starters are gone, but the newcomers are experienced and certainly aren’t short on talent. Ends David King and R.J. Washington combined for seven sacks in limited work last year. Stacy McGee, Casey Walker and Jamarkus McFarland should be a solid trio in the middle. McFarland has yet to live up to the hype that had him ranked among the nation’s best coming out of high school.  

16. Illinois – Replacing Whitney Mercilus won’t be easy, but the Fighting Illini return three starters. End Michael Buchanan recorded 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles last season. He will be joined on the other side by senior Justin Staples (16 tackles in 2011). The interior is in good shape, largely due to the return of Akeem Spence (69 stops last year) and senior Glenn Foster.

17. South Florida – The Bulls allowed only 107.3 rushing yards per game last season and accumulated 39 sacks. This unit should be strong once again in 2012, led by junior Ryne Giddins. He recorded 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles on his way to earning second-team All-Big East honors. Tackle Cory Grissom suffered an ankle injury in spring practice but is on schedule to return in time for the season opener. Two spots on the line are up for grabs, but junior college recruit Tevin Mims and sophomore Elkino Watson are capable starters. 

18. Nebraska – After allowing 158.5 rushing yards per game last season, Bo Pelini knows this unit has to get better if Nebraska wants to win the Big Ten. Contributing to some of the problems last season was tackle Jared Crick suffering a season-ending injury early in the year. The Cornhuskers are counting on senior Baker Steinkuhler and Chase Rome to lead the way on the interior. Steinkuhler has a lot of talent, but needs to take his game up a notch. Senior Cameron Meredith and Jason Ankrah should be steady on the outside.

19. Penn State – With the departures on offense, the Nittany Lions could be winning a lot of ugly 13-10 games this season. Tackle Devon Still will be hard to replace, but the line returns Jordan Hill to man the interior, while ends Pete Massaro and Sean Stanley should be steady. Getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks will be crucial with four new starters in the secondary.

20. NC State – The Wolfpack are a sneaky defensive line to watch in 2012. Markus Kuhn and J.R. Sweezy must be replaced in the middle, but sophomores Thomas Teal and T.Y. McGill gained valuable experienced last year. NC State has plenty of depth at end, headlined by sophomore Art Norman and junior Darryl Cato-Bishop.
 

 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 20 Defensive Lines for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 05:31
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-offensive-lines-2012
Body:

They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context.

Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature.

Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.

It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 12th annual Athlon Awards.

Athlon's Top 20 Offensive Lines for 2012

1. Alabama The offensive line was one of the key pieces to Alabama’s national title last season, and this unit will be strong once again in 2012. Barrett Jones (right) is regarded as college football’s best returning offensive lineman and will move from left tackle to center to replace William Vlachos. Left guard Chance Warmack and right tackle D.J. Fluker should challenge for All-SEC honors this year. Anthony Steen (right guard) and highly regarded Cyrus Kouandjio (left tackle) round out the starting lineup.

2. LSU Leading the way for college football’s top running back corps will be a veteran offensive line that returns four starters. Tackles Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst started all 14 games last year and are drawing significant interest from the NFL as first-round picks next year. Center P.J. Lonergan has 26 career starts, while Josh Williford is back at guard after starting nine games last year. Josh Dworaczyk missed all of 2011 with an injury but has All-SEC potential when healthy.

3. USCMatt Kalil will be missed, but USC is in good shape up front. Four starters are back, led by Athlon Sports preseason second-team All-America center Khaled Holmes. Right tackle Kevin Graf was solid in his first year as a starter last season and will be flanked on the left side by promising sophomore Aundrey Walker. John Martinez and Marcus Martin are dependable guards. Depth is a concern, but that problem could be alleviated when incoming freshmen Zach Banner and Jordan Simmons arrive.

4. Texas A&MThe Aggies will have a tough time contending in the difficult SEC West in 2012, but the line should be a building block on offense for new coach Kevin Sumlin. Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel form one of the best tackle combinations in the nation, and both should be All-SEC performers in 2012. The interior of the line will be manned by veteran center Patrick Lewis (35 career starts), while Jarvis Harrison, Shep Klinke and Cedric Ogbuehi will fight for playing time at the guard spots.

5. Oklahoma Three starters are back from last season’s unit, which allowed only 11 sacks and led the way for rushers to average 4.5 yards per carry. Guard Gabe Ikard has started 25 games over the last two years and is an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-American for 2012. Ikard may slide to center this year, especially with Ben Habern’s decision to give up football before fall practice. Lane Johnson will bring senior leadership to the lineup, while Adam Shead will likely take Ikard’s place at guard. This unit suffered another tough loss when Tyler Evans was ruled out for the year with a torn ACL.

6. WisconsinEven with the departure of first-team All-Big Ten selections Peter Konz (center), Josh Oglesby (tackle) and Kevin Zeitler (guard), the Badgers remain one of the top offensive lines in college football. Anchoring the line will be senior Ricky Wagner and center Travis Frederick – both Athlon All-Americans for 2012. This unit will be under the direction of a new coach (Mike Markuson), but Wisconsin always seems to produce standout offensive lines.

7. North CarolinaSwitching from a pro-style offense to a spread attack will require an adjustment period from this group, but the Tar Heels remain the No. 1 line in the ACC. Left tackle James Hurst and guard Jonathan Cooper are two of the ACC’s top players and could be in the mix for All-American honors. The only question mark will be finding a replacement for Cam Holland at center.

8. Oregon Two starters are gone from last season’s line but don’t expect that to slow down the Ducks’ offense in 2012. Guard Carson York is recovering from a knee injury suffered in the Rose Bowl and could be sidelined or limited for the first few games of 2012. Sophomore Jake Fisher and center Hroniss Grasu are in for big seasons, while seniors Ryan Clanton and Nick Cody anchor the right side of the line.

9. Notre Dame Lost in the quarterback issues from last season was a solid offensive line in South Bend. This unit allowed only 17 sacks last year and returns three starters for 2012. Left tackle Zack Martin is the unit’s top performer after starting 26 consecutive games in his first two years on campus. Guard Chris Watt and senior Braxston Cave are back as returning starters, while the unit will look to Mike Golic Jr. and Christian Lombard to replace Taylor Dever and Trevor Robinson on the right side.

10. MichiganIt’s not a particularly strong year for offensive lines across the nation, so even with the departure of David Molk, the Wolverines should rank among the top 10-15. Left tackle Taylor Lewan has All-American potential, while senior Patrick Omameh and junior Michael Schofield are back as returning starters. Ricky Barnum will likely replace Molk at center.

11. Michigan StateThis unit went into 2011 as a question mark but emerged as a strength by season’s end. The Spartans finished 19th nationally with just 16 sacks allowed, and the line led the way for rushers to average four yards a carry. Four starters are back for 2012, including Athlon Sports first-team All-Big Ten guard Chris McDonald. With Andrew Maxwell taking over for Kirk Cousins at quarterback, Michigan State will likely lean on its rushing attack early in the year.

12. Texas With concerns about the quarterback play, look for the Longhorns to rely heavily on their rushing attack in 2012. Although Texas has one of the top backfields in the nation, the offensive line’s improvement has also made a big difference in the ground game. Guard Mason Walters should be in the mix for all-conference honors, while the coaching staff is high on sophomore tackle Josh Cochran. Junior college transfer Donald Hawkins is expected to win the left tackle spot.

13. Stanford Replacing All-Pac-12 performers David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin won’t be easy, but the Cardinal at least has a solid foundation to start the rebuilding process. David Yankey started all 13 games as a freshman last season and should be the unit’s top performer in 2012. Cameron Fleming and Sam Schwartzstein are back as key contributors for a unit that allowed only 11 sacks last year.

14. Arkansas This unit struggled at times last year, but the pieces are in place to rank among the top five offensive lines in the SEC. Alvin Bailey is one of the top guards in college football, while center Travis Swanson has started all 26 games in his career. The tackle spots are in good hands with Jason Peacock and Brey Cook.

15. South Carolina Line coach Shawn Elliott has some work to do this fall, as the Gamecocks return only two starters on the line. However, the cupboard isn’t bare. Guard A.J. Cann is an emerging force on the left side, while center T.J. Johnson enters his senior year with 40 consecutive starts. Redshirt freshman Brandon Shell will take over for Rokevious Watkins at left tackle.

16. NC StateThere’s plenty of room for this unit to improve after allowing 34 sacks year. However, with four starters back, the Wolfpack should have one of the nation’s most-improved offensive lines. Four seniors could anchor the starting lineup, including center Cam Wentz and left tackle R.J. Mattes. Rob Crisp has big-time talent and will be counted upon to win the job at right tackle.

17. Georgia Tech It’s always tough to judge an offensive line that does very little pass blocking, but the Yellow Jackets should rank among the best in the ACC this year. Guard Omoregie Uzzi is an Athlon Sports second-team All-American for 2012 and enters his third season as a starter. Jay Finch is one of the top centers in the ACC, while Will Jackson and Ray Beno are back as returning starters.

18. VirginiaThe Cavaliers will miss Austin Pasztor and Anthony Mihota, but three starters are back, including Athlon Sports third-team All-American Oday Aboushi. Morgan Moses will start at right tackle and is a rising star to watch in the ACC. Luke Bowanko returns after starting all 13 games at right guard last year. 

19. South Florida Chaz Hine and Jeremiah Warren must be replaced, but the Bulls should be the Big East’s No. 1 line with the return of three starters. Senior left tackle Mark Popek is the headliner, while sophomore Quinterrius Eatmon is a rising star on the right side.

20. Louisiana Tech The Bulldogs are a heavy favorite to win the WAC title and should have no trouble scoring points with four starters coming back on the line. Seniors Kevin Saia, Stephen Warner and Jordan Mills should all be in the mix for all-conference honors.

 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 05:22

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