Articles By Steven Lassan

Path: /college-football/kansas-state-football-can-wildcats-repeat-last-years-success

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

Can Kansas State Repeat Last Season's 10-3 Record?

Tim Fitzgerald, Publisher of
In some ways, Kansas State lived a charmed football life in 2011, but there was more to the Wildcats winning nearly every close game than simply luck. If K-State wants to repeat or build upon its 10-win season from a year ago, the Wildcats will need to stay true to their ability to control time of possession, limit turnovers and penalties, and make big plays in special teams. Two obstacles for Bill Snyder's team are a daunting schedule in the rebuilt Big 12 and their return to being one of the hunted teams in the conference.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
From 1995-2003, Kansas State won at least 10 games seven times. We’ll find out in a hurry if the second Bill Snyder renaissance project in Manhattan will enjoy the same staying power. There’s a lot to like about Kansas State with the best players on both sides of the ball returning – quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown. Klein has proven he’ll keep them in every game, but I have reservations about a team that ranked 101st nationally in total offense to continue to stay at the top of the Big 12. Kansas State won’t catch anyone off guard this season and the Wildcats may not be as lucky as they were a year ago. Ten wins will be awfully difficult to reach, but the Wildcats aren’t going to slip back into Ron Prince-era mediocrity. Kansas State will win more than they lose, but I could see Snyder’s team slipping to eight or nine wins.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Bill Snyder is a special coach and Collin Klein is a special quarterback. There is no questioning either of their abilities to lead a program. But I just can’t see Kansas State repeating its 10-2 regular season from 2011. Klein is as fun to watch play this game as any player in the nation, but he will no longer sneak up on defensive coordinators. And he has much less to work with this fall as the offensive line needs to be rebuilt. Additionally, the Wildcats beat Miami, Baylor, Missouri, Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Iowa State by one score or less last year and were outgained by its opponents within conference play by 106.8 yards per game. With holes that need plugging on defense, and the addition of two quality football teams in TCU and West Virginia to the already tough road schedule that includes Oklahoma and Baylor, it seems far-fetched to expect another 10-win season. Kansas State is clearly a bowl team that will be a tough out each and every weekend, but seven or eight wins seems like the high-water mark for Snyder’s bunch this fall.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I would be really surprised if Kansas State matches its win total from last season. The Wildcats were the biggest surprise in the Big 12, but they were outgained by 106.8 yards per game in conference play and nine of their contests were decided by a touchdown or less. Although the Wildcats won 10 games, they could have easily finished 8-4. There’s enough talent to make a run at a similar record, but Kansas State suffered some key losses in the trenches, including right tackle Clyde Aufner and defensive tackle Ray Kibble. Quarterback Collin Klein carried this team last year, but can he stay healthy for a full year if he has to record 317 rushing attempts again? One factor that could help the Wildcats reach 10 wins is the uncertainty surrounding some teams in the Big 12. Oklahoma State and Baylor will probably take a step back, while it’s hard to gauge just how TCU will transition to the Big 12. You can never count out Kansas State with Bill Snyder on the sidelines, but I think this team takes a step back in the win column and finishes with an 8-4 or 9-3 record.  

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The Wildcats will be a quality team once again, but I don’t see another 10-win campaign for Bill Snyder’s club. KSU had a magical run last season, winning eight games by a touchdown or less. It’s hard to see that happening again, especially with the departures of three offensive line starters and several contributors on defense. You can’t help but be a Collin Klein fan when watching K-State play, but the passing game is fairly limited and running for 27 scores will be difficult to repeat. Additionally, there will be an adjustment period for the defense as Tom Hayes takes over for former defensive coordinator Chris Cosh. I think the Wildcats will win seven or eight games, but fall short of double-digit victories.

How will Athlon predict the Big 12 standings for 2012? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day. 

Related Big 12 Content

Kansas State 2012 Spring Preview
Ranking the Big 12 Quarterbacks for 2012

Ranking the Big 12 Head Coaches for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Kansas State Football: Can the Wildcats Repeat Last Year's Success?</p>
Post date: Friday, April 13, 2012 - 08:22
Path: /college-football/wisconsin-football-who-challenges-badgers-2012

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

With Ohio State ineligible to win the Leaders Division, which team will be the biggest threat to Wisconsin?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Can I say none of the above? I’m not even assuming Wisconsin will be the best team in the Leaders Division. That belongs to Ohio State, who may end up being this year’s version of USC as a potential top-10 team banned from the postseason. Ohio State’s plight leaves the Badgers as the favorite in the Leaders, especially with their quarterback situation settled with Danny O’Brien on board. If had to pick a team to be a threat I’d have to say Purdue. Defensive tackle Kawann Short is one of the Big Ten’s most underrated players. On offense, injuries have ended seasons for running back Ralph Bolden and quarterback Robert Marve. That seems unlikely to happen again. Still, I don’t have much faith in Purdue. Although the Boilermakers are good for an upset each year (Ohio State in 2011 and 2009), they also lost to Rice last year and nearly lost at home to Middle Tennessee. The Big Ten schedule also sets up well for Purdue, which has winnable road games at Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois and misses Michigan State and Nebraska from the Leaders division. All that might be enough to cobble together a nice Big Ten record which could make Wisconsin sweat for a second consecutive division title.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Penn State was one win away from winning this division last season. Illinois started the year 6-0. And Purdue got back to a bowl game for the first time since 2007. All three will push Wisconsin for Leaders Division supremacy since Ohio State — the team that will own the best record — is not eligible to play in the Big Ten title game. The Nittany Lions have major quarterback and offensive line issues but the most talent of all the contenders. Illinois might have the most stability at the most important positions but it is impossible to get the second-half collapse out of my mind. I will surprise some and take the Boilermakers to be the top challenger to Wisconsin. First, they get the Badgers at home and the round robin between these four teams will likely play a big role in determining the champ. Second, they are as healthy as they have been in years (for now) and are trending upwards. And finally, they possess a defensive line that could be one of the league’s better units in a conference that places a premium on stopping the run. That said, the Badgers beat these three teams by a combined 94 points last year, so it is tough to see anyone else other than the Big Red playing in Indianapolis in December. 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
If Ohio State was eligible for the conference title, I think it would be the favorite to play in the Big Ten Championship at Indianapolis. But with a NCAA ban on postseason play, Wisconsin is the clear favorite to win the Leaders Division. Sure, the Badgers have question marks, but when you start examining the rest of the teams in the division, there isn’t much to like. There’s no question Penn State has some talent in the program, but the offensive line must replace four starters and quarterback play is an issue. I’m not sold on Bill O’Brien as a head coach either, which has me thinking Illinois might be Wisconsin’s biggest threat. The Fighting Illini collapsed after a 6-0 start, but Ron Zook didn’t leave the cupboard bare for new coach Tim Beckman. Illinois returns quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and a defense that could be among the best in the conference. The schedule also sets up favorably, as the Fighting Illini does not play Michigan State or Nebraska in crossover games with the Legends Division. Illinois certainly has some question marks and needs to adapt to a new coaching staff. However, if Beckman can get this team to play up to its potential, the Fighting Illini has a chance to push Wisconsin for the division crown.

Kevin McGuire, and No. 2-Minute Warning (@KevinonCFB)
Few will argue that Wisconsin is the prohibitive favorite in the Big Ten's Leaders Division. Already with one of the top offensive players in the nation with running back Montee Ball, a Heisman frontrunner in my book, the Badgers filled the one glaring hole on their roster this spring by signing quarterback transfer Danny O'Brien. The blueprint that was used for the 2011 season seems as though it is being recycled in 2012, and for Wisconsin that should be a good sign. With the Buckeyes ruled out of the picture for us it becomes a little more obvious that Wisconsin is the team to beat in the fall.

If there is one team that has the potential to give Wisconsin a run this year though, it may just be the team the Badgers blasted in the regular season finale last fall to advance to the Big Ten championship game, Penn State. Bill O'Brien brings a new offensive flair to the program and if he can find the right players to get things moving, most notably at quarterback, then this could be a pretty good season for Penn State. Penn State's defense hopes to get some good production out of two key defensive players returning form ACL injuries with defensive end Pete Massaro and linebacker Michael Mauti, and defensive tackle Jordan Hill is ready to pick up where Devon Still left on the inside of the defensive line. The secondary is also a huge question after losing three starters but Penn State has the schedule in their favor. Ohio State and Wisconsin, perhaps the two toughest games on the schedule other than a road trip to Nebraska, make trips to Penn State this season. After the way things went down in Madison last November for the Nittany Lions, revenge will be on the mind of many in the 2012 regular season finale in State College.

Will it once again be a game to determine which school heads to Indianapolis the following week for the Big Ten championship game? 

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
It looks pretty bleak in the Leaders Division after Wisconsin and the postseason-ineligible Ohio State Buckeyes, but I’ll go with Penn State because of its overall tradition of winning. Illinois and Purdue return more starters, but the Nittany Lions can focus on football this season after last year’s turmoil that led to the ouster of Joe Paterno. There are obvious problems for new coach Bill O’Brien — finding some/any quarterback play, as well as revamping the offensive line and secondary. However, I think the O-line will be fine and Silas Redd will continue to lead a successful running game. The front seven on defense should be solid, led by tackle Jordan Hill and linebacker Gerald Hodges. If O’Brien can find a decent signal caller between fifth-year senior Matt McGloin, junior Rob Bolden or redshirt sophomore Paul Jones, Penn State will be the closest challenger to Wisconsin to play in the Big Ten Championship Game.

How will Athlon predict the Big Ten Leaders Division standings for 2012? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day. 

Related Big Ten Content

Ranking the Big Ten's Quarterbacks for 2012
Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Head Coaches for 2012

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Wisconsin Football: Who Challenges the Badgers in 2012?</p>
Post date: Friday, April 13, 2012 - 08:18
Path: /college-football/pac-12-quarterback-rankings-2012

The 2012 college football season is still months away, but it's never too early to preview. Athlon continues its countdown to the upcoming season and spring previews by ranking the quarterbacks in each of the BCS conferences. The rankings take into account last season's production, what each player is expected to do in 2012 and the surrounding personnel. 

Here's how Athlon ranks the 12 quarterbacks in the Pac-12 for 2012:

1. Matt Barkley, USC (SR)
Passing Stats:
3,528 yards, 39 TDs, 7 INTs, 69.1%
Rushing Stats: 28 att., 14 yards, 2 TDs

It was a bit of a surprise when Barkley announced his intentions to return to USC for his senior year, but coach Lane Kiffin certainly isn’t complaining. With Barkley back on campus for one more season, the Trojans will be one of the top contenders for the 2012 national title and will be a heavy favorite to win the Pac-12. Barkley posted the best statistical season of his career last year, throwing for 3,528 yards and 39 scores, while tossing only seven picks. He will also have the benefit of throwing to the nation’s top receiving corps and playing behind an offensive line that returns four starters. Barkley should be a unanimous preseason first-team All-American quarterback for 2012 and will likely be one of the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy. 

2. Keith Price, Washington (JR)
Passing Stats:
3,063 yards, 33 TD, 11 INT, 66.9%
Rushing Stats: 56 att., 10 yards, 3 TD

Through his first six starts of his first season under center, all Price did was throw at least three touchdowns in every game. Washington was 5-1 and poised to challenge the North Division powers for a Pac-12 title. Once the schedule got tougher, the sophomore went through some growing pains against 10-win teams Stanford, Oregon and USC. However, Price vastly out-produced the legend he replaced when Jake Locker graduated. Locker never had a winning season in Seattle, never topped 3,000 yards passing and never came close to completing 66% of his passes. And Price’s 33 touchdowns were 12 more than Locker’s single-season high of 21. Chris Polk and Jermaine Kearse depart the offense, but there is loads of talent left on the roster in both the backfield (Jesse Callier) and on the outside (Austin Seferian-Jenkin, Kasen Williams). With Stanford stepping back and Oregon filling massive voids on offense, this is the year Price could elevate the Huskies to its highest level since 2000.

3. Jeff Tuel, Washington State (SR)
Passing Stats:
276 yards, TD, 0 INT, 64.4%
Rushing Stats: 17 att., -9 yards, TD

No player in the nation may be more excited about his coaching change than Tuel. With Mike Leach’s system coming to Pullman, Tuel is in for his best statistical season — and it shouldn’t even be close. Back in 2010, Tuel threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 18 touchdowns before missing most of 2011 with multiple injuries. Tuel managed to play only three games last fall and will face competition from sophomore Connor Halliday. But with star wideout and Biletnikoff candidate Marquess Wilson on the receiving end of most of his passes, Tuel should flourish in Leach’s pass-happy spread system. It could result in the Cougars first bowl appearance since 2003.

4. Sean Mannion, Oregon State (SO)
Passing Stats: 3,328 yards, 16 TD, 18 INT, 64.5%
Rushing Stats: 32 att., -190 yards, 1 TD

As only a freshman, Mannion finished fifth in the QB-heavy Pac-12 in total offense at 261.5 yards per game. There is still much to learn for Mannion, as his 18 interceptions and -190 yards rushing indicate, but he showed flashes of all-conference potential. In the Beavers’ three conference wins, Mannion was proved he belonged with the league’s best. He threw for 267 yards and two scores against Nick Foles and Arizona. He threw for a career high 376 yards and four touchdowns against Jeff Tuel and the Cougars. And he completed 26-of-37 passes for 339 yards and a pair of scores in the upset win over Washington. If he can learn to protect the football and not take sacks (Oregon State was 81st nationally in sacks allowed), Mannion could find himself pushing for All-Pac-12 honors by season’s end.

5. Bryan Bennett, Oregon (SO)
Passing Stats:
369 yards, 6 TD, 0 INT, 54.3%
Rushing Stats: 23 att., 200 yards, 0 TD

Darron Thomas’ early defection to the NFL might have surprised people across the country, but likely didn’t shock many diehard Ducks fans. Bryan Bennett was pushing for playing time as a freshman last year, and, in limited duty, showed why Ducks’ writers are so bullish on Bennett’s 2012 potential. Certainly, Marcus Mariota is pushing for playing time, but all signs point to Bennett getting the keys to one of the nation’s most prolific offensive attacks. He averaged nearly 10 yards per carry and posted a tidy 6:0 TD:INT ratio in garbage time and one start last year. But starting for a team that’s hoisted three straight Pac-12 championship trophies — and featured a departed QB who scored 71 total touchdowns the last two seasons — is much tougher than mop-up duty. If Bennett can handle the bright lights and pressure of being the starter, Chip Kelly should see little drop off at the quarterback position in 2012.

6. Zach Maynard, Cal (SR)
Passing Stats:
2,990 yards, 17 TD, 12 INT, 57.0%
Rushing Stats: 84 att., 108 yards, 4 TD

Much of the Golden Bears’ success will hinge on how Maynard plays this fall. Will Jeff Tedford get the inefficient risk-taker from the first eight games of last year or the careful signal caller who played within the offense in the final five? Through the first eight games last fall, Maynard threw 10 interceptions against only 12 touchdowns. He took better care of the football over the final five games, throwing only two interceptions to go with five touchdowns. And Cal went 3-1 to finish the regular season because of it. The rapport Maynard has with superstar wideout, and half-brother, Keenan Allen is obvious and the connection should be one of the nation's best combos. But Jeff Tedford needs his quarterback to play poised, calm football if he expects to compete for a bowl game — and keep his job.

7. Brett Nottingham, Stanford (JR)
Passing Stats:
78 yards, TD, 0 INT, 67.5%
Rushing Stats: 1 att., 10 yards, 0 TD

Over the last two years, Andrew Luck has attempted 783 passes en route to 23 wins. The rest of the Stanford roster attempted a total of 20 passes over that span. Nottingham got eight of those last season. Needless to say, very little is known about the Stanford quarterback situation now that Luck has moved on to the Colts, er, the NFL. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Alama, Calif., native was an elite recruit coming out of Monte Visa High School where he threw for 7,467 yards and 91 touchdowns. David Shaw has been alternating reps with the starters between the Sheriff and senior Josh Nunes — who saw action in two games without attempting a pass last fall, so Nottingham will have to win the job this summer.

8. Kevin Prince, UCLA (SR)
Passing Stats:
1,828 yards, 12 TDs, 8 INTs, 56.2%
Rushing Stats: 120 att., 424 yards, 1 TD

Injuries have prevented Prince from playing a full season during his career at UCLA and he will have to hold off Richard Brehaut and redshirt freshman Brett Hundley to start the 2012 season opener. Prince has shown flashes of promise, but if he can’t stay healthy, it’s going to be hard for the Bruins to make any improvement from last season’s win total. In three seasons with UCLA, he has thrown for 4,262 yards and 23 touchdowns, while rushing for 713 yards and five scores. Prince has led UCLA to some key wins, including a 34-12 upset over Texas in 2010 and a 19-15 victory over Tennessee as a freshman. As long as Prince can stay healthy, UCLA’s offense has a chance to improve off last season’s numbers.

9. Jordan Wynn, Utah (JR)
Passing Stats:
727 yards, 6 TDs, 2 INTs, 56.9%
Rushing Stats: 9 att., -54 yards

Wynn is one of the most difficult quarterbacks to rank going into the 2012 season. As a freshman in 2009, he threw for 1,329 yards and eight touchdowns, while leading the Utes to a bowl victory over California. Wynn followed that up with a solid sophomore campaign in 2010, throwing for 2,334 yards and 17 scores, but suffered a shoulder injury at the end of the season. He returned in time for the 2011 season opener, but suffered another shoulder injury against Washington and was forced to miss the rest of the year. All signs point to Wynn returning at full strength in 2012, but there will certainly be some rust after missing nine games last year. New coordinator Brian Johnson may allow Wynn to throw more in 2012, which isn’t a bad idea considering the Utes return a solid group of receivers. If the junior stays healthy, don’t be surprised if Wynn ranks higher on this list at the end of the year.

10. Matt Scott, Arizona (SR)
Passing Stats:
Redshirted in 2011
Rushing Stats: Redshirted in 2011

With Nick Foles firmly entrenched as Arizona’s starter last season, Scott decided to redshirt and preserve a year of eligibility for 2012. With Rich Rodriguez taking over at Arizona, Scott should flourish in his senior year in the spread offense. Scott has five career starts and has thrown for 1,301 yards and six touchdowns. He has also added 632 yards and two scores on the ground during his three years in Tucson. As long as Scott quickly picks up Rodriguez’s offense, Arizona will have no trouble scoring points in 2012. Scott is arguably the biggest wildcard in the Pac-12 quarterback rankings, with the potential to climb into the top five by the end of the season. However, since this is his first season as the full-time starter, it’s hard to rank him any higher on this list.

11. Mike Bercovici, Arizona State (SO)
Passing Stats:
15 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 66.7%
Rushing Stats: No rushing stats

It’s a wide-open battle in Tempe to replace Brock Osweiler this spring. Bercovici is competing with redshirt freshman Michael Eubank and sophomore Taylor Kelly for the starting job. Eubank is a physically impressive quarterback, checking in at 6-foot-5 and 242 pounds. Kelly has the most experience of the three quarterbacks, throwing for 31 yards on four attempts last year. Bercovici completed two passes for 15 yards last season and did not tally a rushing attempt. It’s a tossup who coach Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell will pick as the No. 1 quarterback, but most believe it will come down to Bercovici or Eubank. No matter who starts under center, Arizona State will have a hard time equaling Osweiler’s production from last year. 

12. Connor Wood, Colorado (SO)
Passing Stats:
Sat out as a transfer
Rushing Stats: Sat out as a transfer

With Nick Hirschman sitting out spring practice with a foot injury, all signs point to Wood opening the year as Colorado’s No. 1 quarterback. Although the Buffaloes won only three games last year, quarterback Tyler Hansen quietly had a productive season, throwing for 2,883 yards and 20 scores. Replacing Hansen won’t be easy, but Wood committed to Texas as a four-star prospect and ranked as one of the top 150 high school seniors according to one recruiting service. If the sophomore lives up to the hype, the concerns about losing Hansen and running back Rodney Stewart will be eased. However, Wood’s job didn’t get any easier after receiver Paul Richardson was lost for the year with a torn ACL. Without Richardson, the Buffaloes have one of the worst receiving corps in the Pac-12, which will be difficult for Wood to overcome, especially as he takes the first snaps of his collegiate career in 2012.  

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

Related Pac-12 Content

Can California Beat Stanford and Washington in the 2012 North Standings?
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<p> Athlon ranks the quarterbacks in the Pac-12 for 2012.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 07:02
Path: /college-football/louisville-football-who-challenges-cardinals-big-east-title

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

Mark Ennis, Manager of Big East Coast Bias (@Mengus22)
I'm tempted to say that this is finally the year that South Florida puts it together on both sides of the ball and contends for a Big East title. After all, the Bulls return virtually everyone on both offense and defense. Nevertheless, until B.J. Daniels plays consistently and can make plays throwing the football, the Bulls will never be able to compete with the upper echelon teams in the Big East or outside the conference. The team most likely to challenge Louisville for the Big East title in 2012 is Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights return most of the offensive line, a solid stable of running backs led by Savon Huggins who should have a much better sophomore season, a talented receiver in Mark Harrison, and the new coaching staff seems determined to pick a quarterback and stick with him.

Add to it that the defense returns almost entirely intact from a unit that finished first in the Big East in total defense and scoring defense and Rutgers can play with just about anyone. When new head coach Kyle Flood sprinkles in some of his highly rated freshmen like defensive end Darius Hamilton or wide receiver Leonte Carroo, he should have more than enough pieces to compete for the Big East title. Obviously there will be an adjustment period for the players to get used to the new coaching staff, but, Flood is not a totally new voice and he knows the team he's inheriting. Even if the Scarlet Knights struggle in the early non-conference schedule, they'll have their footing in time for Big East play and will be a tough out for the rest of the league.

It also helps that Rutgers gets Louisville at home in the final week of the season on Thursday night on national TV. Will it give Rutgers fans a repeat of 2006?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Louisville is probably the prohibitive favorite in the Big East after tying for the league title with a young team last year and riding that momentum into 2012. The Cardinals biggest challenger will be either USF of Pittsburgh. The Bulls have loads of talent on defense, especially at linebacker with Sam Barrington and DeDe Lattimore. Quarterback B.J. Daniels keeps improving incrementally. I wonder if this will be a breakout season. Then again, we say this about USF it seems every year, and each season the Bulls disappoint in October and November. USF bottomed out last year by finishing on a 1-7 slide, losing six of those games by a touchdown or less. The Bulls can’t be that unlucky again. I also think Pitt will be a sneaky good team in the Big East with a chance to play for the title. The Panthers should have two key players on offense healthy this season in offensive lineman Chris Jacobson and running back Ray Graham, who was the league’s best player in the first eight games. The offensive line was a mess, and Tino Sunseri took more sacks than any quarterback in the nation. With Paul Chryst installing an offense more suited to the personnel than Todd Graham’s, Pittsburgh should be more consistent on that side of the ball.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
If conventional wisdom holds true — which is usually never the case with the Big East — then Louisville will be the unanimous pick to win the conference in 2012. South Florida, Pitt and Rutgers appear to be the top challengers to the Cards. The Bulls have the most continuity at quarterback and on the sidelines. Pitt has a bright young star now leading the ship in Paul Chryst and should be much healthier in 2012. But I will go with the clear-cut best defense in the league a year ago and pick the Scarlet Knights. The schedule sets up very nice for Rutgers with only one sure loss on the slate in the first nine games. If Rutgers can go into USF (where they are 2-1 all-time), then there is no reason to think the Knights won’t start 8-1 (at Arkansas is the only loss). The final three weeks will be tough (at Cincinnati, at Pitt, Louisville) but they get the Cardinals at home in the season finale and potential defacto Big East title game. The loss of Greg Schiano will hurt the program long term, but the hard-nosed residue he left behind, packaged with the best recruiting class in school history, will allow this team to compete for a conference title in 2012. Beyond this year, I have major concerns.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think Louisville is clearly the top team in the Big East for 2012, but the debate gets interesting at No. 2. Before Greg Schiano left Rutgers, I thought the Scarlet Knights had a chance to push the Cardinals for the No. 1 spot. However, the coaching transition may cost the Scarlet Knights a game or two, and the quarterback position is still a question mark. I'm intrigued by Pittsburgh, but the offensive line and quarterback issues make me hesitant to pick them behind Louisville. Even though South Florida went 1-7 in its final eight games last year, the Bulls are my pick to be Louisville’s top challenger in the Big East next season. South Florida returns 13 starters and most importantly, six of its seven defeats came by a touchdown or less. Quarterback B.J. Daniels has a chance to put together his best season at South Florida, especially with a deep group of receivers and a solid offensive line returning. New coordinator Chris Cosh did a good job of improving Kansas State’s defense and there’s plenty of talent for him to work with in 2012. I thought Skip Holtz would have the Bulls in contention by now, but this should be the year the pieces fall into place for South Florida as it will be the biggest threat to Louisville in 2012. 

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I’ll go with South Florida, even though the Bulls’ recent league play has been lackluster. As far as the rosters and returning talent goes, USF is the clear choice here. However, coach Skip Holtz must get his team over the mental hurdle of playing well against non-conference opponents but flopping versus the Big East. The Bulls have not had a winning record in league play since 2007, but I believe that will change during the 2012 campaign for several reasons. Quarterback B.J. Daniels is solid dual threat who threw for over 2,600 yards last season, and his receiver group is deep and talented. USF probably has the top offensive and defensive lines in the Big East, and the Bulls return a great linebacking trio in DeDe Lattimore, Mike Lanaris and Sam Barrington. I also think that veteran coordinator Chris Cosh, who recently led Kansas State’s defense and coached with Holtz for five years at South Carolina, will make a positive difference with a loaded unit in Tampa. With a little more consistency and better special teams play, the Bulls will challenge Louisville in the Big East.

Where will Athlon predict Louisville, South Florida, Rutgers and Pittsburgh to finish in the 2012 Big East final standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day. 

Related Big East Content

Ranking the Big East Coaches for 2012
Ranking the Big East Quarterbacks for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Coaches for 2012

Big East 2012 Schedule Analysis

College Football's Top Quarterback Battles to Watch

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Louisville Football: Who Challenges Cardinals for a Big East Title?</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 07:01
Path: /college-football/missouri-or-texas-am-which-team-will-have-more-wins-2012

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

Missouri or Texas A&M: Which Team Will Have More Wins in SEC play for 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Both teams have questions beyond how they adapt to the SEC. Missouri will spend its summer concerned about the health of quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey while Texas A&M is breaking in a new coach. Kevin Sumlin has a lot to like about his offense with a veteran offensive line, Christine Michael and Ryan Swope, but he’ll need a new quarterback. In general, I’d give the edge to Missouri with a returning quarterback and returning coach, plus playing in the East division, which should be the weaker of the two. However, Missouri still has to face Alabama and will visit Texas A&M. Neither Missouri nor Texas A&M will threaten for the division title, but we’ll have a pretty good idea about how the season will go on Sept. 8 when Texas A&M plays host to Florida and Missouri plays host to a Georgia team depleted by defensive suspensions. I’d still give Mizzou the leg up.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
After all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding two high-profile defections to the SEC, the battle for newbie supremacy will likely come down to two former Big 12 teams playing in a former Big 12 stadium. The Texas A&M-Missouri game in College Station on the final weekend of the regular season will likely be a battle for 3-5 in SEC play and will likely give the winner a trip to a bowl game while the loser is left to sit at home and stare at the Big 12 standings. Missouri won this overtime fight in front of the 12th Man last year and is in overall better shape heading into the more physical SEC. They have much-needed stability at two key positions — head coach and quarterback — where the only certainty for A&M is uncertainty.

That said, the Aggies are built more like an SEC team than is Missouri — meaning they are strong along the offensive and defensive lines. Both teams have to face the defending national champs in Alabama. And both will struggle to beat divisional opponents picked ahead of them. With Ole Miss, Auburn and Mississippi State on the schedule for TAMU, along with home games against Florida and Mizzou, the Aggies upside looks like four wins. Missouri’s best chance at a home upset is against a short-handed Georgia Bulldogs team in Week 2. Missouri’s final three SEC games this fall will feature daunting trips to Knoxville, Gainesville and the aforementioned College Station. Vanderbilt and Kentucky look like the only sure wins on the Tigers’ schedule — meaning an upset at Tennessee AND Texas A&M would get Mizzou to four wins. My guess is that both teams enter the season finale at 2-5 in SEC play with the winner heading to a bowl game. No pressure. for either.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Moving to the SEC is certainly going to be a challenge for Texas A&M and Missouri, but both programs aren’t going to be easy outs for the rest of the conference in 2012.

The Aggies return 11 starters, but will be breaking in a new quarterback and will be playing in the tougher division. Kevin Sumlin was a terrific hire as Texas A&M’s new head coach and he hired an impressive staff. Sumlin needs to find a way to cure Texas A&M’s late-game issues that appeared last year, as the Aggies were a better team than their 7-6 record indicated. Although the quarterback position is a question mark, there are some nice pieces surrounding the new starter, particularly on the offensive line and in the running back corps.

The Tigers bring back 10 starters, but the health of quarterback James Franklin is uncertain, as he underwent shoulder surgery during the spring. Running back Henry Josey is also dealing with an injury (knee), but is not expected to return in time for the 2012 season. If Franklin misses any conference games, Missouri could slip to sixth in the division. The Tigers should be solid on defense, but stopping the run could be an issue with three key linemen departing.

If Franklin returns at full strength, I like Missouri’s chances to win more SEC games in 2012. With an easier division, the Tigers should be able to pull off an upset or two and finish with four wins in SEC play. I see the Aggies beating Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Missouri in conference play, but a home date against Florida on Sept. 8 could be the deciding factor between three or four conference wins.  

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Tough call. If I had to place an over/under on both of these teams’ win total in league play, it would be 4.5. They are both solid teams that will have to tackle difficult schedules in their new league. Texas A&M has a slightly more difficult schedule because the SEC West is the better division, but Missouri has to be play Alabama, easily one of the top two teams in the West.

There is a lot to like about the A&M roster, but there is one big issue — a new starting quarterback. The offensive line is solid, and the Aggies are well-stocked at the running back position. And take a look at last year’s results: This team lost two games in overtime and three other games by four points or less. Add the energy provided by a new coaching staff and some better late-game execution and some of those close losses could easily turn into wins.

I’d feel better about Missouri if we had a better read on some of the Tigers’ ongoing injury concerns. James Franklin, one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the nation, is dealing with a shoulder injury that could linger into the fall. And Henry Josey, who was one of the most productive running backs in college football before his injury in 2011, likely will not be able to play in the fall. 

Barrett Sallee, Lead SEC Blogger for Bleacher Report (@BarrettSallee)
Texas A&M and Missouri are both in for an interesting ride in 2012, and I think that Missouri will enjoy more immediate success than the Aggies. You win in the SEC by taking care of the ball, running the ball and playing defense. Texas A&M's defense routinely ran out of gas in second halves last season, and it's losing quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Cyrus Gray. Plus, A&M now lives in rough neighborhood in the SEC West.

Missouri may not be better-suited for long-term success, but it will have success in the short term. The East still is far behind the West; and assuming James Franklin and Henry Josey are available to start the season, the Tigers will enter the SEC and immediately contend for the division title. Georgia is the East favorite based on its schedule, but several key contributors on defense will miss the SEC opener at Missouri in Week 2. If the Tigers top the Bulldogs, it will blow the SEC East wide open—and could open the door for Missouri to make a run at the Georgia Dome.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think both teams will be in the 4-4, 3-5 range in league play, but Missouri looks like the better bet in this one. The Tigers have played solid defense over the last few years, and that will suit them well in the nation’s toughest conference. There are major concerns in Columbia over the health of quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey, but Gary Pinkel has built up a tough program that can withstand some adversity. Texas A&M has a ton of talent on the roster, but everything seems new in College Station from the coaches to the schemes to the conference. It may take Kevin Sumlin and staff some time to find an effective replacement for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, improve the defense and cut down on the football-related discipline issues (100th nationally in penalties per game, T-106th in turnover margin) that plagued the Aggies last season. Both new league members will have an adjustment period, but I believe Missouri’s coaching stability gives the Tigers an early advantage over the Aggies in trying to play above .500 ball in the rough-and-tumble SEC.

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<p> Missouri or Texas A&amp;M: Which Team Will Have More Wins in 2012?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - 08:43
All taxonomy terms: Arkansas Razorbacks, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/bobby-petrinos-firing-impacts-2012-sec-title-race

After recording 21 wins over the last two seasons, Bobby Petrino had Arkansas on the brink of contending for the SEC West title in 2012. On Tuesday evening, all of that progress came to a halt, as Petrino was fired, ending his four-year stint in Fayetteville.

The end of the Petrino era is no surprise, especially after he lied to athletic director Jeff Long about the details of his motorcycle crash. Petrino did not disclose to Long that Arkansas athletic department employee Jessica Dorrell was also involved, which forced his indefinite suspension last week. Although Petrino had a chance to return, it seemed the odds were stacked against him from the beginning.

While Petrino was not one of the most liked people in college football, he certainly knew how to coach. In four seasons with Arkansas, he recorded a 34-17 record with an appearance in the Sugar Bowl.

Related: 10 Coaching Candidates to Replace Bobby Petrino at Arkansas

With Alabama, LSU and Auburn all winning national championships over the last five years, competing in the SEC West was no easy task. However, Petrino brought Arkansas to the doorstep of becoming a consistent SEC contender and had plenty of pieces to push Alabama and LSU in 2012.

The Razorbacks have 12 starters returning for 2012, including first-team All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson, and running back Knile Davis is back after missing all of last season with an ankle injury. Even though the receiving corps was losing three key members, Arkansas returned plenty of options for Wilson to throw to in 2012. With most of the core returning, the Razorbacks expected to have one of the best offenses in college football.

However, all of that is out the window for Arkansas, as Petrino was fired on Tuesday night, leaving a potential top-10 team scrambling to find answers just as spring practice was almost finished.

Taver Johnson has been selected as the interim coach, but Long indicated he could look to hire a full-time coach outside of the program after spring practice. Although Long is optimistic, it’s going to be very difficult to pry a coach away from another program at this time of the year. Is it possible? Absolutely. However, it’s very unlikely a current head coach leaves after spring practice to take over at Arkansas.

If Johnson is selected to lead the program in 2012, he certainly has some pieces to work with. The Razorbacks have plenty of firepower on offense, but the defense is the biggest hurdle to competing for a SEC title. New coordinator Paul Haynes brought some fresh ideas and new energy, but three key performers from last season’s group are gone. The lack of improvement on defense has been the biggest reason why Arkansas couldn’t overtake Alabama and LSU in the West.

The Razorbacks should still have a dynamic offense, but Petrino’s playcalling and gameplans will be missed. With Bobby Petrino gone, his brother – Paul Petrino – will be expected to call the plays in 2012.

What does this mean for Arkansas’ position in the SEC West race?

Considering what the Razorbacks are bringing back on offense and with Alabama and LSU visiting Fayetteville, it wasn’t crazy to think Arkansas could have won the division. But after Petrino’s firing, the Razorbacks are no longer a threat to win the West. Although Johnson is capable of leading the team for a season, look no further than North Carolina and Ohio State for case studies. Both programs had interim coaches in 2011 and underachieved.

With the uncertainty surrounding the program, it seems clear Arkansas will be picked by most to finish third in the SEC West this season. Auburn, Texas A&M or Mississippi State could threaten the Razorbacks for third place, but each have question marks at the quarterback position.

Not only is Arkansas in danger of falling from third place in the division, but a ranking among the top 10 teams in the preseason is unlikely.

Firing Petrino wasn’t an easy one for Long, and this decision will have a significant impact on Arkansas in 2012 and beyond. The Razorbacks had a chance to make a BCS bowl appearance or contend for the national title. Instead, Arkansas will likely finish with eight or nine wins and be fighting for a spot among the top 15-25 teams. The Razorbacks could also take a hit in recruiting, especially if no permanent coach is named before the 2012 season.

You never want to write off a team of Arkansas’ caliber before the season starts, but Petrino’s departure has raised some serious doubts about this team’s ability to stay in the SEC and national title picture.

<p> Bobby Petrino's Firing Impacts the 2012 SEC Title Race</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - 07:08
Path: /college-football/miami-football-will-hurricanes-make-bowl-2012

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

Will Miami Make A Bowl in 2012?

Gary Ferman,
The Miami Hurricanes will become bowl eligible in 2012, but it won't be an easy road as the team looks to replace two classes worth of top players. A mass exodus of top underclassmen, such as running back Lamar Miller, receiver Tommy Streeter and defensive end Olivier Vernon, sent the Canes into rebuilding mode earlier than Al Golden possibly expected. But the ACC doesn't have a dominant team and Miami should have enough coming back to match or exceed last year's 6-6 record and go bowling. The major key will be the play of quarterback Stephen Morris and his offensive line, which must carry the load while the young kids develop around him. 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Normally when all of team’s losses are decided by less than a touchdown, I’d say that team as a good chance to bounce back. A team like Miami, which started its season mired in controversy and suspensions and lost to hapless Maryland in the opener, would seem to be a prime candidate to turn a 3-5 ACC season into a 5-3 season. I just don’t see it for Miami, though. The Hurricanes are rebuilding at the offensive skill positions without Jacory Harris and Lamar Miller. Meanwhile the defense is hoping for breakout seasons for Denzel Perryman and Ray-Ray Armstrong. That’s a lot to ask for a team that plays four of its first six games away from home, including Kansas State on the road and Notre Dame in Chicago. By the time Miami faces Florida State, Virginia Tech, Virginia and USF late in the season, what will the Hurricanes have left in the tank, especially if the bowl carrot is gone by then?

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Al Golden worked a minor miracle in the face of a sensational scandal to land a top 10 recruiting class this cycle. The problem with 2012 Miami, however, is that Golden may be counting on many of his 33-man class to contribute right away. This will give The U one of the youngest rosters in the ACC to surround a relatively unknown commodity at quarterback. On the heels of only the third non-winning season since 1979, Miami will have a tough time returning to the postseason this fall.

Road non-conference games against Kansas State and Notre Dame (in Chicago), to go with a visit from USF, offers no breathers to Golden’s bunch outside of ACC play. Within the conference, Miami faces Florida State and NC State — two of the top three teams in the Atlantic Division — in crossover play. It also has to visit Georgia Tech and Virginia within the division as well as hosting Virginia Tech and North Carolina. There are two clearcut wins on the Canes schedule in conference play (at Boston College, at Duke) and one easy win in the non-conference (Bethune-Cookman), so if Miami expects to return to the postseason, it will have to pull off more than a few upsets. And since I believe the NCAA will make this entire argument a moot point by banning the Hurricanes from a bowl in 2012 (after the self-imposed bowl ban from 2011), it's easy for me to say no va a suceder to Miami postseason aspirations.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The biggest unknown facing Miami in 2012 is still the possibility of NCAA sanctions. Although the Hurricanes served a bowl ban last year, there’s a chance the program is banned from postseason play in 2012. Regardless of a NCAA ban or not, Miami will have a tough time getting to six victories.

Considering the Hurricanes return only 10 starters off of a 6-6 team, can they really be any better in 2012? Gone are All-ACC performers in running back Lamar Miller, center Tyler Horn and linebacker Sean Spence. The losses don’t end there, as Miami’s depth on the defensive line and receiving corps was depleted.

Miami doesn’t get any breaks on the schedule, as it has to play NC State and Florida State from the Atlantic, and plays swing games against Virginia and Georgia Tech on the road. Non-conference matchups against Kansas State, Notre Dame and South Florida could all easily be losses.

Coach Al Golden is doing a good job on the recruiting trail, but the youth and inexperience will hurt the win column in 2012. Although the schedule is tough and the personnel losses are heavy, I’m going to guess Miami finds a way to win six games and qualifies for a bowl. I wouldn’t be shocked if this team gets better as the year goes on, especially as some of the young talent gets more experienced. Considering there are no standout teams in the ACC outside of Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech, the Hurricanes can pull off an upset or two and somehow finish the year with six or seven wins.

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Miami likely will play in a bowl game in 2012, but I don’t envision the Hurricanes winning more than six games during the regular season. There are issues all over the field for Al Golden’s club: Can Stephen Morris emerge as a consistent quarterback? Is Mike James ready to step in as the every-down back? Will the offensive line, which lost three starters, be serviceable, especially early in the season? And can the defensive front get pressure on the quarterback?

Golden appears to be the right man for the job at Miami. He has recruited very well — especially considering the recent NCAA troubles — and the talent level will increase in the coming years. But for now, the 2012 Hurricanes look to be, at least on paper, very average. My guess is this team wins between five and seven games. 

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I’m not sure the Hurricanes make the postseason. Obviously the NCAA could make this debate moot by ruling Miami ineligible for a bowl, and I think the cloud of potential sanctions could affect this season negatively. Al Golden’s bunch looks like a 6-6 team, but a below-average offense has me concerned about UM’s ability to win enough tossup games (Kansas State, Georgia Tech, NC State, North Carolina, Virginia, USF) to make a bowl. Finding an answer at quarterback is a huge issue, and the Canes lost three starters from the offensive line. The running trio of Mike James, Eduardo Clements and highly-touted freshman Duke Johnson could possibly replace Lamar Miller, but this offense does not have many athletes to fear in 2012. There are some positives on defense like linebacker Denzel Perryman and end Anthony Chickillo, and a full season from safety Ray-Ray Armstrong will be a boost. The linebackers look solid, but they will be challenged by significant losses on the defensive line. Overall, Golden is doing a quality job but the Canes are a year away from climbing up the ACC standings.

Where will Athlon predict Miami to finish in the 2012 ACC final standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day. 

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<p> Will the Miami Hurricanes make a bowl in 2012?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 15:31
Path: /college-football/big-12-quarterback-rankings-2012

The 2012 college football season is still months away, but it's never too early to preview. Athlon continues its countdown to the upcoming season and spring previews by ranking the quarterbacks in each of the BCS conferences. The rankings take into account last season's production, what each player is expected to do in 2012 and the surrounding personnel. 

Here's how Athlon ranks the 10 quarterbacks in the Big 12 for 2012

1. Geno Smith, West Virginia (SR)
Passing Stats:
4,385 yards, 31 TDs, 7 INTs, 65.8%
Rushing Stats: 56 att., -33 yds., 2 TDs

Dana Holgorsen’s new pass-first attack didn’t disappoint the fans in Morgantown last season. The offense had a few ups and downs and struggled to run the ball at times, but Smith finished with 4,385 yards and 31 scores and tossed only seven picks. Smith capped off a solid regular season with a huge performance in the bowl rout over Clemson, gashing the Tigers’ secondary for 407 yards and six touchdowns. With another offseason to pickup Holgorsen’s offense, look for Smith to be even better in 2012. The Mountaineers are also loaded with options at receiver, and the offensive line should show some improvement. With plenty of suspect defensive backfields awaiting in Big 12 play, Smith could easily improve upon last season’s totals. 

2. Collin Klein, Kansas State (SR)
Passing Stats:
1,918 yards, 13 TD, 6 INT, 57.3%
Rushing Stats: 317 att., 1,141 yards, 27 TD

Fans likely didn’t know how special CK-7 was all until Week 3. On the road against Miami, Klein rushed 22 times for 93 yards and a touchdown to go with an efficient 12-of-18 passing effort (133 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT) in the upset win over the Canes. He went on to account for 40 touchdowns, including tying an NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single-season, and led the Wildcats to the Cotton Bowl. Only Northern Illinois’ Chandler Harnish (1,379 yards) and Michigan’s Denard Robinson (1,379) had more rushing yards by a quarterback last season and Klein finished fifth in the Big 12 in rushing and led the league in scoring (12.5 ppg). The workhorse quarterback carried 317 times, third nationally behind only Bobby Rainey (369) amd Robbie Rouse (329). With a rebuilt offensive line in front of him, the sledding will undoubtedly be tougher in 2012, but Klein is still the unquestioned heart and soul of Wildcat football.

3. Landy Jones, Oklahoma (SR)
Passing Stats:
4,463 yards, 29 TD, 15 INT, 63.1%
Rushing Stats: 32 att., -24 yards, 2 TD

Not many players enter their senior season with over 12,000 yards passing, nearly 100 touchdowns and as many question marks as Jones.  The Sooner showed major development from 2009 to 2010, increasing his completion percentage (58.1% to 65.6%) and significantly dropped his interception rate (every 32.1 attempts versus one every 51.4 attempts). Yet, 2011 saw Jones regress in both categories (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 in 2011, going without a single touchdown pass in the final three games of the regular season — with five interceptions nonetheless. With a full spring and summer to break in the semi-new receiving corps, there is no reason to think Jones won't bounce back as a senior and become the unquestioned leader of Crimson and Cream nation.

4. Casey Pachall, TCU (JR)
Passing Stats:
2,911 yards, 25 TD, 7 INT, 66.5%
Rushing Stats: 68 att., 51 yards, 2 TD

Pachall had the unenviable task of following arguably the greatest quarterback in TCU history, Andy Dalton, last fall and performed brilliantly. His 157.98 passer efficiency trailed only the legendary Kellen Moore in the Mountain West ranks — and Moore certainly doesn’t need to be reminded of what happened in their head-to-head meeting. Pachall passed for a career-high 473 yards and five touchdowns in the road win over the Broncos. TCU’s signal caller has all of the physical tools of an elite Big 12 quarterback, but making the week-in, week-out adjustment to “big-time” college football will be a test for the junior. With stellar wide receivers and an extremely deep running back group behind him, though, the Horned Frogs should have little trouble adapting to life in the Big 12.

5. Seth Doege, Texas Tech (SR)
Passing Stats:
4,004 yards, 28 TD, 10 INT, 68.5%
Rushing Stats: 54 att., 46 yards, 4 TD

This Texas Tech quarterback very quietly accounted for 32 touchdowns, topped 4,000 yards of total offense and completed nearly 70% of his passes. So it wasn’t really Doege’s fault that Texas Tech lost seven of its last eight games in 2011. That distinguished honor belongs to the defense. That said, six of his 10 interceptions came over the five-game losing streak that ended the season while only six of his 28 touchdown passes came during that span. If Doege can play like he did in the first seven games — where he posted a 5-2 record with six 300-yard games and 22 touchdowns — Tech has a chance to return to the postseason.

6. Nick Florence, Baylor (SR)
Passing Stats:
151 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 75%
Rushing Stats: 7 att., 14 yards, 1 TD

Florence might have one of the toughest jobs in college football next season. Replacing Robert Griffin’s production is difficult enough, but Florence has to find a way to keep Baylor in the Big 12 title mix, while replicating last season’s 10 wins. Although the senior may not be able to match Griffin’s physical ability or his production, he should be able to keep Baylor in the mix for eight or nine wins. After Griffin went down with an ACL tear in 2009, Florence started seven games and finished with 1,786 yards and six touchdowns. He also made one appearance last year, completing 9 of 12 passes for 151 yards and two scores. Florence has plenty of weapons at his disposal and all signs point to a standout senior year. 

7. Clint Chelf, Oklahoma State (JR)
Passing Stats:
307 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 66.7%
Rushing Stats: 3 att., -14 yards

As of early April, it was anyone’s guess which quarterback will start for Oklahoma State in the season opener. Chelf has the most experience on the roster, completing 34 of 49 career passes for 520 yards and five touchdowns. However, the junior has yet to play any meaningful snaps and is locked in a tight battle with freshman Wes Lunt and redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh this spring. It’s a lot to ask for a true freshman to come in and win the starting quarterback job in a semester, so the battle to replace Brandon Weeden will likely come down to Walsh and Chelf. Walsh brings a little more mobility to the table, but doesn’t have the experience. Although Weeden was one of the top quarterbacks in college football last season, expect whichever player wins the job to have a successful season.

8. David Ash, Texas (SO)
Passing Stats:
1,068 yards, 4 TDs, 8 INTs, 56.6%
Rushing Stats: 73 car., 103 yards, 1 TD

If Texas wants to win the Big 12 title in 2012, it’s all about the quarterback play. The Longhorns improved their win total by three games from 2010 to 2011, but need better play from under center to take the next step. Ash seems to have wrestled control of the starting position from Case McCoy, especially after he threw for 142 yards and a score in the Holiday Bowl. The sophomore also has good mobility, but had only one game over 25 rushing yards last season. Ash is only a sophomore, so he should improve with more playing time. The offense also figures to be in better shape in 2012, especially with another offseason to pickup coordinator Bryan Harsin’s scheme. 

9. Dayne Crist, Kansas (SR)
Passing Stats:
164 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 62.5%
Rushing Stats: 5 att., -16 yards

Only Terrelle Pryor was ranked higher than Crist when he signed with Notre Dame out of high school in 2008. And with Brian Kelly coming to town, he appeared to be only one letter away from savior status. After a strong start to the 2010 season — 2,033 yards, 15 TD in eight games — a torn knee ended his season for the second straight year. He returned in 2011 with eyes on the Irish starting job, but after a poor showing, Crist was benched for Tommy Rees in Week 1. Originally recruited by Charlie Weis to South Bend, Crist decided to transfer to Kansas for his final season. Reunited with his former coach, and eligible to play right away having already graduated, Crist enters his final collegiate season with one more short at redemption.

10. Jared Barnett, Iowa State (SO)
Passing Stats:
1,201 yards, 6 TDs, 6 INTs, 50%
Rushing Stats: 104 att., 437 yards, 1 TD

Steele Jantz began last season as Iowa State’s No. 1 quarterback, but an injury and turnover issues opened the door for Barnett to emerge as the starter. Barnett finished the year with 1,201 yards and six passing touchdowns, but also added 437 yards and one score on the ground. The sophomore also led Iowa State to its biggest win of the season, a 37-31 overtime upset over Oklahoma State in Ames. Although Barnett had a terrific performance against the Cowboys (376 yards, three touchdowns), he did not top 200 passing yards in any other game. The Cyclones have a new offensive coordinator and will miss All-Big 12 left tackle Kelechi Osemele. Although both of those are negatives for Barnett, he should be better with more snaps under his belt. 

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

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<p> Ranking the Big 12 quarterbacks for 2012.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 06:59
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-football-are-irish-top-25-team-2012

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

Will Notre Dame Be a Top 25 Team in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Notre Dame should flirt with the top 25 for most of the season, but the Irish may have trouble stringing together signature wins to have true staying power. This may be a team that wins eight games during the regular season and then has a chance to finish in the top 25 with a bowl victory. The easiest stretch of Notre Dame’s season will come in November with Pittsburgh, Boston College on the road and then Wake Forest, but those three games are sandwiched between road trips to Oklahoma (Oct. 27) and USC (Nov. 24), both of which should start the season in the top five. With eight starters returning on offense and playmakers likes Manti Te’o and Aaron Lynch on defense, Notre Dame has the ability to be a top 25, but if the Irish go on turnover binges like they did a year ago, all bets are off.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Notre Dame is an interesting beast. They never play an easy schedule — you won't find any Sam Houston States or Montanas on this year's slate — but the Irish are consistently overrated by the pollsters. So an eight-win Notre Dame is most likely a Top 25 team over an eight-win Iowa or North Carolina or Cal. But getting to eight wins with this schedule won't be easy for a team that still needs to find a quarterback. Boston College and Navy are the two easiest games on the schedule. Home tests against Purdue, Wake Forest, Miami (in Chicago), BYU and Pitt all have to be wins if Brian Kelly wants to go bowling. Road games against USC and Oklahoma appear to be the only two guaranteed losses while Michigan State, Michigan and Stanford look like true swing games.

The amount of talent Kelly has stockpiled in the front seven should allow the Irish to match-up with more physical teams like Michigan State and Stanford. And the offense has plenty of depth along the line, and, despite losing Michael Floyd, loads of talent at the skill positions too. Should Kelly find a stabilizing force to run his offense, a 10-win season is well within reach. Otherwise, the NFL-esque front-seven and ground game should carry this team to eight wins...and a Top 25 ranking.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think Notre Dame is definitely one of the top 25 teams in college football. I was a little surprised the Irish did not win more than eight games last season, but turnovers and inconsistent quarterback play prevented this team from making a BCS bowl appearance. Brian Kelly is definitely the right coach to lead Notre Dame, but I think this team might be a year away from making a push to get 10 wins and a BCS bowl.

The biggest question mark facing the Irish in 2012 will be quarterback play. Tommy Rees is the team’s returning starter, but Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson and Gunner Kiel will all get a chance to unseat him this spring. Rees can be productive, but he’s not a difference maker. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Golson or Hendrix take the first snap of the season. Outside of the quarterback position, the offense is in good shape. Cierre Wood is back after rushing for 1,000 yards last season, and tight end Tyler Eifert is likely a first-team All-American selection. The line also returns three starters.

While the offense has its question marks, the defense is starting to assemble some nice pieces. The line should be one of the best in college football, while linebacker Manti Te’o is back after recording 128 tackles last season. The secondary needs some work, especially at cornerback where Gary Gray and Robert Blanton depart.

The schedule is a key obstacle when examining Notre Dame’s chances of finishing in the top 25. The Irish play nine bowl teams, including USC, Michigan, Michigan State and Oklahoma. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Notre Dame pull off an upset or two, but 8-4 or 9-3 seems to be the most likely record, which places them anywhere in the 15-25 range of most preseason polls. 

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
It’s fashionable at this time of year to talk about how overrated Notre Dame will be in the upcoming season, but I strongly believe the Fighting Irish will be a top-25 team in 2012. There are some issues to be resolved — who will be the starting quarterback is chief among them — but Brian Kelly has assembled a talented roster that is capable of winning nine games against a very difficult schedule.

The Irish will no doubt miss receiving Michael Floyd, but I believe the offense will be better this fall thanks to the return of 1,000-yard rusher Cierre Wood, outstanding tight end Tyler Eifert and a solid nucleus on the offensive line. The defense, led by All-America candidate Manti Te’o, should be strong once again.

A big key for Notre Dame will be cutting down on its turnovers. Last year, the Irish committed a total of 10 turnovers in their first two games, a three-point loss to South Florida and a four-point loss to Michigan. Some turnovers are bad luck and some are the result of poor play by the offense. Luck, even at Notre Dame, can’t be controlled, but you’d have to think Kelly, one of the game’s top offensive guys, will have his team taking better care of the ball in 2012. And if that’s the case, you can expect to find the Fighting Irish in the top 25 all season long.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
My answer would be barely. Notre Dame looks like an 8-4 team, but I see the Irish potential as closer to 9-3 than 7-5. Obviously the biggest ND question for the 2012 season involves another quarterback battle between Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, and Everett Golson, and it could possibly include heralded freshman Gunner Kiel. There are plenty of solid skill players back (Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, TJ Jones, Tyler Eifert), but Brian Kelly must get more out of his signal callers. The defense should be a strength, especially in the front seven. Senior linebacker Manti Te’o and sophomore end Aaron Lynch will lead a unit that should keep the Irish in most games, especially if an inexperienced but talented secondary develops. Notre Dame got off to a rough start last season, losing two games that it controlled and should have won. If Kelly's bunch can avoid the costly turnovers from a year ago and settle on a quarterback, the Irish will be a dangerous team. Despite road trips to Michigan State, Oklahoma and USC, I still think ND finishes in the lower half of the Top 25.

Where will Athlon predict Notre Dame to finish in the 2012 final standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day. 

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2012 Notre Dame Spring Preview
2012 Athlon Recruiting Rankings: No. 17 Notre Dame

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<p> Will Notre Dame be a top 25 team in 2012?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 06:58
All taxonomy terms: Arkansas Razorbacks, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/10-coaches-replace-bobby-petrino-if-hes-fired

The future of Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino is uncertain. Although Petrino sports an impressive 34-17 record in four seasons with the Razorbacks, he could be in danger of losing his job, after lying to athletic director Jeff Long about the details of his motorcycle wreck last week. Petrino did not inform Long that Jessica Dorrell – an Arkansas athletic department employee – was riding with him, despite indicating so in the police report.

Taver Johnson has been selected as Arkansas’ interim coach, but what if Bobby Petrino is fired? The Razorbacks likely won’t hire a full-time head coach until the end of the 2012 season, but it’s always interesting to ponder the possibilities.

If Bobby Petrino is fired, here are 10 coaching candidates Arkansas could target at the end of the 2012 season –

Mario Cristobal, head coach, FIU – Even though BCS programs have attempted to lure Cristobal away from FIU, he has yet to leave Miami. Cristobal inherited an awful situation and the Golden Panthers went 1-11 in his first season (2007). However, FIU has made steady progress since then, winning 15 games over the last two years and making back-to-back bowl appearances. As a Miami native, it will take a great opportunity for Cristobal to leave the state of Florida. However, there’s no question Cristobal is ready for the opportunity to lead a BCS program.


Dave Doeren, head coach, Northern Illinois – Doeren did a nice job with Northern Illinois in his first season, leading the Huskies to the 2011 MAC Championship with an impressive 11-3 record. Doeren has made stops as an assistant at Montana, Kansas and Wisconsin and so far, has been a good hire for Northern Illinois. With just one year of head coaching experience, Doeren may be too green for the Arkansas position if it comes available at the end of the 2012 season.


Sonny Dykes, head coach, Louisiana Tech Dykes enters his third season at Louisiana Tech with a 13-12 record, with an appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl last season. The Bulldogs return much of the core that won the WAC title last season and are expected to begin the year as the favorites to claim the conference title. Dykes has built a solid resume, making stops as an assistant at Kentucky, Texas Tech and Arizona. Inexperience is really the only concern about Dykes, as he hasn’t been a head coach at a BCS program and has only two years of head coaching experience. Dykes has Louisiana Tech on the rise and it’s only a matter of time before he jumps to a BCS program.


Skip Holtz, head coach, South Florida – The last name Holtz is certainly one that Arkansas’ fans are familiar with. Lou Holtz coached at Arkansas from 1977-83, leading the Razorbacks to a 60-21-2 record. Skip Holtz has made stops as a head coach at Connecticut, East Carolina and South Florida and has an overall record of 85-62. The Bulls are just 13-12 under Holtz, but the team could be ready to turn the corner in 2012 with a handful of key players returning. Holtz has the reputation of running a clean program, which has to appeal to Arkansas after dealing with Petrino’s incident.


Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette – Hudspeth is a rising star in the coaching ranks and likely won’t be with the Ragin’ Cajuns for much longer. After compiling an 86-21 record in seven years with North Alabama, Hudspeth worked as an assistant with Dan Mullen at Mississippi State from 2009-10. He inherited a Louisiana-Lafayette team that went 3-9 prior to his arrival and led the Ragin’ Cajuns to a 9-4 record and a victory over San Diego State in the New Orleans Bowl. There’s very little downside to Hudspeth. He’s a proven winner at two different stops, has some experience in the SEC and is only 43 years old.


Gus Malzahn, head coach, Arkansas State – Arkansas fans are certainly familiar with Malzahn, but would he want to return to Fayetteville? Malzahn was a successful high school coach at three stops – Hughes, Shiloh Christian and Springdale. Houston Nutt picked Malzahn as Arkansas’ offensive coordinator for the 2006 season, but the pairing never worked. Malzahn left after one season with the Razorbacks and joined Todd Graham’s staff at Tulsa. After two years with the Golden Hurricane, Malzahn became the offensive coordinator at Auburn and helped to lead the Tigers to a national title in 2010. Malzahn is making his first stop as a head coach in 2012 with Arkansas State. After the way his first stop in Fayetteville transpired, it would not be a shock if Malzahn does not want to coach at Arkansas. However, if the job is open, the Razorbacks should do everything possible to lure Malzahn to Fayetteville.


Paul Rhoads, head coach, Iowa State – Prying Rhoads away from Iowa State won’t be easy. The Iowa native has led the Cyclones to an 18-20 record and two bowl appearances through three seasons. Winning at Iowa State is not easy, but Rhoads has made the Cyclones a tough out each and every week in Big 12 play. In addition to his experience at Iowa State, Rhoads has worked as a defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh and Auburn.


Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama – Smart’s name has been circulated on many coaching lists over the last two years, but he has decided to remain in Tuscaloosa. Smart has no head coaching experience, but has worked as an assistant at LSU, Georgia and with the Miami Dolphins. He has also served under college football’s top coach (Nick Saban) for the last five years. Although Smart will get his chance to run a BCS program, the lack of success by Saban assistants Will Muschamp and Derek Dooley could work against him.


Charlie Strong, head coach, Louisville – Strong may not be a perfect fit at Arkansas, but he’s pretty close. He was born in Batesville, Ark., and played at Central Arkansas. Strong also has SEC coaching experience, making stops as an assistant at Ole Miss, Florida and South Carolina. Although Strong’s record is just 14-12 in two years with Louisville, the program was in bad shape when he arrived, and Louisville is expected to be the frontrunner for the Big East title in 2012. If the Arkansas job opens up, Strong will probably be near the top of the wish list.

Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky – Just like fellow Sun Belt coaches Mark Hudspeth and Mario Cristobal, Taggart did not inherit a good situation. However, in just two years, he has turned the Hilltoppers into a Sun Belt title contender. After going 2-10 in Taggart’s first year, Western Kentucky rebounded with a 7-5 record and finished second in the Sun Belt standings. Taggart worked for three seasons (2007-09) under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and is one of college football’s youngest head coaches.

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on twitter)

Related Arkansas Content

Ranking the SEC's Head Coaches for 2012
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<p> 10 Coaches to Replace Bobby Petrino If He's Fired at Arkansas.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 06:50
Path: /college-football/acc-2012-quarterback-rankings

The 2012 college football season is still months away, but it's never too early to preview. Athlon continues its countdown to the upcoming season and spring previews by ranking the quarterbacks in each of the BCS conferences. The rankings take into account last season's production, what each player is expected to do in 2012 and the surrounding personnel. 

Here's how Athlon ranks the 12 quarterbacks in the ACC for 2012:

1. Tajh Boyd, Clemson (JR)
Passing Stats:
3,828 yards, 33 TDs, 12 INTs, 59.7%
Rushing Stats: 218 yards, 5 TDs

The combination of coordinator Chad Morris, Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins quickly helped to turn Clemson’s offense into the best in the ACC last year. In his first year as the starter, Boyd threw for 33 touchdowns (best in the ACC) and averaged 273.4 passing yards per game. He posted at least three touchdown scores in seven games, but threw nine interceptions over his final six games. With another offseason to pickup Morris’ scheme, Boyd should be more comfortable with the offense in 2012. The Tigers also return running back Andre Ellington and the ACC’s top receiving corps. The offensive line has a few holes, but Clemson’s offense shouldn’t miss much of a beat in 2012.

2. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech (JR)
Passing Stats: 3,013 yards, 19 TD, 10 INT, 59.8%
Rushing Stats: 153 att., 469 yards, 11 TD

This monster athlete enters his second full season under center after finishing No. 2 in the ACC in total offense a year ago (248.7 ypg). In fact, his 3,482 yards of offense broke Tyrod Taylor’s Hokie single-season mark set the previous year. Checking in at 6-foot-6 and 262 pounds, Thomas conjures up slightly less explosive visions of Cam Newton with his ability to move the pile on the ground — he might be the best QB sneaker in the nation. He will be breaking in a new offensive line and running backs, so if Virginia Tech is going to win its fifth Coastal Division in six years, the junior quarterback must be an ACC Player of the Year candidate.

3. EJ Manuel, Florida State (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,666 yards, 18 TDs, 8 INTs, 65.3%
Rushing Stats: 151 yards, 4 TDs

Injuries derailed Manuel from fully capitalizing on his potential last season. After tossing six touchdown passes in his first two games, he was injured against Oklahoma and missed the following game at Clemson. Manuel came off the bench against Wake Forest and started the remaining eight games, but he seemed to be dealing with the shoulder injury off and on throughout the 2011 season. Combine Manuel’s health, a shaky offensive line and young receiving corps, and you start to see why Florida State ranked eighth in the ACC in total offense. With a full offseason to recover and a full complement of emerging weapons at receiver, Manuel should easily surpass last season’s totals. Manuel has always had the talent and should put everything together to have a monster season in Tallahassee.  

4. Mike Glennon, NC State (SR)
Passing Stats:
3,054 yards, 31 TDs, 12 INTs, 62.5%
Rushing Stats: -110 yards, 1 TD

Coach Tom O’Brien had to make a difficult choice entering spring practice last season. Although Russell Wilson was one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks, he spent the spring playing baseball, which allowed Glennon to get all of the work with the first team. Although Wilson decided to return to the gridiron, O’Brien made an interesting and risky decision, choosing to go with Glennon as the starter for the 2012 season. Although Glennon had zero career starts going into last year, O’Brien’s confidence in the 6-foot-6 passer was rewarded. Glennon ranked second in the ACC with 31 touchdown tosses and completed 62.5 percent of his throws. NC State loses receiver T.J. Graham and tight end George Bryan, but the offense is expected to get better with Glennon going through another spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback. It’s a tight battle between Manuel and Glennon for the third spot on this list – and both could be worthy of all-conference honors at the end of the 2012 season.

5. Bryn Renner, North Carolina (JR)
Passing Stats:
3,086 yards, 26 TD, 13 INT, 68.3%
Rushing Stats: 57 att., minus-88 yards, TD

The strong-armed junior enters his second full season as the starter in Chapel Hill after leading the ACC in efficiency a year ago (159.44). Renner was the only ACC passer to complete more than 66% of his passes and he finished second in passing yards behind only Tajh Boyd. Losing star wideout Dwight Jones will hurt, but right-hand man Giovani Bernard returns to the backfield to carry the football and take the pressure off Renner. In the face of NCAA sanctions, this Tar Heels team has a chance to push for the best record in the division, but much of it hinges on Renner’s continued — and expected  — development in Larry Fedora’s new offensive scheme.

6. Tanner Price, Wake Forest (JR)
Passing Stats:
3,017 yards, 20 TDs, 6 INTs, 60%
Rushing Stats: -53 yards, 1 TD

Price showed tremendous progress in his second year as Wake Forest’s starting quarterback, throwing for 3,017 yards and 20 scores, while tossing only seven picks. He threw for at least 200 yards in each of the first seven games and completed 20 of 32 passes for 320 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-10 rout over Maryland. Price’s numbers were a big improvement from a freshman season that watched him throw for 1,349 yards and seven scores. There’s no question Price is one of Wake Forest’s best players, but his top target (Chris Givens) departed early for the NFL Draft. With four starters gone on the offensive line, Price may not have as much time to throw this year, and Wake Forest’s coaching staff has to be worried about him taking too much upon his shoulders. As long as Price keeps his completion percentage around 60 percent and keeps his interceptions under 10, the Demon Deacons figure to be in the mix for a bowl bid.  

7. Tevin Washington, Georgia Tech (SR)
Passing Stats:
1,652 yards, 11 TD, 8 INT, 49.3%
Rushing Stats: 243 att., 987 yards, 14 TD

Washington got his first taste of the starting lineup at the end of the 2010 season when he filled in for the injured Joshua Nesbitt. He started off last season on a (relative) tear by throwing for over 200 yards per game in the first four contests. He then failed to top the 100-yard mark in five of his last seven games and completed no more than six passes per game until the final game of the season. However, he posted four 100-yard games over those last eight contests and showed signs of life in the passing game in the season finale (11-of-15, 137 yards, TD, 0 INT). Life will be tougher without wideout Stephen Hill, but this system only needs one or two big passing plays per game to succeed. As a senior in his second full season as the starter with four offensive line starters back, Washington should be poised for his most productive, most efficient season yet.

8. Sean Renfree, Duke (SR)
Passing Stats: 2,891 yards, 14 TD, 11 INT, 64.9%
Rushing Stats: 58 att., minus-58 yards, 4 TD

Tajh Boyd and Bryn Renner were the only two ACC quarterbacks who were more efficient than Renfree in 2011. And the Blue Devils quarterback did it with much less around him. Renfree only won three games a year ago, and certainly his stats might be padded by a few garbage-time situations, but Duke was competitive against bowl eligible teams North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. Renfree loses one of his top targets now that Donovan Varner is gone but will have leading pass-catcher Conner Vernon back for his final season. With QB guru David Cutcliffe drawing up plays, Renfree has a chance to top the 3,000-yard mark in his final season.

9. Michael Rocco, Virginia (JR)
Passing Stats:
2,671 yards, 13 TD, 12 INT, 60.7%
Rushing Stats: 40 att., 20 yards, 2 TD

In his first year as the starter, Rocco did one thing no Cavs quarterback was able to do since 2007: Get his team to a bowl game. His efficiency — both completion percent and TD-to-INT ratio — need to show marked improvement if the Wahoos expect to return to the postseason once again. Yet, coach Mike London has this team humming at a level unseen in Charlottesville in a decade and the talent around Rocco the junior is only getting better. Yes, it was a blowout against a horrible Auburn defense, but the UVa quarterback posted his best game as a passer in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl when he completed 26-of-41 for his only career 300-yard game (312) and a career-high two touchdowns.

10. Stephen Morris, Miami (JR)
Passing Stats:
283 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT, 70.2%
Rushing Stats: 11 att., -2 yards, TD

Morris lost the starting battle with Jacory Harris last season but still saw action in five contests where he completed over 70% of his passes. But most of his production came in the Labor Day night showing against Maryland where he threw for 195 yards and scored his only touchdown. Considering his lack of playing time last year, Morris really hasn’t seen the field much since 2010. As a freshman, Morris got plenty of action down the stretch in relief of the injured Harris. He threw for 1,240 yards in six games and many thought had done enough to earn the starting job in 2011. With Harris gone, and a very young roster around him, the job appears to be Morris’ to lose. The junior will miss most of spring practice with a back injury, but is expected to return 100 percent in time for fall camp.

11. Chase Rettig, Boston College (JR)
Passing Stats:
1,960 yards, 12 TDs, 9 INTs, 53.6%
Rushing Stats: -84 yards, 1 TD

Rettig has taken his lumps over the last two years and could be ready to climb higher on this list in 2012. As a freshman, Rettig threw for 1,238 yards and six touchdowns, but tossed nine picks. Last year, he threw for 1,960 yards and 12 touchdowns, but threw for less than 200 yards in 10 out of 12 games. New coordinator Doug Martin did a good job of resurrecting New Mexico State’s offense last year and should bring improvement to Boston College. However, a new scheme won't fix all of the issues, as Rettig also needs help from the receiving corps and rushing attack. Although the coaching staff expects a better year out of Rettig in 2012, backup Josh Bordner could figure more into the gameplan. Bordner is a better runner, but does not have Rettig’s experience. 

12. C.J. Brown, Maryland (JR)
Passing Stats:
842 yards, 7 TDs, 6 INTs, 49.4%
Rushing Stats: 79 att., 574 yards, 5 TDs

Not much went right for the Terrapins last season. The offense ranked 10th in the ACC in scoring and passing and scored more than 21 points only once over the last six games. Brown made five starts last season and finished the year with 842 passing yards and seven scores, while adding 574 yards on the ground. His best performance came in a loss against Clemson, recording 339 total yards and four touchdowns. With Danny O’Brien transferring to Wisconsin, Brown is Maryland’s only scholarship quarterback this spring and any injury to him during the season would be costly. New coordinator Mike Locksley will incorporate more pro-style looks, which will require some adjustment on Brown's part for the upcoming season. Although Brown showed flashes of promise last year, he still has much to prove and begins the year ranked as the worst quarterback in the conference.

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

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<p> Athlon ranks the quarterbacks in the ACC for the 2012 season.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 9, 2012 - 08:33
Path: /news/can-california-beat-stanford-and-washington-2012-pac-12-north-standings

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

Can Cal Beat Stanford and Washington in the 2012 Pac-12 North Standings?

Scott Chong,, (@GoldenBlogs)
Cal, UW, and Stanford all have some big question marks heading into this next year.  Generally speaking, going with the best quarterback is a good starting point for predicting how the Pac-12 will shake out.  If he can stay healthy, Keith Price might be one of the top QBs in the league.  He'll have new WRs and a shaky defense, however.  It's hard for me to consider Stanford as a contender because they'll be breaking in a brand new quarterback.  As much as I hate to say it, Luck made that offense look a lot better than their talent-level, particularly at the skill positions.

For Cal, the biggest question marks are the offensive line, new inside linebackers and safeties, and consistent quarterback play.  Normally, you would expect a senior quarterback with a season of starting experience to be solid.  But Zach Maynard was so inconsistent last year that we still don't know which guy we'll get.  If we get the happy-feet, locking-on, turn-over machine, it'll be another 7 win (+/-1) season.  If we get the steady and accurate game manager that we saw during the late season win streak, then we have a shot to be competitive with UW.  Of course, quarterback play won't matter if we don't solidify our offensive line play.  We'll have at least two new starters, and might also need a new center if last year's starter can't learn to snap the ball consistently.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Cal can challenge for second place in the Pac-12 North, but I’m not sure if that’s a reflection on the Bears’ own merits as a contender or potential flaws with Stanford and Washington. Stanford likely will stumble without Andrew Luck. The question is how far. Will Stanford win nine games or take a nose dive? For Washington, the assumption is the defense will improve, but what if the Huskies continue to perform like the team that allowed 777 yards to Baylor in the bowl game? Cal might not be a contender for the Pac-12 championship, but the Bears could at least make things interesting in the division if Zach Maynard plays like he did in September. And don’t forget: Cal lost by single digits on the road to both Washington (by 8) and Stanford (by 4). Both of those games are back in Berkeley this year.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Absolutely, Cal can challenge in the Pac-12 North this fall. But quarterback Zach Maynard will have to play better football if the Bears are going to compete for anything in 2012. Through the first eight games last fall, he tossed 10 interceptions against only 12 touchdowns. He showed better care of the football over the final five games, throwing only two interceptions to go with five touchdowns. Cal turned to the running game over that stretch and went 3-1 to finish the regular season because of it. The rapport Maynard has with superstar wideout, and half-brother, Keenan Allen is obvious and the connection should be one of the nation's best combos. But Jeff Tedford needs his quarterback to play within the offense and undoubtedly wants to lean on the ground game.

Filling the gap left by Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks will be difficult. More pressing might be the rebuilt coaching staff. Tedford had to replace some of his brightest and best young minds when Washington pilfered his regime of Tosh Lupoi and Eric Kiesau. With his rear end firmly placed on the hot seat, motivation should not be an issue for the winningest coach in Cal history. The good news? The Bears get Stanford, Washington and Oregon — the top three teams in the division — in the shadows of Tight Wad Hill this fall. 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
With Stanford losing Andrew Luck and the uncertainty surrounding Washington's defense, I think the door is open for California to challenge for second place in the North. There’s no question 2012 is going to be an important season for head coach Jeff Tedford. The Golden Bears are just 12-13 over the last two years and have not posted a double-digit win total since 2006. There’s a lot to like about California going into 2012, as the renovations to Memorial Stadium are complete and the roster has some quality talent waiting to step into playing time after back-to-back top-15 recruiting classes. The schedule features tough non-conference matchups against Nevada and Ohio State, but division foes Washington, Oregon and Stanford will all visit Berkeley. The biggest question mark facing California will be quarterback Zach Maynard. Although he finished the year with more touchdowns (17) than interceptions (12), he needs to be more consistent. The offense also needs to develop more receivers outside of Keenan Allen. Although the defense loses six starters, this unit has plenty of talent and shouldn’t be an issue. The opportunity is definitely there for California, but I’m going to guess this team won’t be much better on offense and will fall short of finishing second place in the Pac-12 North.

Ted Lee, Staff Writer,
Although the Bears finished 7-6 last season – they played some of their best opponents very well on the road for a half last season – Washington, Oregon, Stanford – but as was the case with Solomon Grundy, sometimes a half just isn't good enough. This season, the Bears return all of their top offensive playmakers while other top teams in the Pac-12 North have suffered major losses, and at long last, they'll get to break in a newly refurbished California Memorial Stadium – something that's been on the boards to various degrees since head coach Jeff Tedford began in 2002.

Following a topsy-turvy offseason which saw the California Golden Bears on the verge of landing three five-star recruits and a top 10 recruiting class only to see it slip away with the departure of defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi to the Washington Huskies, the Bears have a lot to look forward this season. On offense, they return starting quarterback Zach Maynard, who threw for 2,990 yards last season and 17 touchdowns, and tailback Isi Sofele, who ran for 1,322 yards. Perhaps the biggest offensive weapon the Bears have will be 6-foot-3 wide receiver Keenan Allen, Maynard's half-brother, who had 98 catches for 1,343 yards and will be highly watched by NFL scouts this season. But if the Bears are to improve upon last season's record, they'll have to find successful replacements on defense as they have to replace two starting defensive lineman, both inside linebackers, including Pac-12 defensive player of the year Mychal Kendricks, and both starting safeties as well. They can take some encouragement from the fact that defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast rotates his personnel frequently during the game so that many of this year's replacements will have had substantial playing time. Add to that kicker Vince D'Amato, whose extra points should be far less adventurous than they were last year, and the Bears are well-positioned to pull off a few surprises in 2012.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Cal has a chance at 2nd place in the Pac-12’s North division with Stanford losing Andrew Luck and Washington still trying to fix its defense, but I would not predict the Bears to finish that high. They do return some exciting skill players in potential All-America wideout Keenan Allen and running back Isi Sofele, but there were some key personnel losses that Jeff Tedford’s club suffered from last season. Cal lost its best offensive lineman (Mitchell Schwartz), defensive lineman (Trevor Guyton), the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year (linebacker Mychal Kendricks), both starting safeties (Sean Cattouse and D.J. Campbell) and two solid specialists (kicker Giorgio Tavecchio and punter Bryan Anger). That’s a ton of experience to be without when the Bears make September trips to Ohio State and USC. Cal does get division foes Oregon, Stanford and Washington at home, but the gap between the Bears and the Ducks and Cardinal still looks large to me. Stanford will have a nasty defense, and Washington should be improved with a revamped coaching staff that includes two Cal defectors - Tosh Lupoi and Eric Kiesau. If quarterback Zach Maynard can play less erratic, like he did last November, then the Bears have a chance to be very good on offense. However, the defense will take a step back after losing its best players.  I see Cal as a 7-5 club overall, finishing third or fourth in the North.

Where will Athlon predict Cal to finish in the 2012 Pac-12 standings? Check back in May as Athlon's 2012 Top 25 will be released starting on May 1.  

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2012 Stanford Cardinal Spring Preview

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<p> Can California Beat Stanford and Washington in the 2012 Pac-12 North Standings?</p>
Post date: Monday, April 9, 2012 - 08:30
Path: /college-football/big-east-2012-quarterback-rankings

The 2012 college football season is still months away, but it's never too early to preview. Athlon continues its countdown to the upcoming season and spring previews by ranking the quarterbacks in each of the BCS conferences. The rankings take into account last season's production, what each player is expected to do in 2012 and the surrounding personnel. 

Here's how Athlon ranks the eight quarterbacks in the Big East for 2012:

1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville (SO)
Passing Stats:
2,129 yards, 14 TDs, 12 INTs
Rushing Stats: 89 att., 66 yards, 4 TDs

Bridgewater was one of Louisville’s top incoming freshmen last season, ranking as Athlon’s No. 6 quarterback for the 2011 recruiting class. He took over as the Cardinals’ starting quarterback against Marshall and led the team to a share of the Big East title and victories over Rutgers, West Virginia and South Florida. Bridgewater finished with 2,129 yards and 14 touchdowns, but showed his inexperience by tossing 12 picks. The Cardinals should be the favorites to win the Big East title in 2012, and Bridgewater should build off a solid freshman performance with a sophomore campaign.   

2. B.J. Daniels, South Florida (SR)
Passing Stats:
2,585 yards, 13 TDs, 7 INTs, 58.9%
Rushing Stats: 132 att., 601 yards, 6 TDs

It’s a close call between Daniels and Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib for the No. 2 spot. Daniels threw for a career high in passing yards last season (2,604) and added 601 yards and six scores on the ground. He also tossed only seven picks and posted a career best 58.9 completion percentage. Although Daniels has been up and down throughout his career, the senior could have his best statistical season in 2012. The Bulls have surrounded Daniels with a solid cast of weapons and it certainly helps to have the same offensive scheme in place for the third consecutive season.

3. Ryan Nassib, Syracuse (SR)
Passing Stats:
2,685 yards, 22 TDs, 9 INTs, 62.4%
Rushing Stats: 65 att., 39 yards, 2 TDs

Nassib and South Florida’s B.J. Daniels are neck-and-neck for the No. 2 spot among Big East quarterbacks. Nassib had a solid junior campaign, throwing for 2,685 yards and 22 scores. He also completed 62.4 percent of his passes, while averaging 224 yards through the air per game. Nassib will have to shoulder more of the offensive workload in 2012, as running back Antwon Bailey has finished his eligibility and there's no proven player ready to handle the workload on the ground. Syracuse will also have to replace receivers Van Chew and Dorian Graham, along with tight end Nick Provo, but regain the services of receiver Marcus Sales. If the Orange want to return to the postseason, Nassib needs to have a similar statistical year, while keeping his interceptions under 10 once again.

4. Gary Nova, Rutgers (SO)
Passing Stats:
1,553 yards, 11 TDs, 9 INTs, 51.1%
Rushing Stats: 23 att., -114 yds., 0 TD

Nova and Chas Dodd shared the quarterback duties last season, with both players throwing for over 1,000 yards and 10 scores. Nova played in 10 games and tossed 11 touchdowns, but also threw nine picks and completed only 51.1 percent of his throws. Nova and Dodd are locked into a tight battle this spring for the starting job, but the guess here is that Nova emerges as Rutgers’ No. 1 quarterback. Considering Nova has yet to play a full season and is only a sophomore, there will be a few ups and downs. Rutgers also has a new offensive coordinator this year, which will require some adjustment from both quarterbacks. Although Dodd has the edge in experience, Nova has more talent and brings the necessary arm strength to help stretch the field.

5. Munchie Legaux, Cincinnati (JR)
Passing Stats:
749 yards, 5 TDs, 4 INTs, 47.4%
Rushing Stats: 41 att., 185 yards, 2 TDs

Legaux was thrown into the fire last year and despite his inexperience, kept Cincinnati in the thick of the Big East title race. Starter Zach Collaros suffered an ankle injury against West Virginia, forcing Legaux to start the next three games. The Bearcats went 2-1 in Legaux’s three starts, and he finished the year with more touchdowns (five) than interceptions (four). However, Legaux is far from a finished product, as indicated by his 47.4 completion percentage. The junior has talent and his experience should help him emerge as a solid quarterback in Big East play.

6. Chris Coyer, Temple (JR)
Passing Stats:
463 yards, 6 TDs, 0 INT, 60%
Rushing Stats: 69 att., 562 yards, 3 TDs

With Temple moving from the MAC to the Big East, it’s tough to figure out where Temple’s players stack up in the new conference. After all, the Owls have been playing MAC competition, and the defenses in the Big East should provide a tougher test each week. Coyer is a promising quarterback, but there needs to be a bigger sample size to rank him higher on this list. He threw for just 463 yards in limited action, but displayed his value as a runner by recording 562 yards and three touchdowns. With a rebuilt offensive line and running back Bernard Pierce off to the NFL, the Owls need Coyer to carry the offense in 2012.

7. Tino Sunseri, Pittsburgh (SR)
Passing Stats:
2,616 yards, 10 TDs, 11 INTs, 64.2%
Rushing Stats: 154 att., 86 yards, 4 TDs

Sunseri has been the source of frustration for Pittsburgh fans over the last two years. In his first season as a starter in 2010, Sunseri threw for 2,572 yards and 16 scores. He didn’t improve those numbers by much in 2011, throwing for 2,616 yards and 10 touchdowns. In fairness to Sunseri, Pittsburgh’s offensive struggles last year were largely due to the scheme not fitting the personnel. New coach Paul Chryst should do a better job of adapting his scheme to Sunseri and the offensive line can’t be any worse than it was in 2011. Expect Sunseri to play better in 2012, but for now, he checks in as the No. 7 quarterback in the Big East.

8. Johnny McEntee Connecticut (SR)
Passing Stats:
2,110 yards, 12 TDs, 8 INTs, 51.3%
Rushing Stats: 55 att., -148 yards, 0 TD

The race to start the season opener for Connecticut is wide open, with five quarterbacks competing for snaps. The edge in this space goes to McEntee after starting all 12 games for the Huskies last season. McEntee had virtually no experience going into the 2011 season and certainly struggled to move the ball through the air for the Connecticut offense. He finished with 2,110 yards and 12 touchdowns, but also tossed eight picks and posted a disappointing 51.3 completion percentage. There’s no guarantee McEntee wins the job this spring, as junior college recruit Chandler Whitmer and incoming freshman Casey Cochran will push for playing time. Considering how little McEntee improved last year, if he wins the job this spring, it would seem to be a bad sign for the Huskies’ offense. 

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related Big East Content

Ranking the Big East Coaches for 2012
Ranking College Football's Top 25 Coaches for 2012

Big East 2012 Schedule Analysis

College Football's Top Quarterback Battles to Watch

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Athlon ranks the quarterbacks in the Big East for 2012.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 9, 2012 - 08:27
All taxonomy terms: Arkansas Razorbacks, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/arkansas-suspends-bobby-petrino-whats-next-razorbacks

Arkansas has been a team on the rise under coach Bobby Petrino. The Razorbacks have 21 victories in their last two years and have closed the gap on Alabama and LSU in the SEC West. Although Arkansas has some question marks on defense and with a rebuilt receiving corps heading into the 2012 season, it has been touted as a possible darkhorse national title contender, especially with the Crimson Tide and Tigers visiting Fayetteville.

But is all of Petrino’s progress at Arkansas about to fall apart? Petrino’s motorcycle wreck on Sunday was a serious incident, but the story took a turn for the worse after it was revealed he had a 25-year-old female passenger. Jessica Dorrell – also an Arkansas athletic department employee – was mentioned in the police report as a passenger, despite Petrino insisting he was riding solo.

As a result of failing to notify athletic director Jeff Long that Dorrell was a passenger, Petrino has been placed on administrative leave and it’s uncertain if he will return to Arkansas in 2012.

Although Petrino’s inappropriate relationship with Dorrell is certainly not the news Arkansas needs at this time, the bigger issue is lying to your athletic director. Had Petrino come clean from the beginning, the damage would have been bad, but it’s always the cover-up that is worse in any incident.

Long will review Petrino’s status, but there is no indication on when a decision on his future with the school will be determined. Assistant Taver Johnson, in his first season with Arkansas, will serve as the interim coach for now.

What does this mean for Arkansas in 2012?

Right now, it’s really too early to tell how it affects the Razorbacks’ chances of winning the SEC West. Most early predictions had Arkansas pegged for third place in the division, but a top-10 team nationally. Without Petrino, the Razorbacks are probably still picked to finish third, but could slip to the 15-25 range in most preseason polls.

Although Petrino made a huge mistake in lying to his boss and having an inappropriate relationship with a member of the athletic department, the odds seem to be favorable that he does return to the sideline in 2012.

Long could choose to suspend Petrino for a couple of games, which would certainly have an impact on Arkansas’ national title hopes with a game against Alabama on Sept. 15. Another possibility is a suspension that lasts the spring and summer, but Petrino would return in time for fall practice.

Even if Petrino returns to Arkansas, there’s no question his reputation is going to take another hit. Petrino has always been questioned and criticized for his commitment, as he spent only one season with the Falcons before bolting to Arkansas and many around the SEC haven’t forgotten the infamous jetgate incident with Auburn in 2003.

Considering the commitment issue could come up again, Arkansas and Petrino agreed to a long-term contract last May, which had a large buyout and prevented him from leaving for another SEC school. Armed with a long-term contract and a program that is ready to challenge for the SEC West title every year, Petrino appeared to be entrenched in Fayetteville for the next 10 years and finally ready to erase the criticism of being a job hopper.

However, thanks to the motorcycle wreck on Sunday night and the revelations on Thursday night, Petrino and Arkansas are facing an uncertain future. Petrino has been very successful in four years with the Razorbacks, leading the team to a 34-17 record with an appearance in the Sugar Bowl. Being a successful coach certainly doesn't hurt Petrino's chances of returning to Fayetteville, as the conversation could be quite different if this was a coach with a 10-20 record facing the same type of issues.

Although Petrino is going to be heavily scrutinized (and rightfully so), the focus now shifts back to Long and the athletic department. Can Petrino still be a successful coach with this in the rearview mirror? Could this hurt Petrino on the recruiting trail? Those are just two of the questions Long and Arkansas have to answer over the next couple of weeks. 2012 was shaping up to be a year where the Razorbacks could contend for the SEC title, but now there's a cloud of uncertainty hanging over this team.

Related Arkansas Razorbacks Content

Ranking the SEC Head Coaches for 2012

Arkansas Razorbacks' 2012 Spring Preview

<p> Arkansas has indefinitely suspended head coach Bobby Petrino. What's next for the Razorbacks in 2012?</p>
Post date: Friday, April 6, 2012 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/ranking-secs-college-football-coaches

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. 

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
Ranking the Coaches: 2012 Top 25 Coaches 

Here is how Athlon Sports ranks the coaches of the SEC:

1. Nick Saban, Alabama (5 years)
Alma Mater:
Kent State (1970-72)
Record: 55-12 (2007-present)
Record: 48-16 (LSU, 2000-04)
Record: 34-24-1 (Michigan State, 1995-99)
Record: 9-2 (Toledo, 1990)
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. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina (7 years)
Alma Mater:
Florida (1963-66)
Record: 55-35 (2005-present)
Record: 122-27-1 (Florida, 1990-2001)
Record: 20-13-1 (Duke, 1987-89)
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.  

3. Mark Richt, Georgia (11 years)
Alma Mater:
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.

4. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State (3 years)
Alma Mater:
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.

5. Les Miles, LSU (7 years)
Alma Mater:
Record: 75-18 (2005-present)
Record: 28-21 (Oklahoma State, 2001-04)
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.

6. Gary Pinkel, Missouri (11 years)
Alma Mater:
Kent State
Record: 85-54 (2001-present)
Record: 73-37-3 (Toledo, 1991-2000)
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.

7. James Franklin, Vanderbilt (1 year)
Alma Mater:
East Stroudsburg
Record: 6-7 (2011-present)

There hasn’t been this much energy on West End in, well, maybe ever. Recruiting is at an all-time high, the roster is dripping with offensive skill talent and one could argue that Franklin, in his first season, should have actually won MORE. And his six wins marked only the second time since 1982 that Vandy reached the plateau. The Dores scored 347 points last fall. It was the first time the Commodores had topped the 300-point mark since 1974 and it is the highest scoring Vanderbilt offense since 1915. The loss to rival Tennessee was crushing but it is clear that Franklin has brought an attitude to Vanderbilt football that has been lacking for decades. And while Bobby Johnson deserves a lot of credit for building up the talent, the Dores showed in the second half of the season that they are only getting better. If only they hadn’t fumbled against Arkansas.

8. Gene Chizik, Auburn (5 years)
Alma Mater:
Record: 30-10 (2009-present)
Record: 5-19 (2007-08)
Overall: 35-29 (5 years)

What a difference two years can make. Chizik was not the most popular selection when he was chosen as Auburn’s coach at the end of the 2008 season. In two years at Iowa State, Chizik posted a disappointing 5-19 record and won only two Big 12 games. Although it’s not easy to win at Iowa State, the Cyclones didn’t show much progress under Chizik and went 7-6 in the year after his departure. Chizik previously coached at Auburn from 2002-04 as the team’s defensive coordinator, before departing to work at Texas for two seasons in the same capacity. There’s no question that Chizik is a solid defensive mind, but there are some holes in his resume. Takeaway the 14-0 season in 2010 and Chizik’s career record is an underwhelming 21-29. The Tigers had a lot of young players stepping into key roles last season and there could be some transition as two new coordinators take over in 2012. Chizik has made the right moves at Auburn, but it may be another year or two before the Tigers are back into SEC West title contention.

9. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M (First Season)
Alma Mater:
Purdue (1983-96)
Record: 35-17 (Houston, 2008-2011)

After four so-so seasons under Mike Sherman, Texas A&M made a tremendous hire bringing Kevin Sumlin back to College Station. Sumlin will be charged with leading the Aggies through a difficult transition, as Texas A&M is moving from the Big 12 into the SEC. Sumlin has built a solid resume as a coach, making stops as an assistant at Washington State, Wyoming, Minnesota, Purdue and Oklahoma. He also coached at Texas A&M from 2001-02 as the team’s offensive coordinator. Sumlin comes to Texas A&M after spending four years as the head coach at Houston. The Cougars went 35-17 under his watch and made three bowl appearances. Sumlin certainly understands what it takes to win at Texas A&M and built a solid coaching staff to guide the Aggies into the SEC. If Sumlin turns the Aggies into a consistent eight or nine-win team in the SEC, expect to see him move higher on this list in 2013 and beyond. 

10. Will Muschamp, Florida (1 year)
Alma Mater:
Record: 7-6 (2011-present)

The track record is pretty prestigious for Muschamp. He won a National Championship as the architect of the LSU Tigers 2003 defense that allowed more than 19 points only once all season. He then followed head coach Nick Saban to the NFL for one season before landing as Tommy Tuberville’s DC at Auburn. He landed in his second national title game as Mack Brown’s defensive guru in 2009. He was named Texas’ head coach in waiting, but quickly realized Brown wouldn’t be stepping down any time soon. So after one of the most decorated assistantships in college football, Muschamp was given the keys to a Rolls-Royce of programs. Yet, with one of the most talented rosters in the nation, the Gators once again struggled on offense — try an unheard of 105th in the nation  — and Muschamp was left without an offensive coordinator and without a quarterback. He closed his first recruiting cycle with the No. 3 class in the nation, but anyone should be able to recruit to Florida. The jury is still out on his coaching ability, but Muschamp was out-coached in the Cocktail Party and he can’t afford to lose games like that in 2012 — not with one of the most talented defenses in the nation.

11. Derek Dooley, Tennessee (2 years)
Alma Mater:
Record: 11-14 (2010-present)
Record: 17-20 (Louisiana Tech, 2007-09)
Overall: 28-34 (5 years)

Dooley entered his first big-time coaching gig at one of the worst situations in SEC history. Phil Fulmer and Lane Kiffin did little to maintain the storied Big Orange tradition leading into Dooley’s tenure. However, Dooley has done little to distinguish himself in a league loaded with superstars stalking the sideline. At Louisiana Tech, he took a 3-10 team and turned it into an eight-win team in two seasons. Yet, he finished his Bulldogs career with a less than stellar 4-8 campaign at a program that has had plenty of success relatively speaking. In Knoxville, Dooley has proven to be an affable CEO who has finished strong on the recruiting trail in the face of coaching defections. However, he has yet to deliver a signature victory in two seasons. Other than the last two games of the 2011 season, a win over Vanderbilt and an pathetic showing in Lexington, Tennessee has won and lost every game it should have in two seasons. Dooley needs to prove he can be a great leader by reuniting a once-divided locker room, or his last name and end-game gaff in Baton Rouge will be his only claim to fame.

12. Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss (First Season)
Alma Mater:
Southern Miss
Record: 10-2 (Arkansas State, 2011)
Record: 20-5 (Lambuth 2008-09)
Overall: 30-7 (3 years)

Freeze has experienced a quick ascension in the coaching ranks. He was a successful coach at Briarcrest High School from 1995-04, before jumping to work as an assistant under Ed Orgeron at Ole Miss in 2005. After Orgeron was fired at the end of the 2007 season, Freeze became the head coach at Lambuth for two years, compiling an impressive 20-5 record. After his stint at Lambuth, Freeze worked as the offensive coordinator for Arkansas State in 2010 and was promoted to head coach for one season (2011). Freeze brought instant success to Arkansas State, improving the Red Wolves from four victories in 2010 to 10 and a Sun Belt title in 2011. Freeze has a difficult task ahead of him in 2012, as the Rebels were the worst team in the SEC West and have a lot of holes to fill on the roster. Although Freeze has been an instant winner at each of his stops, don’t be surprised if the Rebels show slow progress in 2012, before contending for a bowl in 2013. 

13. Joker Phillips, Kentucky (3 years)
Alma Mater: Kentucky
Record: 11-14 (2010-present)

Fair or not, Phillips enters his third season in Lexington squarely on the hot seat. He deserves most of the credit for engineering one of the most successful offenses in program history while serving as the offensive coordinator for his alma mater from 2004-2009. The architect of the Wildcat offense saw names like Andre Woodson, Jacob Tamme and Steve Johnson carry Kentucky to four straight bowl games (2006-2009) for the first time in school history. However, the Cats have not improved on a win total since the 2005-2006 jump from three wins to eight. In fact, Phillips has watched his win total drop three consecutive years. And his once potent offense has fallen flat on its face. Kentucky scored 190 points in 2011 – or 285 fewer points than the powerful 2007 squad. It was only the second time (2004) that Kentucky has scored fewer than 200 points in a season since Hal Mumme took over in 1997.

14. Taver Johnson, Arkansas (interim)
Alma Mater: Wittenberg
Record: First Season

Johnson has been placed into a very difficult situation, as he was promoted to interim coach after Bobby Petrino's firing in April. Johnson is regarded as a solid defensive mind, but he has no head coaching experience and is just in his first season with the Razorbacks. The big question in Fayetteville is whether or not Johnson will serve as the team's coach for 2012 or an outside hire will be made. Athletic director Jeff Long has indicated Arkansas will conduct a search for a full-time coach, but it's very difficult to find a replacement in spring practice. 

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

2012 SEC Spring Previews

Alabama's 2012 Spring Preview
Arkansas' 2012 Spring Preview

Auburn's 2012 Spring Preview

Florida's 2012 Spring Preview

Georgia's 2012 Spring Preview

LSU's 2012 Spring Preview

Missouri's 2012 Spring Preview

South Carolina's 2012 Spring Preview

Tennessee's 2012 Spring Preview

Texas A&M's 2012 Spring Preview

Vanderbilt's 2012 Spring Preview

Other Spring Preview Content:

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat



<p> Athlon continues its spring preview by ranking the coaches in the SEC.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 - 07:21
Path: /college-football/kansas-state-wildcats-2012-spring-preview

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

2012 Kansas State Wildcats Spring Preview

2011 Record: 10-3, 7-2 Big 12

Spring practice: April 4-April 30

Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 6

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Collin Klein, 161 of 281, 1,918 yds., 13 TD, 6 INTs
Rushing: Collin Klein, 317 car., 1,141 yds., 27 TDs
Receiving: Chris Harper, 40 rec., 547 yds., 5 TDs
Tackles: Arthur Brown, 101
Sacks: Meshak Williams, 7
Interceptions: Nigel Malone, 7

Early Enrollees: ATH Dante Barnett, QB Tavarius Bender, DB Morgan Burns, DE Hunter Davis, FB Glenn Gronkowski, DL Samuel Harvill, LB Mike Moore, WR Steven West, DL Wesley Hollingshed (JC)

JUCO Transfers to Watch: WR Marquez Clark, OL Ellwood Clement, DB Kent Gainous, DL Wesley Hollingshed, DL Chaquil Reed, OL Tavon Rooks

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Missouri State
Sept. 8 Miami
Sept. 15 North Texas
Sept. 22 at Oklahoma
Oct. 6 Kansas
Oct. 13 at Iowa State
Oct. 20 at West Virginia
Oct. 27 Texas Tech
Nov. 3 Oklahoma State
Nov. 10 at TCU
Nov. 17 at Baylor
Dec. 1 Texas 

Offensive Strength: Collin Klein. The senior quarterback carried the Kansas State offense last season, accounting for 3,059 total yards and 40 overall scores. Although Klein dealt with injuries for various parts of the season, he managed to start every game and led the Wildcats to their first Cotton Bowl appearance since 2001. Kansas State may not have an all-conference performer at receiver, but there’s a nice collection of weapons, includuing Chris Harper and Tyler Lockett. 

Offensive Weakness: Running back John Hubert had a nice season last year, rushing for 970 yards and three touchdowns. However, the Wildcats need a little more punch from their ground attack and will likely look to get more from senior Angelo Pease and sophomore DeMarcus Robinson. The line isn’t a huge concern, but three starters depart, including two all-conference performers.

Defensive Strength: Outside of Klein, the biggest surprise in Kansas State’s season might have been the play of linebacker Arthur Brown. Although he was a highly-touted prospect coming out of high school, Brown never lived up to the hype at Miami. Brown finished 2011 with first-team All-Big 12 honors and recorded 101 stops and two sacks. Tre Walker joins Brown in the linebacking corps, which should be among the best in the Big 12.

Defensive Weakness: Each level of the defense seems to be in good shape, but the Wildcats have to be a little concerned about the interior of the line. Tackle Ray Kibble was a key cog in the rush defense, and JUCO transfer Wesley Hollingshed will be counted upon to have a major role early on. The defense will also miss cornerback David Garrett, but there may not be much of a drop off with Nigel Malone and Allen Chapman manning the corner positions in 2012.  

Spring Storylines Facing the Wildcats

1. The Wildcats were one of the Big 12’s biggest surprises last season, as they were picked to finish near the bottom of the conference, but posted a 10-3 record and made an appearance in the Cotton Bowl against Arkansas. The overriding theme when examining Kansas State’s 2012 prospects certainly has to be: Can the Wildcats do it again? There’s no question coach Bill Snyder is one of the best in college football and this team always seems to exceed most preseason expectations. In order for Kansas State to repeat last season’s 10 wins, there are some question marks that must be addressed. Defensive coordinator Chris Cosh departed for South Florida, and Snyder promoted assistant Tom Hayes to fill that spot. Also, both sides of the ball lost a couple of key contributors. The Wildcats were outgained by an average of 106.8 yards per game in league play, but were second in the conference in turnover margin. It’s not a perfect recipe for success, but if the defense continues to force turnovers, Kansas State certainly won’t beat itself in 2012.

2. If Kansas State wants to win the Big 12, it has to find a way to take some of the offensive pressure off of quarterback Collin Klein. The junior was one of the top quarterbacks in the Big 12 last year, rushing for 1,141 yards and 27 scores, while adding 1,918 yards and 13 touchdowns through the air. However, Klein dealt with various bumps and bruises throughout last season and asking him to shoulder the entire offensive workload once again is a lot to ask. The Wildcats need more from running back John Hubert, along with a receiving corps that quietly features some deadly weapons. Although Klein is a capable runner, it’s important for Hubert to take some of the wear and tear off his quarterback. If Klein is injured, the Kansas State offense could sputter.

3. The biggest concern on offense for Kansas State has to be an offensive line that loses three starters, including first-team All-Big 12 tackle Clyde Aufner. Left tackle Zach Hanson and guard Colten Freeze have also expired their eligibility in Manhattan, leaving guard Nick Puetz and center B.J. Finney as the group’s only returning starters. The line was an underrated part of Kansas State’s success last year, as this group led the way for the Wildcats to post 34 rushing scores and average nearly four yards a carry. JUCO transfer Tavon Rooks is expected to challenge for playing time right away, while the coaching staff has some solid options – Cornelius Lucas, Ethan Douglas and Keenan Taylor – to contend for the rest of the spots. A wildcard to watch is tackle Manase Foketi. The senior is expected to be granted a medical redshirt for the 2011 season, which will allow him to play in 2012. If Foketi is healthy, he would be a key addition to the line and would likely start at one of the tackle positions.

4. New defensive coordinator Tom Hayes inherited a good situation for the 2012 season. Although the Wildcats have to replace a key player at each level of the defense, there’s still plenty to be encouraged about for 2012. The defensive line returns end Meshak Williams (seven sacks in 2011) and tackle Vai Lutui. The linebacking corps will be among the best in the Big 12, as first-team all-conference selection Arthur Brown and Tre Walker are back. The secondary finished 103rd nationally in pass defense, but returns cornerback Nigel Malone and safety Ty Zimmerman. Considering what Kansas State has returning, Hayes doesn’t need to overhaul the defense. However, the Wildcats need to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and find a replacement for tackle Ray Kibble. The interior line could be an issue against opposing rushing attacks, but JUCO recruit Wesley Hollingshed has the size (300 pounds) to take Kibble’s place in the middle.

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related Big 12 Content

Ranking the Big 12 Head Coaches for 2012

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Athlon previews spring practice for the Kansas State Wildcats.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/washington-huskies-2012-spring-preview

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

2012 Washington Huskies Spring Preview

2011 Record: 7-6, 5-4 Pac-12

Spring practice: April 2-April 28

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 6

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Keith Price, 242 of 362, 3,063 yds., 33 TD, 11 INTs
Rushing: Jesse Callier, 47 car., 260 yds., 1 TD
Receiving: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, 41 rec., 538 yds., 6 TDs
Tackles: Sean Parker, 91
Sacks: Josh Shirley, 8.5
Interceptions: Sean Parker, 4

Redshirts to watch: WR Marvin Hall, DE Jarett Finau, WR Josh Perkins, S James Sample, OL Dexter Charles, DE Corey Waller

JUCO Transfers to Watch: K Travis Coons, DT Josh Banks

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 San Diego State
Sept. 8 at LSU
Sept. 15 Portland State
Sept. 27 Stanford
Oct. 6 at Oregon
Oct. 13 USC
Oct. 20 at Arizona
Oct. 27 Oregon State
Nov. 2 at California
Nov. 10 Utah
Nov. 17 at Colorado
Nov. 23 at Washington State

Offensive Strength: Quarterback Keith Price had a standout season in his first year as the starter and he should build upon that success in 2012. Price finished with 3,063 yards and 33 scores last season, while completing 66.9 percent of his throws. USC’s Matt Barkley is locked into preseason first-team All-Pac-12 honors, but Price should be the conference’s No. 2 quarterback in 2012. Even with the departure of Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar, the Huskies have plenty of options at receiver and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins could be an All-American at the end of the year.

Offensive Weakness: There’s no doubt running back Chris Polk will be missed, and making matters worse is the fact the Huskies have no clear replacement on the roster. Polk rushed for at least 1,113 yards in each of his three seasons in Seattle and finished with 79 receptions and 30 overall scores. Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey will compete for the No. 1 position this spring.

Defensive Strength: After finishing 106th in total defense last season, the Huskies certainly have some work to do on this side of the ball. However, there are some bright spots, including the secondary and linebacking corps. Although the secondary gave up a lot of big plays, cornerback Desmond Trufant and safety Sean Parker are two solid building blocks. A handful of key contributors are back at linebacker, including John Timu and Josh Shirley.

Defensive Weakness: There’s certainly talent for defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to work with in 2012. However, each level of the defense has concerns. The line must replace two key contributors, including tackle and run stuffer Alameda Ta’amu. The linebacking corps loses second-team All-Pac-12 selection Cort Dennison, while the secondary must replace Quinton Richardson. No loss will be overwhelming, but for a defense that is struggling to find its footing, the Huskies need all of the help they can get.

Spring Storylines Facing the Huskies

1. Coach Steve Sarkisian has Washington on the right track, but after three seasons in Seattle, his record is just 19-19. Progress has been steady under Sarkisian and he took an important step in the offseason by firing defensive coordinator Nick Holt. The Huskies never showed much defensive progress under Holt and turned in an embarrassing performance in the bowl loss to Baylor. New coordinator Justin Wilcox should be an immediate improvement over Holt, while linebacker coach Peter Sirmon and defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi were two of the top assistant coach hires this offseason. The Huskies aren’t ready to challenge Oregon as the Pac-12 North champion, but with Stanford replacing Andrew Luck, the door is open for Washington to finish second in the division this year.

2. With Chris Polk’s decision to enter the NFL Draft, the biggest offensive spring battle will focus on the running backs. Jesse Callier rushed for 260 yards and one touchdown last season, but has never recorded more than 10 carries in a game. Bishop Sankey posted 187 yards and a touchdown as a true freshman last year and trails Callier on the depth chart entering spring practice. Sophomore Deontae Cooper has missed the last two years with a knee injury, but if healthy, will compete with Sankey and Callier for snaps. The wildcard to watch in the backfield will be Antavius Sims. The coaching staff is intrigued by the junior college transfer and he will get an extended look in the backfield this spring. With the uncertainty facing the backfield, true freshman Erich Wilson II could get a look for carries this fall. Washington may not replace Polk’s yardage by one player, but overall, this shouldn’t be a huge concern for this team in 2012.

3. Outside of finding a replacement for Polk, the biggest question for the Huskies’ offense will be the line. Left tackle Senio Kelemete earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last season, but has finished his eligibility in a Washington uniform. Four starters are back, but guard Colin Porter is coming off shoulder surgery and will sit out spring practice. Fellow guard Colin Tanigawa is recovering from ACL surgery and won’t return until the fall. Right tackle Erik Kohler may also miss time this spring, which means the Huskies will be short-handed up front. If all three players return 100 percent and in time for fall practice, Washington’s offensive line should be fine. However, this group needs time to jell and asking all five players to come together with no practice time before the season opener is a tall task and a concern for Sarkisian and the offensive staff.

4. With Wilcox taking over as the defensive coordinator, Washington is expected to use more 3-4 looks in 2012, which will require a little adjustment in personnel. The line will miss tackle Alameda Ta’amu, who was a key presence in the Huskies’ rush defense. However, Hau’oli Jamora returns after playing in only four games due to an injury and the coaching staff expects big things from sophomore Danny Shelton in the middle. Josh Shirley recorded 8.5 sacks last season and should be a perfect fit as the linebacker/rush end in the Huskies’ 3-4 scheme. With some players moving around and a new scheme, don’t be surprised if there are a few growing pains early in the season. However, the key to the rush defense will be the play of Shelton and if Jamora returns at 100 percent early in the season. 

5. While showing improvement on defense is crucial to pushing Oregon in the Pac-12 North, the special teams suffered some key losses with kicker Erik Folk and punter Kiel Rasp finishing their eligibility. The Huskies have three kickers competing for time – Mihai Ion, Jacob Dunn and Travis Coons – but none have attempted a kick on the FBS level. Freshman Korey Durkee seems to have the inside track at punter after averaging 45.9 yards per kick as a high school senior.

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related Pac-12 Content

Ranking the Pac-12's Head Coaches for 2012
012 Recruiting Rankings: No. 21 Washington Huskies

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Athlon previews spring practice for the Washington Huskies.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 2, 2012 - 07:26
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/goodys-fast-relief-500-martinsville-speedway-starting-lineup

The 2012 NASCAR season continues on Sunday with a trip to Martinsville Speedway. This will be the sixth race of the year, with Hendrick Motorsports' Kasey Kahne starting on the pole for the second time this season.

The green flag for the Goody's Fast Relief 500 is set for Sunday at 1:13 ET. 

Starting Position Driver Car Number Make Speed
1 Kasey Kahne 5 Chevrolet 97.128
2 Kevin Harvick 29 Chevrolet 97.048
3 Denny Hamlin 11 Toyota 97.003
4 Clint Bowyer 15 Toyota 97.003
5 Ryan Newman 39 Chevrolet 96.988
6 Brian Vickers 55 Toyota 96.765
7 Brad Keselowski 2 Dodge 96.75
8 Kyle Busch 18 Toyota 96.746
9 Jeff Gordon 24 Chevrolet 96.731
10 Joey Logano 20 Toyota 96.706
11 Paul Menard 27 Chevrolet 96.701
12 Marcos Ambrose 9 Ford 96.627
13 Martin Truex Jr. 56 Toyota 96.583
14 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 88 Chevrolet 96.43
15 Tony Stewart 14 Chevrolet 96.322
16 Bobby Labonte 47 Toyota 96.215
17 Regan Smith 78 Chevrolet 96.2
18 Jeff Burton 31 Chevrolet 96.18
19 Aric Almirola 43 Ford 96.049
20 Jamie McMurray 1 Chevrolet 96.049
21 Matt Kenseth 17 Ford 95.971
22 Jimmie Johnson 48 Chevrolet 95.854
23 Michael McDowell 98 Ford 95.849
24 David Ragan 34 Ford 95.83
25 Casey Mears 13 Ford 95.796
26 Greg Biffle 16 Ford 95.743
27 A J Allmendinger 22 Dodge 95.738
28 Carl Edwards 99 Ford 95.607
29 David Reutimann 10 Chevrolet 95.607
30 Josh Wise 26 Ford 95.583
31 Landon Cassill 83 Toyota 95.511
32 Juan Pablo Montoya 42 Chevrolet 95.477
33 Scott Riggs 23 Chevrolet 95.352
34 Travis Kvapil 93 Toyota 95.347
35 Reed Sorenson 74 Chevrolet 95.223
36 Ken Schrader 32 Ford 95.127
37 Joe Nemechek 87 Toyota 94.936
38 David Gilliland 38 Ford 94.78
39 David Stremme 30 Toyota 94.609
40 Kurt Busch 51 Chevrolet 94.567
41 Hermie Sadler 33 Chevrolet 94.486
42 Dave Blaney 36 Chevrolet 93.18
43 J.J. Yeley 249 Toyota 93.212

<p> Starting lineup for Sunday's Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.</p>
Post date: Saturday, March 31, 2012 - 16:46
Path: /college-football/texas-am-aggies-2012-spring-preview

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

Texas A&M Aggies 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 7-6, 4-5 Big 12

Spring practice: March 31-April 28

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 4

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Jameill Showers, 4 of 5, 40 yds., 0 TD, 0 INTs
Rushing: Christine Michael, 149 car., 899 yds., 8 TDs
Receiving: Ryan Swope, 89 rec., 1,207 yds., 11 TDs
Tackles: Jonathan Stewart, 98
Sacks: Sean Porter, 9.5
Interceptions: Steven Terrell, 2

Redshirts to watch: QB Johnny Manziel, WR Mike Evans, S Devonta Burns

Early Enrollees: QB Matt Davis, DB Tremaine Jacobs, DB Kenneth Marshall, WR Derel Walker

JUCO Transfers to Watch: DB Tremaine Jacobs, WR Derel Walker

2012 Schedule

Aug. 30 at Louisiana Tech
Sept. 8 Florida
Sept. 15 at SMU
Sept. 22 South Carolina State
Sept. 29 Arkansas
Oct. 6 at Ole Miss
Oct. 20 LSU
Oct. 27 at Auburn
Nov. 3 at Mississippi State
Nov. 10 at Alabama
Nov. 17 Sam Houston State
Nov. 24 Missouri

Offensive Strength: Moving from the Big 12 to the SEC won’t be easy, but Texas A&M has some pieces to build around in 2012. The offensive line should be one of the best in the conference, as tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews will both contend for All-SEC honors. In addition to the strength up front, there’s plenty of depth at receiver and three talented running backs on the roster.

Offensive Weakness: Quarterback play. Ryan Tannehill was solid during his tenure as Texas A&M’s starter and will likely be one of the first 10-15 picks off the board in the 2012 NFL Draft. Four candidates are in the mix to replace Tannehill this spring and the battle may go up until the final week of fall practices. Although the Aggies have three quality running backs, they have to be worried about the health of Christine Michael coming off a torn ACL in early November.  

Defensive Strength: Even with Damontre Moore expected to move to defensive end, the Aggies should feel good about the group of returning linebackers. Sean Porter recorded 79 tackles and 9.5 sacks last year, while Steven Jenkins pitched in 61 stops. Jonathan Stewart earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last season and chipped in 98 tackles and three sacks.

Defensive Weakness: The play of the secondary was a constant concern last year, and the coaching staff still has plenty of issues with this group heading into spring practice. The Aggies allowed 276.3 passing yards per game last season in the Big 12 and lose a couple of key contributors. Although the passing attacks in the SEC aren’t nearly as dynamic as the ones in the Big 12, the Aggies need to shore up this area in preseason workouts.

Spring Storylines Facing the Aggies

1. Goodbye Big 12. Hello SEC. That’s the theme in College Station this spring, as the Aggies are on the move to the toughest conference in college football. Texas A&M has all of the resources necessary to eventually compete in the SEC, but the transition period will certainly have a few bumps in the road. As if changing conferences wasn’t enough, the Aggies will have a new head coach and schemes in 2012. Kevin Sumlin takes over Texas A&M after a successful tenure at Houston and should be a great fit in College Station. Sumlin is certainly aware of the expectations at Texas A&M, as he coached under R.C. Slocum from 2001-02.

2. The biggest on-field question mark facing the Aggies in 2012 rests under center with the quarterback battle. Ryan Tannehill departs after throwing for 3,744 yards and 29 scores last season, leaving four inexperienced candidates to compete for time this spring. Jameill Showers tossed five passes in a backup role last year and has the most experience of any quarterback on the Texas A&M roster. He will face competition from Matt Joeckel, redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel and true freshman Matt Davis. With a deep receiving corps, Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury won’t be afraid to throw it around this year. However, the Aggies have to find and settle on a starting quarterback for the offense to take off. Although Showers has the most experience, this is really a wide-open battle that could be decided late in fall camp.

3. Outside of the quarterback battle, the running backs will probably get the most attention in spring practice. Christine Michael was off to a terrific start last year (899 yards and eight touchdowns), but suffered a torn ACL in the early November loss to Oklahoma. Although Michael is expected to return to full strength for the opener, this is his second major leg injury in three seasons with the Aggies. Kingsbury will slowly work Michael back into the rotation in the fall, which makes spring practice even more important for Ben Malena. The sophomore fared well in limited work, adding 83 yards against Texas and 77 yards and two touchdowns against Northwestern. Incoming freshman Trey Williams ranked as the No. 19 prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and should work his way into the mix as the No. 3 back this year. Even if Michael is slow to return to 100 percent, Malena and Williams is a solid one-two punch to begin the year. However, it’s important for all of the running backs get into the mix this preseason and get comfortable with the new schemes.

4. New defensive coordinator Mark Snyder should be a good fit in College Station, but he will have his work cut out for him from the opening snap of spring practice. The Aggies previously ran the 3-4, but plan to switch back to the 4-3. The defensive line must replace end Tony Jerod-Eddie and tackle Eddie Brown, but return honorable mention All-Big 12 selection Spencer Nealy and linebacker Damontre Moore (8.5 sacks) is moving back to end. The linebacking corps is solid, but needs to be better in pass defense. The secondary is a glaring concern for Snyder, as cornerbacks Terrence Frederick, Lionel Smith and Coryell Judie and safety Trent Hunter have expired their eligibility. The coaching staff dipped into the JUCO ranks to help solve the question marks in this area, bringing in Tremaine Jacobs to help add to the depth and competition. The Aggies finished 2011 ranked 109th in pass defense, but won’t have to face as many pass-happy offenses in the SEC. However, shoring up the secondary and keeping the pass rush among the best in college football has to be the top priority for Snyder this spring. 

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related SEC Content

2012 Athlon Recruiting Rankings: No. 14 Texas A&M Aggies
College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Athlon previews spring practice for the Texas A&amp;M Aggies.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 30, 2012 - 06:59
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/kansas-ohio-state-forgotten-final-four-matchup

While all the Final Four hype seems wrapped around the David-Goliath plotline behind SEC’s powerhouse, Kentucky Wildcats, and their in-state rival, Louisville; the overshadowed match-up between Ohio State and Kansas will be quite the game as well. Though there is little rivalry between these two, the talent and tenacity of both teams—and readiness to avenge a loss for Ohio State— will make it nearly impossible for any fan painted head-to-toe in blue and white, or sporting black and red; or any fan for that matter, peel away from their seats following the first game. Both two seeds have surpassed impressive teams to make it to this point and neither is ready to go home anytime soon.

Ohio State defeated 1 seed Syracuse 77-70 last Saturday to earn their first trip to Final Four since 2007 where they lost in the Championship game to Joakim Noah and the gang at Florida.  The Buckeyes overcame adversity when Jared Sullinger was called for two early fouls in the first game and sat for the remainder of the half. Upon his return, he scored 19 points and pulled down seven rebounds in the win over Syracuse. Sullinger’s performance was supplemented with Deshaun Thomas’s 14 points and nine boards; as well as, the team’s impeccable free-throw percentage down the stretch. The Buckeyes went 13 for 14 from the line within the final 68 seconds.

While it seems that Ohio State’s offense that helped them make the Final Four, it was Kansas’ hellacious defense that stunned UNC and booked them a trip to New Orleans.  Elijah Johnson’s back court presence overwhelmed the Tar Heels’ back-up point guard, Stilman White as the Jayhawks claimed the 80-67 victory.

While Sullinger’s performance seems to the key to the Buckeyes taking the game, he will have his hands full against Jayhawks’ inside presence.  Forward Thomas Robinson and Center Jeff Withey have both caused havoc in the paint on both ends of the floor all season long. If those two come to play, they will definitely give Sullinger a run for his money.

These teams met in December at Kansas, and while the Jayhawks defeated Ohio State; the absence of the Buckeye’s Sullinger was definitely not overlooked. If Sullinger can stay out of foul trouble, this game will surely to be a fight to the finish. 

by Jordan Coleman

<p> Kansas-Ohio State is the forgotten Final 4 game in New Orleans.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 30, 2012 - 06:52
Path: /college-football/ohio-state-buckeyes-2012-spring-preview

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

Ohio State Buckeyes 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 6-7, 3-5 Big Ten

Spring practice: March 28-April 21

Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 9

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Braxton Miller, 85 of 157, 1,159 yds., 13 TD, 4 INTs
Rushing: Braxton Miller, 159 car., 715 yds., 7 TDs
Receiving: Devin Smith, 14 rec., 294 yds., 4 TDs
Tackles: C.J. Barnett, 75
Sacks: John Simon, 7
Interceptions: Two players tied with 3

Redshirts to watch: OL Tommy Brown, OL Chris Carter, DL Chase Farris, DL Kenny Hayes

Early Enrollees: OL Jacoby Boren, RB Bri’onte Dunn, QB Cardale Jones, LB Joshua Perry, DB Tyvis Powell, WR Michael Thomas

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 8 UCF
Sept. 15 California
Sept. 22 UAB
Sept. 29 at Michigan State
Oct. 6 Nebraska
Oct. 13 at Indiana
Oct. 20 Purdue
Oct. 27 at Penn State
Nov. 3 Illinois
Nov. 17 at Wisconsin
Nov. 24 Michigan

Offensive Strength: Quarterback Braxton Miller was thrown into the fire as a true freshman last season and that experience should pay big dividends in 2012. Miller totaled nearly 2,000 yards of offense, while posting 20 overall scores. With another offseason under his belt and new coach Urban Meyer bringing a spread attack to Columbus, Miller will easily surpass last season’s numbers and should be among the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks.

Offensive Weakness: There’s some concern about the running backs and wide receivers, but Ohio State’s biggest issue on offense is the line. Two starters are back up front (tackle Andrew Norwell and guard Jack Mewhort), but there’s very little depth and last season’s group allowed 3.5 sacks a game. In addition to the personnel questions, the line must learn a new scheme.

Defensive Strength: 2011 wasn’t exactly a banner year for the Ohio State defense, but it wasn’t awful either. The Buckeyes should be solid in all three levels of the defense next year, but the line has potential to be one of the best in college football. End John Simon picked up seven sacks last year and will benefit from the return of Nathan Williams from a knee injury. Tackle is in good hands with Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel returning. The Buckeyes will also get some help from a talented freshman defensive line class, which will be key in replenishing the depth up front.

Defensive Weakness: With nine starters back, co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers should feel good about this group. However, there are a few things this defense needs to shore up in the spring. The pass rush generated just 1.8 sacks a game last season, while the defense forced 20 turnovers. Both of those numbers could improve in 2012.

Spring Storylines Facing the Buckeyes

1. Change is in the air in Columbus. After a messy season of distractions and a coaching change, things have finally settled down for Ohio State. New coach Urban Meyer is one of the best in college football and should lead the Buckeyes to a quick turnaround in the win column. Meyer also hired a top-notch staff, bringing in Everett Withers from North Carolina to help Luke Fickell coordinate the defense, while one of the rising stars in the assistant ranks (Tom Herman) will help call the shots on offense. Although Herman is listed as the offensive coordinator, expect Meyer to play a significant role in calling plays and developing the offensive gameplan. After Meyer dealt with health issues at Florida, it was important for Ohio State to hire a top-notch coaching staff, which it seems to have accomplished. However, it’s important for this group of coaches to jell, especially with some key question marks facing the roster in 2012.

2. Although there’s a lot of positive momentum going for Ohio State, the Buckeyes are ineligible to play for the Big Ten title and a bowl game in 2012. Although Meyer is a terrific coach, will the postseason ban have any effect on the team? With no postseason possibilities, it’s all about pride for Ohio State in 2012. If the pieces fall into place, it’s not of the question the Buckeyes can finish among the top 10-15 teams in the final postseason poll. However, with nothing to play for, Meyer and his coaching staff will have to work a little overtime to keep this team motivated and ready to play each week.

3. Michigan’s Denard Robinson should be the Big Ten’s preseason first-team all-conference quarterback, but Ohio State’s Braxton Miller should get the No. 2 spot. Miller had a solid freshman year and should flourish under Meyer. A key question facing the Ohio State offense is the playmakers around Miller. Daniel Herron departs at running back, leaving Jordan Hall, Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith as the top three options going into spring practice. True freshman Bri’onte Dunn will also be one to watch in spring workouts. The receiving corps was a disappointment last year, but there’s a lot of young talent and this group should be improved in 2012. Although there’s plenty of options at both positions, the coaching staff would like to see a pecking order develop and go-to options emerge this spring. 

4. If there is one area on offense that will likely give Meyer a reason to lose sleep at night, it’s clearly the offensive line. Tackle Andrew Norwell and guard Jack Mewhort both garnered honorable mention All-Big Ten honors, but they are the only two returning starters on the offensive line. Marcus Hall started five games last season and will be expected to emerge as one of the starters this spring. After those three, the battle to replace center Mike Brewster and tackles J.B. Shugarts and Mike Adams is the biggest issue facing Ohio State. In addition to the personnel losses, the Buckeyes are switching from a pro-style approach to a spread attack. Settling the front five and developing some depth could be the difference between finishing with seven wins and another disappointing season or 10 victories and a finish at the top of the Leaders Division.

5. Linebacker Andrew Sweat and safety Tyler Moeller will be missed, but Ohio State’s defense should be one of the best in college football this season. The defensive line is stocked with talent, including potential All-American end John Simon. This group also got an infusion of talent through recruiting, as recruits Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington, Tommy Schutt and Se’Von Pittman all ranked as a top 100 recruits in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100. Outside of building the depth on the line, the biggest priority for Fickell and Withers needs to be sorting out the linebacking corps. Etienne Sabino, Ryan Shazier and Storm Klein all have experience, but there’s very little depth. Curtis Grant figures to be the top option off the bench, but more options need to be found.

Related Content Links

Athlon's 2012 Recruiting Class Rankings: No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes
Ranking the Big Ten's Head Coaches
College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

<p> Ohio State Buckeyes 2012 spring preview.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 07:13
Path: /college-football/danny-obrien-picks-wisconsin

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on Twitter)

It is a perilous balancing act, but for the time being, Bret Bielema and the Wisconsin Badgers have their starting quarterback.

Redshirt junior-to-be Danny O’Brien announced on Wednesday that he intends to transfer from Maryland to Wisconsin following his graduation this spring. After a very public divorce from Terps head coach Randy Edsall, O’Brien will be eligible to play right away for a team that will feature a transfer under center for the second consecutive season.

And for the second consecutive season, the Badgers will likely be predicted to play in the Big Ten title game because of it.

Athlon Sports will sit down and hash out its 2012 NCAA Football predictions in the coming weeks. There are always heated arguments and flying office supplies. But with O’Brien’s decision to head to MadTown, one tough resolution has been made for us.

Ohio State and new head coach Urban Meyer have easily the best roster in the Big Ten Leaders Division. There is no reason to think that the Buckeyes won’t finish with the best record in their half of the conference. However, since the Buck-Nuts are not eligible to play in the Big Ten Championship or go to a bowl game, the second place finisher will be sent to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on December 1.

This leaves Penn State, following the darkest scandal in NCAA history and a coaching change for the first time in nearly half-of-a-century, Illinois and Purdue left to compete with the Big Red of the Dairy State. With only seven returning starters in Happy Valley, Bill O’Brien has a steep slope to climb. Illinois returns plenty of talent but is dealing with its own regime change following one of the worst collapses in recent history. Purdue, which will host the Badgers on October 13, returned to the postseason for the first time since 2007 last year and might be the top challenger in the division.

So for the time being, let’s assume Wisconsin returns to the Big Ten title game. Just how good can O’Brien and Heisman finalist Montee Ball be in 2012? Can Bielema win his third straight conference title and get to a third straight Rose Bowl  — something that has never happened to Wisconsin? Or are they simply a Leaders Division placeholder in the Oil Drum?

Unfortunately, with or without Danny O’Brien, this will not be an elite U of W team. It will not return to Pasadena. And it will not beat Michigan in the title game. Not without offensive genius and Badger alum Paul Chryst, who left to become the head coach of the Pitt Panthers, calling the plays. Not without three first-team All-Big Ten offensive lineman. Not without top wideout Nick Toon.

And O’Brien is not Russell Wilson.

Wilson was a rare leader who was poised and forced others around him to elevate their game to a championship level — and if not for two blown pass plays in the secondary, the Badgers would have been undefeated in the regular season. He owns basically every single-season, and many career, school passing records at Wisconsin in only one year. His 191.78 QB rating was a single-season NCAA record and he currently owns the NCAA all-time record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass (38 games).

Here were his stats when he left NC State to sign with Wisconsin:

36 games played
Passing: 8,545 yards, 76 TD, 26 INT
Rushing: 362 att., 1,083 yards, 17 TD

Wilson is second all-time in ACC history with 93 total touchdowns, and, after 39 more trips to paydirt and 3,513 yards of total offense, Wilson ended his college career with 13,141 yards of total offense and 132 total touchdowns.

Here are O’Brien’s stats with two years left in his career as he heads to State Street:

22 games played
Passing: 4,086 yards, 29 TD, 18 INT
Rushing: 64 att., 9 yards, 3 TD

O’Brien lost his starting job at Maryland (partly due to a terrible coaching hire by Edsall and the offense certainly missed Torrey Smith) and accounted for one touchdown in his final five games as a Terrapin. He threw more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (7) and, most importantly, his team went 2-10. Wilson was a team captain, topped the ACC in total offense and led the Pack to a 9-4 record in his final season in Raleigh.

Undoubtedly, the Wisconsin offensive line and backfield offer O’Brien a fresh start and a dramatically better situation for success. And this Big Red team should now be the favorite to represent the Leaders Division once again in 2012.

But if Wisconsin fans are going to hold O’Brien to a Wilson-esque standard of statistical and scoreboard success, they will be sorely mistaken.

Related Content

2012 Wisconsin Badgers Spring Preview
Ranking the Big Ten Coaches for 2012

<p> Danny O'Brien decides to transfer to Wisconsin, making the Badgers the favorites in the Big Ten Leaders Division.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 07:10
Path: /college-football/big-east-2012-football-schedule-analysis

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

The start of the 2012 college football season is still months away, but it's never too early to take a look at the schedules and examine some of the key matchups and notes for each team. The Big East is the final BCS conference to release its schedule, and due to conference realignment and trouble finding a FBS opponent, Temple may only play 11 games in 2012. 

Here's a look at the schedule and some interesting notes, observations and games to watch for each of the Big East teams in 2012:


Sept. 1 Bye Week
Sept. 6 Pittsburgh
Sept. 15 Delaware State
Sept. 22 Bye Week
Sept. 29 Virginia Tech (Landover)
Oct. 6 Miami, Ohio
Oct. 13 Fordham
Oct. 20 at Toledo
Oct. 27 at Louisville
Nov. 3 Syracuse
Nov. 10 at Temple
Nov. 17 Rutgers
Nov. 23 USF
Dec. 1 at Connecticut

* Things get started in odd fashion for Cincinnati. The Bearcats start the year with a bye week (never a good thing) before opening the year against conference contender Pittsburgh on a Thursday night. To top it off, Cincy gets its second bye week out of the way by Week 4 of the season. This gives Butch Jones 10 straight weeks of football — all starting with a visit from ACC frontrunner Virginia Tech.

* Of the four other top conference contenders, Cincinnati plays only Louisville on the road. The Bearcats get USF, Pittsburgh and Rutgers at home this fall. In fact, Jones’ squad will only leave the confines of Nippert Stadium four times and will leave the state of Ohio only three times all season.

* If it expects to compete for a Big East title, Cincinnati will have to get work done early. It will face Pitt and Louisville in the first two conference games of the year. Syracuse, Temple and Connecticut — and two home games against USF and Rutgers — are the final five games of the season. An 0-2 start in league play could seal the Bearcats fate.


Aug. 30 UMass
Sept. 8 NC State
Sept. 15 at Maryland
Sept. 22 at Western Michigan
Sept. 29 Buffalo
Oct. 6 at Rutgers
Oct. 13 Temple
Oct. 19 at Syracuse
Oct. 27 Bye Week
Nov. 3 at USF
Nov. 9 Pittsburgh
Nov. 17 Bye Week
Nov. 24 at Louisville
Nov. 29 Cincinnati

* Connecticut will play one of the more interesting non-conference slates in the Big East this fall. Buffalo and UMass likely won’t present much of a challenge but Western Michigan was a bowl team and NC State is coming off a bowl win and first-weekend game against Tennessee — which will have them riding high or very angry in Week 2…

* However, the non-conference game with the most appeal is clearly a trip to Maryland to face former head coach Randy Edsall. Connecticut certainly won’t be overlooked by the man who built the Husky program and is in hot water in College Park.

* The bye weeks seem to be “interestingly” placed for the Huskies. This is a team that plays one of the tougher non-conference slates in the league, so getting two bye weeks in a four-week span after playing on eight straight weekends to start doesn’t seem right. An early bye week would have helped this team more.

* That said, the good news is the off-weekends come within the heart of the conference slate against top Big East contenders Pittsburgh, Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati.

* Connecticut will play three games on days other than Saturday. The Huskies will open the season on a Thursday night and has two Friday night contests late in the year (at Syracuse, Pittsburgh at home).


Sept. 1 Kentucky
Sept. 8 Missouri State
Sept. 15 North Carolina
Sept. 22 at FIU
Sept. 29 at Southern Miss
Oct. 6 Bye Week
Oct. 13 at Pittsburgh
Oct. 20 South Florida
Oct. 26 Cincinnati
Nov. 3 Temple
Nov. 10 at Syracuse
Nov. 17 Bye Week
Nov. 24 Connecticut
Nov. 29 at Rutgers

* The Cardinals snapped a four-game losing streak to in-state rival Kentucky last season and will host the Wildcats in the season opener for 2012. The Cardinals have not defeated Kentucky in Louisville since 2006. However, all of the momentum is with Charlie Strong’s program after the Wildcats finished 5-7 last year.

* Louisville and North Carolina will match up for the second consecutive season. These two teams met in Chapel Hill last year, with the Tar Heels winning 14-7. The all-time series between Louisville and North Carolina is tied at three.

* You can bet revenge is on the mind of Louisville on Sept. 22. The Cardinals lost to FIU last season and won’t overlook the Golden Panthers this year. Although FIU must replace receiver T.Y. Hilton, this team will still be picked near the top of the Sun Belt and won’t be an easy out in their home stadium.

* A road trip to Southern Miss won’t be easy, but the Golden Eagles lost some of the key pieces from last season’s 12-2 team. Louisville has played Southern Miss two out of the last three years, and the Cardinals have a five-game winning streak over the Golden Eagles.

* If there’s an under-the-radar Big East game to keep an eye on, it’s the Oct. 13 date at Pittsburgh. The Panthers have a new coaching staff and some personnel questions, but this team could be a sleeper to finish among the top three in the conference. The Cardinals need to get off to a good start in Big East play, but a road date at Pittsburgh won’t be easy. Making matters even more difficult – Louisville has a four-game losing streak to the Panthers.

* Winning the Big East title is priority No. 1 for coach Charlie Strong, but the Cardinals are also hungry to snap a four-game losing streak to rival Cincinnati. The Cardinals host the Bearcats this season, and with the personnel losses for Cincinnati, this should be the year that streak ends.

* Louisville will have four conference home games and three on the road.

* The Big East usually schedules its expected top teams to meet in the season finale and 2012 is no different. Louisville will travel to Rutgers in a Thursday night showdown for a game that could decide the Big East crown. The Scarlet Knights lost coach Greg Schiano, but will remain one of the top teams in the conference. The Cardinals have won two in a row over the Scarlet Knights.


Sept. 1 Youngstown State
Sept. 6 at Cincinnati
Sept. 15 Virginia Tech
Sept. 22 Gardner-Webb
Oct. 5 at Syracuse
Oct. 13 Louisville
Oct. 20 at Buffalo
Oct. 27 Temple
Nov. 3 at Notre Dame
Nov. 9 at Connecticut
Nov. 17 Bye Week
Nov. 24 Rutgers
Dec. 1 at South Florida

* The Panthers will play two FCS teams, which means Pittsburgh will need seven wins to get bowl eligible in 2012.

* The Sept. 15 date between Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh will be the first meeting between these schools since 2003. The Panthers have won three in a row over the Hokies, including the last two in Pittsburgh.

* Although Pittsburgh takes on Big East preseason favorite Louisville in early October, the Panthers’ position in the final standings could largely be shaped by the final two weeks of the season. Pittsburgh takes on Rutgers on Nov. 24 and South Florida on Dec. 1 – both teams expected to push Louisville for the top spot in the Big East.

* Future ACC. Syracuse and Pittsburgh will likely meet for the final time as Big East members on Oct. 5. Although the Big East has previously mentioned it would hold the teams to the 27-month exit agreement, all signs point to the Orange and Panthers joining the ACC in time for the 2013 season.

* Pittsburgh and Notre Dame have met for each of the last four seasons, with each team winning two matchups. Can the Panthers go into South Bend and get a victory? If Pittsburgh can’t knock off Virginia Tech on Sept. 15, this would be its best opportunity to score a marquee non-conference victory.

* As mentioned previously, Pittsburgh’s game with South Florida should be one of the conference’s key games for 2012. However, the Panthers have won four in a row over the Bulls, but the last two games in Tampa have been decided by seven points (2010) and five in 2008. 


Sept. 1 at Tulane
Sept. 8 Howard
Sept. 15 at USF (date subject to change)
Sept. 22 at Arkansas
Sept. 29 Bye Week
Oct. 6 Connecticut
Oct. 13 Syracuse
Oct. 20 at Temple
Oct. 27 Kent State
Nov. 3 Bye Week
Nov. 10 Army
Nov. 17 at Cincinnati
Nov. 24 at Pittsburgh
Nov. 29 Louisville

* The most glaring aspect of the Scarlet Knights’ schedule is the final three weekends of the year. New coach Kyle Flood can point to back-to-back road games against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh before the season finale at home against Louisville as the defining stretch of action for his squad. It makes the early season game against USF that much more important…

* If the USF games stays put in Week 3, a key domino in the Big East title hunt will topple nearly as early as the Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game (Week 2). Other than an impossible trip to Fayetteville to face SEC contender Arkansas, every other game before November 17 is winnable…

* This is due in part to a weak non-conference slate that features Tulane, Howard, Kent State and Army. When mixed with home games against Connecticut and Syracuse as well as a road trip to Temple, the Knights could be looking at a 8-1 start if they can somehow go down to Tampa and win — a place the Knights have won two out of three all-time. USF is 2-5 all-time against Rutgers.

* The Knights will play six road games in 2012.

South Florida

Sept. 1 Chattanooga
Sept. 8 at Nevada
Sept. 15 Rutgers (date subject to change)
Sept. 22 at Ball State
Sept. 29 Florida State
Oct. 6 at Temple
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 at Louisville
Oct. 27 Syracuse
Nov. 3 Connecticut
Nov. 10 Bye Week
Nov. 17 at Miami, Fla.
Nov. 23 at Cincinnati
Dec. 1 Pittsburgh

* South Florida wins the marquee match-up award from its schedule makers. With the possible exception of Virginia Tech’s early visit to Pitt, there are few other key non-conference games for this league to prove itself. Arkansas will crush Rutgers, Syracuse will not challenge USC or Missouri, NC State will handle UConn with ease and Temple won’t play Penn State as tough in Happy Valley as it did last season in Philadelphia. The Bulls’ schedule features games against in-state rival Miami on the road (a place USF won in 2010) and Florida State at home, as well as an early road trip to Nevada. USF might have the best shot at a Big East defining non-conference win.

* Three road trips — Miami, Ball State, Nevada — and a visit from Florida State gives USF one of the tougher non-conference slates in this league.

* The bye weeks fall at perfect locations — the week before visiting Louisville on October 20 and the week before visiting Miami on November 17. These two games are “resume-building” wins for a team that hopes to contend for a conference title in 2012. Getting an extra week of preparation for those two marquee showdowns could prove large.

* The season finale, a visit from Pittsburgh, won’t ever be able to replace the Backyard Brawl (let’s get on that, Athletic Directors), but it might be a defacto conference title game. In that same week (Thursday), Louisville will visit Rutgers and both teams could know exactly what is at stake when they match-up in the New Sombrero — a BCS bowl bid.


Sept. 1 Northwestern
Sept. 8 USC (East Rutherford)
Sept. 15 Stony Brook
Sept. 22 at Minnesota
Sept. 29 Bye Week
Oct. 5 Pittsburgh
Oct. 13 at Rutgers
Oct. 19 Connecticut
Oct. 27 at South Florida
Nov. 3 at Cincinnati
Nov. 10 Louisville
Nov. 17 at Missouri
Nov. 23 at Temple

* For a team that will likely be fighting for bowl eligibility, the Orange has a rather tricky non-conference slate. Northwestern won’t be an easy out in the opener, although Syracuse knocked off the Wildcats 37-34 in the Carrier Dome in 2009. After taking on Northwestern in the opener, the Orange will play a neutral site affair against USC – arguably the No. 1 team in the nation. A date against Stony Brook should provide a victory, but a road date at Minnesota and against Missouri in November are two huge swing games for this team.

* Syracuse’s matchup with Temple is its first since a 34-24 loss to the Owls in 2004.

* Although the Big East previously stated its intentions to hold Syracuse and Pittsburgh in the Big East until 2013, there’s a good chance both teams depart after this season.

* In addition to Syracuse’s difficult non-conference slate, it has four Big East road games and only three at home in conference play. Considering the Orange will likely be fighting for a finish in the middle tier of the Big East, road games at Rutgers, South Florida and Cincinnati will be difficult challenge for this team as it tries to get bowl eligible.


Aug. 31 Villanova
Sept. 8 Maryland
Sept. 15 Bye Week
Sept. 22 at Penn State
Sept. 29 Bye Week
Oct. 6 South Florida
Oct. 13 at Connecticut
Oct. 20 Rutgers
Oct. 27 at Pittsburgh
Nov. 3 at Louisville
Nov. 10 Cincinnati
Nov. 17 at Army
Nov. 23 Syracuse

* For the third consecutive season, the Owls will open with rival Villanova in the battle for the Mayor’s Cup. Temple has won two in a row over Villanova, including a blowout 42-7 victory last season.

* Week 2 should be a good barometer test for Temple and Maryland. The Owls dominated the Terrapins 38-7 in College Park last season, but Temple loses a handful of key players from that team. Maryland expects to be better in Randy Edsall’s second year, but this is a very winnable game for Temple.

* The biggest challenge in the non-conference slate is clearly the Sept. 22 date at Penn State. The Owls nearly defeated the Nittany Lions last season (14-10), but have to try to pull off the upset on the road this time.

* Temple has only 11 games scheduled and may not play a 12th game in 2012.

* The Oct. 6 date against South Florida will be Temple’s return to the Big East. The Owls were a member of the Big East from 1991-2004, but were booted from the conference due to low fan support and struggling to be competitive.

* The Owls get four conference home games and three on the road.

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<p> Athlon breaks down the schedules for the 2012 Big East season.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 08:23
Path: /news/virginia-tech-hokies-2012-spring-preview

— By Mark Ross

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

Virginia Tech Hokies 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 11-3, 7-1 ACC

Spring practice: March 28-April 21

Returning Starters: Offense – 3, Defense – 8

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Logan Thomas: 234 of 391, 3,013 yards, 19 TDs, 10 INTs
Rushing: Logan Thomas: 153 car., 469 yds., 11 TDs
Receiving: D.J. Coles: 36 rec., 480 yds., 3 TDs
Tackles: Antone Exum, 89
Sacks: James Gayle, 7
Interceptions: Tariq Edwards and Kyle Fuller, 2

Redshirts to watch: DT Kris Harley, LB Griffin Hite, RB Michael Holmes, WR Demitri Knowles, DE Dadi Nicholas, TE Darius Redman, DE Matt Roth, DE Justin Taylor

Early Enrollees: DE Dewayne Alford, RB J.C. Coleman, DB Donaldven Manning

2012 Schedule

Sept. 3 Georgia Tech
Sept. 8 Austin Peay
Sept. 15 at Pittsburgh
Sept. 22 Bowling Green
Sept. 29 vs. Cincinnati (Landover, Md.)
Oct. 6 at North Carolina
Oct. 13 Duke
Oct. 20 at Clemson
Nov. 1 at Miami
Nov. 8 Florida State
Nov. 17 at Boston College
Nov. 24 Virginia

Offensive Strength: Logan Thomas is one of the ACC’s top Logan Thomas is one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks and is a legitimate dual threat with both his arm and legs. Virginia Tech’s offense is in good hands with Thomas, who should continue to improve entering his second season as the Hokies’ starting quarterback.

Offensive Weakness: The offense returns just three starters and Virginia Tech faces the daunting task of replacing running back David Wilson, the ACC Player and Offensive Player of the Year in 2011. The offensive line must be rebuilt as well with center Andrew Miller the only starter returning. The returning wide receivers also must take the next step in their development to help Thomas and the passing game.

Defensive Strength: Virginia Tech returns eight starters from a unit that finished second in the ACC and top 10 in the nation in both total and scoring defense last season. The defensive line is fairly deep and the linebacking corps will get back its leader, Bruce Taylor, who missed the final six games of the 2011 season because of a foot injury. The Hokies also have two of the ACC’s top defensive backs in Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller.

Defensive Weakness: Although Taylor returns to bolster the linebacking corps, the unit is relatively young and will be without Tariq Edwards this spring. Edwards, who was the team’s third-leading tackler in 2011, will be out the next four months as he recovers from leg surgery. Outside of Exum and Fuller, the secondary is inexperienced and will be a focus of the coaching staff during spring practice.

Spring Storylines Facing the Hokies

1. All David Wilson did last season was rush for a school-record 1,709 yards, accounting for 65 percent of the ACC’s second-best rushing attack all by his lonesome. With Wilson off to the NFL, the opportunity is there for someone to take advantage of the opportunity and become the next in a long line of productive Virginia Tech running backs. The question is who? Daniel Dyer and Tony Gregory are the returning running backs with the most experience, but they combined for a grand total of 57 yards last season. Thomas is the team’s leading returning rusher, but the quarterback can’t expected to do it all, so the Hokies are really hoping someone stands out during spring practice. That someone could be either redshirt freshman Michael Holmes or early enrollee J.C. Coleman.

2. Virginia Tech’s offensive line was one of the best in the ACC last season, as it gave up the second-fewest sacks per game in the conference and ranked 22nd in the nation. Four starters, including three who received All-ACC recognition, are gone with center Andrew Miller the lone returning starter. It’s no secret that the Hokies have big shoes to fill when it comes to replacing the departed Wilson in their backfield, but the work the coaching staff will need to do along the offensive line should not go unnoticed. The good news is it appears the staff does have some potential building blocks to work with including senior Nick Becton, junior David Wang and Georgia transfer Brent Benedict. If Virginia Tech is unable to find the right mix along the offensive line, it may not matter if a new running back emerges or not.

3. Virginia Tech returns eight starters on defense, which is good, but some of those starters will be acclimating themselves to new positions this spring and depth will be a point of emphasis at linebacker and in the secondary. The return of Bruce Taylor to lead the linebacking corps is huge, but the loss of Tariq Edwards to injury and the dismissal of Telvion Clark are the latest blows to the unit’s depth and experience. In the secondary, cornerbacks Exum and Fuller should contend for all-conference and maybe even some All-America honors, but the makeup of the rest of the unit is unknown at this point. Sophomores Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett will get first crack at earning the starting safety jobs and will need to make the most of their opportunities this spring. The secondary is one of the key components to defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s schemes and game plans, as evidenced by the number of former Hokie defensive backs who went on to play in the NFL.

4. With the uncertainty at both running back and offensive line, the success of Virginia Tech’s offense in 2012 will depend largely on Logan Thomas. One of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, Thomas will need several wide receivers to step up to replace the production of Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale. Together, the duo combined for 121 receptions, 1,665 yards and eight TDs in 2011. The talent is there in D.J. Coles and Marcus Davis, along with Dyrell Roberts, who missed most of last season with a broken arm, but they lack the experience and chemistry Thomas had with Boykin and Coale. Spring practice will be a great opportunity for the receivers and Thomas to get on the same page, as the passing game will probably play a bigger role in the Hokies’ offense in 2012 due to the questions surrounding the backfield.

5. Virginia Tech has won 10 or more games in eight straight seasons and in 11 of the last 13 overall. The Hokies have won four of the last eight ACC titles and played in five BCS bowls in that same span. Under Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech has established itself among the premiere programs in college football. The Hokies have come so far that fans have started to take the team’s year-in year-out success for granted and raised the level of their expectations. Anything short of a spot in the ACC Championship game and a BCS bowl bid is labeled a disappointment. Even though Beamer and his coaching staff are having to replace eight starters on offense, including the ACC’s top player in 2011 and rebuild one of the conference’s best offensive lines, the fans’ expectations for 2012 remain the same. Championships may not be won or lost during the spring, but these next three weeks will be critical to laying the groundwork for the fall. After all, “rebuilding” is not a word Virginia Tech fans are used to hearing.

Related College Football Content

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<p> Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas will be the focal point of a offense that must replace eight starters in hopes of running the Hokies' streak of consecutive 10-win seasons to nine in 2012.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 08:13
Path: /college-football/tennessee-volunteers-2012-spring-preview

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on Twitter)

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

Tennessee Volunteers 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 5-7, 1-7 SEC

Spring Practice: March 26-April 21

Returning Starters: Offense – 9, Defense – 8

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Tyler Bray, 147-of-247, 1,983 yards, 17 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: Marlin Lane, 75 att., 280 yards, 2 TD
Receiving: Da'Rick Rogers, 67 rec., 1,040 yards, 9 TD
Tackles: A.J. Johnson, 80
Sacks: Prentiss Waggner, 2
Interceptions: Prentiss Waggner and Eric Gordon, 2

Redshirts to Watch: OL Alan Posey, OL Mack Crowder, S Geraldo Orta

Early Enrollees:

Cody Blanc, ATH (6-1, 200), Knoxville (Tenn.) Central
Alden Hill, RB (5-11, 180), Alliance (Ohio) Marlington
Justin Meredith, TE (6-5, 225), Anderson (S.C.) T.L. Hanna
Nathan Peterman, QB (6-3, 210), Fruit Cove (Fla.) Bartram Trail
Darrington Sentimore, DL (6-2, 273), Norco (La.) Destrehan (Gulf Coast C.C.)
Trent Taylor, DL (6-2, 271), Lakeland (Fla.) Lake Gibson
Tino Thomas, DB (5-11, 195), Memphis (Tenn.) Melrose

2012 Schedule

SEC 2012 Schedule Analysis

Aug. 31 NC State
Sept. 8 Georgia State
Sept. 15 Florida
Sept. 22 Akron
Sept. 29 at Georgia
Oct. 6 Bye Week
Oct. 13 at Mississippi State
Oct. 20 Alabama
Oct. 27 at South Carolina
Nov. 3 Troy
Nov. 10 Missouri
Nov. 17 at Vanderbilt
Nov. 24 Kentucky

Offensive Strength: The passing game. Quarterback Tyler Bray and wideouts Da'Rick Rogers (maybe) and Justin Hunter form one of the most talented QB-WR combos in the nation. Toss in an elite recruiting class at wideout and tight end Mychal Rivera and the Vols boast one of the best passing attacks in the country.

Offensive Weakness: Everything else. The running game was seriously lacking last fall and will once again be an area of concern for the Big Orange faithful. Finding a feature back and linemen who can create holes will be the top priority for offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.

Defensive Strength: The secondary. At least, the depth and experience in the defensive backfield. Veteran Prentiss Waggner is on the move from safety to corner. The top ten DBs from a year ago return to Knoxville.

Defensive Weakness: The linebackers, and more specifically, the pass rush are a major concern. New coordinator Sal Sunseri will be installing a new 3-4 scheme and needs to find playmakers to fill the starting linebacker positions.

Spring Storylines Facing the Volunteers:

1. Dealing with the Dooley drama. Head coach Derek Dooley is squarely on the hot seat after two losing seasons in Knoxville. He dealt admirably with a massive coaching exodus (more on this in a moment) by rebuilding his staff with quality coaches. And for the first time in years, this program returns a deep, talented and experienced roster. The expectation to win has to weigh heavy on not just Dooley but every member of the Vols program. The circus surrounding his tenure isn't going to slow anytime soon, so the quicker he can answer questions the better his team will be. 

2. Stabilizing and integrating seven new coaches into the program. With 19 starters back, it will be the coaching staff that needs to get acclimated, not the players. Chaney is still in place as the OC, but new running backs coach Jay Graham and offensive line coach Sam Pittman will have their hands full trying to restablish the dormant Big Orange rushing attack. There is plenty of talent to work with on that side of the ball, however, and the quarterback position is stable. With the implementation of the new 3-4 scheme, it is the defensive coaching staff that has the most work to do this spring. New DC Sal Sunseri brings an extraodinary track record with him to Knoxville in terms of developing linebackers — something that could be the difference between a bowl game and sitting at home this winter (and an employment check for everyone). Additionally, Sunseri and defensive line coach John Palermo will need to develop a scheme that can somehow put pressure on opposing quarterbacks (Tennessee finished 11th in the SEC in sacks, 100th nationally).

3. All of the above issues would be helped with much-needed growth and maturity from team leaders like Bray. Dooley and Sunseri can lead the horse to water, but it is up to the horse to actually drink. Names like Bray need take it upon themselves to prove that they can make others around them better by leading by example. The Corey Millers (currently dealing with academic issues) and Jacques Smiths need to live up to the massive recruiting hype and develop into every down performers. The last two seasons featured so much youth and inexperience, that mental mistakes — both on and off the field — were almost expected. This will not be the case in 2012 and it should not just be the coaching staff holding the team accountable — it needs to be the players. The star quarterback even admitted as much in his first media session of the spring, "Last year I wasn't the smartest guy. Kind of dumb. This year I'm trying to get my act together and trying to get this team where it needs to be."

4. Settling on a linebacker rotation and getting pressure on the quarterback is the top priority for Sunseri and Palmero. Smith seems to possess a perfect skillset for the Jack Back position, but will be pushed by Willie Bohannon. Youngsters A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt had quality first seasons, but have to adjust to the new scheme. Maggitt might be one of the biggest hitters in the SEC and is apparently loving his shift inside to the Mike position. His recognition skills now need to catch-up with his physical ability. He will be pushed by the contact-craved Herman Lathers, who returns after sitting out an entire year from a severe ankle injury. Former strong safety Brent Brewer, who tore his ACL in November, is gaining weight in order to play backer and also feels more comfortable because of it. Former fullback Channing Fugate might be making the biggest adjustment after being shifted to weakside linebacker. This was a thin position coming into spring and the shift to a 3-4 only puts added pressure on the depth chart. There are some nice pieces to this puzzle but Sunseri must implement a new system with players at new positions without wearing out his first stringers.

5. Helping the backers will be the new three-man front line. Maurice Couch needs to play the way he appears to be capable of more consistently on the interior. He has the ability to stabilize the front and allow for names like Miller, Marlon Walls and Daniel Hood to develop. Organizing this group will go a long way in helping to stabilize the totally reworked linebacker rotation. Junior college transfer — and former Crimson Tider in his own right — Darrington Sentimore might be the most intriguing new piece to the puzzle to watch this spring.

6. Dooley wants a feature back. There is only one issue - he may not have one on the roster. Marlin Lane is the leading returning rusher and might be the most talented, but is generously listed at 6-0, 205 pounds. He will most certainly split time with more physical Raijon Neal. Look also for diminutive sophomore Devrin Young (5-8, 171) to also get plenty of chances as well. Graham and Dooley know that 90.1 yards per game — where the Vols finished 2011, good for 12th in the SEC — is completely unacceptable in Knoxville. With another year of growth, an offensive line that has collectively become an upperclass unit together must develop into a strength for this team.

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<p> Tennessee Volunteers 2012 Spring Preview</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 08:01