Articles By Steven Lassan

Path: /college-football/tennessee-football-2012-make-or-break-year-derek-dooley
Body:

The fan base isn’t happy. He’s working for a new athletic director. He won one SEC game in 2011. Simply Derek Dooley needs to win – and win right away.

For 37 days — a stretch that spanned from the final game of the 2011 regular season all the way to Jan. 3 of the new year — Tennessee coach Derek Dooley remained silent. He was off the grid, unable to address the mounting media requests that were piling up after one of the most disappointing losses in UT history.

When Dooley finally broke his silence, he had to address a laundry list of issues, the majority of which were negative in nature. He concluded the discourse with a message squarely directed at his fan base, a loyal group that has endured plenty of adversity since Phillip Fulmer’s firing in 2008.  

“I can tell you this: I’ve never been more excited about an offseason in all of my coaching career,” Dooley said. “As disappointed as I am about how the season ended, I’m equally optimistic about our team and our program heading into next year.”

For Vol fans, time wasn’t enough to heal the wounds inflicted by their team’s 10–7, season-ending loss to Kentucky. It wasn’t just that the Vols had lost to the Wildcats for the first time since 1984, and it wasn’t just that it kept UT out of a bowl game for the second time in four years. It was how the Vols lost that left an unsettling feeling that still hovers above the program and above Dooley’s head going into the 2012 season.

UT’s new athletic director, Dave Hart, was just two months on the job when it happened, but he quickly understood the gravity of the situation.

“I had a negative reaction. People should have had a negative reaction,” Hart said in December. “There would have been something dramatically wrong if there wasn’t a negative reaction to that particular performance on that particular day. Now, you’re into the unacceptable category.”

Avoiding the “unacceptable” will keep Dooley in good graces with his new boss. How Hart defines “unacceptable” in Dooley’s third year at UT, though, will differ significantly from what it meant during the first two seasons.

Asked if there were a certain number of wins that Dooley, who is 11–14 after two seasons at UT, needs to hit this year in order to feel comfortable with his future at Tennessee, Hart bristles, saying that he will “never do that.” He does, however, acknowledge that the Vols aren’t young anymore, and that type of excuse won’t be acceptable if they are to have a similarly lackluster season in 2012.

“That assessment, it goes deep,” Hart says. “It’s not an inch deep and a mile wide. It’s an honest assessment of all the prongs that you’re developing to try to have a championship-level program.”

Championship-level programs don’t often have the kind of staff turnover Dooley and the Vols experienced throughout the offseason. They also don’t have a star player drawing all sorts of negative attention for his inability to conform to standard rules and procedures.

Tennessee, unfortunately, had a heavy supply of both before the first of April, and those are the challenges Dooley has to overcome before the Aug. 31 season opener in Atlanta against NC State.

Starting with wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett, who was said to have retired but was paid like he was fired, and ending with secondary coach Terry Joseph, who left for a similar position at Nebraska just three weeks before the start of spring football, the Vols lost seven of their nine on-field assistant coaches from 2011. The two holdovers — wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney — are working with different position groups than they were last year. 

The second coach to part ways with Dooley, former special teams/tight ends coach Eric Russell, told the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review that he didn’t leave UT for Washington State because it was close to his hometown of St. Maries, Idaho. Rather, Russell was concerned about his long-term future.

“I think at Tennessee, it was going to come down to how many games you won the next year, and unfortunately nobody’s got a crystal ball,” Russell told the newspaper.

Dooley, aware of the “sinking ship” perception that came with the methodical exodus, says he thinks the turnover is a “healthy thing.”

“I think when you go through a tough year it’s hard on the coaches and hard on the players,” Dooley says. “Sometimes change is a welcome thing and everybody is going to have that and they’re going to walk into their meeting room with a new face, a new personality and it’s a good opportunity for the players to start over from scratch. They can put away anything that they wish they hadn’t done in the past.”

The past season was good for wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, but the past few months have been bad enough to warrant non-stop speculation about his future with the team. According to multiple media outlets, a confrontation with a strength coach during the offseason kept Rogers away from the program for nearly a month. He returned in time for spring practice but was briefly suspended for another infraction and held out of one practice before returning to the team yet again. Dooley denies that he was giving preferential treatment to Rogers.

“I don’t worry about (him being a distraction),” Dooley says. “And if he is, then we handle it just like any other player.”

Dooley’s disciplinary tactics won’t be what matters once the Vols start playing football. Winning can truly fix things in a hurry at Tennessee, which is coming off one of its worst-attended seasons since the expansion of Neyland Stadium.

The Vols return 17 starters, a group that includes promising quarterback Tyler Bray and all of five offensive linemen — but does not include standout wide receiver Justin Hunter, who returns after missing most of the 2011 season with a torn ACL. Under new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri, the Vols are going to play out of a 3-4 base defense, something Dooley says he’s wanted to do for years.

The schedule is as favorable as it’s been in years. The Vols get rivals Florida and Alabama at home, and they swap last year’s games against LSU and Arkansas for Mississippi State and SEC newcomer Missouri. 

While certainly at the top of the list, wins and losses aren’t the only variables that factor in when predicting Dooley’s future with the Vols.

Dooley left Louisiana Tech to become the Vols’ new coach in 2010 only because UT had just lost Lane Kiffin after one season. The program, for all intents and purposes, was in shambles. It clearly wasn’t a quick fix, and Dooley agreed to a contract that reflected it. His six-year deal stipulates that he would be owed $5 million if he were to be fired before Feb. 15, 2013. It drops down to $4 million for 2014 and 2015.

UT is still making monthly payments on Fulmer’s $6 million buyout. The athletic department, which boasts a budget that tops $100 million, made just $14,447 in net income during the 2010-11 fiscal year, according to BusinessofCollegeSports.com.

“We’ve got to get football healthy,” Hart says. “But that’s not all on Derek Dooley.”
 

This article appeared in Athlon's 2012 SEC Preview Annual.

Related SEC Content

SEC 2012 Linebacker Rankings
SEC 2012 Defensive Line Rankings

SEC 2012 Offensive Line Rankings
SEC 2012 Wide Receiver Rankings
Athlon's 2012 SEC Predictions
2012 College Football Bowl Projections

Which SEC Teams Are on the Rise or Decline Going into 2012?

SEC's Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2012

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers
Athlon's 2012 All-SEC Team

Teaser:
<p> Tennessee Football: 2012 Is a Make-or-Break Year for Derek Dooley</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 06:36
All taxonomy terms: College Football, USC Trojans, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/usc-football-matt-barkley-has-sights-set-national-championship
Body:

The official announcement came on a bright December day just before Christmas, and throughout Southern California, the stunning news flicked on smiles like so many twinkling holiday lights.

Matt Barkley was coming back.

USC’s blond poster boy was giving up the potential millions he could have earned as an NFL first-round draft choice to play his senior year for his beloved Trojans. Barkley’s return culminated the university’s remarkable climb back from those controversial NCAA sanctions to the glittering pinnacle of the college football hierarchy.

And just like that, Barkley became an all-time USC hero, the quarterback of a potential national championship contender, the frontrunner for the 2012 Heisman Trophy and a poster boy for all that is good and clean and pure about amateur athletics.

It was a decision that delighted people from the coastline of Santa Monica to the desert of Palm Springs. It also surprised almost everybody, beginning with those in the university football offices.

“I thought he was gone,” says coach Lane Kiffin. “I think 95 percent of the kids would have left under similar circumstances.”

But Barkley isn’t like 95 percent of the kids. In many ways, he is the collegiate equivalent of Tim Tebow, so squeaky clean that he’s already been on humanitarian missions to Nigeria, South Africa and Mexico and still has the same girlfriend he first met at age 5 in preschool.

Barkley is one of those kids who’s never even missed a snap, let alone a practice. He is deeply religious, a self-described “technology nerd” who is more likely to be found playing his guitar in church than at some wild party.

“I keep telling people I’m still waiting for him to do something wrong,” says Kiffin.

It could be a long wait. Especially now that Barkley has turned his back on the NFL, preferring to play another year in front of the adoring, sold-out crowds in the L.A. Coliseum.

“I know my decision affected a lot of people,” Barkley says. “But it wasn’t just about having so much fun in college. I’ve had a great time. But this was more about making the most out of what you started. Today, there is such an emphasis on instant gratification. I kind of wanted to send a message to guys around the country: Finish what you start.

“We went through so much, starting with the end of the (Pete) Carroll era, with the sanctions and no bowls and stuff. But in the second half of the season last year we could see ourselves rising out of it. We started playing for each other and having fun again.”

Maybe Les Barkley, Matt’s proud dad, puts it best: “After all they went through, Matt just thinks this team can do something extraordinary. He thinks they can create memories that will last a lifetime, something they can tell their kids and grandkids about some day.”

Now you know why this is the most eagerly awaited football season at USC since Carroll’s stirring national championship runs.

One of the reasons — maybe one of the biggest — for Barkley’s return is his first-hand knowledge of how good this team can be. He understands, better than anybody, that he will have the luxury of the finest pair of wide receivers in college football in All-American Robert Woods and soon-to-be All-American Marqise Lee. In 2011, Woods and Lee combined for a staggering 184 receptions, 2,435 yards and 26 touchdowns.

With potential All-America safety T.J. McDonald also back for his senior season, the Trojans will return the entire back seven on defense, most of their offensive line and a feisty 1,000-yard runner in ever-improving Curtis McNeal.

Most of all, though, there is Barkley, the 6'2", 230-pound Heisman candidate, the quarterback who is ready to join Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer among the USC royalty at the position, the poised, strong-armed senior who could shatter most of the Trojans’ career passing records before he is finished.

“It’s crazy to think about that,” Barkley says. “I grew up watching those guys play quarterback at USC. The fact that we’re friends now is even crazier. I still think Leinart is the best college quarterback to ever play the game, and Carson had just a tremendous senior year after a lot of coaching changes. Guys like that showed perseverance.”

Barkley has demonstrated more than a little of that himself. He was rushed in by Carroll to start as a true freshman, and although he played well early in his freshman season — most notably in a Week 2 win at Ohio State — his inexperience eventually caught up to him. Through his first two-and-a-half seasons, he had some great games, but he had some shaky ones, too.

Then, sometime in the middle of 2011, it was as if a cardinal and gold light clicked on. “It was right around the Notre Dame game,” Barkley says. “I think I started having more confidence in my teammates. I’d been a little apprehensive early, but everything started to fall into place and there was more chemistry, more mojo, as a team.”

In his final six games last year, he threw 23 touchdown passes with just three interceptions. He was 26-of-34 for 323 yards and four TDs in the huge upset victory at Oregon, then topped it off by competing 35-of-42 attempts (including 19 of his first 20) for 423 yards and six TDs in the 50–0 blitz of cross-town rival UCLA that elevated the Trojans into the top five nationally.

Because of the sanctions, there was no bowl invitation waiting. But there are no such constraints this season. That’s why Barkley is so excited and why he thinks both he and the team can get better.

“There are things I can improve on,” he says. “I want to become a more accurate passer, raise my completion percentage. I want to play with more precision. I definitely felt ready for the NFL, but because of my decision, I think I’ll be even more ready next time. I always think more experience can help.”

His Christian faith is as important to Barkley as it has been to the more high-profile Tebow. “We just express it differently,” Barkley says. “He’s more outward about it, I’m more private. But I’m glad he stuck to his guns. I’ve talked to him a couple times on the phone and I admire him as a leader.”

At USC these days, the one being admired is the Trojans’ clear-cut leader, the Pac-12’s rightful heir to Stanford’s Andrew Luck, the self-effacing senior who is more than happy to show that the collegiate experience is not just limited to mindless jocks getting ready for the NFL.

Somebody better cue up those highlight reels. On college football’s grandest stage, Matt Barkley’s eagerly anticipated final act could be something special.
 

This article appeared in Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Preview Annual.

Related Pac-12 Content

Pac-12 2012 Linebacker Rankings
2012 College Football Bowl Projections

Pac-12 2012 Defensive Line Rankings

Pac-12 2012 Offensive Line Rankings

Pac-12 2012 Wide Receiving Corps Rankings

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

Grading the Best and Worst CFB Hires for 2012

Pac-12's Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-Pac-12 Team

Teaser:
<p> USC Football: Matt Barkley Has Sights Set on National Championship</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 06:15
All taxonomy terms: Mississippi State Bulldogs, SEC, News
Path: /news/mississippi-state-football-reveals-new-uniforms
Body:

Under coach Dan Mullen, Mississippi State is a program on the rise and has made a few uniform and helmet changes in the last few years. The Bulldogs will have another tweak in 2012, adding a white stripe on the helmet and a brighter maroon color on the home jerseys.

Here's a look at Mississippi State's new jerseys for 2012:
 

New Mississippi State Home Jersey

New Mississippi State Home Jerseys with Alternate Gray Pants:

New Mississippi State Away Jersey:

 

Here's a sideview of Mississippi State's alternate uniforms (with shoulder stripe):


 

Teaser:
<p> Mississippi State Football Reveals New Uniforms</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 15:42
All taxonomy terms: Northwestern Wildcats, Big Ten, News
Path: /news/northwestern-football-upgrades-uniforms
Body:

Northwestern football hasn't made many dramatic changes to its uniforms in recent years, but there are some noticeable tweaks in the new version released by Under Armour for 2012.

The Wildcats will stick with the same purple and white color scheme, but the uniforms now have a stripe in the center of the jersey and there's some sharp-looking gloves featuring the Northwestern logo.

Here's a look at Northwestern's new uniforms for 2012:


Northwestern's new away jersey:


Here's a look at the new home jersey:

 


Here's a closer look at the Northwestern uniforms with gloves featuring the school logo:
 


And the white jersey-purple pants combination:

Teaser:
<p> Northwestern Football Upgrades Uniforms</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 10:08
Path: /college-football/big-12-player-rankings-top-50-players-2012
Body:

The Big 12 welcomes West Virginia and TCU as new members in 2012, and both teams will add to the already deep and talented league. The Mountaineers bring one of the nation's best offenses, while the Horned Frogs have been strong on defense in the Mountain West.

Even though the Big 12 loses some big names like Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon and Baylor's Robert Griffin, there's no shortage of talent in the league. The offenses should rule the day again, but Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State should have a handful of defensive players in the top 50 at the end of the season. 

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 July 26, 2012)

Athlon's Top 50 Big 12 Players for 2012

1. Geno Smith, QB, 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.

2. Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Few players ever enter the college ranks ready to play like Jeffcoat was. Obviously, his long-standing NFL legacy helps, as his fundamental understanding of the game is superior to most players his age. His 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame helps too. Jeffcoat started all 13 games as a sophomore, earning second-team All-Big 12 honors after recording 54 total tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. With another stellar season on the 40 Acres, JJ-44 will likely take his talents to the next level.

3. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
Klein emerged from obscurity last season to account for 40 total touchdowns, leading the Wildcats to 10-3 season and the Orange 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.

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 conference for 2012.

5. Tavon Austin, WR, 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.

6. Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
Jeffcoat’s partner in crime hails from an Austin suburb called Pflugerville. “Big Oak” has played in 39 games in his Longhorn career and is coming off his best season. The 6-foot-4, 265 pound end set career highs in tackles (56), tackles for a loss (14.0) and sacks (7.0) to go with 14 quarterback hurries. He earned AFCA All-American honors and was a unanimous first-team All-Big 12 selection. Okafor and Jeffcoat might form the best defensive end duo in the nation this fall.

7. Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma
Few players exhibit as much raw athletic ability as the 5-foot-11, 200-pound safety. After playing a hybrid safety position which required much more time in the box, Jefferson has moved to his natural position of free safety. He will be allowed to flow all over the field and make plays now that Mike Stoops and Tim Kish are calling the plays. Jefferson has loads of talent supporting him, so the Sooners should be vastly improved in the secondary this fall.

8. Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State
If not for a nagging injury last year that eventually required surgery and kept him out of spring practice, Knott was on the verge of back-to-back All-American caliber seasons. Over the last two years, the Waukee, Iowa native has 245 total tackles, 10.0 tackles for a loss, eight forced fumbles and six interceptions. And he helped led Iowa State to a bowl berth last fall. He is a watch list candidate for every major defensive national award and should have his best season to date alongside A.J. Klein.

9. A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State
The combination of Jake Knott and A.J. Klein might be the best one-two linebacking duo in college football. Klein earned Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors last season, recording 116 tackles, two sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss. He delivered a key performance in Iowa State’s biggest win over 2011, recording 14 tackles in the 37-31 overtime upset of Oklahoma State. He will shift from outside to man the middle linebacker spot in 2012

10. Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State
A highly regarded recruit when he signed with Miami in 2008, he struggled to earn regular playing time before he transferred to Kansas State. Back in his home state, Brown anchored the Kansas State linebacker group. He finished with 101 tackles and 9.5 tackles for a loss, using his speed to help K-State finish 37th nationally in rush defense. 

11. Landry Jones, QB, 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.

12. Stansly Maponga, DE, TCU
Even before last season, Maponga was tabbed as the next defensive star for the Horned Frogs. He delivered in his second season as a starter and looks to continue his improvement as a junior. Maponga had nine sacks and five forced fumbles last season. In one season, he jumped from three tackles for a loss to 13.5. The Big 12 awaits.

13. Stedman Bailey, WR, 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.

14. Gabe Ikard, OG, 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.

15. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
A stable force at the back end of Mack Brown’s defense since 2009, Vaccarro has played in 38 games in three seasons. The Brownwood, Texas safety nearly claimed the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award (honorable mention POY). He did a little bit of everything for Manny Diaz last fall as he set career highs in tackles (82) but also proved to be able to get into the opponent’s backfield with 8.0 TFL and 2.0 sacks. With loads of starting experience, and plenty of talent around him, the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder is easily one of the best safeties in the nation.

16. Cyril Richardson, OG, 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.

17. Brodrick Brown, CB, Oklahoma State
It’s never easy being a cornerback in the Big 12, especially when you have to face offenses at Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and now West Virginia. Brown has been one of the league’s top corners over the last two years, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors in 2011. The senior isn’t the biggest corner (5-foot-8), but he broke up 15 passes and is a physical presence on the outside.

18. Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas
Just a freshman, Diggs stepped into one of the best defensive backfields in the country last season and fit right in. The younger brother of former Longhorn and San Diego Charger Quentin Jammer, Diggs had four interceptions last season. With Diggs a year older, the Texas secondary could be even better than the one that finished 10th nationally in pass efficiency defense.

19. Nigel Malone, CB, Kansas State
The senior from Manteca, Calif., didn’t take long to prove to be another JUCO gem for Bill Snyder. The first-year player led the Big 12 in interceptions a year ago with seven and is the leading returnee in what is a depleted secondary. Expect quarterbacks to avoid Malone’s side of the field this time around.

20. Casey Pachall, QB, 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. Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas
Few linebackers have the sheer explosiveness of the West Chester, Ohio native. He saw his first significant starting action last fall and should be ready to step into a bigger role as a junior. He racked-up 64 tackles in only eight starts and will undoubtedly make more plays in 2012.

22. Trey Millard, FB, Oklahoma
Several coaches on the Sooners’ staff consider Millard to be the best all-around player on the roster and Athlon doesn’t disagree. Intangibles, leadership and poise are difficult to measure, but his 6-foot-2, 249-pound frame isn’t — be it running, receiving, blocking or tackling.

23. Kenny Stills, WR, 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.

24. Terrance Williams, WR, 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. 

25. Seth Doege, QB, 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.

26. Josh Boyce, WR, 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.

27. Demontre Hurst, CB, Oklahoma
Improving the pass defense is one of the top priorities for new coordinator Mike Stoops. The Sooners allowed 241.5 yards per game through the air last season, including 485 in the loss to Baylor. Hurst was a second-team All-Big 12 selection last season and has started 27 games over the last two years. The senior should be Oklahoma’s top corner, but this unit will have an uphill battle to earn first-team all-conference honors with Quandre Diggs, Brodrick Brown, Nigel Malone and Carrington Byndom all returning.

28. Ben Habern, C, Oklahoma
Note: Habern retired after this article was published.
Oklahoma’s offensive line was one of the best in the Big 12 last year and will only get better with Habern’s return. The Texas native missed five games due to an arm injury in 2011, but was one of the top centers in the conference in 2010. Assuming Habern can shake off the injury bug, he will finish 2012 ranked as the Big 12’s No. 1 center and one of the leaders for one of the nation’s top offensive lines. 

29. Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State
An outside linebacker with a nose for ball, Lewis was the best of the three returning starters in that group. In two seasons, Lewis has five career interceptions, returning two for touchdowns, to go with 17.5 career tackles for a loss.

30. Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas
The Lufkin, Texas native has appeared in 25 games during his two-year career. He started every game last fall and recorded 57 tackles, 8.0 tackles for a loss and two interceptions.

31. LaAdrian Waddle, OL, 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.

32. Lane Taylor, OL, 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.

33. Malcolm Brown, RB, 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.

34. Tom Wort, LB, Oklahoma
Entering his third season as a starter, Wort has become a complete linebacker over the years. He’s topped 60 tackles both seasons and added his first two career interceptions last season. He’s tough and physical, but he’s filling a leadership void left by Travis Lewis.

35. Corey Nelson, LB, Oklahoma
As a sophomore, Nelson started 11 games and recorded 60 tackles, but the Sooners used him both at linebacker and as a stand-up defensive end. Now that he’s a junior in a linebacker corps missing Travis Lewis, Nelson’s role could be more defined.

36. Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor
Dixon was a huge catch for Baylor on the recruiting trail and the former top 100 recruit is poised for his best season in Waco. He made 89 stops and recorded one interception last year, while earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. Dixon will man Baylor’s hybrid linebacker/defensive back position and should make a push for first or second-team all-conference honors.

37. David King, DE, Oklahoma
An intriguing prospect for his first three seasons on campus, King started only eight games. Last season hinted at his potential as he finished with 31 tackles and four for a loss as a backup. Both starting ends are gone in Norman, so it’s his turn to emerge.

38. Toben Opurum, DE, Kansas
Opurum was the rare bright spot for the KU defense, with 10.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks last season. Not bad for a guy who started his career at running back and led the Jayhawks in rushing in 2009. Now in his third season on defense, he could be a breakout player.

39. Joe Madsen, C, West Virginia
The offensive line wasn’t a strength for the Mountaineers last season, and this unit must improve for West Virginia to win the Big 12. Madsen has been a consistent performer in his career, starting all 38 games and earning second-team all-conference honors last year. The senior should make a push to be the No. 1 center in the Big 12 this season.

40. Quinn Sharp, K/P, Oklahoma State
Sharp had a huge miss against Iowa State last year, but there’s no denying he’s one of the top special teams players in college football. Sharp connected on 22 of 25 field goals and averaged 46.3 yards per punt last season. He earned Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year honors in 2011 and is an Athlon Sports third-team All-American punter for 2012.

41. Meshak Williams, DE, Kansas State
Williams was an instant impact junior college transfer for the Wildcats last year. He led the team with seven sacks and ten tackles for a loss in 13 contests. Expect Williams to see a bigger role in Kansas State’s defense in 2012.

42. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Gilbert’s ability to cover wide receivers on the edge isn't the only thing he does extremely well. He is one of the league's fastest players and can be a dangerous return specialist as well — as indicated by his OSU record four kick return touchdowns.

43. Jaxon Shipley, WR, Texas
The younger brother of Jordan is a carbon copy of skillsets. He is short in stature but has great quickness, hands and acceleration. Both are good return men and both are dependable.

44. Tracy Moore, WR, 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.

45. Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma
The junior started at strong safety last season after playing his freshman season at cornerback. Colvin, who had 84 stops last season, might be best suited for corner, but that might depend on the rest of the personnel in the secondary.

46. Darrin Moore, WR, 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 length suspension, the senior should finish 2012 ranked higher on this list.

47. Mason Walters, OL, 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.

48. Tanner Hawkinson, OT, Kansas
Hawkinson hasn’t gained much national recognition, but he’s quietly emerged as a solid lineman in the Big 12. He enters 2012 with 36 consecutive starts and is an Athlon Sports second-team All-Big 12 selection for 2012.

49. Steve Edmond, LB, Texas
If there’s a hole in the Texas defense, it’s at linebacker where Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson are gone. The sophomore Edmond is a hard-hitter who will need to emerge as a full-time difference-maker this season.

50. Tyler Lockett, WR/RS, Kansas State
Lockett missed significant time with an injury but still earned Freshman All-American honors based on huge special teams play. Expect an expanded role in 2012.

Team Breakdown of the Top 50 Players

Baylor - 3
Iowa State - 2
Kansas - 2
Kansas State - 5
Oklahoma - 11
Oklahoma State - 7
TCU - 3
Texas - 10
Texas Tech - 3
West Virginia - 4

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

Related Big 12 Content

Big 12 Defensive Line Rankings for 2012
College Football Bowl Projections for 2012

Big 12 Offensive Line Rankings for 2012

Big 12 Wide Receiver Rankings for 2012
Athlon's 2012 Big 12 Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-Big 12 Team

Big 12 Heisman Contenders for 2012
College Football Realignment Winners and Losers
The History of Big 12 Realignment
Introducing West Virginia to the Big 12
TCU Comes Home to the Big 12

Teaser:
<p> Big 12 Player Rankings: The Top 50 Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 06:06
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/15-unethical-college-football-programs
Body:

Penalties and sanctions are an unfortunate and rather large part of college football. The NCAA has been especially busy over the last few years, as Penn State, Ohio State, North Carolina, USC and Miami have all run into some sort of trouble with in regards to violations. 

In light of the recent sanctions handed down at Penn State, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look back at some of the most unethical programs/moments in college football history.

Alabama
Mike DuBose took over at Alabama after a successful run by Gene Stallings, but the program recorded only two bowl appearances under his watch. The highlight of DuBose’s tenure was a 10-3 record in 1999 but that year also brought plenty of controversy. Alabama booster Logan Young paid Means’ high school coach to have the top recruit join the Crimson Tide, which brought on an extensive hit from the NCAA. Alabama was banned for two years from postseason play and were forced to reduce 21 scholarships. This incident wasn’t the only one in recent years for the Crimson Tide, as the program was forced to vacate 21 wins from 2005-07 as a result of a textbook scandal.

Colorado
Gary Barnett may have taken the Purple to Pasadena during a groundbreaking tenure at formerly hapless Northwestern, but his reputation took a hit during a controversial stint at Colorado. A culture of corruption apparently existed on Barnett's watch, including the use of sex and booze to entice recruits to Boulder. Equally damaging was Barnett's dismissive attitude toward rape allegations levied by placekicker Katie Hnida. A 70–3 loss to Texas in the 2005 Big 12 Championship game, along with more allegations of improprieties, led to Barnett's resignation. The program was put on probation and fined for the specific violation of undercharging athletes for meals over a six-year period.

Florida
Before Steve Spurrier arrived in Gainesville, the Gators football program was a bit of an underachieving, probation-earning mess. The low point came under coach Charley Pell. After an 0–10–1 season in 1979, his first year at the helm, Pell earned eight wins during an impressive second campaign and seemed to have the Gators on the brink of title contention in the SEC after a 9–2–1 season in 1984. But those improvements had come at a cost. The NCAA found Pell's program to have committed 59 infractions, resulting in a TV and bowl ban for the 1985 and 1986 seasons and a three-year scholarship reduction, penalties that crippled the program until Spurrier's arrival in 1990.

Florida State
The Seminoles encountered two scandals under former coach Bobby Bowden. A sports agent bought more than $6,000 worth of shoes for Florida State players in 1993, putting the program on probation for a year. The Seminoles ran into NCAA trouble once again in 2007, as 61 players from 10 sports were implicated in an academic scandal. Florida State’s football program was forced to vacate 12 wins and six scholarships.

Hart Lee Dykes (OSU, Texas A&M, Illinois, Oklahoma)
Never has an underachieving wide receiver wreaked so much havoc on the recruiting trail. The Bay City, Texas, native was the subject of a furious recruiting battle that raised the suspicions of the NCAA, and for good reason. Granted immunity by the NCAA for cooperating in their investigation, Dykes revealed a bidding war that involved Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Illinois and Oklahoma State — all of which ended up on probation. The Cowboys finally "earned" Dykes' services, and he contributed to a potent OSU offense, although the presence of Thurman Thomas, Barry Sanders and Mike Gundy no doubt played a role in the Cowboys’ success as well.

Miami
The Hurricanes have been in and out of the NCAA doghouse over the last 20 years. Former academic advisor Tony Russell helped to falsify Pell Grants in the 1990s, which helped add some extra cash in the pockets of athletes. Miami lost 31 scholarships over three years and faced a one-year bowl ban. The Hurricanes are under NCAA scrutiny once again, as former booster Nevin Shapiro allegedly provided extra benefits to players. One of Shapiro’s associates (Sean Allen) was recently accused of continuing to work as an illegal recruiter for Miami. Miami instituted a bowl ban in 2011 to help soften the blow from the Shapiro investigation, but the program is still facing stiff penalties from the NCAA.

North Carolina
Butch Davis guided Miami in the aftermath of NCAA sanctions but ran afoul of the NCAA in Chapel Hill. While it’s unfair to pin everything on Davis, especially with line coach John Blake steering players to an agent, but he certainly has to take some of the blame. The allegations weren’t limited to Blake, as some Tar Heel players received improper benefits and there’s an ongoing investigation into an academic scandal. 

Oklahoma
Barry Switzer was a self-proclaimed players' coach, and late in his tenure in Norman, the inmates were clearly in charge of the asylum. The Sooners athletic dorm was the scene of drug use and gunplay, and former star quarterback Charles Thompson was arrested for attempting to sell cocaine to undercover FBI agents, resulting in Sports Illustrated's famous cover featuring Thompson in handcuffs and prison orange, under the heading "Oklahoma: A Sordid Story - How Barry Switzer's Sooners Terrorized Their Campus." Switzer resigned in 1989, as the program he left behind was going on NCAA probation.

Ohio State
NCAA sanctions derailed a potential run at a national title for Ohio State in 2011. The Buckeyes were picked by many to win the Big Ten last season but Jim Tressel resigned in late May, star quarterback Terrelle Pryor did quit the team in June, and the team had to deal with suspensions and a black cloud hanging over the program all year. The Buckeyes’ troubles began when Tressel failed to report violations of players selling memorabilia for money and tattoos in April 2010. These violations came to light in December 2010, but Pryor and four other teammates were still allowed to participate in the Sugar Bowl. The NCAA tagged Ohio State with a one-year bowl ban in 2012 and docked the Buckeyes nine scholarships over three years.

Penn State
What was once one of college football’s premier programs was hammered with NCAA violations following a child sexual assault scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Head coach Joe Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and school vice president Gary Schultz all failed to report Sandusky after learning of allegations in 1998 and 2001, which eventually led the downfall of the program. Paterno was fired in November 2011, while Schultz and Curley are facing perjury charges. The Nittany Lions were slapped with a four-year postseason ban beginning in 2012, must pay a $60 million fine, vacation of wins from 1998-2011 and a reduction in scholarships to 15 a year.

SMU
Still the gold standard for cheating in college football, the SMU Mustang football program of the early and mid-1980s was the poster child for the renegade Southwest Conference and general college football lawlessness. An NCAA investigation revealed the existence of a "slush fund" for athletes, and it came to light that in 1985 and 1986 alone, 13 players had been paid a total of $61,000. But that was probably only the tip of an iceberg of corruption; Eric Dickerson had notoriously spent his senior season in high school tooling around Sealy, Texas, in a shiny new Trans-Am before unexpectedly committing to the Mustangs. On Feb. 25, 1987, the NCAA hammer fell in the form of an unprecedented "death penalty" — the suspension of the football program for the 1987 season and the loss of all four home games in 1988.

Texas A&M
Speaking of the Southwest Conference, a close runner-up for mid-1980s corruption in the storm-tossed league would seem to be Texas A&M. Amid positive developments under Jackie Sherrill, such as Cotton Bowls and the institution of the 12th Man tradition, the Aggies ran a loose ship and were ultimately deemed to be guilty of such shenanigans as improper employment, extra benefits, unethical conduct and lack of institutional control. Sherrill was not personally implicated in the infractions, but he did resign in 1988, the same year his program went on probation.

Washington
Don James was a legend in Seattle, leading the Huskies to six Pac-10 titles, four Rose Bowl wins and a share of the 1991 national championship. Sadly, his career ended in ignominy, as improper booster involvement — including loans, summer jobs and funds for on-campus visits — led to the dreaded NCAA label of "lack of institutional control" and earned the school NCAA and Pac-10 sanctions. James resigned in protest of a lack of support for the coaching staff by then-university president William Gerberding.

UCLA
He never made it in the pros, but Cade McNown had a stellar college career — and he was also at the center of a major scandal. McNown and other players were charged with illegal possession of handicapped parking passes, leading to countless parking violations and misdemeanor charges for the players involved. McNown pleaded no contest to the charge. In all, 19 Bruins players were implicated in the scam.

USC
Pete Carroll turned USC back into a national title contender but the program also ran afoul of the NCAA under his watch. Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush was allegedly provided gifts, which resulted the NCAA hitting USC with the dreaded lack of institutional control. The Trojans were hit with a two-year postseason ban and a reduction in 30 scholarships over three years. The Trojans are still dealing with the effects of the penalties but should be one of the top contenders for college football’s national title in 2012.

Related College Football Content

Athlon's 2012 College Football Rankings
2012 Bowl Projections

Where Penn State's Players Could Transfer

Did the NCAA Get it Right With Penn State Sanctions?

20 Worst College Football Tenures of the Last 50 Years

Teaser:
<p> 15 Unethical College Football Programs</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 05:57
Path: /college-football/unit-rankings-2012-big-ten-linebackers
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is still two months away, but it's never too early to project how the year might play out. Athlon will be taking a look at how each position stacks up in the BCS conferences and nationally until the start of the season.

Each unit ranking was evaluated based upon how it will perform in 2012 - not how the team played in 2011.

Ranking the Big Ten's Linebackers for 2012

1. Michigan StateFew teams in the nation have as complete and talented a linebacking corps as Mark Dantonio has in East Lansing. A dependable, consistent tackling machine up the middle? His name is Max Bulllough. A speedy, explosive outside backer who can pressure the quarterback with the best defensive ends in the nation? Check, his name is Denicos Allen. A rangy, powerful strongside senior who fills gaps and delivers big hits? Got that too in Chris Norman. Toss in a deep group of thumpers who are champing at the bit to get playing time and Pat Narduzzi has the pleasure of the Big Ten’s top linebackers.

2. Wisconsin The Badgers don’t have the depth of Michigan State or Penn State, but few teams in the nation have a duo like Chris Borland and Mike Taylor. Borland is a relentless playmaker who finds the football on a regular basis, while Taylor dominates the weakside with a Big Ten-leading 150 tackles. Both were healthy and both enter year two in their new positison (Borland slide inside last fall) and should be that much better. Ethan Armstrong and Conor O’Neill will battle for the third starting spot. Not many teams have one All-American candidate at linebacker and Wisconsin has two.

3. Penn State Penn State fans certainly expect talented linebacker play in Beaver Stadium. With yet another stacked set of linebackers, the Linebacker-U moniker given to PSU many years ago won’t go anywhere in 2012. Gerald Hodges is one of the nation’s best outside players and could be a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year candidate. The consistent Glenn Carson returns to the middle while Michael Mauti is welcomed back into the starting lineup after tearing his ACL last September. With future stars like Khairi Fortt and Mike Hull on the depth chart, this unit will easily be the most dependable group of Nittany Lions this fall.

4. Ohio StateWhen Storm Klein was dismissed from the roster this summer, Urban Meyer was faced with a linebacking corps with no returning starters. Have no fear, however, as this is still Ohio State. There is plenty of talent left on the roster in the form of Ryan Shazier, Etienne Sabino and Curtis Grant. This trio could be more explosive and athletic if it can deliver on its elite recruiting status. Conner Crowell and Stewart Smith will figure in the mix as well. With a powerful defensive line in front of them, whoever lines-up at linebacker for the Buckeyes will have little excuse in 2012.

5. Michigan There is a lot to like about the Wolverines linebacking corps. All three starters return, including an extremely talented true freshman named Joe Bolden. Although the Wolverines bring back some solid talent, there are also concerns about toughness and consistency. Desmond Morgan, Kenny Demens and Jake Ryan could all be shuffled around if Bolden can pick up the college game quick enough. Ryan seems the safest at strongside, but Demens could easily shift outside to accommodate Bolden. There is a lot of talent and experience here, but nothing is set in stone for this Maize and Blue tackling unit.

6. Illinois Champaign is no joke when it comes to linebackers. A long and storied tradition of tacklers should continue in 2012 with star junior Jonathan Brown. His 108 stops paced the Illini a year ago and he should develop into the leader of the Orange Crush defense. A trio of southern linebackers — Houston Bates, Ralph Cooper, Henry Dickinson — will fill the other traditional spot next to Brown. Technically, Ashante Williams is listed as a linebacker but is really more of a hybrid at the STAR position. He is 5-11, 205 pounds and got plenty of experience last year after Trulon Henry went out. This is a unique alignment that was ranked the No. 2 defense in the Big Ten last fall. Brown is being counted on as the next big star on the Illini defense.

7. Iowa Two starters return to Kinnick Stadium in the form of juniors James Morris and Christian Kirksey. Each tied with the team lead in stops at 110 a year ago and should continue the recent Iowa tradition of stout linebacker play. If they both can stay healthy all year long, this unit has a chance to be improved. Former defensive back Anthony Hitchens will try to hold off a collection of hard-charging underclassmen for the third and final spot. The group has to show improvement in a crucial year in Iowa under new coordinator Phil Parker.

8. Nebraska Lavonte David was a special talent who cannot be replaced. Yet, that is exactly what Will Compton has been charged with doing in 2012. He is now the leader of this set of tacklers from his middle backer position. Alonzo Whaley will get the first chance at filling David’s weakside spot while Sean Fisher brings senior experience to the strongside. Two possibly contributors will be fellow redshirt freshmen David Santos and Max Pirman. Santos was poised to play a year ago before an injury forced Bo Pelini’s hand. Both could play significant minutes now that David is gone.

9. Purdue The return of middle linebacker Dwayne Beckford is a must for Danny Hope’s bowl aspirations in 2012. After some legal issues at the end of last fall and into the spring, Beckford appears ready to anchor the middle of the Boilermakers defense. Will Lucas will be more productive in the simplified system. Joe Gilliam, Armstead Williams and Andy Garcia are three youngsters who will battle for starting time in the base 4-3 scheme.

10. MinnesotaSenior outside backer Mike Rallis was a pleasant surprise in the spring when moved inside. He showed a knack for recognition and leadership and his shift inside stabilizing the middle of the Gopher defense. Keanon Cooper and converted safety James Manuel  are now free to roam the edge with the speed and quickness that Jerry Kill desires. The duo should make the Gophers defense significantly faster in 2012. Jephte Matilus provides intriguing depth as well. This unit should be improved.

11. Northwestern It’s only fitting that a Pat Fitzgerald-coached team will have experience and leadership at the linebacker position. With three starters back, the former linebacker himself has to be excited about his former unit. David Nwabuisi, Damien Proby and Collin Ellis return the linebacking corps completely intact for 2012. Now, they need to show improved toughens and mental acumen. Something that shouldn’t be an issue for a coach of Fitzgerald’s pedigree. The staff is also excited about the athleticism and depth behind its starters as well.

12. IndianaThis unit will feature plenty of new faces in 2012, as two junior college recruits could be starting from day one. Both David Cooper and Jacarri Alexander enrolled in January and proved to be talented enough in spring to start. Redshirt sophomore Chase Hoobler also showed in spring that he could take on more of a role in his second year. This defense finished last in the Big Ten in scoring, rushing and total defense, so newcomers were needed to inject energy.

 

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall 

Related Big Ten Content

Ranking the Big Ten's Defensive Lines for 2012
Michigan State is an Emerging Big Ten Power

Ranking the Big Ten's Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

College Football Bowl Projections for 2012

Big Ten's Top 25 Heisman Contenders

Athlon's 2012 All-Big Ten Team

Athlon's 2012 Big Ten Predictions

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

Urban Meyer's Arrival Has Ohio State Back on Track

Teaser:
<p> Unit Rankings: 2012 Big Ten Linebackers</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 05:49
Path: /college-football/big-east-player-rankings-top-50-players-2012
Body:

Ranking the best of the best in any conference is never an easy task. However, the Big East was perhaps the most difficult BCS league to rank. Rutgers' Khaseem Greene is an Athlon Sports' second-team All-American selection, but there's also a handful of young players ready to emerge in 2012. Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater is coming off an impresive freshman campaign and should only get better in 2012. Pittsburgh's Ray Graham was well on his way to rushing for 1,000 yards last year but suffered a torn ACL in the victory over Connecticut.

As mentioned above, 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 

Athlon's Top 50 Big East Players for 2012

1. Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers (SR)
Shifting Greene from safety to linebacker paid big dividends for Rutgers’ defense in 2011. He led the team with 141 tackles, recorded 14 tackles for a loss and forced two fumbles. Greene was named a first-team All-Big East selection and shared the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year honor with Cincinnati’s Derek Wolfe. Even with a new defensive coordinator, Greene is primed for another big season and is projected as an Athlon Sports second-team All-American for 2012.

2. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh (JR)
A local product out of Pittsburgh Penn Hills, Donald was second in the Big East with 11 sacks and tied for second with 16 tackles for a loss in his first season as a starter. He will have to adjust to a 4-3 defense after playing every lineman position in the 3-4 last season. He started the final five games at end last season, but he’ll be a tackle in 2012.

3. Ray Graham, RB, 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.

4. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, 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.

5. Justin Pugh, OL, 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 following the 2012 season.

6. Ryne Giddins, DE, South Florida
Giddins as a huge catch for South Florida on the recruiting trail and has steadily climbed the ranks to be one of the Big East’s top defenders. He started two games in 2010 and recorded 3.5 sacks in limited action. Giddins stepped up his play last season, recording 5.5 sacks and 44 tackles in 12 starts. He also earned second-team All-Big East honors in 2011. Giddins is South Florida’s best speed rusher and is poised to have his best all-around year in 2012.

7. Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers
As a Thorpe and Benarik Award watch lister, Ryan might be the top pure coverman in the Big East. The in-state product (New Berlin, N.J.) posted 67 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 14 pass break ups and three interceptions as only a sophomore on what was easily the league’s top defense. Ryan is getting plenty of NFL attention and could be tempted to leave for the next level with another stellar year of play in Piscataway.

8. Hakeem Smith, S, Louisville
After a Big East Rookie of the Year award back in 2010, Smith turned in a first-team All-Big East season as only a sophomore last fall. The Jonesboro, Ga., native has quickly supplanted himself as one of the most versatile safeties in the country. The junior has posted back-to-back 80-tackle seasons and has a chance to enter the NFL Draft in 2013 with another great campaign this year. Especially, if he can lead the Cardinals defense to a Big East Championship.

9. DeDe Lattimore, LB, South Florida
The speedy linebacking corps is the backbone of the USF defense, and Lattimore is the best of the bunch. A starter since his redshirt freshman season, Lattimore finished 2011 with 94 tackles, including 13 tackles for a loss and seven sacks.

10. Lyle McCombs, RB, Connecticut
The Huskies have had a recent tradition of churning out talented and productive tailbacks. McCombs proved a year ago that he is the next in line after rushing for 1,151 yards and seven touchdowns as only a freshman. The diminutive runner — listed at 5-foot-8 and 166 pounds — has a shot at Big East Offensive Player of the Year honors should a reworked offensive line gel quickly in front of him.

11. Mario Benavides, C, Louisville
Benavides was hobbled early last season due to a knee injury and his leadership and presence on the offensive line was clearly missed. In his absence, Louisville managed only one rushing score and managed 83 rushing yards against FIU. The Cardinals line improved once Benavides returned to the lineup, recording at least 100 rushing yards in eight of the last nine games. The senior should be the Big East’s top center and has been selected to the Rimington Award watch list.

12. Jarred Holley, S, Pittsburgh
Holley is entering his fourth season as a starter for his third head coach with the Panthers. Holley set a career high in tackles last season with 67, but he’s also proven to be a ball hawk with five interceptions as a sophomore and three as a redshirt freshman. 

13. Steve Beauharnais, LB, Rutgers
It’s easy to overlook Beauharnais considering he plays next to All-American candidate Khaseem Greene. However, the senior is one of the Big East’s premier defenders, as evidenced by his 16 tackles for a loss and five sacks last year. Beauharnais will have to adjust to a new coordinator but he should close out his Rutgers’ career with a standout senior season.

14. Mark Popek, OL, South Florida
In his first full season as starter, the left tackle anchored an offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks in the Big East and led the conference in rushing.

15. B.J. Daniels, QB, South Florida
Few players since Michael Vick have possessed the type of speed, explosiveness and running ability that Daniels showed early in his career. Developing into a great quarterback, however, takes more than athletic ability. Entering his fourth year as the starter, Daniels is poised for his best season. He has elevated his completion rate all three seasons and posted easily his best statistical season in 2011 (3,186 total yards, 19 total TD). With a stable coaching staff and his best supporting cast yet, USF fans can expect big things from the Tallahassee native in 2012.

16. Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse
After leading Syracuse to a bowl game in his first season as a starter in 2010, Nassib watched his numbers improve in 2011, but the Orange slipped to a 5-7 record. His 2,685 passing yards and 259 completions were a Syracuse single-season high, while tying the school-record for touchdown passes in a year (22). The Orange finished last in the Big East in scoring and total defense last season, so it’s up to Nassib and the offense to carry this team in 2012. With Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales back at receiver, Nassib should have a chance to surpass last season’s totals.

17. Montel Harris, RB, Temple
A knee injury sidelined Harris for nearly all of last season, but when healthy, he is one of the top backs in the Big East. The senior transferred to Temple from Boston College for his final year of eligibility and enters 2012 as the NCAA’s active leading rusher with 3,735 yards. Harris should team with Matt Brown to form a dangerous one-two punch against Big East defenses. The senior could finish 2012 higher on this list but also needs to prove his knee is 100 percent.

18. Trevardo Williams, DE, Connecticut
The undersized defensive end from Bridgeport, Conn. has yet to miss a game in his three-year Husky career. He set career highs with 43 total tackles, 15.0 tackles for a loss and led the Big East with 12.5 sacks last fall.

19. Walter Stewart, DE, Cincinnati
The Ashville, Ohio native has never missed a game in his Bearcat career and could be in for a breakout final season. He posted 44 total tackles, 11.0 tackles for a loss and 6.0 sacks, while helping Cincinnati's defense show big improvement last year.

20. Sio Moore, LB, Connecticut
From North Carolina originally, Moore is in for big things in 2012. He has 196 total tackles over the last two seasons and has played in opposing backfields the entire time. Need proof? How about 6.5 sacks in 2011 and 27.5 career tackles for a loss?

21. Scott Vallone, DL, Rutgers
The defensive line will lean heavily on Vallone again as the starting linebackers and defensive backs return almost entirely intact. He had 58 tackles and 8.5 tackles for a loss last season.

22. Ryan Griffin, TE, 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.

23. Adrian Bushell, CB, Louisville
Bushell joined Louisville just before the start of last season and finished as a first-team All-Big East selection. Despite not having much time to get acquainted with his new surroundings, he recorded 50 tackles, one interception and blocked two kicks. Bushell should be Louisville’s top corner and build upon a promising 2011 season.

24. Kayvon Webster, CB, South Florida
The former nickelback emerged in his first season as a full-time starter, recording a career-high 49 tackles and returning a fumble 96 yards for a touchdown in the win over Notre Dame.

25. Marquis Spruill, LB, Syracuse
As a sophomore, Spruill was thrust into a leadership role in an inexperienced group of linebackers. That won’t be the case in 2012.

26. Alec Lemon, WR, Syracuse
Lemon was quarterback Ryan Nassib’s top target last season, catching 68 passes for 834 yards and six touchdowns. He earned second-team All-Big East honors and enters 2012 as Syracuse’s No. 1 option in the passing game once again. Lemon ranks fifth on Syracuse’s career receptions list and should push for at least 70 in 2012.

27. Devin Street, WR, Pittsburgh
Arguably the best deep threat and most talented wideout in the league, Street has a chance to post huge numbers in Paul Chryst’s new offensive scheme. He posted 471 yards on 33 catches over the final six games of the year last fall. Expect 1,000 yards from Street in 2012.

28. Duron Harmon, S, Rutgers
After spending his first two years as a backup, Harmon emerged as one of the leaders in the secondary in 2011. He made 49 tackles and picked off five passes, en route to earning first-team All-Big East honors. With another offseason to work as the starter, Harmon build upon last year's success with another All-Big East campaign in 2012.

29. Matt Brown, RB, Temple
At 5-foot-5 and 165 pounds, Brown doesn’t have the ideal size to be an every-down back. However, he was been a perfect complement to Bernard Pierce over the last three years, rushing for 2,275 yards and 18 scores. Brown will be expected to work in the same role in 2012, as Boston College transfer Montel Harris is likely to be the lead back. 

30. Sam Barrington, LB, South Florida
Another cog in USF’s impressive linebacker trio, Barrington had a career-high 72 tackles last season along with 6.5 tackles for a loss. He’s entering his third year as a starter.

31. Preston Brown, LB, Louisville
Replacing middle linebacker Dexter Heyman is the biggest concern for coordinator Vance Bedford this fall. However, Bedford and Charlie Strong hope shifting Brown from the outside to the interior will keep Louisville’s defense ranked among the top 10 nationally in rush defense. Brown recorded 84 stops last year.

32. Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, Connecticut
The Huskies’ pass defense fell apart when Wreh-Wilson was hurt last season. The senior had four interceptions and two touchdowns in his last full season in 2010.

33. Drew Frey, S, Cincinnati
Sixth-year senior set career high last season with 73 tackles and eight pass break ups. He’s one of three returning starters in the Cincinnati secondary.

34. Dan Giordano, DL, Cincinnati
Senior defensive end kept pressure on quarterbacks with five sacks and seven QB hurries.

35. Sterling Griffin, WR, South Florida
After catching 40 passes in the first seven games, Griffin’s momentum was slowed due to a broken foot suffered in the 37-34 loss to Cincinnati. The junior should be B.J. Daniels’ No. 1 target in 2012.

36. Kaleb Johnson, OT, Rutgers
Johnson turned in a solid freshman campaign, recording 11 starts at right tackle and was named a FWAA Freshman All-American. He is expected to start on the left side in 2012 and could push for All-Big East honors. 

37. Chris Jacobson, OL, Pittsburgh
Jacobson can be Pitt’s best lineman when healthy, but he’s suffered season-ending knee injuries in 2007 and 2011.

38. DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
With Teddy Bridgewater’s development comes opportunity for Parker. As only a sophomore, six of his 18 total catches last fall went for touchdowns.

39. K’Waun Williams, CB, Pittsburgh
The junior could be headed to a breakout season after recording 64 tackles and six pass break ups last season.

40. Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
Is 32.5 yards per catch good? That is what the freakishly talented (6-6, 220) Coleman did as a sophomore on only 17 receptions. He was second on the team with six TD catches.

41. Adam Masters, OL, Connecticut
With Moe Petrus and Mike Ryan gone, Masters will need to become the new senior anchor of the line.

42. Jawan Jamison, RB, Rutgers
Jamison overshadowed the much more touted Savon Huggins a year ago by leading the team in carries (231), yards (897) and touchdowns (9) as only a freshman.

43. Shamarko Thomas, S, Syracuse
Thomas will be the headliner in a Syracuse secondary that must improve after allowing 258.3 passing yards per game in 2011. He has posted back-to-back seasons of 67 tackles but has yet to record his first career interception.

44. Dwayne Gratz, CB, Connecticut
The second half of the Huskies senior cornerback tandem, Gratz had three interceptions and 4.5 sacks last season.

45. Jory Johnson, LB, Connecticut
Johnson broke through in his first year as a starter, recording 97 tackles and two interceptions. He should team with Sio Moore and Yawin Smallwood to form one of the Big East’s best linebacking trios.

46. Michael Smith, WR, Connecticut
Smith missed last season due to academic reasons, but he led the Huskies’ in receiving (46 catches, 615 yards) in 2010.

47. Jesse Joseph, DE, Connecticut
Injuries prevented Joseph from improving upon his 2010 numbers – 39 tackles, 8.5 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. With a full offseason to recover, he will be expected to rank among the Big East’s top pass rushers.

48. R.J. Dill, OT, Rutgers
Dill transferred from Maryland to Rutgers for his final season of eligibility. He will be the Scarlet Knights’ most experienced lineman after recording 33 starts with the Terrapins.

49. Ryan Turnley, C, Pittsburgh
In his first year at the position, Turnley started at 13 games at center despite dealing with injuries all year. With a healthy line and Ray Graham around him, Pitt’s rushing attack should be improved under Chryst.

50. Roy Philon, DT, Louisville
Philon was a key cog in Louisville’s run defense last season and should only get better as a junior in 2012. He recorded 36 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 2011.
 

Team Breakdown of the Top 50 Players  
Cincinnati - 3
Connecticut - 10
Louisville - 7
Pittsburgh - 7
Rutgers - 9
South Florida - 7
Syracuse - 5
Temple - 2

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

Related Big East Content

Ranking the Big East Linebacking Corps for 2012
Ranking the Big East Defensive Lines for 2012

College Football 2012 Bowl Projections

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers

Ranking the Big East's Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Big East's Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

Top 25 Big East Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Big East Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-Big East Team

Which Big East Teams Are on the Rise Heading into 2012?

Teaser:
<p> Big East Player Rankings: The Top 50 Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 06:52
All taxonomy terms: Notre Dame Fighting Irish, News
Path: /news/notre-dame-unveils-sharp-looking-gloves-2012
Body:

There's no question Notre Dame's helmet is one of the most recognizable in college football. While there has been few changes to the Irish's uniforms throughout the years, the team is doing its best to keep up with the recent trends in college football. Uniform changes and different colors/schemes are a current craze across the nation, but it's hard to go wrong with Notre Dame's traditional look. 

On Tuesday, the Irish's football equipment twitter account revealed some sharp-looking gloves for Notre Dame for the 2012 season. The gloves include the famous motto outside of the Irish locker room and should be a hit with the players.

The only complaint with Notre Dame's new gloves...where is the "M" in champion? 

Teaser:
<p> Notre Dame Unveils Sharp-Looking Gloves for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 06:35
Path: /college-football/unit-rankings-2012-sec-linebackers
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is still two months away, but it's never too early to project how the year might play out. Athlon will be taking a look at how each position stacks up in the BCS conferences and nationally until the start of the season.

Each unit ranking was evaluated based upon how it will perform in 2012 - not how the team played in 2011.

Ranking the SEC's Linebackers for 2012

1. Georgia After sitting out the 2010 season following his transfer from USC, Jarvis Jones quickly emerged as one of the SEC’s top linebackers last year. He recorded 70 tackles and 13.5 sacks en route to earning first-team All-SEC honors. Jones will man the outside of Georgia’s 3-4 scheme along with sophomore Ramik Wilson or Chase Vasser. The interior spots are expected to go to junior Alec Ogletree and senior Michael Gilliard. Ogletree made 52 stops and three sacks last season and should contend for a spot among the All-SEC squad in 2012.

2. Alabama Not many teams can withstand the loss of multiple NFL Draft picks and All-SEC performers from one unit like the Crimson Tide. But after losing the law firm of Hightower, Upshaw and Harris, Nick Saban isn’t too concerned with the heart of his defense. Trey DePriest, Xzavier Dickson and Adrian Hubbard bring length, physicality, pedigree and versatility to the always stout Bama defense. The lone holdover, senior Nico Johnson, will be in charge of getting his compatriots lined-up correctly. C.J. Mosley will also feature prominently in the mix as well as Tana Patrick and Dillon Lee. Additionally, Saban landed a deep and extremely talented corps of freshman prospects.

3. FloridaFew players have as much raw explosiveness and talent as Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic. And with the loaded defensive line up front, these two upperclassmen have no excuses in 2012. Jenkins is lighting quick and can get to the football but needs to show greater toughness. Bostic is a rock inside. While Will Muschamp needs these two to take the next step into stardom, he will need support from some new faces. Darrin Kitchens and Lerentee McCray have the physical tools to be the breakout stars this defense needs. A trio of freshman backers will help provide depth, while early enrollee Antonio Morrison has already impressed the staff.

4. Texas A&MWith some losses on the interior of the line, the Aggies will rely on their linebacking corps to repeat last season’s No. 12 national ranking in rush defense. Senior Sean Porter will be the leader of this group but must adjust to the new 4-3 scheme after playing a rush/outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment last year. He recorded 79 tackles and 9.5 sacks last season. Senior Jonathan Stewart will anchor the middle after leading the team with 98 stops last season. The third starting spot is expected to go to senior Steven Jenkins, who finished 2011 with 61 tackles. Depth is an issue, which could lead freshman Jordan Richmond (Athlon Sports No. 27 overall linebacker in 2011 recruiting class) to receive playing time right away.

5. MissouriThe return of Will Ebner was a must for a team entering the extremely physical SEC East. His veteran presence in the middle will be key if Mizzou expects to compete in its new league. He will be surrounded by two talented tacklers in third-year starters Zaviar Gooden and junior Andrew Wilson. These three are stable, dependable and have plenty of experience. However, should an injury befall this group — like Ebner’s last season — Gary Pinkel could be scrambling to find replacements. The depth chart is thin and inexperienced behind the three starters. 

6. Mississippi State The Bulldogs may not have a star like Georgia’s Jarvis Jones, but this group should be solid in 2012. Senior Cam Lawrence was steady in his first year as a starter last season, recording 123 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles. He is an Athlon Sports third-team All-SEC selection for 2012. Junior Deontae Skinner will join Lawrence as a starter on the outside, and he finished 2011 with 69 tackles and two forced fumbles. The Bulldogs lost Brandon Wilson and Brandon Maye in the middle, so it will be up to a pair of youngsters – freshman Benardrick McKinney or Ferlando Bohanna – to step into the starting lineup.

7. South CarolinaTwo starters are gone from last year’s group, including leading tackler Antonio Allen. Rodney Paulk also expired his eligibility after making 57 stops last season. Although the Gamecocks have some holes, there’s a lot to like about this unit. Senior DeVonte Holloman will slide from safety to linebacker and should have a standout season. The other two spots in this group should go to seniors – Shaq Wilson and Damario Jeffery. Wilson ranked fourth on the team with 52 tackles last year, while Jeffery recorded 14 stops. Depth is solid, especially with Reginald Bowens back after picking up 44 tackles last year.

8. ArkansasThe Razorbacks must replace Jerry Franklin and Jerico Nelson, but the cupboard isn’t bare for new coordinator Paul Haynes and linebackers coach Taver Johnson. Alonzo Highsmith made an instant impact after transferring in from the junior college ranks, recording 80 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He is expected to be one of the top linebackers in the SEC this year but missed spring practice due to a pectoral injury. Tenarius Wright was limited due to injuries last season and moved from defensive end to linebacker this spring. He is expected to see snaps on the interior, while helping the Razorbacks bolster the pass rush. Senior Matt Marshall is expected to start at the other spot. This is a solid overall group, but there’s also a wait and see feeling with Highsmith’s injury and Wright’s transition to linebacker.

9. Tennessee There are a lot of talented bodies for new coordinator Sal Sunseri to work with in Knoxville. No mater which scheme he will run this year —  4-3, 3-4, 5-2, 4-4 — slotting the right pieces into the right places will be a difficult task. A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt proved to be plenty capable last year as freshmen and both can hit as hard as any player in the league. Getting Herman Lathers back healthy is a huge boost inside if he fits in the new scheme. Willie Bohannon and Channing Fugate provide plenty of beef on the depth chart. How Sunseri, who was a linebacker guru at Alabama, organizes his players and calls games will be one of the most intriguing developments of the entire SEC East season.

10. LSU This was clearly Les Miles biggest area of concern heading into the recruiting cycle of 2012. He signed more linebackers (6) than any other position on the field and is hoping for a few of them to contribute right away. The good news is the defensive line should keep lanes plenty clear for the backers. Kevin Minter returns to the middle and is the only backer on the roster with significant experience of any kind. Lamar Louis and Ronnie Feist are two of those freshmen who could earn starting spots right away, should names like Main Barrow, Tajh Jones or DJ Welter falter. For a team poised for another national title run, linebacker could be considered a glaring weakness.

11. Vanderbilt No team can simply replace a stalwart like Chris Marve. He has been the heartbeat of the Dores huddle since 2008 and will be greatly missed. The good news is Chase Garnham and Archibald Barnes return with upperclass experience. Garnham was a huge surprise last fall but will need to adjust to life inside. Tristan Strong also returns but will need to prove to be fully recovered from his torn ACL a year ago (Week 4). Depth could be a major concern for this unit in 2012.

12. Auburn With the entire defensive line returning intact, the linebackers will be counted on to plug gaps. Daren Bates returns as the senior leader of the group but is severely undersized. Jake Holland is a stable force inside but must become more of a vocal presence in the huddle. And Kris Frost and Jonathan Evans will both see plenty of snaps outside opposite of Bates. Frost has loads of upside and could eventually steal Evans’ starting spot. That said, behind these four is little to no depth after the loss of Jawara White. A key injury could be crippling.

13. Ole Miss This unit has some promise, but it’s hard to rank the Rebels’ linebacking corps any higher after finishing last in the SEC in rush defense. You can’t blame the entire struggles against the run on the linebacking corps, but this unit needs to play better in 2012. Junior Mike Marry is the headliner for this group, leading the team with 81 stops last season. Serderius Bryant finished fourth on the team with 61 tackles as a freshman in 2011. Look for Bryant to nail down an outside starting spot. Seniors Aaron Garbutt and Joel Kight will provide depth, but the biggest question mark surrounding this unit is the health of D.T. Shackelford. He missed 2011 with a torn ACL and his status for 2012 is up in the air.

14. Kentucky This unit suffered some huge losses from last season, as All-SEC performer Danny Trevathan and Ronnie Sneed depart. Although the Wildcats have some holes to fill, sophomore Alvin Dupree and junior Avery Williamson are two players to build around. Dupree will play the rush end in Kentucky’s 3-4 alignment, while Williamson recorded 49 stops in 12 games last year. Sophomores Miles Simpson and Malcolm McDuffen could earn the other two starting spots, but incoming freshman Khalid Henderson will have a chance to crack the rotation.

 

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

Related SEC Content

SEC Defensive Line Rankings for 2012
Which SEC Teams Are On The Rise or Decline?

SEC Offensive Line Rankings for 2012

SEC WR Unit Rankings for 2012

2012 SEC Predictions
Athlon's 2012 All-SEC Team
SEC Heisman Contenders for 2012
College Football Realignment Winners and Losers
Introducing Texas A&M to the SEC
Introducing Missouri to the SEC
How Many Wins Does Derek Dooley Need to Return in 2013?

Teaser:
<p> Unit Rankings: 2012 SEC Linebackers</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - 05:15
Path: /college-football/penn-state-football-players-where-they-should-transfer
Body:

With the NCAA's decision to hammer Penn State with significant penalties regarding the recent scandal surrounding the program, returning players and any incoming freshmen will be allowed to transfer without penalty. The Nittany Lions cannot play in a bowl or the Big Ten Championship until 2017, which means a lot of players could be looking to leave Happy Valley. In addition to a four-year bowl ban, Penn State was hit with scholarship reductions, 112 wins from 1998-2011 were vacated and the school has been fined $60 million. The Nittany Lions will be allowed to have only 65 scholarship players for future seasons.

Penn State may not see a huge number of players leave this year, especially with fall camps right around the corner. However, the roster could look drastically different by this time next year.

All signs point to the Big Ten relaxing its transfer rules, which would allow any player to transfer within the conference. Additionally, with fall camps opening in the next two weeks, there won't be much time for the players to make a decision. It's likely more Penn State players will choose to leave after 2012 but some could decide to leave before this season begins.

Here's a look at the top Penn State players and some possible fits if they choose to leave. 

1. Jordan Hill, DT – Penn State’s interior line was one of the best in the nation last year. Devon Still led the way with 17 tackles for a loss, while Hill recorded 59 stops and 3.5 sacks. With Still expiring his eligibility, Hill is expected to become a leader for Penn State’s defense and emerge as one of the top linemen in the Big Ten. Not having Still around will force defenses to focus more on Hill, but he is capable of handling the double teams in 2012.

Possible Fits: Clemson, USC, Virginia, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma State, Iowa

2. Silas Redd, RB – In his first season as a starter in 2011, Redd rushed for 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns, while catching nine passes for 40 yards. He had a stretch of five 100-yard performances, including 164 against Northwestern. Penn State's offensive line has been inconsistent in Redd's career and had only one returning starter in 2012. Redd is an Athlon Sports second-team All-Big Ten selection for 2012.

Possible Fits: Iowa, Oklahoma, USC, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Illinois, Florida, Tennessee

3. Gerald Hodges, LB – After becoming a major contributor to the defense late in the 2010 season, Hodges emerged as one of the unit's top players in 2011. He led Penn State with 106 tackles last year, while also recording 10 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. Hodges earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last season and was nominated to the Butkus Award watchlist for 2012. He is expected to be one of the first linebackers off the board in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Possible Fits: TCU, Pittsburgh, Michigan, Baylor, Texas, West Virginia, Nebraska, Auburn, Arkansas, LSU

4. Michael Mauti, LB – Injuries have limited Mauti in his career but if healthy, is capable of ranking among the Big Ten’s top linebackers. He recorded 21 tackles in four games last year but suffered a torn ACL in the 34-6 win over Eastern Michigan. Mauti played in 11 games in 2010 and recorded 67 tackles and two sacks. All signs point to a return to full strength by Mauti, but he may need a few games to knock off the rust. Considering Mauti's father played at Penn State, it could be difficult for him to leave Happy Valley.

Possible Fits: Michigan, NC State, Baylor, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Nebraska, Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, TCU

5. Khairi Fortt, LB – With Mauti, Hodges, Glenn Carson and Fortt, the Nittany Lions have one of the Big Ten’s top linebacking corps for 2012. Fortt finished spring practice just behind Glenn Carson on the depth chart and is expected to make another push for a starting spot this fall. He logged significant snaps last season, recording 33 tackles and six tackles for a loss. As a junior, Fortt is only scratching the surface on his potential and could have a breakout 2012 season.

Possible Fits: Pittsburgh, Nebraska, Arizona, Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, Connecticut

6. Glenn Carson, LB – Carson was steady in his first year as a starter in 2011, recording 74 stops and forcing two fumbles in 13 games. Although he's not flashy, Carson is a steady performer and will figure into the rotation even if he loses his starting job to Khairi Fortt.

Possible Fits: Michigan, Boston College, NC State, Baylor, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn

7. Justin Brown, WR – Brown is Penn State’s top returning receiver after catching 35 passes for 517 yards and two scores. He caught six receptions for 62 yards in the 14-10 win over Temple, while posting one catch for 69 yards and a score in the bowl loss against Houston. At 6-foot-3 and 209 pounds, Brown has intriguing size and talent and is coming off his best statistical season.

Possible Fits: Maryland, Illinois, Temple

8. Anthony Fera, K/P – Fera had a solid 2011 season, nailing 14 of 17 field goals and averaging 42 yards per punt. Considering his value on both aspects of special teams, a lot of teams could have an interest in Fera.

Possible Fits: Florida State (punter), Virginia Tech (kicker and punter), Tennessee

9. Sean Stanley, DE – Stanley is a steady performer and is poised to finish his career on a high note. He made 30 tackles and recorded 4.5 sacks last season and is the team’s top returner at defensive end for 2012. Stanley isn’t likely to be a standout but can be a solid part of a rotation.

Possible Fits: Temple, Rutgers, Iowa

10. Matt Stankiewitch, C – With Stankiewitch back as the only returning starter, Penn State’s offensive line is in full rebuild mode in 2012. He started all 13 contests last season and helped Penn State’s rushing attack average 4.2 yards per carry and 1.1 sacks per game.

Possible Fits: Rutgers, Maryland, Temple

11. Malcolm Willis, S – The Nittany Lions lost all four starters in the secondary from last season, but the cupboard wasn’t bare for new coach Bill O’Brien. Willis played in 12 contests last year and recorded 33 stops and one interception. He doesn’t have a full season of starts under his belt, but is primed to be a solid contributor at safety.

12. Bill Belton, RB – Belton didn’t see much playing time last year but made an impact when he got on the field. He rushed for 15 yards on four attempts in the 20-14 win over Ohio State, while recording 38 yards in the bowl loss to Houston. Belton is expected to backup Silas Redd, along with contribute out of the backfield on passing downs and on special teams. This sophomore is an intriguing talent and one who should get better with more playing time.

 

Top Incoming Freshmen to Watch

Brian Gala, OL
Eugene Lewis, WR
Jordan Lucas, DB
Jamil Pollard, DL
Nyeem Wartman, LB

Related College Football Content

Athlon's 2012 College Football Rankings
Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

 

Teaser:
<p> Penn State Football Players: Where They Should Transfer</p>
Post date: Monday, July 23, 2012 - 13:27
Path: /college-football/unit-rankings-2012-big-east-linebackers
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is still two months away, but it's never too early to project how the year might play out. Athlon will be taking a look at how each position stacks up in the BCS conferences and nationally until the start of the season.

Each unit ranking was evaluated based upon how it will perform in 2012 - not how the team played in 2011.

Ranking the Big East Linebacker Units for 2012

1. Rutgers This defense was the Big East's best a year ago for a reason, and it doesn't appear much has changed for the new coaching staff in Piscataway. Khaseem Greene might be the best player in the conference and he will lead a stellar linebacking corps that is deep, experienced and talented. Steve Beauharnais is one of only three Big East Butkus candidates and he isn't even the best LB on his own team. Joining that nationally acclaimed duo is returning starter Jamal Merrell. This is one of the best starting threesomes at linebacker in the entire nation, much less the Big East. Look for more of the same from the league's No. 1 scoring, passing and total defense.

2. ConnecticutThe Huskies owned the Big East’s No. 1 rush defense last season but keeping that ranking in 2012 could prove to be difficult without standout tackles Kendall Reyes and Twyon Martin clogging the middle. With two starters gone at tackle, the linebacking corps will have its hands full trying to stuff the run. Sio Moore is the group’s top performer, and he returns after recording 86 tackles and 6.5 sacks last season. Jory Johnson and Yawin Smallwood are back as returning starters and both made over 90 stops last year. Don’t be surprised if both players earn All-Big East honors in 2012.

3. South FloridaThere’s not much separation between the Big East’s top three linebacking corps, so the Bulls are closer to No. 1 than they are No. 4. Junior DeDe Lattimore is the headliner and returns after recording 94 tackles and seven sacks last season. He should be one of the conference’s top players in 2012. Senior Sam Barrington has 25 career starts and will team with Lattimore to handle the outside spots. Senior Michael Lanaris was solid in his first season as a starter, recording 87 stops and 4.5 tackles for a loss. The Bulls ranked 15th nationally against the run last year and largely due to the strength of their front seven, should finish in the top 25 once again in 2012.

4. SyracuseThis area of the Cuse defense was inexperienced a year ago and it led to the Orange finishing as the worst defense in the Big East. That said, four linebackers return to what could be an improved area of the team. Marquis Spruill, Dyshawn Davis and Dan Vaughn look to be the starters while senior reserve Siriki Diabate, and a host of underclassmen, provide much needed depth. The reworked defensive coaching staff for Doug Marrone should be able to count on the linebackers more in 2012.

5. Louisville This unit will miss Dexter Heyman but don’t expect the Cardinals to drop much in the linebacking corps’ rankings. Junior Preston Brown recorded 84 tackles and 1.5 sacks last season and will slide into the middle to take over for Heyman. Senior Daniel Brown and sophomore Deiontrez Mount are expected to start on the outside but don’t count Charlie Strong from playing incoming freshmen Nick Dawson and Keith Brown.

6. Cincinnati The Bearcats return two starters at linebacker, but the lone departure was a big one. JK Schaffer was one of the Big East’s top defenders last season and will be missed. Not only was Schaffer productive (114 tackles, 4.5 sacks in 2011), he was a key leader for the defense. The cupboard isn’t completely bare for coordinator John Jancek, as Maalik Bomar and Nick Temple are back as returning starters. Bomar recorded 61 tackles last season, while Temple made 35 stops. Expected to step in for Schaffer will be sophomore Solomon Tentman. He missed all of 2010 with a torn ACL and made three tackles in five appearances last season. If Tentman picks up where Schaffer left off, the Bearcats’ linebacking corps should finish higher in the postseason Big East linebacking corps’ rankings.

7. Pittsburgh There isn't much experience returning to the Pitt defense, and the linebacking corps will feature plenty of new names. Todd Thomas is the only returning starter as the new coaching staff switches back to the more tradtional 4-3 scheme. He is only a sophomore but is one of the most talented players on the defense. Shane Gordon and Eric Williams will get the first crack at starting - which would give Pitt two sophomores and a junior at linebacker in a year of transition. Heavy-hitter Dan Mason returns from a serious knee injury in 2011 and will be an interesting name to track during fall camp.

8. TempleThe Owls were great statistically on defense in an offensive minded league last year. However, they now step back into Big East play and face a much tougher schedule. Blaze Caponegro is lone returning starter on a unit that was hit hard with departures. Converted running back Ahkeem Smith should be opposite Caponegro but the middle is up for grabs. Expect Chuck Heater to toy with the rotation early on in order to find the right mix.


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

Related Big East Content

Ranking the Big East Defensive Lines for 2012
College Football 2012 Bowl Projections

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers

Ranking the Big East's Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Big East's Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

Top 25 Big East Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Big East Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-Big East Team

Which Big East Teams Are on the Rise Heading into 2012?

Teaser:
<p> Unit Rankings: 2012 Big East Linebackers</p>
Post date: Monday, July 23, 2012 - 05:59
Path: /college-football/penn-state-begins-healing-process-removes-joe-paterno-statue
Body:

Joe Paterno's statue, outside of Beaver Stadium in Happy Valley, was once a symbol of success and everything that epitomized Penn State. Under Paterno's watch, the Nittany Lions recorded 409 wins and two national championships. Also during his tenure, Penn State emerged as one of college football's powerhouses and most recognizable brands.

But with the Jerry Sandusky scandal rocking the program, the statue had become a hot topic over the last few weeks, especially after the release of the Freeh Report. The report detailed Paterno and other Penn State officials lack of involvement in reporting Sandusky to the police, while continuing to allow him access to the school's locker room. 

On Sunday, Penn State removed the statue from Beaver Stadium.

Here's what the statue looked like outside of Beaver Stadium before Sunday:


Here is the statue as it was being removed:


 

After Sunday, all that remained was outlines of the players and concrete:

Needless to say, no one predicted this would be the way Paterno would be remembered at Penn State. 

Related Penn State Content

2012 Penn State Team Preview
Big Ten 2012 Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-Big Ten Team

Teaser:
<p> Penn State Begins Healing Process, removes Joe Paterno Statue</p>
Post date: Monday, July 23, 2012 - 05:56
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-worst-coaching-tenures-1962
Body:

Sometimes a coach inherits a bad team. In some cases, through recruiting, game plan and inspiration, that coach can turn a bad team into a good or even great team. The guys on this list are not those coaches. Here are the 20 worst coaching tenures in the past 50 years of college football.

20. Terry Shea, Rutgers (12–43, 1996-2000)

Shea inherited a program that had averaged a semi-respectable 5.2 wins over the final five seasons of the Doug Graber era. Shea quickly ended any positive momentum, winning a total of two games in his first two seasons.

Lowlight: The Scarlet Knights lost 48–14 at home to Temple in 2000.
 

19. Jim Hofher, Buffalo (8–49, 2001-05)

To be fair, Hofher inherited a program that was only in its third season in the Division I-A ranks, but eight wins in five years is pretty dismal under any circumstances. His teams went 5–35 in the MAC.

Lowlight: The Bulls opened the 2005 season by scoring seven points or less in five of their first six games.
 

18. Stan Parrish, Ball State (6–19, 2009-10)

Twenty years after getting fired at Kansas State, Parrish resurfaced as the head coach at Ball State, inheriting a 12-win team from his former boss, Brady Hoke. The Cardinals stumbled to 2–10 his first full season and won four more games last season.

Lowlight: Ball State lost at home to FCS foe Liberty, 27–23, in Week 2 of the 2010 season. It was the second straight season that Parrish lost to an FCS team at home.
 

17. Rod Dowhower, Vanderbilt (4-18, 1995-96)

Dowhower was hired from the NFL ranks to inject some life into the Vanderbilt offense, but the Commodores scored 10 points or less in 14 of his 22 games.

Lowlight: The Dores picked up a meager 82 yards of total offense in a 27–0 loss at home to South Carolina in 1996.
 

16. Paul Wulff, Washington State (9–40, 2008-11)

Wulff “rallied” late to win four games in his final season, but his first three years at his alma mater were a complete disaster. From 2008-10, the Cougars won only three games against FBS competition, and one came against a Washington team that failed to win a game that season.

Lowlight: The Cougs lost to USC and Stanford in consecutive games in 2008 by a combined score of 127–0.
 

15. Bobby Wallace, Temple (19–71, 1998-2005)

The Owls were kicked out of the Big East during Wallace’s watch due to their inability to compete with the rest of the league. His teams went 10–39 in the Big East in seven seasons.

Lowlight: In Week 5 of what turned out to be a winless 2005 season, the Owls lost at Bowling Green, 70–7.
 

14. Mike Knoll, New Mexico State (4–40, 1986-89)

Knoll was hired off of Jimmy Johnson’s staff at Miami, but the winning ways didn’t follow him to Las Cruces. In four seasons at New Mexico State, Knoll’s teams were outscored by an average of 20 points per game.

Lowlight: The Knoll era began with a 20–14 loss at home to Angelo State, a Division II school.
 

13. Kevin Steele, Baylor (9–36, 1999-2002)

Baylor was without a doubt the worst team in the nation relative to its conference during Steele’s four years in Waco. The Bears went 1–31 in the Big 12 play, with the lone win coming in 2002 by three points over a Kansas team that went 0–8 in the conference.

Lowlight: In Steele’s second game, the Bears lost at home to UNLV, 27–24, on a 99-yard fumble return on the final play from scrimmage. All Baylor needed to do was down the ball, but Steele opted to go for the score “to create attitude.” Instead, he created a loss.
 

12. Bill Michael, UTEP (5–43, 1977-81)

Michael coached for four-plus seasons at El Paso and only won more than one game once — he won two in 1979. The Miners suffered through two separate 10-game losing streaks during his tenure.

Lowlight: The Miners were shut out four times in a five-game span in the 1978 season.
 

11. Carl Franks, Duke (7–45, 1999-2003)

Duke was hoping to land the next Steve Spurrier when they plucked Franks off of the Florida staff to succeed Fred Goldsmith. Didn’t work out. After a decent start — the Devils went 3–4 in their first seven ACC games in ‘99 — Franks lost his final 29 conference games.

Lowlight: The Blue Devils’ opened the 2000 season with a 38–0 loss at home to East Carolina.
 

10. Ted Roof, Duke (6–45, 2003-07)

Roof secured the top job at Duke after leading the Devils to a 2–2 record in four ACC games as the interim head coach at the end of the 2003 season. That turned out to be the highpoint of his tenure. Duke went 1–33 in the ACC in Roof’s four full seasons.

Lowlight: In September 2006, the Devils went 0–4 and were outscored 100–13.
 

9. Ron Dickerson, Temple (8–47, 1993-1997)

Temple was only two years removed from a winning season when Dickerson took over in 1993. He won two games or fewer in four of his five seasons.

Lowlight: Temple lost to California 58–0 in the first home game of the Dickerson era, beginning a stretch of five straight games in which the Owls gave up at least 50 points.
 

8. Joe Avezzano, Oregon State (6–47–2, 1980-84)

Avezzano was the second of four straight coaches who failed to produce a winning season at Oregon State. Of that group, his tenure was the least successful, producing only six wins overall and just two vs. Pac-10 competition.

Lowlight: The Beavers lost 41–22 at Idaho, then a Division I-AA school (coached by Dennis Erickson), in September 1984.
 

7. Doug Weaver, Kansas State (8–60–1, 1960-66)

Kansas State had been bad for decades, but the Wildcats took a turn for the worse under Weaver’s (lack of) guidance. K-State went winless three times in his seven seasons and scored less than 10 points in 52 of his 69 games as the head coach.

Lowlight: The Wildcats were shut out in four consecutive games during one stretch of the 1964 season.
 

6. Greg Robinson, Syracuse (10–37, 2005-08)

Robinson’s overall record isn’t as bad as others on this list, but he gets low marks for destroying what was a solid Syracuse program. The Orangemen (as they used to be called) only had one losing season from 1987-2004. Robinson had four losing season in four years, with a high-water mark of 4–8 in 2006.

Lowlight: Syracuse lost its 2008 home opener to Akron, 42–28.
 

5. Todd Berry, Army (5–35, 2000-03)

Berry’s success at the FCS level (19–7 in his final two seasons at Illinois State) didn’t translate to West Point. He scrapped the option for a wide-open passing attack. The results weren’t good.

Lowlight: The Black Knights went nine straight quarters without scoring a point early in the 2003 season.
 

4. Larry Porter, Memphis (3–21, 2010-11)

Porter, a running back at Memphis in the early 1990s, was regarded as an outstanding recruiter while serving as the running backs coach at both Oklahoma State and LSU. His two-year run as the boss at Memphis was an absolute debacle. The Tigers ranked 117th and 116th in the nation in total offense and 115th and 117th in total defense in his two seasons.

Lowlight: Memphis managed only 139 total yards in a 42–0 loss at home to SMU before a sparse (to put it kindly) crowd at the Liberty Bowl last September.
 

3. Mike Locksley, New Mexico (2-26, 2009-11)

The Lobos were alarmingly uncompetitive in Locksley’s two-plus seasons in Albuquerque, with 16 of their 26 losses coming by 24 points or more.

Lowlight: On the same day that New Mexico lost at home to Sam Houston State, a teenager who was reported to be a UNM football recruit was arrested for a DUI while driving a car that was registered to Locksley’s wife and son. Locksley was fired the next day.
 

2. Stan Parrish, Kansas State (2–30–1, 1986-88)

The Stanimal set the table for Bill Snyder’s amazing turnaround at K-State by losing 91 percent of his games. He went 1–19–1 in Big Eight games, with the lone win and tie both coming against rival Kansas.

Lowlight: In consecutive weeks in October 1987, the Wildcats lost to Oklahoma, Nebraska and Oklahoma State by a combined score of 171–20.
 

1. Rick Venturi, Northwestern (1–31–1, 1978-80)

The three-year Venturi era was the epicenter of the Wildcats’ astounding run of incompetence. Venturi, only 32 when he coached his first game at Northwestern, did not win a single Big Ten game in his three years.

Lowlight: The Wildcats lost at home to Ohio State 63–0 on Oct. 11, 1980.


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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Worst Coaching Tenures Since 1962</p>
Post date: Monday, July 23, 2012 - 05:43
Path: /college-football/unit-rankings-2012-pac-12-linebackers
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is still two months away, but it's never too early to project how the year might play out. Athlon will be taking a look at how each position stacks up in the BCS conferences and nationally until the start of the season.

Each unit ranking was evaluated based upon how it will perform in 2012 - not how the team played in 2011.

Ranking the Pac-12's Linebacking Corps for 2012

1. StanfordIf Shayne Skov returns to full strength from an ACL tear, the Cardinal could have the nation’s best linebacking corps. Skov suffered the injury early last year; when healthy, he is an All-America candidate. He will serve a one-game suspension due to an off-the-field incident in early February. Chase Thomas earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors last season and led the conference with 17.5 tackles for a loss. Stanford is well-stocked with depth at this position, as Jarek Lancaster, AJ Tarpley, Trent Murphy and James Vaughters will all be in the mix for playing time at the other two starting spots. True freshman Noor Davis is a potential impact newcomer but may have trouble getting snaps with the players ahead of him on the depth chart.

2. OregonThis could be Chip Kelly's best defense during his tenure in Eugene and it will likely be due to the stacked roster of linebackers. Michael Clay doesn’t have prototype size but is a leader and is lightning quick from sideline-to-sideline in the middle. Kiko Alonso has had his issues with focus but has elite level upside and raw talent. He showed just how good he could be in the Rose Bowl performance last year against Wisconsin. Boseko Lokombo will hold down the strongside with elite level ability of his own. If you also count Dion Jordan, who plays a hybrid end/backer, then this group could be considered one of the nation’s elite. A loaded depth chart of talent will allow Kelly to rotate in plenty of bodies — like he wants to do.

3. USCPlaying with youth — aka three freshman — last year will prove to be beneficial in 2012. Dion Bailey was better than anticipated and has a chance at All-American honors. He and Hayes Pullard are fast and can cover a lot of ground for Monte Kiffin. Lamar Dawson looks to be the starter up the middle this fall after starting the final four games of last year. This trio is as talented as any starting threesome in the league (or nation, for that matter) but will the youthful exuberance cost the Trojans in key situations? Only time will tell, however, these aren’t an ordinary set of sophomores. The depth chart is talented as well, but like the starters, still very green.

4. UCLA Damien Holmes and Patrick Larimore return to the starting lineup with loads of playing time and starting experience under their belts. Holmes switch to linebacker from end makes him a potential pass-rush star. It might also allow opposing offenses to expose other aspects of his game. The most intriguing name for UCLA will be Eric Kendricks, the younger brother of former Cal star Mychal. He was only a redshirt freshman last year but was stellar. He could be one of the Bruins best in years. Fellow senior Jordan Zumwalt gives Kendricks three starting seniors surrounding him. Like most areas of the UCLA team, this unit has talent and upside — but simply hasn’t lived-up to expectations. 2012 could be different.

5. Colorado Coming off a 3-10 season and only three starters returning on offense, there’s not much to be excited about in Boulder for 2012. Colorado has ranked near the bottom in most of Athlon’s Pac-12 unit rankings, but the Buffaloes have a chance to rank in the top half in linebackers. All three starters return from last season, including potential all-conference candidates in Douglas Rippy and Jon Major. Rippy suffered a torn ACL in the seventh game of last year but all signs point to a return to full strength. Major recorded 85 stops in 2011, while junior Derrick Webb is back after posting 54 tackles last year.

6. California Just like the defensive line, the Golden Bears suffered some key losses but also have some promising players ready to step into the starting lineup. The biggest loss is Mychal Kendricks, who earned Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors last season. D.J. Holt will also be missed after recording honorable mention all-conference honors in 2011. With two performers gone, coordinator Clancy Pendergast needs a big season from sophomore outside linebacker Chris McCain. He has a chance to be one of the top breakout players in the conference this year. Look for sophomore Nick Forbes and senior Robert Mullins to anchor the interior. Despite the losses, California’s linebackers should rank in the top half of the conference.

7. UtahThe Utes return only one starter in the linebacking corps but there seems to be little concern from the coaching staff about the performance of this unit. Matt Martinez and Chaz Walker departed after a solid 2011 campaign, but the cupboard is far from bare for coordinator Kalani Sitake. Trevor Reilly is a breakout candidate to watch after recording 47 tackles and five sacks last year. Sophomore V.J. Fehoko played in eight games last season and will be required to take on a bigger role in 2012. The rover spot in the linebacking corps is up for grabs, as sophomore Jacoby Hale and redshirt freshman LT Filiaga left spring practice locked into a tight battle.

8. Oregon StateFeti Unga and Michael Doctor return to the starting lineup and have a chance to reverse a recent Oregon State linebacker trend. This has been an area of concern of late, but 2012 could be different. Unga will lock down the middle while Doctor and fellow outside tackler D.J. Welch, have the athleticism to be very productive. With improved defensive line play, this group could finally be a strength of the team. 

9. Washington The Huskies are switching to a 3-4 scheme, which will put even more emphasis on this unit’s performance in 2012. New linebacker coach Peter Sirmon will have his hands full, especially after Cort Dennison’s eligibility expired after the 2011 season. The Huskies return two starters, including junior Princeton Fuimaono and sophomore John Timu. The other two spots could go to junior Taz Stevenson and senior Nate Fellner, but don’t rule out sophomore Jamaal Kearse from making a push for snaps.

10. Arizona The Wildcats didn’t have much to celebrate about the defense’s performance last year. Arizona ranked last in the Pac-12 in passing and total defense, while allowing 35.4 points a game. New coordinator Jeff Casteel should bring some improvement to the defense but plenty of question marks exist. The linebacking corps has been an issue for the past couple of years and may not be much better in 2012. Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo expired their eligibility at the end of 2011, while Akron transfer Brian Wagner decided to leave the team after spring practice. There is a bit of good news for Casteel: Jake Fischer is back after missing all of 2011 with a knee injury. Fischer started in 2010 and should be the unit’s best player. Rob Hankins and Hank Hobson will likely start at the other two spots.

11. Arizona StateThis group was decimated in the offseason as the top four linebackers are gone. Getting outside backer Brandon McGee back from his torn Achilles will help new coach Todd Graham fill the void, but make no mistake, this unit has some holes. Steffon Martin should replace star-turned-disappointment/headache Vontaze Burfict inside and fans are hoping he lives up to his lofty junior college recruiting status from last cycle. Anthony Jones leads a host of upperclassmen hoping to earn reps under the new coaching staff.

12. Washington State Hybrid Travis Long counted in the defensive line rankings for the Cougars, but he is likely the most important defensive player on the team. Long will contribute some to a unit that will have to account for unexpected losses from players (C.J. Mizell, Sekope Kaufusi) who were kicked off the team. Eric Oertel and Darryl Monroe will get the first crack at starting and showed some promise in the spring. Chester Su’a is penciled in as a starter as well. Depth will be the real issue for Mike Leach in year one.
 

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

Related Pac-12 Content

Ranking the Pac-12's Defensive Lines for 2012
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Ranking the Pac-12's Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

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Athlon's 2012 All-Pac-12 Team

Top 25 Pac-12 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Predictions

Teaser:
<p> Unit Rankings: 2012 Pac-12 Linebackers</p>
Post date: Monday, July 23, 2012 - 05:11
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Miami Hurricanes, News
Path: /news/new-allegations-raise-questions-about-miamis-al-golden
Body:

Miami has been under NCAA investigation since a Yahoo Sports report last August detailed potential massive violations committed by former booster Nevin Shapiro. The NCAA was not expected to rule on any penalties until after the 2012 season, but the situation is about to get a lot worse in Coral Gables.

According to a report by Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson, Golden’s staff has been using one of Shapiro’s former workers (Sean Allen) to help recruit players to Miami. The report released on Friday details several instances of Allen’s attempt to steer or improperly recruit players to Miami.

Some of the reported incidents include -

- Florida State running back Devonta Freeman was reportedly contacted by Allen and Miami assistant coach Michael Barrow to change his commitment to the Hurricanes. This incident allegedly occurred one day before Freeman was scheduled to enroll at Florida State.

- Current Hurricanes cornerback Thomas Finnie was allegedly called by Allen at least two times on Jan. 6.

- Allen allegedly picked up and drove home Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater after a meeting at a South Miami restaurant. Allen also called Bridgewater at least eight times.

- Current Miami defensive end Anthony Chickillo allegedly had entertainment and drinks paid for by Allen at BT’s Gentlemen’s Club on Jan. 22, 2011.

If the allegations detailed in the report are true, this is another huge blow to the Miami program. While none of the allegations are particularly earth-shattering, it represents a pattern of institutional issues - which won't be received well by the NCAA.

When Miami picked Al Golden to replace Randy Shannon, the hire was supposed to represent a change in culture. The Hurricanes were coming off four lackluster seasons under Randy Shannon, and Golden had resurrected Temple from its college football deathbed.

Golden brought in a solid recruiting class in 2011 and appeared to have the program back on track. However, Miami was rocked by the news of the Shapiro investigation and was forced to deal with suspensions to a handful of key players, including quarterback Jacory Harris and linebacker Sean Spence.

Considering Golden had nothing to do with the previous violations, some thought he would leave the program at the end of 2011, possibly to Penn State. However, Golden stuck around in Coral Gables and signed a contract extension at the end of the season.

Golden was looked upon in a favorable light when he came to Coral Gables, but now it’s time to raise some questions.

How much did Golden know about Barrow and Allen’s actions? Remember the North Carolina scandal last season? Line coach John Blake took most of the fall, but Butch Davis wasn’t innocent. It’s impossible to know how much Golden was aware of what was going on, but it’s hard to believe he knew nothing.

Will the players involved face any NCAA penalties? No one knows at this point, but Bridgewater and Chickillo aren’t likely to see any major suspensions. Bridgewater is expected to be the Big East’s top quarterback in 2012, while Chickillo is Miami’s top defender.

Will this affect Miami in 2012? – As mentioned above, it’s possible the Hurricanes will have a player or two suspended from this news. However, the bigger issue is the black cloud that continues to hang over the program. Golden was supposed to clean up – not continue the off-the-field issues.

Is Al Golden in NCAA trouble? As with Chickillo and Bridgewater, it’s too early to tell. However, it’s impossible to think Golden will make it through unscathed.

In an Athlon Sports’ feature in the 2012 ACC Preview Annual, Golden said his coaching counterparts “absolutely crushed” Miami with attacks. He also added, “there was a lot of negative recruiting. We don’t have a lot of Achilles’ heels. They saw a soft spot and took it.”

And Golden also had this to say about other program’s taking advantage of Miami’s struggles – “get your licks in now.”

And how about this – “We went after guys that understood we weren’t responsible for it, but understand that we’re responsible enough to clean it up.”

Judging by the new allegations, it’s pretty clear Golden knew what was going on and his quotes about cleaning up the program are nothing more than hollow promises - and Miami football is in big trouble, with more bowl bans and scholarship losses coming in the next few years.

Related Content

Miami Hurricanes 2012 Preview

Teaser:
<p> New Allegations Raise Questions About Miami's Al Golden</p>
Post date: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 18:40
Path: /college-football/unit-rankings-2012-acc-defensive-lines
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is still two months away, but it's never too early to project how the year might play out. Athlon will be taking a look at how each position stacks up in the BCS conferences and nationally until the start of the season.

Each unit ranking was evaluated based upon how it will perform in 2012 - not how the team played in 2011.

Ranking the ACC's Defensive Lines for 2012

1. Florida StateWith a rotation that could feature 10 players, the Seminoles have one of the deepest defensive lines in college football. Ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner are back after combining for 15 sacks last year. The tackle spot is loaded with talent and depth, with sophomore Timmy Jernigan expected to be the anchor. Everett Dawkins, Anthony McCloud, Demonte McAllister and Jacobbi McDaniel will join Jernigan as key contributors in the middle. There’s plenty of promising youth waiting in the wings, as Florida State brings in Mario Edwards (No. 2 overall recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100), Eddie Goldman (No. 9) and Chris Casher (No. 24)

2. Virginia TechFlorida State ranks as the ACC’s No. 1 group, but the Hokies aren’t too far behind. This unit allowed 104.1 rushing yards per game and recorded 41 sacks last season. Ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins combined for 13 sacks in 2011 and will be one of the nation’s top pass-rush combinations. The interior is stacked with depth and will be led by junior Derrick Hopkins. He registered 51 stops and three sacks last year. Senior Antoine Hopkins missed most of last year due to injury but if he returns to full strength, will be expected to slide back into the starting lineup. Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall will provide depth at tackle.

3. NC StateThere’s a drop off in ACC defensive line rankings after the top two. The Wolfpack struggled up front early last season but allowed only one opponent to manage more than 120 rushing yards over the final five weeks of the year. Tackles Markus Kuhn and J.R. Sweezy must be replaced but there’s plenty of talent at end. Junior Darryl Cato-Bishop and sophomore Art Norman tied for the team lead last season with 5.5 sacks. Both players should have a big 2012 season, while depth is solid with seniors McKay Frandsen and Brian Slay. Colorado transfer Forrest West will also figure into the rotation. NC State needs sophomores Thomas Teal and T.Y. McGill to step up on the interior, but this group has a chance to build off its improvement last year and have a solid 2012 season.

4. Maryland 2011 was a disastrous year for Maryland’s defense. The Terrapins ranked last in the ACC in rushing, scoring and total defense. The dismal showing prompted changes on the defensive staff, as Brian Stewart was hired to implement a new 3-4 scheme. The Terrapins aren’t short on talent here, as Joe Vellano is back after earning first-team All-ACC honors in 2011. He recorded 94 tackles and 2.5 sacks and is an Athlon first-team All-American for 2012. Senior A.J. Francis will anchor the nose tackle spot, while sophomores Keith Bowers and Andre Monroe are expected to share snaps at the other starting spot on the line. This unit struggled last year but should show big improvement in 2012.

5. Clemson Line coach Marion Hobby will have his hands full this fall. The Tigers lost four contributors from last season’s rotation, including first-team All-ACC end Andre Branch and second-team selection tackle Brandon Thompson. Also departing are end Kourtnei Brown and tackle Rennie Moore. Although this unit suffered some big losses, the cupboard isn’t completely bare. Malliciah Goodman should have a standout senior year, while Corey Crawford returns after recording 29 tackles as a freshman in 2011. The interior will be young, as DeShawn Williams and Tavaris Barnes are expected to anchor the middle. This group has something to prove, especially after losing some key players and ranking 10th in the conference against the run last year.

6. North Carolina Despite the departures of ends Donte Paige-Moss and Quinton Coples and tackle Tydreke Powell, this unit has a chance to rank in the top half of the ACC this year. End Kareem Martin flashed potential last season, recording 40 tackles and four sacks in his first year as a starter. Senior Dion Guy will likely man the other end spot, which is a hybrid rush/linebacker position under co-coordinators Vic Koenning and Dan Disch. Sylvester Williams was solid in his first year at North Carolina last year, making 54 stops and 2.5 sacks. He could be one of the best defensive tackles in the ACC by the end of 2012. The other tackle spot will likely go to sophomore Shawn Underwood.

7. Virginia This unit experienced quite a turnaround last season. The Cavaliers ranked 106th against the run in 2010 but improved to 48th nationally in 2011. Although Virginia has momentum after showing improvement last year, this unit loses end Cam Johnson and tackles Matt Conrath and Nick Jenkins. Conrath’s departure is a huge loss, while Johnson contributed four sacks last season. Junior Jake Snyder is the lone returning starter and he recorded 36 stops in 2011. Joining Snyder at end will likely be senior Billy Schautz or junior Brent Urban. Senior Ausar Walcott has moved around the defense throughout his career but has settled at end for 2012 and will have to help bolster the pass rush. Senior Will Hill should be a steady performer on the interior, but the other spot is up for grabs.

8. MiamiMuch like the other units on this team, the defensive line must be rebuilt. End Anthony Chickillo had a standout freshman season, recording 38 tackles and five sacks. He is a future star in the ACC and could contend for all-conference honors in 2012. Junior Shayon Green finished spring practice with the edge to start at the other end spot but keep an eye on converted linebacker Kelvin Cain. Depth and talent is an issue on the interior, but senior Darius Smith and junior Curtis Porter have experience. Sophomore Jalen Grimble could push for time at tackle this season. 2012 figures to be a transition year for this group.

9. Wake ForestThis unit ranked near the bottom of the ACC last season and may not fare much better in 2012. The headliner will be tackle Nikita Whitlock, who earned second-team All-ACC accolades last year. He is an undersized tackle (5-foot-11 and 260 pounds), but fits well into Wake Forest’s 3-4 scheme. Senior Joey Ehrmann will man the hybrid end/linebacker position, while juniors Zach Thompson and Kris Redding are poised to handle the defensive end spots. Thompson recorded 40 tackles last season, while Redding made only three stops.

10. Georgia TechThe Yellow Jackets run a 3-4 scheme, so it’s not easy for this group to get much recognition. Two starters (end Jason Peters and tackle Logan Walls) must be replaced from last season. Izaan Cross is the lone returning starter and recorded 32 tackles last season. Euclid Cummings will likely start at the other end spot after making 22 stops in 2011. For Georgia Tech’s 3-4 scheme to work effectively, senior T.J. Barnes needs to have a big season at nose tackle. He has enormous size (6-foot-7, 347 pounds) and potential, but has yet to make a splash in his career.

11. Boston CollegeThis unit wasn’t awful against the run last year (151.1 yards per game) but registered a lackluster 11 sacks. Only two starters return for 2012, and the Eagles must replace this unit’s best player – Max Holloway. Junior Kasim Edebali and sophomore Brian Mihalik are slated to start at end, while the interior could be a strength if senior Kaleb Ramsey returns 100 percent. He played in only two games last season but recorded 39 tackles in 2010. Senior Dillon Quinn and sophomore Dominic Appiah will also have a significant role on the interior.

12. Duke Just like the rushing attack, the defensive line has been a sore spot in recent years for the Blue Devils. Duke ranked 11th in the ACC in rush defense last year and struggled to get a consistent pass rush on opposing quarterbacks. The Blue Devils must replace nose guard Charlie Hatcher but return three other starters. Ends Justin Foxx and Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo combined for three sacks last season, but this unit hopes to get a boost with the return of Kenny Anunike, who missed nearly all of last year with an injury. Sophomore Jamal Bruce and junior Sydney Sarmiento need to have a big season on the interior if Duke wants to escape the cellar in postseason defensive line rankings.

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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Teaser:
<p> Unit Rankings: 2012 ACC Defensive Lines</p>
Post date: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/sec-football-which-teams-are-rise-or-decline
Body:

With kickoff to the 2012 college football season still weeks away, it's time to evaluate where each team is headed. This is essentially a checkup or a state of the program overview for each team in the conference. Are they on the rise or decline? What factors in the future could have an impact on success? 

SEC State of the Program: On the Rise or On the Decline?

Alabama

Record over the last 5 years: 55–12 (32–8 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 90–38 (51–29 SEC)

Alabama has re-emerged as a national power since Nick Saban took over the program in 2007. The Crimson Tide struggled a bit in Saban’s first season (7–6, 4–4 SEC in ’07) but are 48–6 overall and 28–4 in the SEC since, highlighted by national titles in 2009 and ‘11. Saban inherited a program that had struggled for most of the previous decade. In the seven seasons prior to his arrival, Alabama had a losing SEC record four times, went .500 in the league one time and had a winning record twice. Some of the struggles were due to NCAA sanctions. Others were due to poor coaching and a mediocre roster.

State of the Program: Holding Steady

Alabama can make the claim that it is currently the top program in college football. There are no weaknesses. The facilities are top notch. The fans are passionate — and there are a ton of them. The school is oozing with tradition. And the coach is as good as it gets in the collegiate game. Barring any unforeseen issues over the next decade — Saban’s departure and/or issues with the NCAA — it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Alabama is not contending for a national title on an annual basis.

 

Arkansas

Record over the last 5 years: 42–21 (21–19 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 79–47 (42–38 SEC)

Arkansas has proven it can compete with the elite in the SEC, but just hasn’t been able to do so on a consistent basis. Until 2010 and ’11, the final two years of the Bobby Petrino era, the Hogs had never had a winning record in the SEC in back-to-back seasons. Houston Nutt broke through with a 7–1 record in 2006 — thanks to a backfield that included three future NFL running backs — but followed up with a 4–4 record in 2007. Petrino went 5–7 overall in his first season, with Casey Dick at quarterback, but went 29–10 over the next three years, including a 10-win season in ’10 and an 11-win season in ’11.

State of the program: Incomplete

It’s tough to give Arkansas a grade going forward due to the uncertainty of the coaching situation. John L. Smith is the man in charge in 2012 but few believe he will be on the job beyond this season. Petrino had the program at its high point since it joined the SEC in 1991. The Razorbacks weren’t quite on par with Alabama and LSU, the league’s two superpowers, but weren’t far behind, either. Moving forward, it will be difficult for the next coach to keep this program at such a high level. Arkansas can be a consistent winner in the SEC and contend in the West every four or five years, but the school lacks some of the built-in advantages — specifically a fertile recruiting base — to be an elite program.
 

Auburn

Record over the last 5 years: 44–21 (22–18 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 94–35 (53–27 SEC)

Auburn was the league’s most consistent program in the early 2000s, with eight straight winning SEC seasons from 2000-07. The Tigers have gone undefeated twice in the past eight seasons, 13–0 in 2004 and 14–0 in 2010. Gene Chizik is 17–15 in the SEC in three seasons, and that includes a perfect 8–0 mark in ’10. Even with the recent national title on its resume, it’s fair to say that Auburn has slid down the SEC food chain a bit in the past five years.

State of the Program: Holding Steady

The only thing keeping Auburn from “slight decline” is a series of outstanding recruiting classes. The future appears to be bright, but the current product on the field is quite average. Last year, the Tigers were outgained in SEC games by an average of 92.9 yards per game and lost their four league games by an average of 31.3 points. Over the past four seasons, Auburn’s league record is 9–15 when Cam Newton, one of the top college football players of all time, is not under center. The challenge for Chizik is to prove he can win at a high level in the post-Newton era. The roster is loaded with talent. Will the wins follow?
 

Florida

Record over the last 5 years: 50–17 (27–13 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 95–36 (55–25 SEC)

Florida has hit a rough patch in recent years — 13–11 overall and 7–9 in the SEC the past two seasons — but this has clearly been one of the elite programs in the SEC over the past decade. The Gators won a national title in 2006 and 2008 and were one win shy from playing for another BCS crown in 2009. One stat is a bit surprising: Florida has only played in three BCS bowls in the past 10 years.

State of the Program: Slightly Declining

Even the best programs — no matter how nice the facilities or how fertile the recruiting area — need a good coach to compete at a championship level. Florida struggled under Ron Zook, losing an unthinkable 15 games in a three-year period. And the Gators struggled last year under Will Muschamp, limping to a 3–5 mark in the SEC — the program’s worst since 1986. So to evaluate the “state of program” you have to determine whether or not Muschamp is the right coach for Florida. And that’s difficult to do after one season. The sample size was small, but the results weren’t good. We will know a lot more about the future of Florida football after the 2012 season.

 

Georgia

Record over the last 5 years: 45–21 (26–­14 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 98–34 (55–25 SEC)

Georgia has failed to seriously challenge for a national title in the past decade, but the Bulldogs’ record dating back to the 2002 season is quite impressive. They have won at least six SEC games in seven of the 10 years and captured two league titles, in 2002 and ’05. They took a step back with a 7–9 SEC record in 2009-10 but bounced back to win the East with a 7–1 mark in ’11. To summarize: Georgia has been very, very good. Just not good enough for many Bulldog fans.

State of the Program: On the Rise

Georgia is well-positioned to remain one of the top programs in the SEC. It helps that the Bulldogs compete in the SEC East and do not have to contend with Alabama and LSU for the right to reach the league title game. Mark Richt continues to recruit at a high level, and he appears to have righted the ship after a few rocky years in the late 2000s. Don’t be surprised if Georgia wins a national title in the next 3-4 years.

 

Kentucky

Record over the last 5 years: 33–31 (12–28 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 57–66 (23–57 SEC)

Kentucky set a school record from ’06-10 by playing in a bowl game in five straight seasons. Previously, the Cats had appeared in a total of 10 bowl games, four of which came under Bear Bryant in the late ’40s and early ’50s. During this recent stretch, however, UK failed to produce a winning record in league play in any single season. Its high-water mark was 4–4 in ’06. Kentucky has feasted on soft nonconference schedules to pad its overall win total. The school’s “best” non-SEC regular-season win in the past decade is vs. a Louisville team in 2002 that went 7–6 under John L. Smith. 

State of the Program: Slight Decline

The Cats closed out the 2011 season with a huge victory, knocking off rival Tennessee for the first time since 1984. Still, the Wildcats enter ’12 with a lack of momentum. The talent level, especially on offense, is down significantly from the “glory years” of the Rich Brooks era, and attendance has been declining over the past few seasons. Third-year head coach Joker Phillips is a UK alum and is generally well-liked, but most believe that he needs to show significant improvement in ’12 to keep his job. And that might be hard to do with a team that is picked by most to finish last in the SEC East.

 

LSU

Record over the last 5 years: 53–14 (28–12 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 105–27 (59–21 SEC)

After several decades of surprising mediocrity, LSU has lived up to its vast potential over the past 10 years. The Tigers boast the league’s best record (in SEC games) during that span and have won two national championships. They’ve won at least eight games overall every year and have had only one losing SEC season (3–5 in 2008).

State of the Program: Holding Steady

Les Miles might be eccentric, and we might not always agree with some of his decisions. But the guy knows how to win games. LSU has enjoyed pockets of success over the years, but the program has never been healthier — at a time when the SEC has never been stronger. Alabama has to be considered the strongest program in the league, but LSU is a very close second. The Tigers will continue to thrive on the national scene.

 

Mississippi State

Record over the last 5 years: 33–30 (15–25 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 47–74 (20–60 SEC)

Mississippi State is one of three SEC programs (Kentucky and Vanderbilt are the others) that has not had a winning SEC record in any single season over the past decade. The Bulldogs went 4–4 in 2007 under Sylvester Croom and 4–4 in ’10 in the first year of the Dan Mullen era. The Dogs really struggled from ’02-06, with an overall mark of 14–44 and an SEC record of 5–35 (worst in the league during that stretch). The past five years have been much better, however, with three overall winning seasons (8–5 in ’07, 9–4 in ’10 and 7–6 in ’11) and a semi-respectable 15–25 record in the SEC.

State of the Program: Holding Steady

Mississippi State has improved under Mullen over the last three years, but the program is still in the bottom tier of the SEC. Consider the following: The Bulldogs are 9–15 in the league in that span, and 10 of the 15 losses have come by 10 points or more. Their SEC record under Mullen represents a two-game improvement from the final three years of the Sly Croom era (7–17 from ’06-08), but it’s hardly a sign of huge progress. The Bulldogs will continue to be solid with Mullen running the show, but it will be difficult for this program to elbow its way into the elite of the SEC West.

 

Missouri

Record over the last 5 years: 48–19 (27–14 Big 12)
Record over the last 10 years: 81–47 (44–37 Big 12)

Missouri made the leap from a solid Big 12 team to a very good Big 12 team over the past decade. The Tigers went 17–23 in the league from 2002-06 but have gone 27–14 since, and they have had seven straight non-losing Big 12 seasons. They failed to win a conference championship in this stretch but did tie for the Big 12 North title in 2007, ’08 and ’10. Gary Pinkel has done a tremendous job in Columbia, especially over the past five seasons.

State of the Program: Slight Decline

It’s reasonable to expect Missouri to take a slight dip as it makes the move from the Big 12 to the SEC. The Tigers should be able to compete on a week-in and week-out basis in their new league, but it’s a bit of a stretch to believe they will continue to win at the same clip; remember, this program has won 65.9 percent of its league games over the past five seasons. Pinkel has done a nice job recruiting, and he always seems to have a quality quarterback running his attack, so it would be a surprise if Mizzou is anything less than a middle-of-the-pack SEC team over the next 5-10 years.

 

Ole Miss

Record over the last 5 years: 27–35 (10–30 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 55–67 (26­-54 SEC)

Ole Miss has been one of the most volatile programs in the league over the last decade: Three times the Rebels have won nine games or more in a season, and three times they have won three games or less. They went 7–1 in the league and shared the SEC West title in ’03 with Eli Manning running the show, but then won a total of six conference games over the next four seasons. Ole Miss has won 10 league games over the past four years, but nine of the 10 came in a two-year stretch (5–3 in ’08 and 4–4 in ’09). The school is the midst of a 14-game SEC losing streak that dates back to October 2010.

State of the Program: Slightly on the Rise

There is a new head coach (Hugh Freeze) and new energy in Oxford. Coming off what very well might be the worst two-year stretch in program history (six wins overall, one in the SEC), Freeze needs to show the Ole Miss faithful that there is some hope for the future. With a roster that lacks playmakers, the 2012 season figures to be a struggle, but the new staff is off to a solid start on the recruiting front and the talent level will increase in the next few years. The sample size is small and the level of competition is clearly not on par with the SEC, but Freeze won immediately in his two previous stops as a head coach — Arkansas State and Lambuth (NAIA).

 

South Carolina

Record over the last 5 years: 40–25 (21–19 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 71–54 (38–42 SEC)

It took a little longer than most South Carolina fans had hoped, but the Gamecocks have emerged as a significant player in the SEC. The folks in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge might not be overly impressed, but Carolina’s 11–5 league record over the last two seasons is clearly an indication that the program has turned the corner. Granted, the Gamecocks have taken advantage of an SEC East that is arguably at its weakest point since the league split to two divisions, but the Gamecocks aren’t simply feasting on the underbelly of the league. They are 6–0 in the past two seasons against their top three rivals in the division — Florida, Georgia and Tennessee — and beat Alabama at home in 2010.

State of the Program: Holding Steady

As mentioned above, South Carolina has improved its profile in the SEC and is showing no signs of surrendering its position on the food chain. There is always speculation that Steve Spurrier is on the verge of retiring, but the guess here is that he will be in Columbia for at least three or four more years. Recruiting is going well and he now believes he can win a national title at South Carolina.  

 

Tennessee

Record over the last 5 years: 33–31 (17–23 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 75–52 (43–37 SEC)

One the truly elite programs in the nation in the 1990s and early part of the 2000s, Tennessee has slipped into mediocrity over the past decade. The Volunteers went 18–6 in the SEC from 2002-04 but are 25–31 since. They’ve had a losing record in league play four times in the past seven years after having only two such seasons from 1965-2004. The coaching turnover — three coaches in the past five years — hasn’t helped, but these are not good times for Tennessee football.

State of the Program: Slightly on the Rise

The Vols are “slightly on the rise” simply because the program bottomed out in 2011 with a 1–7 SEC mark “highlighted” by an overtime win over Vanderbilt. Many are forecasting a big jump for Tennessee in ’12, but the Vols will have to show significant improvement in several areas — most notably in the running game — to approach the .500 mark in league play. Derek Dooley continues to recruit well, but he has yet to prove himself to be a quality head coach. He is 28–34 as a head coach (three years at Louisiana Tech, three at Tennessee) with only one winning season. Tennessee is still a program with great potential, but it doesn’t look like the Vols are on the verge of greatness anytime soon.

 

Texas A&M

Record over the last 5 years: 33–31 (19–22 Big 12)
Record over the last 10 years: 64–60 (37–44 Big 12)

Texas A&M has been consistent over the past decade — consistently average (or slightly below). The Aggies went 18–22 in the Big 12 from 2002-06 and 19–22 from ’07-11. Only twice in the past decade has A&M won more than seven games overall — the Aggies went 9–4 in both ’06 and ’10. The school has not won an outright league title since capturing the Big 12 title in 1998. That’s a very long drought for a program with so much history and so many resources.

State of the Program: Holding Steady

After underachieving for the past decade in the Big 12, are we to expect that Texas A&M will suddenly start living up to its potential as it moves to the mighty SEC West? New coach Kevin Sumlin should improve the product on the field, but it will be difficult for the Aggies to show significant improvement in the win column while competing with the likes of Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Arkansas on an annual basis. A&M will be a solid program in the SEC, but there is nothing in its recent history that suggests it will compete for championships.

 

Vanderbilt

Record over the last 5 years: 22–40 (9–31 SEC)
Record over the last 10 years: 37–83 (15–65 SEC)

Vanderbilt’s struggles competing in the SEC have been well-documented over the years. Dating back to 1992, the first season after league expansion, Vanderbilt has only won more than two SEC games in a season twice — the Commodores went 3–5 in ’05 with Jay Cutler under center and 4–4 in ’08. Last year, Vanderbilt went 2–6 in James Franklin’s debut, but four of the six losses came by six points or less. The low point of the last decade came in 2010, when Vanderbilt was outgained by a staggering 245.4 yards per game in SEC play under interim head coach Robbie Caldwell.

State of the Program: On the Rise

Franklin has done a tremendous job energizing the Vanderbilt program in a short period of time. The Commodores were one of the most improved teams in the nation last season, winning six games overall and advancing to a bowl game for only the second time since the early 1980s. The team did only win two games in league play, but as noted above, Vanderbilt was consistently competitive throughout the entire season. And when they did win, they usually did so in convincing fashion; five of their six victories came by 23 points or more, highlighted by a 38–8 win over Kentucky and a 41–7 bowl-clinching win at Wake Forest. The future also appears bright for Vanderbilt football. Franklin and his staff continue to recruit at a high level, and the school is finally making the necessary financial commitment to the football program.

by Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch on Twitter)

Related SEC Content

SEC Predictions for 2012
Athlon's 2012 All-SEC Team

SEC's Top 25 Heisman Contenders

Ranking the SEC's Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

Ranking the SEC's Offensive Lines for 2012

Athlon's 2012 All-American Team

Teaser:
<p> SEC Football: Which Teams Are On The Rise or Decline?</p>
Post date: Friday, July 20, 2012 - 05:11
Path: /college-football/unit-rankings-2012-big-ten-defensive-lines
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is still two months away, but it's never too early to project how the year might play out. Athlon will be taking a look at how each position stacks up in the BCS conferences and nationally until the start of the season.

Each unit ranking was evaluated based upon how it will perform in 2012 - not how the team played in 2011.

Ranking the Big Ten's Defensive Lines for 2012

1. Ohio State — With at least two potential 2013 first round NFL Draft picks, it is hard to argue that the Buckeyes don’t have the best D-Line in the league. Johnathan Hankins could be the top tackle taken in the draft next spring and has dropped weight in order to be more disruptive up the middle. John Simon is a dependable force off the edge and is one of the strongest players in the country. Michael Bennett and Nathan Williams, who missed most of last year with an injury return opposite of Simon. Garrett Goebel and Chase Farris will compete for the tackle spot next to Hankins. The key to this group will be depth, as Urban Meyer brings in the top defensive line class in the nation. Ohio State signed four of the top 20 D-Liners in the nation.

2. Michigan State — Without Jerel Worthy looking out for him, the time is now for potential superstar William Gholston. He is as physically gifted as any lineman in the nation and could be an All-American if he can stay focused and on the field. He needs to develop into a leader,  especially considering five of the top eight linemen could be underclassmen (three freshmen, two sophomores). Gholston will team with all-league type sophomore Marcus Rush to form one of the top end duos in the nation. Tackles James Kittredge, who transferred from Vanderbilt, and senior Anthony Rashad White will step into much bigger roles this fall in place of Worthy inside. Mark Dantonio’s likes to build teams from the inside out and this squad is no different.

3. Illinois — Both Michael Buchanan and Akeem Spence could have left Champaign early for the NFL last fall. New head coach Tim Beckman couldn’t have been more excited to get his two studs up front back in 2012. Spence and Buchanan have a chance to be one of the top inside-outside combos in the nation. Senior Glenn Foster will provide help to Spence inside, while senior Justin Staples taking over for the departed Whitney Mercilus. On a team that lost its final six games of the regular season, the Illini overachieved along the defensive line a year ago and could be just as strong, if not better. This team finished second in the Big Ten in rushing defense, first in passing and seventh nationally in total defense. Three of the four starters will be seniors.

4. Nebraska — This defense has fallen off since its star-studded 2009 performance with that Boy Named Suh leading the way. Last year’s struggles led to a new coordinator and defensive line coach in Lincoln. The good news is there is plenty to work with for new line coach Rick Kaczenski. Cameron Meredith and Jason Ankrah form a tremendous pass-rushing duo on the outside, while special teamer Eric Martin continues to develop. Husker legacy Baker Steinkuhler is in for his best year as a nose tackle. Look for big time recruit Chase Rome, as well as Jay Guy, Thad Randle and Kevin Williams, to provide plenty of talented depth up the middle. This group has loads of potential but needs to be developed and motivated. Big Red fans are hoping Kaczenski is the guy for the job.

5. Penn State — There is plenty of bad news in Happy Valley these days and replacing Devon Still doesn’t make it any easier for the Nittany Lions. But a veteran defensive line will go a long way to easing new coach Bill O’Brien into the new job. Two-time ACL tear survivor Pete Massaro is back and is expected to be solid along with returning starter Sean Stanley at end. Jordan Hill will take over for Still up the middle alongside DaQuan Jones, Anthony Zettel and James Terry. If the names around Hill can develop and stay healthy, this has the makings of a typically strong, physical and dependable Penn State defensive line.

6. Michigan — The only real question mark on the Michigan roster is its defensive line. Losing trenchman Mike Martin has thrown this unit into disarray, and Brady Hoke might need to turn to freshman to solve the issue. Craig Roh is consistent and will do anything the coaches ask and returns to one end position. William Campbell needs to deliver on his lofty recruiting hype and develop into the player Martin was. Jibreel Black, Richard Ash and stud newcomer Ondre Pipkins will battle for reps alongside Campbell. Brennen Beyer will look to hold off Frank Clark and Keith Heitzman at end opposite of Roh. This team was a pleasant surprise last year but to continue to grow into a Big Ten power, Hoke needs Campbell and company to realize their potential.

7. Wisconsin — There is no star on this roster like J.J. Watt was two years ago. While there may not be an All-American-caliber player on this unit, the Badgers are deep and dependable. David Gilbert’s return to the field should go a long way in disrupting opposing quarterbacks as the junior will be the top pass rusher on the team. Ethan Hemer, Beau Allen and Bryce Gilbert all have experience and big bodies to clog the middle. Expect all four to play regularly this fall. Opposite of Gilbert will be senior Brandan Kelly, who, at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, needs to develop into a poor man’s Watt. Look for Tyler Dippel and Pat Muldoon to get plenty of reps at end as well. The Badgers should go eight-deep along the defensive line this fall and it could be a sneaky area of strength should it create pressure in the opposition’s backfield.

8. Purdue — This unit has a chance at being one of the sleeper defensive lines in the country. Kawann Short is no secret and has a chance at being the best tackle in the Big Ten — in a league stacked with awesome nose guards. He has first round NFL talent and will be looked to for leadership this fall. Fellow returning starters Bruce Gaston at tackle and Ryan Russell at end will provide stability alongside Short. If healthy, Russell could be a game-changer as only a sophomore. Expect a lot of competition for the other end spot between veteran Robert Maci and young rising stars true freshmen Ryan Watson and Kingsley Ike and sophomore Jalani Phillips. Should things fall right, this group could be one of the better in the Big Ten.

9. Iowa — Kirk Ferentz rarely has a soft defensive line but 2012 might have to be one of his best coaching jobs. Only one starter returns to a unit that ranked seventh in the Big Ten in rushing defense last year. Dominic Alvis is the lone returning starter on a line loaded with question marks. In fact, he and Steve Bigach are the only two linemen on the team who have earned a letter. As expected, Iowa will run a number of younger players out there in an effort to find the right rotation. Darian Cooper, Riley McMinn and Dean Tsopanides are all freshmen who figure to see plenty of reps. Contributions at end from senior Joe Gaglione and sophomore Mike Hardy would go a long way to help develop the youth on this roster.

10. Northwestern — This line finished last in the Big Ten in sacks a year ago and Pat Fitzgerald is certainly looking for more in 2012. Senior tackles Brian Arnfelt and Quentin Williams will lead the interior but coaches expect big things from junior end Tyler Scott. Behind a veteran group will be eager young Cats ready to prove themselves: Chance Carter, Sean McEvilly and Deonte Gibson. Coach Fitz will have to get better play up front if he wants to keep his record-setting bowl run alive.

11. Minnesota — D.L. Wilhite and Ben Perry return with experience but will have to hold off plenty of hard-chargers to keep their jobs at defensive end. Michael Amaefula will be on the field plenty and freshman Thieren Cockran has the coaching staff excited about an improvement in its pass rush. A host of tackles, led by converted tight end/defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman, will compete for playing time on the interior. This unit finished 11th in rushing defense in the Big Ten last year and 2012 might not be much better. Expect growth, however, with this young group.

12. Indiana — This unit will have to improve if Kevin Wilson expects to get into the FBS win column in 2012. Indiana allowed a Big Ten worst — 118th nationally — 243.7 yards per game rushing. Four players return with starting experience in ends Bobby Richardson and Ryan Phillis and tackles Larry Black Jr. and Adam Replogle. Black Jr. and Replogle are seniors and should be improved up the middle, but Wilson has to get pressure from the outside. If he does not, it could be another long year on defense for IU.
 
-by Braden Gall@bradengall

Related Big Ten Content

Michigan State is an Emerging Big Ten Power
Ranking the Big Ten's Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

College Football Bowl Projections for 2012

Big Ten's Top 25 Heisman Contenders

Athlon's 2012 All-Big Ten Team

Athlon's 2012 Big Ten Predictions

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

Urban Meyer's Arrival Has Ohio State Back on Track

Teaser:
<p> Unit Rankings: 2012 Big Ten Defensive Lines</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 19, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/new-coaches-add-spice-and-intrigue-pac-12
Body:

Don’t expect Monte Kiffin to sleep very much from about Oct. 21-Nov. 10. The USC defensive coordinator doesn’t get a lot of rest during the season to begin with, but the opponents the Trojans will face during that specific three-game stretch could lead to some particularly long nights.

USC begins with a visit to Arizona on Oct. 27, where new coach Rich Rodriguez has installed his spread attack that features option principles, screen passes from every direction and a red-alert pace designed to leave defenders gasping. Seven days later, the Trojans return home to face Oregon’s high-speed attack that put up 522.8 yards and 46.1 points per game in 2011, and then they welcome Arizona State and Todd Graham, who prefers an entirely different version of the spread-’em-out scheme that can pound teams on the ground or strafe them through the air.

Two games — against bitter rivals UCLA and Notre Dame — remain after that, but the tripleheader of offensive firepower will test every bit of the experience Kiffin has collected during 46 seasons in college and the NFL.

“I think this conference has really got some good offensive coaches in it,” Kiffin says. “And it’s not getting any easier with the new coaches who have made their names with offense.”

The additions of Rodriguez and Graham, along with pass-happy Mike Leach at Washington State, and to a lesser extent Jim Mora in Westwood, have turned the Pac-12 Conference into a weekly nightmare for Kiffin and his brethren. The league was always somewhat wide open, but it is now even faster and looser. The new guys make it almost easy to forget how dangerous the Ducks are or what Stanford and USC can do with their pro-style attacks or what Cal’s Jeff Tedford is capable of with his West Coast scheme.

“You’ve got a bunch of new faces that will change the complexion of things a little,” Leach says. “It’s going to be exciting. There’s a lot of diversity in the conference geographically and in the nature of the offenses.”

The three schools that hired offensive-minded bosses (UCLA’s Mora has coached on the other side of the ball throughout his career) are all looking for improvement on the field but also must generate fan interest. As much as nasty defense can create success — Alabama’s two national titles in the past three seasons attest to that — points produce excitement.

Washington State may not reach a bowl game this year, but a new energy has come to Pullman, thanks to Leach and his offense. They’re trying to get $300 million in funding for a stadium overhaul in Tempe, and that’s a lot easier to find when a new coach and his exciting attack energize the faithful. And at Arizona, the only Pac-12 team other than newbies Colorado and Utah not to reach the Rose Bowl, Rodriguez brings a reason to believe.

“I think this is what people want,” Graham says. “I was a high school coach for a decade, and we ran an offense that was always no-huddle and a fast-paced system. I realized people want you to score points, rather than play 7–3 games. People are fickle. They want explosive plays.”

They should see that from the Sun Devils with Graham in charge. Two of his Tulsa teams (2007, ’08) led the nation in total offense, and his 2010 edition was fifth. Graham’s departure from Pittsburgh after just one season at the helm infuriated the Panthers fan base, but he has received nothing but love from the ASU community, which is hoping for the type of consistency it didn’t see under former coach Dennis Erickson.

Rodriguez is certainly known for his ability to build productive offenses. His three Michigan teams may not have stopped many people, but the 2010 Wolverines were eighth nationally in total yards. He wants to occupy rival defenses from sideline-to-sideline and force them to tackle in space. If his quarterback is better at running, Rodriguez will keep it on the ground. If the quarterback throws well, Rodriguez will open things up. That diversity makes life particularly hard for rival defensive coaches.

“We can feature things one way or another, and that gives us more options,” Rodriguez says. “When you go into a game, you only have three or four days to prepare, so having different things to deal with in a week’s time makes it harder to get it done in three or four days against a scout team at game speed.”

Imagine what it will be like for Oregon’s staff this September when it must transition from Arizona to Washington State on back-to-back Saturdays. While at Texas Tech, Leach was able to build a national powerhouse with a passing attack that routinely produced quarterbacks who threw for 5,000 yards a year. It may take a couple years for Leach to get things going like that at Wazzu, but even the early incarnations are likely to cause problems for opponents.

“We want to attack the whole field and be decisive,” Leach says. “That comes from hours of repetition and the ability to put the ball in everybody’s hands.”

So, what is a defensive coach to do in a potent conference that has become even more incendiary through the hiring of these offensive savants? Will we see defenders “cramping” in record numbers and falling to the turf in attempts to stop the clock? Or, will coordinators like Kiffin simply surrender and tell their offensive counterparts to outscore rivals? Neither is likely. Instead, expect the league to undergo a subtle philosophical change in terms of personnel.

“We need speed,” Kiffin says. “There is so much speed on the outside that you need linebackers that were former safeties in high school. And they have to tackle. We have always talked about tackling, but now we have to do it in the open field.

“A team may line up in trips to one side and throw it to the other, where it’s one-on-one.”

Even with faster players along the back seven, it’s still tough for defenses to get the preparation they need. At places like USC and Stanford, the defenders spend spring and summer working against pro sets. When games begin, they get a few days of work against scout teams that can’t possibly replicate the pace or talent of the high-powered opposition. That’s what coaches like Rodriguez are counting on. Meanwhile, Kiffin and his brethren have to be careful not to change too many things week-to-week, or their players will have no chance to keep up.

“Sometimes, you try to stop everything, and you can’t do it,” Kiffin says.

Sleep tight, coach. 


This article appeared in Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Preview Annual.

Related Pac-12 Content

2012 College Football Bowl Projections
Pac-12 2012 Defensive Line Rankings

Pac-12 2012 Offensive Line Rankings

Pac-12 2012 Wide Receiving Corps Rankings

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

Grading the Best and Worst CFB Hires for 2012

Pac-12's Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-Pac-12 Team

Teaser:
<p> Pac-12 Football: Leach, Rodriguez and Graham Add Spice and Intrigue</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 19, 2012 - 05:58
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/pittsburghs-kevin-harper-impresses-trick-shot-video
Body:

The Pittsburgh Panthers' Kevin Harper was one of the Big East's top kickers last year, connecting on 21 of 31 attempts and hitting a season-high 52-yard field goal against Cincinnati. 

But the highlight of his career might be this trick shot video. 

Harper hits a few long field goals with targets, hits a 50-yard field goal with no shoes on and kicks one through a moving tire target. Pretty impressive. 

Move over Johnny McEntee...there's a new trick shot artist in the Big East.

Teaser:
<p> Pittsburgh's Kevin Harper Impresses With Trick Shot Video</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 19, 2012 - 00:53
Path: /college-football/who-will-be-first-college-football-coach-fired-2012
Body:

Coaching in the college football ranks is no easy task. 28 programs changed head coaches at the end of 2011 and there will be no shortage of openings following the 2012 season. 

Who Will Be The First College Football Coach Fired in 2012?

Mark Ennis, Manager of Big East Coast Bias (@Mengus22)
I think the first coach to be fired will be Boston College coach Frank Spaziani. Spaziani got the job three years ago under bizarre circumstances when Jeff Jagodzinski was abruptly fired for interviewing for an NFL opening. Things looked already as Boston College went 8-5 in his first year. The following season the Eagles dipped to 7-6 and the bottom fell out last year with the team missing a bowl for the first time since 1999. In addition to struggling to win games, fans began to increasingly bail out on him with officialy attendance dropping as low as just over 30,000 in September. Then, in the offseason, Spaziani lost a number of coaches from his staff who chose to leave for jobs at Temple and Rutgers. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. The Eagles open with Miami, face Northwestern two weeks later, then have a four week stretch of games against Clemson, Florida State, and Georgia Tech. A 2-5 start is a distinct possibility and if that happens, Boston College will have to pull the plug and get a jump on the other schools in need of a coach. Boston College is not an easy job to recruit to, players or coaches, so a head start will be vital. 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
For a coach to lose his job midseason, he generally has to be 1.) already under pressure to win now and 2.) not in a position where he’s likely to win early in the season. Think of Arizona’s Mike Stoops last season, who faced Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon and USC all by Oct. 1. Not surprisingly, Arizona lost them all and then had little left in the tank to beat Oregon State. Boston College’s Frank Spaziani is in the middle of a storm that brings about an early exit: a track record of success before his arrival (12 consecutive bowl games), diminishing win totals (from eight to seven to four), an imperfect ascension to head coach when Jeff Jagodzinski was suddenly fired and infighting among his staff. By facing Miami, Northwestern, Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech before the end of October, the season could be a lost cause by November. Maryland and Wake Forest could provide a BC a chance to save face. I just wonder if Spaziani will still be the guy in charge by then.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Mike Price could be looking at a 1-6 start at UTEP, Kentucky's Joker Phillips' 2-7 start is almost guaranteed and Rice's David Bailiff could easily begin 0-5, but Boston College's Frank Spaziani is my pick to be the first head coach fired in 2012. There is one guaranteed win on the schedule this fall (Maine, Week 2) and a victory on the road at Army is a must in Week 5. Otherwise, this team is likely going to start 0-4 in ACC play and 2-5 overall heading into the Maryland game. Should the Terps win in Chestnutt Hill October 27, the first coaching move of the year could come before Halloween. With a loss, the Eagles will likely be headed for a year without a conference win for the first time in the school history. After wild overachievement with Tom O'Brien at the helm — try eight straight winning seasons — Boston College has gone from a division title to potential 10-loss season in four short years. Phillips will be hot on his heels.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think Boston College’s Frank Spaziani will be the first coach fired in 2012. The Eagles got off to a 1-6 start last season but rebounded by winning three out of their final five games. Although Boston College showed some signs of improvement at the end of last year, this team is littered with question marks. The Eagles finished eighth in the ACC in total defense in 2011 and must replace linebacker Luke Kuechly. The defense is in better shape than the offense, which ranked last in the ACC in points scored and yards per game last year. New coordinator Doug Martin was a solid pickup, but the Eagles need a big year from quarterback Chase Rettig. Boston College’s schedule sets up for a 1-3 start, while the last month of the season is brutal – Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and at NC State. Unless the Eagles can somehow muster three or four wins by midseason, Spaziani will likely be the first college football coach fired. 

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
I’ll go with Mike Price, who is entering his ninth season at UTEP. Price went 8–4 in his first two years in El Paso but has had six straight losing seasons since. His record is 45–52 overall and 28–36 in conference play. The 2012 Miners are solid at the quarterback position with the return of senior Nick Lamaison, but not many outside the program expect this team to be a factor in the C-USA West race. The schedule is difficult, as well. The Miners play Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Wisconsin in the first month of the season and play both UCF and East Carolina, projected to be the two best teams in C-USA East. It’s tough to find more than three or four wins on the slate. One other thing to note: Price enters 2012 on the final year of his contract.  

Mark Ross
Joker Philips is 11-14 in two seasons at Kentucky, but only three of those victories are against teams with a winning record, while two others came against FCS opponents. The Wildcats have won just four SEC games in Phillips' two seasons and even though that does include last season's historic 10-7 win over Tennessee in Lexington, Ky., it came against a Volunteers team that went 1-7 in the conference in 2011.

Phillips may have bought him some time with that win over the Vols, a victory that broke the Cats' 26-season losing streak to UT, but I don't see him getting the opportunity to make it two in a row. Kentucky opens this season against in-state rival and Big East favorite Louisville and also plays MAC member Kent State and Western Kentucky, the Bluegrass State's other FBS school, before opening SEC play. A second straight loss to the Cardinals and/or to either mid-major team, especially the Hilltoppers, and I don't think Phillips will have to worry about coaching against the Gators in Gainesville, Fla., or the Gamecocks at home.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I’ll go with Robb Akey at Idaho. After three wins in his first two seasons in Moscow, Akey led the Vandals to an 8-5 record and a bowl victory in 2009. However Idaho has totaled only eight wins over the last two years, six in 2010 and a meager two last season. The Vandals return four starters from an offense that finished 111th in the country in 2011 and three starters on a defense that ranked 101st. The WAC slate is watered down this season, but Idaho’s non-conference schedule includes trips to Bowling Green (who won 32-15 at the Kibbie Dome last season), LSU, North Carolina and BYU. With Boise State’s amazing achievements and the Vandals program seemingly stuck in neutral, Idaho fans may demand a change unless Akey and staff can get the 2012 offense playing like it did in that ‘09 bowl campaign.

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2012 College Football Rankings: 1-124

Teaser:
<p> Who Will Be The First College Football Coach Fired in 2012?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - 05:29
Path: /college-football/unit-rankings-2012-big-east-defensive-lines
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Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is still two months away, but it's never too early to project how the year might play out. Athlon will be taking a look at how each position stacks up in the BCS conferences and nationally until the start of the season.

Each unit ranking was evaluated based upon how it will perform in 2012 - not how the team played in 2011.

Ranking the Big East's Defensive Lines for 2012

1. South Florida Tackle Keith McCaskill and end Patrick Hampton must be replaced, but the Bulls return two starters from a group that allowed 107.3 rushing yards per game last year, while recording 3.3 sacks a contest. End Ryne Giddins had a breakout 2011 season, registering 44 tackles and 5.5 sacks. He should be one of the Big East’s top defenders in 2012 and push for the team lead in sacks. Joining Giddins at end will be junior college transfer Tevin Mims and junior Julius Forte. The interior of the line suffered a setback when tackle Cory Grissom suffered a broken ankle in spring practice. He has a chance to return in time for the season opener but could be slowed early in the year. With Grissom coming off a significant injury, it’s up to junior Luke Sager and sophomores Elkino Watson and Todd Chandler to hold down the tackle spots.

2. Rutgers With an offense that’s still trying to find its footing, the Scarlet Knights will have to lean on its defense in 2012. Eight starters are back, including All-American linebacker Khaseem Greene. This unit lost end Manny Abreu and tackle Justin Francis but returns standout tackle Scott Vallone. Rutgers recorded 35 sacks last season, but matching that total in 2012 will depend on the play of senior Ka’Lial Glaud and juniors Jamil Merrell and Michael Larrow. Glaud is a name to watch after registering two sacks and 20 tackles in limited action last season. This unit needs to get better against the run after allowing 141.9 yards per game last year. Even with the loss of two key players, the Scarlet Knights should have one of the Big East’s top defensive lines.

3. Louisville – The Cardinals return only one starter up front (Brandon Dunn), but this unit is filled with talent and depth waiting to emerge. Dunn and junior Roy Philon will anchor the middle, and both players will be key cogs in keeping Louisville’s rush defense ranked among the top 10 nationally. With William Savoy and Greg Scruggs finishing their eligibility, the Cardinals need to find new pass rushers at end. Sophomores B.J. Dubose and Lorenzo Mauldin, along with junior Marcus Smith are players to watch in 2012. Smith registered 5.5 sacks last season, while Dubose recorded 22 stops in 13 contests. Louisville suffered some losses, but coach Charlie Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford should keep this unit performing at a high level.

4. CincinnatiDefense was one of the key reasons for the Bearcats’ six-win improvement last season. Cincinnati won four games in 2010 and finished fourth nationally in the Big East in rush defense but ranked last in points allowed. This unit performed much better in 2011, ranking second in the conference against the run and allowing 20.3 points a game. There’s some work to do this fall for coordinator John Jancek, as he has to find replacements for Co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year Derek Wolfe and nose tackle John Hughes. While the interior must be revamped, the Bearcats return ends Walter Stewart, Brandon Mills and Dan Giordano. If new tackles Jordan Stepp and Camaron Beard pickup where Wolfe and Hughes left off, Cincinnati’s rush defense should rank among the conference’s best once again (and higher on this list) in 2012.

5. Connecticut The Huskies owned the Big East’s No. 1 rush defense last season and allowed only 11 rushing scores. Although Connecticut ranked as one of the conference’s best defensive lines last year, this unit must replace first-team All-Big East tackle Kendall Reyes and steady tackle Twyon Martin. Without two dominant tackles in the middle, this will force more pressure on ends Trevardo Williams and Jesse Joseph. Williams was a second-team All-Big East selection after recording 12.5 sacks last season. Replacing Reyes and Martin on the interior will likely fall to Ryan Wirth and Shamar Stephen.

6. Pittsburgh This unit has been a strength for the Panthers in recent years but ranks near the bottom of the Big East in 2012. Pittsburgh is switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 and must replace end Brandon Lindsey and tackles Chas Alecxih and Myles Caragein. Junior Aaron Donald is the unit’s standout performer after registering 47 tackles and 11 sacks last season. Sophomores T.J. Clemmings and Bryan Murphy will step into starting roles on the edge, while Khayin Mosley-Smith gets the first shot at nose tackle. There’s plenty of potential with this group but there’s a lot of question marks to rank much higher on this list.

7. SyracuseWith the loss of ends Chandler Jones, Mikhail Marinovich and Torrey Ball, the Orange will be dealing with a revamped front four in 2012. Deon Goggins is back after recording 43 tackles and 1.5 sacks last season and will be shifted from tackle to end to help with the losses. Senior Brandon Sharpe should start at the other end spot. Junior Jay Bromley returns after picking up 32 tackles last year and will team with sophomore Eric Crume or senior Cory Boatman to anchor the middle. This unit ranked sixth in the Big East in rush defense, which placed 32nd nationally. There’s a lot of holes to address for coordinator Scott Shafer, but an active linebacking corps should help take some of the pressure off of the new linemen.

8. TempleThe Owls owned the MAC’s toughest run defense last season, allowing just 123.9 yards per game. This unit suffered some heavy losses, as ends Adrian Robinson and Morkeith Brown have expired their eligibility. Both players were All-MAC performers last season. The interior of the line is solid, thanks to the return of senior John Youboty and junior Levi Brown. Shahid Paulhill and Kadeem Custis will provide depth at tackle and both players bring valuable experience to the rotation. Although the Owls have some solid pieces up front, this unit has to replace its top two players from last season and there’s very little depth on the outside. 

 

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
 

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Teaser:
<p> Unit Rankings: 2012 Big East Defensive Lines</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - 05:14
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Fantasy, News
Path: /college-football/college-fantasy-football-examining-best-players-pac-12
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College fantasy football drafts will be heating up over the next few months and Athlon Sports has teamed with The College Fantasy Football Site to provide in-depth coverage for 2012. 

Here's a look at the best of the best for Pac-12 in terms of fantasy options for 2012:

2012 Preseason All-Pac-12 All-Fantasy Team

Using a starting roster of 2-QB, 3-RB, 3-WR, FLEX, TE, K, Def/ST, All-Conference Fantasy Teams are projected using the following scoring system:

Passing—25 pass yds = 1 point, Passing TD = 4 points, INTs = -1 point

Rushing—10 rushing yards = 1 point, Rushing TDs = 6 points

Receiving—.5 points per reception, 10 receiving yards = 1 point, Receiving TDs = 6 points

Kicking—Extra Point = 1 point, FG 0-39 yards = 3 points, 40-49 yards = 4 points, 50+ = 5 points

Defense/ST—Defense, KR, and PR TDs = 6 points, Safety = 2 points, Fumbles and INTs = 3 points, Sack = 1 point, Points allowed (0 = 15 points, 2-6 = 10 points, 7-10 = 7 points, 11-13 = 5 points, 14-21 = 4 points, 22-28 = 2 points, 29-24 = 0 points, 35+ = -2 points)

 

Starters

 

QB—Matt Barkley, Sr. (USC)

Last season:  Passed for 3,528 yards and 39 TDs, 2 rushing TDs

Best 3-game stretch of 2012:  Weeks 7-8-9; @ Washington, Colorado, @ Arizona

Playoff Weeks (11-12-13):  Arizona St, @ UCLA, Notre Dame

 

QB—Jeff Tuel, Sr. (Washington State)

Last season:  Missed most of last season with injuries (shoulder, leg).

Best 3-game stretch of 2012:  Weeks 2-3-4; E. Washington, @ UNLV, Colorado

Playoff Weeks (11-12-13):  UCLA, @ Arizona St, Washington

 

RB—Kenjon Barner, Sr. (Oregon)

Last season:  Rushed for 939 yards and 11 TDs, 17 receptions for 184 yards and 3 TDs.

Best 3-game stretch of 2012:  Weeks 1-2-3; Arkansas St, Fresno St, Tennessee Tech

Playoff Weeks (11-12-13):  @ Cal, Stanford, @ Oregon St

 

RB—John White, Sr. (Utah)

Last season:  Rushed for 1,519 yards and 15 TDs, no receptions.

Best 3-game stretch of 2012:  Weeks 1-2-3; N. Colorado, @ Utah St, BYU

Playoff Weeks (11-12-13):  @ Washington, Arizona, @ Colorado

 

RB—Stepfan Taylor, Sr. (Stanford)

Last season:  Rushed for 1,330 yards and 10 TDs, 25 receptions for 182 yards and 2 TDs.

Best 3-game stretch of 2012:  Weeks 9-10-11; Washington St, @ Colorado, Oregon St

Playoff Weeks (11-12-13):  Oregon St, @ Oregon, @ UCLA

 

WR—Robert Woods, Jr. (USC)

Last season:  111 receptions for 1,292 yards and 15 TDs.

Best 3-game stretch of 2012:  Weeks 7-8-9; @ Washington, Colorado, @ Arizona

Playoff Weeks (11-12-13):  Arizona St, @ UCLA, Notre Dame

 

WR—Marquess Wilson, Jr. (Washington State)

Last season:  72 receptions for 978 yards and 5 TDs.

Best 3-game stretch of 2012:  Weeks 2-3-4; E. Washington, @ UNLV, Colorado

Playoff Weeks (11-12-13):  UCLA, @ Arizona St, Washington

 

WR—Marqise Lee, So. (USC)

Last season:  73 receptions for 1,143 yards and 11 TDs.

Best 3-game stretch of 2012:  Weeks 7-8-9; @ Washington, Colorado, @ Arizona

Playoff Weeks (11-12-13):  Arizona St, @ UCLA, Notre Dame

 

TE—Austin Seferian-Jenkins, So. (Washington)

Last season:  41 receptions for 538 yards and 6 TDs.

Best 3-game stretch of 2012:  Weeks 7-8-9; @ Arizona, Oregon St, @ Cal

Playoff Weeks (11-12-13):  Utah, @ Colorado, @ Washington St

 

FLEX—De’Anthony Thomas, So. (Oregon)

Last season:  Rushed for 595 yards and 7 TDs, 46 receptions for 605 yards and 9 TDs.

Best 3-game stretch of 2012:  Weeks 1-2-3; Arkansas St, Fresno St, Tennessee Tech

Playoff Weeks (11-12-13):  @ Cal, Stanford, @ Oregon St

 

K—Andre Heidari, So. (USC)

Last season: 15-for-17 on FG attempts, 50-for-50 on extra points.

Best 3-game stretch of 2012:  Weeks 10-11-12; Oregon, Arizona St, @ UCLA

Playoff Weeks (11-12-13):  Arizona St, @ UCLA, Notre Dame

 

DEF/ST—USC

Last season:  No. 18 rushing defense, No. 54 total defense

Best 3-game stretch of 2012:  Weeks 1-2-3; Hawaii, Syracuse, @ Stanford

Playoff Weeks (11-12-13):  Arizona St, @ UCLA, Notre Dame

 

Top 5 Reserves

QB—Keith Price, Jr. (Washington)

RB—Cameron Marshall, Sr. (Arizona State)

RB—Curtis McNeal, Sr. (USC)

RB—Johnathan Franklin, Sr. (UCLA)

WR—Keenan Allen, Jr. (Cal)

 

 

By Joe DiSalvo

The College Fantasy Football Site

Follow Joe DiSalvo on twitter (@theCFFsite)

Related Content: Athlon's 2012 College Fantasy Football Rankings

Teaser:
<p> College Fantasy Football: Examining the Best Players in the Pac-12</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - 02:55
Path: /college-football/michigan-state-football-spartans-emerging-big-ten-power
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When Andrew Maxwell arrived in East Lansing in the late summer of 2009, he could have easily kept his mouth shut, endured his redshirt season and spent the next two years toiling anonymously in the shadow of all-time Michigan State wins leader Kirk Cousins. No one would have blamed the backup quarterback for taking the quiet route for three years before blossoming in 2012.

Maxwell wasn’t looking for anything like that. Instead of dutifully playing the freshman role, he went about the business of constructing relationships with players — even upperclassmen — in preparation for the day he would take over for Cousins. That’s not cockiness, but rather a sound leadership strategy by a young man who stands ready to run the Spartan offense and become the face of a program that has made a U-turn from its old image.

“When I got on campus, I started leading right away by building bridges with teammates,” Maxwell says. “That way, when it became time to be the starter, it would be easier to lead.

“If you just change into a person you haven’t been, the guys aren’t going to respond. If you continue to be yourself, you’ll be a more effective leader.”

Maxwell may be the same out-front guy he was when he came to school, but the Michigan State program has transformed itself dramatically over the past couple seasons. Two straight 11-win seasons and a pair of New Year’s Day bowl games — including a win over Georgia in last year’s Outback Bowl — have put the Spartans in position to assume a role of influence and status in the Big Ten. Over the past four seasons, MSU has won more conference games than all but one other school (Ohio State) in the league, has beaten Michigan four straight times and has, most important, shed the reputation as the program that could always be counted on to make a key gaffe or have an off-field issue at the wrong time.

The problem at Michigan State has never been talent. The Spartans have had that. From 2000-07, MSU had 28 players drafted, including four first-rounders. That was only 10 fewer than Michigan produced over the same time frame. But during that period, MSU won only 45 games, while the Wolverines captured 73. Lack of discipline, off-field problems and some mystifying turns of fortune during games torpedoed the Spartans’ efforts. When someone sent out the S.O.S. in East Lansing, it meant “Same Old Sparty.”

That started changing in 2007 when Mark Dantonio took over as head coach. Though low-key in his demeanor and mannerisms, Dantonio is a rock-solid leader who values character above everything else. During a March interview, he spoke of the 150 straight days the program had enjoyed without an off-field incident. While that could change in the heartbeat of a 19-year-old, it demonstrated the standard he had established, and more importantly enforced, within the program.

“He’s honest, competent, caring and loving,” Maxwell says of Dantonio. “One of the best compliments you can give a coach is that he cares about you on and off the field.”

By recruiting players who can thrive on the field and lead off it, Dantonio and his staff have created a new ethos at MSU. In 2009, the Spartans were 6–7 and dropped an Alamo Bowl decision to Texas Tech. The enemy wasn’t necessarily youth, although it was a younger team; it was the lack of a strong example from the team’s upperclassmen. Although three of them were voted captains, the fourth captain was Cousins, then a sophomore, who was only the second Spartan sophomore ever to receive that distinction. The younger players who ended up being the cornerstones of the success of the last two seasons didn’t click with their elders, most of whom had been recruited by previous MSU coach John L. Smith. “We didn’t have good chemistry that year,” defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi admits.

That has not been the problem the past two seasons, and it’s unwise to discount the value of such chemistry. Successful teams feature leaders who take direction from the coaches and hold their peers accountable. That may not have been lacking completely before in East Lansing, but it is in evidence now. Twenty-two wins in two seasons provide the proof.

“It is as important as anything,” junior linebacker Max Bullough says. “The guys on the football team are friends with each other. We are together day and night. If somebody gets into something, the guys next to him are getting out of the situation.”

There are four games scheduled on Aug. 31 involving FBS teams, but the one expected to attract the most attention is Boise State’s visit to MSU. Although the Spartans also play Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Notre Dame, the matchup with the Broncos will allow Michigan State to take the national stage and deliver something that will gain attention.

“If we want to go where we want to go, we have to make a statement in the Boise State game,” Dantonio says.

It’s interesting that a Big Ten team would consider a game with a Mountain West opponent (BSU moves to the Big East in 2013) as a yardstick for its program, but the Spartans feel as if this is their time to take some steps outside the neighborhood. AD Mark Hollis has inked agreements with Boise State, Alabama, West Virginia, Oregon and Miami, giving the Spartans a fortified schedule and allowing them to reach out to constituencies beyond the state of Michigan. There is little chance Dantonio and his staff will be recruiting heavily in Idaho and the Pacific Northwest, but this is an opportunity for a program that has been in the shadow of Big Ten rivals to extend its sphere of influence — as the highly successful Spartan hoops team has done.

“I did most of the basketball scheduling, and I’m doing the football scheduling,” Hollis says. “I’m going to schedule like basketball. We’re setting up the kinds of games kids want to play, and that sets the bar with some big expectations.”

One gets the impression that Michigan State feels it is ready to make a move into the national hierarchy. That’s why it’s scheduling up, why it is adding a giant, $10 million video board to Spartan Stadium and why it is launching a full assault on Michigan, which for decades has adopted a smug attitude toward its “little brother.”

College athletics are filled with relationships like the one that has prevailed between the Wolverines and Spartans. Alabama considers itself superior to Auburn. Texas makes Aggie jokes at the expense of Texas A&M. University of Washington is the cosmopolitan school, and Washington State is the farm. You can still find bumper stickers in Ann Arbor referring to Michigan State as “Moo U,” a nod to the school’s agricultural roots. And for all the references to the “Arrogant Asses” at U-M, a designation coined by former Spartan coach Darryl Rogers, there remains something of an air of superiority amidst the Wolverines. But ever since former Michigan running back Mike Hart referred to MSU as the “little brother,” there has been a change going on.

The four-game winning streak has fueled it, yes, but the attitude in East Lansing has changed, too. Dantonio has made no secret of his dislike for Michigan, and last winter, MSU hoops coach Tom Izzo weighed in, too. The Spartans aren’t behaving like aggrieved smaller siblings, but rather like newly pumped-up equals who aren’t having any more of the condescension.

“I grew up in the state (Midland), and I grew up with the attitude that Michigan was the elite program, and Michigan State was the other one,” Maxwell says. “The tide has changed. Our success against them demands that.”

That can’t be enough for Michigan State. Winning in the sandbox is good. Taking it to the rest of the playground is better. The Spartans have more character than in recent years, and they have been able to back it up with what Dantonio and his staff consider some good recruiting classes. Dantonio was able to redshirt all but two of last year’s newcomers and expects many of them to contribute next year, particularly on defense.

“To me, it doesn’t make a difference what ‘star’ a player is,” Dantonio says, referring to recruiting rankings. “They’re not sending you to a bowl game if your recruiting class is in the top 10. You go to bowl games and championship games because you’re in the top 10 or top 20 on the field.”

As Maxwell assumes the starting quarterback role for Cousins, who amassed several records, he is something of a symbol for MSU’s future. If Maxwell steps in and delivers, the Spartans will likely continue their prosperity. All that’s missing from the offense is a proven wideout. Michigan State fans have waited a long time for the kind of sustained success that the team seems to be on the verge of achieving. Some say the next chapter begins Aug. 31 against Boise State. Those who know realize it started more than five years ago, when Dantonio arrived on campus.

The story continues this fall, and Spartan fans are hoping that each turn of the page brings something wonderful — and new.

— by Michael Bradley

This article appears in Athlon's 2012 Big Ten Preview Annual.

Related Big Ten Content

Athlon’s 2012 Big Ten Predictions
Athlon’s 2012 All-Big Ten Team

Michigan State Spartans 2012 Team Preview

Michigan State’s Top 10 Players for 2012

Big Ten’s Top Heisman Contenders for 2012

Teaser:
<p> Michigan State Football: Spartans Emerging as Big Ten Power</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - 06:01

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