Articles By Steven Lassan

Path: /college-football/2012-acc-football-schedules
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Click here to read more ACC coverage by AthlonSports.com

Boston College

Sept. 1 Miami
Sept. 8 Maine
Sept. 15 at Northwestern
Sept. 22 Bye Week 
Sept. 29 Clemson
Oct. 6 at Army
Oct. 13 at Florida State
Oct. 20 at Georgia Tech
Oct. 27 Maryland
Nov. 3 at Wake Forest
Nov. 10 Notre Dame
Nov. 17 Virginia Tech
Nov. 24 at NC State

Clemson

Sept. 1 Auburn (Atlanta)
Sept. 8 Ball State
Sept. 15 Furman
Sept. 22 at Florida State
Sept. 29 at Boston College
Oct. 6 Georgia Tech
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 Virginia Tech
Oct. 25 at Wake Forest
Nov. 3 at Duke
Nov. 10 Maryland
Nov. 17 NC State
Nov. 24 South Carolina

Duke 

Sept. 1 Florida International
Sept. 8 at Stanford
Sept. 15 North Carolina Central
Sept. 22 Memphis
Sept. 29 at Wake Forest
Oct. 6 Virginia
Oct. 13 at Virginia Tech
Oct. 20 North Carolina
Oct. 27 at Florida State
Nov. 3 Clemson
Nov. 10 Bye Week
Nov. 17 at Georgia Tech
Nov. 24 Miami

Florida State

Sept. 1 Murray State
Sept. 8 Savannah State
Sept. 15 Wake Forest
Sept. 22 Clemson
Sept. 29 at South Florida
Oct. 6 at NC State
Oct. 13 Boston College
Oct. 20 at Miami
Oct. 27 Duke
Nov. 3 Bye Week
Nov. 8 at Virginia Tech
Nov. 17 at Maryland
Nov. 24 Florida

Georgia Tech

Sept. 3 at Virginia Tech (Labor Day)
Sept. 8 Presbyterian
Sept. 15 Virginia
Sept. 22 Miami
Sept. 29 Middle Tennessee
Oct. 6 at Clemson
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 Boston College
Oct. 27 BYU
Nov. 3 at Maryland
Nov. 10 at North Carolina
Nov. 17 Duke
Nov. 24 at Georgia

Maryland

Sept. 1 William & Mary
Sept. 8 at Temple
Sept. 15 Connecticut
Sept. 22 at West Virginia
Sept. 29 Bye Week
Oct. 6 Wake Forest
Oct. 13 at Virginia
Oct. 20 NC State
Oct. 27 at Boston College
Nov. 3 Georgia Tech
Nov. 10 at Clemson
Nov. 17 Florida State
Nov. 24 at North Carolina

Miami

Sept. 1 at Boston College
Sept. 8 at Kansas State
Sept. 15 Bethune-Cookman
Sept. 22 at Georgia Tech
Sept. 29 NC State
Oct. 6 at Notre Dame (Solider Field, Chicago, Ill.)
Oct. 13 North Carolina
Oct. 20 Florida State
Oct. 27 Bye Week
Nov. 1 Virginia Tech
Nov. 10 at Virginia
Nov. 17 South Florida
Nov. 24 at Duke

NC State

Aug. 31 Tennessee (Atlanta)
Sept. 8 at Connecticut
Sept. 15 South Alabama
Sept. 22 The Citadel
Sept. 29 at Miami
Oct. 6 Florida State
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 at Maryland
Oct. 27 at North Carolina
Nov. 3 Virginia
Nov. 10 Wake Forest
Nov. 17 at Clemson
Nov. 24 Boston College

North Carolina

Sept. 1 Elon
Sept. 8 at Wake Forest
Sept. 15 at Louisville
Sept. 22 East Carolina
Sept. 29 Idaho
Oct. 6 Virginia Tech
Oct. 13 at Miami
Oct. 20 at Duke
Oct. 27 NC State
Nov. 3 Bye Week
Nov. 10 Georgia Tech
Nov. 15 at Virginia (Thur.)
Nov. 24 Maryland

Virginia Cavaliers

Sept. 1 Richmond
Sept. 8 Penn State
Sept. 15 at Georgia Tech
Sept. 22 at TCU
Sept. 29 Louisiana Tech
Oct. 6 at Duke
Oct. 13 Maryland
Oct. 20 Wake Forest
Oct. 27 Bye Week
Nov. 3 at NC State
Nov. 10 Miami
Nov. 15 North Carolina
Nov. 24 at Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech

Sept. 3 Georgia Tech (Labor Day)
Sept. 8 Austin Peay
Sept. 15 at Pittsburgh
Sept. 22 Bowling Green
Sept. 29 Cincinnati (Landover)
Oct. 6 at North Carolina
Oct. 13 Duke
Oct. 20 at Clemson
Oct. 27 Bye Week
Nov. 1 at Miami
Nov. 8 Florida State
Nov. 17 at Boston College
Nov. 24 Virginia

Wake Forest

Sept. 1 Liberty
Sept. 8 North Carolina
Sept. 15 at Florida State
Sept. 22 Army
Sept. 29 Duke
Oct. 6 at Maryland
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 at Virginia
Oct. 25 Clemson
Nov. 3 Boston College
Nov. 10 at NC State
Nov. 17 at Notre Dame
Nov. 24 Vanderbilt

Teaser:
<p> 2012 ACC football schedules.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 27, 2012 - 10:03
Path: /college-football/stanford-cardinal-2012-spring-preview
Body:

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. 

Stanford Cardinal 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 11-2, 8-1 Pac-12

Spring practice: Feb. 27-April 14

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 7

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Brett Nottingham, 5 of 8, 78 yds., 1 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Stepfan Taylor, 242 car., 1,330 yds., 10 TDs
Receiving: Ryan Hewitt, 34 rec., 282 yds., 5 TDs
Tackles: Jarek Lancaster, 70
Sacks: Chase Thomas, 8.5
Interceptions: Three players tied with 1

Redshirts to watch: QB Evan Crower, QB Kevin Hogan, DE Charlie Hopkins, S Wayne Lyons, OT Brendon Austin

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 San Jose State
Sept. 8 Duke
Sept. 15 USC
Sept. 27 at Washington
Oct. 6 Arizona
Oct. 13 at Notre Dame
Oct. 20 at California
Oct. 27 Washington State
Nov. 3 at Colorado
Nov. 10 Oregon State
Nov. 17 at Oregon
Nov. 24 at UCLA

Offensive Strength: Stanford will certainly miss Andrew Luck, but there’s plenty of reasons for optimism that this team can stay in the Pac-12 North race. The Cardinal should have one of the top running back corps in the nation, led by Stepfan Taylor, Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney. Losing tackle Jonathan Martin and guard David DeCastro was a huge blow, but three starters are back up front.

Offensive Weakness: Obviously, it will be nearly impossible for Stanford to replace Andrew Luck’s production and leadership at quarterback. Brett Nottingham is the expected successor, but he will be pushed in spring practice by a handful of candidates. In addition to breaking in a new quarterback, the Cardinal desperately need to find some playmakers at receiver.

Defensive Strength: While the offense gained all of the accolades last year, the defense was quietly solid. Stanford finished fourth nationally in run defense and ranked second in the Pac-12 in points allowed. The linebacking corps will be among the best in college football, while the line can build around All-Pac-12 end Ben Gardner.

Defensive Weakness: The biggest question mark on the defense last season was the secondary. The Cardinal ranked 95th nationally against the pass and three starters must be replaced going into 2012, including first-team All-Pac-12 safety Delano Howell.

Spring Storylines Facing the Cardinal:

1. With 13 starters returning, don’t expect Stanford to fall completely off the national radar. Sure, replacing Andrew Luck is going to be a difficult task, but coach David Shaw has done a good job of recruiting and there’s enough talent in place to expect at least eight wins in 2012. Repeating a berth in a BCS bowl is unlikely, but Stanford isn’t about to slip back into Pac-12 mediocrity. The bigger question for Shaw and this coaching staff will be 2013 and beyond. Stanford football is riding a wave of momentum - can they keep that going?

2. There’s no question all eyes will be on the quarterbacks this spring. Brett Nottingham is the early leader to replace Andrew Luck after completing 5 of 8 throws for 78 yards and one score last year. The sophomore has the size (6-foot-4) and skill set to be a solid player for Stanford over the next couple of years. He ranked as one of the top quarterbacks coming out of high school and showed solid poise in limited action last season. Nottingham will be pushed by redshirt freshmen Evan Crower and Kevin Hogan, along with upperclassmen Robbie Picazo and Josh Nunes. The coaching staff wants this to be an open competition, but the odds are heavily in favor of Nottingham ending the spring as the No. 1 quarterback.

3. Whichever quarterback takes the first snap in 2012, they will have the benefit of working with a solid supporting cast. Running back Stepfan Taylor should challenge for All-American honors this year, while David Yankey, Sam Schwartztein and Cameron Fleming is a good trio to build around on the offensive line. Tight ends Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz are both capable of leading the team in receptions this year. The bad news? Stanford lacks playmakers at receiver and will miss Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro on the offensive line. Although there are some significant losses, the cupboard is far from bare for the new quarterback (likely Nottingham) this year.

4. Last season’s co-defensive coordinator Jason Tarver left to go to the NFL, but fellow co-coordinator Derek Mason is back, which means the defense won’t see too many changes in 2012. Mason will have seven starters to work with, including the return of linebacker Shayne Skov from an injury that forced him to miss nine games. Skov is facing a suspension from an off-the-field incident, but his return will only strengthen a solid linebacking corps. Mason’s biggest focus this spring will be finding some answers in the secondary. Safeties Michael Thomas and Delano Howell and cornerback Johnson Bademosi have finished their eligibility. Cornerback Terrence Brown collected 43 stops last year and will be the new leader in the secondary. Jordan Richards had a solid freshman year as he picked up 31 tackles, but overall, this group needs more speed and athleticism.

Related Content Links

2012 Very Early Pac-12 Predictions
Athlon's Very Early Top 25 for 2012

2012 Recruiting Rankings: No. 7 Stanford

College Football's Top 10 Spring Storylines for 2012

Teaser:
<p> Even though Andrew Luck is gone, Stanford should still be in good shape to contend for at least eight wins in 2012.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 27, 2012 - 06:59
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/missouri-kansas-highlights-big-weekend-college-basketball
Body:

by Jordan Coleman

With March Madness right around the corner, everyone can’t help but speculate about the 2012 NCAA tournament. Everyone wants to know who’s in, who’s slipped off the bubble, and who held onto the reigns tight enough to earn a #1 seed. For some teams playing this weekend, these last few games serve as a way to handle unfinished business just before the big dance. Here are just a few match-ups you won’t want to miss this weekend:

Vanderbilt at Kentucky – After a disappointing 69-63 loss on Feb. 11, Vanderbilt will have another shot at the nation’s leading contender, the Kentucky Wildcats, this Saturday. When these teams matched up earlier this year, Calipari told reporters that Stallings’ Commodores were the first team in conference play to challenge his squad. “They went nutty,” he said when asked to describe Vanderbilt’s hellacious comeback in the second half.  While the Dores’ ‘nutty’ performance wasn’t enough to top the Cats at Memorial, the Commodores will seek to avenge their loss. The Cats have not lost at home all year, but the Dores have the veterans and experience to give them a run for their money.

Missouri at Kansas – Kansas will have one last crack at the Missouri Tigers on their domain before the conference shift. As this conference rivalry comes to a close, it seems that these teams are not only playing for final bragging rights. Because both teams make up the upper echelon of the Big 12 standings, the rivals will also battle for pivotal positioning for post-season play. For Kansas, the win against Mizzou would mean ideal positioning for the conference tourney, and very possibly, NCAA play as well. As for Missouri, after a substandard loss to Kansas State earlier this week, another blemish on their resume could more than likely cost the Tigers a  No. 1 seed in the tournament.  Needless to say, with much at stake for both teams; as well as, the mutual disgust between these programs infers that fans are in for a 40-minute brawl this Saturday.  

Syracuse at Connecticut – As Syracuse barrels through conference play, it seems like no team in the Big East (besides Notre Dame, apparently) has the ability to derail their success. And at first glance at their match-up versus Connecticut, a majority of people wouldn’t associate the competiveness of this game with the two mentioned above. And with good reason because Connecticut has lost 9 of its last 14 games. And while the Huskies seems to be well on their way to achieving a .500 conference record similar to that of their 2010-2011 season, analysts are still hesitant to deem the Huskies as “out for the count.” Given that Kemba Walker led Connecticut’s 2010-2011 team to a national championship after finishing conference play 9-9, basketball experts argue that the Huskies’ talented squad (without Kemba) still has the ability to turn their game on any day now in order to resemble the national contenders they were 11 months ago. With the game being played on the Huskies’ hardwood, I’d say this would be a perfect opportunity for Connecticut to finally turn it on.

Teaser:
<p> Missouri at Kansas Highlights A Big Weekend of College Basketball</p>
Post date: Friday, February 24, 2012 - 16:28
Path: /college-football/tcu-horned-frogs-2012-spring-preview
Body:

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. 

TCU Horned Frogs 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 11-2, 7-0 MW

Spring practice: Feb. 25-April 5

Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 5

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Casey Pachall, 228 of 343, 2,921 yds., 25 TDs, 7 INTs
Rushing: Waymon James, 121 car., 875 yds., 6 TDs
Receiving: Josh Boyce, 61 rec., 998 yds., 9 TDs
Tackles: Kenny Cain, 72 tackles
Sacks: Stansly Maponga, 9
Interceptions: Two players tied with 1

Redshirts to watch: WR LaDarius Brown, OG Jamelle Naff, WR David Bush, OT Carter Wall, LB Laderice Sanders, OG Brady Foltz, S Jamie Byrd

JUCO Transfer to watch: CB Keivon Gamble

Early Enrollees: QB Tyler Matthews, CB Keivon Gamble, ATH Kolby Listenbee, RB B.J. Catalon

2012 Schedule

Sept. 8 Grambling
Sept. 15 at Kansas
Sept. 22 Virginia
Sept. 29 at SMU
Oct. 6 Iowa State
Oct. 13 at Baylor
Oct. 20 Texas Tech
Oct. 27 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 3 at West Virginia
Nov. 10 Kansas State
Nov. 17 at Texas
Dec. 1 Oklahoma

Offensive Strength: Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for the Horned Frogs in 2012. Quarterback Casey Pachall is back after a terrific sophomore year, throwing for 2,921 yards and 25 touchdowns. Pachall has plenty of support around him, as TCU returns three running backs with at least 700 yards last year and dynamic playmakers at receiver in Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson.

Offensive Weakness: While the Horned Frogs have plenty of skill players and quarterback Casey Pachall returning, only two starters are back on the offensive line. Guard Blaize Foltz and center James Fry are back to anchor the line, but both tackles and All-Mountain West guard Kyle Dooley must be replaced.

Defensive Strength: Despite the dismissal of tackle D.J. Yendrey, TCU should be solid on the defensive line. End Stansly Maponga is back after recording nine sacks and five forced fumbles last year. Ross Forrest registered 32 stops last year and should start at the other end spot. Jon Lewis and David Johnson turned in solid freshman campaigns last season and will be in charge of anchoring the middle of the line.

Defensive Weakness: Only two starters return in the back seven, and this group was hit hard in the spring when linebacker Tanner Brock and defensive back Devin Johnson were dismissed from the team. With the pass-first tendencies of most teams in the Big 12, the secondary will be under fire early and often in 2012.

Spring Storylines Facing the Horned Frogs:

1. There’s a lot of enthusiasm in Fort Worth this spring, as the Horned Frogs are on the move from the Mountain West to the Big 12. And TCU has the pieces in place to contend for the conference title in its first season in the league. The offense finished ninth nationally in scoring last year and returns five key starters. Quarterback Casey Pachall should contend for all-conference honors in 2012, while the Horned Frogs return All-Mountain West receiver Josh Boyce and three running backs with over 700 rushing yards last year. TCU has fought its way from being left out of the Big 12 in 1994 to emerging as one of the top non-BCS programs in college football. With coach Gary Patterson at the helm, the Horned Frogs are poised to make some noise in the Big 12 in 2012 and beyond.

2. Some of the energy and excitement with the move to the Big 12 was quieted with the recent drug scandal on campus, which resulted in four players being dismissed from the team. Linebacker Tanner Brock, defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey, defensive back Devin Johnson and offensive lineman Ty Horn were booted from the team after their arrest, leaving the Horned Frogs with some voids to fill. Brock was expected to be the leader in the linebacking corps, while Yendrey was TCU’s top returning defensive tackle. While this incident has been a black eye for the Horned Frogs, this shouldn’t affect the program in any long-term capacity. However, the defense will miss Brock, Yendrey and Johnson's contributions in 2012.

3. For the first time since 2007, TCU finished outside of the top 12 nationally in pass defense. The Horned Frogs’ secondary allowed 223.6 yards per game and surrendered 23 passing scores last season. TCU also picked off only 10 passes, and allowed quarterbacks to average 12.4 yards per completion. Considering quarterback play is stronger in the Big 12 than it was in the Mountain West, this group will be under fire to perform right away in 2012. Cornerback Jason Verrett earned honorable mention All-Mountain West honors last season and will be counted on for leadership in the secondary. Junior college transfer Keivon Gamble is expected to contribute right away and could earn a starting spot this spring. Tekerrein Cuba and Johnny Fobbs are both gone at safety, leaving the Horned Frogs with some work to do this spring in revamping this group.   

4. There are few question marks about the offense, but the offensive line figures to get the most attention in the preseason. Guard Blaize Foltz and center James Fry is a solid duo to build around, but three other starters must be replaced. With all of the talent TCU returns at the skill positions and under center with Casey Pachall, it’s important for this group to jell. If the line struggles, it’s fair to wonder if this offense will match last season’s average of 40.8 points a game.

5. One of the most intriguing elements of conference realignment is the adjustment period teams on the move will have with their new conference foes. TCU has recently played some of the teams in the Big 12, but the every week grind is going to be much tougher in this conference than it was in the Mountain West. The Horned Frogs have a lot of time to study their new nine conference foes and are built to contend right away. However, developing depth to handle the tougher week-to-week schedule is going to be crucial for TCU’s chances at winning the Big 12 in 2012.

Related Big 12 Content Links

Texas Spring Preview
Very Early 2012 Big 12 Predictions
2012 Big 12 Schedule Analysis

Athlon’s Early Top 25 for 2012

2012 Texas Tech Spring Preview
2012 Recruiting Rankings No. 2: Texas Longhorns

Teaser:
<p> What should be expected of the Horned Frogs as they play their first season in the Big 12?</p>
Post date: Friday, February 24, 2012 - 06:51
Path: /college-football/texas-longhorns-2012-spring-preview
Body:

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. 

Texas Longhorns 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 8-5, 4-5 Big 12

Spring practice: Feb. 23-April 1

Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 6

Returning Leaders:

Passing: David Ash, 98 of 173, 1,068 yds., 4 TDs, 8 INTs
Rushing: Malcolm Brown, 172 car., 742 yds., 5 TDs
Receiving: Mike Davis, 45 rec., 609 yds., 1 TD
Tackles: Kenny Vaccaro, 82
Sacks: Jackson Jeffcoat, 8
Interceptions: Quandre Diggs, 4

Redshirts to watch: OL Garrett Greenlea, TE M.J. McFarland

JUCO Transfers to watch: DT Brandon Moore, OL Donald Hawkins

Early Enrollees: QB Connor Brewer, LB Alex De La Torre, OL Donald Hawkins, OL Camrhon Hughes, DT Brandon Moore, CB Duke Thomas

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Wyoming
Sept. 8 New Mexico
Sept. 15 at Ole Miss
Sept. 29 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 6 West Virginia
Oct. 13 Oklahoma
Oct. 20 Baylor
Oct. 27 at Kansas
Nov. 3 at Texas Tech
Nov. 10 Iowa State
Nov. 24 TCU
Dec. 1 at Kansas State

Offensive Strength: The Longhorns ranked eighth in the Big 12 in scoring last year, but the rushing attack was a bright spot. Running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron combined for 1,205 yards and 10 scores last season, and will be joined by incoming freshman Jonathan Gray – the No. 7 overall recruit in the Athlon Consensus 100.

Offensive Weakness: Three quarterbacks received a start last year and none turned in a particularly impressive final resume. Garrett Gilbert threw for 247 yards in two games, but injured his shoulder and later transferred to SMU. David Ash and Case McCoy showed a few glimpses of promise, but finished with 12 picks and enter spring practice locked into a tight battle for the No. 1 job.

Defensive Strength: With six starters back and solid depth returning, the Longhorns should field one of the top defenses in college football in 2012. The defensive line has two potential All-Americans at end with the return of Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat. With nearly everyone returning in the secondary, Texas will be stingy against the pass next season.

Defensive Weakness: The Longhorns only have few issues on defense, but they do have to replace two stalwarts at linebacker in Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson. The interior of the line could be a concern, especially with Calvin Howell unexpectedly leaving and Kheeston Randall finishing his eligibility. There's plenty of talent at defensive tackle, but the Longhorns will have some youth stepping into a key role next year.

Spring Storylines Facing the Longhorns:

1. If Texas is to make the jump from eight wins to winning the Big 12 next year, quarterback play has to improve. The offense figures to get better with another year to learn under coordinator Bryan Harsin, but quarterbacks David Ash, Case McCoy and incoming freshman Connor Brewer need to jumpstart the passing attack. The Longhorns averaged only 189.2 yards per game through the air last season, which simply won’t work if this team wants to win the Big 12 in 2012. Ash seemed secure the early lead on the No. 1 spot after leading Texas to win over California in the Holiday Bowl. However, McCoy and Brewer will be given every opportunity to win the job in preseason workouts. The quarterbacks figure to get more help from the receiving corps this year, as Mike Davis, Jaxon Shipley and Marquise Goodwin all return after posting solid numbers in 2011.

2. Although the passing attack needs to get better, the offense will lean heavily on a trio of talented running backs. Sophomores Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron will team with incoming freshman Jonathan Gray to form one of the Big 12’s top backfields in 2012. The offensive line showed improvement last season and with four starters back, the coaching staff expects this group to take another step forward. Gray won’t arrive until fall practice, but it will be important for Harsin and the offensive assistants to develop a pecking order and maximize this group’s potential in 2012.

3. The Longhorns should have the Big 12’s best defense next year, but this group has a few question marks to address in preseason practices. Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat should form one of college football’s top combinations at defensive end, but the interior of the line is a concern. Kheeston Randall and Calvin Howell are gone, leaving Ashton Dorsey, Desmond Jackson and former running back Chris Whaley as the most experienced tackles in 2012. This group is expected to get a boost from junior college transfer Brandon Moore and incoming freshman Malcom Brown – the No. 10 overall recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100. There’s no shortage of talent in the middle of the line, but coaching staff would like to see how it stacks up on the field this spring.   

4. Filling voids in the linebacking corps is often one of the easiest tasks for any defensive staff. However, the Longhorns have to replace two reliable players with the departure of Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho. Robinson collected 106 stops last season, while Acho earned first-team All-Big 12 honors and recorded 131 tackles. Jordan Hicks is ready to emerge as the leader of this corps, but two other starters need to emerge. Steve Edmond had a solid freshman campaign last year, picking up 16 stops and one forced fumble. Kendall Thompson backed up Acho last season and recorded nine tackles. Thompson and Edmond should open the year as the new starters in the linebacking corps, but incoming freshmen Peter Jinkens, Dalton Santos and Alex De La Torre will have a chance to earn playing time.

5. Justin Tucker handled the kicking and punting duties last year, but he has finished his eligibility. The Longhorns lack a proven candidate at either position, with the most experienced player (William Russ) punting once in 2011 against Kansas. Ben Pruitt was listed as the backup to Tucker on field goals last year and played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl as a high school senior. Pruitt would figure to get first crack at field goals, while Russ handles the punting duties. However, incoming freshman Nick Jordan is expected to compete right away for playing time. Considering the Longhorns could be involved with several close games this year, the special teams cannot be ignored.

Related Big 12 Content Links

Very Early 2012 Big 12 Predictions
2012 Big 12 Schedule Analysis
Athlon’s Early Top 25 for 2012

2012 Texas Tech Spring Preview
2012 Recruiting Rankings No. 2: Texas Longhorns

Teaser:
<p> The pieces are in place for Texas to challenge for a Big 12 title in 2012. However, the Longhorns need a much-improved passing attack to get back to a BCS bowl next season.</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 23, 2012 - 06:10
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-10-spring-storylines-watch
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

It wasn't that long ago that Alabama celebrated its national title victory over LSU in New Orleans. And now it's already time to turn the page to 2012. Spring practice is underway across the nation and will continue into late April for several college football teams.

Here's a look at some of the key storylines to watch over the next couple of months.

Related: Athlon's Early College Football Top 25 for 2012

1. Change is in the air as 124 FBS teams get ready to open up spring practice. Conference realignment has shifted the landscape of several conferences and you might need a scorecard to keep up with the changes. The SEC expanded to 14 teams, bringing Texas A&M and Missouri in from the Big 12. West Virginia bolted the Big East and TCU left the Mountain West to get the Big 12 back to 10 teams. Thanks to the Mountaineers’ departure from the Big East, the conference is trying desperately to add Boise State for 2012. Without the Broncos, the Big East will play this upcoming season with just seven teams. The changes weren’t limited to BCS conferences, as Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii are joining the Mountain West. And finally, Texas State (WAC), UTSA (WAC), UMass (MAC) and South Alabama (Sun Belt) are making the jump from the FCS to the FBS ranks. However, conference realignment isn’t finished by any means and there could be more shock waves throughout college football during the 2012 season.

2. The SEC has claimed the last six national titles and there’s certainly no shortage of options to claim No. 7 in 2012. However, each of the four likely contenders – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and LSU – has significant question marks. For LSU, how will new quarterback Zach Mettenberger perform? Alabama will have several new faces on defense and must replace running back Trent Richardson and center William Vlachos. Georgia got off to a slow start last year, but rallied to finish with 10 wins and the SEC East title. For the Bulldogs to contend in 2012, they have to rebuild an offensive line that loses three key players. Arkansas has inched closer to the top of the SEC West, but its defense must make strides in order to challenge for the national title.

3.  If the SEC West is going to be the most competitive division in college football, the Big Ten Legends can’t be too far behind. Deciding the pecking order between Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska isn’t going to be easy and there’s not a ton of separation between these three teams. The Wolverines need to utilize the spring to rebuild the defensive line and develop weapons in the receiving corps for quarterback Denard Robinson. The Spartans need to get quarterback Andrew Maxwell comfortable, while improving a rushing attack that ranked 11th in the Big Ten last year. The Cornhuskers enter spring workouts with more question marks than Michigan and Michigan State, but should be more acclimated to Big Ten play in 2012. With Ohio State ineligible for the Big Ten title, the winner of this division should be a heavy favorite to win the conference title game and play in a BCS game.

4. The Pac-12 is usually one of the most entertaining conferences to watch on a week-to-week basis, but this league gained even more intrigue with four coaching changes this offseason. Arizona State replaced Dennis Erickson with Todd Graham, while Arizona canned Mike Stoops and hired former West Virginia and Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez. UCLA made a run at Boise State’s Chris Petersen, but ended up with former NFL head coach Jim Mora, and Washington State hit a home run with the hire of former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach. And the intrigue doesn’t stop there. How about Washington plucking defensive line coach and ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi away from California? And there’s also Oregon coach Chip Kelly’s brief flirtation with the NFL. Spring practice is only the start of what is shaping up to be a season full of intrigue in the Pac-12.

5. The college football coaching carousel was busy this offseason, as 27 teams changed head coaches. While that group of new coaches should have job security going into 2012, there are a handful of coaches entering a potentially program-defining season. Boston College’s Frank Spaziani, UCF’s George O’Leary, California’s Jeff Tedford, Kentucky’s Joker Phillips, Tennessee’s Derek Dooley and Rice’s David Bailiff top the early hot seat watch for 2012 and all need a big spring (and season) to stick around for 2013.

6. Once again, it’s time to dust off the seemingly annual question about Florida State: Are the Seminoles back and ready to contend for a national title? On paper, the Seminoles are poised to challenge for a finish among the top 10 teams. There's plenty of proven depth with 16 starters returning and coach Jimbo Fisher is bringing in another elite recruiting class. The defense is among the best in college football, especially up front where end Brandon Jenkins should be a preseason All-American. But whether or not the Seminoles are ready to win the ACC and play in a BCS bowl rests solely on an offensive line that will be very young in 2012. Center Bryan Stork and guard Jacob Fahrenkrug will provide the veteran leadership, but the Seminoles need sophomores Bobby Hart, Austin Barron, Josue Matias, Sterling Lovelady and junior Garrett Faircloth to step up. If this group holds up, the Seminoles should be able to get back into the BCS for the first time since 2006.

7. Difficult doesn’t even begin to describe how the last few months have gone at Penn State. From the Jerry Sandusky scandal to the passing of legendary coach Joe Paterno, the Nittany Lions have had to deal with enough bad news to last several years. Spring football kicks off in Happy Valley on March 26, and new coach Bill O’Brien will have his hands full with this team in 2012. O’Brien wants Penn State to throw more, but quarterback play was not been the strength of this team in recent years. The Nittany Lions also lose leading receiver Derek Moye and four starters are gone on the offensive line. Following a legend like Paterno won’t be easy, but O’Brien also has to deal with significant question marks on offense and there will be an adjustment period to the new coaching staff for the players. Unless O’Brien can find the right answer at quarterback, the offense figures to keep Penn State from challenging for the Big Ten Leaders Division title in 2012.

8. Thanks to a 5-7 2010 campaign, Texas was off the national radar going into last season. However, the Longhorns rebounded with an 8-5 record and a victory over California in the Holiday Bowl. If Mack Brown’s team wants to challenge Oklahoma in the Big 12 title race, it has to start with getting better quarterback play. David Ash seemed to wrestle the No. 1 spot on the depth chart after finishing with 142 passing yards and one touchdown in the bowl game. Ash isn’t guaranteed to finish spring as the top passer, as Case McCoy and incoming freshman Connor Brewer will get every opportunity to knock him off the No. 1 position. If Texas can generate more offense in 2012, it’s not out of the question this team can compete for the Big 12 title.

9. There have been a lot of changes at Ohio State over the last year, and it may be a while before the Buckeyes go 6-7 once again. New coach Urban Meyer is off to a terrific start on the recruiting trail and should continue to reel in top talent to Columbus. Meyer is well-rested after a year away from coaching, and the health issues that bothered him at Florida seem to be under control. The future certainly looks bright for the Buckeyes, but there’s also a sense of disappointment before the 2012 season kicks off. Due to NCAA violations, Ohio State is ineligible to play for the Big Ten title and is also banned from postseason play. Although the Buckeyes can’t play for a championship, Meyer and his staff should keep this team motivated all year, and the schedule is favorable enough to expect 10 wins in 2012. There’s certainly a learning curve for the offense as it adapts to Meyer’s spread attack and some holes to fill on the offensive line, but Ohio State is poised to make a lot of noise once the bowl ban is lifted going into 2013.

10. And of course, we can’t close a spring practice preview article without mentioning the quarterback battles.

Athlon will have a more in-depth look at some of the battles over the next few weeks, but here’s a quick snapshot of some of the top quarterback competitions to watch:

Auburn: New coordinator Scot Loeffler will have his hands full this spring, as the Tigers finished 100th nationally in total offense last year and have no clear No. 1 quarterback. Barrett Trotter gave up his final year of eligibility, leaving sophomore Kiehl Frazier, true freshman Zeke Pike and junior Clint Moseley to battle for the starting spot under center. The Tigers don’t need to have an elite passing attack, but it has to be better than it was last year.

Boise State: Replacing Kellen Moore is no easy task for head coach Chris Petersen and new coordinator Robert Prince. Sophomore Grant Hedrick, redshirt freshman Jimmy Laughrea, junior Joe Southwick and true freshman Nick Patti will compete this spring.

Florida: The Gators are searching for a spark on offense this spring, along with adjusting to new coordinator Brent Pease. Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel combined to throw for 354 yards in relief of Jeff Brantley last year, but nether completed more than 48 percent of their throws.

Miami: Stephen Morris has started five games at Miami, but will be pushed by Memphis transfer Ryan Williams and incoming freshmen Preston Dewey and Gary Grow.

Stanford: It will be impossible to replace Andrew Luck’s production in 2012, but the Cardinal has plenty of candidates, and an offense that’s built around the rushing attack to take the pressure off a young quarterback. Brett Nottingham will open spring workouts as the No. 1 passer, but Robbie Picazo, Josh Nunes, Evan Crower and Kevin Hogan will all get a shot.

Oklahoma State: The Pokes will miss quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon, but don’t expect this offense to fall too far in 2012. Clint Chelf completed 20 of 30 throws for 307 yards and three scores last year and opens as the frontrunner to replace Weeden. However J.W. Walsh and true freshman Wes Lunt will get an opportunity to unseat him in spring practice.

Oregon: Bryan Bennett was impressive while filling in for Darron Thomas last year and opens spring workouts as the favorite to start the opener in 2012. However, redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota and incoming freshmen Jake Rodrigues will have an opportunity to push him this spring.

Texas A&M: As if joining the SEC wasn’t tough enough, the Aggies have to break in a new quarterback. Jameill Showers has the most experience (five passes), but Matt Joeckel, Johnny Manziel and incoming freshman Matt Davis will have every opportunity to earn playing time.

Teaser:
<p> Spring practice is underway and Athlon takes a look at the 10 biggest storylines to watch over the next couple of months.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 - 05:50
Path: /college-football/2012-big-12-football-schedules
Body:

Click here to read more Big 12 coverage from AthlonSports.com.

2012 Big 12 Schedules

Baylor

Sept. 1 SMU
Sept. 15 Sam Houston State
Sept. 22 at UL Monroe
Sept. 29 at West Virginia
Oct. 13 TCU
Oct. 20 at Texas
Oct. 27 at Iowa State
Nov. 3 Kansas
Nov. 10 at Oklahoma
Nov. 17 Kansas State
Nov. 24 Texas Tech (Arlington)
Dec. 1 Oklahoma State

Iowa State

Sept. 1 Tulsa
Sept. 8 at Iowa
Sept. 15 Western Illinois
Sept. 29 Texas Tech
Oct. 6 at TCU
Oct. 13 Kansas State
Oct. 20 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 27 Baylor
Nov. 3 Oklahoma
Nov. 10 at Texas
Nov 17 at Kansas
Nov. 24 West Virginia

Kansas

Sept. 1 South Dakota State
Sept. 8 Rice
Sept. 15 TCU
Sept. 22 at Northern Illinois
Oct. 6 at Kansas State
Oct. 13 Oklahoma State
Oct. 20 at Oklahoma
Oct. 27 Texas
Nov. 3 at Baylor
Nov. 10 at Texas Tech
Nov. 17 Iowa State
Dec. 1 at West Virginia

Kansas State

Sept. 1 Missouri State
Sept. 8 Miami (Fla.)
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

Oklahoma

Sept. 1 at UTEP
Sept. 8 Florida A&M
Sept. 22 Kansas State
Oct. 6 at Texas Tech
Oct. 13 Texas (Dallas)
Oct. 20 Kansas
Oct. 27 Notre Dame
Nov. 3 at Iowa State
Nov. 10 Baylor
Nov. 17 at West Virginia
Nov. 24 Oklahoma State
Dec. 1 at TCU

Oklahoma State

Sept. 1 Savannah State
Sept. 8 at Arizona
Sept. 15 UL Lafayette
Sept. 29 Texas
Oct. 13 at Kansas
Oct. 20 Iowa State
Oct. 27 TCU
Nov. 3 at Kansas State
Nov. 10 West Virginia
Nov. 17 Texas Tech
Nov. 24 at Oklahoma
Dec. 1 at Baylor

TCU

Sept. 8 Grambling State
Sept. 15 at Kansas
Sept. 22 Virginia
Sept. 29 at SMU
Oct. 6 Iowa State
Oct. 13 at Baylor
Oct. 20 Texas Tech
Oct. 27 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 3 at West Virginia
Nov. 10 Kansas State
Nov. 24 at Texas
Dec. 1 Oklahoma

Texas

Sept. 1 Wyoming
Sept. 8 New Mexico
Sept. 15 at Ole Miss
Sept. 29 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 6 West Virginia
Oct. 13 Oklahoma (Dallas)
Oct. 20 Baylor
Oct. 27 at Kansas
Nov. 3 at Texas Tech
Nov. 10 Iowa State
Nov. 24 TCU
Dec. 1 at Kansas State

Texas Tech

Sept. 1 Northwestern State
Sept. 8 at Texas State
Sept. 15 New Mexico
Sept. 29 at Iowa State
Oct. 6 Oklahoma
Oct. 13 West Virginia
Oct. 20 at TCU
Oct. 27 at Kansas State
Nov. 3 Texas
Nov. 10 Kansas
Nov. 17 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 24 Baylor (Arlington)

West Virginia

Sept. 1 Marshall
Sept. 15 James Madison (Landover)
Sept. 22 Maryland
Sept. 29 Baylor
Oct. 6 at Texas
Oct. 13 at Texas Tech
Oct. 20 Kansas State
Nov. 3 TCU
Nov. 10 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 17 Oklahoma
Nov. 24 at Iowa State
Dec. 1 Kansas

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, February 17, 2012 - 11:08
Path: /college-football/texas-tech-red-raiders-2012-spring-preview
Body:

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. 

Texas Tech Red Raiders 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 5-7, 2-7 Big 12

Spring practice dates: Feb. 17-March 24

Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 6

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Seth Doege, 398 of 581, 4,004 yds., 28 TDs, 10 INTs
Rushing: Eric Stephens, 108 car., 565 yds., 8 TDs
Receiving: Eric Ward, 84 rec., 800 yds., 11 TDs
Tackles: Cody Davis, 93
Sacks: Dartwan Smith, 2
Interceptions: D.J. Johnson, 2

Redshirts to watch: WR Javares McRoy, WR Jakeem Grant, DE Branden Jackson, OL Tony Morales

Transfer to watch: WR Tyson Williams (West Texas A&M)

Early Enrollees: DE Lee Adams (JC), WR Javon Bell (JC), OL Rashad Fortenberry (JC), ATH SaDale Foster (JC), OL Jared Kaster, DB Thierry Nguema, LB Christofer Payne (JC), LB Will Smith (JC), S Austin Stewart (JC)

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Northwestern State
Sept. 8 at Texas State
Sept. 15 New Mexico
Sept. 29 at Iowa State
Oct. 6 Oklahoma
Oct. 13 West Virginia
Oct. 20 at TCU
Oct. 27 at Kansas State
Nov. 3 Texas
Nov. 10 Kansas
Nov. 17 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 24 Baylor (Arlington)

Offensive Strength: Quarterback Seth Doege was solid in his debut season, throwing for 4,004 yards and 28 scores. Doege finished seventh nationally in total offense with 337.5 yards per game. Alex Torres suffered a torn ACL late in the 2011 season, but the receiving corps is still in good shape with the return of Darrin Moore and Eric Ward.

Offensive Weakness: With Eric Stephens and DeAndre Washington nursing significant knee injuries this spring, the Red Raiders are short on depth in the backfield. The offensive line also loses two starters, including guard Lonnie Edwards and is shuffling some players around this spring.

Defensive Strength: It’s hard to call any unit on the defense a strength after ranking 117th nationally in points allowed last year. However, the Red Raiders have some young talent returning in 2012, and Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson could both contend for all-conference honors this season.

Defensive Weakness: Six starters are back, but the coaching staff still has a lot of work to do with this group in 2012. The Red Raiders were one of the worst defenses in the country and six junior college players were brought in to help immediately this spring.  

Spring Storylines Facing the Red Raiders:

1. For the first time since 1992, Texas Tech is coming off a season in which it did not win at least six games. The Red Raiders got off to a solid 5-2 start, including a surprise 41-38 upset over Oklahoma in mid-October. However, the upset over the Sooners was the highlight of the season, as Texas Tech dropped its final five games to finish with a losing record and no bowl appearance for the first time since 1999. It’s important for the Red Raiders to build some confidence this spring and get back on the winning track in 2012.

2. Generating yards and points hasn’t been an issue for several years in Lubbock and 2011 was no different. The Red Raiders finished 13th nationally in total offense and averaged 33.8 points a game. However, this unit suffered some key injuries last year and will be a focal point through preseason workouts. Running back Eric Stephens was off to a fantastic start – averaging 113 yards through the first five games of last season – but suffered a significant knee injury against Texas A&M and was forced to sit out the remainder of the 2011 season. Stephens will sit out spring practice and could redshirt this season. Making matters even worse is the status of sophomore DeAndre Washington. He suffered a torn ACL late in the year against Missouri and may also sit out 2012. With Stephens and Washington sidelined, sophomores Kenny Williams and Ronnie Daniels will be expected to take on a bigger role in the rushing attack. With concerns about depth, receiver Bradley Marquez may see some time in the backfield this spring. At 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds, Marquez has the size and speed to fit perfectly as a running back in Texas Tech’s spread attack. The Red Raiders finished last in the Big 12 in rushing offense last year and the injuries may make it difficult for this group to see much statistical improvement in 2012.

3. The Red Raiders have the firepower on offense to get back to a bowl, but whether or not they can climb into the top five of the Big 12 depends on the defense. Texas Tech will have its fourth defensive coordinator in four years, as Art Kaufman was appointed from North Carolina to fix a defense that ranked 120th nationally against the run and 117th in points allowed. Kaufman has a lot of work to do this spring, but will have six returning starters. The Red Raiders’ pass rush was almost non-existent last year, as they averaged only 1.3 sacks a game. The front four was inexperienced last season, but the return of sophomore tackle Delvon Simmons, junior tackle Kerry Hyder and senior Leon Mackey is a good building block. After using the 4-2-5 defensive scheme last year, Texas Tech plans to switch back to a 4-3 look in 2012. Making improvement on this side of the ball will be the difference between finishing 5-7 again or jumping to 7-5 or 8-4.

4. The secondary wasn’t much better than the run defense, as the Red Raiders ranked 113th nationally in pass efficiency defense and intercepted only five passes. Cornerback is a concern, especially with Tre Porter moving back to safety and converted receiver Cornelius Douglas likely entrenched as one starter. Douglas should benefit from a full spring to work on the defensive side, but he will be tested early and often in 2012. Safety is in good shape with D.J. Johnson and Cody Davis returning. Terrance Bullitt started nine games at safety last season, but is expected to move to linebacker. Although the secondary needs help from the defensive line, this group has to play better and force more turnovers next season.

5. With the injury concerns at running back, quarterback Seth Doege is going to have much of the offensive workload on his shoulders. The senior’s numbers figure to only get better in his second year as the starter, but he has some injury concerns in the receiving corps as spring practice begins. Alex Torres suffered a torn ACL against Missouri and will be sidelined for spring workouts. However, Eric Ward is back after catching 84 passes and earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last season. Darrin Moore caught 21 passes in the first two games last year, but suffered an injury against Nevada and finally got back to full strength late in the year. Ward and Moore will form a solid duo of options for Doege, but the team hopes redshirt freshmen Javares McRoy and West Texas A&M transfer Tyson Williams can help add playmaking ability to the inside receiver spots. 

Related Content Links

2012 Big 12 Schedule Analysis
Athlon's Early College Football Top 25 for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Early Big 12 Predictions

Teaser:
<p> After a disappointing 5-7 record, Texas Tech hopes to bounce back with a winning record in 2012. However, the team has significant issues on defense and injury concerns on offense.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 17, 2012 - 07:29
All taxonomy terms: SEC, News
Path: /news/sec-coaches-meeting-creates-awkward-photos
Body:

Who doesn’t love a good awkward photo? Some of the best photos are the ones where it’s supposed to be a serious shot. And that’s where we can thank the SEC for creating a bit of offseason humor.

The 14 coaches of the SEC met in Birmingham this week and took two rather awkward photos. What’s worse than trying to smile your way through a photo with some of your top rivals and fellow coaches around?

Some observations:

While most of the coaches are wearing a suit jacket or button-up shirt, the two coaches from Mississippi (Dan Mullen and Hugh Freeze) decided to wear a school-affiliated shirt. Hey, nothing wrong with always keeping the logo and team in the spotlight.

And it looks like Freeze missed the memo on where to place his hands. Dooley, Petrino, Spurrier, Miles, Pinkel and Phillips all chose the legs, while Freeze decided to fold and place in his lap.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik recently had shoulder surgery, which would help to explain his odd pose in this photo. If you didn’t know Chizik had surgery, it looks like he is ready to give Les Miles a slap to the back of the head.

Speaking of Chizik, we are normally used to seeing him rock the leather jacket. However, Florida’s Will Muschamp upstaged him this time, wearing the black jacket over a blue polo. Certainly an interesting look.

Vanderbilt’s James Franklin looks quite ecstatic to be there. And wouldn’t that be the case for any coach coming off a bowl season and a top recruiting class with the Commodores?

And here’s the SEC’s newest coaches: Missouri’s Gary Pinkel and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin.

This photo is awkward thanks to the beam in the middle. Why not have the coaches stand with the helmets and instead of cutting them in half?

And needless to say, Pinkel doesn’t look too excited to be here. 

Teaser:
<p> The SEC coaches meeting in Birmingham provided a few awkward photos.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 20:12
All taxonomy terms: TCU Horned Frogs, Big 12, News
Path: /news/tcus-drug-scandal-hampers-2012-big-12-title-hopes
Body:

What a difference a day makes. Just one day after TCU’s basketball team scored a huge victory over UNLV and the schedule for its inaugural season in the Big 12 was released, the athletic department is dealing with a significant drug scandal.

On Wednesday, 17 TCU students were arrested in a drug bust at the school, which included four football players: Linebacker Tanner Brock, defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey, cornerback Devin Johnson and Ty Horn. The four players were later dismissed by head coach Gary Patterson.

But the trouble may not end with the four players arrested and dismissed.

According to the arrest affidavit, the TCU coaching staff required all players to take a drug test on Feb. 1, 2012, and Brock told the informant “about 60 people would be screwed.” Johnson allegedly told an informant that 82 players from the team failed the drug test administered on Feb. 1. There's nothing that's been confirmed true about those two numbers thrown out, but it is something that will hang over the program until any further suspensions or dismissals have been announced or TCU clears the rest of the football team.

Needless to say, this is a black eye for a program on the rise. The Horned Frogs were poised to make a lot of noise in their first season in the Big 12 and was widely-regarded as one of the top 25 teams for 2012. However, the four player dismissals were a huge loss for this team and if those statements by Brock and Johnson are true, Patterson and his coaching staff may have to suspend some players for the start of 2012.

Brock missed nearly all of 2011 due to an injury, but was expected to return as one of the leaders for the defense. He led the team with 106 tackles in 2010 and gathered first-team All-Mountain West honors. With Tank Carder finishing his eligibility, Brock was expected to be the anchor and a likely All-Big 12 performer in 2012.

Yendrey was coming off back-to-back seasons of earning honorable mention All-Mountain West honors and was expected to anchor the interior of the defensive line. He recorded 39 tackles and three sacks last season, while starting 12 games. Without Yendrey, Jon Lewis, Ray Burns, David Johnson and Chuck Hunter will have to take on a bigger role on the interior of the line.

The secondary was a weakness for the defense in 2011 and Johnson’s dismissal was a big loss for a team already losing cornerback Greg McCoy and safeties Tekerrein Cuba and Johnny Fobbs. Johnson recorded 47 stops last year and collected 2.5 sacks.

Horn was the least decorated of the players dismissed, starting only one game in 2011. However, he was expected to contend for a starting spot in 2012.

What does this mean for TCU going forward? There’s still a lot to sort out, but this is a down moment for a program that waited and fought hard to get into a BCS conference. The Horned Frogs will be fine in the long run under Patterson, but there will be an impact on the field. The defense has ranked near the top of college football in the Mountain West, but will take a step back facing the high-powered offenses in the Big 12. And this group only has five returning starters, so there’s a lot of pressure on the new faces in the linebacking corps and secondary to step up.

Until all of the allegations are sorted out, it’s too difficult to say whether or not TCU will remain in the preseason top 25. However, there is still a talented core returning to Fort Worth in 2012 and the schedule isn’t too overwhelming to expect a season with eight or nine wins.

TCU’s 2012 Schedule

Sept. 8 Grambling State
Sept. 15 at Kansas
Sept. 22 Virginia
Sept. 29 at SMU
Oct. 6 Iowa State
Oct. 13 at Baylor
Oct. 20 Texas Tech
Oct. 27 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 3 at West Virginia
Nov. 10 Kansas State
Nov. 24 at Texas
Dec. 1 Oklahoma

Related: Athlon's Early College Football Top 25 for 2012
Related: Athlon's 2012 Early Big 12 Predictions
Related: Big 12 2012 Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> TCU's Drug Scandal Hampers 2012 Big 12 Title Hopes.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - 16:41
Path: /college-football/big-12-2012-schedule-analysis
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Finally. After a long wait and rumors of its release for the last few weeks, the Big 12 schedule for 2012 has been distributed. The conference has experienced a handful of changes over the last two years, with Nebraska, Texas A&M, Missouri and Colorado departing, and TCU and West Virginia joining. After an expensive settlement with the Big East, the Mountaineers were cleared to join in time for the 2012 season and should be one of the frontrunners to claim the conference title. After winning at least 11 games over the last four seasons, the Horned Frogs are ready for the increased challenge and the week-to-week grind of playing in a BCS conference.

Related: Athlon's Early College Football Top 25 for 2012
Related: Athlon's 2012 Early Big 12 Predictions

Baylor

Sept. 1 SMU
Sept. 15 Sam Houston State
Sept. 22 at UL Monroe
Sept. 29 at West Virginia
Oct. 13 TCU
Oct. 20 at Texas
Oct. 27 at Iowa State
Nov. 3 Kansas
Nov. 10 at Oklahoma
Nov. 17 Kansas State
Nov. 24 Texas Tech (Arlington)
Dec. 1 Oklahoma State

* With a new quarterback taking over, it’s good news for Baylor the first conference game is on Sept. 29. Barring an upset, the Bears should start 3-0 and build some momentum with the new pieces on offense for Big 12 play.

* The Baylor-TCU matchup was one of college football’s best games of 2011. With Robert Griffin no longer taking snaps in Waco, a 50-48 shootout victory is probably unrealistic. However, this is a big test for both teams midway through the 2012 season. And of course, there’s plenty of bad blood between these two teams. With the Horned Frogs in the Big 12, this should become a good rivalry.

* The Bears will play two out of their last three games at home and the other contest is a neutral site affair in Arlington against Texas Tech. Considering Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are all winnable games, it’s a favorable draw for Baylor’s hopes of reaching its third consecutive bowl game.   

Iowa State

Sept. 1 Tulsa
Sept. 8 at Iowa
Sept. 15 Western Illinois
Sept. 29 Texas Tech
Oct. 6 at TCU
Oct. 13 Kansas State
Oct. 20 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 27 Baylor
Nov. 3 Oklahoma
Nov. 10 at Texas
Nov 17 at Kansas
Nov. 24 West Virginia

* If the Cyclones are going to make their third bowl appearance under coach Paul Rhoads, they will need to get a good chunk of their wins in the first half. Iowa State should get at least two victories in the non-conference portion, with winnable games against Texas Tech and Kansas State in Ames before the midpoint of 2012.

* The back half of the schedule isn’t too kind for Iowa State. The Cyclones play arguably the top three teams in the Big 12 for 2012 – Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia – in November. Ouch.

* Revenge game. After knocking out Oklahoma State from the ranks of the unbeaten in 2011, it’s a safe bet the Cowboys will be hungry for revenge on Oct. 20 in Stillwater.

* New members. The Cyclones are 0-3 in three previous matchups against TCU and have never played West Virginia.

Kansas

Sept. 1 South Dakota State
Sept. 8 Rice
Sept. 15 TCU
Sept. 22 at Northern Illinois
Oct. 6 at Kansas State
Oct. 13 Oklahoma State
Oct. 20 at Oklahoma
Oct. 27 Texas
Nov. 3 at Baylor
Nov. 10 at Texas Tech
Nov. 17 Iowa State
Dec. 1 at West Virginia

* The Charlie Weis era should get off to a quick start, as the Jayhawks will be favored to start 2-0.

* Kansas’ first Big 12 game will be against new member TCU on Sept. 15. The Jayhawks have not played the Horned Frogs since 1997. After going winless in conference play last year, the Big 12 didn’t do Kansas in favors by scheduling a top 25 team for its conference opener.

* Bragging rights in Kansas. Weis will be looking to make some noise in his first year as the Jayhawks’ head coach and what better way to do that than to beat Kansas State on Oct. 6. Kansas will be big underdogs, but it’s a key game for this team in 2012.

* The Jayhawks have one of the most difficult two-game stretches in the Big 12: at Oklahoma on Oct. 20 and Texas on Oct. 27.

* The Jayhawks close out 2012 with a road date against West Virginia. With no interest in scheduling Missouri for a non-conference series, it will be an odd sight to see Kansas playing the Mountaineers or any other team on the final regular season weekend.

Kansas State

Sept. 1 Missouri State
Sept. 8 Miami (Fla.)
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

* A rematch with Miami highlights the non-conference portion of the schedule. The Wildcats defeated the Hurricanes 28-24 last season, and with the Hurricanes rebuilding, Kansas State should have a good shot at winning this matchup.

* The Wildcats didn’t catch a break for the Big 12 opener, as they have to travel to Norman to take on Oklahoma.

* The Wildcats and Jayhawks renew their annual rivalry on Oct. 6, with Kansas hoping to snap a three-game losing streak in this series.

* Kansas State and West Virginia have met only two times – 1930 and 1931.

* A difficult November will likely make-or-break the Wildcats’ Big 12 title hopes. Kansas State hosts Oklahoma State, then hits the road for games against TCU and Baylor, before closing the regular season with a home game against Texas. All four games are winnable, but none should be considered guarantee wins.

Oklahoma

Sept. 1 at UTEP
Sept. 8 Florida A&M
Sept. 22 Kansas State
Oct. 6 at Texas Tech
Oct. 13 Texas (Dallas)
Oct. 20 Kansas
Oct. 27 Notre Dame
Nov. 3 at Iowa State
Nov. 10 Baylor
Nov. 17 at West Virginia
Nov. 24 Oklahoma State
Dec. 1 at TCU

* Revenge? After losing to Texas Tech last season, expect the Sooners to be motivated for the rematch on Oct. 6 in Lubbock.

* Trap game? After playing Notre Dame on Oct. 27, Oklahoma has to travel to Ames to take on Iowa State on Nov. 3. We’ve already seen one Oklahoma team have trouble against the Cyclones in November.

* Backloaded schedule. If the Sooners are going to win the Big 12, they will have their work cut out in the last stretch of the season. Oklahoma faces West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU in its final three games – with two of those on the road.

* Red River Rivalry. Texas is getting better, but are the Longhorns ready to challenge the Sooners (the likely preseason favorites in the Big 12) on Oct. 13?

Oklahoma State

Sept. 1 Savannah State
Sept. 8 at Arizona
Sept. 15 UL Lafayette
Sept. 29 Texas
Oct. 13 at Kansas
Oct. 20 Iowa State
Oct. 27 TCU
Nov. 3 at Kansas State
Nov. 10 West Virginia
Nov. 17 Texas Tech
Nov. 24 at Oklahoma
Dec. 1 at Baylor

* The Cowboys couldn’t have picked a better opening opponent. Savannah State was 1-10 last year and gave up 40.2 points a game last year. Yikes. Look for Oklahoma State’s new quarterback to have a field day against this defense.

* The second game of the year is an intriguing non-conference matchup against Arizona. The Wildcats have to adjust to new coach Rich Rodriguez, but won’t be an easy out in Tucson.

* The Cowboys’ first Big 12 matchup is against Texas on Sept. 29. Oklahoma State has won back-to-back games against the Longhorns after winning only twice in the previous 24 matchups.

* Upset potential? Don’t sleep on Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 15. The Ragin’ Cajuns had a respectable showing in a loss against the Cowboys in 2011 and return much of their core for 2012.

* Former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator (now West Virginia head coach) Dana Holgorsen makes his return to Stillwater on Nov. 10.

* Three of Oklahoma State’s final four games are at home. However, the Cowboys have to hit the road for their annual matchup against Oklahoma. After last year’s thumping in Stillwater, you can bet the Sooners will be looking forward to that matchup on Nov. 24.

TCU

Sept. 8 Grambling State
Sept. 15 at Kansas
Sept. 22 Virginia
Sept. 29 at SMU
Oct. 6 Iowa State
Oct. 13 at Baylor
Oct. 20 Texas Tech
Oct. 27 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 3 at West Virginia
Nov. 10 Kansas State
Nov. 24 at Texas
Dec. 1 Oklahoma

* The schedule sets up favorably for a quick start, as the Horned Frogs should sweep their non-conference games and will likely be favored against Kansas, Iowa State, Baylor and Texas Tech in the Big 12 portion.

* Revenge? After losing to SMU in Fort Worth last season, the Horned Frogs will no doubt circle the Sept. 29 matchup against the Mustangs.

* While TCU could get off to a quick start, the last five games are going to test this team. The Horned Frogs have a difficult closing stretch, starting with a date at Oklahoma State on Oct. 27 and closing on Dec. 1 at home against Oklahoma. If the finale against the Sooners wasn’t tough enough, TCU has to play at Texas the week before.

* The new-member bowl. TCU and West Virginia have played only once (1984 Bluebonnet Bowl), but will play every year – provided there is no more expansion – in the Big 12.

* One interesting tidbit to consider about TCU in 2012. Its defenses have ranked near the top of college football under coach Gary Patterson. But will that continue with an offensive-minded Big 12?

Texas

Sept. 1 Wyoming
Sept. 8 New Mexico
Sept. 15 at Ole Miss
Sept. 29 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 6 West Virginia
Oct. 13 Oklahoma (Dallas)
Oct. 20 Baylor
Oct. 27 at Kansas
Nov. 3 at Texas Tech
Nov. 10 Iowa State
Nov. 24 TCU
Dec. 1 at Kansas State

* With an offense that needs time to improve, the first three games are a good wakeup call for Big 12 play. The Longhorns will be heavily favored to start 3-0 and figure to roll up some big offensive numbers along the way.

* The Longhorns will play their first Big 12 game on Sept. 29 against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have won the last two meetings in this series.

* The Nov. 24 date against TCU is rumored to be moving to Thanksgiving for 2012. It’s not Texas A&M-Texas, but it’s a solid (and likely) top 25 matchup next season.

* Is this the year the Longhorns snap a four-game losing streak to Kansas State? Texas has to travel to Manhattan for the regular season finale on Dec. 1, and it’s a game that could have significant implications in the Big 12 bowl pecking order.

* West Virginia and Texas have played only once (1956), with the Mountaineers winning 7-6.

Texas Tech

Sept. 1 Northwestern State
Sept. 8 at Texas State
Sept. 15 New Mexico
Sept. 29 at Iowa State
Oct. 6 Oklahoma
Oct. 13 West Virginia
Oct. 20 at TCU
Oct. 27 at Kansas State
Nov. 3 Texas
Nov. 10 Kansas
Nov. 17 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 24 Baylor (Arlington)

* After a disappointing 2011 campaign, the Red Raiders should have an opportunity to build some early momentum. Texas Tech should start 3-0 and has a good chance to beat Iowa State and move to 4-0 before taking on Oklahoma on Oct. 6.

* The middle of the schedule is going to define Texas Tech’s 2012 season. The Red Raiders have a brutal stretch, starting with Oklahoma on Oct. 6 and closing with Texas on Nov. 3. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Texas Tech 4-5 going into the final three games of the season.

* Bowl eligibility could be on the line when the Red Raiders play Baylor in Arlington on Nov. 24.

* The Red Raiders have not played TCU since 2006, a game they lost 12-3 in Fort Worth.

* Texas Tech’s only meeting with West Virginia occurred in 1938. The Red Raiders knocked off the Mountaineers 7-6 in that game.

West Virginia

Sept. 1 Marshall
Sept. 15 James Madison (Landover)
Sept. 22 Maryland
Sept. 29 Baylor
Oct. 6 at Texas
Oct. 13 at Texas Tech
Oct. 20 Kansas State
Nov. 3 TCU
Nov. 10 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 17 Oklahoma
Nov. 24 at Iowa State
Dec. 1 Kansas

* The Mountaineers open their first season in the Big 12 with a date against Baylor – a team they have never played before. A favorable non-conference slate should have West Virginia at 3-0 before they play in the Bears on Sept. 29.

* After playing Baylor, West Virginia has to travel for back-to-back games against Texas and Texas Tech.

* Mark it down: Nov. 3 is the meeting of the Big 12’s newest members, as TCU visits Morgantown.

* Nov. 10 – The Dana Holgorsen Bowl. West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen served as Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator in 2010.

* Although the Mountaineers draw a difficult start to the final stretch of the season – TCU, at Oklahoma State and Oklahoma – they close with games against Iowa State and Kansas.

* Seeing a West Virginia schedule with no Pittsburgh is certainly strange, but closing the year with a game at Kansas is even more bizarre. However, that’s the price of realignment, as rivalries across college football are disappearing. 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon breaks down the Big 12 schedule and highlights some of the games to watch, potential upsets and tidbits to keep in mind for 2012.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - 12:32
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, SEC, News
Path: /news/kentucky-vanderbilt-highlights-big-weekend-college-basketball-action
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by Jordan Coleman

This Saturday, thousands of college basketball fans will flood arenas and sports bars in order to catch some of the greatest games of the season. While this week has been full of conference rivalries, this weekend’s competition is sure to liven up the social calendar of any college basketball fan. Though this may be a social gathering for fans,  For these teams, these games are not only an opportunity that can either make or break their chances of dancing in March, but also an opportunity to claim (or reclaim) bragging rights within their conference. Here is a preview of some of the most anticipated match-ups this weekend:

Kentucky at Vanderbilt - Vanderbilt has yet another opportunity this weekend to prove they are a force to be reckoned with in the SEC as they take on the nation’s top contender, the Kentucky Wildcats. Coming off a disappointing week of two losses to Arkansas and Florida, Kevin Stallings and the Commodores are itching for a win. However, the good ole’ shellacking the Wildcats put on the Gamecocks last weekend, followed by the thumping of No. 7 Florida on Tuesday night, have propelled Calipari’s Wildcats to a perfect 10-0 conference record. Therefore, slowing the momentum of the Kentucky’s high-powered offense, while maintaining offensive flow against their hellacious defense, won’t be an easy feat for the Dores. 

Connecticut at Syracuse- While the 2011 National Champion Huskies have experienced a few lulls in their season—losing games against UCF and Seton Hall— they must bring their ‘A’ game against the No. 2 ranked Orangemen this weekend. Regardless of the location, the contest between these two teams is always hotly contested; therefore, Orange and Huskie fans alike should be in for a treat Saturday.

Michigan State at Ohio State- All-American Jared Sullinger fueled his team passed the Badgers last Saturday with a double-double, adding 24 points and 10 rebounds to secure the 58-52 win in the Kohl Center. While the Buckeyes took on their conference rival last weekend, Draymond Green and the No. 12 Spartans salivate at their opportunity to stun Big Ten’s top dogs and tie-up their conference records. Sullinger and the rest of the Buckeyes will have to muster up some intestinal fortitude in order to top Michigan State.

Baylor at Missouri – Coming off an incredible win against their border rival, the Kansas Jayhawks, the Tigers must regain focus fast in order to take on yet another fierce conference competitor, the No. 6 Baylor Bears. While the Tigers escaped the Ferrell Center with a 1-point victory over Baylor in their last meeting earlier this season, they will have to use their experience and team coalesce to pull-off another win over Pierre Jackson and the Bears.

Miami at Florida State –Reggie Johnson’s career-high of 27 points lead the Hurricanes to their first victory over Duke at Cameron Arena. Despite this commendable feat, their in-state rival, No. 17 Florida State, who not only have a win against Duke, but impressive wins over North Carolina and Virginia to as well, will definitely have their number. It will be interesting to see whether Miami’s momentum on the road can carry them past the Seminoles, or will the co-conference leaders make a statement as to who really dominates the ACC.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews the top action in college basketball this weekend.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 10, 2012 - 14:02
Path: /college-football/grading-college-footballs-new-coaches-2012
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By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

When the 2012 season kicks off, 27 teams will have a new coach roaming the sidelines. Athlon examines each hire and grades the moves by each school. Grading new hires is never an exact science, but one can get a good snapshot of a coach by looking at his resume and previous experience. 

Related: Athlon's Early College Football Top 25 for 2012

Best BCS Coaching Hires

Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh – Chryst lacks head coaching experience, but this is still one of the top hires of the offseason. He served as Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator from 2005-11, and has made other stops at Oregon State and in the NFL with the Chargers. Under Chryst’s direction, the Badgers led the Big Ten in scoring offense in each of the last three seasons. For a team that needs stability – after having three head coaches over the last year – and a much-needed jolt on offense, Chryst seems to be a perfect hire for Pittsburgh.

Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss – For the first time since 1946, the Rebels are coming off a season with just two victories. And the SEC isn’t getting any easier, especially with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri. Freeze was an important hire for Ole Miss, and while the track record is limited, he has proven to be a winner at each stop. He led Lambuth to a 20-5 record from 2008-09 and recorded a 10-2 mark as Arkansas State’s head coach in 2011. Freeze has a lot of work ahead of him, but he’s young (42), energetic and a bright offensive mind. The only downside in Freeze’s short tenure was not assembling a top-notch coaching staff.

Mike Leach, Washington State – In 10 years at Texas Tech, Leach led the Red Raiders to an 84-43 record, 10 bowl appearances and some of the top passing attacks in the nation. Leach had a rocky end to his tenure in Lubbock – largely not his fault – but don’t expect that to have any impact on his time at Washington State. The Cougars showed small progress under previous coach Paul Wulff, and the pieces are in place for Leach to lead this team to a bowl game in 2012. Out of the 27 new coaching hires for 2012, Leach landing at Washington State has to be considered one of the best fits for any new coach.

Urban Meyer, Ohio State – Perfect fit. Terrific hire. That’s the easy way to sum up Meyer landing at Ohio State. Health issues prompted Meyer to leave Florida, but after a year away, he appears to be refreshed and ready to go once again. The Buckeyes won’t be eligible to compete for the Big Ten title in 2012, but Meyer is stockpiling talent for a run at the national title in 2013. Expect the Buckeyes to show improvement in the win column in 2012, and it won’t be long until Meyer has a chance to build upon the two national championships he earned while at Florida.

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona – The easy way to sum up Rodriguez’s tenure at Michigan: Good coach, bad fit. After compiling a 60-26 record in seven seasons at West Virginia, Rodriguez posted a 15-22 mark in three years with the Wolverines. While his teams improved their win total by two games each season, it wasn’t enough to keep Rodriguez around in Ann Arbor. Rodriguez needs time to implement his system, as well as recruiting the talent necessary to run his spread offense. Much of the struggles at Michigan were due to bad fits in the personnel, but Arizona has some pieces in place that should allow this team to compete for a bowl game in 2012. The only downside? Rodriguez has never coached west of Michigan, so it will be important to establish recruiting pipelines right away.

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M – Change is in the air in College Station. The Aggies are moving from the Big 12 to the SEC, and Sumlin takes over as head coach after Texas A&M compiled a 25-25 record in four seasons under Mike Sherman. Sumlin is no stranger to College Station, as he spent two years as an assistant (2001-02) with the Aggies and coached in the Big 12 at Oklahoma from 2003-07. Texas A&M will need some time to get acclimated to life in the SEC, but Sumlin’s 35-17 record at Houston suggests the Aggies will be in good shape for the future.

Above Average Marks

Tim Beckman, Illinois – As an Ohio native and someone that has worked at Ohio State, Beckman is certainly familiar with life in the Big Ten. He spent the last three years as the head coach at Toledo, registering a 21-16 record and a share of the MAC West title in 2011. Beckman has worked with top-notch head coaches, spending time with Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, Jim Tressel at Ohio State and Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State. Beckman pieced together an interesting coaching staff, especially on the offensive side where Billy Gonzales and Chris Beatty will serve as co-coordinators and neither have much experience as a play-caller.

Larry Fedora, North Carolina – After a successful four-year stint as the head coach at Southern Miss, Fedora lands in a very good situation in Chapel Hill at North Carolina. The Tar Heels are still waiting to hear about possible penalties from an NCAA investigation, but the cupboard isn’t bare, especially on offense, which is Fedora’s specialty. In four years at Southern Miss, he compiled a 34-19 record and led the team to a 2-2 mark in bowl games. The Tar Heels have not won more than eight games since 1997, but this is a program that should consistently compete for the ACC title.

Todd Graham, Arizona State – The criticism of how Graham left Pittsburgh is certainly warranted. And a 6-6 regular season record last year wasn’t exactly a hit with Panther fans either. However, the personnel wasn’t in place to run Graham’s schemes and the offense struggled to find any consistency. Despite the rocky end to his short tenure at Pittsburgh Graham is actually a solid coach, as evidenced by his 49-29 record over the last six years, and should do well over time at Arizona State.

Jim Mora, UCLA – At the time of his hire, this seemed like a strange fit and a bad move by UCLA. However, Mora acquired a solid staff and brought in one of the Pac-12’s top recruiting classes. Considering Mora has spent most of his career in the NFL, it will be interesting to see how he transitions to the college game. This hire could backfire, but Mora is off to a good start and deserves a chance to prove he can turn the Bruins into a Pac-12 title contender.

Best non-BCS hires

Terry Bowden, Akron – After winning just two games over the last two years under Rob Ianello, the Zips made one of the top coaching moves of the offseason by getting Bowden from North Alabama. In 18 years as a head coach, Bowden has recorded a 139-63-2 mark, including two bowl appearances while at Auburn. Considering his success, it’s strange that Bowden has not landed back on the FBS radar until now. However, this a good fit and a solid hire by Akron – and one that should have this team moving back into MAC East contention in the next few seasons.

Matt Campbell, Toledo – At 32 years old, Campbell is college football’s youngest head coach. However, he’s spent the last eight years as an assistant at Mount Union, Bowling Green and Toledo. Campbell’s head coaching career is off to a good start, as he led the Rockets to a 42-41 victory in the Military Bowl over Air Force. Considering this is his first head coaching gig, there will be a few bumps in the road for Campbell. However, he fits the mold of a good up-and-coming coach, and his high-scoring offenses will continue to keep Toledo near the top of the MAC West.

Justin Fuente, Memphis – Larry Porter’s two-year stint was a disaster, but the Tigers picked a terrific replacement by plucking Fuente from TCU. This will be Fuente’s first head coaching position, but he has built a solid resume, serving as an assistant at Illinois State from 2001-06 and working as TCU’s offensive coordinator for the last three seasons. Fuente’s coaching experience in Texas should help with recruiting and his background on offense should help jumpstart a Memphis offense that averaged just 16.3 points a game last year.

Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State – Malzahn has been one of the top assistant coaches in the nation over the last five seasons, leading Tulsa and Auburn’s offenses among of the ranks of the best in college football. Considering Malzahn’s name popped up in BCS job searches, it was a little surprising he chose to land at Arkansas State. However, this is a good position for Malzahn to gain head coaching experience, as he coached at three Arkansas high schools (Shiloh Christian, Springdale and Hughes), and the Red Wolves are positioned to be one of the top teams in the Sun Belt in 2012.

Jim McElwain, Colorado State – After helping Alabama win two national titles over the last three years, McElwain is ready to lead his own program. This is his first head coaching gig, but McElwain has worked under one of the top coaches in college football (Nick Saban) and has experience out West, playing and coaching at Eastern Washington and coaching at Montana State and in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders. Although Colorado State has been down recently, don’t be surprised if McElwain engineers a quick turnaround in 2012.

Garrick McGee, UAB – McGee has been a rising star in the assistant ranks over the last 10 years, making stops at Toledo, UNLV, Northwestern and Arkansas. With low fan support and a stadium in bad shape, UAB isn’t an easy place to win. However, McGee’s experience in the Southeast should pay dividends in recruiting, and at 38 years old, he should breathe some much-needed life into the program.

Wait and See

Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State – DeRuyter is a California native, so landing at Fresno State was a good spot for his first head coaching position. DeRuyter is known as a solid defensive coordinator, and led Texas A&M to a victory over Northwestern in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in December. The Bulldogs seemed to hit a plateau under former coach Pat Hill. Is DeRuyter the guy to take them to the next level?

Kyle Flood, Rutgers – With Greg Schiano’s decision to depart Rutgers a week before Signing Day, filling this coaching void was especially difficult for athletic director Tim Pernetti. Flood does not have any head coaching experience, but has been a solid asset on the recruiting trail and helped to keep the 2012 class intact. Only time will tell whether Flood can keep the momentum going from Schiano’s tenure or if Rutgers will slip back to the bottom of the Big East.

Curtis Johnson, Tulane – The Green Wave has struggled to find success in recent years, with their last winning record coming in 2002 under Chris Scelfo. Johnson is a curious hire, as he has no head coaching or coordinator experience. However, he is from New Orleans and has coached with the Saints for the last six years. Johnson is regarded as a good recruiter, which should be a valuable asset for Tulane as it looks to get back into bowl contention.

Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss – Johnson has a wealth of experience as an assistant and served as The Citadel’s head coach for three years (2001-03) and one year at Gardner-Webb (1983). Although his resume is solid, Johnson isn’t the youngest hire (60) and posted a 12-22 record in his tenure at The Citadel.

Charley Molnar, UMass – This is Molnar’s first head coaching gig, but he’s compiled a wealth of experience from stops at Illinois State, Kent State, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Notre Dame. As a native of New Jersey, Molnar should be familiar with the Northeast and the recruiting grounds for the Minutemen. Considering 2012 will be the first year for UMass on the FBS level, the first two or three seasons could be a real challenge for Molnar.

Failing Marks

Norm Chow, Hawaii – As a native of Hawaii, this is the perfect spot for Chow to land after spending all of his career as an assistant coach. However, that’s exactly the problem. Why is Chow getting his first head coaching gig at age 65? Chow’s offenses at Utah and UCLA were underwhelming, but he has the potential to put together some prolific attacks in the Mountain West.

Bob Davie, New Mexico – After Mike Locksley’s disastrous tenure, this is a good hire in the sense it should bring some stability to the program. However, Davie’s last head coaching gig came in 2001 and he posted a 35-25 record in five seasons at Notre Dame. Davie’s ability to recruit Texas certainly helped his ability to land this position, but after sitting out the last 10 years, this is a strange hire.

Tony Levine, Houston – Levine is well-liked by the players and is certainly familiar with the team after spending the last four years as an assistant with the Cougars. However, Levine has zero head coaching experience outside of the TicketCity Bowl win over Penn State. Also, Levine has never been a coordinator on the college level. Former coach Kevin Sumlin has laid the groundwork for the Cougars to be successful in the next few seasons and now it's up to Levine to continue that momentum. While neither experience guarantees success, Levine is a curious hire for a program moving up to the Big East in 2013.

Bill O’Brien, Penn State – Considering the circumstances at Penn State, there wasn’t many top coaches willing to jump to Happy Valley. However, O’Brien is largely unproven and other New England assistants (Romeo Crennel, Josh McDaniels and Charlie Weis) haven’t exactly done well away from Bill Belichick. O’Brien has a difficult job ahead of him and following a legend like Joe Paterno won’t be easy.

Carl Pelini, FAU – Considering FAU has won just five games in the last two years, Pelini is going to get a chance to rebuild and put his stamp on the program. However, he has no head coaching experience and has not coached in Florida before. The Owls have the ability to pluck some solid talent from the area, but it may take Pelini time to build the recruiting pipelines, especially after getting off to a rough start with one area coach. Also, Pelini was listed as the defensive coordinator at Nebraska, but how much control did he have over the gameplan with his brother (Bo) one of the top defensive minds in college football? Good coaches can come from anywhere and with a variety of backgrounds, but this is a strange fit for a program that could have used a higher-profile assistant, especially one with ties in Florida.

Charlie Weis, Kansas – After a disastrous two-year stint under Turner Gill, the Jayhawks desperately needed a new face of the program and someone who could get this team back on the map. Mission Accomplished. Weis has raised the profile of Kansas football, but now has to prove he can win in a stacked Big 12. Weis compiled a 35-27 record in five seasons at Notre Dame, but slumped to a 16-21 mark in the final three years. Landing transfers Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps have immediately boosted the Jayhawks’ quarterback play for the next couple of years. However, can Weis recruit well enough on defense to turn Kansas into a consistent bowl team? The results from South Bend suggest that won’t be the case.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon grades college football's best and worst new coaching hires for 2012.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 10, 2012 - 07:12
All taxonomy terms: Oregon Ducks, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/oregons-coaching-candidatesif-chip-kelly-had-gone-nfl
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What if Chip Kelly had left Oregon for the NFL? Here are some candidates the Ducks might have looked at as their next head coach.

Mike Bellotti, former Oregon head coach – Bellotti’s name was in the rumor mill for openings at Arizona and UCLA, but it’s uncertain if he was ever a serious candidate. Bellotti worked at Oregon from 1989-94 as the team’s offensive coordinator and then served as the head coach from 1995-08. He compiled a 116-55 record and earned one outright Pac-10 title during his 14-year tenure as the Ducks’ head coach. It could be a little awkward for Bellotti to return to the sidelines after choosing to retire as a head coach and become the school’s athletic director after the 2008 season. However, he’s certainly a good fit in Eugene and would likely keep many of the assistants and schemes the Ducks ran under Kelly. Going from Bellotti to Kelly would seem to be a pretty easy transition.

Pete Carroll, head coach, Seattle Seahawks – If you are Oregon, don’t you at least have to try to nudge Carroll back to the college game? Yes, it's a longshot, but why not? Although the Seahawks improved during the second half of the year, they probably aren’t ready to make a Super Bowl run in 2012. And if the Seahawks struggle to earn a winning record next year, would that be enough to lure Carroll back to the college game? His resume at USC was impressive, recording an 83-19 record over nine seasons and a BCS title in 2004. The Ducks can throw a lot of money in Carroll’s direction, but it’s certainly a longshot that he leaves the NFL. However, it’s not too often one of the top 15 jobs in college football is open, especially on the West Coast.

Dave Christensen, head coach, Wyoming – Christensen inked a contract extension at Wyoming this offseason, but figures to have interest in BCS jobs on the West Coast. He has an 18-20 record in three years with the Cowboys, but has led the team to two bowl appearances with freshmen quarterbacks. Christensen is also familiar with the Pacific Northwest, playing at Washington (1980-1982) and coaching with the Huskies for one season (1988). Although Christensen has emerged as a solid coach and someone who will move up the ranks to a BCS job, he seems like a longshot to land in Eugene - if Kelly leaves for the NFL after the 2012 season.

Sonny Dykes, head coach, Louisiana Tech – Just like Wyoming’s Dave Christensen, Dykes received a raise and a contract extension after the 2011 season. Dykes has compiled a 13-12 record in two seasons in Ruston, including an 8-5 mark and an appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2011. Dykes has experience coaching in the Pac-12, as he worked at Arizona from 2007-09. He also has stops as an assistant at Kentucky and Texas Tech. It’s only a matter of time before Dykes makes the jump to a BCS program, but if the Ducks have to replace Kelly next offseason, it seems unlikely he would be one of the top choices.

Mark Helfrich, offensive coordinator, Oregon – The Ducks may not have to look far for Kelly’s successor. Helfrich is considered a rising star in the assistant ranks, making stops at Boise State, Arizona State, Colorado and Oregon. He joined the Ducks in 2009 as the team’s offensive coordinator. Although Kelly significantly shaped Oregon’s offense, Helfrich is well-versed in the up-tempo attack and would likely keep much of the same scheme and assistants in place. If the Ducks want to keep continuity, Helfrich could be a perfect choice to become the next head coach. However, Helfrich has no head coaching experience and one has to wonder if he is ready to take over at one of the top programs on the West Coast. Is he the next Chip Kelly or Bill Stewart? That’s going to be a key question facing Oregon if they have to replace Kelly next offseason.

June Jones, head coach, SMU – Jones was reportedly very close to landing at Arizona State, but he was eventually passed for the job in favor of former Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham. As a native of Portland, Ore., it would be very surprising if Jones didn’t have interest in this position. Jones compiled a 76-41 record in nine seasons at Hawaii and has a 24-28 mark in four years at SMU. He inherited a very difficult situation at both schools and turned both programs into consistent bowl teams. There’s very little downside to Jones, although the current personnel wouldn’t be a perfect fit with his pass-first offense. He will be 60 when the 2013 season starts, so Jones would be the oldest coach in the Pac-12.

Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – Roman is a wildcard candidate to watch in coaching searches for 2012. He is a highly-regarded assistant, working under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford from 2009-10, before following him to the 49ers last offseason. Roman was reportedly in the mix at Vanderbilt last year and interviewed at Penn State this season. He doesn’t have any head coaching experience, but is considered a bright offensive mind, which would certainly go over well in Eugene. Roman is a longshot, but is due for a shot to run his own program in the near future.

Gary Patterson, head coach, TCU – Patterson’s name may pop up in BCS job searches next offseason, but it is highly unlikely he leaves TCU. Most of his coaching career has been spent in the Midwest, playing at Kansas State from 1980-81 and becoming TCU’s head coach in 2000. Patterson is considered one of college football’s top defensive minds, which would be a contrast to Kelly’s offensive background. After he helped to guide TCU to a BCS conference (Big 12), it would take a lot to lure Patterson out of Fort Worth. A longshot, but his track record makes it hard to ignore when elite BCS jobs come open.

Chris Petersen, head coach, Boise State – Outside of Helfrich, Petersen seems to be the most likely candidate to take over in Eugene. Petersen has experience in Eugene, as he coached receivers at Oregon from 1995-00. He reportedly turned down UCLA, but Oregon would seem to be a much better fit, as he could stay in the Pacific Northwest. Combine his familiarity with the program and his success at Boise State, Petersen would be a home run hire for the Ducks (if Kelly was to leave). However, Petersen was granted a contract extension and a salary bump this offseason, while Boise State is in the process of updating the football facilities. Although Petersen has had tremendous success with the Broncos, there’s no question Oregon is one of the top 15 jobs in the country. And the commitment is certainly in place to win big (national championships).

Justin Wilcox, defensive coordinator, Washington – After spending two seasons at Tennessee, Wilcox has moved back to the West Coast to take the defensive coordinator position at Washington. If there’s a candidate that’s built perfectly to become the head coach at Oregon, Wilcox is it. He was born in Eugene, Ore. and played as a defensive back with the Ducks from 1996-99. Wilcox has no head coaching experience, but is very familiar with the Pac-12, as he coached as an assistant at California from 2003-05. The lack of head coaching experience could be the only downside to Wilcox’s resume, as he is considered one the top up-and-coming assistant coaches in the nation. 

Teaser:
<p> What if Chip Kelly had left Oregon for the NFL? Here are some candidates the Ducks might have looked at as their next head coach.</p>
Post date: Friday, January 27, 2012 - 08:08
Path: /college-football/rutgers-coaching-candidates
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

No school wants to conduct a coaching search just a week before National Signing Day. However, that’s the predicament Rutgers finds itself in, as Greg Schiano decided to leave to become the next head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Schiano inherited a very difficult situation at Rutgers and won only three games in his first two years. However, Schiano turned the Scarlet Knights into a consistent winner in the Big East, posting at least seven wins in seven out of the last eight years. Rutgers made six bowl appearances under Schiano and fell just short of winning the Big East conference title in 2006.

Related: Athlon's Early College Football Top 25 for 2012

Who will replace Greg Schiano at Rutgers next season?

Steve Addazio, head coach, Temple – In his first season as Temple’s head coach, Addazio led the Owls to a 9-4 record and a victory over Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl. Addazio is also bringing in a solid recruiting class this year and has the Owls on the rise in the MAC East. The timing of Schiano’s departure makes it very difficult for any coach to leave their current position to go to Rutgers. However, Addazio is one that the Scarlet Knights need to give strong consideration to. He has stops as an assistant at Syracuse, Notre Dame, Indiana and Florida, and is familiar with the area, as he grew up in Connecticut.

Tom Bradley, former interim coach at Penn State – Bradley is a Pennsylvania native and has spent his entire coaching career at Penn State. He served as the Nittany Lions’ interim coach in the final four games, posting a 1-3 record with a loss to Houston in the TicketCity Bowl. Bradley was highly regarded during his tenure at Penn State for his recruiting and his defenses, which were usually among the best in the Big Ten. However, considering the scandal that surrounded Penn State in 2011, could Bradley be too toxic for Rutgers? For a school that can’t spend a ton of money on its next coach, Bradley would come relatively cheap.

Don Brown, defensive coordinator, Connecticut – Brown was reportedly one of the leading candidates to land at Yale this offseason but eventually pulled his name out of the running. He has a wealth of coaching experience in the Northeast, starting his career at Dartmouth in 1982 and making stops at Yale, Brown, Northeastern, UMass and Maryland. Brown has a 94-45 overall record in 12 years as a head coach and led UMass to the FCS title game in 2006.

Frank Cignetti, offensive coordinator, Rutgers – Rutgers chose Kyle Flood to serve as the team's interim coach while the school searches to fill the full-time position. However, Cignetti could be a strong in-house candidate to keep the job on a permanent basis. He joined Rutgers before the 2011 season, and helped to improve the offense, as the Scarlet Knights jumped from last in the Big East in scoring to fourth. Cignetti has no head coaching experience, but has built a strong resume with stops at North Carolina, Fresno State, California and Pittsburgh, along with the Chiefs and Saints in the NFL.

Mario Cristobal, head coach, FIU – Cristobal’s name has been mentioned in connection with a handful of BCS jobs over the last few years, but he has remained loyal to FIU. Cristobal inherited a disaster when he became the Golden Panthers’ coach in 2007, but has turned the program into a Sun Belt title contender. Under his watch, FIU is 24-38, but has made back-to-back bowl appearances. Cristobal also worked from 2001-03 at Rutgers, serving as the team’s tight end and offensive line coach. There’s no question Cristobal is one of the top coaches from one of the non-BCS conferences. However, he signed an extension before the season and was expected to get a raise after being mentioned heavily for the Pittsburgh position. Cristobal would be a tremendous hire, but it would take a tremendous offer to leave FIU.

Ron English, head coach, Eastern Michigan – English’s overall record at Eastern Michigan (8-28) isn’t impressive, but once you dig a little deeper, it’s apparent he has done a great job in a short amount of time. Eastern Michigan is one of the most difficult jobs in college football, and the Eagles have only one winning season since 1990. English led Eastern Michigan to a 6-6 record in 2011 and has this team in position to move up the MAC standings once again in 2012. English has a good resume, spending time at Arizona State, San Diego State, Michigan and Louisville. He is due for a chance at a BCS job, but English hasn’t coached any in the Northeast.  

Ralph Friedgen, former Maryland coach – Why not? Rutgers can’t spend $3 million on a coach, and especially considering how his tenure ended at Maryland, Friedgen has to be eager to get back into coaching. During his tenure with the Terrapins, Friedgen posted a 75-50 record, while leading his team to seven bowl appearances and an ACC title in 2001. Friedgen was born in Harrison, N.Y., just under 40 miles from Rutgers. The only downside to Friedgen is his age – he will be 65 when the 2012 season begins.

Jeff Jagodzinski, former Boston College coach – Jagodzinski recorded a solid 20-8 record during two seasons as Boston College’s head coach (2007-08). He was fired after interviewing for the vacant Jets head coaching position and has spent time with the Buccaneers and worked as the head coach of the UFL’s Omaha Nighthawks in 2010. A significant concern if Jagodzinski is to land another head coaching job: He was not regarded as a strong recruiter during his time with Boston College. 

K.C. Keeler, head coach, Delaware – Keeler has been a very successful coach on the D-III and FCS level, so it has been a bit of surprise he hasn’t jumped to a FBS position. However, Keeler played linebacker at Delaware from 1978-80, so it will take a special job to pull him away from his alma mater. In 10 years with the Blue Hens, Keeler has recorded a 169-67-1 mark and led the team to one FCS championship. Before coming to Delaware, he posted a 88-21-1 record in nine years at Rowan. Keeler is ready for the next challenge. But is he ready to leave his alma mater?

Tim Murphy, Harvard – Murphy’s name surfaced with the Penn State job, but the school chose to go with New England Patriots assistant Bill O’Brien as its new head coach. Murphy has largely been out of the spotlight, but he has been a head coach every season since 1987. He compiled a 15-8 record in two years at Maine (1987-88), 17-37-1 record at Cincinnati (1989-93) and has a 119-59 record at Harvard (1994-2011). Murphy wouldn’t be a flashy hire, but he’s built a solid resume during his career and has experience coaching in the Northeast from his time at Maine and at Harvard.

Longshots

Bud Foster, defensive coordinator, Virginia Tech – If not now, when will Foster leave Virginia Tech? He is regarded as one of the top defensive coordinators in college football, but has no head coaching experience. Foster is due for his shot to run a program, but he’s been very loyal to Virginia Tech.

Jim Leavitt, San Francisco 49ers linebackers coach – Leavitt had a rocky end to his tenure at South Florida, but had a very successful run as the Bulls’ head coach. Leavitt posted a 95-57 record with South Florida, which included bringing the program from its inception to becoming a consistent bowl team. Leavitt’s baggage from the end of his tenure at South Florida could be too much to overcome or he may look to land back in the Midwest, where he spent the majority of his career before joining the Bulls.

Mike MacIntyre, head coach, San Jose State – MacIntyre recently received an extension with San Jose State, so it’s unlikely he will leave to take the Rutgers job. However, he has spent most of his career close to the East Coast. MacIntyre has also done a good job of rebuilding the Spartans, leading the team to a 5-7 record in 2011 – the school’s highest win total since winning six in 2008.

Bill McGovern, defensive coordinator, Boston College – McGovern has no head coaching experience, but is considered one of the top assistants in the Northeast. He has worked at Boston College since 2000, with a prior stint with the Eagles from 1994-96. McGovern has developed a handful of solid linebackers during his tenure with the Eagles and is known as a good recruiter. McGovern would be a good fit, but the lack of head coaching experience certainly hurts his chances of landing the job.

Darren Rizzi, special teams coach with the Miami Dolphins – Rizzi is a name familiar with many at Rutgers, as he served as its special teams coach from 2002-07. He also grew up in New Jersey and has four years of head coaching experience. Rizzi’s overall record is not impressive, posting a 15-14 record in three years at New Haven and a 3-9 mark in one year at Rhode Island. 

Teaser:
<p> Who will replace Greg Schiano at Rutgers in 2012?</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 26, 2012 - 12:05
Path: /college-football/college-football-early-top-25
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

It's never too early to start thinking about next season. Spring practice will kick off for some teams in late February and before we know it, the 2012 Athlon Sports' preseason college football annuals will be hitting newsstands across the nation. 

Athlon's updated top 25 for 2012 reflects the coaching changes and early entries into the NFL Draft, but expect several tweaks before our official preseason poll is released in May.

Related: 2012 Athlon Consensus 100

1. LSU – The Tigers were easily blown out in the national title game by Alabama, but all is not lost going into 2012. LSU has one of the top returning rosters next season, but it also features a handful of question marks. The offense will have one of the top backfields and offensive lines in the nation, but can Zach Mettenberger improve the quarterback play? The defense will miss cornerback Morris Claiborne and tackle Michael Brockers, but this unit should still rank among the nation’s best.

2. USC – If a team is going to end the SEC’s run of dominance, the Trojans figure to be the frontrunner. Quarterback Matt Barkley decided to return for his senior year and will be throwing to one of the top receiving corps in the nation. Replacing offensive tackle Matt Kalil will be one of the biggest question marks for coach Lane Kiffin. The defense showed improvement last year, but must replace three starters, including all-conference selections in end Nick Perry and tackle Wes Horton. The Trojans won’t have the depth of LSU or Alabama, but there’s plenty of talent coming back to Los Angeles for a run at the national title next year.

3. Alabama – After claiming the national title, Nick Saban and his coaching staff have some work to do in order to get this team back to No. 1 by the end of next season. The Crimson Tide suffered some key losses on both sides of the ball, but Saban has recruited well and this team should be able to reload by midseason. AJ McCarron had a breakout performance in the national championship against LSU and will be expected to build upon that game in 2012. Losing Trent Richardson is a huge blow to the offense, but Eddie Lacy, Dee Hart, Jalston Fowler and talented freshman T.J. Yeldon are a capable group. Seven starters are gone off the nation’s best defense, which figures to be tested early with games against Arkansas and Michigan in September.

4. Georgia – It’s not crazy to think Mark Richt could go from coach on the hot seat to contending for the national title in 2012. The Bulldogs have the pieces to contend for a top-five finish next year, starting with quarterback Aaron Murray and a defense that returns nearly everyone. Improving the rushing attack will be one of the priorities during preseason practices, but the offensive line will have to replace two key stalwarts in left tackle Cordy Glenn and center Ben Jones.

5. Oklahoma – The Sooners were one of the favorites to win the national title in 2011, but slipped to a 10-3 record and a fourth-place finish in the Big 12. Although it was a disappointing season in Norman, Oklahoma should be back in the top 10 once again next year. The offense never recovered after an injury to receiver Ryan Broyles, but the passing attack should be better with an offseason to sort everything out. Dominique Whaley’s return from a broken ankle should help bolster the rushing offense and help to take the pressure off of quarterback Landry Jones. The defense returns seven starters, while the addition of former Arizona coach Mike Stoops as defensive coordinator figures to only help this group get better in 2012.

6. Oregon –  The surprising departure of quarterback Darron Thomas was a setback to Oregon’s chances of winning the Pac-12, but the Ducks remain the favorite to win the North Division. Sophomore Bryan Bennett should be Thomas’ replacement and he showed plenty of promise in limited action last season. Although running back LaMichael James will be missed, the one-two combination of Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas will give the backfield plenty of punch in 2012. The defense finished fifth in the Pac-12 in points allowed, but could be even better next season.

7. Michigan – With Ohio State ineligible for the Big Ten title, the balance of power in the Big Ten is clearly resting in the Legends Division. The Wolverines are the early favorites, thanks to the return of quarterback Denard Robinson and an improving defense. Coach Brady Hoke’s first year in Ann Arbor was a success, as Michigan won 11 games and played in a BCS game for the first time since the 2007 Rose Bowl. For the Wolverines to crack the top five, Robinson has to cut down on his interceptions (15) and up his completion percentage (55%). The defense showed big progress under coordinator Greg Mattison, but will be replacing two key starters on the line. The Wolverines won’t have an easy schedule next year, as Alabama and Notre Dame await in the non-conference portion, while they have conference road games against Ohio State and Nebraska.

8. Arkansas – The Razorbacks are inching closer to Alabama and LSU, and they will have a good chance to make some noise in the SEC West next year. Quarterback Tyler Wilson turned down the NFL for another season in Fayetteville, and the offense will get a boost with the return of running back Knile Davis back from a leg injury. The receiving corps must be revamped, but Cobi Hamilton and tight end Chris Gragg is a good place to start rebuilding. New defensive coordinator Paul Haynes will have his work cut out for him in 2012, as the Razorbacks will be replacing three of their top players: End Jake Bequette, linebacker Jerry Franklin and safety Tramain Thomas.

9. Florida State – Yes, the Seminoles are back in the top 10 once again. This team did not have the big season most expected in 2011, but the pieces are in place to win the ACC Championship in 2012. And when you consider the losses at Clemson and Virginia Tech, Florida State becomes an even bigger favorite to win the ACC. The defense should be among the best in the nation, while the young talent on offense should be improved with another offseason to work with quarterback EJ Manuel. How well (and fast) a young offensive line develops will determine just how high Florida State can climb next season.

10. Ohio State – With Urban Meyer arriving in Columbus, don’t expect a repeat of 2011’s 6-7 season at Ohio State. Quarterback Braxton Miller is a good fit for the Buckeyes’ new spread offense, while a group of young receivers should be better in 2012. The biggest question mark on offense will be filling holes on the line, as the Buckeyes have to replace standouts Mike Adams (LT) and Michael Brewster (C). The defense finished 19th nationally in yards allowed and could be even better in 2012 with only two starters departing. Although the Buckeyes should have a shot to finish next year with 10 victories, they are ineligible to play for the Big Ten title or a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions.

11. South Carolina – After finishing 11-2 and sweeping the SEC East for the first time in school history, what can the Gamecocks do for an encore? South Carolina is behind Georgia in the pecking order, but the Bulldogs have to visit Williams-Brice Stadium in 2012. Quarterback Connor Shaw played well at the end of the season, and the offense will get a boost with running back Marcus Lattimore returning from a torn ACL. Replacing receiver Alshon Jeffery is the biggest question mark facing the offense in 2012. The Gamecocks finished third nationally in total defense, but suffered some key departures, including end Melvin Ingram and cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

12. Texas – The Longhorns aren’t quite ready to contend for the Big 12 title, but they are slowly working their way back into contention. After improving its win total by three games from 2010 to 2011, Texas is poised to make a run at 10 victories in 2012. The defense should be the best in the Big 12, but the offense has to improve if the Longhorns want to push Oklahoma for the top spot. David Ash appears to have earned the No. 1 quarterback spot after his performance in the Holiday Bowl, while the rushing attack features three promising young running backs. Texas always recruits well, and its time for the young players on offense to step up in 2012.

13. West Virginia – Whether the Mountaineers are in the Big 12 or Big East, this team will be a factor on the national scene next year. Quarterback Geno Smith will lead one of the top passing attacks in college football, especially with receivers Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney returning in 2012. While the passing game shouldn’t be an issue, the rushing attack and offensive line must show improvement. Losing coordinator Jeff Casteel was a tough blow for West Virginia’s defense, and this unit must find replacements for defensive linemen Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin, linebacker Najee Goode and cornerback Keith Tandy. 

14. Michigan State – After back-to-back 11-win seasons, can the Spartans push the win total higher in 2012? The Spartans should be the biggest challenger to Michigan in the Legends Division, but they will have to replace quarterback Kirk Cousins and the team’s top three wide receivers. With questions surrounding the passing attack, look for the offense to lean more on running back Le’Veon Bell and an offensive line that returns four starters. Losing defensive tackle Jerel Worthy was a tough blow, but end William Gholston is back after registering 12 tackles for a loss and four sacks in 2011. The linebacking corps could be among the best in the nation, with Denicos Allen, Max Bullough and Chris Norman returning. The schedule isn’t easy, as Michigan State hosts Boise State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Nebraska in East Lansing, while playing Michigan and Wisconsin on the road.

15. Clemson – The defending Atlantic champs are in good position to contend for the conference title once again in 2012. Quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins will form one of the top pass-catch combinations in the nation, while running back Andre Ellington figures to top 1,000 yards once again in 2012. While there’s no shortage of weapons coming back for coordinator Chad Morris, the Tigers will be replacing three starters on the line. The defense allowed nearly 400 yards a game in 2011, prompting coordinator Kevin Steele’s departure. Former Oklahoma coordinator Brent Venables was a terrific hire by coach Dabo Swinney, but the defense may be a year away, especially with the departure of four key linemen.

16. Virginia Tech – The Hokies have been a model of consistency under coach Frank Beamer, posting at least 10 victories in 13 out of the last 17 years. And even though Virginia Tech has some significant question marks to address before next season, the Hokies will be the favorite to win the Coastal Division. The offense loses four starters on the line and must replace running back David Wilson. Quarterback Logan Thomas improved as a passer as 2011 progressed and will have to shoulder more of the workload on offense next year. With only two starters departing, the Hokies’ defense should be one of the best in college football.

17. Nebraska – Year 1 of life in the Big Ten turned out so-so for the Cornhuskers. Nebraska began the year as the favorite in the Big Ten Legends Division, but finished with a 9-4 record with losses to Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan and South Carolina. The Big Red should be in the mix for 9 or 10 victories once again in 2012, but could challenge for the division title if the offense continues to jell. Quarterback Taylor Martinez rushed for 874 yards and nine scores but completed only 56 percent of his throws. Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead form a solid combination, but the offense needs to throw the ball better next season. The defense will have some new faces stepping into key roles, as linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard have finished their eligibility. The schedule makers didn’t give Nebraska any breaks either, as the Cornhuskers have road trips to Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State, while Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State visit Lincoln.

18. Notre Dame – Is 2012 the year the Irish get back into a BCS bowl? Although Notre Dame has some key pieces returning, this team is probably ticketed for a spot in the lower half of the top 25 next year. Settling on a quarterback is priority No. 1 for coach Brian Kelly this spring. True freshman Gunner Kiel is already enrolled and will have a good shot to beat out Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson in preseason practices. With uncertainty at quarterback, expect running back Cierre Wood and a solid offensive line to carry the team early on. The defense will have a revamped secondary, but the line – led by Aaron Lynch, Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt – could be one of the best in college football.

19. TCU – Moving from the Mountain West to the Big 12 is a step up in competition, but the Horned Frogs are ready. Coach Gary Patterson is assembling another solid recruiting class, and the team is bringing back several key contributors. The offense is loaded with the return of quarterback Casey Pachall and depth at running back and in the receiving corps. Patterson is one of the top defensive minds in the nation and should prevent this unit from suffering much of a drop-off in production. Losing linebacker Tank Carder is a tough blow, but Tanner Brock returns after missing nearly all of 2011 with an injury.

20. Washington – Thanks to a revamped coaching staff, the Huskies have closed the gap with Oregon in the Pac-12 North. But will it be enough to win the division in 2012? The offense will be among the best in the conference, despite losing running back Chris Polk to the NFL Draft. Quarterback Keith Price has a group of talented receivers returning and the junior should shine with another offseason to work with coach Steve Sarkisian. Landing coordinator Justin Wilcox and defensive assistants Tosh Lupoi and Peter Sirmon should pay dividends on the field and in recruiting for Washington. Expect the Huskies to be better on defense next year, but they didn’t catch any breaks in the schedule with road trips to LSU, Oregon and Washington State, while getting USC and Utah in Seattle (CenturyLink Field).

21. Kansas State – The Wildcats were one of college football’s biggest surprises, as they were picked near the bottom of the Big 12 in the preseason, but finished second in the conference with a 10-3 record. This team won’t sneak up on anyone next year, but there’s a lot to like with Kansas State in 2012. Quarterback Collin Klein is back after compiling 40 touchdowns, while linebacker Arthur Brown returns after emerging as one of the Big 12’s top defenders in 2011. If the Wildcats want to contend for the conference title next year, improving the passing attack and replacing three key starters on the line will be crucial.  

22. Wisconsin – There’s a lot of new faces stepping into key positions and on the coaching staff next year in Madison. The biggest loss is quarterback Russell Wilson, who turned in a terrific senior year and led the Badgers to another Rose Bowl appearance after transferring from NC State. With Wilson departing, the offense will lean on running backs Montee Ball and James White. However, the line will be replacing three starters. The defense ranked 15th nationally in yards allowed and most of the core will return in 2012. Mike Taylor and Chris Borland will form one of the top linebacking duos in the nation.

23. Louisville – If West Virginia moves to the Big 12, the Cardinals will be the frontrunner to win the Big East crown next season. Despite being one of the youngest teams in the conference in 2011, Louisville managed to earn a share of the Big East title and nearly claimed a spot in the BCS. The offense suffered its share of ups and downs with freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater taking over as the starter, but this group should show improvement in 2012. The rushing attack produced only 121.5 yards per game last season and figures to be a focal point of attention in spring practice. The defense allowed only 20.1 points a game in 2011 and nearly everyone is back. Coach Charlie Strong has Louisville back on the rise and this team should easily surpass its win total (seven) from last season.

24. Boise State – The Broncos have a plethora of key losses on both sides of the ball, but remain the favorite in the Mountain West and should finish with nine or 10 victories in 2012. Replacing quarterback Kellen Moore is the top priority for coach Chris Petersen, with Joe Southwick, Nick Patti, Grant Hedrick and Jimmy Laughrea expected to compete for the job in spring practice. The Broncos will have a revamped defensive line in 2012, but the defense should be among the best in the Mountain West.

25. Oklahoma State – Without quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon, the Cowboys won’t match last season’s win total (12) and Big 12 championship. However, this team won’t slip too far, as the cupboard isn’t bare for coach Mike Gundy in 2012. Running backs Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith will anchor the offense while the quarterback situation is sorted out. The defense must replace a couple of key players on the line, but the back seven should be solid. The Big 12 could have six teams start the year in the preseason top 25, so the road to eight or nine wins won’t be easy.

The Next Five

26. Utah – Running back John White and a solid defense will lead Utah once again in 2012. The Utes should be USC’s toughest competition in the Pac-12 South.

27. Georgia Tech – With a little more consistency from quarterback Tevin Washington, the Yellow Jackets could make some noise in the ACC Coastal.

28. Auburn – There’s lots of young talent coming back to Auburn, but how will the new coaching staff mesh with the personnel?

29. NC State – The Wolfpack were one of the hottest teams in the ACC at season’s end, finishing with victories in four out of their final five games. Quarterback Mike Glennon should challenge for all-conference honors, while cornerback David Amerson should be a preseason All-American.

30. Missouri – With the move to the SEC, the Tigers will be one of the most intriguing teams to watch in 2012.

Related 2012 Content:

Very Early SEC 2012 Preseason Predictions
Very Early ACC 2012 Preseason Predictions

Very Early Pac-12 2012 Preseason Predictions

Very Early Big Ten 2012 Preseason Predictions

Very Early Big East 2012 Preseason Predictions

Very Early Big 12 2012 Preseason Predictions

2012 Heisman Trophy Candidates

Very Early Preseason 2012 College Football Top 25

Athlon Roundtable: Who are the BCS National Title Contenders in 2012?

What To Expect from the Crimson Tide in 2012?

What To Expect from the LSU Tigers in 2012?

2012 SEC Schedule Analysis

Three Teams on the Rise in 2012

Three Teams Sliding Back in 2012

Top Non-Conference Games to Watch in 2012

Teaser:
<p> Athlon continues its countdown to spring practice with a pre-preseason look at the top 25 teams for 2012.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - 07:18
Path: /college-football/sec-very-early-predictions-2012
Body:

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

Very Early 2012 SEC East Predictions

1. Georgia Bulldogs

Key Returnees: QB Aaron Murray, RB Isaiah Crowell, WR Malcolm Mitchell, WR Michael Bennett, WR Marlon Brown, WR Tavarres King, DL Arby Jones, DL John Jenkins, LB Jarvis Jones, LB Alec Ogletree LB Cornelius Washington, LB Michael Gilliard, DB Bacarri Rambo, DB Shawn Williams, DB Sanders Commings, DB Brandon Smith

Key Losses: TE Orson Charles, OL Cordy Glenn, OL Ben Jones, OL Justin Anderson, DT DeAngelo Tyson, CB/RET Brandon Boykin, K Blair Walsh, P Drew Butler

The story on offense should be pretty clear heading into 2012 for the Dawgs. Aaron Murray and a host of electric young skill players will return to a unit that has to replace its three best blockers. Can UGA establish the run better with an older, and more mature Isaiah Crowell, and new star Keith Marshall? The offensive line could be the only thing keeping Georgia from the national championship game.

If UGA does have a special season in 2012, it will be because of the defense. Todd Grantham in two short years turned the Dawgs into one of the stingiest units in the nation. And he has 10 starters back with elite level talent and depth at nearly every position. All-American candidates Jarvis Jones and Bacarri Rambo lead the way on the backend.

Special teams will take a big hit for Mark Richt as both kickers and return dynamo Brandon Boykin have moved on. However, the schedule is powerful reason why Georgia is the early favorite to win the East. Richt’s squad misses the three best teams from the West in LSU, Alabama and Arkansas — all of whom could be preseason top-10 teams. Trips to Missouri (to start SEC play) and South Carolina will be the toughest road tests of the year.

2. South Carolina Gamecocks

Key Returnees: QB Connor Shaw, RB Marcus Lattimore, RB Brandon Wilds, WR Ace Sanders, TE Justice Cunningham, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DE Devin Taylor, DT Kelcy Quarles, LB Shaq Wilson, DB D.J. Swearinger, DB DeVonte Holloman

Key Losses: OL Rokevious Watkins, WR Alshon Jeffery, DE Melvin Ingram, DT Travian Robertson, LB Rodney Paulk, CB Stephon Gilmore, LB/S Antonio Allen, C.C. Whitlock

Dismissing Stephen Garcia in the middle of the season might have been the best decision Steve Spurrier has made at South Carolina. The only disappointment is that new quarterback Connor Shaw didn’t get a full year of seasoning. The dual-threat quarterback played his best football down the stretch in 2011 and will welcome back the best running back in the nation when Marcus Lattimore returns to the field in 2012. Replacing Alshon Jeffery’s talent will be virtually impossible, but replacing his underwhelming (at times) production won’t. If the pass protection can improve, this entire offense has an opportunity to be much better in 2012.

Defensively, the front line has some holes to fill with the loss of Melvin Ingram and Travian Roberston, but Devin Taylor is back and Jadeveon Clowney proved his lofty recruiting status was totally justified. Toss in Kelcy Quarles and Carolina will have another stellar D-Line. Replacing some of the key pieces in the back seven, as well as the loss of coordinator Ellis Johnson, will determine if this defense can rank in the top-10 nationally once again.

The real issue with South Carolina, despite coming off its first 11-win season in school history, will be the schedule. The cross-over slate features a trip to LSU and a visit from Arkansas – two of the preseason top-10 teams in the nation. The schedule was the reason Athlon Sports picked Georgia to win the East in 2011 and a repeat decision is likely from America’s Premier Sports Publisher.

3. Missouri Tigers

Key Returnees: QB James Franklin, RB Kendial Lawrence, RB Henry Josey (injury), WR T.J. Moe, WR Marcus Lucas, WR L’Damian Washington, DL Brad Madison, DL Sheldon Richardson, DL Brayden Burnett, LB Andrew Wilson, LB Will Ebner, LB Zaviar Gooden, DB E.J. Gaines, DB Kip Edwards, DB Matt White, DB Kenronte Walker

Key Losses: WR Wes Kemp, TE Michael Egnew, OL Elvis Fisher, DE Jacquies Smith, DT Dominique Hamilton, DT Terrell Resonno, LB Luke Lambert, DB Kenji Jackson

The SEC’s other James Franklin enters America’s best conference with the potential to be an all-conference performer at quarterback. Whether or not his style of play can be effective against the extraordinarily talented SEC front sevens still remains to be seen. The good news is Gary Pinkel has plenty of talent coming back in the backfield and out wide for Franklin to utilize. But a great offensive line is a necessity to succeed in this league and how quickly this new group can gel will have the biggest impact on the offense. 

One look at the NFC playoffs in San Francisco and fans should understand how well Pinkel has recruited the defensive line. The Aldon-Justin Smith combo has proven that Mizzou has been one of the stronger Big 12 teams in the trenches since he arrived in Columbia. Brad Madison and Sheldon Richardson return to lead what should be one of the better units in the East — or at least one that is on par with Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. Can they hold up week-in, and week-out against SEC power rushing attacks? Only time will tell, but Missouri isn’t entering a new conference empty handed.

Hosting four of its first five conference games will help to ease Missouri into SEC play. However, the maiden voyage through the southeast culminates with three straight road games in three of the most hostile stadiums in the country: At Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M. The second half of the year will likely determine if the Tigers are successful in their first SEC campaign.

4. Florida Gators

Key Returnees: QB Jacoby Brissett, QB Jeff Driskel, RB Mike Gillislee, ATH Trey Burton, WR Andre Debose, WR Quinton Dunbar, TE Jordan Reed, OL Xavier Nixon, OL Jonotthan Harrison, OL Matt Patchan, OL Jon Halapio, DL Sharrif Floyd, DL Ronald Powell, DL Dominique Easley, LB Jon Bostic, LB Jelani Jenkins, LB Michael Taylor, DB Matt Elam, DB Josh Evans, DB Jaylen Watkins, DB Cody Riggs

Key Losses: QB John Brantley, RB Chris Rainey, RB Jeff Demps, OL Dan Wenger, DT Jaye Howard

Another year, another offensive scheme. Will Muschamp hired former Boise State offensive coordinator Brent Pease as his new offensive guru. In case you are counting at home, that makes four coordinators in four seasons in Ganiesville. And Pease’s first order of business is to find a quarterback. Uber-recruits Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will likely compete for the starting job, but how do their skills fit with the new scheme? And can Pease find offensive playmakers to help out – which sounds unfathomable at a school like Florida. How quickly Pease settles into his new office will likely determine if the Gators challenge for an SEC title or lose another five games.

While the offense has huge question marks heading into 2012, the defense has all the potential to be a dominant unit. It finished eighth nationally against the run, allowed only 20.3 points per game (20th nationally) and returns NFL talent at every position. This team has a chance to be very stout in 2012.

There are few breaks, as is the case with most SEC schools, on the Gators’ schedule. Muschamp starts the year visiting a rebuilding Texas A&M team and a developing Tennessee squad. LSU also comes to The Swamp in October in cross-over play with a very tough but potentially manageable finish to the year: South Carolina at home, Georgia in Jacksonville and Missouri at home.

5. Vanderbilt Commodores

Key Returnees: QB Jordan Rodgers, RB Zac Stacy, RB Warren Norman, WR Jordan Matthews, WR Chris Boyd, OL Wes Johnson, OL Ryan Seymour, DL Rob Lohr, DL Walker May, LB Chase Garnham, DB Kenny Ladler, DB Javon Marshall, DB Trey Wilson

Key Losses: TE Brandon Barden, OL Kyle Fischer, OL Logan Stewart, DL Tim Fugger, LB Chris Marve, CB Casey Hayward, S Sean Richardson

Other than Alabama, there might not have been a fan base more excited about its program in 2011 than Vanderbilt. Much of the credit belongs to cult of personality head coach James Franklin — and a host of experienced seniors on defense. Finding a way to replace names like Marve, Hayward, Fugger and Richardson will be key for Franklin.

Ideally, an experienced and developing offense should help mask some of the holes on defense. Jordan Rodgers returns for a full season under center (and back-up Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels is talented as well) and has all-SEC type players to work with in skill talents Zac Stacy, Warren Norman and Jordan Matthews. The offensive line won’t be a strength, but won’t be a weakness either as it is deep and beginning to develop experience.

The real reason Vandy fans are thinking bowl game for the second-straight season is the schedule. Like Georgia, the Dores miss the big three from the West (LSU, Alabama, Arkansas). However, Franklin and Rodgers will have to be ready to compete right out of the gate as South Carolina visits West End in the Thursday night primetime season kickoff in Week 1. Two non-conference road tilts with Northwestern and Wake Forest will also figure heavily into postseason play.

6. Tennessee Volunteers

Key Returnees: QB Tyler Bray, RB Marlin Lane, WR Justin Hunter, WR Da’Rick Rogers, OL Ja’Wuan James, OL Alex Bullard, OL Marcus Jackson, OL Dallas Thomas, DL Corey Miller, DL Jacques Smith, DL Daniel Hood, DL Maurice Couch, DL Willie Bohannon, LB A.J. Johnson, LB Curt Maggitt, DB Prentiss Waggner, DB Brian Randolph, DB Izauea Lanier

Key Losses: RB Tauren Poole, DE Malik Jackson, DE Ben Martin, LB Austin Johnson

There is a lot on the line for Derek Dooley in 2012. His career hangs in the balance as Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter return healthy as potentially one of the top QB-WR combos in the nation. There is loads of talent, and now experience, along the offensive line, so improving upon the 117th-ranked rushing offense will go a long way to keeping Dooley in Knoxville. Easier said than done.

Defensively, Dooley has an entirely new staff in place as he hired Sal Suneri from Alabama to run his defense. Like the offense, fans can finally point to talented, upside youngsters at key positions. Curt Maggitt and A.J. Johnson likely had to play too much as freshman, but went along way in accelerating the development process for the future star sophomores. The secondary has a lot of bodies and should be decent, but Sunseri’s ability to develop the front line will likely be the most important aspect of the defense. Maurice Couch and Daniel Hood showed consistency, but Corey Miller and Jacques Smith have the talent to be much better players. It falls to Sunseri, who developed stars like Rolando McClain, Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower, to turn them into the stars fans thought they would be as recruits.

Missing Arkansas and LSU helps this Tennessee team immensely in 2012, but will still have to face Florida, Georgia and Alabama in its first four SEC contests. The Vols likely have to reach seven or eight wins to save Dooley’s job and will undoubtedly need to pull one, if not two, upsets throughout the course of the season.

7. Kentucky Wildcats

Key Returnees: RB CoShik Williams, WR La’Rod King, OL Larry Warford, DL Collins Ukwu, LB Avery Williamson, LB Ridge Wilson, DB Martavius Neloms

Key Losses: WR Matt Roark, LB Danny Trevathan, LB Ronnie Sneed, S Winston Guy, DB Randall Burden

This team is in dire need of improvement in all areas. The offense failed to score more than 16 points in any SEC game in 2011 and topped 10 points in only two of eight games. Developing a quarterback will go a long way to making Joker Phillips’ group competitive once again in 2012. La’Rod King returns as the leading receiver and top offensive playmaker and blocker Larry Warford is a very talented start to building an offensive line.

Defensively, Phillips has to plug massive voids left by Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy. And with one of the toughest schedules in the league, finding defensive play-makers becomes magnified. Road trips to Florida, Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee packaged with homes games against South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt does not afford many chances for wins in 2012 for Kentucky.

2012 Very Early SEC West Predictions

1. LSU

Key Returnees: RB Spencer Ware, RB Michael Ford, RB Kenny Hilliard, WR Russell Shepard, WR Odell Beckham, LT Chris Faulk, C P.J. Lonergan, RT Alex Hurst, DE Sam Montgomery, DE Barkevious Mingo, DT Bennie Logan, LB Kevin Minter, CB Tyrann Mathieu, CB Tharold Simon, S Eric Reid, K Drew Alleman, P Brad Wing

Key Losses: QB Jordan Jefferson, QB Jarrett Lee, WR Rueben Randle, LG Will Blackwell, DT Michael Brockers, LB Stefoin Francois, LB Ryan Baker, CB Morris Claiborne, SS Brandon Taylor

A great regular season in Baton Rouge was overshadowed by an awful performance in the national title game against Alabama. The Tigers navigated a difficult regular season slate unbeaten, but that won’t wash away the disappointment from the 21-0 loss to the Crimson Tide in New Orleans. Although the loss still stings at LSU, the Tigers have to be ecstatic about what’s returning in 2012.

Quarterback play was a huge issue in the national title game and will enter 2012 as a question mark. Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee depart, leaving Zach Mettenberger as the team’s No. 1 option entering spring practice. Mettenberger saw limited action in 2011, completing 8 of 11 passes for 92 yards and one touchdown. Not helping Mettenberger’s cause was the departure of receiver Rueben Randle. With uncertainty surrounding Mettenberger, expect the Tigers to lean heavily on the rushing attack once again. Michael Ford, Spencer Ware, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard combined for 2,338 yards and 30 scores in 2011 and will be helped by the return of four starters on the offensive line. LSU should have one of the top rushing attacks in college football, but Mettenberger’s development will be crucial to winning a national title.

Despite the loss of a few starters, LSU isn’t going to suffer much of a drop-off on defense. The defensive line should be among the best in college football, especially with ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo returning after registering 17 sacks in 2011. Tackle Bennie Logan also returns after picking up 57 tackles last season. Two starters depart in the linebacking corps, but the backups have experience. Morris Claiborne was one of the top cover corners in the nation and may be missed more than some believe. However, the cupboard isn’t bare in the secondary, as Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon return in 2012.

2. Alabama

Key Returnees: QB AJ McCarron, RB Eddie Lacy, WR Kenny Bell, OL Barrett Jones, OG Chance Warmack, RT D.J. Fluker, DE Damion Square, DE Quinton Dial, DE Jesse Williams, LB Trey DePriest, LB Nico Johnson, LB C.J. Mosley, CB Dee Milliner, S Robert Lester, S Vinnie Sunseri

Key Losses: RB Trent Richardson, WR Marquis Maze, WR Darius Hanks, TE Brad Smelley, C William Vlachos, RG Alfred McCullough, OG Anthony Steen, LB Dont’a Hightower, LB Courtney Upshaw, NG Josh Chapman, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, CB DeQuan Menzie, S Mark Barron

The Crimson Tide will be replacing a plethora of key players, but is there really any doubt this team will be back in the mix for the SEC and national title?

Quarterback AJ McCarron was a key factor in Alabama’s national title win over LSU and he will be the focal point of the offense in 2012. McCarron threw only five picks and completed 66.8 percent of his throws in 2011. The junior will have to adapt to a new offensive coordinator (Doug Nussmeier) next year with Jim McElwain’s departure to Colorado State. With receivers Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks out of eligibility, the Crimson Tide needs Kenny Bell, DeAndrew White and Kevin Norwood to become the go-to weapons for McCarron, especially while a talented freshman class learns the ropes. Replacing Trent Richardson’s production at running back likely won’t come down to one player. Look for Eddie Lacy, Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler to share the initial workload in the backfield, while incoming freshman T.J. Yeldon will have an opportunity to work his way into the mix. The offensive line has to replace stalwart center William Vlachos, but Barrett Jones, D.J. Fluker and Anthony Steen are back.

After finishing first nationally in rush, total, scoring and pass defense, it’s nearly impossible to expect a repeat of those numbers in 2012 – especially with the loss of several key contributors. Coach Nick Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart will have their work cut out for them this offseason, as the defense loses linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, while Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron and DeQuan Menzie all depart from the secondary. Jesse Williams and Damion Square return on the line, but the Crimson Tide needs to find a new nose guard with Josh Chapman and Nick Gentry departing. There’s no shortage of young talent, but it may take five or six games for the right pieces to fall into place for this defense.

3. Arkansas

Key Returnees: QB Tyler Wilson, RB Knile Davis, WR Cobi Hamilton, TE Chris Gragg, OG Alvin Bailey, C Travis Swanson, DE Tenarius Wright, DT Byran Jones, LB Alonzo Highsmith, CB Tevin Mitchell, CB Isaac Madison, S Eric Bennett

Key Losses: WR Joe Adams, WR Jarius Wright, OG Grant Cook, OT Grant Freeman, DE Jake Bequette, LB Jerry Franklin, LB Jerico Nelson, CB Isaac Madison, S Tramain Thomas

The Razorbacks are coming off back-to-back double-digit win seasons for the first time since 1988-1989. Now that Arkansas seems to have closed the gap on LSU and Alabama, can it win the SEC West in 2012?

There’s a mixture of good and bad news for the Razorbacks’ offense next year. Running back Knile Davis is back after missing all of 2011 due to a leg injury, which should provide a spark for the rushing attack. However, Arkansas must replace three receivers, including playmakers Jarius Wright and Joe Adams. Quarterback Tyler Wilson turned down an opportunity to enter the NFL Draft and he should contend for first or second team All-SEC honors next year. The offensive line struggled at times during the 2011 season but figures to be improved in 2012.

If the Razorbacks want to close the gap and play for the SEC Championship next season, the defense has to continue to improve. New coordinator Paul Haynes did a good job containing Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl, but he will lose some of the unit’s key performers. End Jake Bequette, linebacker Jerry Franklin and safety Tramain Thomas will be missed and won’t make Haynes’ job any easier next year. Arkansas still trails LSU and Alabama in defensive strength, but it will be interesting to see how Haynes fares with a full year on the job.

4. Auburn

Key Returnees: RB Onterio McCalebb, WR Emory Blake, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen, C Reese Dismukes, DE Corey Lemonier, DE Nosa Eguae, LB Daren Bates, LB Jake Holland, CB Chris Davis, CB T’Sharvan Bell, S Demetruce McNeal, S Erique Florence

Key Losses: RB Michael Dyer, RT Brandon Mosley, LB Eltoro Freeman, S Neiko Thorpe

One year after winning the national title, the Tigers slipped back to the pack, finishing with an 8-5 record and a victory in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Virginia. After losing so many key players from the 2010 team, there was no doubt Auburn was due to for a fall. The Tigers will enter 2012 with new coordinators on both sides of the ball and a roster that is still one of the youngest in the conference.

Gus Malzahn’s up-tempo offense (and Cam Newton) was a big reason why Auburn claimed the 2010 national championship. However, Malzahn departed to be the head coach at Arkansas State, which certainly raises the question of whether or not the Tigers will continue with a similar offensive scheme in 2012. Regardless of scheme, settling the quarterback position is going to be crucial to Auburn’s success in 2012. Clint Moseley, Kiehl Frazier and incoming freshman Zeke Pike will compete for the job in spring practice. With the quarterback position in flux, the Tigers will lean heavily on the rushing attack in 2012. Michael Dyer also departed for Arkansas State, leaving Onterio McCalebb, Florida transfer Mike Blakely and Tre Mason to battle for carries. The offensive line loses tackles A.J. Greene and Brandon Mosley, but center Reese Dismukes is coming off a solid freshman campaign.

Youth and inexperience played a huge role in Auburn’s defensive struggles last season, but this group never really seemed to show much progress throughout the year. The Tigers ranked near the bottom of the SEC in rush, pass, total and scoring defense last season. Coach Gene Chizik made a good move when he decided to hire Brian Van Gorder from the Falcons to coordinate the defense. Van Gorder has some nice talent to work with on the defensive line, as Corey Lemonier, Jeffrey Whitaker, Gabe Wright and Nosa Eguae are all returning. The secondary has been a source of criticism over the last two years, but could benefit from a better pass rush.

5. Texas A&M

Key Returnees: RB Christine Michael, WR Ryan Swope, LT Luke Joeckel, C Patrick Lewis, RT Jake Matthews, DE Spencer Nealy, DT Eddie Brown, LB Jonathan Stewart, LB Sean Porter, LB Steven Jenkins, LB Damontre Moore

Key Losses: QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Cyrus Gray, WR Jeff Fuller, DE Tony Jerod-Eddie, CB Coryell Judie, CB Terrence Frederick, S Trent Hunter, K Randy Bullock

2012 represents a new era for Texas A&M athletics. The Aggies decided to leave the Big 12 for the SEC, joining the nation’s toughest conference for college football. While this is a big challenge, Texas A&M has the resources necessary to eventually compete in the SEC West. Could this move help the Aggies on the recruiting trail versus Texas? Only time will tell, but for 2012, Texas A&M has a lot of work to do in order to reach the postseason.

Along with the move to the SEC, the hire of coach Kevin Sumlin has built some positive momentum in College Station. Sumlin’s spread offenses at Houston were among the best in the nation, but the going will certainly be tougher in the SEC. Quarterback is a huge question mark entering spring practice, as Matt Joeckel, Matt Davis, Johnny Manziel and Jameill Showers will compete to replace Ryan Tannehill. With a young quarterback taking over, look for the Aggies to lean on the rushing attack and offensive line. Running back Christine Michael returns after missing the final four games due to a torn ACL. Michael will anchor the backfield, but Ben Malena will be a nice change of pace option. Whichever quarterback wins the job will have a solid group of receivers to throw to, including All-SEC candidate Ryan Swope.

It will be interesting to see how Texas A&M’s defense transitions to a 4-3 under coordinator Mark Snyder in 2012. After running the 3-4 under Tim DeRuyter, the switch may take a year or two to get the right bodies in place. Losing end Tony Jerod-Eddie is a tough blow for the line, but Spencer Nealy and Eddie Brown Jr. earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last season. The coaching staff needs to decide if Damontre Moore fits at end or linebacker, especially after he recorded 8.5 sacks in 2011. The linebacking corps should be a strength, as Jonathan Stewart, Sean Porter and Steven Jenkins return. The secondary was a weakness in 2011 and will be losing cornerbacks Terrence Frederick and Coryell Judie and safety Trent Hunter. Even though the SEC has struggled to get great quarterback play across the board, the secondary is going to be under fire early and often in 2012.

6. Mississippi State

Key Returnees: QB Tyler Russell, RB LaDarius Perkins, WR Chad Bumphis, LG Gabe Jackson, DE Kaleb Eulls, DT Josh Boyd, LB Cameron Lawrence, LB Deonte Skinner, CB Johnthan Banks, CB Corey Broomfield, S Nickoe Whitley

Key Losses: QB Chris Relf, RB Vick Ballard, LT James Carmon, RG Quentin Saulsberry, RT Addison Lawrence, DE Sean Ferguson, DT Fletcher Cox, LB Brandon Wilson, SS Charles Mitchell, FS Wade Bonner

The Bulldogs have emerged as a solid bowl team under coach Dan Mullen, but can the program take it to the next level? Mississippi State has yet to beat any SEC West team outside of Ole Miss under Mullen’s watch, which is something that has to change if the Bulldogs want to contend for a spot among the top three in the division.

While Mississippi State has made progress under Mullen, the going won’t get any easier in 2012. With Texas A&M joining the SEC West, the Bulldogs have another difficult obstacle to get bowl eligible. And there are a lot of question marks for this team going into spring practice. Quarterback play was an issue in 2011, with Chris Relf and Tyler Russell both getting significant snaps. Relf has expired his eligibility, leaving Russell as the team’s No. 1 quarterback. Running back Vick Ballard must be replaced, but LaDarius Perkins has averaged 5.3 yards per carry during his career and should be a solid replacement. Additionally, three starters must be replaced on the offensive line.

The Bulldogs allowed only 20 points a game last season, but ranked seventh in the SEC in rush defense, allowing 153.5 yards per game. The defense was dealt a blow when tackle Fletcher Cox decided to leave for the NFL, but fellow tackle Josh Boyd is back for his senior year. The Bulldogs caught a break when cornerback Johnthan Banks decided to return for his senior year, but the secondary must replace safety Charles Mitchell. This unit shouldn’t suffer too much of a drop-off, but could struggle to stop the run without one of its key defenders on the interior of the line.

7. Ole Miss

Key Returnees: RB Jeff Scott, WR Donte Moncrief, WR Nickolas Brassell, LB Mike Marry, LB D.T. Shackelford, FS Charles Sawyer, P Tyler Campbell

Key Losses: RB Brandon Bolden, LT Bradley Sowell, RT Bobby Massie, DE Kentrell Lockett, S Damien Jackson

A disastrous 2011 season brought change to Oxford. Out is Houston Nutt as the Rebels’ coach and in is former Arkansas State head coach (and Ole Miss assistant) Hugh Freeze. The new coaching staff has a lot of work to do to get the Rebels back in a bowl game and considering the returning personnel, it may be a year or two before that happens.

Three quarterbacks received snaps in 2011, but none performed well enough to claim the job entering spring practice. Randall Mackey, Zack Stoudt and Barry Brunetti all return for 2012, but will face competition from incoming JUCO Bo Wallace. Jeff Scott is the team’s top returning rusher (529 yards), but at 5-foot-7, the Rebels don’t want to give him 250-300 carries. The receiving corps has some promising youth returning, as Donte Moncrief and Nickolas Brassell – both freshmen last year – ranked No. 1 and No. 2 on the team in catches last year. The offensive line will be a concern next year, especially with Bradley Sowell out of eligibility and Bobby Massie declaring for the draft.

As if the offensive struggles weren’t enough last year, the Rebels were one of the worst in the SEC in defense. New co-defensive coordinators Dave Wommack and Wesley McGriff have to figure out ways to generate a pass rush after the Rebels averaged only one sack a game in 2011. Linebacker D.T. Shackelford missed all of 2011 due to a knee injury and his return should add some much-needed punch to the run defense. 

Related 2012 Content:

Very Early ACC 2012 Preseason Predictions
Very Early Pac-12 2012 Preseason Predictions

Very Early Big Ten 2012 Preseason Predictions

Very Early Big East 2012 Preseason Predictions

Very Early Big 12 2012 Preseason Predictions

2012 Heisman Trophy Candidates

Very Early Preseason 2012 College Football Top 25

Athlon Roundtable: Who are the BCS National Title Contenders in 2012?

What To Expect from the Crimson Tide in 2012?

What To Expect from the LSU Tigers in 2012?

2012 SEC Schedule Analysis

Three Teams on the Rise in 2012

Three Teams Sliding Back in 2012

Top Non-Conference Games to Watch in 2012

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By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Very Early 2012 ACC Predictions

Atlantic Division

1. Florida State

Key Returnees: QB EJ Manuel, RB Devonta Freeman, WR Rashad Greene, WR Rodney Smith, DE Brandon Jenkins, DE Bjoern Werner, DT Everett Dawkins, DT Timmy Jernigan, LB Christian Jones, CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Greg Reid, FS Lamarcus Joyner, K Dustin Hopkins

Key Losses: WR Bert Reed, LT Zebrie Sanders, LB Nigel Bradham, CB Mike Harris, P Shawn Powell

The question facing the Seminoles every offseason seems to the same: Is Florida State back? We won’t know until next December if the Seminoles are truly a contender for the national title, but on paper, this group has the pieces to finish among the top 5-10 teams in the nation.

Quarterback EJ Manuel had his moments in his first year as the starter, but a shoulder injury suffered in the third game of the season seemed to stall the offense’s development. Manuel has plenty of young weapons at receiver to throw to, but Florida State’s offensive outlook rests solely on its line. The Seminoles had several underclassmen see valuable playing time up front, but this will be a question mark all season long. Largely due to the struggles of the offensive line, the rushing attack never really got going in 2011. If the line play stabilizes, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder should find more running lanes in 2012.

Mark Stoops was reportedly courted by Auburn for its defensive coordinator position, but chose to stay in Tallahassee for another year. That’s great news for a Florida State defense that should be among the best in college football next year. The Seminoles bring back a plethora of talented linemen, including ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner. Nigel Bradham must be replaced at linebacker, but Christian Jones, Vince Williams and Jeff Luc are ready to step up. The secondary figures to be near the top of the ACC once again, especially with Xavier Rhodes and Greg Reid returning at cornerback.

2. Clemson

Key Returnees: QB Tajh Boyd, RB Andre Ellington, WR Sammy Watkins, WR DeAndre Hopkins, C Dalton Freeman, LB Corico Hawkins, LB Jonathan Willard, S Rashard Hall, S Xavier Brewer

Key Losses: TE Dwayne Allen, LT Phillip Price, RT Landon Walker, DE Andre Branch, DT Brandon Thompson, DT Rennie Moore, CB Coty Sensabaugh

Coming off a 6-7 season, there was plenty of doubt about Clemson in 2011. The Tigers were picked by most to finish in the second tier of the ACC Atlantic, but all of the pieces fell in the right place. Hiring Chad Morris as offensive coordinator turned out to be one of the best coaching moves of the offseason, while the Tigers crushed Virginia Tech 38-10 to make their first BCS bowl appearance.

Morris’ offense was a smash hit in Death Valley last season and most of the key pieces return for 2012. Quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins will be one of the top pass-catch combinations in college football, while running back Andre Ellington should rush for 1,000 yards. The biggest question mark facing Clemson’s offense will be the line, where three new starters will step in. If the Tigers successfully replace tackles Phillip Price and Landon Walker, the offense shouldn’t miss a beat in 2012.

After giving up 70 points to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was shown the door. And in his place comes former Oklahoma assistant Brent Venables - a home run hire as Clemson's new defensive coordinator. The Tigers finished the season ranked 70th or worse in rush, total and scoring defense and generated only 1.7 sacks per game. Not only will the defense have a new coordinator, but must replace three key starters on the line, including All-ACC selections in Brandon Thompson and Andre Branch. The Tigers have recruited well, but the defense may be a year away from showing much improvement in the stat column.

3. NC State

Key Returnees: QB Mike Glennon, RB Mustafa Greene, RB James Washington, WR Tobais Palmer, LT R.J. Mattes, C Camden Wentz, CB David Amerson, S Brandan Bishop, S Earl Wolff

Key Losses: WR T.J. Graham, TE George Bryan, DT J.R. Sweezy, DT Markus Kuhn, LB Audie Cole, LB Terrell Manning

Last offseason wasn’t exactly quiet in Raleigh, but after closing with wins in four out of their final five games, coach Tom O’Brien should be feeling good about his team going into 2012.

Breaking up with quarterback Russell Wilson wasn’t easy, but Mike Glennon quietly turned in a solid season. The junior threw for 3,054 yards and 31 touchdowns, while tossing 12 interceptions and adding one score on the ground. Glennon will only get better with another offseason to work with the coaching staff, but the Wolfpack has to replace key receivers T.J. Graham and Jay Smith and tight end George Bryan. Running back should be a position of strength, as James Washington returns after rushing for 897 yards and Mustafa Greene is back after missing all of 2011 due to injury. With four starters returning, the Wolfpack offensive line should be able to cut down on the amount of sacks this group allowed in 2011 (34).

Keeping Jon Tenuta on the defensive staff was a huge coup for O’Brien, especially after finishing fourth in the ACC in total defense in 2011. However, the Wolfpack suffered some key losses from this group, especially in the front seven. Tackles Markus Kuhn and J.R. Sweezy and linebackers Dwayne Maddox, Audie Cole and Terrell Manning are all gone. While the front seven will be a question mark, the secondary is a strength, especially with cornerback David Amerson returning.

4. Wake Forest

Key Returnees: QB Tanner Price, RB Josh Harris, WR Michael Campanaro, NG Nikita Whitlock, LB Mike Olson, CB Merrill Noel

Key Losses: RB Brandon Pendergrass, WR Chris Givens, LG Joe Looney, DE Tristan Dorty, LB Kyle Wilber, SS Cyhl Quarles, S Josh Bush

The Demon Deacons started 5-2, but cooled off in the second half of the year to finish with a 6-7 record. Although that tally isn’t overwhelmingly impressive to some, the record represented a solid year of improvement for coach Jim Grobe. Wake Forest won only three games in 2010 with a core composed mostly of young players, which was a valuable learning experience for the team in 2011 and once again for 2012.

Quarterback Tanner Price emerged as one of the top passers in the ACC last year, throwing for 3,017 yards, 20 touchdowns and only six interceptions. Price returns in 2012, but will have to find a new go-to target with receiver Chris Givens moving onto the NFL. Michael Campanaro figures to be Price’s new favorite target after catching 73 passes for 833 yards last year. Running back Josh Harris was limited due to a hamstring injury in 2011, but could threaten 1,000 yards with 150-175 carries in 2012. Expect the offensive line to get plenty of attention in the spring, as the Demon Deacons have to replace four starters, including tackle Dennis Godfrey and All-ACC guard Joe Looney.

Seven starters return on defense for Wake Forest next season, but this unit ranked eighth or worse in the ACC in rushing, total, scoring and pass defense last year. There aren’t a ton of significant losses for 2012, but replacing All-ACC safety Josh Bush won’t be easy. With the returning group of players, Wake Forest figures to make some improvement on defense in 2012. The Demon Deacons would benefit from more of a pass rush, as they finished 115th nationally in 2011.

5. Boston College

Key Returnees: QB Chase Rettig, RB Montel Harris, WR Colin Larmond, DT Kaleb Ramsey, DT Dominic Appiah, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB Steele Divitto, CB Al Louis-Jean

Key Losses: C Mark Spinney, DE Max Holloway, LB Luke Kuechly, CB Donnie Fletcher

The Eagles are coming off their first losing season since 1998. After starting off 1-6, the team showed some progress, winning three of their final five games to finish with a 4-8 record. Coach Frank Spaziani enters 2012 on the hot seat and some new faces on the coaching staff. Spaziani hired former Kent State coach Doug Martin to coordinate the offense, while former Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman will work with the offensive line.

Spaziani hopes Martin can find some answers for offense that was one of the worst in the ACC last year. Quarterback Chase Rettig tossed 12 touchdowns, but completed only 53.6 percent of his throws. Rettig needs more help from his receiving corps, as the offense would benefit from more big plays in 2012. Montel Harris has rushed for 3,735 yards and 27 scores in his career and was granted an extra year of eligibility after missing most of 2011 due to a knee injury. While getting Harris back will help the ground attack, Boston College also needs more help from its offensive line.

The defense was respectable last year, as the Eagles finished 43rd nationally in scoring defense and allowed 17 or fewer points in each of their final three games. However, this group suffered some key losses, including Butkus Award winner Luke Kuechly. Look for Kevin Pierre-Louis to emerge as the leader in the linebacking corps and should challenge for all-conference honors. The defensive line gained some extra help over the winter when tackle Kaleb Ramsey was granted an additional year of eligibility.

The Eagles aren’t ready to challenge for the division title, but the pieces are in place to contend for a bowl bid. Improving the offense is priority No. 1 this offseason for Spaziani and if this unit struggles in 2012, Boston College will likely be looking for a new head coach by December.

6. Maryland

Key Returnees: QB C.J. Brown, WR Kevin Dorsey, DT Joe Vellano, LB Kenny Tate, LB Demetrius Hartsfield, CB Dexter McDougle, S Eric Franklin

Key Losses: RB Davin Meggett, WR Quintin McCree, RT R.J. Dill, CB Cameron Chism

Only one word seems to correctly summarize coach Randy Edsall’s first year at Maryland: Disaster. Coming off a 9-4 season, the Terrapins appeared to have the pieces in place to contend for a finish among the top three in the ACC Atlantic. Instead, Maryland hit rock bottom, finishing with just two victories and going winless in conference play. The 2-10 debacle prompted changes on the coaching staff, including new offensive and defensive coordinators.

After turning in a terrific freshman campaign, quarterback Danny O’Brien was one of the most disappointing players in the ACC last year. O’Brien decided to transfer, leaving C.J. Brown as Maryland's No. 1 quarterback for spring practice. Running back Davin Meggett has finished his eligibility in College Park, leaving Justus Pickett and incoming freshman Albert Reid and Wes Brown to compete for carries. Tackle R.J. Dill decided to transfer to Rutgers for his senior year, leaving a void on the right side of the line.

There were few positives for the Terrapins on defense last season, finishing last in the ACC in rushing, total and scoring defense. New coordinator Brian Stewart is moving this defense to a 3-4 look, and there is some solid returning personnel in place for this transition. Linebacker/safety Kenny Tate was injured early in the year, but should be in contention for All-ACC honors in 2012. Defensive tackle Joe Vellano is coming off a terrific season, but the Terrapins need to figure out if he can anchor the middle of the 3-4 look or if he is better suited for the outside.

There’s nowhere to go but up for Maryland next season. However, there are plenty of concerns and question marks facing this squad. 

Coastal

1. Virginia Tech

Key Returnees: QB Logan Thomas, WR Marcus Davis, WR D.J. Coles, DE James Gayle, DE J.R. Collins, DT Derrick Hopkins, LB Bruce Taylor, LB Tariq Edwards, CB Kyle Fuller, S Antone Exum

Key Losses: RB David Wilson, WR Jarrett Boykin, WR Danny Coale, LT Andrew Lanier, LG Greg Nosal, RG Jaymes Brooks, RT Blake DeChristopher, CB Jayron Hosley, FS Eddie Whitley

The Hokies have claimed back-to-back ACC Coastal titles and despite some heavy losses, will enter 2012 as the favorite once again. With the rest of the division facing a lot of uncertainty, Virginia Tech could be the only team from the Coastal to be ranked in preseason top 25 polls.

With running back David Wilson and four starters departing on the offensive line, it’s up to quarterback Logan Thomas to carry the Virginia Tech offense in 2012. The junior made big progress as a passer as the season progressed, but will be throwing to a revamped receiving corps next season. Replacing Wilson won’t be easy, especially with a cast of running backs with very little experience in place. Tony Gregory has the most carries (39) of returning running backs, but averaged only 3.3 yards per touch. Don’t be surprised if freshmen play a key role in the Hokies’ backfield next season.

While the offense will be undergoing some renovations, the defense could be among the best in college football. The line is stacked with proven commodities, including likely All-ACC selections in end James Gayle and J.R. Collins, while tackle Derrick Hopkins looks to build off his 2011 campaign (50 tackles, 3 sacks). Linebackers Bruce Taylor and Jeron Gouveia-Winslow missed time due to injuries, but will anchor a solid group in 2012. Losing cornerback Jayron Hosley and safety Eddie Whitley is a big blow, but Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller is a good starting point for the secondary for next season.

2. Georgia Tech

Key Returnees: QB Tevin Washington, RB David Sims, RB Orwin Smith, OG Omoregie Uzzi, LB Julian Burnett, LB Jeremiah Attaochu, CB Rod Sweeting, CB Louis Young, S Isaiah Johnson

Key Losses: WR Stephen Hill, DE Jason Peters, DT Logan Walls, LB Steven Sylvester, S Rashaad Reid

What a difference a year makes. Coming into 2011, Georgia Tech was coming off a disappointing 6-7 season and coach Paul Johnson’s option attack was being questioned once again. Instead of continuing to slide back to mediocrity, the Yellow Jackets responded with a 6-0 start and finished with an 8-5 record. Although Georgia Tech had a late-season slide, it is poised to be a contender for the ACC Coastal title in 2012.

Quarterback Tevin Washington led the team with 987 rushing yards and 14 scores, but will face spring competition from Synjyn Days for the No. 1 spot. Washington needs to be more consistent as a passer, but the offense suffered a tough blow when receiver Stephen Hill left early for the NFL Draft. The Yellow Jackets lack a go-to back, but David Sims and Orwin Smith combined for 1,313 yards and 18 scores in 2011. Four starters are back on the offensive line, including All-American candidate Omoregie Uzzi at right guard.

Adapting to the 3-4 scheme wasn’t an overnight process, but the Yellow Jackets are making progress. Linebackers Jeremiah Attaochu, Quayshawn Nealy and Julian Burnett will be one of the top trios in the ACC next season. Finding an anchor at defensive tackle is key for any 3-4 defense and the Yellow Jackets have to replace Logan Walls in the middle next year. T.J. Barnes has the necessary size, but has not started for a full season. The secondary finished second in the ACC in pass defense in 2011 and returns four starters for 2012. If coordinator Al Groh can sort out the defensive line in spring practice, this defense should take another step forward in 2012. 

3. Virginia

Key Returnees: QB Michael Rocco, RB Perry Jones, RB Kevin Parks, WR Tim Smith, LT Oday Aboushi, DT Will Hill, LB Steve Greer, LB LaRoy Reynolds, CB Demetrious Nicholson

Key Losses: WR Kris Burd, LG Austin Pasztor, C Anthony Mihota, DE Cam Johnson, DT Matt Conrath, CB Chase Minnifield, S Rodney McLeod, S Corey Mosley

The Cavaliers were one of the biggest surprises in the ACC, going from 4-8 in 2010 to 8-5 in 2011. Coach Mike London claimed the conference’s coach of the year honors for the turnaround and leading the Cavaliers to their first postseason trip since the 2007 season. The future is bright for Virginia and another eight-win season should be within reach in 2012.

The offense had its share of ups and downs but finished No. 4 in the ACC with an average of 399.8 yards per game. Quarterback Michael Rocco had only one touchdown pass through the first four games, but finished with 12 over his next nine. He tossed 12 interceptions, which is something London and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor want to see him cut in 2012. The bread and butter of the Virginia offense is the one-two punch of Perry Jones and Kevin Parks at running back. The duo combined for 1,624 yards and 14 scores in 2011 and will lead the offense once again in 2012. The offensive line played a key role in the rushing attack’s success and loses two key players next year – guard Austin Pasztor and center Anthony Mihota.

The Cavaliers improved statistically against the run and in overall points allowed this season, but must replace some key contributors in 2012. The defensive line loses three starters, including tackle Matt Conrath and end Cam Johnson. The linebacking corps should be a strength, as Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds could contend for all-conference honors. Losing Chase Minnifield is a huge blow for the Virginia secondary, but freshman Demetrious Nicholson started all 13 games in 2011 and is a future star. Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley will form a solid combination at safety next season.

4. North Carolina

Key Returnees: QB Bryn Renner, RB Giovani Bernard, WR Erik Highsmith, LT James Hurst, LG Jonathan Cooper, DE Kareem Martin, DT Sylvester Williams, LB Kevin Reddick, FS Tre Boston

Key Losses: WR Dwight Jones, DE Quinton Coples, DE Donte Paige-Moss, DT Tydreke Powell, LB Zach Brown, CB Charles Brown

The cupboard wasn’t left completely bare for new coach Larry Fedora. After a successful stint at Southern Miss, Fedora takes over a Tar Heel squad that finished 7-6 after starting 5-1. North Carolina has won at least seven games in each of the last four years, but has failed to contend for the Coastal title.

Fedora’s specialty is on offense and will have some talented personnel to work with next season in Chapel Hill. Quarterback Bryn Renner is back after throwing for 3,086 yards and 26 scores. Renner is more of a dropback passer, but Fedora has run a spread offense at his previous stops. Although Renner may not be a perfect fit, expect Fedora to mold his offense around his strengths. Running back Giovani Bernard is another solid building block, returning to Chapel Hill after a strong freshman season. Bernard led the team with 1,253 yards and 13 rushing scores, while catching 45 passes for 362 yards and one touchdown. All five starters on the offensive line will return in 2012, making this group one of the best in the ACC.

With a handful of key departures on defense, the offense will have to carry the Tar Heels in 2012. The Tar Heels must replace two starters on the line, including end Quinton Coples and tackle Tydreke Powell. Linebacker Zach Brown will be missed, but Kevin Reddick and Darius Lipford return. The secondary will be under the microscope next season, as the Tar Heels ranked 10th in the ACC in pass defense in 2011. Making matters worse in the defensive backfield is the departure of safety Jonathan Smith and cornerback Charles Brown. 

5. Miami

Key Returnees: WR Allen Hurns, OT Seantrel Henderson, DE Anthony Chickillo, DT Darius Smith, LB Denzel Perryman, LB Jimmy Gaines, S Vaughn Telemaque, S Ray-Ray Armstrong

Key Losses: QB Jacory Harris, RB Lamar Miller, C Tyler Horn, OG Brandon Washington, DE Olivier Vernon, DT Micanor Regis, LB Sean Spence, S JoJo Nicolas

Al Golden is the right coach for the job in Miami, but he is about to embark on a difficult road the next few seasons in Coral Gables. The Hurricanes are waiting for any penalties regarding a recent NCAA investigation, which could result in the loss of scholarships. Miami sat out the 2011 postseason hoping to avoid any future bowl ban as a result of the investigation, but it is unclear if the NCAA will prevent the Hurricanes from playing in a bowl game in 2012.

Even if you put aside the NCAA concerns, the Hurricanes enter spring practice with a handful of question marks. Quarterback Jacory Harris has finished his eligibility, leaving Stephen Morris, Memphis transfer Ryan Williams and incoming freshmen Preston Dewey and Gary Crow to compete for the job. Morris has the edge in experience, so it would be a surprise if he didn’t start the first game of the year. Losing running back Lamar Miller to the NFL was a huge blow to the offense, but the Hurricanes have some experience returning, including Mike James and Eduardo Clements. Incoming freshman Duke Johnson could also compete for playing time. Tommy Streeter and Travis Benjamin are gone in the receiving corps, which leaves Allen Hurns and tight end Clive Watford as the go-to weapons for the new quarterback. The offensive line also enters spring practice with issues, as Brandon Washington, Harland Gunn and Tyler Horn all depart.

Considering the offense will need a lot of work, the defense figures to be the strength. End Anthony Chickillo and linebacker Denzel Perryman are ready to build off strong freshmen seasons, while the secondary is a strength with safeties Vaughn Telemaque and Ray-Ray Armstrong returning. Replacing Sean Spence at middle linebacker will be one of the top priorities for defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. 

6. Duke

Key Returnees: QB Sean Renfree, RB Juwan Thompson, WR Conner Vernon, WR Brandon Braxton, LB Kelby Brown, CB Ross Cockrell, S Walt Canty

Key Losses: WR Donovan Varner, TE Cooper Helfet, LT Kyle Hill, NG Charlie Hatcher, S Matt Daniels

Progress has been slow to come by at Duke under coach David Cutcliffe. The Blue Devils won nine games in Cutcliffe’s first two years, but have claimed only six over the last two seasons. It’s not easy to win at Duke, but the team has yet to make the jump most expected to see under Cutcliffe. There’s some promising talent returning to Durham in 2012, but it’s hard to see a finish outside of the cellar in the ACC Coastal.

If Duke wants to make any improvement in the win column, the rushing attack (seemingly a problem every year) has to take a step forward in 2012. The Blue Devils averaged only 94.1 rushing yards per game in 2011, putting too much pressure on quarterback Sean Renfree to win games. The senior quarterback threw for 14 scores and 2,891 yards last year, but also tossed 11 picks. Renfree has a good group of receivers to throw to, as Conner Vernon, Brandon Braxton and Jamison Crowder return. The offensive line returns mostly intact, but has to replace valuable tackle Kyle Hill.

Just like the rushing attack, the defense has been an issue for a handful of years in Durham. The Blue Devils ranked 11th or worse in the ACC in rushing, total, scoring and pass defense last season. Unfortunately for the defensive staff, the going won’t get any easier with the departure of safety Matt Daniels and nose guard Charlie Hatcher. There’s enough returning players to expect improvement, but each level of the defense has concerns heading into 2012.

2012 ACC Championship Game: Florida State vs. Virginia Tech

The Hokies should have their offensive line question marks sorted out by December, but Florida State's defense will likely be the difference in this game. Of course, it's only January, so all predictions are subject to change when Athlon updates the picks for the 2012 preseason annuals. 

Related 2012 Content:

Very Early Big Ten 2012 Preseason Predictions
Very Early Big East 2012 Preseason Predictions

Very Early Big 12 2012 Preseason Predictions

2012 Heisman Trophy Candidates

Very Early Preseason 2012 College Football Top 25

Athlon Roundtable: Who are the BCS National Title Contenders in 2012?

What To Expect from the Crimson Tide in 2012?

What To Expect from the LSU Tigers in 2012?

2012 SEC Schedule Analysis

Three Teams on the Rise in 2012

Three Teams Sliding Back in 2012

Top Non-Conference Games to Watch in 2012

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<p> Athlon releases its very early predictions for the ACC for 2012.&nbsp;</p>
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By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Very Early 2012 Pac-12 Predictions

Pac-12 North

1. Oregon Ducks (4 home, 5 road conference games)

Key Returnees:
RB Kenjon Barner, RB/WR DeAnthony Thomas, WR Josh Huff, DL Dion Jordan, DL Taylor Hart, LB Michael Clay, LB Kiko Alonso, DB John Boyett, DB Avery Patterson, K Alejandrio Maldonado, P Jackson Rice

Key Losses: QB Darron Thomas, RB LaMichael James, WR Lavasier Tuinei, TE David Paulson, OL Mark Asper, DL Terrell Turner, LB Josh Kaddu, LB Dewitt Stuckey, CB Cliff Harris, S Eddie Pleasant

Darron Thomas’ strange decision to leave school early creates a void at the most important position on the field. Most believe that Brian Bennett is capable, but until the bright lights are on, he has to be considered a relative unknown. Replacing 71 touchdowns and a 23-3 record at quarterback doesn’t happen over night. With Kenjon Barner, DeAnthony Thomas and Josh Huff to help, however, he shouldn’t have to shoulder the entire offensive load. Chip Kelly’s offense won’t be as dynamic as it has been the last two seasons, but should still be plenty potent to win the North.

Defensively this team should be better. Oregon finished 67th nationally in total defense and 52nd in scoring defense, but there is solid talent returning to all three levels of the defense as only six total players depart from the defensive two-deep.

The schedule also sets-up for a hot start for with an easy non-conference schedule and five of the first six at Autzen Stadium, including North contender Washington. The schedule gets interesting in the second half with trips to Arizona State, Cal and Oregon State for the Civil War. However, the Game of the Century in the Pac-12, and possibly nationally, will be when Oregon heads to L.A. to battle USC on November 3. If Oregon wants to win its fourth-straight Pac-12 title, it will need to beat USC at least once, if not twice next fall.

2. Washington Huskies (4 home, 5 road)

Key Returnees: QB Keith Price, RB Jesse Callier, WR Kasen Williams, WR James Johnson, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, DL Josh Shirley, DL Andrew Hudson, DL Hau’oli Jamora, LB Princton Fuimaono, LB John Timu, S Sean Parker, CB Desmond Trufant, DB Justin Glenn

Key Losses: RB Chris Polk, WR Jermaine Kearse, WR Devin Aguilar, OL Senio Kelemete, DT Alamada Ta’amu, LB Cort Dennison

Steve Sarkisian didn’t liked what he saw from his defense in 2011. Anyone who watched the 777-yard, 67-point debacle in the Alamo Bowl to Baylor understood that. So he made sweeping changes that not only improved his staff but sent ripples down the West Coast. He hired Justin Wilcox to coach the defense and gave him two rising stars to work with in linebackers coach Peter Sirmon and line coach Tosh Lupoi (from Cal) — both of whom are considered elite recruiters. There is a lot of work that has to be done on that side of the ball if the Huskies expect to remove Oregon from the top of the North Division.

Sarkisian also hired Cal’s Eric Kiesau as his new offensive coordinator and QB coach. And he will have a good one to work with as Keith Price is back under center for the second year in a row. Losing Chris Polk will hurt the ground game but there is loads of talent left for Price in the form of Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Three starters should be back along the offensive line as well.

The schedule basically begins with what could be deemed the toughest non-conference game any preseason Top 25 will play when Washington heads to LSU in Week 2. Additionally, the Huskies have to face what should be the best three teams from the South: USC and Utah at home and at Arizona. It also has to battle Oregon and Cal on the road as well. Washington is making strides and is clearly committed to becoming a top-10 program. But with a brutal schedule and defense that needed a major facelift, Washington is likely still one year away.

3. California Golden Bears (5 home, 4 road)

Key Returnees: QB Zach Maynard, RB Isi Sofele, RB C.J. Anderson, WR Keenan Allen, OL Matt Summers-Gavin, DL Aaron Tipoti, LB David Wilkerson, LB Cecil Whiteside, LB Chris McCain, DB Josh Hill

Key Losses: WR Marvin Jones, TE Anthony Miller, OL Mitchell Schwartz, OL Justin Cheadle, DE Trevor Guyton, DL Ernest Owusu, LB Mychal Kendricks, LB D.J. Holt, DB D.J. Campbell, S Sean Cattouse, K Giorgio Tavecchio, P Bryan Anger

This fall will be a huge year for Jeff Tedford in Berkeley — despite being the school’s all-time winningest coach and being responsible for eight of Cal’s 21 bowl appearances (and five of its 10 wins). His job hasn’t gotten any easier over the past week as North rival Washington has stolen two of its star coaches in Tosh Lupoi and Eric Kiesau. Filling those holes will be key heading into National Signing Day 2012.

Offensively, this team needs quarterback Zach Maynard to become more efficient and having half-brother Keenan Allen back to catch passes will go a long way to that end. Tailbacks Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson should be able to take some pressure off the inconsistent passer as well. Plugging holes along the offensive line will be the key to Tedford’s offense.

Defensively, this was the top unit in the Pac-12, but has big voids left by all-conference performers Mychal Kendricks and Trevor Guyton. Kendricks was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and other honorable mention candidates D.J. Campbell, Sean Cattouse and D.J. Holt will need to be replaced as well. There is plenty of talent in the linebacking corps and Tedford has recruited well over the last few years.

The schedule will be bittersweet for Cal fans. Trips to Ohio State, USC and Utah will be very challenging, but the Golden Bears’ top contenders from the North — Oregon, Washington and Stanford — will all have to visit Tightwad Hill.

4. Stanford Cardinal (4 road, 5 home)

Key Returnees: RB Stepfan Taylor, RB Tyler Gaffney, RB Anthony Wilkerson, WR Ty Montgomery, WR/PR Drew Terrell, TE Zach Ertz, TE Levine Toilolo, OL Cameron Fleming, OL David Yankey, DL Ben Gardner, LB Shayne Skov, LB Jarek Lancaster, LB A.J. Tarpley, LB Trent Murphy, K Jordan Williamson

Key Losses: QB Andrew Luck, WR Chris Owusu, WR Griff Whalen, TE Coby Fleener, OL Jonathan Martin, OL David DeCastro, DL Matthew Masifilo, LB Chase Thomas, S Delano Howell, DB Michael Thomas

In year one A.L. (After Luck) and year two A.H., David Shaw will have his work cut out for him. The North appears to be getting stronger and the top four players on his offense are departing, including the best player in the nation. Finding a replacement that can even attempt to fill the void left by Andrew Luck will be virtually impossible. There is a solid stable of backs and tight ends still to work with, but the offensive line will have to continue to develop young talents like Cameron Fleming and David Yankey.

The return of linebacker Shayne Skov should help ease Stanford into the post-Luck era. Skov is an absolute stud and will be the heart of this defense in 2012. In fact, this linebacking corps could be on the league’s best and will have to make up for losses along the line and in the secondary.

Stanford does have to face two of the top three from the south, but gets USC and Arizona at home. However, the those are the only favors the schedules affords as the Cardinal will have to visit Notre Dame as well as the top three North contenders Oregon, Cal and Washington.

5. Washington State Cougars (5 home, 4 road)

Key Returnees: QB Jeff Tuel, QB Connor Halliday, RB Ricky Galvin, RB Carl Winston, RB/PR Leon Brooks, WR Marquess Wilson, OL John Fullington, DL Travis Long, LB C.J. Mizell, LB Sekopi Kaufusi, DB Deone Bucannon, DB Tyree Toomer, DB Casey Locker, DB Damante Horton, K Andrew Furney

Key Losses: QB Marshall Lobbestael, WR Jared Karstetter, WR Isiah Barton, OL David Gonzalez, OL B.J. Guerra, DL Brandon Rankin, LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, P Dan Wagner

Fans have to be excited about the Mike Leach era beginning in Pullman. And they won’t have to wait long for fireworks as the pieces are in place for Leach to build an incredible offense in year one. Quarterback, running back and receiver should be well-stocked for Leach’s spread attack. Facing BYU in Week 1 on the road will set the tempo for a team that is craving postseason play. If Wazzu can return from Provo with a win, it could easily start 4-0.

There is a lot of experience returning to the defense, but major improvements will have to be made to a unit that ranked 82nd nationally in total defense and 95th in scoring defense. Should this unit show growth and toughness, the Cougars could easily be bowling in 2012.

A 4-2 record is reasonable heading into the Week 7 bye week. Therefore, late season road trips to Stanford, Utah and Arizona State packaged around home games with UCLA and Washington will likely determine if the Cougs can reach a bowl for the first time in nearly a decade. Either way, with Leach in town, this team will once again be a blast to watch push for the postseason.

6. Oregon State Beavers (5 home, 4 road)

Key Returnees: QB Sean Mannion, RB Malcolm Agnew, RB Jovan Stevenson, RB Terron Ward, RB Jordan Jenkins, WR Markus Wheaton, WR Jordan Bishop, WR Brandin Cooks, DL Scott Crichton, DL Dylan Wynn, DL Rusty Fernando, LB Feti Unga, LB Michael Doctor, LB Rueben Robinson, DB Anthony Watkins, DB Jordan Poyer, K Trevor Romaine

Key Losses: WR James Rodgers, TE Joe Halahuni, OL Grant Johnson, CB Brandon Hardin, DB Cameron Collins, S Lance Mitchell, P Johnny Hekker

Mike Riley is coming off arguably his worst season in Corvallis. The good news is he found a quarterback in sophomore-to-be Sean Mannion. The freshman posted 3,328 yards last fall and will have a plethora of young, talented running backs behind him in the backfield. Wideouts Markus Wheaton, Jordan Bishop and Brandin Cooks give him plenty of depth at wideout as well. Filling holes along the line will be the key to offensive improvement.

The defense returns plenty of names with loads of playing time. However, many of those names were responsible for the Pac-12 worst rush defense and 84th total defense nationally. Riley will have to improve on his 30.1 points allowed per game if he expects to return to a bowl game.

And the schedule isn’t offering him any favors. Two non-conference games against Big Ten power Wisconsin at home and a road trip to BYU make it difficult to see a postseason trip for the Beavers. The conference road slate includes Washington, Stanford, Arizona and UCLA with Utah, Oregon, Cal, Arizona State and Wazzu visiting Corvallis.

Pac-12 South

1. USC Trojans (4 home, 5 road)

Key Returnees: QB Matt Barkley, RB Curtis McNeal, WR Robert Woods, WR Marqise Lee, TE Randall Telfer, C Khaled Holmes, DE Wes Horton, LB Dion Bailey, LB Hayes Pullard, CB Nickell Robey, S T.J. McDonald

Key Losses: LT Matt Kalil, DE Nick Perry, DT Christian Tupou, DT DaJohn Harris

2012 represents an interesting point for USC football. The Trojans are finished with their two-year postseason ban, but are about to embark on the reduction of 30 scholarships over the next three seasons. Although the scholarship losses are huge for 2013 and 2014, it won’t slow the Trojans down in 2012.

Coach Lane Kiffin got an early Christmas present when quarterback Matt Barkley decided to return for another year in Los Angeles over the NFL. The senior will be one of the frontrunners to win the 2012 Heisman Trophy and is expected to have the Trojans in the mix for the national title. Barkley has plenty of weapons to choose from on offense, as Marqise Lee and Robert Woods are two of the best receivers in college football. Sophomore tight end Randall Telfer is also an up-and-coming threat for the USC passing attack. The Trojans have to be concerned about the depth behind starting running back Curtis McNeal, particularly after Amir Carlisle’s decision to transfer to Notre Dame. The offensive line brings back four starters, but losing Matt Kalil to the NFL was a huge loss.

The Trojans struggled mightily on defense in Lane Kiffin’s first year (2010), but showed progress in 2011. The defense ranked 18th against the run and ranked third in the Pac-12 by allowing 23.6 points a game. Although this unit made some improvement last year, there are concerns heading into 2012. End Nick Perry decided to bolt for the NFL, while DaJohn Harris and Christian Tupou have finished their eligibility. Replacing three key contributors up front is going to be coordinator Monte Kiffin’s biggest task in spring practice. The freshman linebacker trio of Dion Bailey, Lamar Dawson and Hayes Pullard should be among the best in the Pac-12 next year. The secondary ranked near the bottom of the Pac-12, but returns all four starters in 2012, including All-American safety T.J. McDonald.

2. Utah Utes (4 home, 5 road)

Key Returnees: QB Jordan Wynn, RB John White, WR DeVonte Christopher, C Tevita Stevens, DT Star Lotuleiei, LB Trevor Reilly, CB Ryan Lacy, FS Eric Rowe, SS Brian Blechen

Key Losses: LT John Cullen, RT Tony Bergstrom, DE Derrick Shelby, LB Matt Martinez, LB Chaz Walker, CB Conroy Black

Despite losing quarterback Jordan Wynn to a shoulder injury early in the year, the Utes nearly won the Pac-12 South Division and a trip to Eugene to play in the conference title game. Considering Utah nearly won the South with a backup quarterback, coach Kyle Whittingham deserves a ton of credit for the 8-5 record and a Sun Bowl victory over Georgia Tech. The Utes’ coaching staff suffered a blow this offseason, as offensive coordinator Norm Chow became the head coach at Hawaii.

Wynn is expected to return for spring practice, which is good news for a Utah offense that needs a full year from him. Wynn was averaging only 181.8 passing yards per game before his injury, but he is an upgrade over backup Jon Hays. The receiving corps should be a strength for Utah next season, as DeVonte Christopher is back after catching 42 passes in 2011, while Josh Gordon is eligible after transferring from Baylor. The heart and soul of the Utes’ offense is 5-foot-8 running back and workhorse John White. The former JUCO transfer carried the offense in 2011, rushing for 1,519 yards and 15 touchdowns on 316 attempts. The offensive line returns three starters, but losing tackles John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom is a big blow for this group.

The Utes led the Pac-12 in scoring defense in 2011, allowing only 20.2 points a game and return most of their core for 2012. Nose tackle Star Lotulelei dominated opposing offensive lines on his way to earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2011 and will anchor the defense in 2012. The Utes need to replace Derrick Shelby’s production at end, but will have one of the top defensive lines in the Pac-12. Matt Martinez and Chaz Walker depart at linebacker, but Trevor Reilly could be one of the top breakout players in the conference next year. The secondary loses cornerback Conroy Black, but returns promising safeties Eric Rowe and Brian Blechen. 

3. Arizona Wildcats (5 home, 4 road)

Key Returnees: QB Matt Scott, RB Ka’Deem Carey, WR Dan Buckner, C Kyle Quinn, LB Jake Fischer, CB Shaquille Richardson, DB Tra’Mayne Bondurant, S Adam Hall

Key Losses: QB Nick Foles, RB Keola Antolin, WR Juron Criner, WR David Douglas, LB Derek Earls, LB Paul Vassallo, CB Trevin Wade, S Robert Golden

USC and Utah seem to be the clear No. 1 and No. 2 teams returning in the conference for 2012, but ranking the rest of the division is anyone’s guess at this point. The early nod goes to the Wildcats, who scored one of the top coaching hires in former Michigan and West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez.

Moving from a pass-first offense to more of a spread-rush attack will be an interesting transition for Arizona, but the cupboard isn’t completely bare. In order for Rodriguez’s offense to click, the Wildcats a big year from quarterback Matt Scott. After redshirting in 2011, this is Scott’s team for 2012. Running back Ka’Deem Carey had a solid freshman year and will become the go-to guy in the rushing attack. All five starters are back on the offensive line, but this group will be the under the microscope with the scheme changes.

If hiring Rodriguez was a grand slam, then pulling defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel away from West Virginia was a home run. Casteel will be bringing a 3-3-5 scheme to Arizona, which should fit well with the returning personnel in 2012. The Wildcats’ secondary loses cornerback Trevin Wade and safety Robert Golden, but regain the services of Adam Hall and cornerback Jonathan McKnight, who missed all or nearly all of 2011 due to injury. Two starting linebackers depart, but Arizona landed Akron transfer Brian Wagner and Jake Fischer is back from injury, which should prevent any drop-off in play from this group.

4. UCLA Bruins (5 home, 4 road)

Key Returnees: QB Kevin Prince, RB Johnathan Franklin, WR Shaq Evans, TE Joseph Fauria, DE Datone Jones, LB Patrick Larimore, LB Eric Kendricks, CB Andrew Abbott, CB Aaron Hester, S Tevin McDonald

Key Losses: RB Derrick Coleman, WR Nelson Rosario, C Kai Maiava, LB Sean Westgate

Change is in the air at UCLA. Despite claiming the Pac-12 South crown, a 6-6 regular season record cost coach Rick Neuheisel his job. The Bruins made a run at some big names, but ultimately ended up hiring former NFL head coach Jim Mora. Although Mora hasn’t coached in college since 1984, he pieced together a terrific staff, including ace recruiter Adrian Klemm and former Arizona State offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.

The cupboard isn’t bare for Mora, but how well the Bruins adapt to the new coaching staff remains to be seen. Quarterback Kevin Prince has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career and will face competition from talented redshirt freshman Brett Hundley and senior Richard Brehaut this spring. Even if UCLA gets improved quarterback play, the rushing attack should be the strength of this team, as Johnathan Franklin and Malcolm Jones are back. Replacing receiver Nelson Rosario and developing the line will be the top priority for the offensive staff this spring.

Mora’s background is on defense, but it will be interesting to see how his NFL mentality works against the spread offenses in the Pac-12. The Bruins struggled on defense in 2011, ranking eighth or worse in the Pac-12 in scoring, rush and total defense. The good news for Mora and defensive coordinator Lou Spanos is nearly everyone returns. Expect the defensive line to get a lot of attention in spring practice, as the Bruins registered only 14 sacks in 2011.  

There’s a lot to like about UCLA next season, but there’s also a lot of uncertainty. The Bruins figure to be the biggest wild card in 2012 Pac-12 predictions this summer. 

5. Arizona State Sun Devils (4 home, 5 road)

Key Returnees: RB Cameron Marshall, WR Jamal Miles, DE Junior Onyeali, DE Davon Coleman, LB Brandon Magee, CB Osahon Irabor, CB Deveron Carr

Key Losses: QB Brock Osweiler, WR Gerell Robinson, WR Aaron Pflugrad, C Garth Gerhart, DE Jamaar Jarrett, DT Bo Moos, LB Colin Parker, LB Shelly Lyons, LB Vontaze Burfict, FS Clint Floyd, SS Eddie Elder

With a 6-2 record going into November, all signs seemed to point toward the Sun Devils clinching the Pac-12 South and earning a spot in the conference title game. What a difference a month can make. Instead of capitalizing on the opportunity, Arizona State lost its last four regular season games and was crushed 56-24 by Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. The collapse cost coach Dennis Erickson his job, with Todd Graham coming over from Pittsburgh to replace him.

Graham wants to run an up-tempo offense, but was dealt a blow when quarterback Brock Osweiler declared for the NFL Draft. Sophomores Taylor Kelly and Mike Bercovici and redshirt freshman Michael Eubank will battle to replace Osweiler this spring. With an untested quarterback stepping in, expect the Sun Devils to lean heavily on running back Cameron Marshall next season. The backfield will also get a boost with the return of Deantre Lewis, who missed all of 2011 due to injury. Although the Sun Devils have one of the Pac-12’s top running back combinations, the offense line returns only two starters.

Just like the offense, the defense is going to be dealing with some significant personnel losses in 2012. The defensive line must replace key contributors Jamaar Jarrett and Bo Moos, while Vontaze Burfict, Oliver Aaron, Colin Parker and Shelly Lyons all depart at linebacker. Brandon Magee missed 2011 due to injury and figures to step in as one of the leaders in the linebacking corps for 2012. The secondary was hit hard by injuries last year, but could be the strength of this unit next season.

6. Colorado Buffaloes (5 home, 4 road)

Key Returnees: WR Paul Richardson, LT David Bakhtiari, DE Will Pericak, DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, LB Doug Rippy, LB Jon Major, CB Greg Henderson, S Ray Polk

Key Losses: QB Tyler Hansen, RB Rodney Stewart, WR Toney Clemons, OG Ryan Miller, OG Ethan Adkins, DL/LB Josh Hartigan

Jon Embree knew he had a lot of work to do when he took over this job and 2012 is likely to be another struggle in the win column for the Buffaloes. Colorado closed out 2011 by winning two out of its final three games, including a 17-14 victory over Utah, which knocked the Utes out of the Pac-12 title game.

Although Embree and his staff did a good job keeping the Buffaloes on track despite a 1-9 start, the bigger test will start in 2012. The offense will be replacing its best two players in quarterback Tyler Hansen and running back Rodney Stewart. Nick Hirschman was expected to push Texas transfer Connor Wood for the starting quarterback job this offseason, but he will miss spring practice due to a foot injury. Replacing Stewart looks to be a wide-open battle, as Tony Jones, Josh Ford and Malcolm Creer all received carries in 2011. Left tackle David Bakhtiari could be one of the top linemen in the Pac-12 next year, but the line has to replace guards Ethan Adkins and Ryan Miller. Paul Richardson should be one of the top receivers in the Pac-12 next year, but needs Hirschman or Wood to quickly settle into the starting role.

The Buffaloes finished 2011 ranked 100th or worse in total and scoring defense, while ranking eighth in the Pac-12 against the pass. Needless to say, this side of the ball has some work to do in 2012. There are pieces to build around, especially in the front seven, where Will Pericak and Chidera Uzo-Diribe will anchor the defensive line. Linebackers Doug Rippy and Jon Major could contend for all-conference honors next season. The secondary will return mostly intact, which includes the return of Greg Henderson, a freshman who started 12 games.

2012 Pac-12 Championship Game: USC vs. Oregon

Washington's offseason coaching staff moves have helped to close the gap on Oregon, but the Ducks are still the team to beat in the North next season. USC and Oregon will meet during the regular season in Los Angeles and should meet a second time in the Coliseum for the conference title game. Expect this to be a high-scoring affair, but the Trojans get the early edge, especially with a potential trip to the national title on the line. 

Related 2012 Content:

Very Early Big Ten 2012 Preseason Predictions
Very Early Big East 2012 Preseason Predictions

Very Early Big 12 2012 Preseason Predictions

2012 Heisman Trophy Candidates

Very Early Preseason 2012 College Football Top 25

Athlon Roundtable: Who are the BCS National Title Contenders in 2012?

What To Expect from the Crimson Tide in 2012?

What To Expect from the LSU Tigers in 2012?

2012 SEC Schedule Analysis

Three Teams on the Rise in 2012

Three Teams Sliding Back in 2012

Top Non-Conference Games to Watch in 2012

Teaser:
<p> Athlon releases its very early predictions for the Pac-12 for 2012.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Thursday, January 19, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC South, Indianapolis Colts, News
Path: /news/11-candidates-replace-jim-caldwell-colts-coach
Body:

by Mark Ross

Regardless of whether either Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck or both will be on the Indianapolis Colts’ roster next season, this much is clear — the head coach won’t be Jim Caldwell. Caldwell was fired earlier today, joining former Colts vice chairman Bill Polian and his son, Chris, who was general manager, as a casualty of a disastrous 2-14 season.

Overall, Caldwell was 26-22 in three seasons as the Colts’ head coach, taking over the reigns when Tony Dungy retired in January 2009, but a winning record and 10 years with the team wasn’t enough to save his job. Owner Jim Irsay hired Ryan Grigson to be the new general manager last week, and just as may be the case at quarterback, the Colts will be under new leadership next season.

So just who will be calling the shots for the Colts next year? Here are some names to consider:

Pete Carmichael, New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator — long-time assistant coach with offensive pedigree, Carmichael’s spent the last six seasons working with Drew Brees. That alone makes him a solid candidate to either direct Manning’s comeback attempt or tutor the Colts’ next franchise quarterback, presumably Luck.

Clyde Christensen, Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator — with the departure of Caldwell, who began his tenure with the Colts as quarterbacks coach in 2002, Christensen is one of the longest tenured coaches remaining on staff and the one who knows the offense the best. With the questions surrounding the quarterback position, Irsay could turn to Christensen for continuity, or he could be looking to wipe the slate clean and go in a completely different direction.

Tom Clements, Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach — like Carmichael, Clements has spent the past six seasons working with two elite quarterbacks of his own, first Brett Favre and currently, Aaron Rodgers. Clements also spent two seasons (2004-05) as the Bills’ offensive coordinator, so the “jump” to head coach wouldn’t be that much of a stretch.

Bill Cowher, current CBS Sports commentator — Cowher’s name has been mentioned with other openings and every time he has publicly stated he’s content in his current working situation. Still, until he shuts the door completely, you have to at least throw his name out there, don’t you?

Jack Del Rio, former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach — Del Rio is certainly familiar with the division and the Colts’ roster, and if anything, he would bring a lot more “personality” to the sideline than Caldwell ever displayed.

Tony Dungy, current NBC Sports commentator — I know, I know – been there, done that. But if you’re Irsay, don’t you at least have to reach out to Dungy to see if there’s any interest in a second tour of duty? I don’t think Colts fans would mind if he did.

Jon Gruden, ESPN “Monday Night Football” analyst — like Cowher, Gruden has expressed in the past he’s happy in his current situation. However, “Chucky” also has professed in the past his respect and admiration for Manning, and to a degree, Luck, so would this be the opportunity to lure him back to the sidelines?

Hue Jackson, former Oakland Raiders head coach — offensive-minded and highly respected, many think Jackson got a raw deal in Oakland. Would Irsay be willing to give him a second chance?

Mike McCoy, Denver Broncos offensive coordinator — one of the hot names in the NFL coaching search circles these days thanks to his work with Tim Tebow. How curious is Irsay in seeing what McCoy could do with Manning and/or Luck, both of which are more “polished” passers.

Marty Mornhinweg, offensive coordinator Philadelphia Eagles — former Lions head coach, Mornhinweg also has ties to new Colts GM Grigson, who came from the Eagles organization. Could second time be the charm?

Jim Tressel, Indianapolis Colts consultant — Tressel may seem like the longest shot on the list, but with Irsay calling the shots, I don’t think you can rule it out. He has head coaching experience, albeit on the college level, but really it comes down to one thing. Who doesn’t want to see the sweater vest (Ditka anyone?) return to the NFL? 

Teaser:
<p> Regardless of whether either Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck or both will be on the Indianapolis Colts’ roster next season, this much is clear — the head coach won’t be Jim Caldwell. Caldwell was fired earlier today, joining former Colts vice chairman Bill Polian and his son, Chris, who was general manager, as a casualty of a disastrous 2-14 season</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - 14:37
Path: /college-football/very-early-2012-big-12-predictions
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Very Early 2012 Big 12 Predictions

1. Oklahoma

Key Returnees: QB Landry Jones, RB Roy Finch, FB Trey Millard, RB Dominique Whaley, WR Kenny Stills, LG Gabe Ikard, RG Tyler Evans, LB Corey Nelson, LB Tom Wort, CB Demontre Hurst, S/LB Tony Jefferson, K Michael Hunnicutt

Key Losses: WR Ryan Broyles, LT Donald Stephenson, DE Frank Alexander, DE Ronnell Lewis, LB Travis Lewis, CB Jamell Fleming

The Sooners began 2011 as one of the favorites to win the national title, but closed with losses in two out of their final four games and instead of playing in a BCS bowl, they finished with a trip to the Insight Bowl against Iowa. Although Oklahoma was a disappointment last season, this team still looks like the favorite to win the Big 12 in 2012.

When receiver Ryan Broyles went down with a season-ending knee injury against Texas A&M, Oklahoma’s offense and quarterback Landry Jones was never the same. Jones threw only one touchdown pass in his final four games, while tossing six interceptions. With more time to prepare for life without Broyles, the Sooners should have more answers on offense. Kenny Stills will become the go-to target after catching 61 passes for 849 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011. However, the Sooners need more production from Jaz Reynolds, Kameel Jackson and Trey Franks next year. Trey Metoyer did not qualify as a freshman last year, but is a name to watch in the receiving corps. The offense will benefit from a full year from running back Dominique Whaley, along with four starters returning on one of the top offensive lines in college football.

Oklahoma led the Big 12 in scoring defense, but had its share of struggles last year. Coach Bob Stoops hopes he can rectify some of the question marks in the secondaryby adding his brother Mike Stoops from Arizona to the defensive staff. In addition to shoring up some of the issues from the defensive backfield, the Sooners have to replace ends Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis, who combined for 14 sacks in 2011. Although the linebacker corps will miss Travis Lewis’ leadership, Corey Nelson and Tom Wort should both challenge for All-Big 12 honors in 2012.  

2. Texas

Key Returnees: QB David Ash, RB Malcolm Brown, WR Jaxon Shipley, RG Mason Walters, DE Alex Okafor, DE Jackson Jeffcoat, LB Jordan Hicks, CB Carrington Byndom, CB Quandre Diggs, DB Kenny Vaccaro

Key Losses: RB/RS Fozzy Whittaker, LG David Snow, DT Kheeston Randall, LB Keenan Robinson, LB Emmanuel Acho, S Blake Gideon

Are the Longhorns back? There’s enough talent to contend for the Big 12 title, but whether or not it is ready to win the conference crown is uncertain. After finishing 5-7 in 2010, Texas made steady improvement to finish 8-5 with a Holiday Bowl win over California in 2011. While the Longhorns have a ways to go, there’s enough talent to expect another one or two victory jump next season.

David Ash wrestled control of the starting quarterback spot away from Case McCoy in the Holiday Bowl, but needs to continue to improve for the Longhorns to challenge Oklahoma for the conference title. Even with better quarterback play, the offense will continue to lean on the rushing attack. Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and incoming freshman Johnathan Gray will form one of top running back trios in the Big 12 next season. The offensive line must replace only one starter, with guard Mason Walters - honorable mention All-Big 12 lineman in 2011 - anchoring the group.

In Manny Diaz’s first season as the coordinator, Texas finished No. 1 in the Big 12 in rushing, total and pass defense. And this group could be even better in 2012, especially with Jackson Jeffcoat, Jordan Hicks, Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom going through another offseason. Replacing linebackers Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho will be the biggest question mark for this unit.

3. West Virginia

Key Returnees: QB Geno Smith, RB Dustin Garrison, WR Tavon Austin, WR Stedman Bailey, C Joe Madsen, NT Jorge Wright, LB Jewone Snow, CB Pat Miller, S Terence Garvin, S Darwin Cook

Key Losses: LT Don Barclay, DE Bruce Irvin, DT Julian Miller, LB Najee Goode, CB Keith Tandy, S Eain Smith

Where will the Mountaineers play next season? That’s the big question surrounding the Big East and Big 12 early 2012 predictions. With West Virginia’s 2012 conference home up in the air, Athlon will include the team in both articles (Big 12 and Big East) until the court case is sorted out.

If the Mountaineers are in the Big East, they will be the preseason favorite once again. Quarterback Geno Smith and one of the nation’s top receiving corps will anchor a high-scoring offense. The biggest question mark facing West Virginia’s offense next year will be the offensive line, which loses tackle Don Barclay and struggled to open up rushing lanes in 2011.

West Virginia’s defense was dealt a huge blow when defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel decided to join Rich Rodriguez at Arizona. Casteel was one of the nation’s most underrated defensive minds and will be missed next year in Morgantown. Replacing defensive linemen Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller will be the top priority for coach Dana Holgorsen and the new defensive coordinator, but overall, this unit should suffer much of a drop-off next season.

4.  TCU

Key Returnees: QB Casey Pachall, RB Ed Wesley, RB Matthew Tucker, RB Waymon James, WR Josh Boyce, WR Skye Dawson, RG Blaize Foltz, DE Stansly Maponga, DT D.J. Yendrey, LB Tanner Brock, LB Kenny Cain, CB Jason Verrett

Key Losses: LT Jeff Olson, OG Kyle Dooley, LB Tank Carder, CB/KR Greg McCoy, S Tekerrein Cuba, S Johnny Fobbs, K Ross Evans

The Horned Frogs could be a rude newcomer to the Big 12 party next season. Despite having only six returning starters in 2011, TCU finished 11-2 and won the Mountain West title in its final year in the conference. Moving to the Big 12 is definitely a step up in competition, but TCU is more than ready for the challenge, and could be a surprise contender for the conference crown next year.

Quarterback Casey Pachall was terrific in his first year as the starter, finishing with 2,921 yards and 25 touchdowns to only seven picks. Pachall has plenty of weapons to choose from in the passing game, and Josh Boyce or Skye Dawson could contend for All-Big 12 honors next year. Running backs Ed Wesley, Waymon James and Matthew Tucker combined for 2,303 yards in 2011 and all three will return in 2012. Losing Jeff Olson and Kyle Dooley on the left side of the offensive line is a setback, but center James Fry and guard Blaize Foltz is a good duo to build around.

Defense is coach Gary Patterson’s specialty and this unit should be stout in 2012. End Stansly Maponga recorded 8.5 sacks in 2011 and will be one of the Big 12’s top pass rushers next season. Linebacker Tank Carder will be tough to replace, but the defense gets a boost from the return of Tanner Brock, who missed nearly all of 2011 due to injury. The secondary is the biggest question mark on this unit, as three starters need to be replaced after finishing 60th nationally against the pass. 

5. Kansas State

Key Returnees: QB Collin Klein, RB John Hubert, WR Chris Harper, WR Tyler Lockett, C B.J. Finney, DE Meshak Williams, LB Arthur Brown, LB Tre Walker, CB Nigel Malone, S Ty Zimmerman

Key Losses: LT Zach Hanson, RG Colten Freeze, RT Clyde Aufner, DE Jordan Voelker, NT Ray Kibble, LB Emmanuel Lamur, CB David Garrett, S Tysyn Hartman

The Wildcats were one of college football’s biggest surprises in 2011. After being picked near the bottom of the conference in the preseason, Kansas State finished with a 10-3 record and second place in the Big 12 standings. The Wildcats won’t sneak up on anyone next season, but there’s a lot to like about this team in 2012.

Quarterback Collin Klein carried the offense, averaging 235 total yards per game, while reaching the endzone 40 times. The senior will be one of the top quarterbacks in the Big 12 next season, but the rest of the offense needs to step up around him. Running back John Hubert returns after rushing for 970 yards and three scores in 2011, while the receiving corps should be a strength with the return of Chris Harper, Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson. The offensive line was one of the best in the conference in 2011, but must replace three starters, including All-Big 12 selections in Clyde Aufner and Zach Hanson.

The defense was a major question mark going into this year, but the Wildcats showed progress on this side of the ball, finishing 72nd in total defense and 68th in points allowed. Miami transfer Arthur Brown earned Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors after leading the team with 101 tackles and picking up two sacks and one interception. Brown will anchor the defense next season, while end Meshak Williams is back after leading the team with seven sacks. Replacing nose tackle Ray Kibble and cornerback David Garrett will be the top priority for the defensive staff in spring practice.

6. Oklahoma State

Key Returnees: RB Joseph Randle, WR Tracy Moore, WR Josh Stewart, RG Lane Taylor, DT Nigel Nicholas, LB Alex Elkins, LB Shaun Lewis, LB Caleb Lavey, CB Brodrick Brown, K/P Quinn Sharp

Key Losses: QB Brandon Weeden, WR Justin Blackmon, WR Hubert Anyiam, WR Josh Cooper, LT Levy Adcock, LG Nick Martinez, C Grant Garner, DE Jamie Blatnick, DE Richetti Jones, LB James Thomas, S Markelle Martin

With quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon departing, it’s hard to see the Cowboys replicating the 2011 win total (11) and Fiesta Bowl victory over Stanford. However, Oklahoma State isn’t going to completely fall off the map, as it should be a contender for a spot in many preseason top 25 lists.

The battle to replace Weeden is wide open, with Clint Chelf expected to have the inside track. However J.W. Walsh and incoming freshman Wes Lunt will have a shot to unseat Chelf in spring practice. With Blackmon and Cooper departing in the receiving corps, the Cowboys will need Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore to become the go-to threats in the passing game. Running backs Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith should get more work in 2012, but the offensive line must replace three starters, including All-American tackle Levy Adcock.

The Cowboys gave up a lot of yards on defense (456.8 per game), but made up for that by forcing 44 turnovers. Coordinator Bill Young will have some key holes to fill in the preseason, especially on the line where Oklahoma State must replace ends Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones. The duo combined for 12 sacks in 2011. The linebacking corps will be a strength with Alex Elkins, Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis returning. The Cowboys ranked 107th nationally in pass defense, but allowed only 15 touchdowns and picked off 24 passes. The secondary will miss safety Markelle Martin's punishing hits, but three starters return to this group in 2012.  

7. Texas Tech

Key Returnees: QB Seth Doege, RB Eric Stephens, WR Alex Torres, WR Darrin Moore, WR Eric Ward, LT LaAdrian Waddle, DT Kerry Hyder, LB Daniel Cobb, S Terrance Bullitt, S Cody Davis, S D.J. Johnson

Key Losses: WR Tramain Swindall, LG Lonnie Edwards, C Justin Keown, DE Scott Smith

After an 8-5 season and a top 25 recruiting class, all signs pointed to another big year for the Red Raiders in 2011. Not so fast. After pulling one of the top upsets of the season against Oklahoma, Texas Tech lost its final five games to finish with its first losing season (5-7) since 1992.

There’s a lot to like about the Red Raiders in 2012, starting with an offense that averaged 33.8 points a game in 2011. Quarterback Seth Doege threw for 4,004 yards and 28 scores this season and should be better with another offseason of work under his belt. The receiving corps is solid and will benefit from a full season from Darrin Moore. Running back Eric Stephens suffered a season-ending knee injury in early October and still finished as the team’s leading rusher. Assuming Stephens returns to full strength, it will be a significant boost to an offense that ranked as the worst rushing team in the Big 12.

While the offense has never been a question in Lubbock for the last decade, the defense always seems to be struggling to find the right answers. The Red Raiders didn't have many positives on defense last season, ranking last in the Big 12 in rush defense and ninth in scoring defense in 2011. Chad Glasgow was canned as the team’s coordinator after one season, allowing coach Tommy Tuberville to bring aboard Art Kaufman – an old friend from his days at Ole Miss – as the Red Raiders’ new defensive coordinator. The good news for Texas Tech? Nearly everyone is back on defense. The bad news? The defense was awful last year and may not be much better in 2012.  

8. Baylor

Key Returnees: RB Jarred Salubi, WR Terrance Williams, WR Tevin Reese, LT Cyril Richardson, LG Cameron Kaufhold, DE Tevin Elliott, LB Rodney Chadwick, LB/NB Ahmad Dixon, CB K.J. Morton, S Mike Hicks, S Sam Holl

Key Losses: QB Robert Griffin, RB Terrance Ganaway, WR Kendall Wright, C Philip Blake, RG Robert T. Griffin, NT Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, LB Elliot Coffey

Without quarterback Robert Griffin and running back Terrance Ganaway gone, there’s no question Baylor is going to take a step back next season. However, these Bears aren’t going to slip back to being a doormat in the Big 12. Coach Art Briles has recruited well, and the Bears landed a key transfer in running back Lache Seastrunk that will be able to contribute next season.

All eyes will be on the quarterback battle in the spring, with the likely frontrunner being Nick Florence. The senior isn’t short on experience, starting seven games in 2009 when Griffin was sidelined with a knee injury, but does not add much to the offense as a runner. Florence is expected to be pushed for playing time by Bryce Petty. Losing receiver Kendall Wright is a big blow for the passing game, but Terrance Williams, Tevin Reese and Lanear Sampson combined to catch 152 passes in 2011. Cyril Richardson, Cameron Kaufhold and Ivory Wade return to form a solid trio to build on the offensive line.

With the offense expected to take a step back in 2012, the defense needs to show progress. Coordinator Phil Bennett had a rough first season at Baylor, with the Bears finishing 116th nationally in total defense. Although the Bears took their lumps on this side of the ball, eight starters are back in 2012, including linebacker/defensive back Ahmad Dixon and safety Sam Holl. 

9. Iowa State

Key Returnees: QB Jared Barnett, QB Steele Jantz, RB James White, WR Josh Lenz, DT Jake McDonough, LB A.J. Klein, LB Jake Knott, CB Jeremy Reeves, FS Jacques Washington

Key Losses: LT Kelechi Osemele, RG Hayworth Hicks, DE Jake Lattimer, DE Patrick Neal, LB Matt Tau’fo’ou, CB Leonard Johnson, SS Ter’Ran Benton

No matter where you slot the Cyclones in the preseason picks, it always seems like you need to move them up a spot or two because of coach Paul Rhoads. In three years in Ames, Iowa State has recorded an 18-20 record with two bowl experiences. The Big 12 isn’t getting any easier, but the Cyclones will be a threat once again to finish with six or seven wins, along with making another bowl trip.

Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett both received playing time at quarterback for Iowa State in 2011 and will battle for the starting spot in the spring. Both players had their moments, but neither separated themselves as the clear No. 1 passer. Improved quarterback play could be the difference between a 5-7 or 7-5 season in 2012. Running back James White rushed for 743 yards and eight touchdowns, while garnering honorable mention All-Big 12 honors in 2011. Darius Reynolds departs after leading the team with 43 receptions, but Josh Lenz, Aaron Horne and Albert Gary all caught over 20 passes this season. Left tackle Kelechi Osemele was one of the nation’s most underrated linemen the last few seasons and will be missed.

The Cyclones ranked sixth in the Big 12 in total defense and third in pass defense, and this unit figures to be solid in 2012. Jake Knott and A.J. Klein form one of the top linebacker combinations in the nation, while Jeremy Reeves and Jacques Washington are a good starting point to build in the secondary. The defensive line loses three starters, and coordinator Wally Burnham must find a replacement for cornerback Leonard Johnson.

10. Kansas

Key Returnees: RB James Sims, WR D.J. Beshears, WR JaCorey Shepherd, RG Duane Zlatnik, RT Tanner Hawkinson, DE/LB Toben Opurum, LB Darius Willis, LB Tunde Bakare, SS Bradley McDougald

Key Losses: RB Darrian Miller, TE Tim Biere, OG Jeremiah Hatch, LT Jeff Spikes, LB Steven Johnson, CB Isiah Barfield, S Keeston Terry

Turner Gill brought a lot of hope to Kansas after turning around Buffalo, but he was fired after compiling a 5-19 record in just two seasons. The Jayhawks raised plenty of eyebrows around the nation with their hire of former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis was hired as Gill's replacement. Weis is a solid offensive mind, but compiled a 35-27 record in five seasons at Notre Dame, with 19 of those victories coming in the first two years.

Weis’ offensive insight will be put to the test immediately. The Jayhawks ranked last in the Big 12 in scoring and total offense and managed just 167.4 yards per game through the air. One of Weis’ biggest recruits this year was landing Notre Dame transfer Dayne Crist, who is eligible to play immediately. Crist is an upgrade over former starting quarterback Jordan Webb, but won’t be enough to turn Kansas into a Big 12 title contender. The rushing attack was a bright spot last season and James Sims is back after rushing for 727 yards and nine scores.

Struggling to move the ball through the air wasn’t Kansas’ biggest issue last season. The defense was historically bad, finishing 120th (last) nationally in scoring and total defense, while ranking 117th against the run. Weis hired longtime NFL assistant Dave Campo to coordinate his defense, but he hasn’t coached in college since 1988. The Jayhawks do have some nice pieces returning on defense, including end/linebacker Toben Opurum, safety Bradley McDougald and linebacker Darius Willis.

Related 2012 Content:

2012 Very Early Big East Predictions

2012 Heisman Trophy Candidates
Very Early Preseason 2012 College Football Top 25

Athlon Roundtable: Who are the BCS National Title Contenders in 2012?

What To Expect from the Crimson Tide in 2012?

What To Expect from the LSU Tigers in 2012?

2012 SEC Schedule Analysis

Three Teams on the Rise in 2012

Three Teams Sliding Back in 2012

Top Non-Conference Games to Watch in 2012

Teaser:
<p> Athlon continues its countdown to spring practice with a look at the very early Big 12 predictions for 2012.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 - 07:52
Path: /college-football/very-early-2012-big-east-predictions
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

(Published January 16th, 2012)

Very Early 2012 Big East Predictions

1. West Virginia

Key Returnees: QB Geno Smith, RB Dustin Garrison, WR Tavon Austin, WR Stedman Bailey, C Joe Madsen, NT Jorge Wright, LB Jewone Snow, CB Pat Miller, S Terence Garvin, S Darwin Cook

Key Losses: LT Don Barclay, DE Bruce Irvin, DT Julian Miller, LB Najee Goode, CB Keith Tandy, S Eain Smith

Where will the Mountaineers play next season? That’s the big question surrounding the Big East and Big 12 early 2012 predictions. With West Virginia’s 2012 conference home up in the air, Athlon will include the Mountaineers in both articles (Big 12 and Big East) until the court case is sorted out.

If the Mountaineers are in the Big East, they will be the preseason favorite once again. Quarterback Geno Smith and one of the nation’s top receiving corps will anchor a high-scoring offense. The biggest question mark facing West Virginia’s offense next year will be the offensive line, which loses tackle Don Barclay and struggled to open up rushing lanes in 2011. Running back Dustin Garrison suffered a significant knee injury in Orange Bowl practices, leaving his status for spring practice as uncertain. 

West Virginia’s defense was dealt a huge blow when defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel decided to join Rich Rodriguez at Arizona. Casteel was one of the nation’s most underrated defensive minds and will be missed next year in Morgantown. Replacing defensive linemen Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller will be the top priority for coach Dana Holgorsen and the new defensive coordinator, but overall, this unit should suffer much of a drop-off next season.

2. Louisville

Key Returnees: QB Teddy Bridgewater, C Mario Benavides, DE B.J. Dubose, DT Roy Philon, LB Preston Brown, CB Adrian Bushell, S Hakeem Smith, S Calvin Pryor

Key Losses: RB Victor Anderson, WR Josh Bellamy, TE Josh Chichester, DE Greg Scruggs, LB Dexter Heyman

The Cardinals had some heavy losses to replace coming into 2011, but even with several young players stepping into key roles, they shared the Big East title with West Virginia and Cincinnati. Coach Charlie Strong is bringing in another solid recruiting class, which will only add to the talent coming back to Louisville in 2012.

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater took his lumps (12 interceptions) this season, but finished with 2,129 yards and 14 passing scores. Bridgewater will be one of the top passers in the Big East next year, especially if a young group of receivers continues to improve. The offensive line has to be better next year, but will benefit from a full year from center Mario Benavides, who missed the first three games of 2011 due to knee surgery. The rushing attack ranked 93rd nationally, and must show improvement if the Cardinals want to win the conference in 2012. 

Strong’s background on defense has helped Louisville rank 18th nationally in points allowed in each of the last two seasons. And the 2012 defense could be even better, especially with cornerback Adrian Bushell and safety Hakeem Smith returning. The Cardinals also have a handful of promising freshmen and sophomores on the depth chart that will be ready for an increased role next year.

3. Rutgers

Key Returnees: RB Jawan Jamison, WR Mark Harrison, WR Quron Pratt, RT Kaleb Johnson, DT Scott Vallone, LB Khaseem Greene, LB Steve Beauharnais, CB Logan Ryan, SS Duron Harmon

Key Losses: WR Mohamed Sanu, LG Desmond Wynn, RG Art Forst, DE Manny Abreu, DT Justin Francis, FS David Rowe

Coming off a 4-8 record, the Scarlet Knights were picked near the bottom of the Big East in most 2011 preseason polls. However, coach Greg Schiano turned things around, leading Rutgers to its fifth season of at least eight wins in the last six years. Quarterbacks Chas Dodd and Gary Nova finished 2011 with very little clarity as to who will be the starter when spring practice begins. The passing game was dealt a blow when receiver Mohamed Sanu declared for the NFL Draft. Running back Jawan Jamison had a solid freshman campaign, posting 897 yards and nine touchdowns. Jamison, Jeremy Deering and Savon Huggins will lead the rushing attack next year, which will likely be the focal point of the offense with uncertainty involving the passing attack. The offensive line showed some improvement from 2010, but still needs work going into next year.

Rutgers led the Big East in total, scoring and pass defense this season, and the defense should be near the top of the conference in 2012. Losing Manny Abreu and Justin Francis is a blow to the defensive line, but tackle Scott Vallone will be one of the top linemen in the Big East next year. Linebacker Khaseem Greene suffered an ankle injury in the Pinstripe Bowl win over Iowa State and may miss a portion of spring practice. Even if Greene is limited in the spring, it shouldn’t affect his availability for the 2012 season. All four starters are back in the secondary, including All-Big East returnees in safety Duron Harmon and cornerback Logan Ryan.

4. South Florida

Key Returnees: QB B.J. Daniels, WR Sterling Griffin, DE Ryne Giddins, LB DeDe Lattmore, LB Mike Lanaris, LB Sam Barrington, CB Kayvon Webster, S Jon Lejiste

Key Losses: RB Darrell Scott, LG Jeremiah Warren, C Chaz Hine, DT Keith McCaskill, CB Quenton Washington, S Jerrell Young

The Bulls appeared to be a contender for the Big East crown through the first month of the season, posting a 4-0 record with a win over Notre Dame in the opener. However, South Florida failed to capitalize off that early momentum, losing seven out of its last eight games to miss the postseason for the first time since 2004.

Problems on both sides of the ball contributed to the 5-7 record, but South Florida isn’t too far off contending for a Big East title. Six of the seven losses were by 10 points or less, including three that were decided by a field goal. Quarterback B.J. Daniels is back next season and threw for a career-high 2,604 yards in 2011. Running back Darrell Scott decided to bolt for the NFL, but Demetris Murray returns after rushing for 503 yards in 2011. The receiving corps will get a boost from a full year from Sterling Griffin, who missed four games due to an ankle injury in late October.

Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder departed for Texas A&M, but the defense figures to be one of the best in the Big East next year. Defensive end Ryne Giddins returns after registering 5.5 sacks and picking up second-team All-Big East honors in 2011. All three starters return in the linebacking corps, including promising sophomore DeDe Lattimore. Two starters must be replaced in the secondary, but strong safety Jon Lejiste and cornerback Kayvon Webster are solid building blocks for the new coordinator.

5. Cincinnati

Key Returnees: QB Munchie Legaux, WR Kenbrell Thompkins, WR Anthony McClung, DE Walter Stewart, DE Dan Giordano, LB Maalik Bomar, CB Cameron Cheatham, SS Drew Frey

Key Losses: QB Zach Collaros, RB Isaiah Pead, WR DJ Woods, LT Alex Hoffman, OG Randy Martinez, DT Derek Wolfe, DT John Hughes, LB JK Schaffer, FS Wesley Richardson

Cincinnati’s Butch Jones earned the Big East’s 2011 Coach of the Year honor and he will certainly have his work cut out for him in 2012. The Bearcats will be replacing several key contributors, but don’t expect this team to slip too far in the standings.

Quarterback Zach Collaros and running back Isaiah Pead have finished their eligibility, leaving a gaping hole in the backfield. Quarterback Munchie Legaux started three games this year, but needs work as a passer. George Winn, Jameel Poteat and Ralph David Abernathy IV will all likely see carries as the Bearcats attempt to replace Pead’s production. Three starters depart on the offensive line, including All-Big East selections in guard Randy Martinez and tackle Alex Hoffman. Although Cincinnati suffered some key losses on offense, if Legaux shows improvement as a passer, this offense should remain in the top half of the Big East.

A big reason for Cincinnati’s turnaround from 4-8 in 2010 to co-Big East champs was the play of the defense. The Bearcats finished second nationally with 3.5 sacks per game and forced 33 turnovers. This unit suffers some key losses, but there is enough returning to expect similar production next year. Ends Dan Giordano and Walter Stewart combined for 11 sacks this season and will anchor the line in 2012. Replacing linebacker JK Schaffer and tackle Derek Wolfe will be the toughest assignment for the defensive staff.

6. Pittsburgh

Key Returnees: QB Tino Sunseri, RB Ray Graham, WR Devin Street, WR Mike Shanahan, DE Aaron Donald, CB K’Waun Williams, S Jared Holley, S Andrew Taglianetti

Key Losses: RG Lucas Nix, DE Brandon Lindsey, DT Chas Alecxih, LB Max Gruder, CB Antwuan Reed

Todd Graham came to Pittsburgh with many promises, including the installation of a high-octane offense. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, Graham never really fulfilled the promises from his opening press conference and decided to bolt for Arizona State after one year. Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was picked as Pittsburgh’s next coach and one that the administration hopes can stick around and provide some much-needed stability.

Chryst’s specialty is on offense, which is where the Panthers need a lot of work in 2012. Quarterback Tino Sunseri had a mediocre 2011 season, throwing 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Although Sunseri’s play wasn’t great, he didn’t have a lot of help from an offensive line that allowed 64 sacks. Running back Ray Graham also suffered a season-ending knee injury in late October, which was another setback for an offense looking for playmakers. Sunseri and Graham both return for 2012, along with receivers Devin Street and Mike Shanahan. Chryst’s pro-style offense should be a better fit for Sunseri and the offensive line, but whether or not that translates to wins remains to be seen.

Pittsburgh finished 2011 ranked 35th nationally in total defense, but must replace a handful of key contributors. The Panthers lose linemen Chas Alecxih and Myles Caragein, while linebacker Brandon Lindsey also departs. With three starters returning, the secondary should be improved, but this unit will have more pressure on its shoulders, especially with the defense losing some of its top pass rushers.

The Panthers aren’t short on talent, but adapting to their third coach in three seasons won’t be an easy transition. Considering what’s coming back and the coaching situation, Pittsburgh will be the toughest team to peg in the Big East preseason predictions.

7. Syracuse

Key Returnees: QB Ryan Nassib, WR Alec Lemon, OT Justin Pugh, LB Marquis Spruill, LB Dan Vaughan, LB Dyshawn Davis, SS Shamarko Thomas

Key Losses: RB Antwon Bailey, WR Van Chew, TE Nick Provo, RG Andrew Tiller, DE Chandler Jones

After posting eight wins and a Pinstripe Bowl victory over Kansas State, Syracuse seemed poised to contend for the Big East title in 2011. Instead of taking another step forward under coach Doug Marrone, the Orange slid back to the cellar of the Big East with a disappointing 5-7 record.

If Syracuse wants to get back to a bowl game in 2012, there will be several question marks to answer in preseason practices. Quarterback Ryan Nassib is a good building block on offense, but the team loses running back Antwon Bailey and All-Big East guard Andrew Tiller.

The Orange ranked last in the Big East in total and scoring defense, while finishing sixth in rush and pass defense. Although this unit will have a handful of returning starters, the departure of end Chandler Jones to the NFL Draft is a significant loss. Marquis Spruill, Dyshawn Davis and Dan Vaughan form a solid trio at linebacker, while the secondary figures to be improved with nearly everyone coming back. Developing a pass rush and shoring up the run defense is going to be critical to Syracuse’s defensive success in 2012.

8. Connecticut

Key Returnees: RB Lyle McCombs, TE Ryan Griffin, DE Jesse Joseph, DE Trevardo Williams, LB Sio Moore, LB Jory Johnson, LB Yawin Smallwood, CB Dwayne Gratz, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, S Jerome Junior, S Byron Jones

Key Losses: WR Kashif Moore, WR Isiah Moore, LT Mike Ryan, C Moe Petrus, DT Kendall Reyes, DT Twyon Martin, K Dave Teggart

After posting four consecutive seasons of at least eight wins, Connecticut suffered its first losing since 2006 last year. If the Huskies want to get back into the postseason or the top half of the Big East standings, getting improved quarterback play is a must. Johnny McEntee finished with 2,110 yards and 12 passing scores, but missed a lot of throws. Coach Paul Pasqualoni is attempting to fix this area by recruiting JUCO prospect Chandler Whitmer and freshman Casey Cochran. The rushing attack will remain strong with Lyle McCombs returning, and the receiving corps will get a boost from Clemson transfer Bryce McNeal.

Defense has been a strength in recent years for the Huskies and this group should remain solid in 2012. Replacing tackles Kendall Reyes and Twyon Martin will be priority No. 1 for coordinator Don Brown, but the linebacking corps should be among the best in the Big East, while a healthy year from Blidi Wreh-Wilson at cornerback should boost the pass defense.

Considering the Huskies could struggle to score points, losing All-Big East kicker Dave Teggart is a big blow to the special teams.

Related 2012 Content:

2012 Heisman Trophy Candidates

Very Early Preseason 2012 College Football Top 25

Athlon Roundtable: Who are the BCS National Title Contenders in 2012?

What To Expect from the Crimson Tide in 2012?

What To Expect from the LSU Tigers in 2012?

2012 SEC Schedule Analysis

Three Teams on the Rise in 2012

Three Teams Sliding Back in 2012

Top Non-Conference Games to Watch in 2012

Teaser:
<p> Athlon releases its very early predictions for the Big East Conference for 2012.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Monday, January 16, 2012 - 07:06
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, Big East
Path: /college-football/college-football-2012-who-are-early-favorites
Body:

It's never too early to start thinking about 2012. Alabama claimed its second national title in three years by dominating LSU 21-0 on Monday night, and both teams are expected to be back in the national title mix next season. 

Athlon's official preseason top 25 won't come out until May, but here's a very early top 25 for 2012.

Who are the early favorites to win college football's national title in 2012?

Braden Gall (@BradenGall
Depending on a large group of redshirt sophomore defenders for LSU returning or turning pro, it will be hard not to pick the Bayou Bengals atop the standings in the preseason. The USC Trojans will also make a strong case for the top slot with Matt Barkley, T.J. McDonald and a host of elite pass catchers returning. However the Trojans will likely have to get past another national contender and preseason top five team, Oregon, in the Pac-12 title game. The winner of the Pac-12 should land in the BCS title game.

I will put Georgia in the mix as one of my darkhorses. The Bulldogs' schedule sets up nicely without Alabama, LSU or Arkansas in SEC play and they return largely intact with another stellar incoming freshman class. Since the SEC will, of course, win its seventh straight national title, the best team in the league yet win a BCS title could sneak its way down to South Beach. It might just be the Dawgs turn in 2012. Also, keep an eye on Michigan as a sleeper as well. They should be the favorite in the Legends and will face a subpar Wisconsin, Illinois or Penn State in the Big Ten title game.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The big question going into 2012 is whether or not anyone can stop the SEC from winning its seventh national title in a row. Considering the conference’s recent run of success and what LSU has coming back next year, it’s a safe bet that one team from the SEC will make it into the national championship game. The Tigers turned in an awful performance against Alabama, but have one of the top returning cores for 2012. The offense has to settle on a quarterback, but the rushing attack and offensive line will be among the best in college football. USC figures to be the top challenger to the SEC champ, as the Trojans are off their two-year bowl ban, and quarterback Matt Barkley decided to return for his senior year. With a reduction in scholarships, depth could ban issue for USC, especially on the interior of the line. I think the Trojans and Tigers have to be considered the top two early favorites, but Oregon could sneak into the mix if it wins the Pac-12 over USC. Regardless of whether or not it is in the Big 12, I like West Virginia as a potential national title darkhorse. Also, Arkansas hosts both LSU and Alabama, which will give the Razorbacks a chance to be a player in the SEC West title mix. 

Mark Ross
My early favorites for next year’s BCS Championship match up are whoever wins the SEC and Pac-12 conferences. In the SEC, I am giving the slightest of edges to Georgia over Alabama because of the Crimson Tide’s expected losses on both sides of the ball. In the Pac-12, I think it will be a fight to the bitter end between Oregon and USC, but the Trojans get the nod here because of Matt Barkley and the motivation that comes from watching the postseason from the sidelines this season.

Other teams that will probably enter the conversation at some point, if not until the very end are Oklahoma, thanks to Landry Jones’ return, from the Big 12 and Michigan in the Big Ten. Michigan will get the chance to make an early statement as the Wolverines open the 2012 season against Alabama. LSU can’t be forgotten either, as the Tigers will get a chance to exact some revenge against Alabama next year and that could be enough to keep the Crimson Tide from getting a shot to defend their national title.

A dark horse team I like is Arkansas in a crowded SEC West. The Razorbacks should have plenty of offense to compete with the rest; they just need the defense to rise to the occasion when it counts.  I also think both teams that played in this year’s Orange Bowl – West Virginia and Clemson – could surprise. We still don’t know what conference (Big East or Big 12) the Mountaineers will be playing in next year, but regardless they have enough weapons to make plenty of noise, just ask Clemson.

The Tigers won’t lack for offensive firepower either, it’s just a matter of establishing a defensive identity and, for the first time under Dabo Swinney, finally putting it all together on a consistent basis.  Clemson also has to travel to Tallahassee to face Florida State next year in a game that could very well determine the ACC’s BCS representative. The Seminoles are similar to Clemson in that they could be in the national title hunt all season provided they are able to get the most out of the talent they have on their roster come game day.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Is it possible to have a BCS Championship Game without an SEC club? The conference with six straight national titles seems like a lock each season, but that amazing run may end in 2012. LSU, Georgia and Alabama will suffer some roster attrition, with the Tigers looking like the early favorite to repeat as league champion. Many people would tab the SEC champ and the Matt Barkley-led USC Trojans as the early favorites, but I think Oregon and Oklahoma will be right there as well. The Ducks had to rebuild the defense this season, and that unit should be much-improved in ’12. Senior signal caller Darron Thomas is back with Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas, plus UO will not face a tough non-conference opener. Oklahoma should be loaded on offense with Landry Jones throwing to Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds, and the defense will be tough despite losing Frank Alexander and Travis Lewis. The Sooners will be the favorite in the Big 12 and will have a chance to score BCS points when they host Notre Dame. While the aforementioned SEC trio and USC will be formidable, I think UO and OU will have great shots to play for a title.
 

Teaser:
<p> Athlon's editors take a very early look at 2012 and who could be the favorite to win the national title next season.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, January 11, 2012 - 07:37
All taxonomy terms: Alabama Crimson Tide, College Football, SEC
Path: /college-football/alabama-football-what-expect-2012
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

After falling short in the first meeting against LSU, Alabama left no doubt in New Orleans. The Crimson Tide dominated the Tigers to win their second national title in three seasons. After winning the 2009 title, Alabama followed it up with a 10-3 record. Will the Crimson Tide follow up another championship with a three-loss record or a national title? The pieces are in place for another run, but Alabama will have some key losses to replace.

Key players coming back: QB AJ McCarron, RB Eddie Lacy, RB Dee Hart, OL Barrett Jones, OG Chance Warmack, RT D.J. Fluker, DE Damion Square, LB Nico Johnson, LB C.J. Mosley, LB Trey DePriest, CB Dee Milliner, S Vinnie Sunseri

Seniors departing: WR Marquis Maze, OG Alfred McCullough, C William Vlachos, NG Josh Chapman, LB Courtney Upshaw, CB DeQuan Menzie, S Mark Barron

Could Leave Early for NFL Draft: RB Trent Richardson, DE Jesse Williams, LB Dont’a Hightower, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, S Robert Lester

Top Incoming Recruits

DB Eddie Williams – (AC100 No. 12)
DB Landon Collins
(AC100 No. 20)
WR Chris Black
(AC100 No. 27)
DB Geno Smith (AC100 No. 42)
RB T.J. Yeldon
(AC100 No. 61)

Offense Preview for 2012

Running back Trent Richardson has likely played his last game for Alabama, but it’s not all bad news for the offense. Backup Eddie Lacy averaged 7.5 yards per touch on 84 carries this year and will take on a bigger role in the backfield if Richardson departs for the NFL. Jalston Fowler also returns, while talented freshman Dee Hart will be healthy after suffering a torn ACL last summer. Although Lacy, Fowler and Hart won’t individually match Richardson’s rushing totals, the trio should generate plenty of production at running back. 

Quarterback AJ McCarron had a solid debut season as the starter, and the experience from starting all 13 games this year should make him a better player in 2012. However, he will have a new coordinator, as Jim McElwain is leaving to be the head coach at Colorado State. McCarron will have to work with a revamped group of receivers, as Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks have finished their eligibility. Tight end Brad Smelley has also played his last down in an Alabama uniform. Expect Kenny Bell, DeAndrew White and tight end Michael Williams to emerge as the top veteran targets next year. With Richardson all but certain to turn pro, McCarron will be expected to carry more of the offensive workload next year. 

The offensive line returns three starters, including likely 2012 All-American Barrett Jones. With William Vlachos departing, Alabama may move Jones to center in spring practice. Right tackle D.J. Fluker and left guard Chance Warmack also return and both should contend for All-SEC honors.

Defense Preview for 2012

Replacing a handful of key starters from one of the top defenses in college football won’t be an easy task for coach Nick Saban and coordinator Kirby Smart. However, with another elite recruiting class stepping onto campus, don’t expect a huge drop in production next year.

In any 3-4 defense, much of the success starts with the nose guard and with the linebacking corps. And that’s where the Crimson Tide will be breaking in new starters next year. Nose guard Jose Chapman has finished his eligibility and there’s no clear backup on the roster. End Jesse Williams saw some snaps in the middle this season, but may enter the NFL Draft.

With Dont’a Hightower expected to leave for the NFL, Alabama could be breaking in three new starters in the linebacking corps. Seniors Jerrell Harris and Courtney Upshaw have played their final game, with Upshaw the bigger loss. Nico Johnson finished fourth on the team in tackles and will be counted on to provide leadership as a senior next year. The linebacking corps isn’t short on upcoming talent, as Trey DePriest, Adrian Hubbard, C.J. Mosley, Tana Patrick and Xzavier Dickson were all highly-regarded recruits.

The secondary will also field some heavy losses, as it will likely have three new starters next year. Cornerback DeQuan Menzie and safety Mark Barron will depart, while cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick is expected to enter the NFL Draft. Safety Robert Lester will be expected to anchor the secondary next season, while Dee Milliner and John Fulton step into bigger roles at cornerback. Vinnie Sunseri had a solid freshman year and will be counted upon even more in 2012.

2012 Schedule Breakdown

With the SEC moving to 14 teams next year, the conference schedule isn’t going to get any easier. Alabama kicks off SEC play at Arkansas and also has road trips against Missouri, Tennessee and LSU next year. The Crimson Tide will host Texas A&M, Auburn, Mississippi State and Ole Miss in conference play in 2012.

With LSU and Alabama expected to be the top two teams in the SEC West, the division could be decided on Nov. 3 when they meet in Baton Rouge. The conference opener against Arkansas on Sept. 15 won’t be easy either.

Alabama opens the season with a neutral site matchup (Cowboys Stadium) against Michigan. The Wolverines are expected to be a top 15 team next season, but the Crimson Tide should be favored to win. The rest of the non-conference schedule is very manageable, with Western Kentucky, FAU and Western Carolina all visiting Tuscaloosa.

Can Alabama Play for the National Title Next Year?

Despite the key losses, the Crimson Tide will be among the top five teams and one of the preseason picks to win the national title next season. Nick Saban continues to bring in and develop elite talent in Tuscaloosa, which will ensure this team won’t slip too far. AJ McCarron’s development at quarterback should help soften the blow of Trent Richardson departing for the NFL Draft, while the offensive line remains in good shape. The defense will have a handful of new faces, but shouldn’t suffer a complete collapse.

Although the personnel losses are crucial, the schedule has some landmines that could deter another run at the national title. The Crimson Tide will have to go on the road to face two likely top 10 teams – Arkansas and LSU – and open the season with a dangerous Michigan team.

Although Alabama survived a loss to LSU to play for the national title in 2011, the loser of next year's game might not get the same opportunity.

Teaser:
<p> After claiming its second national championship under coach Nick Saban, what can we expect from Alabama in 2012?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - 11:52
All taxonomy terms: College Football, LSU Tigers, SEC
Path: /college-football/lsu-football-what-expect-2012
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The Tigers were the best team in the regular season, but couldn't deliver with the national title on the line. LSU was thoroughly dominated by Alabama 21-0 in the championship, but all is not lost for coach Les Miles. With a solid core of talent returning on both sides of the ball, LSU could begin 2012 as the No. 1 team in the preseason poll. 

Key players coming back: RB Spencer Ware, RB Michael Ford, RB Kenny Hilliard, WR Russell Shepard, WR Odell Beckham, LT Chris Faulk, RT Alex Hurst, DE Sam Montgomery, DE Barkevious Mingo, DT Bennie Logan, DT Michael Brockers, LB Kevin Minter, CB Tyrann Mathieu, CB Tharold Simon, S Eric Reid, K Drew Alleman, P Brad Wing

Seniors departing: QB Jordan Jefferson, QB Jarrett Lee, OG Will Blackwell, TE Deangelo Peterson, LB Ryan Baker, CB Ron Brooks, S Brandon Taylor

Could Leave Early for NFL Draft: WR Rueben Randle, CB Morris Claiborne

Top Incoming Recruits:

QB Gunner Kiel (AC100 No. 14)
WR Avery Johnson (AC100 No. 67)
DE Danielle Hunter
LB Lamar Louis
WR Travin Dural
OL Derek Edinburgh
DE Ronnie Fiest
DB Dwayne Thomas

Offense Preview for 2012

There will always be bumps in the road when going through a quarterback transition. However, LSU’s new signal-caller in 2012 is stepping into a good situation. Led by Spencer Ware, Michael Ford and Kenny Hilliard, the Tigers own one of the top running back stables in the nation. LSU likely won’t have a 1,000-yard rusher in 2012 due to the split carries, but production won’t be an issue.

The offensive line was among the best in college football in 2011 and won’t miss a beat next year. Four starters return, including All-SEC tackle Alex Hurst. Guard Josh Dworaczyk missed all of 2011 due to a knee injury, but is expected to step back into a starting role next season.

Considering what LSU has returning in the trenches and at running back, the quarterback won’t need to do much. Zach Mettenberger is ready for his chance at the starting job, but he could be pushed by incoming freshman Gunner Kiel – the No. 2 ranked quarterback in the Athlon Consensus 100. Mettenberger has a big arm, but is largely untested, throwing only 11 passes in his career. He should be an upgrade over Jordan Jefferson in terms of overall passing ability, but the Tigers could lose No. 1 receiver Rueben Randle to the NFL Draft. If Randle departs, Odell Beckham and Russell Shepard will become a bigger factor in the passing attack.

Defense Preview for 2012

With Alabama losing several key players, LSU should own the top defense in college football next year.

Much of the success for LSU’s defense starts with the defensive line. The Tigers have a nice blend of All-American talent with promising depth. Ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo will form one of the top pass-rush combinations in college football. Bennie Logan and Michael Brockers anchor the interior of the line, but Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson will see plenty of snaps.

The linebacking corps will lose Stefoin Francois and Ryan Baker, but Kevin Minter returns to lead the way in the middle. Tahj Jones, Luke Muncie and Lamin Barrow all saw limited action in 2011, but will be pressed into a bigger role next season. Reloading the linebacking corps is arguably one of the easiest tasks for a defensive coordinator, so despite the losses, this isn’t a major issue for LSU in 2012.

Throw out a 463-yard passing performance by West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, and LSU allowed only 141.9 yards through the air during the regular season. Cornerback Morris Claiborne is expected to declare for the NFL Draft, but the Tigers’ aren’t without depth in the secondary. Tyrann Mathieu was a Heisman finalist and is one of college football’s top gamechangers on defense. Safety Eric Reid made several key plays during the 2011 season and will challenge for All-SEC honors next year. Brandon Taylor departs at strong safety, but Craig Loston was another highly-touted prospect and has been waiting for his turn. LSU will miss Claiborne’s shutdown ability at cornerback, but Tharold Simon could be one of the top breakout players in 2012.

2012 Schedule Breakdown

With Alabama and LSU expected to be neck-and-neck for the SEC West race, the division title could come down to their meeting on Nov. 3. The Tigers knocked off the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa this year, and Alabama has to visit Baton Rouge in 2012. LSU must hit the road for conference games against Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas, while in addition to Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi State and Ole Miss visit Tiger Stadium.

The non-conference portion of the schedule is very manageable. LSU hosts North Texas, Washington, Idaho and Towson next year. The Huskies will bring a dangerous offense to Baton Rouge, but the defense needs to show major improvement to challenge LSU.

The Tigers could stumble at Auburn or Florida, but they should enter the final month of the regular season with an 8-0 record. However, LSU must play Alabama and Arkansas in November, which makes the last month of the season a make-or-break portion of the schedule.

Can LSU Play for the National Title Next Year?

Here’s a scary thought for the SEC: LSU could be even better next year. The Tigers have some losses, but nothing that should deter another run at a spot in the national title game. Getting Mettenberger or Kiel comfortable under center early will be crucial, but the schedule breaks well for the Tigers. Washington will be a good test for LSU in Week 2, but Mettenberger won’t travel on the road until Sept. 22 against a suspect Auburn defense.

Expect the Tigers to use the same formula as it has done under Les Miles once again in 2012: Defense and running the football. LSU will have one of the deepest backfields in college football next year, and a defense that will suffocate opposing offenses. A road date against Arkansas and a Nov. 3 clash against Alabama will likely make-or-break the LSU’s national title hopes. However, the early returns suggest this team will begin 2012 as the favorite to win it all.

Teaser:
<p> LSU was unable to follow up a terrific regular season with a national title win over Alabama. However, the Tigers will be back in 2012.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 - 11:49

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