Articles By Steven Lassan

Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-linebacker-units-2012
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They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context.

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

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

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

Athlon's Top 20 Linebacking Corps for 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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

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

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

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

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

Athlon's Top 20 Defensive Backfields for 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 20 Defensive Back Units for 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, August 10, 2012 - 05:42
Path: /college-football/pac-12-coaches-talk-anonymously-about-conference-foes
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It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches in the Pac-12 to talk anonymously about their opponents. 

Arizona

Opposing coaches size up the Wildcats: 

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

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

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

Arizona State

Opposing coaches size up the Sun Devils:

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

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

Cal

Opposing coaches size up the Golden Bears: 

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

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

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

Colorado

Opposing coaches size up the Buffaloes: 

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

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

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

Oregon

Opposing coaches size up the Ducks:

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

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

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

Oregon State

Opposing coaches size up the Beavers:

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

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

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

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

Stanford

Opposing coaches size up the Cardinal:

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

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

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

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

UCLA

Opposing coaches size up the Bruins:

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

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

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

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

USC

Opposing coaches size up the Trojans: 

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

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

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

Utah

Opposing coaches size up the Utes:

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

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

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

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

Washington

Opposing coaches size up the Huskies: 

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

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

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

Washington State

Opposing coaches size up the Cougars: 

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

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

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

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

 

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Ranking the Pac-12's Offensive Lines for 2012

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Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

(Published August 9, 2012)

Athlon's Top 75 SEC Players for 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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Teaser:
<p> SEC Player Rankings: The Top 75 Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 05:45
Path: /college-football/big-12-coaches-talk-anonymously-about-conference-foes
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It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches in the Big 12 to talk anonymously about their opponents. 

Baylor

Opposing coaches size up the Bears:

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

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

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

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

Iowa State

Opposing coaches size up the Cyclones:

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

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

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

Kansas

Opposing coaches size up the Jayhawks: 

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

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

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

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

Kansas State

Opposing coaches size up the Wildcats:

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

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

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

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

Oklahoma

Opposing coaches size up the Sooners: 

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

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

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

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

Oklahoma State

Opposing coaches size up the Cowboys: 

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

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

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

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

TCU

Opposing coaches size up the Horned Frogs: 

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

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

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

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

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

Texas

Opposing coaches size up the Longhorns: 

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

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

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

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

Texas Tech

Opposing coaches size up the Red Raiders: 

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

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

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

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

West Virginia

Opposing coaches size up the Mountaineers: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Athlon's Top 20 Defensive Lines for 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related College Football Content

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

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

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

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

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

Athlon's Top 20 Offensive Lines for 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Athlon's College Football Rankings for 2012

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Ranking the Big Ten's Top 50 Players for 2012

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 20 Offensive Lines for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 05:22
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-wide-receiving-corps-2012
Body:

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

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

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

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

Athlon's Top 20 WR/TE Corps for 2012 

1. USC There’s not a better one-two receiver combination in the country than Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. The duo combined for 2,435 yards on 184 catches and 26 scores. Both players should contend for All-America honors in 2012. Sophomore George Farmer, redshirt freshman Victor Blackwell and junior De’Von Flournoy are expected to round out the rotation, and true freshman Nelson Agholor could earn playing time as well. Tight end Randall Telfer is an underrated weapon. Bottom line: Matt Barkley should have no trouble finding weapons to throw to in 2012.

2. Clemson The Tigers must replace tight end Dwayne Allen, but there’s no shortage of weapons for quarterback Tajh Boyd. Sammy Watkins was one of the top freshmen in college football last season and is an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-American for 2012. However, he is suspended for the first two games of the season due to an off-the-field incident. DeAndre Hopkins was overshadowed by Watkins last year, but he finished with 72 catches for 978 yards and five scores. Jaron Brown, Adam Humphries, Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant are capable options as well, and Brandon Ford is expected to step in for Allen at tight end.

3. West VirginiaThe Mountaineers don’t have much proven depth here, but there’s a lot to like about the starting corps. Tavon Austin led the team with 101 receptions last season, while Stedman Bailey ranked first with 1,279 yards and 12 receiving scores. Ivan McCartney was a solid No. 3 option last year, catching 49 passes for 585 yards, but his status for 2012 was up in the air early in fall practice. This group could get a boost from freshmen Jordan Thompson, Dante Campbell and Travares Copeland.

4. Tennessee "If" is the key word surrounding Tennessee’s receiving corps for 2012. Justin Hunter was off to a fast start in 2011 but suffered a torn ACL in the third game of the season. He is expected to be at full strength this fall. Da’Rick Rogers led the team with 67 receptions for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns, but he spent most of the spring in Derek Dooley’s doghouse. If Hunter and Rogers stay on the field, Tennessee will have the SEC’s best collection of pass-catchers, especially with tight end Mychal Rivera and junior college wideout Cordarrelle Patterson expected to be significant contributors.

5. Baylor Kendall Wright will be catching passes on Sundays, but Art Briles isn’t worried about his receiving corps for new quarterback Nick Florence. Terrance Williams finished second on the team with 59 receptions for 957 yards last year and should assume the go-to role in 2012. Tevin Reese returns after averaging 17.2 yards per catch last season and will be joined by Lanear Sampson (42 catches) and tight end Jordan Najvar (15 catches) as experienced and dangerous weapons for the Bears. This group got a boost in July with the addition of Michigan transfer Darryl Stonum.

6. Florida State If the Seminoles can find the right mix on the offensive line, quarterback EJ Manuel is going to have a huge season. Rashad Greene was one of the ACC’s top receivers last season, even after missing four games due to injury. Look for the sophomore lead the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns in 2012. Senior Rodney Smith caught 36 passes last year and is back as a solid No. 2 threat. The Seminoles are loaded with options outside of Greene and Smith, including sophomore Christian Green and juniors Willie Haulstead and Kenny Shaw. Redshirt freshman Kelvin Benjamin has the talent to become a major factor in the receiving corps in 2012.

7. Washington Even with Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar departing, the Huskies are still in great shape at receiver. Kasen Williams had a solid freshman campaign, catching 36 passes for 427 yards and six scores last year. Look for Williams to become the No. 1 target for quarterback Keith Price. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins also had a standout freshman season, nabbing 41 receptions for 538 yards and six touchdowns. Seniors James Johnson and Cody Bruns are experienced and will factor prominently into the receiving corps.

8. Georgia Wide receiver or cornerback? That’s the question facing the Bulldogs coaching staff and where to play Malcolm Mitchell. With suspensions taking a toll in the secondary early in the year, Georgia may be forced to play Mitchell more on defense – at least through the first few games. Even if Mitchell has to play cornerback, there’s plenty of options for quarterback Aaron Murray. Senior Tavarres King led the team with 47 catches and 705 yards last year, while Michael Bennett returns after recording 32 receptions in 2011. The coaching staff hopes Marlon Brown finally reaches his potential, but the group has other contributors waiting in the wings, including Chris Conley and Justin Scott-Wesley.

9. Washington StateMike Leach pass-first offense should have no trouble getting off the ground this year. Marquess Wilson is one of the nation’s best receivers and will surpass 1,000 yards for the second year in a row. The Cougars need a few targets to step up around Wilson, and sophomore Kristoff Williams and freshman Dominique Williams will be two players to watch in fall practice. Converted tight end Andrei Lintz is also expected to be a key factor in the receiving corps.

10. Oklahoma How will the Sooners replace Ryan Broyles? That’s the big question facing this unit in the fall. The passing attack struggled once Broyles was knocked out for the year and now that he’s moved onto the NFL, the door is open for inexperienced players to step up. Junior Kenny Stills should challenge for first-team All-Big 12 honors, and freshman Trey Metoyer is one of the Big 12’s top breakout players. However, after Stills and Metoyer is where the question marks begin. Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks are suspended indefinitely, leaving freshmen Durron Neal, Derrick Woods and Sterling Shepard as major contributors. Junior college recruit Lacoltan Bester joined the team after spring practice and will be a wildcard to watch this fall.

11. Texas A&M New coach Kevin Sumlin and coordinator Kliff Kingsbury are no stranger to producing standout passing attacks. During Sumlin’s tenure at Houston, the Cougars ranked among the nation’s best through the air. With a new quarterback taking over, it could be a challenge finishing in the top 10 in passing offense this season. However, the Aggies have plenty of receivers to ease the transition. Senior Ryan Swope will be the No. 1 target after catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 scores last year. Uzoma Nwachukwu (50 catches) and Kenric McNeal (8 catches) are experienced receivers, but sophomore Malcome Kennedy and freshman Thomas Johnson will figure prominently into the mix.

12. TCUThe Horned Frogs should have no trouble fitting into the offensive-minded Big 12. Quarterback Casey Pachall is back after throwing for 2,921 yards and 25 scores last season, and he will be throwing to a deep, athletic group of receivers. Josh Boyce is the headliner, catching 61 passes for 998 yards and nine scores last year. Skye Dawson (45 catches) and Brandon Carter (23) are back as the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers, while sophomore David Porter and freshman LaDarius Brown will add depth and playmaking ability.

13. Texas TechAs usual, the Red Raiders aren’t short on receiving options. Eric Ward led the team with 84 catches, 800 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and is primed to be the team’s go-to target once again in 2012. Darrin Moore got off to a fast start last year, but an injury prevented him from becoming a bigger factor in the offense. Moore’s status with the team for 2012 is up in the air due to an off-the-field incident. Senior Alex Torres is a dependable option for quarterback Seth Doege, but he is recovering from a torn ACL. This group needs freshman Jakeem Grant and sophomores Jace Amaro and Bradley Marquez to step up as key contributors in 2012.

14. Texas There’s no question the Longhorns have talent here. However, the quarterback position remains a concern going into fall practice. Jaxon Shipley had a standout freshman season, catching 44 passes for 607 yards and three touchdowns. He should be an even bigger factor in the passing attack this year. Mike Davis heads into his junior year with back-to-back seasons of at least 45 catches, while freshman Cayleb Jones could be an impact newcomer. The wildcard to watch will be redshirt freshman tight end M.J. McFarland.

15. BYU The Cougars return their top three targets from last season, including Cody Hoffman (61 catches) and Ross Apo (34). JD Falslev will serve as the No. 3 option for quarterback Riley Nelson after grabbing 31 passes last year. Marcus Mathews caught 27 passes last season and is the likely starter at tight end.

16. Notre Dame Michael Floyd will be missed, but the Fighting Irish return the nation’s best tight end (Tyler Eifert) and capable targets in TJ Jones, Theo Riddick and Robby Toma. DaVaris Daniels and Davonte Neal are two names to watch in 2012.

17. Missouri T.J. Moe is back as the No. 1 receiver, but all of the excitement in Columbia is with Dorial Green-Beckham. The true freshman ranked as the top prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and should be an impact newcomer. Juniors Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington will likely be the No. 3 and No. 4 options for quarterback James Franklin.

18. Nebraska It’s a weak year for receivers in the Big Ten, but there’s also a lot of potential with the group returning to Nebraska. Kenny Bell had a solid freshman campaign in 2011, catching 32 passes for 461 yards and three scores. He should be the go-to target for quarterback Taylor Martinez, but keep an eye on sophomore Jamal Turner and junior Quincy Enunwa. The Cornhuskers are in great shape at tight end with seniors Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton returning.

19. South FloridaThe Bulls should have the Big East’s No. 1 receiving corps, especially if Sterling Griffin can stay healthy for the entire year. The junior emerged as the favorite receiver for quarterback B.J. Daniels, but a foot injury sidelined him late in the season. Sophomore Andre Davis is an intriguing talent, while the coaching staff hopes Florida transfer Chris Dunkley can become another dangerous weapon for Daniels. Tight end Evan Landi is an underrated option over the middle.  

20. RutgersMohamed Sanu is gone, but the cupboard is far from bare for coach Kyle Flood. Senior Mark Harrison looks to bounce back after a disappointing junior year, while sophomore Brandon Coleman should be one of the Big East’s top breakout players. Senior Tim Wright and junior Quron Pratt will see plenty of snaps as the No. 3 and No. 4 options. Tight end D.C. Jefferson is due for a breakout season and should see more passes his way with Sanu catching passes in the NFL.

 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Florida State, Virginia Tech and Clemson are the clear favorites to win the ACC title in 2012 and there's no shortage of players from those three teams in the top 50 players. Clemson's Sammy Watkins will serve a two-game suspension this year but ranks as the conference's best player. Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas should be better in his second season as the starter, while Florida State is loaded with defensive talent. 

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 ACC Players for 2012

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

2. David Amerson, CB, NC State
At 6-foot-3, 194 pounds, Amerson has uncommon size for a cornerback. He also put up uncommon results last season. His 13 interceptions last season were an ACC record and one short of the FBS record held by Washington’s Al Worley. Amerson had four multi-interception games last season and returned two picks for touchdowns. Hard to believe, but Amerson did not have any interceptions in his first season in 2010.

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

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

5. Joe Vellano, DT, Maryland 
The 6-foot-1, 285-pound defensive end from Rexford, N.Y., is the star of the Maryland roster. He led the nation in tackles per game (7.8) by a lineman last year. He has started all 25 games the last two years with 157 tackles, 18.0 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. While he doesn’t possess true down lineman size that the scouts on Sundays look for, his motor is unmatched by most of the nation and allows him to achieve at an All-American level. It is why he is ranked as the ACC’s top defensive lineman by Athlon Sports for the 2012 season.

6. Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State
Jenkins’ numbers dropped last year, but he still remains one of the nation’s top pass rushers. He recorded 13.5 sacks as a sophomore in 2010 but with defenses paying more attention to his side of the line, Jenkins finished with eight sacks and 12 tackles for a loss in 2011. The Tallahassee native has earned All-ACC honors each of the last two years and is on the preseason watchlists for the Bednarik, Nagurski and Lott Impact Trophy. With Bjoern Werner emerging as one of the ACC’s top ends on the other side, Jenkins and Florida State's defensive line should rank among the nation's best.

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

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

9. James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech
A second-team All-ACC selection last season, Gayle tied for sixth in the conference and led Virginia Tech in sacks with seven. He also had 38 total tackles and was second on the team with 12.5 tackles for a loss. He was named the ACC’s Defensive Lineman of the Week on two different occasions in 2011 and started every game he played in (13), missing one due to injury.

10. Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Werner is one of the most interesting stories in the ACC. As a German exchange student, he played only two seasons of high school football in the United States and quickly emerged as a key member of Florida State’s rotation in the trenches. Werner recorded 37 stops, seven sacks and 11 tackles for a loss last year and is an Athlon Sports second-team All-ACC selection for 2012. With Brandon Jenkins back on the other side for his senior year, Florida State should have one of the top defensive end combinations in college football.

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

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

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

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

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

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

17. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
A second-team All-ACC selection last season, Fuller established himself as the next great Virginia Tech defensive back in 2011. After playing primarily in the Hokies’ nickel package in 2010, Fuller started all 14 games last season – half of those at nickel back/whip linebacker and the other seven at cornerback. Fuller led the team with 14.5 tackles for a loss and also added 4.5 sacks and two interceptions.

18. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
While Greg Reid will be missed, Rhodes was Florida State’s top cover corner and should keep the Seminoles ranked among the top 25 in pass defense in 2012. Rhodes had a strong freshman year, recording 58 stops and four interceptions and earning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. His play in 2011 dropped off a bit, but at 6-foot-2, 217 pounds, Rhodes should easily bounce back into All-American contention.

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

20. Lamarcus Joyner, S, Florida State
After playing in all 14 games at cornerback as a true freshman in 2010, Joyner moved back to safety in time for 2011 and emerged as one of the ACC’s top defensive backs. He recorded 54 stops and four interceptions, while earning first-team All-ACC honors. At 5-foot-8 and 195 pounds, Joyner is a tad undersized for safety, but his physical presence, speed and range make up for any concerns about his height.

21. Nitkita Whitlock, DT, Wake Forest
The self-proclaimed 5-foot-9 and ¾ defensive tackle (don’t forget those three-quarters by the way) has come a long way from Texas prep outside linebacker with no offers to play Division I football. Heading into 2012, Whitlock has become one of the peskiest defensive lineman in the nation after a second-team All-ACC, 64-tackle, 14.0-TFL season in 2011. 

22. Bruce Taylor, LB, Virginia Tech
Taylor led the team in tackles in 2010 and was doing the same through the first eight games of last season before suffering a leg injury that cut his junior campaign short. Despite missing the last six games, Taylor still earned honorable mention All-ACC recognition after posting a total of 53 tackles, seven tackles for a loss and five sacks in less than eight full games.

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

24. Jeremiah Attaochu, LB, Georgia Tech 
Despite missing two games a year ago, Attaochu led the team in sacks (6.0) and tackles for a loss (11.5). He is developing into one of the most dynamic edge players in the ACC and can be unblockable on the outside. The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder from Washington, D.C., is only a junior and has a chance to explode onto the national scene. Improving the ACC’s seventh-ranked rush defense would go a long way to getting Tech back to the title game.

25. Earl Wolff, S, NC State 
In one of the nation’s top secondaries, Wolff locks down the back end. He is a physical player at 6-foot-0 and 207 pounds and it showed with his 105 tackles last year — good for second on the team. He intercepted three passes while playing for a defense that led the ACC in turnover margin (+1.08/game). The senior from Raeford, N.C., returns for his final season with eyes on a conference championship.

26. Merrill Noel, CB, Wake Forest
Jim Grobe’s penchant for redshirting freshmen paid off again as Noel was widely recognized as a freshman All-American last season. The ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year had an astonishing 19 pass breakouts to go with 66 tackles and two picks.

27. Steve Greer, LB, Virginia
The only major holdover from the Al Groh era, Greer is an anchor at linebacker for his second coach and second scheme (from 3-4 to 4-3) in Charlottesville. The fifth-year senior led the Cavs in tackles last season with a career-high 103 stops despite missing the bowl game. 

28. Kevin Reddick, LB, North Carolina
Reddick is a four-year starter at linebacker who finished second on team in tackles last season with 71 total stops, 39 of those solo. He was the Tar Heels' leading tackler in 2010 with 74 (48 solo stops) and was named to The Sporting News' All-ACC Freshman team in 2009.

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

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

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

32. Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
If ACC fans weren’t familiar with Jernigan after his standout freshman season, it might be time to get acquainted. He quickly emerged as Florida State’s top defensive tackle, recording 30 stops and six tackles for a loss. Jernigan is already garnering plenty of attention this preseason, as he was named to the Outland Trophy watchlist and is an Athlon Sports third-team All-ACC selection. With another offseason to work in the weight room and with coordinator Mark Stoops, look for Jernigan to build off his impressive debut season.  

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

34. Anthony Chickillo, DE, Miami
The sophomore from Tampa, Fla., is one of the few proven commodities along the Miami defensive line. He never takes a play off and has all the physical tools at 6-foot-4, 250-pounds to become an All-ACC star. Yet, he is still young and has plenty of growing to do. Should some names develop around him, Chickillo could become the Canes top defensive player.

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

36. Demetrius Hartsfield, LB, Maryland 
The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder from Raleigh, N.C., had to fill the void when Kenny Tate got hurt a year ago. He performed more than admirably by posting 12.0 tackles per game, good for fifth nationally and second in the ACC.

37. Christian Jones, LB, Florida State
Jones is on the move this year, switching from the strongside to the weakside of the linebacking corps. Although the change in positions isn’t that big of a deal, Jones helped in coverage from the strongside in 2011 and that assignment is expected to go to converted safety Nick Moody in 2012. Moving to the weakside should help Jones be more of a playmaker for Florida State’s defense this year.

38. J.R. Collins, DE, Virginia Tech
Collins earned honorable mention All-ACC honors last season after starting all 14 games and leading Hokie defensive linemen with 57 total tackles. He also contributed 9.5 tackles for a loss, six sacks and picked off a pass.

39. Kenny Tate, LB, Maryland
Tate received a medical redshirt after missing all but four games last season, giving the Terrapins a major boost on defense. He had 100 tackles, 8.5 for a loss and three interceptions in his last full season in 2010. He’s a former safety looking to play a full year at linebacker.

40. Everett Dawkins, DT, Florida State
The Seminoles are overflowing with depth on the defensive line. Ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner are two of the best in the ACC, while sophomore Timmy Jernigan is a rising star in the middle. In his first full year as the starter last season, Dawkins recorded 25 tackles and earned honorable mention All-ACC honors.

41. Kevin Parks, RB, Virginia 
All this record-setting back needs is touches. He is built low to the ground, which makes him impossible to hit cleanly, and plays much bigger than his 5-8 frame,. All he did in his first two college games last year was score five touchdowns. 

42. Antone Exum, CB, Virginia Tech
An honorable mention All-ACC selection at safety in 2011, Exum is expected to start at cornerback for the Hokies this fall. Exum led the team with 89 total tackles and had 10 pass break ups to go with one interception.

43. Derrick Hopkins, DE, Virginia Tech
Hopkins started all 14 games last season, including five of them alongside older brother Antoine, on the Hokies’ defensive line. Derrick finished his first season as a full-time starter with 51 total tackles, five tackles for a loss and three sacks.

44. Tanner Price, QB, Wake Forest
Price was one of the most improved players in the ACC last season, passing for 3,017 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. He improved his completion percentage from 56.8 percent to 60 percent as well.

45. Brandan Bishop, S, NC State
David Amerson garners much of the attention in the Wolfpack secondary, but Bishop and fellow safety Earl Wolff form a solid duo. Bishop has nine interceptions and 204 tackles over the last three years.

46. Malliciah Goodman, DE, Clemson
A senior and a returning starter, Goodman (51 tackles, eight quarterback hurries) is the key player on a Tigers defensive line lacking depth and veterans.

47. Michael Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest
With Chris Givens moving onto the NFL, Campanaro will become the new No. 1 receiver for quarterback Tanner Price. He had a huge sophomore year last season, catching 73 passes for 833 yards and two scores. The junior will have a chance to push those totals even higher in 2012. 

48. Orwin Smith, RB, Georgia Tech
Smith is a home-run threat out of the backfield for the Yellow Jackets, averaging an national-best 10.1 yards per carry. Eleven of his 61 touches went for touchdowns.

49. Kevin Pierre-Paul, LB, Boston College 
With Luke Kuechly departing, KPP will have to be a leader now on the weakside. The slightly undersized (6-1, 212) junior from Norwalk, Conn., finished second on the team in tackles with 74 stops.

50. Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
After transferring from junior college, Williams made his presence known immediately as he was one of four North Carolina defensive players to start all 13 games in 2011. Williams finished his junior season with 54 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, three pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.


Team Breakdown of Athlon's Top 50 ACC Players

Boston College - 1
Clemson - 6
Duke - 1
Florida State - 9
Georgia Tech - 3
Maryland - 3
Miami - 1
NC State - 4
North Carolina - 6
Virginia - 5
Virginia Tech - 7
Wake Forest - 4

 

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

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

Illinois

Opposing coaches size up the Fighting Illini: “I hated to see the Zooker (Ron Zook) get let go last season, but you could see it coming. After getting to the Rose Bowl a few years ago and then regressing after that, it was only a matter of time if he didn’t do better than 6–6. … I think Tim Beckman steps into a great situation in his first season at Illinois because they have a lot of talent returning. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is the key. He should be the biggest beneficiary under Beckman’s offense that had no problems lighting up the scoreboards at Toledo. Scheelhaase should have a breakout season if Illinois can find an adequate replacement for wide receiver A.J. Jenkins. He was really productive last year. … The defense was underrated last season, and they could be as good or better. Of course, I may be in the minority thinking that way since defensive end Whitney Mercilus is gone, but they have seven or eight returning starters, including nearly the entire defensive backfield. … I ultimately think Beckman will be successful at Illinois, but how successful his first season is depends on how they fare on the Big Ten road against Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State and Northwestern. They’ve got to steal a game or two on the road.”

Indiana

Opposing coaches size up the Hoosiers: “Wow. Poor Kevin Wilson. It didn’t take long for him to find out the difference between coaching as an assistant with Bob Stoops at Oklahoma and being a head coach at Indiana. One win and 11 losses, and losses to teams like Ball State and North Texas. At least we know it can’t get any worse in Year 2. They also catch a break in the Big Ten portion of their schedule as none of the road trips are too daunting: Northwestern, Illinois, Penn State and Purdue. … Quarterback Tre Roberson, running back Stephen Houston and wide receiver Kofi Hughes, their top three offensive players, all return for new coordinator Seth Littrell. A bunch of defensive linemen are back — Larry Black, Adam Replogle, Bobby Richardson and Ryan Phillis. … I know Wilson also is counting on a number of junior college transfers to contribute immediately. This will be key for them because last season Wilson was forced to play mostly freshman, and it showed. This go-around, the Hoosiers should be vastly improved. I don’t think they’ll be so much improved that they’ll be bowl bound, but they’ll certainly win more games and be a lot more competitive in 2012 compared to last season. They have to be.”

Iowa

Opposing coaches size up the Hawkeyes: “Kirk Ferentz has had a great run in Iowa and makes it look much easier than most people realize, but the Hawkeyes have had a little bit of a dip, at least by their standards, the past two seasons. They had eight wins two years ago on a team that was loaded and then last year they only won seven games. … A number of off-the-field issues have grabbed headlines along with a run of bad luck on the injury front. Ferentz’s job security is fine, but I think a number of people are beginning to wonder if Iowa can return to prominence and be among the Big Ten’s elite teams. … For the first time since he came to Iowa, Ferentz will have a new offensive and defensive coordinator in Greg Davis and Phil Parker. … James Vandenberg is back at quarterback. He’ll be one of the better quarterbacks in the league, but his top target from last year, wide receiver Marvin McNutt, is gone as is leading rusher Marcus Coker. Those two guys are huge losses. They also must replace five or six starters from the defense. … The schedule sets up nicely for them in that a 5–0 start is not out of the question. Ferentz should have no trouble getting back to a bowl game, but challenging the upper echelon of the Big Ten seems more in the Hawkeyes’ past than their immediate future.””

Michigan

Opposing coaches size up the Wolverines: “I wonder what Brady Hoke can do for an encore. It was not a bad Michigan debut for Hoke by winning 11 games, beating Ohio State and winning the Sugar Bowl. Although I’m sure Michigan fans would not list them in that order of importance. Now how can Hoke follow that up or improve on it? It won’t take long to find out as we’ll certainly get a good idea if Michigan can be a legitimate national title contender when they open the season against Alabama in Dallas. … Quarterback Denard Robinson is back, along with running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and wide receiver Roy Roundtree. Junior Hemingway, who was Robinson’s favorite and sometimes only target, is gone, as well as defensive stopper Mike Martin. There’s no way to overemphasize his importance to the Wolverines’ defense last season. Martin is one of three defensive line starters that are gone, but basically the rest of the defense returns. They made huge strides under first-year coordinator Greg Mattison, but it’s imperative that they are able to consistently stop the run, especially against Alabama in the first game of the season and in Big Ten play. … I think Michigan can be even better than last season, but now that they’re expected to be better, can they handle the added expectations? That is the key for them.”

Michigan State

Opposing coaches size up the Spartans: “Kirk Cousins might not have been the most talented quarterback and he certainly wasn’t the most elusive in the pocket, but Cousins was the quintessential team leader and pulse of the Spartans. You don’t simply throw a new starter in there and replace someone with his character and integrity and all the intangibles he meant to the team. But that’s what Mark Dantonio’s got to try to do. Andrew Maxwell has the unenviable task of trying to replace Cousins as the Spartans’ quarterback. … If replacing Cousins isn’t daunting enough, the Spartans also must replace their top two receivers, B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin, and running back Edwin Baker. … While the offense takes some time to develop a new identity, the defense will be expected to do most of the heavy lifting. And the Spartans will be loaded on defense. Eight starters are back, including defensive backs Isaiah Lewis and Johnny Adams, linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, and defensive lineman William Gholston, all of which are All-Big Ten-caliber players. … I’ll be interested to see if the Spartans can return to the Big Ten Championship Game and also what kind of start they get off to with three tough home games early against Boise State, Notre Dame and Ohio State.”

Minnesota

Opposing coaches size up the Golden Gophers: “I say this with all due respect to Jerry Kill, but I hope this fall is a lot more boring for him. He is an amazing person, and I’m so grateful, as well as everyone else in our profession, that he is good to go this season after suffering those seizures. He obviously does not want any attention on him, but is more concerned about making the Golden Gophers better this year than last year and I think they will be. … Last season was so bizarre for Minnesota. They started the year almost upsetting USC in Los Angeles and then lose at home to New Mexico State and North Dakota State. Then in Big Ten play they upset Iowa and Illinois and nearly knock off Michigan State. … With quarterback MarQueis Gray back, Kill has a good one to continue to build the offense around. He’s a dual threat and should bring more consistency this year. … The defense was exposed at times last season and has a lot of work to do, but a number of regulars return so that’s promising. … For Minnesota to improve on last year’s three-win total, they need to stockpile some victories early, because their November schedule is brutal with games against Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska and Michigan State. … Kill is very good coach who will give that program a chance to get better in the next few years.”

Nebraska

Opposing coaches size up the Cornhuskers: “Most places, if they had a choice, would take nine wins a year. Nebraska is not one of those places. Bo Pelini’s nine-win season was viewed somewhat as a disappointment — okay, it was viewed as a major disappointment. … The Cornhuskers thought the Big Ten would have to adjust to them, but it was the other way around. Nebraska’s only signature victory was against a Michigan State team playing the week after an emotional Hail Mary upset against Wisconsin. The losses were brutal. They were blown out by Wisconsin and Michigan and upset at home by Northwestern. The Capital One Bowl loss to South Carolina summed up the year. … Will the Huskers bounce back or will they regress? They have nearly everyone back, at least most of the key contributors, such as quarterback Taylor Martinez, I-back Rex Burkhead and wide receiver Kenny Bell. I like Burkhead. He is really good. Tough kid. … The defense also returns nearly intact, but last year they were simply porous at times. I can’t remember the last time a Nebraska defense allowed that many points. Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini moved on to take the head coaching position at FAU, so we’ll get to see if John Papuchis, who was their defensive line coach, can fare any better as Nebraska’s new coordinator.”

Northwestern

Opposing coaches size up the Wildcats: “The Wildcats have proven they can put up plenty of points, but they just can’t get the hang of slowing down offenses. Dan Persa was a battler for Northwestern at quarterback, and Kain Colter takes over full-time for him. Pat Fitzgerald has a good offensive system in place, so I expect Colter will do just fine with the offense. They do, however, need more productivity from their running backs. They haven’t had a difference-maker at that position in a few years. … It’s the defense where the Wildcats need to make drastic improvements. They had a stretch last year where they allowed at least 30 points in five consecutive games. They still somehow managed a bowl game even with a leaky defense and a head-shaking loss at Army. … They lost a ton of seniors but do return starting linebackers Damien Proby, Collin Ellis and David Nwabuisi among five returning starters. … Northwestern’s first-half schedule is very manageable, and they conceivably could start 5–0, but the back end is loaded with games against Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State. Another bowl trip isn’t out of the question, but another six- or seven-win season is likely unless the defense makes huge strides.”

Ohio State

Opposing coaches size up the Buckeyes: “Last season, they had to deal with the suspensions of Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, Boom Herron and others to start the year. This time they have to deal with the realization that they are banned from playing in the postseason. Even with no hopes for a bowl game, Urban Meyer will quickly learn firsthand the expectations of coaching at Ohio State. … Meyer’s got most of the key contributors back from last season’s disappointing six-win team. Quarterback Braxton Miller is obviously the key to running Meyer’s spread attack. And Meyer’s got a good one. I have no doubt Miller will thrive in that system. … As promising as the offense looks with Miller at the controls, the defense could be even better. All but two starters return, led by defensive lineman John Simon and safety C.J. Barnett. … They are recruiting at a very high level. The first season might not be great, but they are set up to win at a high level in the next few years. … The schedule sets up very favorably for Meyer. Ohio State shouldn’t even be tested in its first four games before consecutive games against Michigan State and Nebraska. After that, the Buckeyes’ biggest challenge is their final two games against Wisconsin and Michigan. Ohio State should easily post eight wins under Meyer in his first season, and reaching double digits isn’t that much of a stretch.”

Penn State

Opposing coaches size up the Nittany Lions: “There is not a more difficult head coaching situation in the country than the one Bill O’Brien stepped into. Not only does he have the unenviable task of replacing the legend that was Joe Paterno, but what I think is worse is the unknown. Granted, no one still at the school had anything to do with that horrible tragedy, but you can bet rival recruiters will somehow bring that up when recruiting against Penn State. While dealing with any bombshell off-the-field distractions that could happen at any time, rebuilding the on-the-field product won’t be easy either. … Linebacker Gerald Hodges is one of their top returning players from what’s really a small group of returning starters (eight overall). … O’Brien obviously had a great deal of success with the Patriots as offensive coordinator, but how will that translate as a college head coach? I think he’ll be successful, but I know a lot of my colleagues who feel he won’t. It’s a lot easier to work with a Tom Brady than it is a Matt McGloin. Besides blocking out any off-the-field distractions, probably O’Brien’s biggest challenge is finally establishing a clear-cut starter. … The defense should be pretty good, as always, but I have serious issues with that team on offense.”

Purdue

Opposing coaches size up the Boilermakers: “Finally, Danny Hope posted a winning record in his third season with the Boilermakers. That’s pretty significant for him because you’d think he’s been nothing but jinxed since getting to Purdue. He has had four starting quarterbacks lost to injuries, but maybe his luck is finally evening out. Robert Marve, the kid who transferred from Miami, was able to get a sixth year from the NCAA after suffering a knee injury last year, and I think Purdue can win with him. Of course, they can also win with Caleb TerBush, who started last year, or Rob Henry, who also is back. One thing is certain: Purdue will not be short of quarterback options this year. Whoever ends up at quarterback will have plenty of weapons. Purdue returns a bunch of starters on offense and defense, so they should be able to build on last year’s seven-win season. … The talent level there is decent. Clearly not as good as the big boys in the league, but they do have some players to work with. … Other than a consecutive three-game stretch in the middle of the season against Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State, the Boilermakers won’t be huge underdogs in any other games, so Purdue could be headed for another winning season.”

Wisconsin

Opposing coaches size up the Badgers: “What has happened to Wisconsin is fascinating. The Badgers have lost six assistants since last year. They’re now scattered all over the country. It will be interesting to see how the staff comes together this year, with some new faces. … They also lost quarterback Russell Wilson, who was basically a one-year free agent, but Bret Bielema’s managed to bring in another quarterback in Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien. I don’t think O’Brien will put up the numbers that Wilson did, but he doesn’t have to — his main duty will be turning around and handing the ball to Montee Ball. … Ball’s decision to return for his senior season is a huge boost for the Badgers. I think most people, including myself, thought he would be gone to the NFL. I think the fact that Ball returns keeps the Badgers in the running for a third consecutive Rose Bowl trip. … Returning linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland lead what I thought was an underrated defense. For the most part, other than the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State and the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon, the defense shut down a lot of offenses. … If not for surrendering a couple of last-minute Hail Mary passes against Michigan State and Ohio State, the Badgers could have had an unbeaten regular season. The Badgers get both teams at home this year.”

 

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Teaser:
<p> Big Ten Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 05:17
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-25-running-back-units-2012
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They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context. 

Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature. 
 
Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.
 
It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 12th annual Athlon Awards. 
 
Athlon's Top 25 Running Back Units for 2012

1. LSUWhile there may not be an All-American in the backfield, the depth chart is overflowing with talent. Michael Ford and Spencer Ware each rushed for over 700 yards last season and enter 2012 as the frontrunners for playing time. However, Alfred Blue (539 yards), Kenny Hilliard (336) and Terrence Magee (133) each showed flashes of promise last year. True freshman Jeremy Hill also is expected to push for playing time. Even though the Tigers may not have a running back on the All-SEC team at the end of the season, having six players who could start for a lot of teams in the nation is certainly worth the No. 1 spot.

2. Wisconsin Beating last season’s totals (1,923 rush yards and 33 touchdowns) is an unrealistic expectation for Montee Ball, but he remains one of the top running backs in college football. The senior needs 19 rushing scores to set an NCAA career record and is college football’s top active rusher (3,310 yards) entering the 2012 season. Ball should be considered one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman Trophy this season. James White, who rushed for 713 yards last fall, is a valuable change-of-pace option for the Badgers and is expected to serve as the No. 2 back once again this year after rushing for 1,052 yards in 2010. Redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon should serve as the No. 3 back and is expected to be a future star in Madison.

3. Oregon LaMichael James is gone, but the Oregon rushing attack won’t slow down. Kenjon Barner returns after rushing for 939 yards and 11 scores in a reserve role last year. He may not match James’ rushing totals from last season, but Barner should be one of the Pac-12’s top rushers. De’Anthony Thomas is one of college football’s most dangerous all-around threats and should receive more opportunities in 2012. He rushed for 595 yards and seven scores, averaging 10.8 yards per rush attempt, while also catching 46 passes for 599 yards and nine scores last year as a freshman. True freshmen Bralon Addison and Byron Marshall will likely serve as the No. 3 and No. 4 backs.

4. South Carolina Marcus Lattimore’s 2011 season was abruptly ended by a knee injury in the 14–12 victory over Mississippi State. Although he was unable to participate in spring workouts, all signs point to a full recovery by fall practice. Lattimore is the most talented running back in college football and has 2,015 yards and 27 touchdowns through 20 career games. Brandon Wilds and Kenny Miles will battle for the role as top backup. True freshman Mike Davis will get an opportunity to play right away, but he could redshirt in preparation for a bigger role in the offense in 2013.

5. Alabama There’s no doubt that Trent Richardson will be missed; the Heisman Trophy finalist rushed for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns last year. But there’s no shortage of options for the Crimson Tide. Eddie Lacy averaged an impressive 7.1 yards per carry on 95 attempts last season and is expected to assume the No. 1 role. Redshirt freshman Dee Hart is a perfect change-of-pace threat, while true freshman T.J. Yeldon was one of the top performers in the spring. Jalston Fowler will also figure into the mix after rushing for 385 yards and four scores last year. Similar to LSU, Alabama may not have one running back that rushers for 1,000 yards, but the depth and talent here should ease any concerns about the rushing attack without Richardson.

6. Nebraska Strong rushing attacks are no stranger to Lincoln. The Cornhuskers averaged 217.2 yards per game on the ground last season, largely due to the play of running back Rex Burkhead. He led the team with 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns, while catching 21 passes for 177 yards and two scores. Burkhead is a workhorse (284 carries) and carried Nebraska to victories against Iowa (38 carries, 160 yards) and Michigan State (35 carries, 130 yards). The senior could push for 275-300 carries once again, especially with no proven go-to back behind him. Sophomore Ameer Abdullah is a good change-of-pace option, while fullback Mike Marrow could help in short-yardage situations.  

7. USC Exiting spring practice, the Trojans owned the nation’s top quarterback and receiving corps. With the addition of Penn State transfer Silas Redd, USC now owns one of the top 10 running back units in the nation. In his first season as a starter last year, Redd rushed for 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns with the Nittany Lions. Expect Redd to be the No. 1 back, but Curtis McNeal will figure prominently into the rushing attack. McNeal rushed for 1,005 yards and six scores last season and considering his size (5-foot-7, 190 pounds), is best suited as a change-of-pace option. Sophomore D.J. Morgan or redshirt freshman Buck Allen will work as the No. 3 back.

8. Stanford With Andrew Luck departing to the NFL, Stanford will lean more on its rushing attack to win in 2012. The good news? The depth chart is full of options for coach David Shaw. Stepfan Taylor is back after rushing for 1,330 yards and 10 scores last season. He was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection last season and is just the third back in school history to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Junior Anthony Wilkerson will serve as the top reserve after rushing for 282 yards and three scores last season. True freshman Barry Sanders has great bloodlines and is Stanford’s back of the future. However, he will likely serve as the No. 3 option this season. Redshirt freshman Kelsey Young could see time at receiver and running back in 2012.

9. Oklahoma StateAfter a standout sophomore season, the Cowboys are expecting even bigger things from Joseph Randle in 2012. He earned second-team All-Big 12 honors after rushing for 1,216 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. Randle was also a key factor in the passing attack, catching 43 passes for 266 yards and two scores. The junior will have more pressure on his shoulders to perform with the departure of quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon. Jeremy Smith was solid in a backup role last year, rushing for 646 yards and nine scores. He should push 100 carries once again in 2012.

10. TexasA strong case could be made the Longhorns have the No. 1 backfield in the Big 12. Despite battling a toe injury, Malcolm Brown had a standout freshman season, rushing for 742 yards and five touchdowns. Fellow freshman Joe Bergeron registered 463 yards and five scores last year. He had a strong spring and could push Brown for the No. 1 spot. Both players will have competition for snaps in the fall, as true freshman Johnathan Gray – the No. 7 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 – will be in the mix for time.

11. Arkansas – The return of Knile Davis should give the Razorbacks’ rushing attack a boost in 2012. Also joining Davis as key contributors will be Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo.

12. Pittsburgh – Ray Graham was on his way to rushing for over 1,000 yards last season but a torn ACL ended his 2011 year early. Graham and Isaac Bennett form a solid tandem, and this group will get a boost with the addition of highly-touted true freshman Rushel Shell.

13. North Carolina – Depth is an issue in the backfield, but starter Giovani Bernard (1,253 yards in 2011) is the ACC’s best running back.

14. TCU – Despite the loss of Ed Wesley, the Horned Frogs still have plenty of options in the backfield. Waymon James and Matthew Tucker form a solid one-two punch, while UCLA transfer Aundre Dean will likely be the No. 3 back.

15. Michigan State – With Edwin Baker leaving East Lansing, look for Le’Veon Bell to have a huge junior season. Senior Larry Caper (728 career yards) and sophomore Nick Hill will serve as the No. 2 and No. 3 options.

16. Clemson – Losing Mike Bellamy was a blow to the Tigers’ depth, but starter Andre Ellington is an Athlon Sports first-team All-ACC selection for 2012.

17. Utah – John White had a monster year in his first season after transferring from a junior college, rushing for 1,519 yards and 15 touchdowns. The Utes will likely turn to junior college recruit Kelvin York as White’s backup in 2012.

18. Vanderbilt – Zac Stacy is back after rushing for 1,193 yards and 14 scores last year, but the Commodores will get a boost in depth with the return of Warren Norman (missed 2011 due to injury). True freshman Brian Kimbrow will also figure into the mix.

19. Texas A&M – If Christine Michael returns 100 percent from a torn ACL, the Aggies should rank higher on this list by the end of the year. Junior Ben Malena and freshman Trey Williams will spell Michael when called upon in 2012.

20. Arizona State – Senior Cameron Marshall is the headliner for the Sun Devils, but there’s plenty of depth for coordinator Mike Norvell, including junior college recruit Marion Grice, freshman D.J. Foster and sophomore Deantre Lewis.

21. Oklahoma - The Sooners need Dominique Whaley to return at full strength, but there's proven depth with Roy Finch and Brennan Clay returning to Norman. Junior college recruit Damien Williams and true freshman Alex Ross will compete for snaps this fall. 

22. Michigan - The uncertainty surrounding Fitzgerald Toussaint's status has pushed the Wolverines' down this list for now. An off-the-field incident has clouded Toussaint's status for the opener and has allowed Thomas Rawls, Justice Hayes and Vincent Smith to push for more playing time.

23. Virginia - One of the key reasons for last season's turnaround at Virginia was due to the one-two punch of Perry Jones and Kevin Parks. Jones led the team in yards (915), but Parks held the edge in rushing touchdowns (9).

24. Notre Dame - Cierre Wood is back after rushing for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Expect the junior to challenge for that mark once again in 2012, but he will face competition for carries from USC transfer Amir Carlisle. 

25. Georgia - Despite losing Isaiah Crowell, the Bulldogs are still in good shape at running back. Ken Malcome enters fall practice as the No. 1 back, but true freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall will be in the mix. Georgia may not have one dominant rusher in 2012, but a committee approach should work out well with three talented rushers.  

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 25 Running Back Units for 2012</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 05:07
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas A&M Aggies, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/texas-am-aggies-2012-qb-battle-jameill-showers-vs-johnny-manziel
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Moving to the SEC was already expected to be a challenge for Texas A&M, but the Aggies will also have a new head coach and quarterback for 2012. Considering all of the new faces, it may take a season or two for all of the pieces to fall into place for new coach Kevin Sumlin. During Sumlin’s tenure at Houston, the Cougars boasted some of the nation’s top scoring offenses. Quarterback Case Keenum finished his career with 19,217 yards and 155 touchdowns – numbers that a Texas A&M quarterback will be unlikely to achieve over the next four seasons in the SEC. 

Although Sumlin and coordinator Kliff Kingsbury torched opposing defenses with the pass in Conference USA, the SEC will present a different challenge. 11 of the 12 defenses in the SEC ranked 27th or better nationally against the pass in 2011. While the spread, pass-first offenses can work in the SEC, there’s no question Sumlin will have to have more balance in order to contend in the West Division.

The Candidates:

#3 Jameill Showers (SO)
2011 stats: 40 yards, 0 TD, 33 rush yards, 1 TD

#2 Johnny Manziel (FR)
2011 stats: Redshirted

#16 Matt Joeckel (SO)
2011 stats: None

#6 Matt Davis (FR)
2011 stats: High School

The Breakdown:

Although the Aggies will have to break in a new quarterback, the line is one of the best in the nation and running back Christine Michael is a threat to rush for 1,000 yards.

Until a starter gets settled, look for Michael and the offensive line to shoulder much of the offensive focus early in the year.

Sophomore Jameill Showers served as the backup to Ryan Tannehill last season and completed 4 of 5 passes in limited work. He held onto the lead in spring practice, completing 20 of 31 throws for 203 yards and two touchdowns in Texas A&M’s spring game. Showers ranked as the No. 27 pro-style quarterback coming out of high school by Rivals. 

Johnny Manziel pushed Showers for time in the spring but an off-the-field issue has raised question marks about his status for the season opener. Manziel ranked higher among recruiting sites coming out of high school and brings more of a dual-threat presence to the offense. 

True freshman Matt Davis ranked as the No. 11 overall quarterback in the 2012 recruiting class by Athlon Sports and enrolled in time to compete for spring practice. Davis has an uphill battle to win the job as a true freshman, but he should be Texas A&M’s quarterback of the future.

Sophomore Matt Joeckel did not play last year and would seem like a longshot to win the starting job.

Related content: Texas A&M's 2012 Team Preview

Final Verdict:

Barring a push by Davis, the quarterback battle seems to be a two-man battle between Showers and Manziel. However, Manziel’s off-the-field incident certainly didn’t help his chances of winning the job.

Transitioning to a new offense and a tough defensive conference will likely make life difficult on Texas A&M’s quarterbacks this year. However, Showers should have plenty of time to throw behind a solid offensive line, while receiver Ryan Swope is one of the best in the SEC.

Expect Sumlin and Kingsbury to bring Showers along slowly, but there’s not much time to ease into the job with the SEC opener against Florida on Sept. 8.

Unless Showers or Manziel really struggles to move the offense, expect Davis to redshirt and make a run at the starting job next season.

Predicted Winner: Showers

 


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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Teaser:
<p> Texas A&amp;M Aggies 2012 QB Battle: Jameill Showers vs. Johnny Manziel</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 04:51
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-storylines-watch-fall-practice
Body:

The start of the 2012 college football season is just a few weeks away. However, as fall practice kicks off around the nation, plenty of unanswered questions remain, including some that will have an impact on the national title race. Athlon preps you for everything you need to know about fall practice with the 20 biggest storylines to watch over the next couple of weeks.

College Football's Top 20 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Is Zach Mettenberger the missing piece at LSU?
National championship caliber defense? Check. Punishing running game and offensive line? Check. Quarterback? Wait and see. The biggest issue for the Tigers in recent years has been quarterback play. Although LSU made the national title game last year, having a difference maker under center could make the Tigers the most complete team in college football. Mettenberger played sparingly last season, completing 8 of 11 passes for 92 yards in mop-up duty against Northwestern State. The Tigers won’t ask Mettenberger to win many games on his own, but his emergence will allow the offense to open up more in 2012 and finally give the team a chance to stretch the field. The junior will have his share of ups and downs in his first season, but it looks like LSU finally has a quarterback that it can lean on to win games through the air.

2. Bryan Bennett or Marcus Mariota: Who will start at quarterback for Oregon?
Regardless of whether Bennett or Mariota takes the first snap, Chip Kelly shouldn’t have too much concern about his quarterbacks. Sure, anytime that you replace a starter there is bound to be a few ups and downs. However, both players are more than capable of keeping Oregon’s offense as one of the best in the nation. Bennett played in eight games last season, including one start against Colorado. He finished the year with 369 passing yards and six touchdowns, along with recording 200 yards on the ground. Bennett entered spring practice with an edge, but Mariota closed the gap. The redshirt freshman dazzled in the spring game, throwing for 202 yards and one score, while adding 99 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Both players should be more dynamic on the ground than their predecessor (Darron Thomas). It could be a mystery as to which Oregon quarterback will be in the opener against Arkansas State, and both players could play significant snaps in 2012. Regardless of whether Mariota or Bennett starts the year, it’s unlikely the Ducks will have many concerns under center.

3. Can Texas improve its passing attack?
The Longhorns have the rushing attack and defense to win the Big 12. However, in a league known for offense, Texas still has to find a way to generate more from its quarterbacks. The Longhorns finished eighth in the conference in passing offense last year, and quarterbacks combined to throw 15 picks on 357 attempts. David Ash took control of the No. 1 spot late last season but injured a hamstring in summer workouts and could be limited for fall camp. Case McCoy and true freshman Conner Brewer will get every opportunity to win the job, but Ash is expected to finish atop the depth chart. Texas doesn’t need Ash to be Colt McCoy, but the passing attack has to be better than it was in 2011. With one of the nation’s deepest backfields and the Big 12’s best defense, Texas should be one of college football’s top 15 teams. However, winning the conference title and making a BCS bowl will come down to how quickly Ash, McCoy or Brewer can jumpstart the passing game.

4. How big of a concern is USC’s defensive line?
The Trojans’ best defense in 2012 may be the offense. With Matt Barkley back under center and Robert Woods and Marqise Lee catching passes, USC will have no trouble averaging around 40 points a game in 2012 – which is important since the Trojans will have to win with offense. The defense made improvement in the second year under coordinator Monte Kiffin last season but suffered some key departures on the line. End Nick Perry and tackles Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris depart, while end Devon Kennard suffered an injury in summer workouts and could miss 2012. With the personnel losses and Kennard’s injury, the Trojans are very thin up front. Wes Horton and George Uko are two solid building blocks, but the defense needs big contributions from freshmen Greg Townsend and Leonard Williams. USC’s issues in the trenches may not be a concern in Pac-12 play, but a national title appearance against a team from the SEC could expose the concerns up front.  

5. Will unproven commodities at wide receiver and defensive line derail title hopes at Oklahoma?
A prolific veteran quarterback, the best offensive line in the Big 12 and the return of Mike Stoops as defensive coordinator was enough to push Oklahoma in to the top five of the Athlon national rankings, but the Sooners have plenty of questions to answer if they’re going to compete for a national title. At receiver, the passing game struggled when Ryan Broyles was hurt. Now he’s gone permanently. That puts more pressure on Kenny Stills to be the No. 1 option. Meanwhile the suspension to Jaz Reynolds puts pressure on newcomers Trey Metoyer and Lacoltan Bester to perform right away. On the defensive line, seniors R.J. Washington, David King and Jamarkus McFarland have been around for a while, but they have yet to emerge as consistent factors on the defensive front. That needs to change if Oklahoma is going to be a factor in the national race.

6. How could early season suspensions hamper Georgia?
Mark Richt hasn’t revealed any suspensions other than two games for starting cornerback Sanders Commings, but a handful of other starters on the Bulldogs’ defense could miss a crucial game at Missouri in the second week of the season. Safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alex Ogletree are possibilities to miss the Tigers’ SEC debut. Rambo’s suspension could stretch into four games, which would include a home date with upstart Vanderbilt. The Commodores came within five points of upsetting the Bulldogs last season. Richt’s silence on the matter may be gamesmanship for the Missouri game, but even if Georgia’s only missing a couple of key players on defense, coordinator Todd Grantham may need to prepare his secondary to take some lumps.

7. How quickly can Alabama’s defense find replacements?
Losing Trent Richardson is a huge blow for the offense, but the Crimson Tide has capable replacements waiting in the wings with Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart. The biggest obstacle to a repeat national title will be the loss of several key players on defense, including All-SEC selections Mark Barron, Courtney Upshaw, Josh Chapman, Dont’a Hightower and Dre Kirkpatrick. Alabama has recruited well, so the cupboard is far from bare for coordinator Kirby Smart and coach Nick Saban. The secondary will have three new starters, but juniors Dee Milliner and John Fulton have experience at cornerback. Sophomore Vinnie Sunseri will likely start at strong safety. Additionally, junior college recruits Travell Dixon and Deion Belue had a solid spring and will push for time in the fall. The biggest questions on defense could be in the front seven. Jesse Williams will move from end to nose guard, while the starting linebacking corps could be composed of three sophomores. Repeating last season’s No. 1 rank in total, scoring, rush and pass defense is probably too much to ask of a rebuilt defense. However, don’t expect the Crimson Tide to suffer much of a drop in production, especially as some of the younger players get comfortable with more playing time.

8. Who’s leaving, who’s staying at Penn State?
Quarterback Rob Bolden is already gone to LSU. Meanwhile, coach Bill O’Brien says about 50 players have pledged to stay with the Nittany Lions despite ample opportunities to transfer immediately and without penalty. The biggest domino was standout running back Silas Redd with his transfer to USC. Even if Penn State starts the season without a mass exodus, players can leave any time before the start of the 2013 season without having to sit out a year. With Redd leaving, Penn State loses one of its only offensive threats. O’Brien also has to be concerned if one or two key players leave, others will follow.

9. Can Ohio State execute Urban Meyer’s spread offense?
After finishing last in the Big Ten in passing offense last season, plenty of doubts remain about quarterback Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes’ passing attack. Those concerns are amplified even more due to an offensive line that returns only two starters and a receiving corps that lacks a proven No. 1 option. Freshman Mike Thomas opened some eyes in the spring game, catching 12 passes for 131 yards. With Thomas’ emergence and the return of tight end Jake Stoneburner, the Buckeyes should have two solid targets for Miller. However, the receiving corps needs a big year from junior Philly Brown and sophomore Devin Smith. The potential is there for Ohio State’s offense to seamlessly pickup Meyer’s spread attack and emerge as one of the best in the conference. However, fall practice will be a good indicator of just how far the offensive line has come, which could hold the key to Ohio State’s season.

10. Is Marcus Lattimore fully healthy?
Reports from South Carolina indicate the Gamecocks star running back is ready to go for the season, but we won’t know for certain until we see Lattimore take the field for the first time since his Oct. 15 knee injury against Mississippi State. Steve Spurrier says the Gamecocks are protecting Lattimore in practice, so his first true game action may be the opener at Vanderbilt. Lattimore’s injury last season enabled Brandon Wilds and Kenny Miles to gain experience. South Carolina could be in better shape in the backfield than it was at the start of last season, but Lattimore’s knee may be the difference between winning the SEC East or not.

11. Can Oklahoma State repeat as Big 12 champs with a freshman QB?
There’s always pressure when you have to replace a quarterback like Brandon Weeden, but Lunt is under extra scrutiny in 2012, as the Cowboys hope to repeat as Big 12 champs. The freshman was one of three candidates vying for time in the spring and edged out J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf for the No. 1 spot. Walsh is expected to see time as a change of pace quarterback, but barring a setback in the fall, Lunt will be Oklahoma State’s starter in the opener against Savannah State. The Cowboys haven’t had much trouble producing good quarterback play under Mike Gundy, but it’s a lot to ask a true freshman quarterback to win a Big 12 title. Expect Oklahoma State to lean on running back Joseph Randle and a defense that led the nation in takeaways last season early in the year. However, for the Cowboys to win the Big 12, Lunt needs to be ready to deliver in the Big 12 opener on Sept. 29 against Texas. The freshman doesn’t have to be Brandon Weeden – but he needs to play beyond his years for Oklahoma State to repeat as Big 12 champs.

12. Who takes the lead at quarterback for Notre Dame?
If the Irish want to have any shot at topping last season’s win total (eight), they have to get better quarterback play. Tommy Rees led the team with 2,871 yards and 20 touchdowns last year but ran into off-the-field trouble and is suspended for the season opener. With Rees sidelined for the first game, the focus of the quarterback battle will shift to redshirt freshman Everett Golson, sophomore Andrew Hendrix and true freshman Gunner Kiel. Golson is an intriguing talent, as his dual-threat ability would give Notre Dame a different dimension on offense. Hendrix played in five contests last year, throwing for 249 yards and one touchdown while also adding 162 yards and one score on the ground. Golson and Hendrix figure to have an edge over Kiel for the No. 1 spot, but the true freshman will have every opportunity to earn playing time. Even if a starter doesn’t emerge, it’s important for the coaching staff to get Golson, Kiel and Hendrix as many snaps as possible, as neither of the trio have a career start.

13. Can Brent Venables fix Clemson’s problems on defense?
If Clemson’s Orange Bowl performance were an isolated incident, maybe it would be easier to accept (or maybe not, ask a Clemson fan or Kevin Steele). The 70 points allowed to West Virginia was the worst of the season by far, but Clemson’s defensive shortcomings were apparent all season. The Tigers ranked 70th or lower in six major defensive categories. Now, here comes Oklahoma’s Brent Venables to fix the Tigers’ D. Though Oklahoma fans may have grumbled, the Sooners finished in the top four in the Big 12 in total defense in each of Venables’ eight seasons as defensive coordinator. Clemson has eight returning starters on defense, but seven are at linebacker and defensive back. Inexperience and a lack of depth are major concerns on the defensive line. Venables might need to get creative while his defensive front grows up.

14. Is EJ Manuel the right quarterback to lead Florida State back to prominence?
Florida State fans have held high hopes for Manuel since he arrived on campus in 2008. After spending 2009 and 2010 as a backup to Christian Ponder, Manuel received the keys to the Seminoles’ offense last year, throwing for 2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns. He completed 65.3 percent of his throws and tossed only eight interceptions on 311 attempts. Although Manuel’s numbers weren’t eye-popping, it’s unfair to pin Florida State’s offensive concerns on him. The Seminoles struggled to establish the run, and the offensive line never found the right combination. Manuel was also bothered by a shoulder injury throughout the year and did not play in the 35-30 loss to Clemson. With a deep receiving corps returning and experience coming back on the line, Florida State’s offense should be improved in 2012. Manuel has all of the physical tools to succeed and should be more comfortable in his second year as the starter. While the Seminoles underachieved last season, Manuel is the right quarterback to lead Florida State back to a national title – provided his offensive line and rushing attack step up in 2012.

15. How quick can Boise State reload?
With only seven starters and a new quarterback under center, the Broncos will struggle to match last season's win total (12) and compete for a BCS bowl. Replacing quarterback Kellen Moore is no easy task, but junior Joe Southwick and freshman Nick Patti should keep the offense performing at a high level. Senior running back D.J. Harper is capable of rushing for over 1,000 yards but must stay healthy. Despite the return of only one starter, the Broncos should have one of the top defenses in the Mountain West. The opener at Michigan State will be a good barometer test, but the season finale against Nevada could decide if Boise State can finish inside of the top 10 in the BCS standings. Don't count out the Broncos from making another run at a BCS bowl. However, the personel losses suggest this team is probably one year away from playing in a BCS game.

16. What will we see from John L. Smith at Arkansas?
The motorcycle fiasco that eventually cost Bobby Petrino his job seems like ancient history. John L. Smith appears to have rallied the players, and then he enjoyed a charm offensive with reporters at SEC Media Days. All of that is great for the summer, but he’ll be back under the microscope on game days. Arkansas still has some questions on offense, including the line, the health of Knile Davis and depth in the receiving corps. The Hogs have early cakewalks against Jacksonville State and Louisiana-Monroe to iron out those issues before facing Alabama in Week Three.

17. If Stanford is going to rely on Stepfan Taylor to run the ball, who’s going to pave the way?
Wait, Stanford lost more than Andrew Luck in the offseason? Yes. David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin, both taken in the first 42 picks on the NFL draft, are gone. The other three starters (left guard David Yankey, center Sam Schwartzstein and right tackle Cameron Fleming) are back to form a solid foundation for the line. There’s healthy competition among returning players for the two vacant slots. Stanford’s impressive freshman line class -- which included three linemen in the Athlon Consensus 100 -- will be worth watching as well. True freshmen rarely start on the offensive line anywhere, but we should note Martin and DeCastro both started as redshirt freshmen at Stanford.

18. Which ACC contender will find the right mix on the offensive line?
Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech are expected to be the ACC’s best teams in 2012. However, neither of the three should feel particularly good about its offensive line. Virginia Tech must replace four starters, including standouts Blake DeChristopher and Jaymes Brooks. Center Andrew Miller is a solid place to start rebuilding but there’s very little experience around him. Florida State returns a handful of experienced players, but the starting five could all be sophomores. Clemson loses three starters but returns center Dalton Freeman. The Tigers have one of the college football’s top trios coming back (Tajh Boyd, Andre Ellington and Sammy Watkins), but the offense could sputter without better performance from the line. It’s possible that none of the three teams will find an answer during the year. However, whichever team can sort out its offensive line question marks the earliest could have the inside track at winning the ACC title.

19. Can Michigan find the right answers in the trenches?
Even with quarterback Denard Robinson returning, Michigan could find it difficult to repeat last season’s 11 wins. The Wolverines have a tough schedule and must replace two stalwarts from the trenches in center David Molk and defensive tackle Mike Martin. The Wolverines will likely turn to senior Ricky Barnum at center, while freshman Ondre Pipkins could play a key role on the defensive line. Considering Barnum’s experience and Taylor Lewan’s return at left tackle, the Wolverines should feel confident that the line can still perform at a high level. The defensive line is a bigger question mark, especially with run-first teams like Alabama, Michigan State and Nebraska on the schedule. It’s unreasonable to expect both units to match their production from 2011, but too much of a drop could cost Michigan a chance to win the Legends Division.

20. How will Danny O’Brien take the reins at Wisconsin?
Though O’Brien and Russell Wilson arrived under similar circumstances as graduate student transfers from the ACC, the Badgers shouldn’t necessarily expect similar results. Wilson had the best single-season for a Big Ten quarterback. Ill-suited as he may have been with the Terrapins under Randy Edsall, O’Brien did lose his starting job for a 2-10 Maryland team last season. Wilson was as accurate and efficient as any quarterback in the country, but he also took an active leadership role when he arrived on campus. O’Brien may have less on his shoulders thanks to Montee Ball, but how well he takes to his new team and new role may determine the course of the Badgers’ season.

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 20 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 05:50
Path: /college-football/big-east-footballs-breakout-players-2012
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Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task. 

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

Predicting the Big East's Breakout Players for 2012

Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, Coleman is one of the most physically imposing receivers in the nation. As a redshirt freshman last year, he caught 17 passes for 552 yards and six touchdowns. Coleman was playing at a high level at the end of the season, catching six passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns against Connecticut and an 86-yard touchdown reception in the bowl win over Iowa State. The Scarlet Knights need more stability from their quarterbacks, but with Mohamed Sanu moving onto the NFL, Coleman could become Rutgers’ go-to target.

Chris Coyer, QB, TempleWith running back Bernard Pierce leaving for the NFL, the Owls will probably ask more of Coyer in the air in 2012. He played in eight games last season (four starts) and finished with 562 yards and three scores on the ground. Coyer threw only 50 passes all of last year but threw six touchdowns and tossed zero interceptions. With Coyer’s rushing ability, the return of Matt Brown and the addition of Montel Harris, the Owls should have one of the Big East’s top rushing attacks. However, if Temple wants to make a push for a bowl game in its first year back in the Big East, Coyer needs to take his performance in four starts and expand that over a full season. 

Hubie Graham, TE, PittsburghNew coach Paul Chryst is bringing a pro-style offense back to Pittsburgh, and Graham should be one of the biggest benefactors of the change in offensive styles. He caught 28 passes for 325 yards and three scores last year but should increase those totals in 2012. Chryst’s offenses at Wisconsin heavily involved the tight ends – Jacob Pedersen caught 30 passes and eight touchdowns last year – so expect Graham to be one of the team’s leading receivers once again in 2012. 

Sterling Griffin, WR, South FloridaGriffin got off to a fast start last season, catching 40 passes through South Florida’s first seven games. During that stretch, he also nabbed two touchdown catches and posted 109 yards in the loss to Pittsburgh. Griffin’s progress was slowed after a broken foot suffered in the loss to Cincinnati, forcing him to miss the next four games. As long as the junior can stay healthy, he should be the No. 1 target for quarterback B.J. Daniels and is an Athlon Sports first-team All-Big East selection for 2012. 

DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville In some ways, Parker broke out last season. As a true freshman, he caught 18 passes for 291 yards and six touchdowns. His best performance came in the 24-17 loss to FIU, grabbing four receptions for 52 yards and one touchdown. With another offseason to work with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Parker should push for the team lead in receptions. As evidenced by his touchdown total from 2011 (6), Parker is one of the Big East’s top threats in the redzone and should be Bridgewater’s go-to guy around the goal-line once again.

Marcus Sales, WR, SyracuseSales was suspended for all of 2011 due to an off-the-field incident, but his return is huge for an offense that will rely on the pass to win in 2012. In 2010, Sales finished the year by catching at least five passes in each of the final four games, including 172 yards in the bowl win over Kansas State. Alec Lemon is entrenched as Syracuse’s go-to target, but Sales should help quarterback Ryan Nassib stretch the field and could push for All-Big East honors by the end of the year. 

Rushel Shell, RB, Pittsburgh With Ray Graham recovering from a torn ACL, the Pittsburgh coaching staff won’t rush him back into a full workload. Sophomore Isaac Bennett had a solid spring and is expected to see his share of carries in 2012, but it will be difficult to keep Shell on the sidelines. He ranked as the No. 33 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and will be expected to contribute early and often this season. Shell won’t beat out Graham for the No. 1 spot, but he should turn plenty of heads in his limited workload in 2012.

Marcus Smith, DE, LouisvilleThe Cardinals finished 10th nationally against the run last season, and this unit could be even better in 2012. Charlie Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford have accumulated depth and athletic ability, molding Louisville’s line into one of the best in the Big East. Smith has bounced around the field in his career, starting at quarterback and moving to linebacker in 2010. He moved to defensive end in 2011 and made five starts last season, recording 12 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Smith should be Louisville’s top pass rusher and will have an increased role in the defense in 2012. 

Walter Stewart, DE, Cincinnati Stewart certainly isn’t an unknown to fans in the Big East, but look for the senior to get some recognition on the national level in 2012. Derek Wolfe was one of the top defensive players in the Big East last season, and the Bearcats will lean on Stewart for the same type of production. He started all 13 games and recorded 44 stops, while also posting 11 tackles for a loss and six sacks. Losing Wolfe adds more pressure on the ends to produce, but Stewart is capable of pushing for the conference lead in sacks. 

Chandler Whitmer, QB, Connecticut All of the pieces are in place for the Huskies to push for the Big East title – except quarterback. Is Whitmer the answer under center? That’s the big question facing Connecticut in 2012. He started his career at Illinois but transferred after his redshirt freshman year to play one season at Butler Community College. Whitmer had a strong showing in the spring, completing 18 of 27 passes for 187 yards. The sophomore doesn’t have to throw for 3,000 yards, but has to give Connecticut’s more offense a threat through the air. Whitmer may have a few ups and downs due to his inexperience, but he should give the Huskies a much-needed boost in the passing game. 


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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Teaser:
<p> Big East Football's Breakout Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 05:47
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oregon Ducks, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/oregon-ducks-2012-qb-battle-bryan-bennett-vs-marcus-mariota
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Darron Thomas’ decision to enter the NFL Draft caught some by surprise, but Oregon isn’t expecting to have much of a drop in production from its quarterbacks. Thomas threw for 5,910 yards and 66 touchdowns in his career and led the Ducks to two BCS bowls. Chip Kelly is one of the top offensive minds in college football and even with a new signal-caller, Oregon should rank among the best in the nation in scoring and total offense in 2012.

The Candidates:

#2 Bryan Bennett

2011 stats: 369 yards, 6 TDs, 0 INT, 54.3; 200 rush yards

#8 Marcus Mariota

2011 stats: Redshirted

The Breakdown:

Bennett gained an early edge in the quarterback competition last season, playing well in relief of Darron Thomas against Arizona State and starting in the 45-2 blowout victory over Colorado. In the win against the Buffaloes, Bennett completed 11 of 20 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 69 yards on the ground.

Although Bennett had the edge in experience entering spring practice, the coaching staff had an open competition, allowing redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota to fight his way into the mix. He ranked as the No. 12 dual-threat quarterback in the nation by Rivals.com in the 2011 recruiting class.

Mariota was the better quarterback in the spring game, completing 18 of 26 passes for 202 yards and one score, while adding 99 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. However, Bennett wasn’t too far behind in the throwing department, completing 19 of 32 attempts for 209 yards. The only downside to his passing numbers was two interceptions.

While it’s easy to put stock in a spring game performance, it’s important to remember the offense was divided into two teams, and Mariota had the advantage of playing with a better offensive line.

Final Verdict

There’s no question Chip Kelly has a tough decision to make. However, the news isn’t all bad, as Oregon has two options capable of leading this team to another Pac-12 Championship. And it’s not of the question that both players will be needed to play this year and a two-quarterback system could be used.

Bennett owns the edge in experience, but Mariota brings more big-play ability on the ground. Bennett is certainly a capable runner, but Mariota would seem to provide more of a big-play threat. Both players are inexperienced as passers, which could be the one area that receives the most attention in the fall.   

Whenever there’s a new starter under center, a few bumps in the road can be expected. However, expect a fairly seamless transition from Thomas to Bennett/Mariota.

Although Mariota won the spring game, this battle is a virtual dead heat going into the season opener against Arkansas State.

Predicted Winner: Mariota
 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

 


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Teaser:
<p> Oregon Ducks 2012 QB Battle: Bryan Bennett vs. Marcus Mariota</p>
Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 04:27
Path: /college-football/secs-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice
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Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

The SEC's 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Is Zach Mettenberger the missing piece at LSU?
National championship caliber defense? Check. Punishing running game and offensive line? Check. Quarterback? Wait and see. The biggest issue for the Tigers in recent years has been quarterback play. Although LSU made the national title game last year, having a difference maker under center could make the Tigers the most complete team in college football. Mettenberger played sparingly last season, completing 8 of 11 passes for 92 yards in mop-up duty against Northwestern State. The Tigers won’t ask Mettenberger to win many games on his own, but his emergence will allow the offense to open up more in 2012 and finally give the team a chance to stretch the field. The junior will have his share of ups and downs in his first season, but it looks like LSU finally has a quarterback that it can lean on to win games through the air.

2. How could early season suspensions hamper Georgia?
Mark Richt hasn’t revealed any suspensions other than two games for starting cornerback Sanders Commings, but a handful of other starters on the Bulldogs’ defense could miss a crucial game at Missouri in the second week of the season. Safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alex Ogletree are possibilities to miss the Tigers’ SEC debut. Rambo’s suspension could stretch into four games, which would include a home date with upstart Vanderbilt. The Commodores came within five points of upsetting the Bulldogs last season. Richt’s silence on the matter may be gamesmanship for the Missouri game, but even if Georgia’s only missing a couple of key players on defense, coordinator Todd Grantham may need to prepare his secondary to take some lumps.

3. How quickly can Alabama’s defense find replacements?
Losing Trent Richardson is a huge blow for the offense, but the Crimson Tide has capable replacements waiting in the wings with Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart. The biggest obstacle to a repeat national title will be the loss of several key players on defense, including All-SEC selections Mark Barron, Courtney Upshaw, Josh Chapman, Dont’a Hightower and Dre Kirkpatrick. Alabama has recruited well, so the cupboard is far from bare for coordinator Kirby Smart and coach Nick Saban. The secondary will have three new starters, but juniors Dee Milliner and John Fulton have experience at cornerback. Sophomore Vinnie Sunseri will likely start at strong safety. Additionally, junior college recruits Travell Dixon and Deion Belue had a solid spring and will push for time in the fall. The biggest questions on defense could be in the front seven. Jesse Williams will move from end to nose guard, while the starting linebacking corps could be composed of three sophomores. Repeating last season’s No. 1 rank in total, scoring, rush and pass defense is probably too much to ask of a rebuilt defense. However, don’t expect the Crimson Tide to suffer much of a drop in production, especially as some of the younger players get comfortable with more playing time.

4. How is Florida’s offense shaking out?
Florida fans won’t have Charlie Weis to kick around anymore, but what does the addition of Brent Pease as offensive coordinator mean for the Gators’ murky quarterback situation? Sophomores Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett remain neck and neck for the starting job, but the Gators may need answers quickly. Customarily, the Gators’ first major test of the season isn’t until Week Three against Tennessee, but a Sept. 8 trip to Texas A&M probably speeds up the timetable. Driskel and Brissett have 73 pass attempts between them, but coach Will Muschamp is at least comforted they have 73 more attempts than they did a year ago. Both struggled to pass downfield, so the quarterback who’s able to stretch the field beyond 10 yards might get the early edge.

5. Is Marcus Lattimore fully healthy?
Reports from South Carolina indicate the Gamecocks star running back is ready to go for the season, but we won’t know for certain until we see Lattimore take the field for the first time since his Oct. 15 knee injury against Mississippi State. Steve Spurrier says the Gamecocks are protecting Lattimore in practice, so his first true game action may be the opener at Vanderbilt. Lattimore’s injury last season enabled Brandon Wilds and Kenny Miles to gain experience. South Carolina could be in better shape in the backfield than it was at the start of last season, but Lattimore’s knee may be the difference between winning the SEC East or not.

6. Is Missouri quarterback James Franklin healthy?
Moving from the Big 12 to the SEC will be a challenge for Missouri, but the task is even more difficult with Franklin returning from a shoulder injury. In his first season as a starter, Franklin threw for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 981 yards and 15 scores. Franklin missed most of spring practice due to an injury to his throwing shoulder but is on track to return by the season opener. Although the junior is expected to be ready to go by kickoff, the Tigers will have to be cautious. Franklin probably won’t handle 217 carries again, which makes the play of running backs Kendial Lawrence and Marcus Murphy even more important. Franklin will have a nice tune-up against SE Louisiana to test his arm, and it will be important to build some confidence with Georgia coming to Columbia in Week 2. Quarterbacks returning from a shoulder injury are always a concern, especially if there are any issues with lost arm strength or timing with receivers. However, all signs point to a full recovery from Franklin.

7. What happens when Tyler Bray hands the ball to a running back?
Tennessee’s rushing numbers have dropped in each of the last three seasons, bottoming out at 90.1 yards per game (116th nationally), 2.8 yards per carry (last in the SEC) and 11 rushing touchdowns. Bray and his receivers Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers will need to be the foundation of the offense, but the Volunteers’ run game needs to provide something. Rajion Neal may have the most potential in the Vols’ backfield after averaging nearly 5 yards per carry last season, but he’s a converted wide receiver who had trouble with fumbles. A committee approach might be the solution.

8. Quarterback Battles at Auburn and Texas A&M
LSU, Alabama and Arkansas seem set as the top three teams in the SEC West. However, the rest of the division is up for grabs, as Auburn, Texas A&M and Mississippi State could all make a case to be picked fourth. The Tigers are hoping sophomore Kiehl Frazier can emerge as the team’s No. 1 quarterback, and he left spring practice with a lead over junior Clint Moseley. New coordinator Scot Loeffler has implemented a pro-style attack, but Frazier – recruited to run Gus Malzahn’s spread – didn’t have much trouble picking up the offense in the spring. Not only is Texas A&M joining the SEC and breaking in a new coaching staff, but the Aggies must replace Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. Texas A&M hopes to implement a spread attack but there will be growing pains with little experience returning under center. Sophomore Jameill Showers left spring practice with an edge over Johnny Manziel and would be a surprise if that spot changed hands in the fall. Whichever team (Auburn or Texas A&M) settles its quarterback situation first could have a chance to put some pressure on Arkansas for third place in the SEC West.

9. What will we see from John L. Smith?
The motorcycle fiasco that eventually cost Bobby Petrino his job seems like ancient history. John L. Smith appears to have rallied the players, and then he enjoyed a charm offensive with reporters at SEC Media Days. All of that is great for the summer, but he’ll be back under the microscope on game days. Arkansas still has some questions on offense, including the line, the health of Knile Davis and depth in the receiving corps. The Hogs have early cakewalks against Jacksonville State and Louisiana-Monroe to iron out those issues before facing Alabama in Week Three.

10. Is Mississippi State ready to take the next step?
Outside of Kentucky and Vanderbilt, the toughest job in the SEC is at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs play in a brutal division and had only three winning seasons from 2000-2010. Dan Mullen has done a good job of getting the program pointed in the right direction, leading the Bulldogs to a 21-17 record in his first three years. However, it’s time for the program to take the next step. Mullen has yet to beat a team in the SEC West outside of Ole Miss. Despite the departure of quarterback Chris Relf and running back Vick Ballard, Mississippi State should be able to challenge for fourth place in the SEC West this season. LSU, Alabama and Arkansas are largely considered the top teams in the division, but Auburn and Texas A&M aren’t too far ahead of the Bulldogs. Even if Mississippi State doesn’t finish fourth in the SEC West, beating Tennessee on Oct. 13 or Arkansas on Nov. 17 would be another boost to the program. The Bulldogs have the schedule to make their third consecutive bowl appearance, but climbing higher in the SEC standings is one of the top goals for Mullen this season.
 

by David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

 

Related SEC Content

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2012 Is a Make or Break Year for Tennessee's Derek Dooley

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> SEC's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Friday, August 3, 2012 - 18:55
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/candidates-announced-johnny-unitas-golden-arm-award
Body:

The Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award is one of college football's premier honors and is awarded to the NCAA's top quarterback for on-field performance and character. 

Below are the preseason candidates for the Johnny Unitas Award and some of their accomplishments heading into 2012. 

Check out the official site for more information on the candidates and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.

Candidates for the 2012 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award

Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State
Aplin is one of the nation’s most underrated quarterbacks, recording 4,176 yards and 29 overall scores last year. New coach Gus Malzahn is bringing an up-tempo offense to Jonesboro, which should allow Aplin to have Arkansas State in the hunt for the Sun Belt title once again.

Matt Barkley, USC
The senior is widely considered to be college football’s best player and opens 2012 as a frontrunner for most national awards. Barkley has thrown for 80 career touchdowns and is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for 2012.

Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Boyd emerged as one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks in his first season as a starter. He finished with 3,828 yards and tossed 33 touchdowns while leading Clemson to its first ACC Championship since 2011.

Alex Carder, Western Michigan
Carder has been one of the MAC’s top quarterbacks over the last two years and had five games of at least 400 passing yards last season. He also set a Western Michigan single-season record with 3,873 passing yards in 2011.

Derek Carr, Fresno State
The last name Carr and Fresno State are no stranger to success. David Carr won the 2001 Johnny Unitas Award and Derek should be the Mountain West’s top quarterback in 2012. He threw for 3,544 yards and 26 scores in 2011.

B.J. Daniels, South Florida
Daniels posted a career-best 3,205 total yards last season and should be one of the Big East’s top offensive players in 2012. The senior is one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks and expects to have South Florida in the mix for the conference title.

Seth Doege, Texas Tech
Quarterbacks at Texas Tech are no stranger to producing eye-popping numbers. Doege threw for 4,004 yards and 28 touchdowns, while leading Texas Tech to a huge upset over Oklahoma on Oct. 22 in his first full season as the starter in 2011.

Nick Florence, Baylor
Replacing Robert Griffin is no easy task, but Florence is experienced and primed for a standout senior year. He has 1,992 yards and eight touchdowns in 18 career games and started seven contests when Griffin was out due to a torn ACL.

Mike Glennon, NC State
Glennon shined in his first season as NC State’s starter, throwing for 2,932 yards and 31 scores. He closed out the year on a tear, leading the Wolfpack to three consecutive wins, including a bowl victory over Louisville. Glennon should be one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks in 2012.

Landry Jones, Oklahoma
Already the holder of 13 school passing marks, Jones has thrown for 12,379 yards and 93 touchdowns in his first three seasons. A starter since his redshirt freshman season, Jones has led the Sooners to a 22-5 record the past two seasons and is 3-0 in bowl games for his career.

Collin Klein, Kansas State
All Klein did in his first season as the Wildcats' starter was throw for more than 1,900 yards and rush for more than 1,100 while leading the team to 10 wins. He accounted for a total of 40 touchdowns, including 27 on the ground, which established a new FBS record for quarterbacks.

EJ Manuel, Florida State
A shoulder injury hindered Manuel at times in 2011 and with a full offseason to recover, should have an All-ACC caliber senior year. Manuel threw for 2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns last season and added 151 yards and four scores on the ground.

AJ McCarron, Alabama
McCarron led the Crimson Tide to the national championship last season, throwing for 2,634 yards and 16 touchdowns. Even though it was his first year as the starter, McCarron tossed only five picks. McCarron will have a bigger role in the offense in this season and should easily surpass last season’s totals.

Aaron Murray, Georgia
In his second season as a stater, Murray led Georgia to the SEC Championship Game by passing for 3,149 yards and a school-record 35 touchdown passes. He was second-team All-SEC last season and should make another bid for the SEC East title.

Ryan Nassib, Syracuse
Quarterback had long been a trouble spot for Syracuse, but Nassib has bucked that trend. In 2011, Nassib set school records for completions (259) and passing yards (2,685).

Casey Pachall, TCU
After taking over for four-year starter and second-round draft pick, Pachall improved as the 2011 season went along, completing nearly two-thirds of his passes for 2,921 yards with 25 touchdowns.

Keith Price, Washington
Despite dealing with knee injuries for most of last year, Price delivered in a big way for Washington’s offense. He threw for 33 touchdowns and 3,063 yards, while adding three rushing scores on the ground in the bowl game over Baylor. A healthy year from Price should deliver big results for Washington.

Sean Renfree, Duke
Renfree is yet another name in a list of prolific passers to play for David Cutcliffe. Renfree has passed for 6,022 yards and 28 touchdowns in his two season as a starter.

Bryn Renner, North Carolina
Renner led the ACC and finished 10th nationally in pass efficiency. Now he plays for no-huddle spread expert Larry Fedora. Renner passed for 3,086 yards and 26 touchdowns in his first season as a starter.

Denard Robinson, Michigan
With speed, athleticism and elusiveness, Robinson is one of college football’s most exciting players. He has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons on the ground and threw for a career-best 20 passing scores last season. Robinson’s play is a huge reason why Michigan enters 2012 as the favorite to win the Big Ten title.

Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt
The younger brother of reigning NFL MVP and Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Jordan made a name for himself after taking over as the Commodores' starter halfway through last season. After averaging 20.4 points and 244.4 yards of offense through the first five games, Vanderbilt's output increased to 31.6 points and 413.0 yards in its final seven regular-season games with Rodgers running the show.

Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois
Scheelhaase accounted for nearly 60 percent of Illinois' total offense in 2011 as he threw for more than 2,000 yards also and led the team in rushing. He capped off his sophomore season by earning Offensive Player of the Game honors as he led the Fighting Illini to a 20-14 win over UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Geno Smith, West Virginia
A year after throwing for 4,385 yards and 31 scores, Smith is poised for an even bigger 2012 season. The senior has another offseason of experience in coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense under his belt, while the move to the offensive-minded Big 12 Conference shouldn’t hurt Smith’s numbers.

Brad Sorensen, Southern Utah
Sorensen has had an interesting journey to get to Southern Utah, starting his career at BYU and playing one season at San Bernardino Valley College. Sorensen has been one of the top players on the FCS level over the last two seasons, throwing for over 3,000 yards in both years and placing as a Payton Award finalist in 2011.

Tyler Tettleton, Ohio
Last season Tettleton took the Bobcats to new heights both statistically and in terms of team success. Besides quarterbacking an offense that shattered the school single-season records for points, passing yards and total yards, Tettleton led the Bobcats to 10 wins, including the program's first-ever bowl victory.

Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
One of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, all Thomas did in his first season as a starter was break the school single-season record for total yards with 3,482. The Hokies' second-leading rusher in 2011, Thomas accounted for a total of 30 touchdowns, including 11 on the ground.

Jeff Tuel, Washington State
Injuries never allowed Tuel’s 2011 season to get off the ground. He played in only three games and finished with 276 passing yards. With Mike Leach coordinating Washington State’s offense, look for Tuel to have a monster senior season.

James Vandenberg, Iowa
The best drop-back passer in the Big Ten, Vandenberg passed for 3,022 yards last season with 25 touchdowns in his first season as a starter.

Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
Arkansas has set a handful of passing records in the last three seasons. In his first season as starting quarterback, Wilson was no exception. He became the first Razorback quarterback to be named first-team All-SEC last season after passing for 4,378 yards and 31 touchdowns. 
 

Check out the official site for more information on the candidates and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.

Teaser:
<p> Candidates Announced for Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award</p>
Post date: Friday, August 3, 2012 - 12:34
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-football-top-5-storylines-watch-fall-practice
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Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

Notre Dame's 5 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Who takes the lead at quarterback?
If the Irish want to have any shot at topping last season’s win total (eight), they have to get better quarterback play. Tommy Rees led the team with 2,871 yards and 20 touchdowns last year but ran into off-the-field trouble and is suspended for the season opener. With Rees sidelined for the first game, the focus of the quarterback battle will shift to redshirt freshman Everett Golson, sophomore Andrew Hendrix and true freshman Gunner Kiel. Golson is an intriguing talent, as his dual-threat ability would give Notre Dame a different dimension on offense. Hendrix played in five contests last year, throwing for 249 yards and one touchdown while also adding 162 yards and one score on the ground. Golson and Hendrix figure to have an edge over Kiel for the No. 1 spot, but the true freshman will have every opportunity to earn playing time. Even if a starter doesn’t emerge, it’s important for the coaching staff to get Golson, Kiel and Hendrix as many snaps as possible, as neither of the trio have a career start. 

2. Will a receiver emerge as a clear No. 1 target?
There’s no doubt in South Bend that Michael Floyd will be missed. After catching 271 passes for 3,686 yards and 37 touchdowns over the last four years, Notre Dame will miss Floyd’s presence in the redzone and his big-play ability. The cupboard isn’t bare at receiver, as junior TJ Jones and seniors John Goodman, Robby Toma and Theo Riddick (who will play at running back and receiver this year) are capable targets. However, none are the go-to guy that Floyd was throughout his career. Freshmen DaVaris Daniels and Davonte Neal will factor prominently into the receiving corps and could be key contributors by the end of the season. Jones has been steady over his first two years in South Bend, but bigger things were expected of him when he committed to Notre Dame. Even if the catches are spread around the receiving corps, the Irish quarterbacks can lean on tight end Tyler Eifert. The senior is an Athlon first-team All-American for 2012. The Irish don’t necessarily need a true No. 1 receiver, but this unit needs Jones, Daniels and Neal to produce a few big plays and pickup where Floyd left off.

3. Can the Irish find answers in the secondary?
With three key players departing from the defensive backfield, Notre Dame will have a hard time replicating its 38th overall finish in pass defense from 2011. Cornerbacks Gary Gray and Robert Blanton weren’t standouts, but both were multi-year starters. Stepping into the spotlight will be juniors Bennett Jackson and Lo Wood and most of their experience has come on special teams. Jackson was solid in the spring, putting pressure on Wood to solidify the other spot in the fall. Depth is thin in the secondary, as inexperienced sophomores Cam McDaniel and Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown will likely compose the backup spots at cornerback. The situation is a little better at safety, but Notre Dame must replace standout Harrison Smith. The good news is Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta are capable players and should help pickup the leadership void left behind by Smith.

4. Can Aaron Lynch be replaced?
At one point this offseason, Notre Dame had a strong case to be ranked among the top five defensive lines in college football. However, Aaron Lynch’s surprising decision to leave South Bend in the spring was a huge loss for the defense. Lynch was just scratching the surface of his potential, recording 33 tackles and 5.5 sacks last year. Despite losing a player of Lynch’s caliber, the Irish should still be solid up front. Sophomore Stephon Tuitt will likely slide into Lynch’s spot after recording 30 tackles and two sacks last year. Senior Kapron Lewis-Moore will man the other end spot, while 326-pound nose guard Louis Nix III will anchor the middle. The coaching staff is also excited about the potential of freshman Sheldon Day and sophomore Chase Hounshell. Although losing Lynch was a setback, Notre Dame’s defensive line has the pieces in place to be stout once again.

5. Playmakers on defense
With Aaron Lynch’s departure, the Irish not only need a big season from end Stephon Tuitt but also linebacker Ishaq Williams. The sophomore recorded only six tackles in 11 contests last year. However, Williams has the physical ability and talent to be an impact player on defense, and Notre Dame needs him to become one of the team’s top pass rushers in 2012. Junior Prince Shembo is also expected to help pickup the slack from Lynch’s departure. With concerns about the secondary, it's important for Notre Dame to find players who can get after the quarterback. 

Related Notre Dame Content

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections
College Football's 2012 All-American Team

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2012 Team Preview

2012 College Football All-Name Team

Teaser:
<p> Notre Dame Football: Top 5 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Friday, August 3, 2012 - 05:40
Path: /college-football/big-ten-player-rankings-top-50-players-2012
Body:

As usual, the Big Ten should produce plenty of elite defensive talent this season. Ohio State's John Simon and Michigan State's William Gholston should be two of the top defensive ends in college football, while Purdue's Kawann Short should be a household name by the end of the year. The offensive side of the ball isn't bad, but the conference lost several key offensive linemen and receivers. 

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 Ten Players for 2012

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

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

3. John Simon, DE, Ohio State
Simon is the key player on a veteran Ohio State defensive line, ranked by Athlon as the best in the Big Ten. This wrecking ball is as difficult as anyone in the country to block from the outside. He’s improved each year, topping out at 16 tackles for a loss, seven sacks and three pass deflections last season. Urban Meyer’s background is on offense, but he has a knack for utilizing great pass rushers like Carlos Dunlap, Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss at Florida.

4. William Gholston, DE, Michigan State
Entering his junior season, Gholston appears to be only scratching the surface of his potential. The Michigan State coaching staff wasted no time in getting the Detroit native involved as a freshman, as Gholston played in 10 games and recorded 13 stops. In his first year as a starter in 2011, he recorded 70 tackles, five sacks and 16 tackles for a loss last season. Gholston earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last season and should be in the mix to earn All-American honors in 2012. Without Jerel Worthy plugging the middle, opposing offensive lines will devote more attention to Gholston’s side. Despite a few more double teams coming in his direction, the junior is poised to have his best overall season, which could be his last in East Lansing with NFL scouts already raving about his potential.   

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

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

7. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
With his combination of size and athleticism, Short is drawing attention from NFL scouts and is expected to be a first-round pick in 2013. The East Chicago native has started all three seasons at Purdue and is coming off his best year, recording 54 stops, 17 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks. Improving the run defense is one of the top priorities for coach Danny Hope this season, but Short’s return to West Lafayette should help the Boilermakers improve on last year’s statistics (9th in the Big Ten in rushing defense). Short was named Purdue’s team defensive MVP last season and is an Athlon second-team All-American for 2012. 

8. Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
Hankins is developing into the next great defensive lineman to come out of the Ohio State program. In his first year as a starter last fall, the Michigan native recorded 67 total tackles, including 14 for a loss and three sacks. The large but nimble Hankins has slimmed down to 317 pounds for his junior season. “Hank is now a little less of an immovable object and more of an unstoppable force,” says Ohio State center Corey Linsley. 

9. Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
After missing most of the 2010 season with shoulder injuries, Borland returned to action last fall and developed into a big-time playmaker at middle linebacker. The Ohio native led the team in tackles for a loss (19) and forced fumbles (5) and ranked second in the Big Ten in total tackles (143). Borland was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten pick in ’11 and has been named a third-team 2012 preseason All-American by Athlon Sports.

10. Gerald Hodges, LB, Penn State
The exodus of quality players at Penn State has just begun, but so far the Nittany Lions’ star linebacker is staying put. An outside linebacker, Hodges led Penn State with 106 tackles last season as the defense ranked 20th nationally in yards allowed per game (323.9). When the dust settles with the roster at Penn State, Hodges, who also had 10 tackles for a loss last season, might be one of the few in contention for All-Big Ten honors or more.

11. Mike Taylor, LB, Wisconsin
The other half of one of the most devastating linebacking duos in the nation, Taylor is entering his fourth season as a starter. Last year, he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors after leading the Big Ten (and ranking third in the nation) with 150 tackles. With some issues on the defensive line and in the secondary, Taylor and fellow backer Chris Borland will need to be at their best in 2012. 

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

13. Johnny Adams, CB, Michigan State
A third-year starter, Adams leads the top secondary in the Big Ten. NFL scouts will watch Adams closely in his final season on campus, a year after the Spartans ranked 18th nationally in pass efficiency defense. He doesn’t have the gaudy interception numbers (though he had three in each of the last two seasons), but he’s an elite cover corner and stands out in run support.

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

15. Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue
Since stepping onto campus in 2010, Allen has been an impact player for the Boilermakers’ defense. He earned freshman All-American accolades in 2010 by starting 12 games and returning two interceptions for a touchdown. Allen followed up his standout freshman year with a solid sophomore season, recording 81 tackles and three interceptions. Allen has been picked to the Thorpe Award watch list (the nation’s top defensive back) and is an Athlon first-team All-Big Ten selection for 2012. 

16. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Based upon his performance in 2011, ranking Miller among the top 20 players in the Big Ten is probably a stretch. However, that’s where projecting for 2012 comes into play. Urban Meyer’s spread attack should jumpstart Ohio State’s offense, while turning Miller into one of the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks. The sophomore should have no trouble surpassing last season’s 1,159 passing yards and will top over 500 yards on the ground once again in 2012. 

17. Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State
With Denicos Allen, Bullough makes up half of an elite linebacker tandem, and with the rest of the Spartans ‘backers, he’s in the middle of the best unit in the Big Ten. Bullough is a standout play-caller on the field and excelled as a run-stuffer for a unit that allowed 100.5 rushing yards per game (first in the Big Ten, ninth nationally). 

18. Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois
At 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, Buchanan has intriguing size and ability for the pro ranks, but he elected to stay at Illinois rather than follow linemate Whitney Mercilus to the NFL Draft. Back for his senior season, Buchanan will try to show he can be a team’s top pass rusher after working aside Mercilus last season. Buchanan’s 7.5 sacks were less than half of Mercilus’ total (16) but still ranked fourth in the Big Ten.

19. Jonathan Brown, LB, Illinois
In a league that features Gerald Hodges, Mike Taylor and Chris Borland, it’s easy for Brown to be overlooked for preseason accolades. However, the junior should be one of Illinois’ top players in 2012. Brown recorded 108 tackles and 19.5 tackles for a loss last season, along with earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. Look for the Memphis, Tenn. native to raise his profile even more in 2012.

20. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Roby was a consensus three-star recruit out of Suwanee, Ga., but he must have learned something in his redshirt season in Columbus. The sophomore stepped right into the starting cornerback job last season. After finishing with 47 tackles and three interceptions in 2011, the new staff hopes to take advantage of Roby’s playmaking ability in his second season on the field.

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

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

23. C.J. Barnett, S, Ohio State
Barnett missed all but two games of 2010 but didn’t miss a beat when he returned to the Buckeyes last season. He led Ohio State with 75 tackles and provided his share of thundering hits in the secondary. He also had interceptions against Miami and Michigan State.

24. Jordan Hill, DT, Penn State
With Devon Still moving on to the NFL, it’s up to Hill to become Penn State’s leader in the trenches. He recorded 59 stops and 3.5 sacks last year, while earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. Hill will likely see more double teams without Still, but the 6-foot-1 senior should be able to finish his career by pushing for All-American honors in 2012.

25. Micah Hyde, CB, Iowa
Hyde has been a mainstay in the Hawkeyes’ secondary over the past two seasons, with 25 starts at cornerback and two at safety. Last season, he tied for first in the Big Ten in passes defended (11) and added three interceptions. He is a 2012 preseason second-team All-Big Ten pick by Athlon Sports.

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

27. Denicos Allen, LB, Michigan State
After playing mostly on special teams in 2010, Allen was one of the Big Ten’s top breakout performers last year. He played in all 14 contests, recording 83 stops, 18.5 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks. Allen doesn’t have prototypical size, but his speed and athletic ability allows him to wreck havoc in opposing backfields.

28. Isaiah Lewis, S, Michigan State
Lewis quietly earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last season, recording 74 tackles and four interceptions in his first year as a starter. The junior is regarded as one of the biggest hitters in the Big Ten and will have to assume more of a leadership role in 2012 with the departure of Trenton Robinson. 

29. Chris McDonald, OL, Michigan State
McDonald has been a nearly automatic presence in the Spartans’ starting lineup, making 17 consecutive starts and 26 overall at right guard. With a new starting quarterback, McDonald may have to pave the way for running back Le’Veon Bell to carry the offense.

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

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

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

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

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

35. Christian Bryant, S, Ohio State
With all four starters returning, Ohio State should have one of the best defensive backfields in the nation. Bryant emerged as a key cog in the secondary last year, recording 69 stops and one forced fumble. The junior may not accumulate many interceptions, but he should be a force against the run, while delivering plenty of big hits. 

36. Jack Mewhort, OT, Ohio State
With the departure of three starters, Urban Meyer hopes Mewhort will emerge as the offensive line's leader in 2012. Mewhort started all 13 games last season and will slide from guard to left tackle in 2012. 

37. Akeem Spence, DT, Illinois
One of three returning starters and two starting tackles on the Illinois defensive line, Spence started at defensive tackle since Day One of his redshirt freshman season in Champaign. The 6-1, 300-pounder recorded 69 sacks last season, a high number for an interior lineman, and helped anchor a defense that ranked seventh nationally.

38. James Morris, LB, Iowa
An ankle injury hindered Morris at times last season, but he still managed to finish with 110 tackles. The junior is an Athlon Sports third-team All-Big Ten selection for 2012 and will have an active year around the line of scrimmage with Iowa replacing three starters on the defensive line. 

39. Brett Maher, K/P, Nebraska
Replacing Alex Henery was no easy task, but Maher asserted himself as one of the top kickers in the nation last season. He connected on 19 of 23 field goals and averaged 44.5 yards per punt. Maher was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award last year and is an Athlon Sports second-team All-American for 2012. 

40. Baker Steinkuhler, DT, Nebraska
The son of the Cornhuskers’ Outland and Lombardi winner Dean Steinkuhler, Baker began to make a name for himself over the second half of last season with five tackles for a loss and two sacks in the final six games of the season.

41. Cameron Meredith, DE, Nebraska
Along with Steinkuhler, Meredith will form the core of a Nebraska defensive line that must improve against the run. A starter the last two seasons, Meredith finished last season with 58 tackles and five sacks.

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

43. Will Compton, LB, Nebraska
The Cornhuskers’ middle linebacker improved as 2011 went along, as he averaged eight tackles per game in November (compared to 5.8 in the first eight games of the season). He’ll need to carry that into 2012 with Lavonte David gone.

44. Terry Hawthorne, CB, Illinois
Hawthorne was a highly decorated recruit in 2009, but he’d yet to live up to that billing until late last season. His 39-yard interception return for a touchdown turned the tide for the Illinois in the bowl game and prevented a losing season.

45. James Ferentz, C, Iowa
With three starters departing, Ferentz must be Iowa’s leader on the offensive line. He has started the last 26 games and was named to the Rimington Trophy watch for 2012. Ferentz will be coached by his brother (Brian) and his veteran presence will be crucial for Iowa’s offensive line. 

46. Daimion Stafford, S, Nebraska
Stafford was a huge contributor in his first year after transferring from Chaffey College. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors after recording 80 tackles in 13 games. Look for Stafford to be an even bigger contributor now that he has another offseason to get acclimated to life in the Big Ten.

47. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
With Johnny Adams and Dennard returning to man the cornerback spots in East Lansing, Michigan State should have one of the top defensive backfields in the nation. In his first year as a starter in 2011, Dennard recorded 42 tackles and three interceptions and returned one of his picks for a touchdown in the win over Georgia in the Outback Bowl. Dennard should be in the mix for All-Big Ten honors this year.  

48. MarQueis Gray, QB, Minnesota
Gray is far from a finished product, but there's also a lot of potential. He closed out 2011 by posting back-to-back 100-yard rushing efforts against Northwestern and Illinois and finished the season with 2,461 overall yards. Gray needs to become a better passer, but he should have a solid all-around senior season.

49. Chris Norman, LB, Michigan State
The rangy Norman is entering his third season as a starter for a veteran linebacker unit. He finished last season with 76 tackles despite missing two games with a shoulder injury.

50. Jordan Kovacs, S, Michigan
The Ohio native has started 33 of his 37 career games, including 12 games in 2011 and 12 in ’10. He ranked second on the team in total tackles last season with 75 and was third on the team with eight tackles for a loss. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last fall. 


Team Breakdown of Athlon's Top 50 Big Ten Players for 2012

Illinois - 4
Indiana - 0
Iowa - 5
Michigan - 4
Michigan State - 9
Minnesota - 1
Nebraska - 8
Northwestern - 0 
Ohio State - 8
Penn State - 2
Purdue - 2
Wisconsin - 7

by David Fox (@DavidFox615), Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven) and Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)


Related Big Ten Content

The Big Ten's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice
College Football's Darkhorse Title Contenders for 2012

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> Big Ten Player Rankings: The Top 50 Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 2, 2012 - 05:43
Path: /college-football/pac-12s-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

The Pac-12's 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Bryan Bennett or Marcus Mariota: Who Will Start at Quarterback for Oregon?
Regardless of whether Bennett or Mariota takes the first snap, Chip Kelly shouldn’t have too much concern about his quarterbacks. Sure, anytime that you replace a starter there is bound to be a few ups and downs. However, both players are more than capable of keeping Oregon’s offense as one of the best in the nation. Bennett played in eight games last season, including one start against Colorado. He finished the year with 369 passing yards and six touchdowns, along with recording 200 yards on the ground. Bennett entered spring practice with an edge, but Mariota closed the gap. The redshirt freshman dazzled in the spring game, throwing for 202 yards and one score, while adding 99 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Both players should be more dynamic on the ground than their predecessor (Darron Thomas). It could be a mystery as to which Oregon quarterback will be in the opener against Arkansas State, and both players could play significant snaps in 2012. Regardless of whether Mariota or Bennett starts the year, it’s unlikely the Ducks will have many concerns under center.

2. How big of a concern is USC’s defensive line?
The Trojans’ best defense in 2012 may be the offense. With Matt Barkley back under center and Robert Woods and Marqise Lee catching passes, USC will have no trouble averaging around 40 points a game in 2012 – which is important since the Trojans will have to win with offense. The defense made improvement in the second year under coordinator Monte Kiffin last season but suffered some key departures on the line. End Nick Perry and tackles Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris depart, while end Devon Kennard suffered an injury in summer workouts and could miss 2012. With the personnel losses and Kennard’s injury, the Trojans are very thin up front. Wes Horton and George Uko are two solid building blocks, but the defense needs big contributions from freshmen Greg Townsend and Leonard Williams. USC’s issues in the trenches may not be a concern in Pac-12 play, but a national title appearance against a team from the SEC could expose the concerns up front.   

3. How quickly will Arizona, Arizona State and Washington State reap the benefits from their new coaches?
We’ve heard it enough, and we’ve said it enough: The Pac-12 had an influx of good offensive coaches this offseason. But now that it’s time for fall camp, Rich Rodriguez, Mike Leach and Todd Graham have to get down to business. As much as Jeff Tuel/Marquess Wilson may fit Leach’s system or much as Matt Scott/Ka’Deem Carey may fit what Rodriguez wants to do, they still have to learn the offense. And those are just front-line skill position players. What about developing depth and the offensive line (an issue in particular for Wazzu)? At Arizona State, Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell take over a team with an entrenched running back (Cameron Marshall), a shaky quarterback situation -- not all that different from Pitt last season.

4. Will fresh faces on defense be enough to repair Washington this season?
The Huskies could at least be thankful for Clemson. Before the Orange Bowl, Washington’s 67 points and 777 yards allowed allowed to Baylor was the most embarrassing defensive performance of the postseason (and in terms of yards allowed, it was the third-worst of 2012). Coach Steve Sarkisian responded by cleaning house defensively, adding four new assistants including defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and recruiting whiz/line coach Tosh Lupoi. The new coaches will start from scratch for better or worse -- the Huskies’ defense will be young with only a couple of projected senior starters and a handful of freshmen on the depth chart. The defense may be a long-term fix, which could be trouble with LSU, Stanford, Oregon and USC all on the schedule in the first half.

5. If Stanford is going to rely on Stepfan Taylor to run the ball, who’s going to pave the way?
Wait, Stanford lost more than Andrew Luck in the offseason? Yes. David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin, both taken in the first 42 picks on the NFL draft, are gone. The other three starters (left guard David Yankey, center Sam Schwartzstein and right tackle Cameron Fleming) are back to form a solid foundation for the line. There’s healthy competition among returning players for the two vacant slots. Stanford’s impressive freshman line class -- which included three linemen in the Athlon Consensus 100 -- will be worth watching as well. True freshmen rarely start on the offensive line anywhere, but we should note Martin and DeCastro both started as redshirt freshmen at Stanford.

6. Can Utah depend on quarterback Jordan Wynn?
The Utes basically lost their passing offense after Wynn was injured in the 31-14 loss to Washington. Although Jon Hays ended the year with 12 touchdowns, Utah wasn’t able to stretch the field. Wynn was off to a solid start last season, throwing for 727 yards and six touchdowns through the first four games. However, he has dealt with shoulder injuries in each of the last two seasons and has never started a full 12-game regular season slate. If healthy, Wynn clearly gives Utah the best chance to win. The Utes have an underrated group of receivers, led by senior DeVonte Christopher, so there’s no reason for Utah to struggle like it did last season through the air. New coordinator Brian Johnson will use more spread looks, but the Utes have to find a way to keep Wynn healthy and on the field to have any shot at winning the Pac-12 South crown.

7. Will California develop other receivers outside of Keenan Allen?
The Golden Bears didn’t have much depth at receiver last season, and this unit suffered some losses with Marvin Jones and Michael Calvin expiring their eligibility. Allen was clearly the No. 1 target for quarterback Zach Maynard, catching 98 passes for 1,343 yards and six scores. While Allen should have another big season, California has to find some other weapons to help take the pressure off of him. Freshmen Maurice Harris and Bryce Treggs are intriguing possibilities, while tight end Richard Rodgers is an emerging weapon. The Golden Bears could make some noise in the Pac-12 North race, but Allen can’t be the team’s only receiver in 2012.

8. How has Jim L. Mora adjusted to the college game?
It’s no secret NFL coaches struggle in the college game -- Bill Callahan, Mike Sherman, Dave Wannstedt, Chan Gailey, to name a few. Working with 18-22 year olds with class demands and practice time limitations isn’t anything like working with professionals. Mora seems to understand some of these limitations, and he surrounded himself with a handful quality veteran college assistants. The first indications of whether he’s adjusted to the college game may be felt in fall camp. He’s already hoping to build team chemistry and camaraderie by taking the Bruins off-campus to Cal State-San Bernardino for two weeks of practice while UCLA’s practice field is renovated. And he’s pledged to bring toughness to the Bruins. Mora will have a chance to find out what he’s jumped into when the Bruins face Nebraska in Week Two.

9. Is there hope in Boulder?
Defeating Arizona at home and Utah on the road in the final three games at least gave Colorado something on which to build for 2012, but the Buffaloes still look to be grasping for answers. The Buffs likely will play a significant amount of freshmen and sophomores, a tough proposition for a team that went 3-10 and visits USC and Oregon in October. Wide receiver Paul Richardson, Colorado’s top offensive player, is hopeful he’ll make a quick recovery from a torn ACL from spring practice to play this season. Colorado can hope for that, but a bowl game might have to wait until this core group of freshmen and sophomores are juniors and seniors.

10. Can Oregon State generate a rushing attack?
For the first time since 2004, Oregon State failed to have a 1,000-yard rusher last season. Malcolm Agnew burst onto the scene in the opener, rushing for 223 yards and three touchdowns in the 29-28 loss to Sacramento State. However, hamstring injuries limited Agnew for most of last season and he managed only 200 yards the rest of the way. Jovan Stevenson and Terron Ward each chipped in just over 200 yards, and the Beavers finished with only 1,043 rushing yards as a team last year. For Oregon State to make a run back to a bowl game, the offense has to find some balance. Quarterback Sean Mannion and receiver Markus Wheaton is a dangerous combination, but the Beavers need to escape the Pac-12 cellar in rushing offense. Agnew is the team’s best option, but he also needs to stay healthy. A committee approach would not be a surprise, especially if incoming freshman Chris Brown impresses in fall practice. 
 

 

by David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Related Pac-12 Content

Predicting the Pac-12's Breakout Players for 2012
College Football's 20 Worst Coaching Tenures of the last 50 Years

Ranking the Pac-12's Linebacking Corps for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Defensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Offensive Lines for 2012

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

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

Athlon's 2012 All-Pac-12 Team

Top 25 Pac-12 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Predictions

Teaser:
<p> Pac-12's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 2, 2012 - 05:28
All taxonomy terms: Tennessee Volunteers, SEC, News
Path: /news/tennessee-fans-create-another-bad-college-football-rivalry-video
Body:

We are all for creativity and cheering for your college football team, but sometimes it can result in some embarrassing videos. 

Remember Texas A&M's Welcome to the SEC video? That was only one of many bad college football song/cheer videos that have been released this summer.

The trend continues with the band Elevated releasing the song and video "Overcome the Tide." We give them points for creativity, but the execution and song is certainly lacking.

Our reaction? The college football season can't get here fast enough.

Teaser:
<p> Tennessee Fans Create Another Bad College Football Rivalry Video</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 15:37
Path: /college-football/accs-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

The ACC's 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Can Brent Venables fix Clemson’s problems on defense?
If Clemson’s Orange Bowl performance were an isolated incident, maybe it would be easier to accept (or maybe not, ask a Clemson fan or Kevin Steele). The 70 points allowed to West Virginia was the worst of the season by far, but Clemson’s defensive shortcomings were apparent all season. The Tigers ranked 70th or lower in six major defensive categories. Now, here comes Oklahoma’s Brent Venables to fix the Tigers’ D. Though Oklahoma fans may have grumbled, the Sooners finished in the top four in the Big 12 in total defense in each of Venables’ eight seasons as defensive coordinator. Clemson has eight returning starters on defense, but seven are at linebacker and defensive back. Inexperience and a lack of depth are major concerns on the defensive line. Venables might need to get creative while his defensive front grows up.

2. Is EJ Manuel the right quarterback to lead Florida State back to prominence?
Florida State fans have held high hopes for Manuel since he arrived on campus in 2008. After spending 2009 and 2010 as a backup to Christian Ponder, Manuel received the keys to the Seminoles’ offense last year, throwing for 2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns. He completed 65.3 percent of his throws and tossed only eight interceptions on 311 attempts. Although Manuel’s numbers weren’t eye-popping, it’s unfair to pin Florida State’s offensive concerns on him. The Seminoles struggled to establish the run, and the offensive line never found the right combination. Manuel was also bothered by a shoulder injury throughout the year and did not play in the 35-30 loss to Clemson. With a deep receiving corps returning and experience coming back on the line, Florida State’s offense should be improved in 2012. Manuel has all of the physical tools to succeed and should be more comfortable in his second year as the starter. While the Seminoles underachieved last season, Manuel is the right quarterback to lead Florida State back to a national title – provided his offensive line and rushing attack step up in 2012. 

3. Which contender will find the right mix on the offensive line?
Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech are expected to be the ACC’s best teams in 2012. However, neither of the three should feel particularly good about its offensive line. Virginia Tech must replace four starters, including standouts Blake DeChristopher and Jaymes Brooks. Center Andrew Miller is a solid place to start rebuilding but there’s very little experience around him. Florida State returns a handful of experienced players, but the starting five could all be sophomores. Clemson loses three starters but returns center Dalton Freeman. The Tigers have one of the college football’s top trios coming back (Tajh Boyd, Andre Ellington and Sammy Watkins), but the offense could sputter without better performance from the line. It’s possible that none of the three teams will find an answer during the year. However, whichever team can sort out its offensive line question marks the earliest could have the inside track at winning the ACC title. 

4. How will Logan Thomas handle the spotlight?
Rarely has a Virginia Tech quarterback entered the season with as much fanfare as Logan Thomas. That’s with good reason. He’s a top-notch NFL prospect who set the Hokies’ record for total offense (3,482 yards) last season while accounting for 30 touchdowns. Beyond the numbers, Thomas will be the focus due to more than just his performance last season. Unlike past season, Virginia Tech doesn’t have an heir apparent at running back with redshirt freshman Michael Holmes leading a committee of ballcarriers. The Hokies’ always-underrated receiving corps also takes a hit without Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale. Thomas will have senior receivers ready to step into bigger roles, but they’re not entirely proven. Even the line has major holes to fill with center Andrew Miller the only returning starter. In other words, Thomas has little choice but to take charge of the Hokies’ offense in production and leadership.

5. Who will catch passes from Mike Glennon?
T.J. Graham, Jay Smith and tight end George Bryan accounted for 119 receptions, more than 40 percent of Mike Glennon’s completions last season. That leaves running back James Washington as the top pass-catcher on the team, along with a handful of questions. If NC State is going to threaten for an ACC Atlantic title, the Wolfpack will need receivers to emerge. NC State may lack proven commodities, but it does have an interesting skill set at receiver with Tobias Palmer and Byran Underwood’s ability to stretch a defense and good size from Quintin Payton and Hakeem Flowers, who are both at least 6-foot-3.

6. How will Miami reload in the backfield?
With 10 returning starters and NCAA trouble hanging over the program, the Hurricanes are a longshot to win the ACC in 2012. Losses were heavy on both sides of the ball, but the offense has to replace quarterback Jacory Harris and running back Lamar Miller. Harris wasn’t an All-ACC passer, but he had a solid senior year, throwing for 2,486 yards and 20 touchdowns. Miller ranked second in the ACC in rushing yards per game last season, averaging 106.0 on 227 carries. Stephen Morris is expected to win the Miami starting quarterback spot, but he will be challenged by Memphis transfer Ryan Williams in the fall. Miami should feel more secure about its running back depth, as senior Mike James is back after recording nearly 300 yards last season. James won’t be the only option in the backfield, as Eduardo Clements and Duke Johnson will see carries. The Hurricanes finished seven in the conference in scoring last year and a similar result can be expected in 2012. 

7. How does Maryland pick up the pieces from last season?
The preseason party line is that Randy Edsall and his players understand each other better this time around. Perhaps that shouldn’t be too much of a stretch after a glut of players transferred since Edsall took over. Not to mention the Terrapins have yet to play a game after losing the final seven games last season, six by double figures. Even if communication among Edsall and the players has improved, the Terrapins still have two new coordinators in Mike Locksley and Brian Stewart. Locksley was a successful offensive coordinator at Illinois when the Illini went to the Rose Bowl in 2008, and Houston showed marked improvement on defense under Stewart last season. A healthy Kenny Tate should improve the defense, while C.J. Brown (five starts last season) begins 2012 entrenched as the starter. The instability in College Park has to come to a stop soon, doesn’t it?

8. How will Georgia Tech replace Stephen Hill at receiver?
The Yellow Jackets will always rank among the nation’s best in rushing offense, but the passing attack needs to be better if this team wants to win the ACC in 2012. Quarterback Tevin Washington had his moments last year (10 of 14, 184 yards, one TD against North Carolina) but completed only 49.3 percent of his throws and tossed eight picks. The senior isn’t asked to throw for 300 yards every game, but the offense needs Washington to be more accurate and careful with the ball. Improving Georgia Tech’s passing attack won’t get any easier with the losses in the receiving corps. Stephen Hill and Tyler Melton were the team’s top two receivers last year but have expired their eligibility. The Yellow Jackets do not return a receiver with a career catch and will have to lean on inexperienced sophomores Jeff Greene and Darren Waller. Alabama transfer Chris Jackson will also figure into the mix, but Georgia Tech needs one to emerge as the clear go-to threat. Without Hill and Melton, the Yellow Jackets could struggle to top last season’s 142.3 yards per game average.

9. Will Michael Rocco hold off Phillip Sims?
Virginia’s season turned around when the Cavaliers stopped rotating David Watford and Michael Rocco. With Rocco as the starter, the Cavs went on a four-game winning streak to clinch a bowl appearance. Rocco’s does not have a firm grip on the quarterback job, however. Alabama transfer Phillip Sims was granted a hardship waiver and will be eligible this season. A year after challenging AJ McCarron for the starting quarterback job with the eventual national champions, he’ll contend to start for the Cavs.

10. What Can Be Expected of North Carolina in 2012?
With a ban on postseason play, it’s fair to wonder how motivated North Carolina will be this season. New coach Larry Fedora was a solid hire, but his arrival also brings new schemes on both sides of the ball. The Tar Heels will employ a no-huddle spread attack on offense, which should score plenty of points. Quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Giovani Bernard are two of the best offensive players in the ACC and will be playing behind one of college football’s top 10 offensive lines. The defense loses some key contributors, but landing Vic Koenning as a co-coordinator was a huge catch for Fedora. The Tar Heels have a favorable schedule and if motivation isn’t an issue, this team could push for nine victories in 2012.

by David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

 

Related ACC Content

College Football's National Title Darkhorses for 2012
Ranking the ACC's Defensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the ACC Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the ACC Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

College Football's 2012 Bowl Projections

Will Randy Edsall Turn Around Maryland?

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

ACC's Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 ACC Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-ACC Team

Teaser:
<p> ACC's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-2012-all-name-team
Body:

With 124 teams in the FBS and around 100 players on a roster, there are certainly some interesting names that pop-up throughout the course of production for Athlon's 2012 college football magazine or online research.

We took a look through the rosters for the 124 teams and pulled out some of the funniest and more interesting names in college football for the 2012 season.

College Football's All-Name Team for 2012

OFFENSE

Rob Blanchflower, TE, UMass
Blair Bomber, WR, Washington State
Brandon Bourbon, RB, Kansas
Bookie Cobbins, WR, Kentucky
Brander Craighead, OL, UTEP
Orleans Darkwa, RB, Tulane
Synjyn Days, QB, Georgia Tech
Duke DeLancellotti, QB, Texas State
Stevie Joe Dorman, QB, Colorado
Spiffy Evans, WR, Boston College
George George, TE, Virginia Tech
Tyshon Goode, WR, Kent State
Brynjar Gudmundsson, OL, South Florida            
Lynx Hawthorne, ATH, Baylor
Hunter Hollowed, OL, Hawaii
Win Homer, OL, Boston College
Steele Jantz, QB, Iowa State
Mister Jones, RB, Colorado State
Thor Jozwiak, OL, South Florida
Jazz King, WR, Marshall
Munchie Legaux, QB, Cincinnati
Philander Moore, WR, Ole Miss
Uzoma Nwachukwu, WR, Texas A&M
Fritz Rock, WR, Illinois
Konockus Sashington, RB, North Texas
Cayman Shutter, QB, Hawaii
Jack Snowball, RB, Miami (Ohio)
Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State
Sirgregory Thornton, RB, Arkansas State
Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State
Charlie Will Tuttle, OL, Texas State
Halapoulivaati Vaitai, OT, TCU
Wilson Van Hooser, WR, Tulane
Ivory Wade, C, Baylor
Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State

 


DEFENSE

Xavier Archangel, CB, UTSA
Chi Chi Ariguzo, LB, Northwestern
Zeek Bigger, LB, East Carolina
Chief Brown, DB, Ole Miss
Terrance Bullitt, LB, Texas Tech
Blaze Caponegro, LB, Temple
Tank Carradine, DE, Florida State
Jose Cheeseborough, DB, FIU
Mister Cobble, DT, Kentucky
Pudge Cotton, DB, Eastern Michigan
Fabby Desir, LB, North Carolina
Steele Divitto, LB, Boston College
Hugs Etienne, CB, Wisconsin

Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU
Maxx Forde, DE, Idaho
BooBoo Gates, S, Bowling Green
King Holder, CB, San Diego State
Sir Thomas Jackson, LB, Arizona
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
Wonderful Terrific Monds II, LB, Buffalo
Godspower Offor, DE, Wake Forest
Happiness Osunde, DB, Texas Tech
Leviticus Payne, DB, Cincinnati
Bacarri Rambo, S, Georgia
Cartier Rice, CB, Kentucky

Wave Ryder, DB, Navy
Prince Shembo, LB, Notre Dame
Aziz Shittu, DE, Stanford
Joe Stoner, LB, New Mexico
Eric Striker, S, Oklahoma
Momo Thomas, DB, Colorado State
Fudge Van Hooser, S, Tulane
Tronic Williams, CB, Western Michigan

 

SPECIALISTS

Chase Tenpenney, P, Nevada
Kirby Van Der Kamp, P, Iowa State

 

Did we miss out on any names? Add your suggestions into the comments and we'll add them to the list.

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's 2012 All-Name Team</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 05:49
Path: /college-football/big-12s-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

The Big 12's 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Can Texas Improve Its Passing Attack?
The Longhorns have the rushing attack and defense to win the Big 12. However, in a league known for offense, Texas still has to find a way to generate more from its quarterbacks. The Longhorns finished eighth in the conference in passing offense last year, and quarterbacks combined to throw 15 picks on 357 attempts. David Ash took control of the No. 1 spot late last season but injured a hamstring in summer workouts and could be limited for fall camp. Case McCoy and true freshman Conner Brewer will get every opportunity to win the job, but Ash is expected to finish atop the depth chart. Texas doesn’t need Ash to be Colt McCoy, but the passing attack has to be better than it was in 2011. With one of the nation’s deepest backfields and the Big 12’s best defense, Texas should be one of college football’s top 15 teams. However, winning the conference title and making a BCS bowl will come down to how quickly Ash, McCoy or Brewer can jumpstart the passing game.

2. Will unproven commodities at wide receiver and defensive line derail title hopes at Oklahoma?
A prolific veteran quarterback, the best offensive line in the Big 12 and the return of Mike Stoops as defensive coordinator was enough to push Oklahoma in to the top five of the Athlon national rankings, but the Sooners have plenty of questions to answer if they’re going to compete for a national title. At receiver, the passing game struggled when Ryan Broyles was hurt. Now he’s gone permanently. That puts more pressure on Kenny Stills to be the No. 1 option. Meanwhile the suspension to Jaz Reynolds puts pressure on newcomers Trey Metoyer and Lacoltan Bester to perform right away. On the defensive line, seniors R.J. Washington, David King and Jamarkus McFarland have been around for a while, but they have yet to emerge as consistent factors on the defensive front. That needs to change if Oklahoma is going to be a factor in the national race.

3. Can Oklahoma State Repeat as Big 12 Champs With a Freshman QB?
There’s always pressure when you have to replace a quarterback like Brandon Weeden, but Lunt is under extra scrutiny in 2012, as the Cowboys hope to repeat as Big 12 champs. The freshman was one of three candidates vying for time in the spring and edged out J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf for the No. 1 spot. Walsh is expected to see time as a change of pace quarterback, but barring a setback in the fall, Lunt will be Oklahoma State’s starter in the opener against Savannah State. The Cowboys haven’t had much trouble producing good quarterback play under Mike Gundy, but it’s a lot to ask a true freshman quarterback to win a Big 12 title. Expect Oklahoma State to lean on running back Joseph Randle and a defense that led the nation in takeaways last season early in the year. However, for the Cowboys to win the Big 12, Lunt needs to be ready to deliver in the Big 12 opener on Sept. 29 against Texas. The freshman doesn’t have to be Brandon Weeden – but he needs to play beyond his years for Oklahoma State to repeat as Big 12 champs.

4. Will TCU have secondary to keep pace with the Big 12?
The Horned Frogs ranked an uncharacteristically low 32nd nationally in total defense last season, a stat that was not helped by allowing Baylor to pass for 414 yards and six touchdowns and SMU to pass for 349 yards and four touchdowns in TCU’s losses. The Horned Frogs must replace every full-time starter in the secondary, and the returning cast had only five starts last season, spread among three players. The pass defense may determine the course of TCU’s first season in the Big 12 as the Horned Frogs face SMU (again), Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Oklahoma.

5. Will West Virginia find any sense of balance on offense?
With Geno Smith at quarterback, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey at receiver and Dana Holgorsen calling the shots, West Virginia is going to throw the ball a ton, but will West Virginia have the ability to run when necessary? A 360-yard rushing performance against Bowling Green last year skewed the Mountaineers’ statistics a bit. The Mountaineers averaged 3.5 yards per carry in Big East games, ranking sixth in the league. Moreover, Dustin Garrison, West Virginia’s top rusher who accounted for 291 yards in that Bowling Green game, suffered a torn ACL during the spring. The Mountaineers’ inability to find balance bit them at times in the Big East last season. Could the same happen in the Big 12?

6. Can Baylor’s new backfield pickup where Robert Griffin/Terrance Ganaway left off?
There’s no question Baylor will miss Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin and running back Terrance Ganaway. The Bears ranked second in the nation in total offense and averaged 45.3 points a game in 2011. While the offense will probably struggle to reach those totals in 2012, don’t expect this unit to fall too much in terms of production. New quarterback Nick Florence started seven games when Griffin was sidelined with a torn ACL in 2009, throwing for 1,786 yards and six touchdowns. The Bears will miss Griffin’s ability to make plays outside of the pocket, but Florence has the experience and talent to keep this team among the best in the conference in passing offense. Terrance Ganaway was one of the Big 12’s biggest surprises last year, rushing for 1,547 yards and 21 touchdowns. Stepping into the backfield will be Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk and Jarred Salubi. Seastrunk was one of the top recruits in the 2010 recruiting class and should add some big-play ability to the backfield. Although Baylor won’t match last year’s offensive totals, this unit should still perform at a high level.

7. Where’s the defense in Lubbock?
An average to below-average defense at Texas Tech wasn’t strange under Mike Leach. But it is a change of pace for Tommy Tuberville, former a defensive coordinator who fielded quality defenses at Auburn. Tuberville brought in Art Kaufman, his DC at Ole Miss, for his third coordinator in three years. He also brought in six junior college transfers on defense to improve a unit that ranked last in the nation against the run.

8. Will Kansas State Develop Other Weapons Outside Collin Klein?
Collin Klein was Mr. Everything for the Wildcats in 2011. He led the team with 1,141 rushing yards and 27 scores, while throwing for 1,918 yards and 13 touchdowns. Although Klein carried the offense last season, it’s probably too much to ask for him to repeat that task in 2012. The senior dealt with various injuries last year – likely a direct result from the 317 carries he accumulated. Kansas State doesn’t have to stray too far from Klein, but the offense needs more playmakers to emerge. Running back John Hubert is coming off a solid 2011 campaign – rushing for 970 yards and three scores – but the Wildcats would like to have more big-play ability on the ground. Another area that could lessen the wear and tear on Klein is his development as a passer. If the senior can lean more on his arm, it should help keep him fresh for the final weeks of the season.

9. Is there any hope at Kansas?
There’s hope, but change will be neither easy nor quick. After fielding one of the worst statistical teams on either side of the ball the last two seasons, Kansas is trying to plug holes with transfers. Quarterback Dayne Crist from Notre Dame is the most notable, but the defense adds defensive lineman Josh Williams (Nebraska) and linebacker Anthony McDonald (also Notre Dame) plus a handful of junior college linemen. Returning defensive end Toben Opurum is about the only sure thing on for defensive coordinator Dave Campo, who is continuing to figure out his personnel in fall practice.

10. Steele Jantz or Jared Barnett: Who Will Start at Iowa State?
The good news for Iowa State? The Cyclones have two experienced candidates ready to lead the team in the fall. The bad news? There wasn’t much separation in the spring, and the battle will resume in fall practice. Steele Jantz led the Cyclones to a 3-0 start but suffered an injury in the win over Connecticut and struggled in the next three games. Jared Barnett played well in Iowa State’s biggest win last season (Oklahoma State), throwing for 376 yards and three scores. Both players are good runners, but need to be better about managing turnovers (17 interceptions last year). Don’t be surprised if both quarterbacks see time, but Barnett should finish the year with the best stats and most starts. 
 

by David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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Teaser:
<p> Big 12's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 05:18
Path: /college-football/big-tens-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice
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Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

The Big Ten's 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Who’s leaving, who’s staying at Penn State?
Quarterback Rob Bolden is already gone, possibly to LSU. Meanwhile, coach Bill O’Brien says about 50 players have pledged to stay with the Nittany Lions despite ample opportunities to transfer immediately and without penalty. The biggest domino, though, could fall soon, as standout running back Silas Redd may transfer to USC. Even if Penn State starts the season without a mass exodus, players can leave any time before the start of the 2013 season without having to sit out a year. If Redd leaves, Penn State loses one of its only offensive threats. O’Brien also has to be concerned if one or two key players leave, others will follow.

2. Can Ohio State Execute Urban Meyer’s Spread Offense?
After finishing last in the Big Ten in passing offense last season, plenty of doubts remain about quarterback Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes’ passing attack. Those concerns are amplified even more due to an offensive line that returns only two starters and a receiving corps that lacks a proven No. 1 option. Freshman Mike Thomas opened some eyes in the spring game, catching 12 passes for 131 yards. With Thomas’ emergence and the return of tight end Jake Stoneburner, the Buckeyes should have two solid targets for Miller. However, the receiving corps needs a big year from junior Philly Brown and sophomore Devin Smith. The potential is there for Ohio State’s offense to seamlessly pickup Meyer’s spread attack and emerge as one of the best in the conference. However, fall practice will be a good indicator of just how far the offensive line has come, which could hold the key to Ohio State’s season.

3. How much will Michigan State miss Jerel Worthy?
The defensive tackle anchored a defense that ranked ninth in run defense (100.1 yards per game) and seventh in yards allowed per carry (2.8). For certain, losing Worthy is a setback, but Sparty has the talent to replace him on the defensive line. End William Gholston is on his way to becoming a superstar after recording 16 tackles for a loss last season. On the other side of the line, Marcus Rush’s production tailed off near the end of his freshman season, but the end still finished with 12 tackles for a loss. The bigger questions are at tackle. Senior Anthony Rashad White’s performance in the bowl win over Georgia (seven tackles, three for a loss) hinted at his potential. At the other spot, senior Tyler Hoover and one-time Vanderbilt center James Kittredge will compete for playing time in two a days.

4. Can Michigan find the right answers in the trenches?
Even with quarterback Denard Robinson returning, Michigan could find it difficult to repeat last season’s 11 wins. The Wolverines have a tough schedule and must replace two stalwarts from the trenches in center David Molk and defensive tackle Mike Martin. The Wolverines will likely turn to senior Ricky Barnum at center, while freshman Ondre Pipkins could play a key role on the defensive line. Considering Barnum’s experience and Taylor Lewan’s return at left tackle, the Wolverines should feel confident that the line can still perform at a high level. The defensive line is a bigger question mark, especially with run-first teams like Alabama, Michigan State and Nebraska on the schedule. It’s unreasonable to expect both units to match their production from 2011, but too much of a drop could cost Michigan a chance to win the Legends Division. 

5. How will Danny O’Brien take the reins at Wisconsin?
Though O’Brien and Russell Wilson arrived under similar circumstances as graduate student transfers from the ACC, the Badgers shouldn’t necessarily expect similar results. Wilson had the best single-season for a Big Ten quarterback. Ill-suited as he may have been with the Terrapins under Randy Edsall, O’Brien did lose his starting job for a 2-10 Maryland team last season. Wilson was as accurate and efficient as any quarterback in the country, but he also took an active leadership role when he arrived on campus. O’Brien may have less on his shoulders thanks to Montee Ball, but how well he takes to his new team and new role may determine the course of the Badgers’ season.

6. Will Iowa find answers at running back, offensive line and on the defensive line?
Three areas where the Hawkeyes are usually strong – offensive line, defensive line and running back – are a question mark entering fall practice. The offensive line returns just two starters and must replace standout Riley Reiff. The defensive front loses three starters and finished seventh in the Big Ten against the run last year. Marcus Coker was expected to be one of the top running backs in the conference, but he left the team in January. Iowa’s back luck with running backs didn’t stop with Coker, as Mika’il McCall left the team, Jordan Canzeri suffered a knee injury in spring practice, and De’Andre Johnson was dismissed from the team in early August. Sophomore Damon Bullock and freshmen Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill will compete to be the No. 1 back in fall practice. With issues on both sides of the ball, quarterback James Vandenberg will have more pressure on his shoulders. There’s no question the senior is one of the top quarterbacks in the conference, but he needs some help if Iowa wants to improve off of last year’s 7-6 record.

7. Is Purdue healthy ... finally?
The Boilermakers enter fall camp with three quarterbacks with starting experience, who are finally healthy at the same time. Caleb TerBush started every game last season as the Boilermakers ended a four-year bowl drought. TerBush likely remains the starter in 2012, but the injury bug has a nose for the Purdue backfield. Fellow quarterback Rob Henry (seven starts in 2010) and Robert Marve (four starts in 2010) are both healthy. Both perhaps have higher ceilings than TerBush, but Henry has the speed to contribute at other positions. At running back, Ralph Bolden’s season is in doubt as he recovers from a knee injury sustained in the regular season finale against Indiana. If Purdue can stay healthy, it will be a welcome change of pace for coach Danny Hope.

8. Will Nebraska’s Defense Improve in 2012?
The Cornhuskers weren’t awful on defense last year, but they certainly weren’t as effective as they were in 2011. Nebraska ranked 42nd nationally in points allowed and 64th nationally against the run. Some fresh faces have joined the defensive staff, as Rick Kaczenski was hire to coach the line and Terry Joseph will man the secondary. Carl Pelini left to become the head coach at FAU, which allowed John Papuchis to be promoted to coordinator. The changes should bring some energy to the defense, but this unit must replace linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, while fixing the run defense. The interior of the line was an issue after Jared Crick’s season-ending injury last year and could be a work in progress once again. Nebraska’s defense should be more prepared for life in the Big Ten in 2012, but this unit still has a ways to go before returning to its 2009 or 2010 level.  

9. Will Minnesota's MarQueis Gray pickup where he left off last season?
With a non-conference schedule that features matchups against UNLV, New Hampshire, Western Michigan and Syracuse, the Golden Gophers should have a shot at reaching a bowl in 2012. Quarterback MarQueis Gray closed 2011 by playing some of his best football in his career, rushing for 160 yards against Northwestern and adding 167 yards and two scores on the ground in the 27-7 victory over Illinois. The senior is a work in progress as a passer, but his dual-threat ability will give defenses plenty of fits in 2012. With another offseason to work under coach Jerry Kill and coordinator Matt Limegrover, Gray should only get better and will have a chance to total 3,000 overall yards in 2012. 

10. Can Northwestern field a competitive defense?
The Wildcats’ offense, which has finished in the top half of the Big Ten in four of the last five seasons and as high as second last year, appears to be in good hands with quarterback Kain Colter. The question is if the defense can keep up. The Wildcats also had the fewest sacks (17) in the league and allowed opponents to convert half of their third-down opportunities. Northwestern (6.1) and Indiana (6.4) were the only teams in the Big Ten to allow more than six yards per play. The Wildcats’ defense will be anchored by three returning starters at linebacker in David Nwabuisi, Damien Proby and Collin Ellis, plus safety Ibraheim Campbell. An inexperienced defensive line and secondary will determine of Northwestern’s defense is good enough to get the Wildcats back to a bowl game.


by David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)


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Teaser:
<p> Big Ten's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 05:14

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