Articles By Steven Lassan

All taxonomy terms: LSU Tigers, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/lsu-football-les-miles-one-college-footballs-best-coaches
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Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 2 LSU. The Tigers are coming off a disappointing performance in the national title game, but the roster returns nearly intact.

Is Les Miles One of College Football's Best Coaches?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
For a few months in 2011, it was not fashionable to dump on Les Miles. For the first time since Miles arrived at LSU, even the skeptics had to watch Miles as the Tigers beat Oregon, West Virginia, Arkansas and Alabama (the first time around) and relent that maybe Miles is more than just a lucky eccentric with heaps of talent. Then came the drubbing in the national championship game, and Miles’ star fell from elite coach to simply very good. The 21-0 loss in the title game and how woefully underprepared LSU was in that game remains a mark against Miles. But shouldn’t we at least consider that Nick Saban is just in a league of his own, especially in these revenge situations? After all, no one seemed to hold it against Urban Meyer when the Tide answered Florida’s 31-20 SEC championship victory in 2009 with a 32-13 drubbing in the rematch a year later.

While there may be better coaches than Miles in the SEC -- if Bobby Petrino were still at Arkansas, there were at least two better in the West alone -- Miles is a top-10 coach nationally. We can chuckle as Miles sometimes struggles to put together coherent sentences in front of the cameras. We can deride him as lucky on fourth-down attempts or fake kicks. We can say it would be tough to lose with that much talent on defense. All of which may be true, but we’re talking about a coach who hasn’t had a losing season since his first at Oklahoma State and has led LSU to a top-10 finish in five of the last seven seasons. (Funny, though, how Saban seems to get a ton credit for setting the table for Miles at LSU while Miles gets none of the credit for setting the table at Oklahoma State for Mike Gundy). Miles will always be in the shadow of Saban, but so are 123 FBS coaches right now. Take Miles on his own merits and he’s clearly a top-10 coach.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Define 'best?' Is Les Miles one of the top 10 coaches in the nation? Absolutely not. Is he one of college football's better coaches who is capable of winning a whole lot of games? Yes. Miles took the foundation that Nick Saban laid and maintained an elite level of success with four 10-win seasons in six years. With a national title, multiple SEC titles and various national awards, the resume is about as complete as it gets nationally. He certainly is a character whose personality wins over players and leads to massive success on the recruiting trail. Having built arguably the best roster in America, The Hat has a reputation based on energy, flamboyance, swagger and an uncanny ability to entertain.

However, he has also developed another reputation based on bizarre eating habits, poor end-game management, vocal gaffes, and now, the worst BCS performance in the series' 14-year history. Questions about his teams’ mental focus, discipline and overall ability to adjust were beginning to subside after the 13-0 romp through the regular season last fall. However, those issues resurfaced after the most under-prepared, poorly managed title game of the BCS era. Relatively speaking, Miles is one of the better coaches in the nation. But in the Southeast, the stakes — and standards — are higher (sometimes unfairly so), and after LSU became the first and only two-loss team to win a BCS title, that team from Tuscaloosa has clearly been the best program in the SEC. Miles has lost 12 games in four years, and with what could be perceived as the best roster in the nation, three losses per season cannot be perceived as the "best in the nation."

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
When it comes to ranking college football coaches, Les Miles is perhaps one of the most polarizing points of discussion. He has amassed a 75-18 record in seven seasons in Baton Rouge and led LSU to three BCS bowl appearances. In addition to his success with the Tigers, Miles does not get enough credit for his tenure at Oklahoma State. He inherited a team that won 13 games from 1998-2000, but led the Cowboys to at least seven victories in three out of his four years in Stillwater.

Despite his success with Oklahoma State and LSU, Miles still has plenty of detractors. His 17-9 record from 2008-09 was surprising for the recruiting classes he has amassed in Baton Rouge, while there have been some questionable game management situations throughout his tenure. Miles’ team was also embarrassed mightily in the national championship game against Alabama.

Is Les Miles the best coach when it comes to developing gameplans? Probably not. But he can certainly recruit and his players love playing for him. Nick Saban sets the bar high for the rest of the coaches in the SEC, so it’s impossible for Miles or any other coach to challenge him for the No. 1 coach spot in college football.

Miles can be a little wacky at times, but let’s give him some credit for going 75-18 in seven seasons. I wouldn’t place him among my top five coaches in the nation, but Miles probably gets too much criticism and not enough credit for his success at LSU.

Mark Ross
I will admit I am not a Les Miles fan and generally would be the last to defend him. However, in this case, I think we need to give the "Mad Hatter" his due. Love him or loathe him, the man has won 103 games in 12 seasons as a head coach. He went 28-21 in four seasons at Oklahoma State, which may not seem like much, but remember this was before the Mike Gundy era, which has produced the most successful football seasons in Cowboys' history.

He took over at LSU in 2005 and all he did was win 34 games in his first three seasons including a the BCS National Championship in 2007. He took the Tigers back to the national title game last season, and yes they laid an absolute egg in losing ugly to Alabama, but that was still the only game they lost all season. Bottom line is he's 75-18 in seven seasons in the Bayou with two SEC titles and one national title on his resume.

Miles may not be one of top tacticians in college football and he has certainly made his share of game management errors. He also may not be the smartest guy in the room, although you can bet he's usually one of the more quotable ones.

However, he's also never had a losing season, won more than 72 percent of the games he has coached in his career and has done so in two BCS conferences, including the SEC, the nation's toughest. Most importantly, he's one of six current head coaches who have won a national championship. Put it all together and I think we should all give a tip of the hat to Miles, one of college football's top head coaches.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Absolutely. Many critics around the college football world will focus on Miles’ funny quotes, grass-eating or the bad game plan against Alabama in the national championship, but his accomplishments in Baton Rouge are on an elite level. The Mad Hatter has gone 75-18 in seven seasons at LSU, winning 11 games or more five times and going 5-2 in bowl games. Miles has one national title and two SEC Championships in Baton Rouge, and he owns 13 victories over coaches who have won a national title.

Obviously LSU has a ton of tradition and a fertile recruiting base, but Miles’ track record in seven seasons stacks up with any of the past Tigers coaches. One underrated aspect of his teams is their physical nature with the running game and defense. That attitude to punish opponents into submission does not just happen — it starts with the head coach. Even though the Tigers lost in the BCS title game last season, they did win at Alabama, smacked around the Pac-12 and Big East champions and blew out 10-win teams in Georgia and Arkansas. Those feats require more than just talent on the roster. While his entertaining personality on and off the field gets a lot of attention, Les Miles has proven to be one of the best coaches in college football.

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Teaser:
<p> Is Les Miles one of college football's best coaches?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 - 05:23
Path: /college-football/lsu-or-usc-which-team-will-be-college-footballs-no-1-team-2012
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Athlon's College Football Top 25 countdown for 2012 concludes on Tuesday with the release of No. 1 and No. 2. LSU and USC were picked by Athlon's staff to play in the national championship game - but which team should be ranked No. 1?

LSU or USC: Which Team Will Win the 2012 Title?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
At some point during 2012, I’ll get seduced into believe this is the year to end the SEC’s national dominance. Texas looked the part of a usurper before Colt McCoy got hurt against Alabama. Oregon teased me before we learned that the only offense Auburn could stop in 2010 was the one from Eugene. I even subscribed to the notion Oklahoma State deserved a shot at LSU a year ago. In the preseason, it’s just time to relent. I’m going to keep picking the best team in the SEC to win the title until the best team from the SEC stops winning titles. USC is as worthy a contender as there is, but the Trojans still have to contend with Oregon and the limited depth wrought by NCAA sanctions. That’s why my pick for No. 1 will be LSU -- a tough pick over Alabama in the SEC alone. The Tigers’ convincing loss to Alabama in the BCS title game is disconcerting. But LSU is too good to ignore. The Tigers’ biggest liability from one of the most impressive regular seasons of the BCS era was the quarterback, and that looks to improve, or at least not get any worse under Zach Mettenberger. If Tharold Simon can free up Tyrann Mathieu to be the star playmaker as Morris Claiborne did last season, LSU should suffer much of a drop off. Throw in another potentially dominant season for the defense, the stout offensive line, the interchangeable parts at running back, and of course Brad Wing, and LSU could be just as strong as the Tigers were a year ago. As for Alabama -- well, it’s another season. Alabama is going to cycle in another group of first-round draft picks to make up for the five players who were drafted in the first 35 in April, but they’re still going to be first-year starters in the country’s toughest division of the toughest conference. In 2010, that was enough to cost the Tide three games. This season, the drop off might only cost the Tide one or two games, which would be enough to give LSU a trip to the title game.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
In a year that could be wide open across the nation, it feels like four teams sit above the rest: Oregon, USC, LSU and Alabama. Most agree that the Oregon Ducks won't be able to beat USC twice — something it would have to do to land in the national title game with at least one coming on the road. The Ducks defense should be improved and possibly better than it has been over the last three years, and the ground game should certainly pressure that rebuilt Trojan defensive line, but quarterback play will be the difference on November 3 when Oregon flies South to The Coliseum. Lane Kiffin's team should emerge from the West Coast Game of the Century victorious and will likely allow them to host the Pac-12 title game.

The new playoff system won't be implemented until 2014, but 2012 will do its best to provide fans with a national semifinal. While Matt Barkley and John Boyett do battle out West, the SEC will supply the other half of the equation when Alabama visits the bayou on the same day in Baton Rouge. So if the Men of Troy win their way to Miami Gardens, the winner of the LSU-Alabama game will be the likely opponent.

LSU is the best "situation" in college football heading into 2012. It has the best backfield in the nation and likely only trails Bama nationally when it comes to offensive line prowess. The Tigers could also claim the country's best defensive line, one of the top secondaries in the land and the all-important "unfinished business" motivating moniker. And it gets Bama at home in Death Valley. However, the fact remains, if Nick Saban was the head coach at LSU, they would be my clearcut, no doubt, unquestioned No. 1 team in the land. But the winner of two of the last three Crystal Balls resides in Tuscaloosa, not Louisiana. The only thing more important to winning in college football than talent is coaching, and Saban is the best. So as I stated last week, Alabama is my pick to the win the 2012 National Championship.

That said, whether USC faces the Crimson Tide or the Bayou Bengals, Kiffin's bunch will find it very difficult to slow the opposition's power rushing attack. My only concern with the Trojans is the aforementioned defensive line, especially with the overall lack of depth on the roster. There couldn't be a worse area of weakness if you are trying to be the team that snaps the SEC's six-year run atop college football. Can Barkley score enough on LSU to off-set USC's inability to stop the lawfirm of Ware, Ford, Blue and Hilliard? So while I'm sticking with the Tide to repeat, if the match-up is USC-LSU, I am still taking the SEC to win its seventh straight crown.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
All good things must come to an end right? The SEC’s run at the top of college football has provided six national champions and there’s a good chance the conference can provide No. 7. However, I’m going to take USC as my national championship pick for 2012.

After a two-year ban from postseason play, the Trojans are hungry to return to national prominence. USC closed out 2010 by winning four consecutive games, including a 38-35 shootout against Oregon. The only loss over the last two months of 2011 came in a three-overtime duel against Stanford.

Much of the core returns intact for the Trojans in 2012, including Heisman frontrunner Matt Barkley at quarterback, along with the nation’s No. 1 receiving corps. The offensive line will miss Matt Kalil, but four starters return up front. The defense needs to be better, but the back seven should be among the best in college football. Restocking the line is the top priority for coordinator Monte Kiffin, especially after losing Nick Perry, DaJohn Harris and Christian Tupou.

Assuming USC and LSU make it to the national title game, the biggest concern for the Trojans has to be the depth in the trenches. LSU or Alabama presents a difficult test for the frontlines of USC, but the Trojans can counter with an offense that can score with anyone. Knocking off the SEC from the top perch won’t be easy, but with Barkley returning to Los Angeles for one more year, the Trojans are in good shape to win the national title. 

Mark Ross
My vote for No. 1 is USC over LSU. Both the Trojans and Tigers will be loaded with talent, but I give the edge for the top spot in our preseason poll to the team out west, if anything because of who's under center.

USC's Matt Barkley is one of the frontrunners for the Heisman Trophy entering the 2012 season, and arguably considered the favorite at this point. He is without question one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and should have a huge senior season as he has two of the country's top wide receivers - Robert Woods and Marqise Lee - to throw to. USC also returns four starters along the offensive line and a 1,000-yard running back in Curtis McNeal. Expect the Trojans to score early and often this fall.

On the other hand LSU's starting quarterback will be Zach Mettenberger, who was a highly regarded recruit coming out of high school in 2009, but has yet to start a game under center at the FBS level. Menttenberger originally signed with Georgia, but he ran into some off-field trouble and never suited up for the Bulldogs.

He transferred to Butler (Kan.) Community College where he played one season before enrolling at LSU in January 2011. He saw limited action in five games last season, but now with Jordan Jefferson gone, Les Miles has turned the reins over to Mettenberger. He will be helped by a strong running game and four returning starters on the offensive line, but that doesn't change the fact that Mettenberger is still relatively inexperienced. One thing is clear, however, we will find out quickly how good Mettenberger is since LSU opens the season at home against Washington and its first two SEC games are at Auburn and Florida.

Both USC and LSU feature two of the nation's best defenses, which will certainly help the Tigers survive any early-season struggles Metternberger may encounter. And by the end of the season, Mettenberger may emerge as one of the SEC's top quarterbacks. However, in the end, when it comes to No. 1 and winning it all in January, I will always lean towards experience, which is why Barkley and the men of Troy get my vote.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
This is obviously a very difficult call, with both teams returning loaded rosters that are capable of winning every game on the schedule. It seems illogical to bet against an SEC team that pummeled quality opponents not named Alabama last season, but I’ll go with a USC bunch that has the top quarterback in the land and an easier path to the championship game. Matt Barkley will be the Heisman frontrunner in 2012, and he has the best receivers unit in the country with Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, George Farmer and tight end Randall Telfer. The Trojans defense will be led by a nasty back seven and should be much improved from last year. Top opponents like Stanford, Oregon and Notre Dame all have questions at quarterback, and USC should be favored in every game.

An easy case can be made for LSU as the top team in the nation as well, with many of the stars from last year’s SEC Championship team returning. The running game and defense — led by All-America candidates Sam Montgomery, Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid — will be formidable, and Tigers fans are anxious to see how new quarterback Zach Mettenberger fares against a tough schedule. Trips to Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas loom large, and physical home battles with South Carolina, Mississippi State and Alabama will be challenging.

USC may have issues with depth at running back and defensive line, but the Trojans do not lack for talent anywhere on the roster. Getting past Oregon twice will not be easy, but Barkley looks ready to lead his team to a title and wrestle the national championship away from the SEC for the first time since 2005.

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Teaser:
<p> Will LSU or USC finish No. 1 in 2012?</p>
Post date: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 05:44
Path: /college-football/acc-expansion-no-buyers-remorse
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Some might say it’s a darn good thing Pittsburgh and Syracuse cast their lots with the ACC last September, because if the conference had seen how the 2011 football season turned out for the schools, it might have had second thoughts by January. Big second thoughts.

As it turns out, given the events of mid-May, when Florida State started grumbling about the conference’s new TV deal, its “North Carolina-centric” outlook, and how life in the Big 12, SEC or English Premier League might be better, some of that recalculating is already happening.

The 2011 Panthers staggered home 6–7, lost the BBVA Compass Bowl classic to SMU and saw their coach bolt for Arizona State after just one season at the helm. Syracuse, meanwhile, failed to build on its 2010 success and finished 5–7, a record that assured the Orange would be home for the holidays for the ninth time in the last 10 seasons. Clearly, the ACC wasn’t getting the Pitt of Johnny Majors or the Syracuse of Ben Schwartzwalder — or even Paul Pasqualoni, for that matter. Since conference expansion doesn’t often come with a money-back guarantee, it might appear as if the ACC had been stuck with a couple of schools that it might not want after all — especially in a climate in which football dictates policy. Call it expander’s remorse.

When FSU expressed its dissatisfaction, a significant part of it was due to the conference’s new TV deal with ESPN, which should bring members about $17.1 million/year from 2020-27 and reflects the league’s gridiron status behind the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 — all of which deliver more to their schools in television revenue.

The decision to add the Panthers and Orange, which have had much more basketball success than gridiron fortune over the past couple decades, didn’t provide a huge boost in contract negotiations — something that did not please Florida State. But along Tobacco Road and the other conference destinations the thought process is different. The Panthers and Orange aren’t charging into the league with gridiron fortunes high and the promise of fat BCS paydays in the near future, but the expansion game doesn’t work that way these days — at least not in leagues that can afford to be choosy.

It’s one thing for the Big East to enter into a marriage of convenience with Boise State and quite another to make a salient argument that BSU fits with the conference’s other members. Even if Pitt and Syracuse take five or 10 years to return to football prominence, the ACC feels it has made a good move bringing them aboard. FSU may be upset that the league’s inability to expand its football fortunes cost it some television dough, but the rest of the conference is pleased. To them, fit and geography matter most.

“(Pitt and Syracuse) may not have had good seasons last year, but over time, you have teams that are good and bad,” North Carolina AD Bubba Cunningham says. “You want to associate with schools you can work with.”

That’s the key to the Pitt-Syracuse entrance into the ACC. This is not about making the conference stronger in football, although it is reasonable to think the schools won’t struggle long term. This is about fit. It’s about increasing recruiting opportunities. It’s about adding markets to become more attractive to television networks. About bringing aboard schools with similar academic missions and profiles. If the ACC wanted simply to make itself better on the gridiron (and some maintain that should be the goal of every expansion), it could have looked elsewhere, perhaps to West Virginia. But when it comes to the bigger picture, the league made a good move and has solidified itself for the future. Even if the Seminoles skate to “greener” pastures, trading expanded travel (hello, Lubbock!) for a bigger TV payday, the ACC will still be strong.

“(Being successful on the field) isn’t the main philosophical reason why we expand,” Virginia Tech AD Jim Weaver says. “Once we decided to expand, we wanted to get institutions of like backgrounds and philosophical approaches.”

Weaver’s fellow ADs share his sentiments. They point to the schools’ successes in other sports; for instance, both have been extremely successful in men’s basketball, although Pitt’s 2011-12 season wasn’t up to its recent standards. Syracuse’s men’s lacrosse team is a perennial powerhouse, something that fits in well in a conference with national contenders Virginia, North Carolina, Duke and Maryland. Most important is the fact that both schools are committing the resources necessary to be competitive. Last spring, Pitt opened the $29 million Petersen Sports Complex, which features top-shelf baseball, softball and soccer fields.

“Pitt and Syracuse have great histories associated with their (football) programs,” Georgia Tech AD Dan Radakovich says. “One thing intercollegiate athletics teaches us is that all things are cyclical. Are they making the right investments to get back to becoming power schools? Yes, they are.

“But you have to do more than just look at one particular sport. You have to look at the entire athletic program and how it fits into the whole institution.”

Even if the Panthers and Orange aren’t ready to bring BCS bowl checks into the conference coffers, they provide a big help thanks to their locations. Right now, Boston College is the ACC’s northern outpost and lacks a rival within eight hours of its campus. The Eagles can now tell recruits that they will be playing in the Northeast, while other ACC schools can start looking at players to the north and sell them on having the opportunities to play closer to their homes than they would have been able to before. “If you look across the rosters of our teams, we don’t have a lot of kids from that area,” Florida State AD Randy Spetman says. “This lets us look into that area. It will help (football coach Jimbo) Fisher reach out into that region.”

Pitt isn’t particularly close to Boston, but it isn’t far from Central Pennsylvania or even Philadelphia, and that means BC can enter the fertile Keystone State recruiting fields, as can member schools from North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Boston College’s joining the conference extended the ACC footprint to New England, but the Eagles were sort of like an extra toe on that foot. With Pitt and Syracuse aboard next year, the northern end of the conference is much stronger.

“Schools in the south want to go into the north to recruit,” says NC State coach Tom O’Brien, who was at BC when the Eagles joined the ACC. “We can tell players they’ll get a chance to play in the northeast and New England, in New York and Pennsylvania. If you come to our school, you’ll get the chance to come home, and your family and friends can see you.”

Even if they can’t see you in person, there is always TV, and the arrivals of Pitt and Syracuse allowed the ACC to renegotiate its contract. FSU may not look at the new deal as perfect, but it is better than what the league had. What the Seminoles have to weigh is whether the estimated $3 million more they would get from Big 12 membership would offset the perks of being closer to home. Of course, if FSU somehow convinced the SEC to admit it (and perhaps Clemson), it would be a completely different story, since SEC schools are reportedly receiving $25 million/year from the conference’s new TV agreement.

“Television was not the overriding decision,” Spetman said about the decision to expand. “But Commissioner (John) Swofford’s decision to look this way allowed us to (renegotiate). Every day it seems like a conference is getting a new deal. We don’t want to be left on the back porch wondering what happened.”

Although Pitt and Syracuse aren’t yet members of the ACC — the Big East has a 27-month waiting period before a school can leave; that may be shortened — there are already those who are wondering if a 14-team league will be unwieldy and whether adding two more schools might create more symmetry. Spetman, who was at Utah State before FSU, remembers life in the 16-team WAC as having “some problems,” although the league’s geography (from Dallas to Honolulu) was likely the biggest hurdle. Radakovich is taking a wait-and-see approach, while Cunningham thinks “18 might be the ideal number.” Whatever the case, the carousel continues to spin, and the ACC has proven it is eager to take a ride. And getting stronger by adding the two schools could well lead to interest from the expansion Holy Grail: Notre Dame, which might be looking for a convenient home (read: one that will allow it to keep its NBC deal) once the new college football playoff system is finalized.

If Florida State leaves the fold, the ACC will likely move ahead, perhaps looking at Louisville and Cincinnati. Or Connecticut and Rutgers. Or Notre Dame. As always, fit will be a big factor.

And maybe a problem.

Teaser:
<p> ACC Expansion: No Buyer's Remorse</p>
Post date: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 05:41
Path: /college-football/college-fantasy-football-2012-kicker-rankings
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Fall college fantasy football drafts are right around the corner and Athlon is here to help win your league in 2012. Rankings will be updated right up until kickoff and expect plenty of tweaks to over the next couple of months.


Scoring system rankings based upon -

39 yards and under = 3 points
40-49 yards = 4 points
50 yards and beyond = 5 points
Extra point = 1 point

Updated: August 12

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College Fantasy Football: 2012 Team Defense Rankings

Rank Player Team
1 Quinn Sharp Oklahoma State
2 Matt Weller Ohio
3 Dustin Hopkins Florida State
4 Caleb Sturgis Florida
5 Brett Maher Nebraska
6 Drew Alleman LSU
7 Michael Hunnicutt Oklahoma
8 Zach Hocker Arkansas
9 Matthew Sims Northern Illinois
10 Chandler Catanzaro Clemson
11 Dan Conroy Michigan State
12 Matt Hogan Houston
13 Tyler Bitancourt West Virginia
14 Jeremy Shelley Alabama
15 Andre Heidari USC

Teaser:
<p> College fantasy football: 2012 kicker rankings</p>
Post date: Monday, June 4, 2012 - 02:07
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-alabama-no-3-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
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Athlon Sports, publisher of the No. 1-selling college football magazine, continues the release of its preseason Top 25 poll at www.athlonsports.com. The countdown commences every year in early May and leads to the on-sale date of Athlon's category-leading college football preseason annuals.

To celebrate the Alabama Crimson Tide being named No. 3, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide continue the countdown at No. 3 with two preseason All-Americans and nine players selected as All-SEC performers. Athlon Sports predicts Alabama will finish second in the SEC’s Western Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Nick Saban's coaching and recruiting has Alabama sitting on top of the college football world,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “The Crimson Tide did lose some major talent to the NFL, but they will be right back in the hunt for another national title.”

Two Alabama standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with offensive lineman Barrett Jones being voted to the first team and offensive lineman Chance Warmack making the third team. In addition, the Crimson Tide offensive line was ranked No. 1 nationally. The running backs unit was rated No. 5 in the country, while the linebackers’ group was tabbed No. 6 and the defensive line No. 10 in the nation.

Nine Crimson Tide players earned preseason All-SEC honors, including Jones and linebacker Nico Johnson on the first team. Warmack, running back Eddie Lacy and defensive back Robert Lester made the second team, while offensive lineman D.J. Fluker, defensive lineman Jesse Williams, linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive back Dee Milliner garnered third-team honors.

Alabama Team Preview

Alabama's Top 10 Players of 2012

Alabama’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports Names Alabama No. 3 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</p>
Post date: Friday, June 1, 2012 - 10:10
Path: /college-football/alabama-football-can-crimson-tide-repeat-or-look-2010-team
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Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 3 Alabama. The Crimson Tide are the defending national champions, but suffered some key losses. Nick Saban has recruited well, so Alabama shouldn't suffer too much in the win column.

Can Alabama Repeat or Will it Revert Back to its 2010 Record?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The answer in the end may be neither, though Alabama will be in the national title race all season. Alabama looks much closer to playing for a second consecutive title than “slipping” to 10-3 as the Tide did in 2010 after the 2009 national title. That defense was stocked with talent (Marcel Dareus, Courtney Upshaw, Dont’a Hightower, Dre Kirkpatrick) but not experience (one starter). Alabama is restocking its defense again this season, but the Tide at least have four starters back. It’s going to be unreasonable to expect Alabama to approach the defensive dominance of 2011, but there’s no way it’s going to drop off much. Even the 2010 defense finished in the top five. As for the offense, what we saw out of A.J. McCarron against LSU in the national title game gives me reason to believe it will be fine. The Tide won’t have the centerpiece of Trent Richardson, but I could see the offense being more balanced between run and pass and even within the run game with Eddie Lacy and Dee Hart splitting carries. On top of that, the Tide will be running its offense behind perhaps the best line in the SEC.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
My current personal pick to win the 2012 BCS National Championship is the Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama has the best head coach in the nation, and after two national titles in three years, has taken over as the top program in the nation.  Will this defense be as historically dominate as last year's group? Of course not. But Bama isn't hurting for athletes and Saban will insert a plethora of prep All-Americans into starring roles with relative ease. Even with Michigan and Arkansas on the schedule in the first month, the Tide should have little trouble breaking in new starters on that side of the ball. Expect former four- and five-star recruits like Trey DePriest, Adrian Hubbard, C.J. Mosley, Dee Milliner and Xzavier Dickson to be plenty capable of getting stops.

What will make this team dangerous, however, is the offense. Even without Trent Richardson and William Vlachos, the Crimson Tide should feature what could be the top running game in the nation. Saban has the best offensive line in the country and a deep and talented backfield to lean on once again. Saban also has a second-year quarterback in A.J McCarron who earned BCS national title game MVP honors after finishing the year as the SEC's most accurate passer (66.8%) as a sophomore. With the addition of speed and explosiveness to the receiving corps, Alabama's offense has a chance to be dramatically more dynamic in 2012. A truly scary thought considering how strong the defense should be once again.

The solid offenses Bama will face — Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and the Wolverines — simply do not match-up with the Crimson Tide on the defensive side of the ball. Saban's team will dominate the line of scrimmage against those teams. Auburn and Mississippi State, who should be strong at the point of attach, must visit The Capstone and don't have enough offensive firepower to scare too many Crimson Tiders. That leaves the trip to Baton Rouge on November 3 as this year's Game of the Century. But until proven otherwise, I will take the defending national champions to repeat — and make it a cool seven straight titles for the SEC.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
As long as Nick Saban is roaming the sidelines in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide will be one of the top contenders for the national title every year. Despite the loss of 12 starters, I expect Alabama will end the year as one of the top four teams in the nation and not see a repeat of the 10-3 record in 2010.

With linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Mark Barron departing, it’s going to be very difficult for the Alabama defense to repeat last season’s No. 1 ranking in total defense. However, the cupboard is far from bare. The line needs to find a replacement for nose guard Josh Chapman, but Jesse Williams and Damion Square form a solid combination up front. The linebacking corps needs to be revamped, but Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley are solid, while Xzavier Dickson, Adrian Hubbard and Trey DePriest are future stars. Replacing Kirkpatrick won’t be easy, but Dee Milliner is a solid corner, with John Fulton and junior college recruits Deion Belue and Travell Dixon filling out depth in the secondary. It’s unfair to expect a similar statistical year, but this defense will still rank among the top 10 nationally.

While the defense could take a step back, the offense is ready to breakout. Quarterback AJ McCarron is coming off a standout performance in the National Championship and while his receivers are young, there’s a lot of talent waiting to step up in 2012. Trent Richardson will be missed, but Eddie Lacy, Dee Hart and T.J. Yeldon are more than capable of carrying the load on the ground. Even with the departure of center William Vlachos, the offensive line remains one of the best in the nation.

Although this Alabama team has a handful of question marks to address, I think the Crimson Tide will only lose one game in 2012.  

Mark Ross
Alabama should at the very least be in a position to have a chance at two national titles in a row considering the fact that the winner of the BCS National Championship Game has come from the SEC in each of the past six years. The bigger question is this: is this season's Crimson Tide team capable of doing what last year's team didn't - win the SEC Championship?

It's entirely possible that we could have another national title match up that features two teams from the same conference, but for the sake of argument, I am going to call that the exception rather than the rule. To that end, the clearest path for Alabama to take to have a chance at consecutive national titles is to win the SEC crown, which is what the 2009 team did.

Of course winning college football's toughest conference is easier said than done. Four different teams have been crowned SEC champion the past six years - Alabama, Auburn, Florida and LSU. The Gators and Tigers are the only ones to have won it twice during this span. Although it should be pointed out that last year's LSU team is the only team to not take home both the SEC and national titles during this stretch, right 'Bama fans?

That said, I think it's a rather tall order to expect the 2012 Crimson Tide to follow in the footsteps of its predecessor, if you will. For one, NIck Saban lost quite a bit of talent on both sides of the ball as evidenced by the five players who were taken in the first 35 picks of April's NFL Draft. Don't get me wrong, the cupboard's certainly not bare by any stretch, but there will be a lot of new faces in starting roles this fall and I think it's a stretch to not expect some sort of drop off for both the offensive and defensive units.

That's not to say that Alabama won't be a top 10 or even top 5 team by season's end, but in a stacked SEC that includes other national title contenders like LSU and Georgia, and perhaps even Arkansas, not to mention newcomers Missouri and Texas A&M, a dip in offensive production and defensive strength, even if it's just a slight one, may end up being enough to keep Alabama out of the SEC title game and more than likely, the national championship hunt. Besides, the difference between 'Bama's 2011 and '10 seasons in terms of wins is just two. Is a 10-win season and a January bowl win really all that bad?

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think the 2010 team is a good comparison. The Crimson Tide should be right back in the hunt for another national title because of a scary talent base, but they did lose some major talent to the pros. When you have five of the first 35 picks in the NFL Draft (Trent Richardson, Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw), plus three other players selected, there has to be some effect. The defense still has a ton of ability, but there is no way it will be as dominant as the 2011 group that finished No. 1 nationally in pass defense, run defense, scoring defense, pass efficiency defense and of course, total defense.

Alabama’s recruiting and coaching will still produce a top defensive unit, and the offense has a chance to be solid as well. A quality stable of running backs and an efficient quarterback will be led by the best offensive line in the country. If AJ McCarron finds some weapons on the outside, the Tide will have a shot to win every game. While it’s difficult to see Bama claiming a third national title in four years, a double-digit win season looks like a certainty as Nick Saban reloads in Tuscaloosa.

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Teaser:
<p> Can the Crimson Tide Repeat or Look Like the 2010 Team?</p>
Post date: Friday, June 1, 2012 - 05:59
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The Alabama Crimson Tide check in at No. 3 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: AJ McCarron, QB
A case could be made that center Barrett Jones deserves this honor, but McCarron’s development is the key to Alabama’s chances at a repeat. The junior didn’t throw for a touchdown pass in the national championship game against LSU, but his play was the difference in the game. New coordinator Doug Nussmeier should provide a seamless transition from Jim McElwain, and Alabama is expected to allow McCarron to throw more in 2012. Although the Crimson Tide is replacing some key players from last year’s team, a more experienced and poised McCarron will allow Alabama to remain in the mix for the national title.

Upset Alert: at Arkansas (Sept. 15)
It wouldn’t be a shock to see Arkansas knock off Alabama this season, but the Crimson Tide should be favored to win. Alabama won five in a row over the Razorbacks, including a 38-14 victory in Tuscaloosa last season. Arkansas is still reeling from the sudden departure of coach Bobby Petrino, but the offense is loaded with playmakers, including quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis. With several new faces stepping into playing time on the Crimson Tide’s defense, it will be put to the test early against Arkansas’ high-powered offense.

Biggest Game: at LSU (Nov. 3)
These two teams split the two meetings last season, but Alabama won the most important matchup in the national title game in New Orleans. A berth in the SEC title could be on the line in this one, as the Crimson Tide and Tigers are expected to be the teams to beat in the West Division. Alabama has not won in Baton Rouge since 2008 and is 1-2 in its last three matchups against LSU. The loser of this game could still sneak into the national title game again, but the winner will take a significant step toward finishing the regular season as the No. 1 team.

Defensive MVP: Nico Johnson, LB
There’s really not a clear candidate to take this honor, but Johnson’s performance will be critical to the success of Alabama’s defense. Matching last season’s statistics are probably out of the question, but there’s enough talent to remain among the top 10 nationally. Rolando McClain and Dont’a Hightower were both first-round picks and the torch has been passed to Johnson to anchor the linebacking corps in 2012. With seven new starters on defense, the senior’s experience in the scheme will be valuable to getting everyone lined up properly and ready to attack opposing offenses this season.

Breakout Players: Adrian Hubbard, Trey DePriest and Xzavier Dickson
Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley are the veteran leaders in the linebacking corps, but Hubbard, DePriest and Dickson will be three potential breakout candidates. DePriest played in all 13 contests last season and recorded 14 stops. Hubbard and Dickson played sparingly last year, but were ranked among the top 100 players in their recruiting class. DePriest will anchor one of the inside spots, while Hubbard and Dickson will play off the edge and help to replace the pass rush void vacated by Courtney Upshaw.

Unsung Hero: Chance Warmack, OG
Those familiar with the SEC certainly know about center Barrett Jones, but Warmack has quietly emerged as one of the conference’s top linemen. He has 26 consecutive starts, and the SEC coaches selected him as a second-team all-conference lineman last year. Right tackle D.J. Fluker should be in for a breakout year, but Warmack’s steady play on the interior should not be overlooked.

Freshman to Watch: T.J. Yeldon, RB
Trent Richardson will be missed, but Alabama’s rushing attack will remain one of the best in college football. Eddie Lacy will start and should rush for over 1,000 yards. However, there’s no shortage of depth, as redshirt freshman Dee Hart is poised to become a change-of-pace threat, and Yeldon is ready to contribute after a strong performance in the spring game. Although he may not see 100-200 carries, Yeldon should be a factor in Alabama’s rushing attack.

Comeback Player: Dee Hart, RB
Eddie Lacy will be the team’s No. 1 back, but expect Hart to play a large role in the offense this year. He was supposed to play in a change-of-pace role last season, but suffered a torn ACL in summer workouts and was sidelined for the entire 2011 campaign. Hart probably won’t accumulate 150 carries, but will be a weapon on third downs and could see some time on special teams.

Newcomer to Watch: Deion Belue/Travell Dixon, CB
Alabama doesn’t recruit many junior college prospects, and when it does, those players are brought in to play right away. Dee Milliner and John Fulton appear to be locked into the two starting cornerback spots, but Belue and Dixon will help to fill out the depth and contribute significant snaps in the nickel position. Both players ranked among the top 10 junior college prospects by one service, so talent isn’t an issue; however, adapting to playing in the SEC might be.

Position Battle: Wide Receivers
Alabama still has a few positions up for grabs in the fall and some incoming freshmen could figure into the mix. The receiving corps is in flux, as the Crimson Tide must replace Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks. Although both players will be missed, the new receivers could be more athletic than the previous group. Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood, Christion Jones and DeAndrew White hold an edge to be the top four receivers, but will face a battle for playing time with freshmen Chris Black, Amari Cooper, Marvin Shinn and Eddie Williams. This group lacks senior leadership, but plenty of promising talent for quarterback AJ McCarron to target.

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Teaser:
<p> Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 Team Predictions</p>
Post date: Friday, June 1, 2012 - 05:59
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Athlon Sports, publisher of the No. 1-selling college football magazine, continues the release of its preseason Top 25 poll at www.athlonsports.com. The countdown commences every year in early May and leads to the on-sale date of Athlon's category-leading college football preseason annuals.

To celebrate the Oregon Ducks being named No. 4, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Chip Kelly’s Oregon Ducks continue the countdown at No. 4 with three preseason All-Americans and 11 players selected as All-Pac-12 performers. Athlon Sports predicts Oregon will finish first in the Pac-12’s Northern Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Heisman candidates Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, plus an improved defense have Oregon looking like the clear favorite in the North Division,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “The Ducks lost some big-time offensive stars, but Chip Kelly has built this program into a perennial title contender.”

Three Oregon standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with De'Anthony Thomas being voted to the first team at the all-purpose position. Defensive back John Boyett was named to the second team, and running back Kenjon Barner made the third team. In addition, the Ducks running backs unit was ranked No. 3 nationally and best in the Pac-12. The defensive line was rated No. 9 in the country and tops in the conference, while the offensive line was tabbed No. 8 and the linebackers’ group No. 10 in the nation.

Eleven Ducks earned preseason All-Pac-12 honors, including Boyett, Barner, defensive lineman Dion Jordan, linebacker Michael Clay and Thomas at both all-purpose and kick returner on the first team. Offensive lineman Nick Cody, defensive lineman Taylor Hart and punter Jackson Rice were named to the second team, while offensive lineman Carson York, linebacker Kiko Alonso and defensive back Terrance Mitchell garnered third-team honors.

Oregon Team Preview

Oregon's Top 10 Players of 2012

Oregon’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

Teaser:
<p> <strong><span>Athlon Sports Names Oregon No. 4 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</span></strong></p>
Post date: Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 09:05
All taxonomy terms: Oregon Ducks, College Football, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/oregon-ducks-2012-team-predictions
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The Oregon Ducks check in at No. 4 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: De’Anthony Thomas, RB (SO)
There may not be a more versatile, more explosive player in the nation than The Black Mamba. He proved his big-time play-making ability as only a freshman. He finished with 2,235 all-purpose yards and 18 total touchdowns. He averaged nearly 11 yards per carry on 55 attempts and caught 46 passes for 605 yards. His highlight reel talents were on full display in the 45-38 Rose Bowl win over the Badgers in which he touched the ball six times on offense for 189 yards and two touchdowns. Thomas is listed as a wideout and running back and fans can bet Chip Kelly is much more confident in his open-field dynamo. Expect a heavy increase in touches in 2012.

Trap Game: at Cal (Nov. 10)
Berkeley hasn’t been a kind place for the Oregon Ducks. The closest regular season game Oregon played en route to it BCS national championship game appearance in 2010 was the 15-13 defensive struggle — which was the last time Oregon visited Cal. Before that, the Ducks had lost three games on the road against the Golden Bears. With Jeff Tedford’s back (and rear end) firmly placed against the wall in 2012, and a host of talented offensive weapons to utilize, Cal will be a dangerous out. Especially, considering when this game will be played. Oregon will have to get-up to compete after emptying the tank the previous week against USC in L.A. without looking ahead to a potentially huge battle with Stanford the following week. November 10 could be a dangerous day for Ducks faithful.

Upset Alert: at Washington State (Sept. 29)
Mike Leach won’t be messing around as he brings his air raid offense to Pullman, Wash. It should take very little time getting his team into a position to compete every week as Wazzu has a quality signal caller (when healthy) and a superstar wide receiver. Getting the Ducks early in the season helps the Cougars chance at pulling an upset because Carson York may not be fully healthy and the Ducks’ quarterback situation may still be unsettled. Oregon will need to be on full upset alert when they head to the semi-neutral field in Seattle, Wash. The Cougars have been able to score on Oregon of late, 52 points in last two losses, and were closer to the Ducks (43-28) last year than they have been since 2006.

Unsung Hero: Taylor Hart, DT (JR)
The junior nose guard started all 14 games along the defensive line a year ago and is one of the most dependable players in the conference. The 6-foot-6, 289-pounder registered 44 total tackles and 2.5 sacks en route to an honorable mention All-Pac-12 a year ago. He is fundamentally sound and never takes a snap off. His toughness and leadership makes him one of the most underrated players in the conference.

Biggest/Revenge Game: at USC (Nov. 3)
The first clash of West Coast titans will take place on the same day Alabama and LSU battle in Baton Rouge, La. The trip down to Los Angeles to face what could be the nation’s No. 1 team is the biggest game on the 2012 schedule for multiple reasons. First, the Trojans defeated the Ducks in Autzen Stadium a year ago — something no Duck has forgotten. The revenge factor will be in full effect. Second, home field advantage in the Pac-12 title game should be on the line. The Pac-12 is the only BCS league that plays its title game at a home site and earning its fourth straight conference crown will be much easier for Chip Kelly and company in the not-so-friendly confines of Autzen. Finally, not only could a Pac-12 title be on the line but a trip to the national title game could be at stake as well. There are two Games of the Century in college football this fall and they both take place on November 3.

Freshman To Watch: Arik Armstead, DL (FR)
The 6-foot-8, 297-pound monstrosity from Elk Grove, Calif., was a huge recruiting coup for Chip Kelly when he picked the Ducks over other Pac-12 powers. He is the No. 8 prospect in the nation and took very little time this spring proving his mettle. He is a basketball star and has the agility and raw athletic ability to match. Expect him to earn plenty of playing time in only his first year, considering the tendency of Nick Aliotti to rotate so many bodies.

Comeback Player: Carson York, OL (SR)
The senior offensive guard’s status heading into the fall might be the biggest story other than the quarterback battle the entire summer up in Eugene. The Ducks need the stud blocker to recover from his shredded knee, which he suffered in the Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. The injury was so vicious, however, that he may not be ready to roll until mid-season. York, when he returns to full strength, gives Oregon a tremendous baseball-style mid-season addition.

Defensive MVP: Michael Clay, LB (SR)
John Boyett certainly deserves plenty of praise for his ability to lead this defense and protect the back end, but Clay is the heart and soul of the front seven. The “cat-quick, cerebral player” lines-up at the most important position on the field. The San Jose, Calif., native is a bit undersized at 5-foot-11 and 219 pounds but is also incredibly productive. He finished 2011 with 102 total tackles, including 13 against Wisconsin, 8.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks. Look for another steady, dependable, leadership-laden season from the senior linebacker.

Newcomer To Watch: Marcus Mariota, QB
The 6-foot-4, 196-pound signal caller from Honolulu, Hawaii, has a chance to be THE guy in Eugene this fall. He will be in a heated position battle with Bryan Bennett, but dramatically outplayed Bennett in the spring, completing 18-of-26 passes and scoring on a 82-yard romp. He has less experience (try none on the college level), but will undoubtedly elicit Dennis Dixon comparisons the second he takes a snap.

Battle To Watch: Bryan Bennett vs. Marcus Mariota, QB
Mariota is a tremendous athlete who played the best football in spring, but has only played one football season in the last four years (his senior year in high school). Bennett certainly didn’t play as well during the competition in spring but has much more experience after leading the Ducks back from a deficit against Arizona State and starting the Colorado game last fall. Mariota has the slight edge heading into summer camp, but you can bet all eyes in the Pac-12, particularly the defensive coordinators, will be watching this position battle closely. With an easy non-conference slate, expect Chip Kelly to attempt to settle on one name by Week 4 when Arizona comes to town.

Season Defining Moment: Pac-12 Championship Game
If the Ducks are going to win their fourth straight conference crown, they are going to have to top the USC Trojans — twice. While there are plenty of speed bumps in the Pac-12 North — Washington, at Washington State, at Cal, at Oregon State, Stanford — the Ducks still feel like the heavy favorite to make it to the league’s title game. So even if Oregon goes down to Los Angeles on November 3 and gets pummeled by the USC Trojans, Oregon can maintain its strangle hold of the conference, and earn its fourth straight BCS Bowl, by defeating the Men of Troy on Friday, November 30, in the Pac-12 Championship Game. And who knows, if they can beat USC twice, they could be playing for a trip to Miami Gardens.

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Teaser:
<p> Oregon Ducks 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 05:59
All taxonomy terms: Oregon Ducks, College Football, News
Path: /college-football/lamichael-james-or-darron-thomas-which-oregon-footballs-bigger-loss
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Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 4 Oregon. The Ducks have to replace quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James, but remain one of college football's top-five teams for 2012.

LaMichael James or Darron Thomas: Which is Oregon Football's Bigger Loss?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Considering the way Chip Kelly has been able to plug any combination into his backfield  with success over the years, the biggest loss for Oregon this season may be the receiving duo of Lavasier Tuinei and tight end David Paulson or linebacker Josh Kaddu and safety Eddie Pleasant on defense. Going back to Kelly’s days as offensive coordinator at New Hampshire, his quarterbacks consistently have been among the conference leaders in pass efficiency and total offense. Darron Thomas finishing ninth in the Pac-12 in total offense last season was an aberration and likely more a result of having James, Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas in the offense. Replacing running backs has been just as seamless for Kelly’s offense from Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson to LeGarrette Blount to James and part-time work for Barner. Statistically, the Barner and Thomas combo still gives Oregon the big-play ability vacated by James -- James broke off a 20-yard run every 13 carries (Barner/Thomas did it every 16 carries); James ran for at least 10 yards every 5.5 carries (Barner/Thomas did it every 5.8 carries). Of course, most of those runs of at least 20 yards came from DeAnthony Thomas, not to mention Thomas’ contributions to the passing game. I’d argue the sophomore Thomas is the key to the offense more than Darron Thomas or James. I would say James is the bigger loss to the Oregon offense only because it cuts into the big-play ability that has taken Oregon to the top of the Pac-12. The conventional wisdom would be the departure of a veteran quarterback would be the bigger loss, but if Thomas was going to need to fight off competition from Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota this offseason anyway, it shows the quarterbacks were even more interchangeable than we thought.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This one is easy, quarterback Darron Thomas will be much harder to replace than running back LaMichael James. First, running backs are much easier to replace, find and develop than a quarterback. James was a remarkable player, a Heisman Finalist, a Doak Walker Award winner and led the nation in rushing twice in his three-year career. But Pac-12 defensive coordinators aren't taking any deep breaths now that James is gone. No, Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas are the West Coast's version of Trent Richardson. The transition from James to Barner/Thomas should be just as seamless as Mark Ingram to T-Rich. Barner has played 36 games but only started three times. Yet, when he did start, he was nearly as productive as James. Try 58 carries, three receptions, 433 yards rushing, 102 yards receiving and eight total touchdowns in three starts. And while Barner will play the more conventional role, fans can expect Thomas to the be the brightest star, and, like Richardson, might be as good if not better than James. As a true freshman, Thomas rolled-up 2,235 all-purpose yards and scored 18 total touchdowns. There will be little to no drop-off with the Black Mamba.

While the quarterback position hasn't been difficult to fill for Chip Kelly either, replacing Thomas will most assuredly be more complicated. First, Barner and Thomas have loads of experience and talent while Thomas replacements Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota have a combined one career start and 46 career pass attempts (all from Bennett). Both are talented options, likely are more athletic than Thomas and both should execute the Kelly offense well enough to compete for a Pac-12 title. But can the match his production while battling each other for playing time?

Thomas' production still feels wildly underrated. His 66 career touchdown passes top the school record book while his 5,910 yards passing are seventh all-time. He accounted for 71 total touchdowns in two seasons and is one of only three players in Pac-12 history to throw at least 30 touchdown passes in two seasons (Matt Leinart, Andrew Luck). He led the Ducks to back-to-back conference crowns, its first-ever BCS National Championship appearance and capped his career with Oregon's second Rose Bowl title (1917). No pressure for a redshirt freshman and a sophomore.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even though LaMichael James was a special player, I think Darron Thomas is a bigger loss for the Ducks. Good skill players are never easy to replace, but finding a new starting quarterback always provides for more headaches for coaching staffs.

Even though Bryan Bennett started one game last year, Colorado didn’t represent the toughest competition in the Pac-12. Bennett also played well in relief of Thomas against Arizona State and Washington State, but has yet to start for a full season. Marcus Mariota made a push for playing time in the spring and seems likely to begin fall practice as the No. 1 quarterback. Whether it’s Mariota or Bennett, I think Oregon will be in good hands at the quarterback position. However, anytime you have to break in a new starter under center, there is a transition period.

James was one of college football’s top players during his career, but the ground attack won’t miss a beat with Thomas and Barner leading the way. Oregon has produced a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the last five seasons and return two capable running backs in De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner.

The Ducks shouldn’t suffer much (if any) of a drop off in the transition from Thomas and James to Mariota/Bennett and Thomas/Barner. However, the new quarterback has yet to make a start in a road environment like USC, California or Washington State. Having Thomas’ experience could have been enough for Oregon to topple the Trojans in the Pac-12 pecking order this year. Chip Kelly’s high-powered attack might suffer a few hiccups with a new quarterback early in the year, but should rank near the top of the nation in scoring by the end of the season.

Mark Ross
Darron Thomas, hands down. Yes Chip Kelly lost a 5,000-yard rusher in James, but the Ducks' backfield cupboard is anything but bare. First there's Kenjon Barner, a senior who nearly rushed for 1,000 yards himself last season and for his career is averaging better than six yards per carry.

While Barner may be the starter, he may not finish the season as Oregon's top rusher. Barner will share the load with De'Anthony Thomas, the ridiculously talented sophomore who rushed for 155 yards on just two carries in the Ducks' Rose Bowl win, and averaged nearly 16 yards every time he touched the ball (rushing attempts, receptions, punt and kickoff returns) in 2011. He also scored 18 touchdowns (seven rushing, nine receiving, two on kickoff returns) as a freshman. There's not a coach in the country who wouldn't love to have Kelly's "problem" at running back.

As far as quarterback goes, Kelly has, well Kelly's not really sure what he has just yet as the battle for the starting job remains wide open. Thomas shocked everyone when he declared he was foregoing his senior season to enter the NFL Draft. Unfortunately, it's a decision Thomas would probably like to take back considering he was bypassed by all 32 NFL teams in the draft. Instead of lighting up the scoreboard and aiming to lead Oregon to its first national title this fall, Thomas is faced with the tough task of trying to make a lasting impression in some NFL team's minicamp this summer in hopes of earning an invite to training camp.

Meanwhile, the early favorite to take over as the Ducks' starting quarterback was sophomore Bryan Bennett. Bennett made one start last season and put up respectable stats (25-46, 369 yards, six TDs, no INTs) overall. However, it's no small task replacing Thomas, who threw for more than 2,700 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2011 and left as Oregon's all-time leader in passing touchdowns with 66.

That's where redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota comes in. The athletic Mariota, who hails from Honolulu, Hawaii, apparently made enough of an impression during spring practice that at worst he has forced the coaching staff to hold off on naming the starting quarterback until fall practice begins. And depending on who you ask, it may now be Mariota's job to lose.

Either way, the combination of Barner and Thomas in the backfield means Oregon fans will happily root for James as he starts his NFL career with San Francisco, while Duck supporters will be go through the fall wishing Thomas, and not Issac Dixon, was wearing No. 5 and still under center.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
James has the bigger name and was drafted by into the NFL, but I think Oregon will miss Thomas more in 2012. It simply comes down to the fact that the Ducks have multiple weapons who can make big plays running the ball, but the quarterback position remains a question. Thomas was awesome over the last two seasons, throwing for 5,642 yards and 63 touchdowns against 16 interceptions. Bryan Bennett may be the next UO star signal caller, but most of his limited experience has been in mop-up duty. He did throw for 156 yards and two scores against Colorado last year, but we will have to see how Bennett plays on a consistent basis.

Obviously James stats were off the charts, running for over 5,000 yards and 53 scores during the last three seasons. However the Ducks have other stars waiting to become household names. Kenjon Barner had 939 yards and 11 scores in a backup role last season, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. When James missed two starts last year, Barner starred against Arizona State (171 yards and 1 TD) and Colorado (115 yards and 2 TDs). Additionally, all-purpose machine De’Anthony Thomas totaled 155 yards rushing and two touchdowns – on just two carries – in the Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. Both former stars will be missed in Eugene, but Thomas’ departure looms larger for this season.

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Teaser:
<p> LaMichael James or Darron Thomas: Which is Oregon Football's Bigger Loss?</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 31, 2012 - 05:26
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-oklahoma-no-5-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
Body:

Athlon Sports, publisher of the No. 1-selling college football magazine, continues the release of its preseason Top 25 poll at www.athlonsports.com. The countdown commences every year in early May and leads to the on-sale date of Athlon's category-leading college football preseason annuals.

To celebrate the Oklahoma Sooners being named No. 5, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma Sooners continue the countdown at No. 5 with three preseason All-Americans and 16 players selected as All-Big 12 performers. Athlon Sports predicts Oklahoma will finish first in the Big 12 Conference. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Heisman candidate Landry Jones and one of the most athletic defenses in the nation will lead the Sooners this season,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “As long as the running game is sound, Oklahoma will be the team to beat in the Big 12.”

Three Oklahoma standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with offensive lineman Gabe Ikard being voted to the first team. Defensive back Tony Jefferson was named to the second team, and wide receiver Kenny Stills made the third team. In addition, the Sooners offensive line was ranked No. 3 nationally and best in the Big 12. The secondary was rated No. 9 in the country and tops in the conference, while the quarterbacks unit was tabbed No. 9 and the wide receivers group No. 10 in the nation.

Sixteen Sooners earned preseason All-Big 12 honors, including Ikard, Jefferson, Stills and offensive lineman Ben Habern on the first team. Running back Dominique Whaley, offensive lineman Tyler Evans, defensive linemen David King and R.J. Washington, linebackers Corey Nelson and Tom Wort, defensive back Demontre Hurst and kicker Michael Hunnicutt were named to the second team, while quarterback Landry Jones, running back Trey Millard, offensive lineman Lane Johnson and punter Tress Way garnered third-team honors.

Oklahoma Team Preview

Oklahoma's Top 10 Players of 2012

Oklahoma’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

Teaser:
<p> <strong><span>Athlon Sports Names Oklahoma No. 5 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</span></strong></p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - 10:12
All taxonomy terms: Oklahoma Sooners, College Football, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/oklahoma-sooners-2012-team-predictions
Body:

The Oklahoma Sooners check in at No. 5 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Landry Jones, QB
The veteran quarterback holds the key to the Sooners aspirations of a Big 12 and national title. It was an interesting 2011 season for Jones, who passed for 4,463 yards and 29 touchdowns but also threw 15 interceptions and saw backup QB Blake Bell’s running often take over in the red zone. Leading receiver Ryan Broyles has departed, but OU has a solid offensive line and plenty of weapons for its1 all-time passing leader to succeed in his final season.

Upset Alert: at TCU (Dec. 1)
For the first time since 2004, the Sooners’ final regular season will not be the Bedlam matchup with Oklahoma State. Instead OU will visit league-newcomer TCU, a program that Gary Patterson has built into being a national contender. Quarterback Casey Pachall and the Horned Frogs will be tough to beat, and this contest concludes a brutal three-game stretch where the Sooners will travel to West Virginia, host the aforementioned Cowboys and then end the season in Fort Worth.

Trap Game: at Iowa State (Nov. 3)
The Sooners should beat the Cyclones for the 14th time in a row, but hated-rival Oklahoma State found out last season that underestimating the trip to Jack Trice Stadium can have consequences. Paul Rhoads has done a solid job in Ames, and this road trip is wedged between a national spotlight game against Notre Dame and a revenge mission versus Baylor. OU cannot afford to take ISU for granted.

Defensive MVP: Tony Jefferson, DB
The uber-talented Californian will be moving back to safety this season, after playing a hybrid linebacker position much of the time during his first two years in Norman. Jefferson compiled 74 tackles with 4.5 sacks last year, while also adding a team-high four interceptions and a forced fumble. His versatility and sure tackling will make Jefferson an All-America and All-Big 12 candidate, and he will be a leader for new coordinator Mike Stoops.

Breakout Player: Trey Metoyer, WR
It’s unusual to have a breakout candidate who has yet to play a game at Memorial Stadium, but Metoyer’s talent has him projected to be OU’s next big-time receiver. He originally signed as part of the 2011 recruiting class but spent last year at Hargrave Military Academy improving his academics. Now in Norman, Metoyer had six receptions for a team-high 72 yards in the Sooners’ spring game and looks like a future star.

Unsung Hero: Trey Millard, RB
The Big 12’s best fullback is known more for lead blocking and special-teams play than getting touches (169 yards rushing, 127 receiving yards and three total touchdowns), but the league’s coaches thought highly enough of his play to select him first-team All-Big 12 last season. Look for Millard to continue paving the way for a stellar Sooners offense, as well as being a special-teams star (team-high 14 tackles).

Biggest Game: Texas (Oct. 13)
You may have noticed this one on the schedule. The Red River Rivalry is always one of college football’s best spectacles, especially with the Cotton Bowl being split between crimson and burnt orange. Additionally, the Sooners and Longhorns battle will likely determine the Big 12 champion. OU has won two in a row since dropping four of five from 2005-09, and Bob Stoops’ bunch would like to build on a new winning streak over the hated Horns.

Revenge Game: at Texas Tech (Oct. 6)
There are three main candidates here, but the Texas Tech loss last season was especially painful. The Sooners were 6-0 and thinking Big 12/national title when Tommy Tuberville’s Red Raiders pulled off the shocker in Norman, 41-38. OU has lost in its last three trips to Lubbock, so there will plenty of revenge motivation for the Sooners in early October.

Freshman to Watch: Durron Neal, WR
Much of the attention on Signing Day went to fellow receiver Trey Metoyer, but Neal was rated as the No. 74 prospect in the nation in this year’s AC100. The Missouri native played all over the field at De Smet Jesuit High School, and he caught 35 passes for 825 yards and 15 touchdowns while rushing for 716 yards and 11 scores during his senior season. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound athlete should compete for early playing time.

Newcomer to Watch: Chaz Nelson, DE
Ends Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis accounted for 32 tackles behind the line of scrimmage last season, so there is plenty of production to replace. Nelson was the Jayhawk Conference Defensive Player of the Year at Garden City Community College, compiling 96 tackles, 9.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles. The starters are set, but the 6-foot-3, 240-pound junior should earn early playing time in the Sooners defensive end rotation.

Position Battle: Wide Receiver
With the departure of leading pass catcher Ryan Broyles and some off-the-field issues, there are question marks at this position past Kenny Stills. Obviously Stills’ numbers (61 catches for 849 yards and eight touchdowns) project him as the group’s leader, and the hope is that newcomer Trey Metoyer lives up to the hype. Returners Jaz Reynolds, Trey Franks and Kameel Jackson were all suspended in the offseason. There will be competition here, including freshmen wideouts Sterling Shepard, Durron Neal and Derrick Woods.

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Teaser:
<p> Oklahoma Sooners 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - 05:59
All taxonomy terms: Oklahoma Sooners, College Football, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/oklahoma-sooners-football-landry-jones-national-championship-quarterback
Body:

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 5 Oklahoma. The Sooners suffered some losses in the receiving corps, but the passing attack should be in good hands with quarterback Landry Jones and receiver Kenny Stills returning. The defense will have a revamped front seven, but remains one of the best in the Big 12.

Can Landry Jones Be a National Championship Quarterback?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
So much of Landry Jones’ success in the fall probably will be determined by seven on sevens with his receivers this summer. Jones is a quality quarterback, but he was lost without Ryan Broyles. Without Broyles, Landry Jones didn’t simply struggle. He statistically was one of the worst quarterbacks in the Big 12. In the four full games without Broyles, Jones had a passer rating of 116.5, more than 30 points lower than his his rating through the first nine games. Over a full season, that pass efficiency rating would have been the worst among Big 12 starting quarterbacks. Jones’ passing yards per attempt dropped from 8.5 yards to 6.6, which was fewer yards per attempt than Kansas’ Jordan Webb. Losing a receiver like Broyles threw the offense into disarray, not just Broyles, too. Kenny Stills needs to be ready to assume the No. 1 receiver role, a spot that’s going to be even more critical than it was a year ago. With third-leading receiver Jaz Reynolds suspended indefinitely, the position behind Stills is awfully inexperienced. If Reynolds is gone for any appreciable amount of time, Jones and Stills will need to be a championship-caliber duo because it’s a mystery what Oklahoma will get out of the rest of the receiver group. Of course, they were all major recruits, but guys like Trey Metoyer, Durron Neal and Sterling Shepard are all freshmen. I believe Jones can become a championship-level quarterback despite all these variables in the Oklahoma offense. Jones has the experience and he’ll have talent around him, even if some of it is untested. There are questions here, but I don’t think we can take Jones’ experience and career production lightly.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Yes, but if the Oklahoma Sooners win, or even simply play, in the BCS National Championship game this fall, Mike Stoops and Tim Kish will deserve more credit than Jones. The senior quarterback has been incredibly productive in his career in Norman and should only post another statistically stellar season for the Sooners. But not many players have ever entered their final season with over 12,000 yards passing, nearly 100 touchdowns and as many question marks as Jones.

I've written about his numbers numerous times this summer, but just in case you missed our Big 12 quarterback rankings, here it goes. The Sooner showed major development from 2009 to 2010, increasing his completion percentage (58.1% to 65.6%) and significantly dropped his interception rate (one INT every 32.1 attempts versus one every 51.4 attempts). Yet, 2011 saw Jones regress in both categories — to 63.1% and 37.5 attempts/INT. Additionally, his road record has been a major issue. He is 7-8 on the road as a starter and is 19-1 in Norman. Finally, he limped to the finish last year, going without a single touchdown pass in the final three games of the regular season — with five interceptions nonetheless.

Certainly, a healthier running game, featuring Dominique Whaley, and full receiving corps will help Jones get back on track. The emergence of Kenny Stills and expected contributions from newcomer Trey Metoyer will only help stabilize the Broyles-less wide receiver position. Additionally, Jones worked with quarterback guru George Whittfield over the off-season and should be at his best as a senior. Still, Jones needs to prove he can win the key games on the road in key situations — e.g., at West Virginia, TCU, Texas Tech, Iowa State and the all-important neutral site contest in Dallas against Texas.

Jones can absolutely be a national championship quarterback, but if the Sooners are to go undefeated and play in Miami Gardens next January, I have a sneaking suspicion it will be more because of defense — aka Mike Stoops and Kish — than Jones himself. Hmm? A Mike Stoops-led stifling Sooner defense that ends up playing in South Florida for a national title? Sound familiar?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Oklahoma can win the national title with Landry Jones as its quarterback, but he does need to play better. Consistency and cutting down on the interceptions are two areas that Jones needs to improve upon this year but that could be tricky with some uncertainty at the skill positions.

Jones was having a solid 2011 season prior to receiver Ryan Broyles suffering a torn ACL in the victory against Texas A&M. He threw for 448 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-28 victory over Missouri and completed 31 of 50 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns in a 55-17 rout against Texas. However, the offense came unglued after losing Broyles and posting 38 points in a loss to Baylor, as Jones tossed six interceptions and failed to throw for more than 256 yards in each of the final three games. With a full offseason to work on replacing Broyles, I expect Oklahoma’s passing attack to be better this year – even if it has some true freshman in the rotation.

As with any quarterback, Landry Jones gets too much of the blame when things go bad and too much credit when things go right. As a senior, Jones should put together a solid season, and if the Sooners are the Big 12’s best team, then they will be in the national title hunt. However, the Sooners’ quest to play in Miami at the end of the year could rest on running back Dominique Whaley’s health and a rebuilt front seven on defense. Jones is the least of Oklahoma’s concerns, but he does need to take his play up another level if the Sooners want to finish in the top two of the BCS standings.

Mark Ross
Absolutely. Since Oklahoma is a preseason top 10 team, by our own (Athlon's) estimations, the Sooners figure to be in the national title hunt all season long, provided they take care of business in the Big 12 conference. Texas looks to be very strong on defense, but the annual Red River Shootout could be just the game where Jones, the seasoned senior quarterback, is the difference. Jones' experience may also come up big at the end of the regular season when OU finishes up with road games at Big 12 newcomers West Virginia and TCU, sandwiched by a home date against in-state rival Oklahoma State. Outside of their Big 12 slate, the Sooners' toughest non-conference foe will be Notre Dame, who comes to Norman on Oct. 27.

As far as Oklahoma's national title aspirations go, I think the least of the Sooners' worries is Jones. Here's a kid who's averaged more than 4,100 yards passing and 31 touchdowns in his first three seasons, and has completed more than 63 percent of his passes in his career. He's led the team to a 22-5 record the past two years, including a 11-5 mark in the Big 12 and the 2010 Big 12 title.

Last season, even though All-American wide receiver Ryan Broyles missed four games because of injury, Jones still finished second in passing yards (4,463) and tied for second in touchdowns (29) in the Big 12. The quarterbacks who finished ahead of him? Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and fellow first-round NFL draft pick Brandon Weeden.

Broyles is gone, but Jones appears to have plenty of weapons at his disposal, including wide receivers Kenny Stills and Trey Metoyer, among others. The Sooners' running game still needs to sort itself out, but the offensive line returns three starters including All-American candidate Gabe Ikard. The defense also should be strong as seven starters return, including three in the secondary.

So the pieces appear to be in place for Oklahoma to make a run at another national title. There's still plenty of business to take care of on the field, but to that end I think the Sooners could do a whole lot worse than having Jones as their quarterback.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
It will be difficult for the Sooners to win it all, but I definitely think that Jones is a good enough signal caller to lead OU to a title. He is already Oklahoma’s s all-time passing leader with 12,379 career yards, and the New Mexico native owns 13 school passing records. Some critics point to “his” road record being subpar, but Jones does not get enough credit for what he does do. If the 2008 Sooners offense is the standard, then every QB in the land would fall short of expectation. Jones’ record as a starter over the last two seasons is 22-5, and the defense allowed 33, 36, 41, 45 and 44 points in those defeats.

The offensive line and running game should be improved this season as Jones searches for new weapons on the outside with Ryan Broyles’ graduation. Kenny Stills (61 catches for 849 yards and eight touchdowns) is a proven receiver and newcomer Trey Metoyer looks like a player, but there are off-the-field questions with the suspended Jaz Reynolds, Trey Franks and Kameel Jackson. Jones should lead another powerful offense, while new coordinator Mike Stoops takes over the defense. The run game and defense must be better to win it all, and OU has a brutal three-game stretch to end the season at West Virginia, hosting Oklahoma State and at TCU. However if his teammates play to their potential, Jones can lead the Sooners to a BCS crown.

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Teaser:
<p> Can Landry Jones lead Oklahoma to a national title?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - 05:57
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-ohio-state-no-6-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
Body:

Athlon Sports, publisher of the No. 1-selling college football magazine, continues the release of its preseason Top 25 poll at www.athlonsports.com. The countdown commences every year in early May and leads to the on-sale date of Athlon's category-leading college football preseason annuals.

To celebrate the Ohio State Buckeyes being named No. 6, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes continue the countdown at No. 6 with two preseason All-Americans and 10 players selected as All-Big Ten performers. Athlon Sports predicts Ohio State will finish first in the Big Ten’s Leaders Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“It won't take long for Urban Meyer to have the Buckeyes back on top in the Big Ten,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “Ohio State isn't eligible for the postseason, but this looks like the best team in the league in 2012.”

Two Ohio State standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with defensive linemen John Simon and Johnathan Hankins both being voted to the second team. In addition, the OSU defensive line unit was ranked No. 6 nationally and best in the Big Ten. The secondary was rated No. 5 in the country.

Ten Buckeyes earned preseason All-Big Ten honors, including Simon, Hankins, tight end Jake Stoneburner and defensive back C.J. Barnett on the first team. Quarterback Braxton Miller, offensive linemen Jack Mewhort and Andrew Norwell, kicker Drew Basil and defensive backs Bradley Roby and Christian Bryant garnered second-team honors.

Ohio State Team Preview

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 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

Teaser:
<h1 class="ha" style="font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 18px; margin: 12px 1px 9px 0px; padding: 0px 0px 0px 8px; color: rgb(34, 34, 34); background: inherit; border-right: inherit; background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0.917969); font-weight: normal; "> <span class="hP" id=":6v" style="padding-right: 10px; ">Athlon Sports Names Ohio State No. 6 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</span></h1>
Post date: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - 09:06
Path: /college-football/ohio-state-buckeyes-2012-team-predictions
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The Ohio State Buckeyes check in at No. 6 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Braxton Miller, QB (SO)
Uber recruit Miller did very little to dispel his title of heir apparent in Columbus. While it might have come one year sooner than Bucknuts would have hoped, Miller’s experience in 2011 was invaluable. He showed flashes of brilliance in the second half of the season both on the ground and through the air. Now, he has a coach who knows exactly what to do with the lightning quick 6-foot-2, 210-pound dual-threat dynamo. Meyer’s spread system is the perfect fit for Miller, who will use 2012 as a practice field for potential greatness in 2013.

Trap Game: Illinois (Nov. 3)
The Buckeyes two biggest games of the year should be a road trip to Wisconsin and Michigan at home in the final two weeks of the year. Coming off a tough road trip to Happy Valley and with a bye week looming, the Bucks could be in for a letdown against division foe Illinois as they prepare for their brutal two-game season finale. The Orange Crush is a talented roster and should be dramatically better coached under Tim Beckman. It wouldn’t be the first time a Fighting Illini team went into the Horseshoe and toppled an undefeated OSU squad.

Upset Alert: at Penn State (Oct. 27)
Braxton Miller had one of his worst passing games of the season last fall in the 20-14 home loss to Penn State. He completed only 7-of-17 passes for 83 yards as the Nittany Lions rushed for 239 yards. Fans can bet that Miller will be better and the Bucks rushing defense will be better, but if Ohio State isn’t careful heading into Halloween weekend, it could be looking at another upset. The PSU defense will be stout as usual and the Buckeyes will be playing on the road on primetime national television. This game could either carry divisional implications for the Lions — or, if they are out of it, could be considered their Super Bowl of 2012.

Unsung Hero: Jack Mewhort, OL (SR)
On a unit that is lacking for depth, star power and consistency, Mewhort might be the most important. The Toledo, Ohio, native has played at every position along the offensive line and will now be asked to protect Braxton Miller’s blindside. The outside of the offensive line will be the major question mark and it falls to Mewhort to stabilize the edge. Meyer believes that “he is probably our best lineman and he is our most consistent lineman.”

Biggest Game: Michigan (Nov. 24)
The Wolverines could be the only thing any Buckeye is thinking about this fall. With little to play for but respect, revenge and honor, beating Michigan — and, say, knocking it out of the Big Ten title game — would be the sweetest victory Ohio State faithful will taste all season. With nothing else to play for on the final weekend of the regular season, fans can bet that every ounce of energy will be poured into beating that team from up North.

Revenge Game: Nebraska (Oct. 6)
The Buckeyes were up 27-6 in Lincoln last year with just over 10 minutes left in the third quarter. But Braxton Miller sprained his ankle and the OSU offense went into the tank. The Huskers ended up scoring 28 straight points and winning 34-28. The Bucks finished 3-4 down the stretch after the loss and will now have a chance get revenge on the title contending Big Red on its home turf.

Freshman To Watch: Taylor Decker, OL
The offensive line is the only major area of concern for Urban Meyer heading into this season. He has had to shuffle players around, switch tight ends to tackles and is banking on two young freshman to bolster his spotty front line. Decker has already, through one spring practice in Columbus, found himself as the third tackle on the roster behind Jack Mewhort and Reid Fragel. Expect him and fellow freshman Kyle Dodson to become regulars in the OSU offensive line rotation.

Comeback Player: Nathan Williams, DL (SR)
The senior will battle with sophomore Michael Bennett — and his rehabbing knee — for starting time opposite of John Simon all summer long. Williams missed all but one game last year with a knee injury. The 2011 preseason All-Big Ten selection posted 45 tackles and 4.5 sacks back in 2010 and will be either a starter or top reserve on arguably the best defensive line in the Big Ten.

Defensive MVP: Johnathan Hankins, DT (JR)
John Simon might be the best leader, the most consistent and the strongest force up front for the Bucks, but Hankins is the most talented. The massive defensive tackle has trimmed his weight to 317 pounds and all reports are he is much quicker. In fact, one of the best quotes in the Athlon Sports 2012 Big Ten preview magazine comes from veteran center Corey Linsley. “Hank is now a little bit less of an immovable object and is more of an unstoppable force.” The more explosive Hankins could easily be a top ten pick in the 2013 NFL Draft with an outstanding season this fall.

Newcomer To Watch: Mike Thomas, WR (FR)
The wide receiving corps has no clear playmaker to speak of heading into 2012. The tight ends are very talented but Philly Brown, Devin Smith and Chris Fields don’t exactly inspire greatness. While they are solid players, none are elite All-American talents. Thomas, who caught 12 passes in the spring game, has coaches raving about the 6-foot-2, 193-pounders ability to contribute right away. Braxton Miller clearly had no problems finding him on the field this spring.

Season Defining Moment: at Michigan St (Sept. 29)
Does November 28, 2011 count? The day Urban Meyer accepted the Ohio State job may not be eligible for this list but it might be more than just a season-defining moment but a program-defining moment. And Meyer’s impact could be no more evident than in the Big Ten opener against Michigan State. If the Spartans can beat Boise State and Notre Dame, they will be 4-0 when Ohio State comes to town. If the Buckeyes can go into East Lansing and beat what will likely be a top 15 team, the rest of the conference will be warned. Especially considering how well the offensive line will have to play to defeat Sparty on the road.

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Teaser:
<p> Ohio State Buckeyes 2012 Team Predictions</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - 05:56
Path: /college-football/ohio-state-football-will-buckeyes-have-best-record-big-ten
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Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 6 Ohio State. New coach Urban Meyer should bring a quick turnaround to Columbus, especially with sophomore Braxton Miller due for a breakout season. The Buckeyes are ineligible to play for the Big Ten title in 2012.

Will Ohio State Have the Best Record in the Big Ten?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I’m a believer that Ohio State will be vastly improved -- judging by our top-10 ranking of the Buckeyes, that’s not news -- but I am concerned that improving from 6-7 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten to the top team in the Big Ten is a stretch. True, Ohio State’s last six losses were all by a touchdown or less and only two of them were in Columbus. I credit some of those lapses to a rookie coach and a freshman quarterback. Now, Ohio State has Urban Meyer and a sophomore signal-caller who could be a perfect fit in the offense. Let’s face it: Meyer is a miracle worker in year one. He’s never won fewer than eight games in his debut season -- he improved Bowling Green from 2-9 to 8-3, Utah from 5-6 to 10-2 and Florida from 7-5 to 9-3. I tend to believe his first year at Ohio State will be closer to his first year at Florida than his stops in the MAC and Mountain West. Ohio State will have a top-notch defense loaded with upperclassmen and two talented sophomores (cornerback Bradley Roby and linebacker Ryan Shazier), but the offense is a question mark. We just assume Miller is going to be a star overnight. The talent is there as is the coaching, but he’s still a guy who didn’t complete more than eight passes in a game until the last two games against Michigan and Florida. He rarely completed even half his passes after taking over as the starter. Ohio State will be better, but the Buckeyes aren’t going to be the (on paper) Big Ten champion.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
I will say yes, but since the Big Ten feels so wide open in 2012, I don't feel strongly about it. Ohio State will be dramatically improved in the win-loss ledger simply because the team is finally unified, led by one of the nation's elite head coaches and can only improve from what was the worst Buckeye team since...1988?

The non-conference slate offers some interesting challenges that should be perfect for a developing star quarterback and stellar defense. UCF and Cal are both bowl teams with quality talent but winning at the Horseshoe is highly unlikely. A 4-0 record heading into conference play is all but certain for the Bucknuts. However, Week 5 is where things get interesting. We will know most of what we need to know about Ohio State when they open Big Ten play in East Lansing. The Spartans have the offensive line and defense to challenge the Buckeyes, but do they get the quarterback play needed to beat OSU? If Ohio State wins that game, they won't lose until late November — if at all.

Nebraska, Purdue and Illinois will all be tests at home with the Huskers offering the toughest opposition. Yet, Ohio State was up 27-6 in Lincoln last year when Braxton Miller got hurt and Big Red made the improbable second-half comeback. There is no chance that type of loss happens again under Urban Meyer. Road trips to Penn State and Indiana sprinkled in should be wins as well.

That leaves the final three weeks of the season to likely determine who has the best record in the league. The bye week is perfectly situated in front of a road trip to Wisconsin. The Badgers and Spartans will likely be the two toughest games of the year and I believe Ohio State will slip up against one of the two. Ohio State hasn't lost in East Lansing since 1999 and is 7-1 in the last eight against MSU while it's 1-2 in its last three trips to MadTown.

This, of course, brings us to the season finale against the bitter rival from up North. With nothing left to play for but a chance to ruin it's arch-rival's title bid, I cannot see Ohio State losing at home to Michigan. Last year's 40-34 shootout road loss to Michigan is telling. The worst Ohio State team in over two decades nearly upset the best Michigan team since 2006 on the road. If Ohio State goes 11-1, it will have the best overall record in the league, and, at 7-1, will likely tie for the best conference record as well.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The balance of power in the Big Ten for the 2012 season is definitely tilted in favor to the Legends Division. Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska each have a strong case to be picked No. 1 in the Legends and be ranked among the top 10-15 teams for the upcoming year. The Leaders Division is down, as Wisconsin is not expected to repeat last season’s win total, and Penn State will be in a battle just to get to seven victories.

Considering the strength of the Legends Division, I think Ohio State will emerge with the Big Ten’s best record. The Buckeyes are coming off a disappointing 6-7 season, but the pieces are in place for a big improvement in the win column. New coach Urban Meyer has engineered quick turnarounds at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida, and Ohio State figures to fall into a similar path.

Outside of Meyer’s arrival, the biggest reason for optimism in Columbus is quarterback Braxton Miller. He took his lumps as a true freshman last season and should thrive in Meyer’s spread attack. The Buckeyes need the receiving corps and offensive line to jell, but the defense should be one of the best in the nation.

Ohio State should sweep the non-conference portion of its schedule, but could lose at least two games in Big Ten play. Matchups at Michigan State and Wisconsin won’t be easy, while the Buckeyes host Nebraska and Michigan.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if the champion of the Legends Division and Ohio State finish the regular season with the same amount of Big Ten wins (six), but I think Meyer finds a way to lead the Buckeyes to the conference’s best record.

Mark Ross
Big things are expected in Columbus in Urban Meyer's first year. However, the Buckeyes' regular season success will have to satisfy OSU fans in 2012 since there will be no postseason in Year 1 under Meyer. As long as Meyer and the coaching staff can find a way to keep their players motivated throughout the season, then it wouldn't surprise me one bit to find them with the top conference mark when all is said and done, even if it doesn't result in a trip to Indianapolis to play in the Big Ten Championship game.

Wisconsin should be Ohio State's toughest opposition in the Leaders Division and these two will meet up in Madison on Nov. 17. That's a week before the Buckeyes' true season finale, a home game against none other than Michigan. Ohio State also faces another tough back-to-back assignment earlier in the season when it takes on Legends contenders Michigan State (in Lansing, Sept. 29) and Nebraska (home, Oct. 6) on consecutive Saturdays.

If Ohio State can navigate these four games with no worse than a split, than the Buckeyes are looking at no worse than a 6-2 conference record. However, I think Meyer uses the postseason ban to his advantage in firing up his guys, and the Buckeyes bond together to prove a point to the rest of the Big Ten. And just like what happened last season with USC winning its division, but not being eligible to play in the Pac-12 Championship Game, a 7-1 Ohio State team will see to it that the 2012 Big Ten title game includes just one true division winner. 

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I see the Buckeyes going either 6-2 or 7-1 in league play, so they should at least tie for the best Big Ten record. Ohio State does have to play the three top teams from the Legends Division — Michigan State, Nebraska and Michigan — plus travel to Wisconsin. But I think Urban Meyer has the roster to split those four conference games, if not go 3-1. Last season in Columbus involved so much turmoil and change, and I see the Buckeyes going right back to the top of the Big Ten pecking order this year.

The OSU resurgence will start with an excellent defense, led by linemen John Simon and Johnathan Hankins as well as secondary members C.J. Barnett, Bradley Roby and Christian Bryant. The Buckeyes were a lock for top 10 in total defense for most of the past decade, and I see them getting back to that lofty standard. On offense, quarterback Braxton Miller could have a breakout sophomore season in Meyer’s dual-threat system and with a year of experience under his belt. Ohio State will not be eligible for the Big Ten Championship or a bowl game, but the Buckeyes are a top candidate for having the league’s best record.

Related Ohio State Content

Ohio State Buckeyes 2012 Team Preview
Ohio State Buckeyes Top 10 Players for 2012

Ohio State Buckeyes 2012 Team Predictions

The Greatest Players in Ohio State Football Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in Ohio State Football History

Ohio State Buckeyes Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Ohio State Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Will Ohio State Have the Big Ten's Best Record in 2012?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - 05:55
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-michigan-no-7-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
Body:

Athlon Sports, publisher of the No. 1-selling college football magazine, continues the release of its preseason Top 25 poll at www.athlonsports.com. The countdown commences every year in early May and leads to the on-sale date of Athlon's category-leading college football preseason annuals.

To celebrate the Michigan Wolverines being named No. 7, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Brady Hoke’s Michigan Wolverines continue the countdown at No. 7 with one preseason All-American and nine players selected as All-Big Ten performers. Athlon Sports predicts Michigan will finish first in the Big Ten’s Legends Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Brady Hoke has returned Michigan to prominence and has the Wolverines looking like the favorite in the Legends Division,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “Heisman candidate Denard Robinson will lead a high-scoring offense once again, and the defense should continue the improvement it showed last season under coordinator Greg Mattison.”

One Michigan standout was named a preseason All-American, with quarterback Denard Robinson being voted to the third team. In addition, the U-M quarterbacks unit was ranked No. 3 nationally and best in the Big Ten. The offensive line was rated No. 10 in the country.

Nine Wolverines earned preseason All-Big Ten honors, including Robinson and offensive lineman Taylor Lewan on the first team. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and wide receiver Roy Roundtree were named to the second team, while offensive lineman Patrick Omameh, defensive lineman Craig Roh, linebacker Kenny Demens and defensive backs Blake Countess and Jordan Kovacs garnered third-team honors.

Michigan Team Preview

Michigan's Top 10 Players of 2012

Michigan’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

Teaser:
<p> <strong><span>Athlon Sports Names Michigan No. 7 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</span></strong></p>
Post date: Friday, May 25, 2012 - 10:26
Path: /college-football/michigan-football-will-denard-robinson-be-heisman-finalist
Body:

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 7 Michigan. Quarterback Denard Robinson is back, but the Wolverines must replace center David Molk. The defense must replace tackle Mike Martin, but should be solid in the back seven.

Will Denard Robinson Be a Heisman Finalist in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Robinson has nearly all the trademarks for a Heisman finalist according to HeismanPundit.com’s 10 Heismandments. He’s a senior quarterback for one of college football’s elite programs. With a nickname like Shoelace, he’s likable. His games are mandatory viewing and on just about every play he has a chance to set Twitter ablaze -- a fair amount of those pundits out there, of course, are Heisman voters. Even if he has one underwhelming game -- say, against Alabama to start the season -- he’ll have Notre Dame to recover. Or Michigan State. Or Nebraska. Or Ohio State. Or the Big Ten championship game. What’s holding Robinson back is consistency. He had some serious lapses last season in throwing up a pass and hoping for the best. Against Notre Dame, it worked. Other times, it didn't. Still, there’s plenty of reason to believe Robinson will improve. He threw nine of his 15 interceptions last season in the first six games. Then, he threw six picks in the final seven, never more than one in a game during that stretch. That’s not good enough to be Heisman-worthy, but it’s at least a sign of progress. If Robinson marginally improves to become a 60 percent passer and throws only 10 interceptions (after completing 55 percent of his passes and throwing 15 picks), Michigan may be the national title race. And that’s not even counting the breakaway runs he’s sure to have throughout the season. To win the Heisman, Robinson may need a career year, but career achievement alone might be enough to get him to New York.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Yes. Barring any major injuries — which is certainly possible with Robinson's playing style — the Michigan quarterback should be the Big Ten's representative in New York City come December. With no disrespect meant to Montee Ball or Rex Burkhead, who should both have stellar senior seasons, there's no better situation for a Heisman run in that league than the guy under center at Michigan. And it all starts Week 1 on primetime national television against the defending national champions in the biggest football stadium in the world.

While he needs to show improved efficiency and decision making, all of the needed factors are in place for Shoelace to make a serious run at the stiff-arm trophy. He plays the quarterback position, and 11 of the last 12 Heisman winners have played under center. He is the leader and engine of the potential Big Ten champions and will play in marquee match-ups against the likes of Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State. He is unequivocally the single-most electrifying athlete playing the quarterback position in the entire nation. And statistically, there may not be another player in the history of the sport who can match D-Rob's production when his career is all said and done.

He is the only player to ever top 2,500 yards passing and 1,500 yards rushing in one year. He is only the fourth player in history to go for 2,000-1,000 twice in his career and could become the only player ever to do it three times. He already owns the NCAA single-season quarterback rushing record with 1,702 yards, and with 1,252 yards on the ground this season, he will pass Pat White to become the top rushing quarterback in NCAA history. Robinson has all the necessary pieces laid out in front of him for a forceful Heisman run — as long as he can stay healthy.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The battle to win a spot to New York for the Heisman ceremony will be an interesting race to watch this season. Barring injury, you can go ahead and write in USC quarterback Matt Barkley for one of the five spots. Although Wisconsin’s (and 2011 Heisman finalist) Montee Ball won’t repeat last season’s numbers, he should be in the mix for a trip to the Big Apple once again. After that? It’s anybody’s guess.

West Virginia’s Geno Smith should improve on last season’s totals in the second year of Dana Holgorsen’s spread attack and is a potential darkhorse candidate to get to New York. Other top preseason candidates have question marks, including Clemson’s Sammy Watkins with a potential suspension, while South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore is coming off a torn ACL.

Considering the question marks with some of the other top candidates, I think Robinson will be a Heisman finalist in 2012. There will always be a couple of off-the-radar candidates that emerge, but the senior quarterback seems to be in good position to earn a trip to New York at the end of the year. Although Robinson needs to be a better passer, his rushing ability will give him another opportunity to record over 3,000 yards of total offense.

As long as Robinson stays healthy and Michigan is in the mix to win the Big Ten title, he will remain a frontrunner for the Heisman. However, should the Wolverines struggle or Robinson miss a couple of games due to injury, he will fall short of finishing among the top five in voting at the end of the season.

After Barkley, the battle to get to New York for the Heisman ceremony is up for grabs. However, I expect Robinson to be one of the five finalists in early December. 

Mark Ross
Robinson burst on the scene his sophomore season in 2010, when he finished sixth in the Heisman voting after rushing for more than 1,700 yards, passing for more than 2,500 and accounting for 32 touchdowns. He had another productive season in 2011, earning second team All-Big Ten honors and accounting for more touchdowns (36) than the previous season, but he also saw his total offense drop by by more than 900 yards.

The fact that Michigan should be a strong contender for a return to a BCS bowl, not to mention the Big Ten title, certainly helps Robinson's Heisman chances in 2012, however, it also should be noted that in 2010, when Robinson was a near-Heisman finalist, the Wolverines won just seven games. Last season, Michigan won 11, including an overtime victory over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, thanks not only to Robinson's production, but also a much-improved defense and the emergence of 1,000-yard rusher Fitzgerald Toussaint.

Robinson is one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and arguably the best in the Big Ten, but the fact that Michigan is a more complete and balanced team actually hurts Robinson in terms of Heisman consideration. In 2010, he was basically a one-man show, which was a large reason for his lofty numbers and subsequent Heisman votes.

And although he is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, he's still not an extremely polished passer as he has completed less than 60 percent of his throws and holds a 40:30 touchdown-to-interception ratio entering his senior season. The Wolverines' offense, and the team for that matter, is no longer a one-man show. I just think it will be too hard for Robinson to put up the numbers necessary to compete, if you will, with other expected Heisman-contending quarterbacks like Matt Barkley, Tajh Boyd, Landry Jones and Geno Smith, to name a few, and finish the season as a finalist for college football's most coveted honor.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I do not think Robinson will be one of the top five players in 2012, but he has a great shot to receive an invitation to New York in December. The key with the always-political Heisman is late momentum, something that has eluded Michigan’s quarterback for the last two seasons. If the Wolverines can win the Big Ten for the first time since 2004, then D-Rob almost seems assured of a trip to the Big Apple.

Robinson should put up solid numbers with his elite speed, but it’s tough to build a Heisman campaign around a 55-percent passer with 15 interceptions. Those 2011 numbers will need to improve this season. While D-Rob is an electric playmaker on the ground, his TD-INT ratio for his career is 40-30. If Michigan continues to spread the running yards around, Robinson could see his rushing yards decline once again. Plus the Wolverines add Alabama to the schedule this season, and it’s difficult to see Robinson producing the same type of numbers that he did against Notre Dame and Ohio State a year ago. While Robinson will still make plenty of highlight plays, I’m not sure that he will put up the consistent numbers to be a top five player. But if Michigan wins the Big Ten, he will be invited to NYC.

Related Michigan Content

Michigan Wolverines 2012 Team Preview
Michigan Wolverines Top 10 Players for 2012

Michigan Wolverines 2012 Team Predictions

Michigan Wolverines Top 10 Players Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in Michigan Football History

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Jokes About Michigan Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Will Denard Robinson be a Heisman Finalist this year?</p>
Post date: Friday, May 25, 2012 - 05:50
Path: /college-football/michigan-wolverines-2012-team-predictions
Body:

The Michigan Wolverines check in at No. 7 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Denard Robinson, QB (SR)
How could it be anyone else? The statistical resume is downright historic. And if the Maize and Blue win their first Big Ten title since 2004, it will be because of Robinson’s electrifying play-making ability. There is no more explosive athlete under center in the nation, so improved decision-making could send Shoelace to New York in December this fall.

Trap Game: Iowa
One could argue that every game played the weekend before the Ohio State game should be considered a trap game. This year the Hawkeyes’ come to town to attempt to upset the division favorite while they are supposedly looking ahead to the Buckeyes. Back in 2001, Michigan led this series 37-8-4 all-time. Since then, Iowa has won five of seven and three straight, including the 24-16 win a year ago and the 38-28 victory the last time they visited The Big House.

Upset Alert: at Purdue (Oct. 6)
The Boilermakers have been known to pull an upset or two in West Lafayette and they are coming off their first bowl season since 2007. Should Purdue stay healthy, it is certain to pull more than one upset this year. Purdue has only beaten Michigan four times since 1985, but two have come in the last four years and three of those have come at home.

Unsung Hero: Craig Roh and Jibreel Black, DL
Roh may never live up to his lofty recruiting status, but he has consistently showed up to play every Saturday. He has missed only one game in his three-year career (37 games) and will be playing his fourth position (strong-side end) in as many years this fall. Black, too, will be playing a new position as he slides inside to the 3-technique nose tackle position. This D-Line is the biggest area of concern and solid play from these two will go a long way to alleviate the loss of three starters.

Biggest Game: at Ohio State (Nov. 24)
Alabama may define this season early on, but there is no mistaking which game is the most important. And in 2012 it carries even more weight than usual. A Legend’s Division championship, subsequent Big Ten title game berth, BCS bowl, Heisman Trophy or more could all be riding on the trip to Columbus to end the season. Throw in the fact that it is guaranteed to be the Buckeye’s season finale, and, that these are likely the league’s top two teams, this rivalry game should realize its potential for the first time since 2006.

Revenge Game: Michigan State (Oct. 20)
The story is well documented: The Spartans have spanked the Wolverines four straight years (only one by less than a touchdown) en route to a Big Ten title as well as the league’s first Legend’s Division championship. The fact that Michigan State now annually boasts the league’s top defense and has thumped big brother from Ann Arbor by at least two touchdowns in three of those four wins only adds to the motivation for Michigan.

Co-Freshmen To Watch: Ondre Pipkins, DT and Joe Bolden, LB
There is a plethora of talent to choose from in what turned out to be a top ten recruiting class nationally for Brady Hoke’s Freshman to Watch. Should Pipkins reach his potential, few will play as imperative a role as the massive nose guard from Missouri. He is as game-ready as there is in the nation and the Athlon Consensus 100 prospect will be asked to stabilize the reworked defensive line — which could be the difference in a Big Ten title or not. The linebackers need depth and will likely be asked to lead this defense this fall. Bolden could push Kenny Demens outside or slide into a reserve role. Either way, expect both names to get a lot of playing time this fall.

Comeback Player: Roy Roundtree, WR (SR)
If completely disappearing from an offense counts as an injury, then Roundtree is a perfect bounce-back candidate. In 2010, Roundtree was the team’s top receiver, catching 72 passes for nearly 1,000 yards en route to second-team All-Big Ten honors. Last year, the milk carton special totaled 19 receptions for 355 yards, despite starting all 13 games. The senior should be poised to become Denard Robinson top target once again in 2012.

Defensive MVP: Blake Countess, CB (SO)
In only one short year, Countess has established himself as arguably the most talented defender on the roster. He will lock down one side of the defense which will free-up veteran leaders Jordan Kovacs and Kenny Demens to make more plays — which will be needed considering the weaknesses up front on this defense. The domino effect of Countess’ emergence last fall may not be measurable.

Newcomer To Watch: Jerald Robinson, WR (SO)
Technically, Robinson played in 11 games as a freshman last fall. But since he failed to record a statistic of any kind, he will be considered a newcomer. Offensive coordinator Al Borges has had plenty of glowing things to say about the 6-foot-1, 206-pounder this spring. He could be the best vertical threat on the roster — something that this Wolverines offense will be looking for all season long.

Season Defining Moment: Alabama (Sept. 1, Arlington, Texas)
Yes, the Big Ten title means more. Yes, the game against that team from down South is the biggest. But a win over the defending national champions could do more than simply define a season. If the Michigan defensive line is capable of slowing the Tide’s elite rushing attack and Robinson is able to move the football on the lightning fast track of Cowboys Stadium against the totally rebuilt Nick Saban defense, then the ceiling for this team will go up a few floors. A win over Bama in Week 1 puts Michigan directly on track for South Beach.

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Jokes About Michigan Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Michigan Wolverines 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Friday, May 25, 2012 - 05:30
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-georgia-no-8-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
Body:

Athlon Sports, publisher of the No. 1-selling college football magazine, continues the release of its preseason Top 25 poll at www.athlonsports.com. The countdown commences every year in early May and leads to the on-sale date of Athlon's category-leading college football preseason annuals.

To celebrate the Georgia Bulldogs being named No. 8, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs continue the countdown at No. 8 with two preseason All-Americans and nine players selected as All-SEC performers. Athlon Sports predicts Georgia will finish first in the SEC’s Eastern Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Heisman candidate Aaron Murray and one of the best defenses in the nation will lead the Bulldogs this season,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “As long as the running game is sound, Georgia will be the team to beat in the SEC East.”

Two Georgia standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with linebacker Jarvis Jones being voted to the first team and defensive back Bacarri Rambo to the third team. In addition, the UGA linebackers unit was ranked No. 1 nationally. The quarterbacks unit was rated No. 4 in the country and best in the SEC. The defensive line was tabbed No. 7 in the nation, while the wide receivers unit was voted No. 8 in the country.

Nine Bulldogs earned preseason All-SEC honors, including Jones, Rambo and quarterback Aaron Murray on the first team. Running back Isaiah Crowell, wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, offensive lineman Chris Burnette, defensive lineman Abry Jones, linebacker Alec Ogletree and defensive back Shawn Williams garnered third-team honors.

Georgia Team Preview

Georgia's Top 10 Players of 2012

Georgia’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

Teaser:
<p> <strong><span>Athlon Sports Names Georgia No. 8 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</span></strong></p>
Post date: Thursday, May 24, 2012 - 09:15
All taxonomy terms: Georgia Bulldogs, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/georgia-bulldogs-2012-team-predictions-0
Body:

The Georgia Bulldogs check in at No. 8 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: QB Aaron Murray
Last season Murray posted his second-straight 3,000-yard campaign, while setting the Georgia single-season record for touchdown passes (35) and touchdown responsibility (37). The junior was a second-team All-SEC selection as he finished second in the conference in passing yards and fifth in passing efficiency. Murray is already third on Georgia’s career touchdown passes list with 59 and fifth in total offense. He needs just 14 touchdown passes in 2012 to break David Greene’s career mark for touchdown passes and another 3,000-yard season would place him third all-time in Bulldogs’ history in total offense. If Murray needs to improve in any area, it would be to cut down on his interceptions. Besides leading the SEC in touchdown passes in 2011 by a wide margin (Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson was second with 24), he also led the conference in interceptions with 14.

Upset Alert: at Missouri (Sept. 8)
Missouri would like nothing better than to beat Georgia in its first game as a member of the SEC. It’s the second game on both team’s schedules and a win for the Tigers would not only serve as “proof” that they belong in the SEC, but it also would give them an early leg up on the Bulldogs in the East Division standings. The Georgia defense will be missing a few key players in its secondary due to suspension, so Missouri’s offense, which ranked No. 12 in the country in 2011, is not the ideal opponent to face. It also doesn’t hurt the Tigers’ chances that the game is in Columbia. Since 2005, Missouri is 35-8 at Memorial Stadium under Gary Pinkel, and the Tigers are 11-1 at home over the last two seasons.

Revenge Game: at South Carolina (Oct. 6)
Georgia went into last season’s game against South Carolina coming off of a disappointing opening loss to Boise State in the Georgia Dome. The Gamecocks then proceeded to add to the Bulldogs’ misery by capitalizing on three turnovers in a 45-42 win in Sanford Stadium. The back-to-back losses had everyone talking about head coach Mark Richt’s job security. Fortunately for Richt, those conversations stopped after the team rolled off 10 straight wins to capture the SEC East crown and a trip to the SEC Championship Game. Still, Richt and the rest of the Bulldogs remember all too well how last season’s meeting was decided and would like to return the favor to the Gamecocks on their home turf the first weekend in October. If the Bulldogs want to leave Columbia with a win, the defense will need to do a much better job against the run. In last season’s contest, South Carolina rushed for 253 yards, 176 of those courtesy of Marcus Lattimore, which was the most Georgia gave up in a game in 2011.

Trap Game: vs. Georgia Tech (Nov. 24)
Unless Georgia Tech emerges as the top team in the ACC’s Coastal Division, Georgia will have more on the line by the time the two in-state rivals meet up Thanksgiving weekend. If all goes according to plan, Georgia will head into this contest knowing that it has another game the following Saturday – the SEC Championship. If that’s the case, then the Bulldogs’ BCS fate will be decided by the outcome of their next game and not this one against the Yellow Jackets. However, there’s also the possibility that Georgia could head into the SEC title game undefeated or with just one loss. Under that scenario, the Bulldogs would not be able to afford a loss to Georgia Tech if they wanted to even remain in the national title discussion headed into the SEC Championship Game. A Yellow Jackets’ win under these circumstances would be the epitome of a “stinging” loss for Georgia fans, no?

Biggest Game AND Season-Defining Moment: SEC Championship (Dec. 1)
If all goes according to plan this fall, Georgia should come out on top in the SEC East and make a second straight trip to the conference championship game. If that happens, the Bulldogs will be presented with a golden opportunity to put the struggles of 2009 and ’10 and the disappointing end to the ’11 campaign behind them if they are able to knock off the best of the SEC West, presumably LSU or Alabama. Besides defeating one of the nation’s top teams and being crowned as the champion of the nation’s toughest conference, Georgia would secure no worse than its first BCS bowl invitation since the 2007 season. In fact, if everything were to fall into place (see Trap Game), a win in the SEC Championship Game could potentially result in Georgia getting the opportunity to win its first national title since 1980.

Defensive MVP: LB Jarvis Jones
Jones had to sit out the 2010 season following his transfer from USC. If his 2011 campaign is any indication, he was well worth the wait. In his first season at Georgia, Jones wreaked havoc on the SEC as he became the school’s first position player to be named a consensus All-American since 2005. Jones also was a Butkus Award finalist who led the SEC and finished fifth in the nation in sacks per game, while also leading the conference in tackles for loss (16th nationally). Jones’ total of 13.5 sacks in 2011 was a half-sack shy of David Pollack’s school single-season record of 14, which he set in 2002.  And he did all of this as a sophomore. The good news for the rest of the SEC is chances are he will only be around for one more season, as he considered leaving early for the NFL this year. The bad news is he will be around for one more season.

Unsung Hero: DE Abry Jones
Georgia’s other Jones went from a part-time starter in 2010 to a full-time starter in 2011 and certainly produced like one. The senior posted career bests across the board last season, finishing with 48 tackles (28 solo), seven tackles for loss, four sacks, three pass breakups and a forced fumble. At the conclusion of the season, Jones was named one of the recipients of the team’s Most Improved Player Awards on the defense. Jones’ presence on the defensive line and his production from his defensive end position was one of the reasons why the Bulldogs finished fifth in the nation in total defense and 11th in rushing defense in 2011.

Newcomer to Watch: TE Jay Rome
Rome has seen more action on the basketball court rather than the football field to this point, but that figures to change this season for the redshirt freshman. Rome played in seven games for Georgia’s basketball team last season, during which he scored a total of two points, pulled down seven rebounds and two steals in 17 minutes of court action. The production coaches are hoping for this fall is in terms of catches, yards and, hopefully, touchdowns as Rome and junior Arthur Lynch will get the first crack at replacing the production of Orson Charles. Charles, who earned first-team All-SEC honors and tied for second on the team with 45 catches and five touchdown receptions in 2011, was Georgia’s lone early entry into this year’s NFL Draft. The Cincinnati Bengals took Charles in the fourth round and now quarterback Aaron Murray is hoping Rome or Lynch will be able to develop into a reliable target in the Bulldogs’ passing game. Lynch may have more experience than Rome, but he has caught a total of two passes in his two previous seasons, whereas Rome was a highly regarded in-state tight end prospect coming out of Valdosta High School. Perhaps as a sign of things to come, Rome hauled in a 66-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Christian LeMay in the spring game.

Comeback Player: OL Kolton Houston
Houston sat out last year due to NCAA “eligibility issues” and entered spring practice fighting for playing time at one of the guard positions on Georgia’s revamped offensive line. By the end of spring practice, however, the sophomore from Buford, Ga., was the starter at right tackle. Offensive line coach Will Friend apparently saw enough from the former Under Armour All-American to not only switch him from guard to tackle, but to also tab him as the presumptive starter headed into fall practice. Whether Houston is able to retain the starting assignment by the time Georgia opens its 2012 season against Buffalo on Sept. 1 remains to be seen. However, given the fact that the Bulldogs are looking to replace three starters, all of whom were taken in this year’s NFL Draft, the opportunity is clearly there for someone to emerge and lay claim to one of these jobs. And it appears Houston is already on his way to doing just that.

Freshman to Watch I: RB Keith Marshall
Even though Georgia is returning four of its top five rushers from last season, led by reigning SEC Freshman of the Year Isaiah Crowell (850 yards rushing, five TDs), don’t be surprised if Marshall gets his share of touches before the 2012 season is finished. Marshall was one of the top running back prospects in the nation coming out of Millbrook High School in Raleigh, N.C. He enrolled in January to participate in spring practice, but suffered a hamstring injury that limited his involvement and kept him from participating in the spring game. However, Marshall, who rushed for 1,891 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior, still figures to be a part of what should be a spirited competition once fall practice begins. Besides Marshall and Crowell, others vying for carries in the Bulldogs’ backfield in 2012 include senior Richard Samuel, junior Brandon Harton, sophomore Ken Malcome and incoming freshman Todd Gurley. Gurley, like Marshall, is also a highly regarded recruit from North Carolina, and it was actually Marshall who helped convince Gurley to sign with Georgia.

Freshman to Watch II: LB Josh Harvey-Clemons
Georgia’s top recruit on the defensive side, Harvey-Clemons was rated one of the top linebacker prospects in the nation and one of the top players in Georgia after starring at Lowndes High School in Valdosta. The Bulldogs are in great shape at linebacker with All-American Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Christian Robinson and others, but the coaching staff is already thinking of ways to get Harvey-Clemons on the field, despite the fact that he hasn’t even arrived on campus yet. There has already been talk that the talented freshman will see time at both linebacker and safety on defense, and perhaps even make an appearance on offense lined up as a tight end or receiver, especially once the Bulldogs are in the red zone.

Position to Watch: Offensive Line
Georgia saw three offensive linemen — Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones and Justin Anderson — taken in April’s NFL Draft, which means there will be several new faces along the line come this fall. Combined those three made 125 starts for the Bulldogs, meaning quarterback Aaron Murray and the running game will be relying on a relatively inexperienced unit in 2012.

The returning starters are juniors Chris Burnette (right guard) and Kenarious Gates (left tackle). After that is where things get interesting as evident by the fact that sophomore Kolton Houston, who missed all of last season due to “eligibility issues,” is currently penciled in as the starter at right tackle. Another sophomore, David Andrews appears to have an early hold on the starting assignment at center.

There is no lack of candidates for the final spot, left guard, including juniors Austin Long and Dallas Lee and sophomores Mark Beard and Watts Dantzler. There’s also incoming freshman John Theus, the No. 2 offensive lineman prospect in the nation by Athlon Sports.

Whoever the starting five end up being come Georgia’s Sept. 1 opener against Buffalo, the coaching staff is hoping that it’s a unit that can come together and do its part to help the Bulldogs reach their goals for the 2012 season, namely a SEC championship.

Related Georgia Content

Georgia Bulldogs 2012 Team Preview
Georgia Bulldogs' Top 10 Players for 2012

Can Georgia Win the SEC Title in 2012?

Georgia Bulldogs' Top 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in Georgia Football History

Georgia Bulldogs Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Georgia Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Georgia Bulldogs 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 24, 2012 - 05:51
All taxonomy terms: Georgia Bulldogs, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/georgia-football-can-bulldogs-win-sec-title-2012
Body:

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 8 Georgia. The Bulldogs are the defending SEC East champions and return quarterback Aaron Murray and one of the conference's best defenses. However, Georgia must replace a couple of key players on the offensive line, along with navigating suspensions in the secondary.

Can Georgia Win the SEC Title in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Optimism sure runs high in May. I believe I’ve talked myself into at least five teams with a chance to win the SEC if everything breaks right. Deep down, I know it’s going to be LSU, Alabama or possibly South Carolina. So here’s the case for Georgia anyway: The defense led by Jarvis Jones and Bacarri Rambo will be nasty, but I’d like to see how Georgia holds up against teams like Florida and Tennessee playing a little closer to form on the offensive side of the ball. Georgia even faced Vanderbilt before the Commodores fully committed to quarterback Jordan Rodgers. On offense, Aaron Murray could be the SEC’s top quarterback if he can cut down on his 14 picks. Despite Isaiah Crowell’s issues last season, he still managed to rush for 850 yards as a freshman. And of course, you have to love that schedule. The SEC West offers up Ole Miss and Auburn. Georgia took advantage of the lucky schedule last year, using wins over Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Auburn to clinch the East while South Carolina went undefeated against the division. If Georgia can win the East, sure, I’ll give the Bulldogs a shot to defeat the West champion in Atlanta, despite what LSU did to Georgia in the second half of last year’s SEC title game. Here’s the case against Georgia: South Carolina may be the better team, and the Gamecocks face Georgia in Columbia. The Bulldogs’ SEC opener at Missouri for the Tigers’ first game as a member of the new league is worrisome, too. James Franklin, the quarterback not the coach, can throw the ball around, and he’ll do it against secondary hindered by suspensions, including Rambo. By Oct. 6, Georgia could be facing two losses – Missouri and South Carolina on the road. That might be enough to take a good Georgia team out of the race.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The SEC East in 2012 feels nearly as wide open as it has been the last years. I fully expect South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee to be improved from a year ago. The league has added Missouri (and for some, Texas A&M) to the schedules in the East. And Vanderbilt should be as good — at least, on offense. The new landscape in the SEC East makes it only that much more tenuous a hold on the division for the Georgia Bulldogs. Especially, considering the losses along the offensive line and the pending suspensions on defense. So CAN the Dawgs win the East? Most assuredly. But WILL they?

Let's start with the good. This team claims arguably the top quarterback in the league in Aaron Murray, who lapped the SEC field statistically (with the exception of Tyler Wilson) a year ago. They have a deep and electric skill corps that boasts elite talents at running back and wide receiver. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has one of the nation's stingiest defensive units and arguably the top front seven in the East — a bold statement considering the talent at South Carolina and Florida up front. The Dawgs also get some fortuitous scheduling as LSU, Alabama and Arkansas are notably absent from the slate (again) this year. Meanwhile, chief contender South Carolina visits LSU and hosts the Hogs. Last but certainly not least, Georgia is the defending champion. There is little that can take the place of championship experience.

Now, for the bad. The offensive line is a mess. There is plenty of talent, but this group has to gel quickly after its top three blockers moved on from Athens. Running the football and protecting Murray against some of the nation's top D-Lines could prove to be difficult this fall. This team must also deal with a big chunk of the early schedule — which includes a key road trip to Mizzou in Week 2 — without most of its talented defenders. Many of the suspended names — Ogletree, Rambo, Smith, etc — should be around for the heart of the SEC schedule, but there is little depth in the defensive backfield. Should anything else go wrong, on or off the field, it could spell doom for the Dawgs back-seven. Georgia is also the 'hunted' now as the defending champs and will need to face heightened expectations the likes haven't existed in Athens since 2007. And frankly, I believe that, by a razor's edge, South Carolina is the better overall football team.

WIth such heavy scheduling disparity, it is hard to count more losses for UGA than for South Carolina. And while the Dawgs likely won't have to go into Columbia and win to repeat as division champs, it might have to win every other game. For now, I am picking the Georgia Bulldogs to win the East — almost by default — but their grasp upon the SEC East crown is slippery at best.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think the gap between the top of the SEC East and West Divisions has closed, but still think Georgia will have a tough time knocking off Alabama or LSU in Atlanta this season.  

The Bulldogs return one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks in Aaron Murray, who is primed for his best season after setting a school record with 35 touchdown tosses last year. Murray will be throwing to a deep group of receivers, but the offense will need to find a replacement for tight end Orson Charles. The rushing attack should be better this year, as Isaiah Crowell is healthy, and freshmen Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley arrive to inject some depth and talent into the backfield. The biggest question mark will be an offensive line that has to replace stalwarts Cordy Glenn (left tackle) and Ben Jones (center). Three starters are back, but losing an All-SEC left tackle and center won’t be easy to replace.

Nine starters are back on defense, and this unit should rank near the top of the SEC. The linebacking corps could be the nation's best, especially with the return of All-American Jarvis Jones. However, the secondary could be an issue early in the year – especially against Missouri on Sept. 8 – as starters Bacarri Rambo and Sanders Commings are suspended. Receiver Malcolm Mitchell spent the spring practicing at cornerback and will have to play on both sides of the ball at least through the first four games of the season.

Georgia’s schedule is very favorable, which should allow it to edge South Carolina for the SEC East title. The Bulldogs do not have to play LSU, Alabama and Arkansas, but must matchup against Missouri, Auburn and South Carolina on the road. If Georgia can successfully fill the voids on the offensive line, this team will have a chance to beat Alabama or LSU in the SEC title game. Helping the Bulldogs' case to win the SEC is the line will have 12 games to jell before the conference title game. However, while the gap has closed, the power of the SEC is still tilted in favor of the West. 

Mark Ross
I think Georgia is just as capable of winning the SEC this year as any team coming from the West. The Bulldogs should be pretty strong on offense led by quarterback Aaron Murray, it's just a matter of figuring out a crowded backfield and seeing if an inexperienced offensive line can come together.

The defense also should be fairly stout, provided their best players stay on the field. Three starters in the secondary, most notably All-American safety Baccari Rambo, along with a starting linebacker, already have been suspended for at least one game this fall. Georgia should be fine without these guys for the short term, but the team can't afford many personnel losses of this type if it wants to contend for the conference title.

As far as the SEC East goes, Georgia's toughest opposition should come from South Carolina. If the Bulldogs can go to Columbia on Oct. 6 and take care of business, the path to the division crown and a spot in the SEC Championship Game should be pretty clear, especially since the Bulldogs don't have to play Alabama, Arkansas or LSU from the West.

Speaking of those three, should Georgia win the SEC East, then chances are the Bulldogs will play one of those three for the SEC title on Dec. 1 in Atlanta. These three have question marks of their own — Alabama lost a lot on offense (Trent Richardson) and defense (just four starters return), Arkansas has had to deal with former head coach Bobby Petrino's unexpected dismissal, and LSU will have a new quarterback among a total of 11 new starters on both sides of the ball — so it could come down to which team has the most answers come that Saturday in December.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The Bulldogs can definitely win a league title with the tried-and-true formula of a stingy defense and top quarterback, but I do believe there is still a gap between UGA and the top two teams in the Western division — LSU and Alabama. The Dawgs defense can play with anyone, and there is a ton of skill on offense because Mark Richt and staff have recruited so well. The difference between the Bulldogs and the Tigers and Tide this season looks like the offensive line. UGA lost three starters in NFL draftees Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones and Justin Anderson, and the unit’s development this year will hold the key to the season.

Todd Grantham’s bunch ranked fifth nationally in total defense in 2011, and this year’s group — led by the best linebackers unit in the country — could be even better. The defense should keep Georgia in every game. Aaron Murray tossed 35 touchdowns a year ago, but he still tends to have some lapses in play against tougher opponents. The junior quarterback will have plenty of weapons with promising runner Isaiah Crowell and a solid set of receivers. The Bulldogs have an easier league schedule than fellow East favorite South Carolina, so a repeat trip to Atlanta in December is likely. UGA has the defense and overall roster to win the nation’s toughest league, but I’ll say the favorite still lies in the West.

Related Georgia Content

Georgia Bulldogs 2012 Team Preview
Georgia Bulldogs' Top 10 Players for 2012

Georgia Bulldogs 2012 Team Predictions
Georgia Bulldogs' Top 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

The Greatest Moments in Georgia Football History

Georgia Bulldogs Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Georgia Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Can Georgia Win the SEC Title in 2012?</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 24, 2012 - 05:50
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-florida-state-no-9-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
Body:

Athlon Sports, publisher of the No. 1-selling college football magazine, continues the release of its preseason Top 25 poll at www.athlonsports.com. The countdown commences every year in early May and leads to the on-sale date of Athlon's category-leading college football preseason annuals.

To celebrate the Florida State Seminoles being named No. 9, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Jimbo Fisher’s Florida State Seminoles continue the countdown at No. 9 with three preseason All-Americans and 11 players selected as All-ACC performers. Athlon Sports predicts Florida State will finish first in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“The Seminoles return a stingy defense that was playing elite football at the end of last season,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “If the young weapons continue to develop around veteran quarterback EJ Manuel, Florida State will be the favorite to win the ACC.”

Three Florida State standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with punt returner Greg Reid being voted to the second team and defensive lineman Brandon Jenkins and kicker Dustin Hopkins making the third team. In addition, the FSU defensive line was ranked No. 2 nationally and best in the ACC. The secondary was rated No. 3 in the country and tops in the conference, while the wide receivers unit was tabbed No. 7 in the nation.

Eleven Seminoles earned preseason All-ACC honors, including Jenkins, Hopkins, defensive back Lamarcus Joyner and Reid at punt returner on the first team. Wide receiver Rashad Greene, tight end Nick O’Leary, defensive lineman Bjoern Werner and defensive backs Xavier Rhodes and Greg Reid were named to the second team, while quarterback EJ Manuel, defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan and linebacker Christian Jones garnered third-team honors.

Florida State Team Preview

Florida State's Top 10 Players of 2012

Florida State’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

Teaser:
<p> <strong><span>Athlon Sports Names Florida State No. 9 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</span></strong></p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 10:15
Path: /college-football/ranking-college-footballs-top-25-coaches
Body:

Ranking the coaches in any college football conference is a difficult task. Many factors play into just how successful a coach is at any school. How well are the assistants paid? Are the facilities up to par with the rest of the conference? Can the coach recruit or is he more of an x's and o's manager? Are there off-the-field or age issues to take into consideration? Has a coach built a program or continued the success from a previous coach? How is the resume outside of their current position? These questions and more were posed to the editors at Athlon Sports, as they were asked to rank the coaches of each of the six BCS conferences. One thing to keep in mind - the record is not always indicative of where a coach should rank in a conference or nationally among the top 25. 

Ranking the Coaches: ACC
Ranking the Coaches: Big East
Ranking the Coaches: Pac-12
Ranking the Coaches: Big 12
Ranking the Coaches: Big Ten
Ranking the Coaches: SEC

1. Nick Saban, Alabama (5 years)
Alma Mater:
 Kent State (1970-72)
Overall: 146-54-1 (16 years)

There’s not much debate about this: College football’s top coach resides in Tuscaloosa. Saban has led the Crimson Tide to two national titles and four straight seasons of at least 10 victories. Saban’s track record is impressive, going 48-16 in five years at LSU, 34-24-1 in five seasons with Michigan State and a 9-2 mark in 1990 with Toledo. Saban is certainly one of the most demanding coaches in college football, but there’s no question he knows what it takes to succeed. Saban has returned Alabama to national prominence and has brought in some of college football’s best recruiting classes over the last five seasons. As long as Saban sticks around in Tuscaloosa, expect Alabama to be ranked among the top 10 teams every preseason. And after winning two titles in five seasons, expect the Crimson Tide to only add to that total in the near future.

2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State (First year)
Overall Record: 104-23

The resume is as complete as it gets: Two BCS National Championships, four conference titles, three conference Coach of the Year awards, one Heisman Trophy, one national Coach of the Year honor and the Sports Illustrated Coach of the Decade (2000-2009). Meyer’s success is unquestioned; he wins and he wins big. He built Bowling Green into a conference contender in only two seasons before taking Utah to a BCS bowl in two short years in Salt Lake City. In his second year at Florida, he earned his first BCS Crystal Ball. After a second title with the Chosen One under center, Meyer took a brief respite from the sideline in 2011. He returns to the coaching ranks renewed and reinvigorated — and back in his home state at the Big Ten program with the most natural and financial resources in the league. His ability to recruit was on full display at the close of the 2012 cycle and his offensive game plan is as proven a system as there is in the collegiate playbook. The only crack in his armor is the health concerns — aka his dedication. He coached only six years at what could be considered the second-best job in the nation, won championships, and simply walked away. Other than his long-term commitment, there are not too many better options in America.

3. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma (13 years)
Overall Record: 139-34 (1999-present)

The Sooners have had a few down years under Stoops, but since his arrival in Norman, Oklahoma has emerged once again as a national power. Stoops’ tenure has been a picture of success, leading the Sooners to 10 double-digit win seasons and eight BCS bowl appearances. The biggest knock on Stoops has been the lack of success in BCS bowl games, as Oklahoma is just 1-5 in its last six BCS bowl appearances. And that criticism of Stoops always stirs this debate: Would you take a coach that struggles to get to a BCS bowl and wins one every eight years or take a coach that consistently gets there, but has a disappointing BCS record after six years? Regardless of whether or not Stoops wins three BCS bowls in a row or loses the next three, it’s going to be hard to knock him off the top spot in the Big 12.

4. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech (25 years)
Overall Record: 251-121-4 (31 years)

Born in the Commonwealth, playing in the Commonwealth and coaching the Commonwealth, “Beamerball” has been a fixture of Virginian football for more than four decades. Prior to his arrival in Blacksburg, the Hokies had been to six bowls games. After six years and a 24-40-2 record, Beamer broke through with his first bowl appearance in 1993. He has been to 19 straight bowl games since, including a Michael Vick-led chance at the 1999 national championship against Florida State. Beamer has claimed three Big East Championships (1995, 1996, 1999), four ACC titles (2004, 2007, 2008, 2010) and five conference Coach of the Year honors. He is the longest tenured and winningest active FBS coach in the nation and has had at least 10 wins in eight straight seasons and 11 of the last 13. Beamer was there to usher in two new eras of Hokie football as he transitioned his team from Independent status to the Big East in 1991 and then into the ACC in 2004. Virginia Tech has won the Coastal Division five times in its seven-year history and will likely be the preseason favorite once again in 2012. There are few better in the nation than Beamer.

5. Chris Petersen, Boise State (6 years)
Overall Record: 73-6 (2006-present)

Few coaching careers have begun like Petersen’s has at Boise State. After learning under Mike Bellotti at Oregon, Petersen began his Bronco career as Dan Hawkins’ offensive coordinator. For five years, Petersen churned out one of the nation’s most powerful offenses under Hawkins. When Hawkins left for Colorado, Petersen was given the reins to the Smur-ffense and has taken the program to a new level. In his first year, Petersen led Boise State to its first undefeated season and the memorable Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma. It would be his first of two BCS bowl wins. He has never won fewer than 10 games in a season and just watched the 2011 graduating class finish 50-3 over their four-year career. Kellen Moore quarterbacked those four teams and is now the winningest quarterback in NCAA history. Most importantly, Petersen has elevated Boise State football to a BCS conference as he will usher the Broncos into a new era of football when they join the Big East in 2013. He has had multiple opportunities to take “better” jobs and has come within two missed field goals of playing for a national championship.

6. Chip Kelly, Oregon (3 years)
Overall Record: 34-6 (2009-present)

No coach in NCAA history has seen a rise from FCS coordinator to competing for National Championships in quicker fashion than Kelly. His meteoric rise from New Hampshire offensive coordinator to winning three straight Pac-12 titles is virtually unheard of in big time college football. In fact, Oregon had two outright conference championships between 1958 and 2008, giving Kelly more outright titles in three years as the program posted in the previous 50. He has two Pac-12 Coach of the Year awards on his mantle, the Ducks’ first Rose Bowl win in school history last year over Wisconsin and a trip to the 2010 BCS National Championship game. Kelly has created an offense that is the fastest in the nation and possibly the most difficult to stop. He’s had one tailback win the Doak Walker Award, finish as a two-time Heisman finalist and nation’s leading per game rusher in LaMichael James. He just had another claim Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year and reset the Oregon freshman scoring record with 18 touchdowns in De’Anthony Thomas. With the help of flashy uniforms and Nike dollars, Kelly has raised the brand image of his program more in the last three years than any coach in the nation. Two issues could remove Kelly from the Pac-12 coaching pedestal: Looming NCAA questions about potential recruiting violations involving Texas “handler” Willie Lyles and the lure of the NFL. Otherwise, there is one man who stands above all other Pac-12 coaches. 

7. Gary Patterson, TCU (12 years)
Overall Record: 109-30 (2000-present)

Patterson coached at 10 different programs over a 16-year period before given the chance to lead TCU in 2000 (one game). The hard-nosed defensive guru went to bowl games in three straight seasons to start his career and needed only two years to register his first 10-win season. It was only the second 10-win season for the Horned Frogs in the Post-World War II era. He has rattled off eight such seasons over the last 10 years in Fort Worth, including a current streak of four straight. He has won the program’s first BCS Bowl (Rose in 2010) and has elevated TCU to a BCS level as the Frogs will join the Big 12 in 2012. In 11 full seasons on the job, Patterson has five conference championships, three conference Coach of the Year awards and was the unanimous 2009 National Coach of the Year (AFCA, AP, Walter Camp, Boddy Dodd, Eddie Robinson, Liberty Mutual). TCU has experienced one losing season under Patterson (2004), but has been to a bowl every year since, winning seven of those eight post-season games. TCU has gone 36-3 over the last three years with 13 NFL Draft picks over that span and two BCS bowl appearances.

8. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina (7 years)
Alma Mater:
 Florida (1963-66)
Overall: 197-75-2 (22 years)

It has taken some time, but Spurrier finally has South Carolina into contention for the SEC title. The Gamecocks won at least six games in each of Spurrier’s first five years, but have combined for 20 over the last two. Spurrier also led South Carolina to its first appearance in the SEC title game and a top 10 finish in most polls last year. Spurrier has had plenty of success outside of South Carolina, finishing with a 122-27-1 record at Florida and leading Duke to a 20-13-1 mark from 1987-89. Building a program into a consistent challenger for an SEC title is no easy task, but Spurrier seems to have South Carolina on the right path, and the Gamecocks are positioned for another run at the East Division title in 2012.  

9. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame (2 years)
Alma Mater: 
Assumption (1979-82)
Record: 16-10 (2010-present)
Record: 34-6 (Cincinnati, 2006-09)
Record: 19-16 (Central Michigan, 2004-06)
Record: 118-35-2 (Grand Valley State, 1991-2003)
Overall: 187-66-2 (22 years)

Kelly has built an impressive resume, making stops as a head coach at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, Cincinnati and now at Notre Dame. He led Grand Valley State to two Division II titles and took Central Michigan to a bowl game in 2006. After coaching with the Chippewas for three seasons, Kelly made the jump to Cincinnati and led the Bearcats to back-to-back BCS bowls. Although Kelly provided quick turnarounds at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, the wins have been tougher to come by at Notre Dame. The Irish are a solid 16-10 under his watch, but were picked by many to push for a BCS bowl last year. Notre Dame has not won more than eight games since posting 10 victories in 2006. Kelly certainly has some work to do in order to turn the Irish back into a consistent top-10 team. However, there’s a solid foundation beginning to take shape, and Notre Dame is assembling solid recruiting classes under Kelly’s watch. Although more was expected out of Kelly two years into his tenure in South Bend, his track record is too successful to ignore. 

10. Lane Kiffin, USC (2 years)
Overall Record: 25-13 (3 years)

Considering he is just 36 years old, Kiffin has already had quite a career as a head coach. After spending two years with the Oakland Raiders (5-15), Kiffin landed on his feet as Tennessee’s head coach in 2009. The Volunteers went 5-7 in the season prior to his arrival, but posted a 7-6 record in Kiffin’s first year in Knoxville. However, Kiffin bolted Tennessee for a better job, choosing to succeed Pete Carroll at USC. The Trojans posted an 8-5 record in Kiffin’s first year (2010), but finished with a 10-2 mark last year. With the postseason ban lifted, USC is expected to be one of the frontrunners to win the national title in 2012. Kiffin drew headlines at Tennessee for his recruiting practices and comments about other SEC coaches, but has toned down his act since coming to Los Angeles. The Trojans are still dealing with scholarship reductions for the next three years, so Kiffin won’t have a full cupboard to work with during that span. However, Kiffin appears to have positioned the Trojans for a run at the national championship in 2012, while leaving the team in good shape to compete for the Pac-12 South crown in 2013 and 2014.

11. Brady Hoke, Michigan (1 year)
Alma Mater: 
Ball State (1977-80)
Overall Record: 58-52 (9 years)

Deciding between Hoke and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio as the top coach in the Big Ten Legends Division is no easy task. Hoke has done a good job of resurrecting two programs that did not have much success prior to his arrival. In six seasons with Ball State, Hoke recorded a 34-38 mark, including an appearance in the MAC title game in 2008. The Cardinals also made two bowl games under Hoke’s watch. After a solid stint at Ball State, Hoke left for the West Coast, choosing to coach at San Diego State. The Aztecs won just nine games in the three years prior to his arrival, but led San Diego State to a 9-4 record and an appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2010. After Rich Rodriguez was fired at Michigan, Hoke was an easy choice to become the Wolverines’ next coach, especially considering he coached in Ann Arbor from 1995-2002. Considering he was born in Ohio, Hoke isn’t necessarily a “Michigan Man.” However, he is a great fit for the Wolverines, has done a good job of rebuilding two struggling programs (Ball State and San Diego State) and led the Wolverines to a BCS bowl in his first season.

12. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State (6 years)
Alma Mater:
 South Carolina (1976-78)
Overall Record: 62-39 (9 years)

If Brady Hoke is the top coach in the Legends Division, Dantonio is really 1B. In six seasons in East Lansing, Dantonio has turned the Spartans from underachiever to Big Ten title contender. The Spartans won 22 games through his first three years, but has posted back-to-back seasons of 11 victories. And there’s one more feather in the cap for Dantonio and Michigan State to brag about – the Spartans own a four-game winning streak over rival Michigan. Dantonio has yet to lead Michigan State to a Rose Bowl appearance, but with the program on the right track, it’s only a matter of time before the Spartans make the trek to Pasadena. Dantonio’s success isn’t just limited to Michigan State, as he posted an 18-17 record in three years with Cincinnati and led the Bearcats to two bowl trips. Dantonio seems to be a perfect fit at Michigan State and should keep this program among the best in the Big Ten as long as he sticks around in East Lansing. 

13. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State (7 years)
Alma Mater: Oklahoma State (1986-89)
Record: 59-30 (2005-present)

Gundy has been slowly moving up the Big 12 coach rankings over the last few seasons. After posting 18 victories through his first three seasons in Stillwater, Gundy has led the Cowboys to four consecutive years of at least nine wins. Oklahoma State is coming off its first BCS bowl appearances and was one win away from playing for the national championship. The Big 12 isn’t getting any easier with the arrival of West Virginia and TCU, but Gundy has the Cowboys well-positioned to remain a conference title contender for the foreseeable future.

14. Mack Brown, Texas (14 years)
Alma Mater: 
Vanderbilt, Florida State
Overall Record: 227-113-1

Senator Brown has seen better days but still must be considered one of the league’s best options. After learning the coaching ropes at FCS power Appalachian State and Tulane, Brown rebuilt the North Carolina program. He posted three 10-win seasons in Chapel Hill and went to six straight bowls before taking the best job in college football. All Brown did in his first 13 seasons on the 40 Acres was win at least nine games and finish no worse than second in the South Division every year. After seven seasons, including three Big 12 South titles, Brown broke through with his first conference title in 2005. Behind the leadership of Vince Young, Texas won one of college football's greatest games ever played against USC in the Rose Bowl and the National Championship returned to Austin for the first time since 1970. Despite another trip to the national title game in 2009, Brown’s program eroded in 2010. He posted his first losing season since 1989 as a head coach and was forced to fire multiple assistants. The Horns returned to their winning ways last fall and 2012 will go a long way in proving whether or not Brown has gotten complacent or should be ranked No. 1 on this list. Texas is the single best coaching job in America with more natural and financial resources than any other program in the nation. Therefore, recruiting and on-the-field success should be measured with more scrutiny — especially for a man who has, for some reason, dealt with retirement rumors of late.

15. Bill Snyder, Kansas State (20 years)
Alma Mater: William Jewell (1959-1962)
Overall Record: 159-83-1 (1989-2005), (2009-present)

Prior to Snyder’s arrival in Manhattan, the Wildcats had struggled to find much success on the gridiron. From 1985-88, Kansas State posted an awful 3-40 record and had only one winning season from 1971-82. Snyder won only one game in his first season, but recorded at least five in every season from 1990-2003. Under his watch, the Wildcats have made two BCS bowl appearances and won or shared the Big 12 title four times. The one concern about Snyder is his age. Although he shows no signs of slowing down, he will be 73 at the end of the 2012 season. If you are an athletic director looking to make a hire and Snyder is one of three available candidates – you have to wonder how many years he will stick around. However, Snyder understands the culture and what it takes to win at Kansas State. It’s not an easy job, but Snyder has transformed the Wildcats from a laughingstock to a consistent contender in the Big 12.

16. Mark Richt, Georgia (11 years)
Alma Mater: Miami
Record: 106-38 (2001-present)

The longest tenured coach in the SEC (tied with Gary Pinkel) has had one losing season in his entire head-coaching career. The Bulldogs, under Jim Donnan and Ray Goff, failed to realize an opportunity to grow into the SEC power in the 1990s. While Alabama and LSU toiled, Florida and Tennessee took advantage and won titles. Goff and Donnan claimed seven seasons of six wins or fewer and the program posted only two 10-win seasons from 1984 to 2001. Richt entered the game in 2001 and proceeded to win the programs’ first conference title in 20 years in 2002. Richt posted two conference titles, six 10-wins seasons in his first eight years and won two SEC Coach of the Year Awards. However, Dawgs’ faithful watched its team get worse four straight years from 2007 to 2011 while Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Florida were winning national titles and returning to national prominence in a big way. Richt adapted, though, by finally making sweeping coaching changes that have saved his job. Todd Grantham reinvented the Georgia defense and Richt got to his fourth SEC Championship game in 2011. He has his team poised to be the favorite to win the East once again this fall.

17. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern (6 years)
Alma Mater: 
Northwestern (1993-96)
Overall Record: 40-36 (2006-present)

Fitzgerald is the perfect coach for Northwestern and barring something unexpected, will likely be here until he retires. As a Northwestern graduate, Fitzgerald is well-aware of the culture and what it takes to win in Evanston. The former Wildcat linebacker has led Northwestern to four consecutive bowl games and just one losing season. Fitzgerald’s overall record over the last six seasons is a solid 40-36, but is still searching for his first bowl victory. Northwestern is not an easy place to win, but Fitzgerald has found the right formula and will continue to make the Wildcats a yearly threat to reach a bowl and pull off an upset or two along the way. 

18. Mike Leach, Washington State (First Season)
Alma Mater:
 BYU
Record: 84-43 (Texas Tech, 2000-09)

From 2000 to 2009, there were few things as guaranteed as Texas Tech’s quarterback throwing for 3,000 yards. Leach was the architect behind Tim Couch’s huge numbers at Kentucky and carried his lightning-quick spread passing attack to Lubbock. Leach-led quarterbacks B.J. Symons and Graham Harrell own the top two single-season passing marks in NCAA history with 5,833 and 5,705 yards respectively. Graham Harrell (3rd: 15,793 yards) and Kliff Kingsbury (15th: 11,931) are both in the top 15 in NCAA history in passing yards. Until 2011, Harrell was the NCAA record-holder for career touchdown passes with 134. Needless to say, Leach’s passing attack had reached unprecedented levels of success before his questionable firing. There were six total 10-win seasons in Texas Tech history and Leach posted a school-record 11 wins in 2008. His winning percentage of 66.1% trails only Pete Cawthon (69.3%) in Tech history — who won all of his games between 1930 and 1940. The highly-publicized divorce with Texas Tech (and mentally unstable Craig James) likely cost Leach a couple of years on the sideline, but is not enough to keep any athletic director from hiring him. His teams produce big numbers, his athletic departments make bigger money, his stadiums grow and subsequently sell out and, most importantly, he wins games. Look for a similar program-wide impact from Leach in Pullman. 

19. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State (3 years)
Alma Mater:
 Ursinus
Record: 21-17 (2009-present)

In Athlon’s meeting to rank the SEC coaches, Mullen and LSU’s Les Miles were the most difficult ones to rank. Mullen is only 39 years old, so his best coaching years appear to be ahead of him. However, his overall record is just 21-17 and his only SEC West victories came against rival Ole Miss. While winning the in-state battle is crucial, the Bulldogs need to start beating some of the other teams in the division. Mullen has also led Mississippi State to back-to-back bowl victories and should be in position to reach the postseason once again in 2012. Considering the depth of the SEC, winning big in Starkville is no easy task. Give Mullen the resources of what Alabama or LSU has and he can take Mississippi State even higher. The Bulldogs have ranked higher than ninth in the SEC in recruiting only once in the last six years, yet have a better record over the last three seasons than Tennessee (18-20) — a team that consistently recruits better than Mississippi State. While the record suggests Mullen is only a .500 coach, expect him to continue pushing the Bulldogs to eight or nine win seasons, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he left for a better job in the next couple of years. An overall record isn't always a good judge of how effective some coaches are and Mullen is the perfect case, as he has helped to turn Mississippi State into a consistent bowl team in a very difficult SEC West.

20. Les Miles, LSU (7 years)
Alma Mater: 
Michigan
Overall: 103-39 (11 years)

Inexplicably, LSU, a program with as many built-in advantages as anyone in the nation, laid dormant for three decades. LSU won two conference championships from 1971 to 2000 and only three bowl games from 1971 to 1995. However, the name atop this list of SEC coaches entered the picture in 2000 and reestablished the Bayou Bengal brand. Nick Saban won more games in his first year (8) than LSU had won the two previous (7). He had LSU back in the SEC title game by 2001, giving the Tigers their first outright conference title since 1986. By his fourth season, Saban had returned the Tigers to the promised land by delivering their first national title since 1958. Enter Les Miles. The Hat has maintained an elite level of success with four 10-win seasons in six years, including the 2007 National Championship. He brings energy, intensity and an internal rallying cry to his locker room. The players love him, and he is certainly an entertaining character. He is a fantastic recruiter who has assembled arguably the best roster in America. However, he has also developed another reputation based on bizarre eating habits, poor end-game management, vocal gaffes, and now, the worst BCS performance in the series’ 14-year history. Questions about his teams’ mental focus, discipline and overall ability to adjust were beginning to subside after the 13-0 romp through the regular season last fall. However, those issues resurfaced after the most under-prepared, poorly game-managed title game of the BCS era. Miles and Saban will be eternally linked the annals of SEC football, and relatively speaking, Miles is one of the better coaches in the nation. But in the Southeast, the stakes — and standards — are higher (sometimes unfairly so), and after LSU became the first and only two-loss team to win a BCS title, Saban has been the far superior coach. Miles has lost 12 games to Saban’s six since 2007, and with what could be perceived as the best roster in the nation, three losses per season isn’t getting it done.

21. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech (5 years)
Alma Mater: Western Carolina (1979), Appalachian State (1982)
Overall Record: 140-58 (15 years)

After two I-AA National Championships at Georgia Southern, Johnson completely reinvented the Naval Academy before bringing his patented triple-option attack to the big leagues. Navy had been to nine bowl games in over 100 years of football when they hired Johnson. He led them to five bowl games in six seasons, including two wins. At Georgia Tech, there were doubts about whether or not the antiquated system would work in the ACC. After five seasons, two division championships and one ACC crown (2009), the answer is most definitively yes. The Jackets have led the ACC in rushing all four seasons under Johnson and finished no worse than fourth nationally on the ground. Georgia Tech enters 2012 as the top contender to Virginia Tech in the Coastal Division.

22. Art Briles, Baylor (4 years)
Alma Mater: 
Houston, Texas Tech, Abilene Christian
Overall Record: 59-53

After a very long and very distinguished Texas high school coaching career from 1979 to 1999, Briles got his break at his alma mater. At Houston, Briles designed one of the most prolific passing attacks in NCAA history. Under the two previous regimes, (Kim Helton and Dana Dimel) the Cougars won an average of 3.2 games per year from 1993 to 2002 for an overall record of 32-79. Briles won more games (34) in his five-year stint at Houston as well as one conference title in 2006. He landed at Baylor after two straight C-USA West division titles and was charged with leading a dormant program into the new Big 12 era. After back-to-back 4-8 seasons, Briles (with a little help from Robert Griffin III) led the Bears to its first bowl game since 1994. Over the last two seaons, Baylor won its first postseason contest since 1992 and more games (17) over a two-year span than it has since 1985-1986 (18). Griffin III claimed the first Heisman Trophy in school history and will likely be the second pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Can Briles maintain the Bears’ current level of success without the most valuable player in the nation and most popular player in school history? This is what Briles is charged with in 2012.

23. Bret Bielema, Wisconsin (6 years)
Alma Mater: 
Iowa
Record: 60-19 (2006-present)

Hand picked by Wisconsin legend Barry Alvarez, few imagined Bielema had the talent to maintain the Badgers’ level of success. After six years of Meyer-esque winning percentages, those concerns have definitively been squashed. His back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances were the first for Wisconsin since 1998 and 1999, and despite not winning either game, the Badgers can hang their hats on back-to-back conference titles. In fact, Bielema’s bowl record might be his only weakness. He is 2-4 in postseason play and is likely the only thing keeping him from being ranked higher on this list. That, and the fact he was handed the keys to a program that functions in a vastly different manner than it did in late '80s. Alvarez took UW from an also-ran, bye week program and turned it into a $100-million Midwest football powerhouse. Bielema hasn’t recruited at an elite level — aka Top 25 nationally — but has done an incredible job evaluating and developing talent. Without a single top-25 recruiting class to his name, the Badgers’ head man has sent 11 players into the first three rounds of the NFL Draft since 2006. He has never experienced a losing season as a head coach and earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors back in 2006 when he led Wisconsin to a 12-1 record in his first season. Iowa Hawkeye leg tattoo aside, fans in Madison are very happy to have transitioned so seamlessly from Alvarez to Bielema.

24. Gary Pinkel, Missouri (11 years)
Alma Mater: 
Kent State
Overall: 158-91-3 (21 years)

Not many people can say they started their football careers rooming with Jack Lambert and playing with Nick Saban while learning from Don James. But that is how Pinkel broke into this business when played tight end at Kent State under James. He spent nearly twenty years, most of it under James at Kent and Washington, before landing his first head coaching job in 1991 at Toledo. He earned one MAC championship, three MAC East Division titles and the 1995 MAC Coach of the Year honor before the Mizzou Tigers came calling. In his 11 years since, Pinkel has led Missouri to unprecedented heights of football success. His 85 wins are third all-time in school history. From 1983 to 2001, the Tigers went to two bowl games. Since Pinkel landed in Columbia, MU has eight bowls in 11 years, winning four of them. Prior to the former MAC guru tenure, Missouri posted two 10-win seasons in 111 years of football. He has won at least 10 games three times in the last five years. Eight of the Tigers nine top scoring teams have been ruled by Pinkel. He now has accomplished arguably his greatest achievement in Tigers football history by ushering his program into the nation’s best conference. There will be a major adjustment period, but for the SEC’s longest tenured head coach (tied with Richt), this has to feel like a juicy opportunity to continue the Tigers rise up the college football food chain.

25. Al Golden, Miami (1 year)
Alma Mater: Penn State (1987-91)
Overall Record: 33-40 (6 years)

After spending time on Tom O’Brien’s staff at Boston College and Al Groh’s Virginia staff, Golden was plenty familiar with ACC football when he got the call from Coral Gables. He landed at Miami after building Temple into a MAC contender (he claimed 2009 MAC Coach of the Year honors). Despite the scrutiny from the Nevin Shapiro scandal and potential NCAA sanctions, Golden appears to have Miami trending back towards conference contention. After only its third non-winning season since 1979, Miami decided to withdraw itself from bowl contention due to the ongoing NCAA investigation in Golden's first year. The strong-willed, brutally honest head man recruited incredibly well in 2012 in the face of possible sanctions. His tribute to Howard Schnellenberger — his dress shirt, tie, slacks and jacket gameday combo — has once again become an iconic symbol on the Hurricanes’ sideline. The sky is the limit for Golden and Miami should they avoid heavy-handed NCAA sanctions.

The Best of the Rest:

Mike London, Virginia (2 years)
Alma Mater: Richmond (1979-82)
Overall Record: 36-18 (4 years)

Virginia wanted to keep it in state in all senses of the word when it hired Mike London away from Richmond. He has completely reinvigorated the Cavalier brand name within the state as Wahoo recruiting has sky-rocketed since London took over in 2010. In only two seasons at the helm, London returned Virginia to posteason play for the first time since 2007 and has his program back near the top of the ACC recruiting hierarchy. The Cavaliers improved from 10th in the ACC in total and scoring defense in 2010 to third in total defense and fifth in scoring defense. London has constructed an excellent staff and has himself positioned for long-term success in Charlottesville.

Kyle Whittingham, Utah (7 years)
Alma Mater:
 BYU (1978-81)
Overall Record: 66-25 (7 years)

Even after leading the Utes to six consecutive seasons with at least eight wins, Whittingham probably hasn’t received the national respect he deserves. Utah went 33-6 from 2008-10, which included a win over Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Whittingham has done a good job of guiding the Utes through their transition into the Pac-12 and nearly won the South Division with a backup quarterback last season. Whittingham is a solid coach who should continue to win consistently at Utah. The Utes have stepped up their recruiting since coming to the Pac-12, which is another testament to Whittingham and his staff continuing to build the program. The biggest hurdle Whittingham could face over the next few seasons is keeping his staff intact. Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake is a highly-respected assistant and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson is a rising star in the coaching ranks. With Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State all making coaching changes this offseason, keeping Whittingham happy and his assistant coaches in Salt Lake City will be crucial to Utah's success.

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona (First Season)
Alma Mater: 
West Virginia (1981-84)
Overall Record: 120-84-2 (18 years)

After an unsuccessful stint with Michigan, Rodriguez is hungry to prove he is still among the top coaches in college football. Rodriguez posted a 60-26 record with West Virginia, but recorded a disappointing 15-22 mark in three seasons with the Wolverines. Although he deserves some of the blame for the failed tenure in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez was simply a bad fit and Michigan never embraced him as its coach. Don’t expect any of those issues to arise at Arizona, as Rodriguez seems to be a good fit and should have the Wildcats in contention for a bowl game in 2012. Arizona had three winning seasons under former coach Mike Stoops, but Rodriguez is capable of taking this program even higher. 

Charlie Strong, Louisville (2 years)
Alma Mater: 
Central Arkansas (1980-83)
Overall Record: 14-13 (2 years)

It has taken Strong only two years to emerge as one of the top coaches in the Big East. After spending over 20 years as an assistant with stops at Florida, Ole Miss, Notre Dame and South Carolina, Strong has led the Cardinals to a 14-12 record and two bowl appearances. Even with one of the youngest rosters in college football, Louisville claimed a share of the Big East crown in 2011. The future looks bright for the Cardinals with Strong at the helm, as they should be the early favorite to win the conference in 2012. The biggest question for Louisville is whether or not it can keep Strong if one of the top programs in the SEC open up, but for now, he should have the Cardinals knocking on the door of a finish in the top 25 this season.

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

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 07:00
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The Florida State Seminoles check in at No. 9 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: EJ Manuel, QB
There’s no question Florida State has to be better in offense in 2012. Spring practice concluded with question marks remaining about the offensive line and rushing attack – two areas that plagued the Seminoles last year. Manuel didn’t have a bad first season as the starter (2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns), but more was expected out of him. A shoulder injury suffered against Oklahoma hindered the offense’s development, and Manuel never seemed to be comfortable behind a shaky offensive line. The senior has the talent, but it’s time to put everything together. If Manuel plays up to expectations, Florida State’s offense should show improvement on the stat sheet.

Upset Alert: at NC State (Oct. 6)
Florida State’s last trip to Raleigh didn’t go so well. The Seminoles lost 28-24 to the Wolfpack in 2010, which was their second defeat at NC State in the last three matchups. Florida State will be on upset alert once again this season, as the Wolfpack return quarterback Mike Glennon and most of the key players from a defense that forced 39 turnovers last season. NC State lost 34-0 in Tallahassee last season, but this matchup should be much closer in 2012.

Revenge/Biggest Game: Clemson (Sept. 22)
Not only is this a revenge game for Florida State, but this matchup will have a significant impact on the race to win the ACC Atlantic. The Seminoles were without quarterback EJ Manuel in last year’s contest and lost only 35-30 to the Tigers in Death Valley. Clemson’s biggest question mark is an offensive line that loses three starters, which figures to be an issue against Florida State’s loaded defensive line. The Seminoles are 2-5 against the Tigers in their last seven matchups. However, both of Florida State’s victories came in Tallahassee and it should be favored to get revenge on Sept. 22. 

Defensive MVP: Brandon Jenkins, DE
The Seminoles are loaded on defense, so there’s no shortage of candidates for this honor. Jenkins has been one of college football’s top pass rushers over the last two years, recording 21.5 sacks and 36.5 tackles for a loss. His numbers declined slightly from 2010 to 2011, which can be blamed on receiving more attention from opposing offenses. Jenkins should threaten 10 sacks, while leading one of the top defensive lines in the nation.

Trap Game: at USF (Sept. 29)
A week after the matchup with Clemson in Tallahassee, the Seminoles hit the road for a stop against in-state rival South Florida. These two teams have met only once, with the Bulls winning 17-7 in Tallahassee in 2009. Considering the magnitude of the game against Clemson, and a hungry South Florida squad looking to earn bragging rights with the state’s top programs, this is a dangerous trap game for Florida State.

Breakout Player: Rashad Greene, WR
Some could say Greene broke out last season after catching 38 passes for 596 yards and seven touchdowns. However, an ankle injury forced him to miss four games and he was never 100 percent when he returned to the lineup. Greene’s numbers were solid for a freshman, but can only get better with a full complement of snaps in 2012. Don’t be surprised if Greene approaches 60 receptions with 1,000 yards and 10 scores this year.

Bounce Back Candidate: Xavier Rhodes, CB
After a standout freshman season, big things were expected of Rhodes in 2011. He played in all 13 games, but picked off only one pass after recording four interceptions in 2010. Rhodes did not earn all-conference honors and his play left a lot of room for improvement. The junior needs to have a big season to work his way back into the mix for the first round of the NFL Draft, and his play in 2012 should closely resemble his freshman campaign.

National Title Defining Moment: at Virginia Tech (Nov. 8)
It’s not going to be easy for the ACC to get a team into the national championship this year, but this game will have major top 25 implications. While neither team’s schedule is clear of potential land mines, it’s not unreasonable to think Florida State and Virginia Tech could enter the Nov. 8 matchup unbeaten. The Seminoles have lost two out of the last three matchups to the Hokies and have not won in Blacksburg since 1989. Virginia Tech also has a huge advantage with this game scheduled on Nov. 8, as this will give the Hokies plenty of time to sort out their offensive line and running back concerns. With both teams expected to win their division, this should be an ACC Championship Game preview.

Freshman to Watch: Mario Pender, RB
A freshman led Florida State in rushing last year and it wouldn’t be a surprise if that happened again in 2012. Devonta Freeman and Chris Thompson hold the early edge in the battle to start at running back, but Pender will get another opportunity to earn playing time in the fall. He ranked as the No. 37 overall player in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and will be expected to contribute significant snaps this season.

Comeback Player: Chris Thompson, RB
The rushing attack was almost non-existent for Florida State last year, as it ranked 104th nationally by averaging just 112.2 yards per game. Finding a spark on the ground does rely on an improved offensive line, but the Seminoles are hoping the return of Thompson can help. He rushed for 83 yards and one touchdown through the first five weeks of last year, but suffered a broken back in the loss to Wake Forest. He missed most of spring practice with a broken hand, so rust could be an issue early in the year. Even if Thompson doesn’t lead the team in yards, having a veteran presence and his pass-protection out of the backfield will be a boost to an offense that struggled to establish anything on the ground last year.

Newcomer to Watch: Karlos Williams, S
Safety hasn’t been a position of strength for Florida State’s defense in recent years, but Lamarcus Joyner stepped up and solidified one spot last season. Is it Williams’ turn in 2012? Junior Terrence Brooks left spring practice with a slight edge, but it will be difficult for the coaching staff to keep Williams off the field. He was ranked among the top 25 players in the 2011 signing class by most scouting services and recorded eight stops in 12 games last year. Even if Brooks starts, Williams should play a key role in Florida State’s secondary this season.

Position Battle: Offensive Line
This unit was a mixture of inexperience and overall bad play last season. The Seminoles started 10 different players up front, including a handful of freshmen. This group played well in the second half of the Champs Sports Bowl against Notre Dame, but can they find that same rhythm for the entire 2012 campaign? Line coach Rick Trickett and head coach Jimbo Fisher may have found a solution to some of the line’s problems, as Cameron Erving switched from defensive tackle to left tackle and solidified that position in the spring. The front five is going to be young and could decide whether or not Florida State wins the ACC Championship in 2012. 

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Teaser:
<p> Florida State Seminoles 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 05:44

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