Articles By Steven Lassan

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College football realignment dominated the headlines last summer and if you thought it was over, think again. More movement in college football could be coming this summer, especially with the mixed messages coming out of Tallahassee with Florida State. Are the Seminoles content to stay in the ACC or are they interested in the Big 12? If Florida State does make the jump to the Big 12, the domino effect will be felt across all of college football. 

It's anybody's guess what will happen with realignment this summer, but a lot has changed since last season. Here's a primer on what has happened for all 11 conferences and Independent teams and what could happen this summer if more moves begin to take place. 

ACC

What’s Happened: The ACC made an early strike in conference realignment last season, plucking Pittsburgh and Syracuse away from the Big East. The conference is scheduled to become a 14-team league, with the Panthers and Orange expected to join in time for the 2013 season. Pittsburgh will join the Coastal Division, while Syracuse has been placed in the Atlantic.

What’s Next: The first domino in the next round of realignment could fall with Florida State. The Seminoles joined the ACC in 1991, but could be looking to explore membership in the Big 12. If Florida State leaves the ACC, it may not come alone, as Miami and Clemson have also been mentioned as possible Big 12 expansion candidates. If the Seminoles decide to stay, the ACC will proceed with its 14-team alignment, but could look to add Rutgers and Connecticut in the future.

Big East

What’s Happened: The Big East has been a punching bag through this round of realignment. Pittsburgh and Syracuse left to join the ACC, while West Virginia bolted for the Big 12. With those defections, the conference was left with just five teams. The Big East should have expanded in previous years, but secured eight schools to join over the next couple of seasons. Temple was brought aboard for 2012, while Houston, SMU, UCF, Memphis, Boise State and San Diego State will join in time for 2013. Navy is scheduled to join in 2015.

What’s Next: Although the Big East is in a better position than it was in October, the conference could be facing more defections. If Florida State leaves the ACC, Connecticut and/or Rutgers could be targeted to replace the Seminoles. Louisville is interested in joining the Big 12, while Boise State and San Diego State could be forced to return to the Mountain West. Unless the Broncos can find a home for their other sports, they will have to depart the Big East, and the Aztecs will certainly follow. Boise State is expected to apply for membership in the Big West, and if accepted, would guarantee the Broncos play in the Big East for 2013. The conference is also going through a transition period, as John Marinatto is out as commissioner and Joseph Bailey is working on an interim basis. The Big East can’t feel too secure about its future until Boise State’s situation is resolved. Also, the conference is still looking for another Western member, which could be BYU, Air Force or UNLV.

Big Ten

What’s Happened: The Big Ten added Nebraska in 2010 to get to 12 teams and stage a conference championship game.

What’s Next: The Big Ten is in no hurry to expand and isn’t in any danger of losing teams. The conference will always keep a spot open for Notre Dame, but is there a clear 14th team? Unless there is a shift by the other BCS conferences to get to 16 teams, the Big Ten is likely to remain quiet on the realignment front.

Big 12

What’s Happened: Realignment talk has dominated the Big 12 for the last two years. The conference lost Nebraska to the Big Ten and Colorado to the Pac-12 in June 2010. The Big 12 decided not to expand after losing the Cornhuskers and Buffaloes, choosing to stay at 10 teams for the 2011 season. Realignment dominated the conference early in the year, as Texas A&M and Missouri bolted for the Big 12, while the conference got back to 10 teams with the additions of West Virginia and TCU.

What’s Next: The top priority for new commissioner Bob Bowlsby is the decision on expansion. Does the Big 12 want to expand to 12 teams or stay with its 10-team alignment? Texas – which has a large voice in the conference – does not want to expand. However, there is interest from the other teams to get back to 12. If Florida State wants to join the Big 12, the conference would have a hard time saying no to one of college football’s top 20 programs. If the Seminoles do make the jump from the ACC, Louisville is a strong candidate to be team No. 12, while rumors around the Big 12 have suggested Clemson and Miami might be interested in the Big 12 as well. Much of the next round of realignment will hinge on Florida State and the Big 12. Even if the Seminoles pass on the Big 12, the conference could look to expand by adding Louisville and BYU. If the Big 12 decides not to expand, realignment talk should quiet.

Conference USA

What’s Happened: Conference USA lost four teams to the Big East – UCF, Memphis, Houston and SMU – which was the league’s first change in football membership since 2005. The Tigers have struggled on the gridiron, but was the conference’s top basketball program. SMU is a team on the rise, while Houston was on the doorstep of playing in a BCS bowl this season. UCF is located in a valuable market (Orlando) and won three East Division titles since joining the conference in 2005.

What’s Next: Conference USA and the Mountain West discussed a merger, but decided to operate as separate conferences. With only eight members in the league for 2013, Conference USA expanded to include FIU, Louisiana Tech, North Texas and UTSA. UNC Charlotte will join in time for the 2015 season, and Old Dominion has announced its intentions to jump to the FBS level. Conference USA will be a 14-team league once UNC Charlotte and Old Dominion join. 

Independents

Army – The Black Knights’ participated as a member of Conference USA from 1998-2004, but decided to return to Independent status. Although Army could be targeted by the Big East for future expansion, it’s unlikely the Black Knights will give up Independence.

BYU – The Cougars had a successful first season of Independent scheduling, recording a 10-3 record with a victory over Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl. BYU was targeted by the Big East for expansion, but decided not to join, at least for now. The Cougars have been mentioned as a candidate for Big 12 expansion, but with the rumors of Florida State’s possible interest in leaving the ACC, BYU could be slipping down the pecking order. The Cougars are content to remain an Independent, but their access to the BCS/playoff system won’t change.

Navy – The Midshipmen will play as an Independent the next few seasons, but will join the Big East in time for the 2015 season.

Notre Dame – Although the Big 12, Big Ten and ACC could try to pull the Irish into a conference, it’s very unlikely Notre Dame will give up its Independence. The new college football playoff requirements won’t force the Irish to join a conference, so barring some drastic change in the next couple of years, Notre Dame will remain Independent. 

MAC

What’s Happened: After playing with 13 teams and unbalanced divisions since 2007, the MAC was set to become a 14-team conference in 2012. UMass is making the jump from FCS and will play a full MAC schedule this season. However, Temple decided to return to the Big East, leaving the MAC with 13 teams once again.

What’s Next: Expect the MAC to explore expansion to get to 14 teams. Candidates could be at the FCS level or could the conference take a look at Idaho? There’s no easy fit for the MAC, so the conference will be selective in choosing a 14th team – and it may not be anytime soon. 

Mountain West

What’s Happened: With TCU, BYU, Utah in the conference and Boise State on the way, the Mountain West appeared on the verge of earning an automatic spot into the BCS. How quickly things have changed. TCU and Utah left for BCS conferences, and BYU chose to go Independent. Boise State and San Diego State are slated to join the Big East in time for the 2013 season, provided the Broncos can find a home for their non-football programs. The Mountain West raided the WAC two years ago, pulling in Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii to have 10 football members for 2012. Utah State and San Jose State will join the Mountain West in time for the 2013 season.

What’s Next: Commissioner Craig Thompson has at least 10 teams secured for 2013 and isn’t in a hurry to expand. If Boise State is unable to find a home for its non-football sports, the Broncos and San Diego State could return to the Mountain West. If both teams stay in the Big East, the Mountain West could revisit adding Idaho and New Mexico State to get to 12 teams, but it’s unlikely either will be extended an invitation this year.

Pac-12

What’s Happened: Aggressive has been the word surrounding Larry Scott’s tenure as Pac-12 commissioner. Since taking over in 2009, Scott has helped the Pac-12 land a solid television deal, while starting up a conference television network. Scott added Utah and Colorado to get the conference to 12 members. He also made an unsuccessful run at Texas and Oklahoma, hoping to create college football’s first 16-team BCS conference.

What’s Next: Oklahoma and Oklahoma State expressed interest in joining the Pac-12 last season, but talk of that has quieted down since things in the Big 12 have stabilized. Scott is aggressive, and at the first sign of changes across the landscape, he will look to add more teams. Boise State could be a possible target in the future, but outside of BYU – which seems unlikely to ever join the Pac-12 – there are no logical fits out West. Unless the Big 12 becomes unstable once again, the Pac-12 should be quiet when it comes to expansion. 

SEC

What’s Happened: An opportunity to expand into Texas and the St. Louis/Kansas City markets was simply too good for the SEC to pass up. For the first time since 1991, the SEC invited new members, as Texas A&M and Missouri jumped from the Big 12 to join college football’s top conference.

What’s Next: The SEC is in no hurry to add any teams. And it may be a while before we see the conference make the jump to 16 members. Whenever the SEC looks to expand, it will be about new markets. NC State and Virginia Tech are possible new teams and markets, but neither has expressed any interest in leaving the ACC. The SEC expanded to 12 teams in 1991 and moved to 14 in 2012. Considering the conference will be very selective with any future membership, it may be 20 years before the SEC expands again.

Sun Belt

What’s Happened: Until recently, the Sun Belt Conference had been quiet on the expansion scene. South Alabama is bringing its upstart football program from the FCS ranks this season, which will give the conference 10 teams for 2012. Former WAC commissioner Karl Benson was appointed as the head of the Sun Belt earlier this year and has been aggressive with exploring expansion possibilities. Georgia State and Texas State will join the conference in 2013, but FIU and North Texas are departing for Conference USA.

What’s Next: The Sun Belt is not finished with expansion. UT Arlington has been rumored as a possible candidate, while Appalachian State is interested in making the move from the FCS ranks, but seems to be aiming for a Conference USA invite. Liberty recently announced its intentions to move to FBS play and could be a target for the Sun Belt. New Mexico State and Idaho previously played in the Sun Belt and could look to join as football-only members.

WAC

What’s Happened: The WAC has been picked apart over the last couple of years and could be entering its final season as a football conference. Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada all jumped to the Mountain West, leaving Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Texas State and UTSA as its members for 2012.

What’s Next: With Karl Benson leaving to be the commissioner of the Sun Belt, the WAC is in total disarray. Texas State is slated to join the Sun Belt in 2013, while Louisiana Tech and UTSA are moving to Conference USA. Utah State and San Jose State are joining the Mountain West next season. Idaho and New Mexico State are the only two football schools slated to participate in the WAC next season and both are exploring options with other conferences. The Aggies have been mentioned as a possible candidate for Sun Belt expansion, while the Vandals are still searching for a home on the FBS level. Unless the WAC can convince a handful of FCS schools to move up to FBS play, this conference won’t have a football schedule next year. 

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related College Football Content

Athlon's Top 25 Countdown for 2012

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<p> College football realignment preview for 2012.</p>
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Athlon Sports, publisher of the No. 1-selling college football magazine, continues the release of its preseason Top 25 poll at www.athlonsports.com. The countdown commences every year in early May and leads to the on-sale date of Athlon's category-leading college football preseason annuals.

To celebrate the Nebraska Cornhuskers being named No. 14, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Bo Pelini’s Nebraska Cornhuskers continue the countdown at No. 14 with two preseason All-Americans and 11 players selected as All-Big Ten performers. Athlon Sports predicts Nebraska will finish second in the Big Ten’s Legends Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Heisman candidate Rex Burkhead will lead the powerful Cornhuskers running attack once again,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “The defense must improve under a new staff, but Bo Pelini's program is a perennial contender and will be in the hunt for the Legends Division title.”

Two Nebraska standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with running back Rex Burkhead and kicker Brett Maher both being voted to the second team. In addition, the Cornhuskers’ running backs unit was ranked No. 6 nationally.

Eleven Cornhuskers earned preseason All-Big Ten honors, including Burkhead, offensive lineman Spencer Long and Maher at both kicker and punter on the first team. Wide receiver Kenny Bell, defensive lineman Baker Steinkuhler and kick returner Ameer Abdullah were named to the second team, while quarterback Taylor Martinez, tight end Kyler Reed, defensive lineman Cameron Meredith, linebacker Will Compton and safety Daimion Stafford garnered third-team honors.

Nebraska Team Preview

Nebraska's Top 10 Players of 2012

Nebraska’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

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<p> Athlon Sports Names Nebraska No. 14 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</p>
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Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 14 Nebraska. The Cornhuskers return 14 starters, including running back Rex Burkhead and quarterback Taylor Martinez. The defense returns most of its core, but must replace linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.

Is Nebraska's Taylor Martinez One of the Big Ten's Top Quarterbacks?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Let’s consider the field for a moment: Denard Robinson is a clear No. 1 in the Big Ten. After that, who should we consider? Iowa’s James Vandenberg is the next best passer. Ohio State’s Braxton Miller has the most potential. Northwestern’s Kain Colter was a supersub for Dan Persa. Minnesota’s MarQueis Gray is a fantastic runner but still struggling as a passer. Wisconsin’s Danny O’Brien was last seen losing his job at Maryland. Although Martinez struggled to remain in the conversation for the second tier of Big Ten quarterbacks last season, he is poised for a better season in 2012. His numbers regressed in some areas as a sophomore, but that’s not a shock. He was dynamic early in his freshman season in 2011 against weaker competition before returning to Earth in a second half hampered by injuries. In 2012, Martinez will have two years of starting experience under his belt, one year of experience against Big Ten opponents, one of the Big Ten’s best receiver groups, plus all the ability to be one of the nation’s best dual-threat quarterbacks. All the pieces are in place for Martinez to have a breakout year. Still, Nebraska doesn’t necessarily need Martinez to be an All-America quarterback, since running back Rex Burkhead is the likely centerpiece of this offense. Martinez simply needs to be very good, limiting mistakes and turnovers. That might not be enough to be a national superstar, but it will be enough to keep Nebraska in contention for a Big Ten title. By his junior year, Martinez should be up to the challenge.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Will he be the Big Ten's best quarterback in 2012? No. Can he lead his team to a Big Ten title by playing efficient and composed football within the framework of the offense thus making him one of the best? Absolutely. He had mental toughness and maturity issues in his first season under center back in 2010. And Martinez possibly took too much blame for the public dust-up with head coach Bo Pelini against Texas A&M considering he was a redshirt freshman — and that Pelini has a tendency to blow a gasket. Martinez also showed flashed of brilliant athletic ability and play-making skill. It appears he conquered those woes, as well as mastering the playbook, in year No. 2 as the starter in Lincoln while still exhibiting one of the quickest first five yards of any signal caller in the nation.

Now he faces his biggest challenge yet: Refining his accuracy in order to consistently and efficiently complete key passes in key situations. Easier said than done. T-Magic has never completed 60% of his passes and has dedicated his off-season work to honing his throwing motion and developing proper footwork. No one expects Martinez to be a pocket-passer with perfect drops, but should he simply improve his accuracy and protect the football, year No. 3 under center will easily be his best. It is the next step in his development process and it isn't an unreasonable expectation. Nebraska features one of the nation's elite tailbacks and arguably the Big Ten's top pass-catching corps, so, with his ability to make game-changing plays on the ground, there is no reason Martinez can't simple manage games through the air. If he can do this, Nebraska could be headed to Pasadena.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
There’s not a lot of turnover among Big Ten quarterbacks, but some of the conference’s best (Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson and Dan Persa) are gone. Denard Robinson should be the Big Ten’s preseason first-team all-conference quarterback, but after that is where the debate gets interesting.

Ohio State’s Braxton Miller is going to emerge as a star in Urban Meyer’s spread offense and even though he didn’t turn in an overwhelming performance last year, he has to be considered for the No. 2 spot. Outside of Miller, Iowa’s James Vandenberg, Martinez and Minnesota’s MarQueis Gray could be the top options to rank No. 3 among the quarterbacks for the 2012 season. Vandenberg is coming off a solid season, but the offensive line is a question mark, while top target Marvin McNutt is gone. Gray showed progress last season, but needs to develop as a passer.

When you look at the field, it’s easy to see why Martinez should be one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten this year. Sure, he’s had his ups and downs, but Martinez is entering his third year as the starter and threw only one interception over the final five games of last season. His rushing ability makes him one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in college football, but how much he can improve as a passer will determine how high Nebraska can climb in the Big Ten standings.

Martinez is putting in extra work on his passing skills and drew positive reviews throughout spring. Nebraska also returns one of the Big Ten's top receiving corps for 2012. The lack of other options certainly help Martinez's case, but all of the pieces seem to be in place for the junior to have a career year. 

Mark Ross
In terms of where we stand and what we know right now I would say yes, but in Martinez's case, that distinction is due more to the lack of quality quarterbacks in the Big Ten more than anything else. Michigan's Denard Robinson, Ohio State's Taylor Braxton and Martinez are probably considered to the top three signal callers in the Big Ten this season. All three are similar in style in that they can beat you with their arm or their legs, although with varying degrees of success.

Robinson finished ahead of the other two last season and fourth in the Big Ten in passing efficiency with a completion rate of a little better than 55 percent and despite throwing 15 interceptions compared to 20 touchdowns. Miller completed fewer passes and had a much better touchdown-to-interception ratio (13:4), but he also attempted the fewest passes of the three by far. Martinez had the best completion percentage of the trio (56.3) and attempted the most passes (288 to Robinson's 258), but had 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Of the three, Miller is in a position to make the greatest leap in production this season as the sophomore will be running new Buckeyes' head coach Urban Meyer's spread system, the same system that helped Tim Tebow develop into a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback during Meyer's tenure at Florida.

That said, Martinez also could continue to improve in his own right, but in the end, the fact he is considered one of the Big Ten's best under center in 2012 is probably more an indication of who's no longer around, namely Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, Michigan State's Kirk Cousins, and Northwestern's Dan Persa. That also doesn't mean that Martinez won't be outplayed at his position this season by Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase or Iowa's James Vandenberg or someone else, showing just how precarious the Nebraska junior's top-tier "status" in the Big Ten is, and it's only May.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think it’s fair to say that Martinez is one of the  best signal callers in the Big Ten, but he will have to become a more efficient passer to reach elite status in the conference and nationally. T-Magic is at his best running the ball, and his speed and athleticism have produced an outstanding 1,839 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground over the last two seasons. However, the NU quarterback had a meager completion percentage of 56.3 without enough big plays during the 2011 campaign. If coordinator Tim Beck puts less emphasis on quarterback runs due to schematic decisions or to protect Martinez’ 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame, the Nebraska offense could become extremely predictable.

As good as tailback Rex Burkhead is, the Huskers need their quarterback play to improve to contend for the league crown and/or the BCS. In double-digit losses to Wisconsin, Michigan and South Carolina last season, Martinez completed a combined 30 passes and ran for less than 150 yards total. The NU staff and others have worked with the California native on his passing and mechanics, and marked improvement could lead to big results for Bo Pelini’s team. Martinez will always be a threat on the ground, and I think he’ll become an effective enough passer to be among the Big Ten’s best QBs.

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The Nebraska Cornhuskers check in at No. 14 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Rex Burkhead, RB (SR)
Taylor Martinez might be the most important player, but no one is better in Big Red country than No. 22. Burkhead is arguably the most complete player in the nation. He can move the pile, get to the edge, pick-up the blitz, catch passes as a receiver and, most importantly, lead by example. He is a tireless worker who never turns off the motor. If Nebraska is to compete for a Big Ten title, it will undoubtedly be on the back of the three-down workhorse from Plano, Texas.

Trap Game: at Northwestern (Oct. 20)
It may be tough for the Wildcats to sneak up on Nebraska in 2012 considering what Pat Fitzgerald’s team did in Lincoln last fall. But with the most important two-game stretch of the 2012 season looming — Michigan at home and at Michigan State — directly after the trip to Evanston, Huskers fans can’t help but look past Northwestern. The players, however, better not overlook the Wildcats or they will be on the losing end of Purple Power once again.

Upset Alert: at UCLA (Sept. 8)
The season finale against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium could also fall into this category, considering what could be on the line on November 23, but a Week 2 cross-country trip to face the talented but underachieving Bruins could be tricky. New head coach Jim Mora has built a talented coaching staff to lead his roster full of four and five-star prospects. UCLA played for their conference crown last year and won’t be scared of Nebraska coming to the Rose Bowl. A win over UCLA would be the first step in the effort to make a return trip to Pasadena in 2012.

Unsung Hero: Brett Maher, K/P (SO)
Maybe he isn’t as unsung as others considering he was named Big Ten Kicker and Punter of the Year last fall. But not many kickers or punters contribute as much to their team’s success as Maher does. He drilled 19 of his 23 field goal attempts and averaged nearly 45 yards per punt while knocking 42.4% of his boots inside the 20. His ability to handle both jobs with ease is invaluable in the modern scholarship era of college football.

Biggest Game: Michigan (Oct. 27)
The Huskers will be on primetime TV three times this Big Ten season and the third visit to Saturday Night Football on ABC will be the biggest when it welcomes conference favorite Michigan to town. The Blackshirts were beaten and battered to the tune of 238 yards rushing at the hands of Denard Robinson and company last fall in Ann Arbor. But if Nebraska has conference title aspirations in 2012, it will have to close the 28-point gap from 2011.

Revenge Game: Michigan (Oct. 27)
Nebraska wasn’t just beaten by the Maize and Blue last fall, they were embarrassed. Taylor Martinez completed just nine of his 23 passes, Rex Burkhead has his worst game of the season with only 36 yards rushing and Denard Robinson accounted for four touchdowns in the 45-17 destruction in Ann Arbor. The Wisconsin game features a similar story line, but the Badgers don’t play within the division like the Wolverines. Nebraska is undoubtedly focused on revenge against both teams this fall.

Freshman To Watch: David Santos, LB
The Spring, Texas, product added nearly 20 pounds during his redshirt season — which almost didn’t happen at all. Santos was prepared to play a big role as a true freshman last fall until an injury forced him into a redshirt situation. With the loss of superstar Lavonte David, Bo Pelini appears to be leaning toward a by-committee replacement approach. In which case, Santos will get more than a few opportunities to prove his mettle.

Comeback Player: Andrew Rodriguez, OL (JR)
The big hog molly played in eight games last season for the Huskers. Halfway through the season, the 6-foot-6, 325-pounder was slowed by an injury that eventually cost him the final four games of the season. He has been shifted to right tackle where, when healthy, he will be a major force in the powerful Huskers ground game. Again, if he can stay on the field.

Defensive MVP: John Papuchis, DC
Along with new defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski and secondary coach Terry Joseph, Papuchis is the most important member of the Huskers defensive unit. Will Compton or Baker Steinkuhler might be the on-the-field MVPs for this unit, but if Nebraska returns to its Blackshirt way of life, it will be because of the new defensive coordinator. This unit was dominant just two years ago (93.1 rushing yards allowed per game in 2009) but has been less than salty over the last two (over 150 rushing yards allowed per game since). With plenty of talent on all three levels, Nebraska should be much-improved on defense in 2012.

Newcomer To Watch: Mike Marrow, FB
The 6-foot-2, 250-pound thumper has a chance to make a name for himself this fall. Whether it’s lead-blocking, catching passes or picking up short yardage first downs, Marrow has a chance to be the unsung hero on this offense. The son of Nebraska graduate assistant Vince Marrow, the fullback signed with Alabama out of Holland, Ohio, before landing at Eastern Michigan. He transferred to the Huskers and sat out last fall, but is ready lay the lumber in 2012.

Season Defining Moment: Wisconsin (Sept. 29)
There may be bigger games later in the season against the state of Michigan, but from a psychological standpoint, how the Huskers perform against the Big Ten’s other Big Red at home to start conference play on national television will be huge. Should they handle the Badgers with relative ease, fans can get excited about a potential conference title run. Should Wisconsin, and its rebuilt two-deep, walk into Memorial Stadium and win, the fans in Lincoln would have to be excited about their fifth nine-win season in a row.

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Post date: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 - 05:51
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Athlon Sports, publisher of the No. 1-selling college football magazine, continues the release of its preseason Top 25 poll at www.athlonsports.com. The countdown commences every year in early May and leads to the on-sale date of Athlon's category-leading college football preseason annuals.

To celebrate the Clemson Tigers being named No. 15, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers continue the countdown at No. 15 with one preseason All-American and nine players selected as All-ACC performers. Athlon Sports predicts Clemson will finish second in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Heisman candidates Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins will lead a powerful Clemson attack once again,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “If the defense can develop early, the Tigers will have a great chance to repeat as ACC champions.”

One Clemson standout was named a preseason All-American, with wide receiver Sammy Watkins being voted to the first team. In addition, the Tigers quarterbacks unit was ranked No. 6 nationally and best in the ACC. The running backs group was rated No. 7 in the country and tops in the conference, while the wide receivers unit was tabbed No. 2 in the nation and best in the ACC.

Nine Tigers earned preseason All-ACC honors, including Watkins, quarterback Tajh Boyd, running back Andre Ellington and offensive lineman Dalton Freeman on the first team. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, defensive lineman Malliciah Goodman, defensive back Rashard Hall, kicker Chandler Catanzaro and kick returner Sammy Watkins were named to the second team, while tight end Brandon Ford garnered third-team honors.

Clemson Team Preview

Clemson's Top 10 Players of 2012

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 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

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<h1 class="ha"> Athlon Sports Names Clemson No. 15 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</h1>
Post date: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - 09:38
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The Clemson Tigers check in at No. 15 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Tajh Boyd, QB
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins is the more talented player and will more than likely receive more awards and recognition once the season is over, but Boyd is the engine that makes Clemson’s offense hum. In his first year as the Tigers’ starting quarterback, the junior set single-season school records for passing yards (3,828), total offense (4,046) and touchdown passes (33), while breaking the ACC mark for touchdown responsibility (38). The 10 victories Boyd led Clemson to in 2011 tied the school record for most wins by a first-year starting quarterback, and he became the first sophomore quarterback at the school to earn first-team All-ACC honors since Harvey White did in 1957. Boyd is anything but a one-man show as he’s surrounded by explosive playmakers, but Clemson would be nowhere near as dangerous on offense if someone other than Boyd was under center.

Trap Game: at Wake Forest (Oct. 25)
Yes, Clemson holds a commanding 59-17-1 advantage in its head-to-head meetings with Wake Forest and has won the past three by a combined 58 points. However, the Demon Deacons gave the Tigers all they could handle last season in Death Valley, building a 14-point third-quarter lead before Clemson scored the final 17 points and won the game on a 43-yard field goal as time expired. This season, Clemson has to travel to Winston-Salem, N.C., and the Thursday night game against their fellow ACC Atlantic opponent comes just five days after the Tigers host Virginia Tech in an ACC title game rematch.

Upset Alert: vs. Auburn (Sept. 1)
Even though Auburn went just 8-5 as a follow up to its 2010 national championship, these Tigers out of the SEC can’t be overlooked. The season-opening catfight will take place in the Georgia Dome, which is more familiar turf for Auburn compared to Clemson. Auburn played Virginia, another ACC team, there in last season’s Peach Bowl, a game they dominated winning 43-24. Auburn also will be looking to exact a little revenge, as Clemson came to Jordan-Hare Stadium last season and left with a 14-point victory in hand. Clemson could also be without the services of receiver Sammy Watkins, who was arrested in early May and is facing a suspension.

Biggest Game: at Florida State (Sept. 22)
Clemson won last season’s game 35-30 behind Tajh Boyd’s 344 yards passing and three touchdowns. Even though this was the ACC opener for both, last year marked the third straight season that found the winner of this game going on to play in the ACC Championship game. Clemson is currently enjoying a four-game home winning streak against Florida State, but has come up short the last two times the teams have played in Tallahassee. Clemson wants to show everyone that last year was no fluke as well as get a chance at some redemption in another BCS bowl game. To have any hopes of playing in a second straight BCS bowl, the Tigers will more than likely need to get back to the ACC title game, and Florida State appears to be one of the biggest obstacles in their way.

Freshman to Watch: Travis Blanks, DB
Blanks went to high school in Tallahassee, which is where Clemson’s ACC Coastal Division rival Florida State is located, and was regarded by several recruiting services as one of the top prospects at his position. In the end, he chose to sign with the Tigers and the true freshman may get the chance to torment his home town Seminoles as early as this fall. Blanks enrolled at Clemson in January and impressed the coaching staff with his work ethic during the spring. Don’t be surprised to see Blanks on the field early and often this fall when new defensive coordinator Brent Venables employs the Tigers’ nickel packages.

Revenge Game: vs. NC State (Nov. 17)
Outside of its 37-point loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl, Clemson’s largest margin of defeat in 2011 was at the hands of NC State. The Wolf Pack took advantage of four Tiger turnovers and scored 27 points in the second quarter to coast to an easy 37-13 victory in Raleigh. Clemson was ranked No. 7 at the time, and although the loss didn’t cost the Tigers the ACC Atlantic Division crown and a spot in the ACC title game, there’s little doubt they want to put forth a better showing when the two meet in Death Valley in November. That’s especially true for quarterback Tajh Boyd, who was responsible for three (two INTs, one fumble) of the four turnovers in last season’s meeting. That NC State game also was the only game in 2011 in which he didn’t throw at least one touchdown pass.

Season-Defining Moment: vs. South Carolina (Nov. 24)
Clemson’s regular season will have already been defined by the time the two in-state rivals meet up at the end of November as the Tigers will already know if they will be headed to Charlotte for the ACC Championship game in Charlotte that next Saturday. If that is indeed the case, however, then it’s entirely possible that Clemson could still be in the national title hunt, meaning the last thing the Tigers could afford is a loss to South Carolina. And even if a shot at the national title isn’t in the picture, there’s this: the Tigers have lost three in a row to the Gamecocks, by an average of 20 points. South Carolina was truly the dominant team last season, as Clemson managed only 153 yards of offense while giving up 420 to the Gamecocks. In the end, regardless of what may or not be at stake, this is a season-defining game as far as the state of South Carolina is concerned.

Defensive MVP: Malliciah Goodman, DE
Goodman enters his senior season having played in 41 games, including 15 starts. His value cannot be measured in statistics alone as he played 767 snaps last year, not only the most among Clemson lineman in 2011, but the most by a Tigers’ defensive lineman in school history. However, besides bringing experience to and providing veteran leadership for Clemson’s defensive line, the Tigers also need Goodman to increase his production as he will attempt to fill the void left behind by Andre Branch, the ACC’s sack leader (10.5) in 2011. Goodman had 59 tackles last season, 43 of those solo stops, but only two sacks.

Unsung Hero: Chandler Cantanzaro, K
Cantanzaro was named second-team All-ACC in 2011 as he set a new school record for kicking points in a season with 118. He was the ACC’s leading scorer and tied for the conference lead in made field goals with 22. The one-time walk-on was 9-of-12 on field goal attempts of 40 yards or more and is 15-of-21 from that distance over the last two years. His career 71.4 success rate from 40 yards and out is a school record. He has missed one extra point attempt (86-87) in 27 games and is already seventh in school history in extra points made. He also established Clemson records for both extra points made (52) and attempted (53) in 2011.

Newcomer to Watch: Stephone Anthony, LB
Anthony was a highly regarded recruit coming out of high school who saw action in 13 games, including three starts, as a true freshman. Heading into the fall the sophomore is the projected starter at middle linebacker, and head coach Dabo Swinney and new defensive coordinator Brent Venables are hoping he has a huge impact from Week 1. He showed flashes of his immense talent and potential at times last season, most notably in the ACC Championship Game against Virginia Tech. In that game, Anthony tallied three tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and forced a fumble in the Tigers’ convincing 38-10 win over the Hokies.

Comeback Player: Tony Steward, LB
Steward is another of the prized recruits from Clemson’s 2011 class as is fellow linebacker Stephone Anthony, who was a USA Today first-team All-American out of high school. Steward, just like Anthony, also played right away getting on the field in five of the Tigers’ first seven games. Then on Oct. 18, Steward tore his ACL in practice, ending his freshman season prematurely. He missed spring practice as he is still recovering, but is expected to be ready to go when practice starts in August. After seniors Tig Willard and Corico Hawkins, Clemson’s linebacker depth is pretty young and inexperienced, so the coaching staff is hoping that Steward will be healthy enough to continue his growth and development on the field this fall.

Related Clemson Content

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Jokes About Clemson Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Clemson Tigers 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - 05:35
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Clemson Tigers, College Football, News
Path: /college-football/clemson-football-will-tigers-repeat-acc-champions
Body:

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 15 Clemson. The Tigers return the top offense in the ACC, but the defense has some key holes to fill.

Will Clemson Repeat as ACC Champions in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Clemson has a great chance to repeat as ACC champions. I have hunch second-year starting quarterback Tajh Boyd will perform closer to the way he played early in the season instead of when he threw nine interceptions in his final six games. The Clemson defense also should perform better than the unit that allowed 70 points against West Virginia. Despite my optimism about Clemson, I tend to lean toward Florida State in the division. The Seminoles were a classic example of a bad luck team – injuries at the wrong time derailed the Seminoles against Oklahoma, the same spilled into the Clemson game the following week. In all likelihood, Clemson isn’t going to face FSU backup quarterback Clint Trickett, who still managed to pass for 336 yards and three touchdowns on the road against the Tigers. This time around, Clemson probably faces regular starter EJ Manuel in Tallahassee. The road trip to Florida State should be a major cause for concern for Clemson, no matter who is playing for the ‘Noles. In the midst of the Tigers’ collapse a year ago, Clemson struggled away from Death Valley. Clemson finished 1-4 in road games and neutral site games last season, including losses at Georgia Tech, N.C. State and South Carolina by a combined score of 102-43. Even in Clemson’s final true road win over the season, the Tigers needed second-half heroics from Sammy Watkins to beat 2-10 Maryland. In 2012, Clemson will be in 10-win territory again with a chance for revenge against Georgia Tech, N.C. State and South Carolina when all three return to Clemson, but the big game is in Tallahassee against a presumably healthy Florida State team. That prompts me to give the edge to the Seminoles.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This is the ACC we are talking about here, and since the Tigers are loaded on offense and are the defending champs, they have as good a chance as any to win the title in 2012. But if the bet is Clemson or The Field, I am taking the field. The Tigers should be excellent on offense once again, but have to iron out some offensive line issues —and hopefully endure a summer without any more legal slip-ups. But defensively is where my concerns lie. Yes, they are talented. Yes, they should be improved with another year of experience and a new coordinator. And yes, they allowed 172 points in four losses to close the season 2-4 after entering the national championship picture for a few weeks.

Defense wins championships. It's a cliche...for a reason. Virginia Tech and Florida State might have two of the best defensive units in the nation much less the ACC and both will control the line of scrimmage against the Tigers. Clemson has to visit Florida State, and despite two relatively easy wins over the Hokies in 2011, the visit from Frank Beamer's bunch is guaranteed to be more difficult. Toss in other well-coached contenders who handled Clemson with ease a year ago — Georgia Tech and NC State, both of whom visit Death Valley — and it seems a tall order for this Tigers' squad to repeat. Especially considering Clemson has one conference title since 1991 and hasn't repeated since 1987-1988. 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Clemson is a team that has struggled to match preseason expectations in recent years, but winning the ACC Championship last season could help this program finally get over the hump and contend for a conference title each year. There’s plenty of talent returning to Clemson in 2012, so there’s no excuse why this team should not be near the top of the ACC once again.

Quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins will be one of college football’s top pass-catch combinations once again, while the rushing attack is in good hands with Andre Ellington and Mike Bellamy. The biggest issue on offense will be sorting out a line that returns just two starters. If Clemson struggles to block, the offense won’t match last season’s totals.

The defense returns eight starters, but the line was decimated by graduation. The Tigers have recruited well, so there is talent in the reserves. However, outside of end Malliciah Goodman, there’s not much in the way of proven commodities up front. The back seven of the defense should be solid, especially with the emergence of linebacker Stephone Anthony. New coordinator Brent Venables was a great hire, but this unit will struggle without a consistent pass rush.

The biggest obstacle to repeating as ACC champions will be a schedule that features a road date at Florida State and another matchup with Virginia Tech. Although Clemson beat the Hokies twice last year, the Tigers’ personnel losses will have an impact on the matchup. Considering the question marks on the offensive and defensive lines, traveling to Tallahassee to play Florida State in Week 4 is not the best possible timing.

I think Clemson is a solid top-15 team for 2012, but I see the Tigers falling short of repeating as ACC champs. 

Mark Ross
Clemson appears to be in excellent position headed into the fall to repeat as champions of the ACC. To begin with, Dabo Swinney's Tigers return seven starters on offense. Chad Morris' unit should not only be the best in the ACC, but one of the best in the entire nation, with quarterback Tajh Boyd, wide receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins and running back Andre Ellington all at his disposal. If an inexperienced offensive line comes together, and all the key playmakers stay healthy, Clemson's O could be next to impossible to slow down, let alone stop.

The Tigers' repeat title hopes will probably come down to the defense. Statistically speaking, this was not a very good defense last year and that was before West Virginia torched it for 70 points and 589 yards in the Orange Bowl. The Tigers return eight starters on defense, including just about the entire back seven, and have a new defensive coordinator in Brent Venables. No one's expecting Venables, who had been Oklahoma's defensive coordinator the past eight seasons, to turn this year's Tigers into a top-10 unit, like the 2009 Sooners were (8th overall in total defense, 7th in scoring defense), however even improvement that mirrors how last year's Oklahoma defense performed would be a welcome sight.

Last season Oklahoma's defense finished 55th in the nation in total defense, giving up more than 376 yards per game, and 31st in scoring defense, surrendering less than 23 points per contest. Compare that to Clemson's defense in 2011, which gave up nearly 395 yards (71st in the nation) and more than 29 points per game (81st). The good news is that the Tigers' defense doesn't have to worry about trying to stop its own offense in a real game, as Clemson's unit is far and away the ACC's most potent. If the Tigers can figure out a way to somewhat slow down the offenses it will face in its conference schedule, allowing its own to do its thing, then Clemson should find itself in Charlotte in December for a second straight year with an excellent chance at making it two ACC titles in arow. 

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Dabo Swinney’s crew has the offense to win another ACC title, but I would not pick the Tigers as the preseason favorite. With skill players like quarterback Tajh Boyd, running back Andre Ellington and receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, we know the Clemson offense has vast potential. However, there were some key personnel losses in three starters on the offensive line and All-ACC tight end Dwayne Allen. There are also some concerns at the offense slowed down late in the season, scoring 17 points or less in losses to Georgia Tech. NC State and South Carolina.

The Tigers defense struggled for much of last year, except when playing against Virginia Tech. Eight starters return, but linemen Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson will be missed up front. If new coordinator Brent Venables can improve this unit, Clemson will have a great shot to repeat in the ACC. Right now, I think an improved Florida State and its loaded defense looks like the more complete roster in the Atlantic Division. With the head-to-head matchup in Tallahassee, I’ll take the Seminoles to advance to Charlotte.

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Teaser:
<p> Clemson Football: Will the Tigers Repeat as ACC Champions?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - 05:33
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-virginia-tech-no-16-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
Body:

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

To celebrate the Virginia Tech Hokies being named No. 16, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Frank Beamer’s Virginia Tech Hokies continue the countdown at No. 16 with eight players selected as All-ACC performers. Athlon Sports predicts Virginia Tech will finish first in the ACC’s Coastal Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Once again, Frank Beamer's club looks like the team to beat in the Coastal Division,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “The Hokies have a big hole to fill at the tailback position, but they feature one of the nation's most underrated quarterbacks in Logan Thomas, and the defense, as usual, should be very strong.”

Eight Hokies earned preseason All-ACC honors, including defensive lineman James Gayle and defensive back Kyle Fuller on the first team. Quarterback Logan Thomas and defensive lineman J.R. Collins were named to the second team, while wide receiver Marcus Davis, offensive lineman Andrew Miller, defensive lineman Derrick Hopkins and kick returner Dyrell Roberts garnered third-team honors. In addition, the Virginia Tech quarterbacks unit was ranked No. 10 nationally, the defensive line was rated No. 4 in the country, and the defensive backs unit was tabbed No. 7 in the nation.

Virginia Tech Team Preview

Virginia Tech's Top 10 Players of 2012

Virginia Tech’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

Teaser:
<p> <span>Athlon Sports Names Virginia Tech No. 16 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</span></p>
Post date: Monday, May 14, 2012 - 10:53
Path: /college-football/virginia-tech-football-can-hokies-win-acc-title-2012
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Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 16 Virginia Tech. Quarterback Logan Thomas is back, but the Hokies have to replace four offensive line starters and running back David Wilson.

Can Virginia Tech Win the ACC Championship in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
As long as Clemson is on the schedule only once, Virginia Tech has a chance. If we learned anything last year Clemson is better than Virginia Tech – or at least everyone learned that except for the voters in the Harris and coaches polls who voted the Hokies higher last year. There’s good reason to be skeptical about Virginia Tech this season. Quarterback Logan Thomas is one of only three returning starters on the offense. As opposed to years past, Virginia Tech has no clear heir apparent at running back as David Wilson was. Beyond that, I thought the Hokies receiving corps was overlooked at times. And the defense, as usual, will keep Virginia Tech near the top of the league. In the end, what the ACC comes down to is the conference championship game. The Hokies are the clear favorite in the Coastal Division. Despite Virginia’s eight-win season, the blowout losses to the Hokies and Auburn to end the season show the Cavaliers aren’t ready to win the conference quite yet. North Carolina is ineligible. Georgia Tech looks like it’s going to top out at around eight wins, and Miami could struggle. If Virginia Tech wins the Coastal, I might be tempted to pick the Hokies in the title game – as long as Clemson isn’t on the other side.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The top of the Atlantic Division may be stronger than the top of the Coastal in 2012, but that is why I am not betting against the Hokies of Virginia Tech. Miami has plenty of talent but is very young. Virginia is extremely well coached and will be strong on defense but lacks the overall talent to win the title (yet). Georgia Tech will be very difficult to stop on offense but plays a rough schedule. And North Carolina might be the most talented foe but has to deal with a coaching change and sanctions. It feels like the Hokies are the clearcut pick to win the division with what could be the nation's best defense. The winner of the "Tech-mo" Bowl has gone on to win this division every year of its existence, and while I like the Yellow Jackets to act as top challenger, I'll take Bud Foster with three months to prepare to stop the option on Labor Day Night.

So after winning its fifth Coastal title in six years, and its sixth in eigth years, can Virginia Tech topple the Atlantic winner? Be it the offense of Clemson, the defense of Florida State or the sneaky good coaching and quarterback play of NC State that prevails, I'm still taking the Hokies to claim the ACC title this fall.

There are certainly questions about the Hokies offensive line and running game. But when has Frank Beamer not been able to find someone to run the ball? And with a quarterback who can move the pile at will, I am not as concerned about the offense as others seem to be. Logan Thomas will take the next step in his development and make himself a first-round pick by carrying the offense. Foster's defense will do the rest. Clemson proved it can beat the Hokies a year ago but Beamer won't let his team forget that and I just can't see Florida State or NC State consistently moving the ball on the lawfirm of Collins, Gayle, Edwards, Taylor, Fuller and Exum.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
There’s not a ton of separation between the ACC’s top three teams for 2012: Clemson, Florida State and Virginia Tech. And what might make-or-break the conference race is the play on the offensive lines. The Tigers have to replace three starters, while the Hokies lost four from last year. Even though Florida State returns nearly everyone up front, the line is still a major question mark going into 2012.

Barring major injuries, the Hokies should cruise to the ACC Coastal title. Miami is rebuilding, and Georgia Tech, Virginia and North Carolina each have question marks. The Tar Heels might be Virginia Tech’s biggest challenger in the Coastal, but is unable to play for the division title due to NCAA sanctions.

Virginia Tech will get a shot at both Clemson and Florida State in the regular season, but struggled against the Tigers in two matchups last season. Florida State visits Blacksburg on Thursday night in early November, which should be one of the ACC's top matchups for 2012. If the offensive line comes together, and a replacement for running back David Wilson is found early in the year, I think the Hokies will certainly push Clemson and Florida State for the ACC title and a spot among the top 10 teams in college football. The defense is certainly one of the best in college football, but surprisingly for a Frank Beamer-coached team, the special teams (kicker and punter) could be an issue. Although the Hokies are a solid team, I give a slight edge to Clemson or Florida State to win a very competitive (at least at the top) ACC in 2012. 

Mark Ross
There is no reason why Frank Beamer can't lead his team to a third straight ACC title game in 2012. Besides, Virginia Tech has represented the ACC Coastal Division in the championship game five of the seven years it has been played, so why should we expect a different outcome this season?

More to the point, the Hokies are once again the favorite in the Coastal Division because of quarterback Logan Thomas and what could be one of Bud Foster's strongest defenses in his 18 years as coordinator. Georgia Tech and North Carolina will be heard from and may even pull off an upset or two, but Virginia Tech should find itself in familiar territory come December - playing in Charlotte, N.C., for the ACC title.

This is not a typical Beamer-coached Hokies team, however. There are question marks surrounding both the running game and offensive line, while the receiving corps is, for the most part, unproven. Again, the defense could be really, really good, but in order for the unit to get to that elite level it will need its key players, especially at linebacker and in the secondary, to avoid the injury bug.

If Beamer and the coaching staff are able to develop some sort of reliable running game and the offensive line comes together, then Virginia Tech could have a dangerous offense to go with its potentially dominant defense. If that happens, then they are as big a threat in the ACC, and perhaps even nationally, as any other team. If not then Hokie fans will probably have to be content with a second-straight season as the ACC runner-up.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The Hokies can definitely win the ACC, but I do not see them as the overall favorite. Frank Beamer’s bunch looks primed to win another Coastal crown, while Florida State and Clemson battle for Atlantic supremacy. The Virginia Tech defense should keep the Hokies in every game, but the key to winning the conference will be how an inexperienced offense develops around talented quarterback Logan Thomas. Beamer and staff must replace first-round pick David Wilson at running back, top receivers Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin, as well as four starters on the offensive line.

A talented and deep line rotation will lead the defense, and Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum will be the latest elite secondary members to be produced by coordinator Bud Foster. This solid unit will have to carry the weight early, while new stars like Marcus Davis, D.J. Coles and Michael Holmes develop on offense. The schedule is not easy with a season-opener against Georgia Tech, trips to North Carolina and Clemson, plus games with Florida State and an improving Virginia squad. The Seminoles and Tigers return top rosters, but the Hokies should be improved enough by December to defeat either squad in Charlotte. Beamer’s program has won double-digit games nine times over the last decade, so the Hokies would not surprise anyone by winning another ACC crown.

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Teaser:
<p> Can the Hokies Win the ACC Title in 2012?</p>
Post date: Monday, May 14, 2012 - 06:03
Path: /college-football/virginia-tech-hokies-2012-team-predictions
Body:

The Virginia Tech Hokies check in at No. 16 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Logan Thomas, QB
A 1,700-yard running back who was the ACC Player of the Year (David Wilson), the top two wide receivers in school history (Jarrett Boykin, Danny Coale), and four fifth-year seniors on the offensive line are all gone, so this is clearly Thomas’ team. The junior showed what he was capable of in his first year as the Hokies’ starting quarterback, but now all eyes and opposing defenses’ attention will be squarely fixed on him. Despite all the personnel changes on offense, Virginia Tech’s goals remain the same – win the ACC Coastal Division, win the ACC Championship, and play in and win a BCS bowl game. As good as the defense is, the offense will certainly have to do its part too, and whether that happens or not depends largely on Thomas’ continued development under center and his production on the field in 2012.

Trap Game: at Miami (Nov. 1)
Virginia Tech has won its last three meetings against Miami, and at this point the Hokies appear to have the edge over the Hurricanes headed into this season’s contest. However, Miami gave Virginia Tech all they could handle last year in Blacksburg, Va., as the home team needed a 19-yard TD scamper by quarterback Logan Thomas with less than a minute remaining to defeat the Hurricanes, 38-35. This game also precedes Virginia Tech’s match up against Florida State the following Saturday, so there’s the risk of the Hokies overlooking one team from the Sunshine State for the other, which is always a dangerous mindset for a team to have, especially on the road in conference play.

Upset Alert: vs. Cincinnati (Sept. 29)
The last time these two teams met was in the 2009 Orange Bowl, which Virginia Tech won 20-9. This year’s contest will also take place on a neutral field, FedEx Field in Landover, Md., and the Hokies better not look past this Big East opponent, even as an Oct. 6 date in Chapel Hill against ACC divisional foe North Carolina lies ahead. Last season, North Carolina State traveled to Cincinnati to play the Bearcats on a Thursday night, with a conference game versus Georgia Tech looming on the horizon. The Wolf Pack got destroyed by Cincinnati 44-14 and then proceeded to fall at home to the Yellow Jackets 45-35 that next Saturday.

Biggest Game: vs. Georgia Tech (Sept. 3)
It’s the season opener for both teams as the two ACC Coastal foes will meet on Labor Day night in Blacksburg, Va. Besides this not only setting the tone for the start to each other’s 2012 seasons and conference slates, consider this: the winner of this annual match up has gone on to win the Coastal division the past six seasons. Both Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech each will play seven more conference games after this, but if recent history has shown us anything, this game could once again determine who plays in the ACC Championship game in Charlotte, N.C., in December.

Revenge Game: at Clemson (Oct. 20)
It’s pretty simple, Clemson came to Blacksburg, Va., last Oct. 1 and embarrassed Virginia Tech on its home turf 23-3, handing the Hokies their first, and what turned out to be their only, loss during the regular season. The two met again on Dec. 3 in Charlotte, N.C., to decide the ACC Championship, and the result was the same again as the Tigers manhandled the Hokies 38-10. Both teams went on to BCS bowls (and lost), but Virginia Tech would like nothing more than to get some payback on Oct. 20 in Death Valley. A win at Clemson would not only take some of the sting away from what happened last season, it also could potentially derail the Tigers’ hopes of playing for a second-straight ACC title and getting back to a BCS bowl.

Defensive MVP: Bruce Taylor, LB
They say the quarterback of the defense is oftentimes the linebacker and that’s certainly the case for Taylor. The fifth-year senior led the team in tackles in 2010 and was named honorable mention All-ACC last season despite missing the final six games after suffering a Lisfranc foot injury. Virginia Tech’s defense is expected to be among the nation’s best this coming season. In order for the unit to reach its true potential, defensive coordinator Bud Foster needs a fully healthy Taylor to not only wreak havoc from his inside linebacker position, but also provide leadership both on and off of the field.

Unsung Hero: Dyrell Roberts, WR
Roberts is a fifth-year senior who played in just three games last year after sustaining a broken arm returning the opening kickoff against Arkansas State. Roberts also had his 2010 season end prematurely, after being injured during another kickoff return, which resulted in him having surgery and missing the Hokies’ final five games. When healthy, Roberts has produced both on offense and special teams. Entering this season, Roberts has caught 63 passes for 965 yards (15.3 ypc) and five touchdowns. He also is already Virginia Tech’s career leader in kickoff return yardage with 1,577 yards on 61 returns, good for an average of nearly 26 yards per return. As long as he can stay on the field, Roberts should have a big impact in 2012 as the Hokies are without their top two receivers and No. 1 kickoff returner from last season.

Newcomer to Watch: Michael Holmes, RB
Holmes redshirted last year as the Hokies relied heavily on David Wilson. Now Wilson, the 2011 ACC Player of the Year, and his 1,709 rushing yards have gone on to the NFL, giving Holmes a golden opportunity to establish himself as Virginia Tech’s next great running back. Holmes (5-11, 208) is not the biggest or strongest of backs, but he was a two-time state player of the year while at Harrisonburg (Va.) High School and apparently has earned the first shot at replacing Wilson thanks to his hard work this spring and all-around ability.

Freshman to Watch: Joel Caleb, WR
Rated by many recruiting services as one of the top prospects in Virginia, Caleb is considered the jewel of Virginia Tech’s 2012 signing class, as he chose to stay in state rather than going to Ohio State or West Virginia. The 6-3, 205-pound receiver from Midlothian, Va., definitely has the size that will allow him to make an immediate impact in the passing game. Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring lost three of this top five receivers from last year’s team, so as long as Caleb shows to the coaching staff and his teammates that’s he ready, the true freshman should see some playing time this fall behind veterans D.J. Coles, Marcus Davis and Dyrell Roberts.

Comeback Players: Tariq Edwards, Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Bruce Taylor, LBs
Virginia Tech’s linebacking corps is considered to be the best in the ACC, but all three projected starters are coming back from injuries that could impact their performance this fall. Taylor, the Hokies’ leading tackler in 2010, and Gouveia-Winslow both went down with serious Lisfranc foot injuries that shortened their 2011 seasons. Taylor got hurt against Boston College, costing him the final six games, while Gouveia-Winslow was injured two weeks earlier, ending his junior season prematurely. Edwards, who was third on the team in both tackles and tackles for loss last season, was the only one to play in all 14 games in 2011, but had surgery in Marchto place a steel rod in his left fibia to relieve pressure from a stress fracture in his shin.

All three missed spring practice as a result of their injuries, but are expected to be ready to go by the fall. The best-case scenario for Virginia Tech is that all three hold up for the entire season, but if injuries continue to keep them on the sideline or limit them when they are on the field, the Hokies’ defense will certainly look different, and quite possibly, play different, this fall.

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Will Virginia Tech Win the ACC in 2012?
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Jokes About Virginia Tech Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Virginia Tech Hokies 2012 Team Predictions</p>
Post date: Monday, May 14, 2012 - 06:01
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-wisconsin-no-17-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
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Athlon Sports, publisher of the No. 1-selling college football magazine, continues the release of its preseason Top 25 poll atwww.athlonsports.com. The countdown commences every year in early May and leads to the on-sale date of Athlon's category-leading college football preseason annuals.

To celebrate the Wisconsin Badgers being named No. 17, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Bret Bielema’s Wisconsin Badgers continue the countdown at No. 17 with five preseason All-Americans and eight players selected as All-Big Ten performers. Athlon Sports predicts Wisconsin will finish second in the Big Ten’s Leaders Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Heisman candidate Montee Ball will lead the vaunted Badgers’ running attack once again,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “The loss of Russell Wilson is big, but Bret Bielema's program is a perennial contender and will have a good shot at a third consecutive Rose Bowl.”

Five Wisconsin standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with running back Montee Ball and offensive lineman Ricky Wagner being voted to the first team. Punt returner Jared Abbrederis, offensive lineman Travis Frederick and linebacker Chris Borland were selected to the third team. In addition, the Badgers running backs unit was ranked No. 2 nationally and best in the Big Ten. The offensive line was rated No. 6 in the country and tops in the Big Ten, while the linebackers unit was tabbed No. 5 in the nation.

Eight Badgers earned preseason All-Big Ten honors, including Ball, Wagner, Frederick, Borland, linebacker Mike Taylor and Abbrederis at both wide receiver and punt returner on the first team. Tight end Jacob Pedersen was named to the second team, while defensive lineman David Gilbert garnered third-team honors.

Wisconsin Team Preview

Wisconsin's Top 10 Players of 2012

Wisconsin’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports Names Wisconsin No. 17 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</p>
Post date: Friday, May 11, 2012 - 10:17
Path: /college-football/wisconsin-football-will-coaching-attrition-catch-badgers-2012
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Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 17 Wisconsin. The Badgers must replace quarterback Russell Wilson, but return running back Montee Ball and a solid defense. 

Will the Coaching Attrition Catch Up to the Badgers in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The bigger cause for a drop off probably will be the fact Danny O’Brien is not Russell Wilson. We tend to compare the two because they’re ACC quarterbacks who landed at Wisconsin as one-year transfers, but Wilson was far more established than O’Brien, who lost his job last season at Maryland. O’Brien probably will be fine this season, but I’m interested in seeing how the offense develops without the tandem of Paul Chryst and offensive line coach Bob Bostad. I like new offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who was successful in two stints at Northern Illinois and was offensive coordinator of Indiana’s bowl team in 2007. New offensive line coach Mike Markuson is a veteran assistant, who spent his career working for Houston Nutt. At least at Arkansas, he proved he can set the table for a punishing run game. But can he replace the architect of so many great offensive lines for the Badgers? Chris Ash is entering just his second year as the defensive coordinator, but new linebacker coach Andy Buh has proven himself at Nevada and Stanford. Those are only a handful of the new coaches in Madison over the last two seasons, but possibly the most important ones. Coaching staff attrition catch up with any program – even Florida started to take a dip when assistants like Dan Mullen, Billy Gonzales and others left before finally Urban Meyer left, too. Wisconsin has hired a good mix of veterans and new blood to remain consistent, but Bret Bielema would be well-served to keep this group together for a few years. When players start working under three different coordinators or position coaches in four or five years, that’s when problems seem to arise.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
There are many reasons that fans and analysts should be bullish on the Badgers in 2012. Wisconsin has a Heisman Trophy running back returning, two All-Big Ten pass catchers returning and yet another powerful front line paving the way. The defense has one of the best linebacking tandems in the nation and a defensive line that should be improved at stopping the run. And possibly the most imperative aspect for defending its Big Ten title? Ohio State's inability to play in the Big Ten Championship game.

However, there are also many reasons those same fans and analysts should be weary of Bret Bielema's attempt at Wisconsin's first-ever Big Ten three-peat. Three first-team All-Big Ten blockers have departed. The greatest quarterback in the history of Wisconsin football is also no longer calling plays and taking snaps. But the biggest void Bielema had to fill was left by six assistant coaching changes, most notably offensive coordinator Paul Chryst.

Chryst, who graduated from UW in 1988, is largely responsible for the greatest offensive era in Wisconsin football history.  During Chryst's seven-year tenure as the play-caller in Madison, Wisconsin went an astonishing 70-21 overall with five 10-win seasons and a pair of Big Ten titles. Seven of the top 12 highest scoring teams in Badgers history, including the best four all-time, came under Chryst's leadership. His 2011 offense led the Big Ten in rushing, total and scoring offense. His 2010 team was the highest scoring team in the league. The 2009 edition of the Big Red offense also led the conference in rushing, total and scoring offense. The top five single-season passing seasons in school history were engineered by Chryst. Numerous All-Americans, a Heisman Trophy finalist, an Outland Award winner and a Unitas Award winner dot his resume as well.

Matt Canada appears to be capable of leading this new era of Badger offense, but having to replace coaches every year, including six in one off-season, will eventually impact of the overall effectiveness of the program. The value of Russell Wilson and his departure will play as big a role in the immediate future, but there is no way Wisconsin can maintain its current level of offensive success without Chryst's innovative play-calling.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Losing a coach or two isn’t much of a concern, but replacing six assistants is a different story. Bret Bielema has led the Badgers to back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances, but losing top assistants like offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and offensive line coach Bob Bostad will have an impact on the program.

Anytime there is a mass exodus of coaches from a program, it certainly raises some questions. However, credit Bielema for finding solid replacements for the departed coaches. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada did a good job at Indiana and Northern Illinois, while Mike Markuson is a respected offensive line coach. Andy Buh was a solid pickup to tutor the linebackers, while receiver coach Zach Azzanni is a rising star.

In addition to hiring some quality replacements, which team is going to challenge Wisconsin in the Leaders Division this year? Ohio State is the best team in the division, but is ineligible to play in the postseason. Illinois and Penn State would seem to be the biggest threats, but both are breaking in new head coaches. The Fighting Illini has the talent to push Wisconsin, but needs to find a spark on offense and replace end Whitney Mercilus. Purdue is a sleeper to watch, but needs more from its offense.

Although the coaching turnover is a long-term concern, it shouldn’t hurt the Badgers in 2012. Without a clear challenger in the Leaders Division, Wisconsin should make a return trip to Indianapolis in early December. I don’t expect the Badgers to win the Big Ten Championship, but they are clearly the favorite to win the Leaders Division with Ohio State banned from postseason play.  

Mark Ross
Wisconsin has seen a fair number of assistants leave the past few years, but Bret Bielema is still in Madison, and in my opinion, that's the key as it relates to the coaching aspect here. Don't get me wrong, coaching continuity is great and a wonderful luxury to have, but a big reason why all these assistants have left is because the success they had at Wisconsin opened doors to other opportunities. That success, from a coaching standpoint, starts with the head coach, who is responsible for hiring and overseeing all of his assistants. In Bielema's case, the numbers speak for themselves - 60 wins, two Big Ten titles and back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances in his first six years.

As great a job as Bielema has done at Wisconsin, let's not forget the players. In 2012, it certainly doesn't hurt Bielema and his "new" assistants that they have the likes of Montee Ball, Chris Borland, Mike Taylor, Ricky Wagner, etc. on their roster. No matter how great the coaches are, it's up to the players to execute the game plan on the field.

Wisconsin's goals this season are no different than any other year - win the Leaders Division, win the Big Ten title game, win a BCS bowl. Ohio State is probably the biggest threat the Badgers will need to contend with in their division, and remember the Buckeyes are ineligible for the postseason. That said, no worse than a second-place finish in the Leaders Division to the Buckeyes certainly seems doable for this year's Badgers team. Outside of the Nov. 17 showdown with Ohio State in Madison, the only other tough tests on Wisconsin's Big Ten slate appear to be cross-over games at Nebraska and a home date with Michigan State.

Coaching attrition aside, I think this Wisconsin team is simply too talented and its conference schedule is too manageable for them to slip too far from last season's results. Change, is a good thing, especially when it leads to more success.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The loss of offensive guru Paul Chryst, as well as line coach Bob Bostad, is definitely significant in Madison. The Badgers running game has been dominant under their leadership, and we saw an elite attack last season with the addition of talented quarterback Russell Wilson. Even with the coaching changes, there is enough talent on the Wisconsin offense ­ — Heisman candidate Montee Ball at running back, receiver Jared Abbrederis, tight end Jacob Pedersen and linemen Ricky Wagner and Travis Frederick — to win double-digit games this season. New coordinator Matt Canada will have to develop UW’s second-straight ACC transfer at quarterback, Danny O’Brien, to reach the lofty status the Badgers have enjoyed recently.

The defense should be solid, with an excellent linebackers group led by Chris Borland and Mike Taylor. That unit finished 13th in the nation in scoring defense a year ago, although defensive backs Aaron Henry and Antonio Fenelus will be missed. Wisconsin has a fairly pedestrian non-conference schedule, but league games against Nebraska, Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State will be tough. The coaching attrition is a concern long term, but this year’s Badgers have the talent to win the Leaders Division and compete for a third-consecutive Rose Bowl appearance.

Related Wisconsin Content

Wisconsin Badgers 2012 Team Preview
Wisconsin Badgers Top 10 Players for 2012

Wisconsin Badgers 2012 Team Predictions

The 10 Greatest Players in Wisconsin Football History Since 1967

Wisconsin Badgers Cheerleader Gallery

The Greatest Moments in Wisconsin Football History

Jokes About Wisconsin Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Will the Coaching Attrition Catch Up to the Badgers in 2012?&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Friday, May 11, 2012 - 05:35
Path: /college-football/wisconsin-badgers-2012-team-predictions
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The Wisconsin Badgers check in at No. 17 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Montee Ball, RB 
333 touches. 2,229 yards from scrimmage. An NCAA single-season record 39 touchdowns scored. That is all that Ball did a year ago. The Heisman trophy finalist posted the most productive season in Big Ten history, but did so as the consigliore to quarterback Russell Wilson. Now, Ball must carry an offense that replaces three first-team All-Big Ten blockers as well as top wideout Nick Toon. He will be new quarterback Danny O’Brien’s best friend.

Trap Game: At Purdue (Oct. 13)
The Boilermakers have been known to pull an upset or two at home in West Lafayette and this game will be a test for the Big Red. Coming off two tough games against Nebraska in Lincoln and Illinois at home, Wisconsin has to win a road game like this to return to the Big Ten title game. With home visits from archrival Minnesota and budding new-age rival Michigan State following the trip to the Hoosier State, Bret Bielema’s bunch cannot overlook the Boilers.

Upset Alert: At Penn State (Nov. 24)
Wisconsin will be coming off a brutal home contest with the Ohio State Buckeyes in the penultimate game of the regular season before traveling to Penn State. Depending on how the season shakes out, the Badgers should enter the final game as the favorite. Yet, a trip to the Big Ten title game should be on the line — be it for the Nittany Lions or Illini or Boilermakers — in the season finale. And a trip to Happy Valley is never an easy one.

Biggest Game: Michigan State (Oct. 27)
The Spartans-Badgers rivalry has quickly become one of the most heated – and most important — rivalries in the Big Ten. After two historic contests a year ago, both have eyes set on returning to the Big Ten title game. Yet, both teams have major obstacles to overcome if they expect to get to Indianapolis. Big Red has a much easier path to the title game and a win at home against Sparty would all but assure a return trip to the Championship Game.

Revenge Game: Ohio State (Nov. 17)
Since the Badgers already got revenge on the Spartans in the form of a Big Ten Championship game victory, the Buckeyes are next on the revenge Bucket List. Russell Wilson led a miraculous comeback in the Horseshoe last season only to be undone by the second straight last second touchdown heave. This head-to-head match means little to the Buckeyes due to NCAA sanctions and Wisconsin may already be in control of the division by the time OSU visits, but there is no love lost between these two division rivals.

Freshman To Watch: Vince Biegel, LB
The 12-man Badger recruiting class was easily the smallest in the Big Ten and one of the thinnest in the nation. This is due mostly to the incredible depth already enrolled at Wisconsin — there are nine listed seniors on the roster currently. But the 6-foot-3, 225-pound in-state linebacker was one of the most highly-touted prospects in the class and could become a key reserve behind two very talented but injury-prone linebackers.

Comeback Player: Devin Smith, DB (Sr.)
Smith had played in 29 straight games for Wisconsin before suffering a season-ending leg injury in the second week of the season last fall. He made 85 total tackles and deflected 13 passes over the two previous seasons and was expected to have his best season to date in 2011. With the loss of two key defensive backs, Antonio Fenelus and Aaron Henry, Smith will be counted on to be back at full strength in 2012.

Defensive Co-MVP: Chris Borland and Mike Taylor, LB
The top two returning tacklers in the Big Ten will be playing five feet from each other in Madison. Taylor, who led the conference with 150 tackles, has dealt with knee issues throughout his career but is the consistent, stabilizing force in the heart of this defense. Borland, who has had his own shoulder issues, is a big play threat on every possession who stuffs the stat sheet — he has 10 forced fumbles, 31.5 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks in his career. These two form arguably the best 1-2 punch at linebacker in the Big Ten.

Unsung Hero: Jacob Pedersen, TE 
Wisconsin has quickly turned into TE-U. Owen Daniels, Travis Beckum, Garrett Graham and now Jacob Pedersen all excelled in Paul Chryst’s offensive scheme. As only a sophomore, Pedersen caught eight touchdowns and finished as the second-team All-Big Ten selection. He is a complete player at the position and his blocking skills will be called upon as much as his ability to catch passes now that three first-team All-Big Ten lineman have departed.

Season Defining Moment: Big Ten Championship Game (Dec. 1)
Wisconsin appears to be the overriding favorite to make it back to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis this fall. With Ohio State’s sanctions keeping it from playing in the title game, the Badgers need only to beat Penn State, Illinois and Purdue to win the division. UW beat those three teams, who combined for 16 losses a year ago, by 94 total points in 2011. Whether its Michigan or Nebraska in the title game, the Badgers figure to be an underdog, so should they pull the upset in Indy, it would give the program its first three-peat in school history. Otherwise, 2012 will be known as the year that UW lucked into a Division title by default.

Newcomer To Watch: Danny O’Brien, QB 
It is a risky strategy, but Bret Bielema has turned to a transfer to lead his offense for the second straight season. O’Brien comes to Madison from Maryland and will undoubtedly be better suited for success behind a quality offensive line and Montee Ball to carry the load. He is a major upgrade over any other options on the UW roster and should be the deciding factor in the division this fall. However, it would be wildly unfair to compare the former Terrapin to Russell Wilson — who last year set an NCAA record for passing efficiency and posted the greatest passing season in school history.

Related Wisconsin Content

Wisconsin Badgers 2012 Team Preview
Wisconsin Badgers Top 10 Players for 2012

Will the Coaching Attrition Catch Up to Wisconsin in 2012?
The 10 Greatest Players in Wisconsin Football History Since 1967

Wisconsin Badgers Cheerleader Gallery

The Greatest Moments in Wisconsin Football History

Jokes About Wisconsin Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Wisconsin Badgers 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Friday, May 11, 2012 - 05:31
Path: /college-football/florida-state-football-should-seminoles-leave-acc-big-12
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Is college football about to undergo another round of realignment? The Big 12's decision to stay at 10 teams after landing TCU and West Virginia to replace Missouri and Texas A&M has left the door open for more expansion rumors. Florida State and Clemson have been mentioned as possible Big 12 expansion candidates, but only time will tell if there is anything to the rumors. 

Should Florida State Leave the ACC and Join the Big 12?

Bud Elliott, Tomahawk Nation
It depends. Florida State needs to make whatever move it can to secure its long-term financial future. Whether that is a move to the Big XII, the SEC, or leveraging a potential move to gain concessions from the ACC, I can't be sure. What I am sure of, however, is that FSU is going to struggle to compete with neighbors Florida and Georgia if SEC schools are earning roughly $100 Million more than the Seminoles over a ten-year span. And that may be a conservative number.

Many will trumpet arguments about academics, tradition and travel; but all of those factors pale in comparison to what could happen if FSU gets left in the dust financially by its major competitors. Florida State does not have a rich or deep alumni base, as it is still a fairly new school compared to most. I don't think a move to the Big XII would hurt FSU's academic prestige, and the vast majority FSU fans traveling to current Northeastern conference games from Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami are doing so via plane, not car, so a slight increase in travel mileage really isn't that big of a deal. And if Florida State goes go the Big XII, I assume Clemson and probably Miami will as well, which means FSU would be bringing its top ACC rivals with it to the Big XII.

If the Big XII offers Florida State the chance to increase its revenue stream by 50 percent, as seems likely, then the school must accept an offer if one is extended. 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The rumors and hypotheticals aren’t going away, are they? I could see the move making competitive sense, at least compared to other conference moves. And the move would create a bit of symmetry by having a Florida school in the Big 12 with a Texas school now in the SEC. FSU wouldn’t even be the Eastern-most team in the Big 12. I suppose there’s also a sense the Big 12 would be a better athletic fit as the ACC expanded North and improved its already strong basketball standing with Syracuse and Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the Big 12 has only one traditional basketball program (Kansas) on par with North Carolina, Duke and Syracuse. The ACC won't be the mess the Big East is/was with football schools and basketball-only schools, but there's certainly a deeper division between the football-central and basketball-centric schools compared to other power conferences. As always, the conference moves come down to money, which Florida State somehow doesn’t have enough of, according to Chip Brown of Orangebloods.com. That itself strikes me as a problem bigger than conference alignment. Should Florida State athletics (read: football) ever face a budget shortfall? My guess is the rumors are just rumors at this point. The next domino to drop will be the format of the new football postseason and the television contract that follows. Once that is decided, the conferences and schools will attempt to align themselves in a way that gives them greatest access to the playoffs.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Superiority, stability, geography, academics, athletic competition and overall cultural philosophy all point to Florida State never joining the Big 12. The primary reason Texas A&M bolted for the SEC is it's inferiority complex surrounding Big Brother Texas. Right now, Florida State is still THE premiere program (no offense, Virginia Tech) in the ACC. Why would it risk taking a back seat to Texas and possibly Oklahoma? With Syracuse and Pitt scheduled to join the league in the very near future, the ACC also offers an incredibly stable 14-team battlefield for the Noles. Unless the Big 12 adds Louisville and three other teams, it won't be considered a safer situation. Additionally, sending its fans west of the Mississippi on a regular basis will alienate itself from its cultural core — the Southeast. Despite being a national brand, Florida State is a Sun Belt university, not a western power. This is something that a program like West Virginia has to do to survive, not FSU. Academically, the ACC is a superior conference to every other league in major football — and it's not even close. Highly-touted academics can create significant overall advantages for a university — whether the athletic departments ever publicly admit it or not.  And finally, while football might be stronger in the Big 12, the ACC offers a higher level of athletic competition across all sports - hence, the new $3.6 billion TV contract extension with the mothership. Anyway you slice it, it feels like a horizontal move for Florida State. 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
What a difference a year makes. This time last year, the Big 12 was on the verge of breaking apart, but the outlook has completely changed heading into this summer. The conference landed a great television contract, and the teams committed their media rights, so there’s a feeling of stability. The Big 12 also made a great hire, pulling away Bob Bowlsby from Stanford to be its new commissioner. 

Even though the Big 12 has indicated it is happy at 10 teams, expansion rumors have persisted for several months. Louisville still remains a viable target, and BYU has been mentioned as a Big 12 expansion candidate as well. The rumors about Florida State and Clemson have been hanging around for a while and certainly don't seem to be going away. 

Considering the budget issues at Florida State, jumping to a conference that could create more revenue certainly makes sense. However, I think it would be a mistake for the Seminoles to leave the ACC. Although the ACC is considered a basketball conference, Florida State has a chance to be the biggest fish in the pond. The Seminoles have yet to dominate the ACC on the gridiron, but all of the pieces are in place to be an annual top-10 team. Jumping to the Big 12 would mean Florida State takes a hit in the pecking order. The Seminoles would have to contend with Oklahoma and Texas, along with rising programs at Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia. There’s no question the schedule would be tougher in the Big 12, which would only hinder Florida State’s quest to return as an annual national title contender.

It seems the rumors about conference realignment will continue throughout the summer, but I would be very surprised if Florida State left the ACC for the Big 12.  

Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Florida State to the Big 12 seems a bit odd, but often when there is smoke there is fire. And there has been some smoke of late. There is only one reason why the school would consider the move. And it’s a big reason — money. But from a pure football standpoint the move doesn’t make any sense. Yes, the Big 12 is a strong conference, but the ACC is good enough to allow Florida State to compete for national championships.

As long as the Noles continue to play at least one marquee non-conference game each season, their schedule will be strong enough to keep them in national title chase — assuming they win enough games. It’s not like in the Big East, where a team could run the table and still find itself on the outside looking in (at the BCS National Championship Game or a four-team playoff).

This year, Florida State had non-conference games vs. West Virginia and South Florida on its schedule. WVU pulled out because of its impending move to the Big 12, but let’s assume that the game was still on — and assume that future FSU schedules will look similar. If the Noles navigated an ACC slate that featured Clemson, NC State and one or two of the better teams in the Coastal Division (Miami, UNC, Virginia Tech, etc.) and also beat a quality non-conference opponent, they would undoubtedly be ranked among the top two or three teams in the nation. And from a football standpoint that is really all the schools should be looking for — an opportunity to play for a national title.

So FSU, please rebuff any overtures that may be coming from the Big 12. The money might be attractive, but it would not be in the best interest of your football program. The grass is green enough in the ACC.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
A move to the Big 12 does not make sense for Florida State athletics and its fan base. The only reason for joining a league where you are not part of the geographic footprint is obviously money. However, I’m just not sure that the money would be significant enough long term to justify alienating the fan base. The Big 12’s new contract last year patched up some major holes in the league, but four schools – Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri – left the conference because of instability generated by the University of Texas’ greed. How long before the Longhorns want different terms or another separate deal? There may be a little more money for Florida State per year in the short term with a move, but the Seminoles would pay in many ways.

First of all, the exit fee from the ACC would cancel some of the Big 12’s short term increase in dollars. We all know football is the decision-making sport, but the Noles have an outstanding athletic program across the board. The ACC is big time in basketball, baseball, etc., and the additional travel costs and step down in competition would not be beneficial. There are some Northern schools in the ACC, but the majority of the league is closer than any Big 12 school. I think that fact would hurt in growing the FSU fan base and the money those fans represent. It just doesn’t make much common sense for the Seminoles to be an outlier in the South.

With budget issues, many leaders make short-sighted and selfish decisions to pad their own interests instead of being a steward of the firm, school or organization. The ACC is a solid conference where Florida State fits well, while the Big 12 has two football pillars, no FSU rivals and a ton of uncertainty. Changing leagues has major ramifications, and I think Florida State would regret the move long term.

Related ACC Content

10 Teams That Could End the SEC's National Title Streak
Clemson or Florida State: Which Team Will Win the Atlantic in 2012?

Ranking the ACC Running Backs for 2012

Ranking the ACC Quarterbacks for 2012

Ranking the ACC Head Coaches for 2012

Teaser:
<p> Florida State Football: Should the Seminoles Leave the ACC for the Big 12?</p>
Post date: Friday, May 11, 2012 - 03:23
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-michigan-state-no-18-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
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Athlon Sports, publisher of the No. 1-selling college football magazine, continues the release of its preseason Top 25 poll at www.athlonsports.com. The countdown commences every year in early May and leads to the on-sale date of Athlon's category-leading college football preseason annuals.

To celebrate the Michigan State Spartans being named No. 18, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Mark Dantonio’s Michigan State Spartans continue the countdown at No. 18 with nine players selected as All-Big Ten performers. Athlon Sports predicts Michigan State will finish third in the Big Ten’s Legends Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“The Spartans will be led by their talented defense and running game this season,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “Despite the loss of quarterback Kirk Cousins, Mark Dantonio and staff have the program ready to compete for another Legends Division title.”

Nine Spartans earned preseason All-Big Ten honors, including offensive lineman Chris McDonald, defensive lineman William Gholston, cornerback Johnny Adams and safety Isaiah Lewis on the first team. Offensive lineman Dan France and linebackers Denicos Allen and Max Bullough were named to the second team, while running back Le’Veon Bell and defensive lineman Marcus Rush garnered third-team honors. In addition, the Spartans linebackers unit was ranked No. 3 nationally and best in the Big Ten. The secondary was rated No. 4 in the country and tops in the Big Ten, while the defensive line unit was tabbed No. 8 in the nation.

Michigan State Team Preview

Michigan State's Top 10 Players of 2012

Michigan State’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports Names Michigan State No. 18 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 10, 2012 - 09:21
Path: /college-football/michigan-state-football-what-will-spartans-division-record-be-2012
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Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 18 Michigan State. The Spartans are the defending Legends Division champs, but must replace quarterback Kirk Cousins and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy.

What Will Michigan State's Record in Legends Division Play Be in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
In looking at Michigan State’s foes in the Legends division (reminder: They are Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Northwestern and Minnesota), the swing game looks to be the date with Nebraska at home. By the time of the Nov. 3 game with the Cornhuskers, we’ll know where both teams stand, but that could be the defining game in the Legends should division favorite Michigan falter. I know others are optimistic about Michigan State in 2012. The Spartans will be strong along both lines, they’ll have a solid running game and potentially one of the best defenses in the Big Ten. The question is how Sparty will replace Kirk Cousins plus all his receivers. I also wonder how losing a dominating presence like Jerel Worthy on the line will impact the rest of the defense. In facing Ohio State and Wisconsin from the Leaders, Michigan State is going to have a tough time competing for a spot in the Big Ten title game. Michigan State will be able to win some of those games, but the Spartans probably will have to grind out those match ups with the run game and defense. That’s going to be enough to defeat Iowa, Northwestern and Minnesota, but probably not Michigan in Ann Arbor. That leaves the home date with Nebraska, who defeated Michigan State 24-3 in East Lansing. I’d expect Nebraska’s second season in the Big Ten to go a little smoother and for Taylor Martinez to continue his development into his junior year. I’ll take the Cornhuskers in that matchup, leaving Michigan State with a 3-2 record in the Legends.  

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Michigan State might be the most intriguing team in the Big Ten heading into the summer of 2012. Mark Dantonio has elevated his program to levels not seen in East Lansing in decades and it means that the Spartans can watch some of the program's greats — Kirk Cousins, Jerel Worthy, BJ Cunningham — depart and still be in the mix for a conference title. This defense is still stacked on every level, the offensive line will be a strength and all signs point to Andrew Maxwell being capable of leading this program to victories.

Yet, after the only two 11-win seasons in program history, Dantonio will have a much more traditional Spartan team this fall. The offense will be more vanilla and wins will come from the defense on a team breaking in an entirely new receiving corps and new quarterback. Michigan State has reached a level where games against Northwestern, Iowa and Minnesota should be wins. But a three game stretch in which Sparty visits Ann Arbor and hosts Nebraska (sandwiched around a trip to Madison) will determine if this team is a conference title contender or is in true rebuilding mode. Michigan will be focused on removing the four-year in-state monkey from its back and it is hard to erase the memory of the 24-3 performance in Lincoln last year. Without the greatest quarterback in school history, Michigan State will finish 3-2 within the division this fall. If Sparty is anything better than that, Mark Hollis needs to draft a lifetime contract for Dantonio as soon as possible.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
With Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska all capable of winning the Big Ten, the Legends Division could be one of the most difficult in college football. Although Iowa, Northwestern or Minnesota likely won’t rank in any preseason top 25 polls, none will be an easy out for the top three teams in the division.

The Spartans are the defending champs, but it won’t be easy to repeat without quarterback Kirk Cousins and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy. New quarterback Andrew Maxwell looks like a solid replacement, but he does not have any starts under his belt. The receiving corps is largely unproven, and it’s uncertain if Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett will be granted eligibility for 2012. Worthy’s presence had a huge impact on the defense, and he is no longer around to command double teams from opposing offensive linemen.

Although losing Cousins and Worthy is a huge blow, the cupboard isn’t bare for coach Mark Dantonio. The Spartans can lean on a much-improved offensive line and running back Le’Veon Bell to carry the offense until Maxwell is ready. The defense is loaded with NFL talent at each level and finished first in the Big Ten by allowing just 277.4 yards per game last year.

Michigan State did not catch an easy road to repeating as Legends Division champions. The Spartans open Big Ten play with Ohio State and have back-to-back road trips in October to Michigan and Wisconsin, followed by a home date against Nebraska on Nov. 3. Michigan State finished with a 4-1 record in Legends Division play last year, but I think it’s more likely this team goes 3-2 in 2012. Although the Spartans have won four in a row over Michigan, the Wolverines should have the edge in their meeting on Oct. 20. I give a slight edge to Nebraska over Michigan State for their meeting on Nov. 3, but could see that game going either way. And don’t overlook the season finale against Minnesota – the Spartans won by just seven points last year. 

Mark Ross
Michigan State went 7-1 in the Big Ten last year, earning them a trip to the inaugural conference championship game, which the Spartans lost by three to Wisconsin. To help get them to the title game in Indianapolis, the Spartans went 4-1 against their fellow Legends Division foes, losing only to Nebraska in Lincoln, albeit by 21 points.

This year Michigan State will get Nebraska at home in November, but first it has to go the Big House in Ann Arbor to play in-state rival Michigan on Oct. 20. These two are clearly the teams that should be the Spartans' toughest opposition in the Legends division, so as long as they find a way to split these two games, then another 4-1 divisional record is entirely possible.

To that end, the defense, which should be among the Big Ten's best, is certainly going to have to be at its best against the Cornhuskers and Wolverines. On the other hand, Michigan State's offense will be green, and that's not just because it's the color of the uniforms. Only four starters return on that side of the ball and they are all offensive linemen. That is a good thing as the Spartans will have Andrew Maxwell at quarterback. However, even though Maxwell is a junior, he enters 2012 with no career starts under his belt as he has played in a total of nine games.

The Spartans will have experience in the backfield in junior Le'Veon Bell and senior Larry Caper, but that's not the case with the receiving corps. Last season, Michigan State receivers caught a total 288 passes, those who are back in 2012 caught 66 of those, or 23 percent, and Bell and Caper account for more than two-thirds of that total (45 receptions combined). Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett will have an impact in the passing attack as a wide receiver, but no one should be surprised if this season's Spartans' offense isn't as productive as it was last year when it finished third in the Big Ten in scoring offense and fourth in total offense.

When it comes time for Michigan State to test its mettle against Michigan and Nebraska, the Spartans can't go in thinking they can match either team when it comes to offensive firepower. They should have the edge on defense though, so if the offense can hold onto the ball and maintain some long drives that produce points, they should be able to manage a split of these two games. If not, I don' think Michigan State's offense has the weapons to win any type of shootout. And if the Spartans lose to both the Wolverines and Cornhuskers, then I wouldn't advise Michigan State fans to make any travel plans for Indianapolis in December.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I see the Spartans going 3-2 in the Legends Division, although they could win it again if the passing attack develops quickly. Obviously stars like quarterback Kirk Cousins and receivers B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin will be missed, but the running game and defense will make MSU a contender to get back to Indianapolis. Andrew Maxwell was developing as Cousins’ replacement but had to miss the spring game because of a sprained knee. He will rely on a solid group of running backs led by Le’Veon Bell, as well as four offensive line starters returning. The defense loses Jerel Worthy up front, but defensive end William Gholston is as talented a defender as you will see in the Big Ten. The linebackers unit is the best in the conference with Denicos Allen, Max Bullough and Chris Norman, and the secondary has stars in Isaiah Lewis and Johnny Adams.

While the defense should keep the Spartans in every game, the offense may struggle with a lack of playmakers in the passing game. MSU has defeated rival Michigan four years in a row, which will make the trip to Ann Arbor very difficult this season. Nebraska handled MSU easily last year, but the Cornhuskers do travel to East Lansing this year. Mark Dantonio’s bunch should defeat Iowa, Northwestern and Minnesota, but at this point I would forecast close losses against Michigan and Nebraska.

Related Michigan State Content

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Michigan State Spartans 2012 Team Predictions
Jokes About Michigan State Rivals

Teaser:
<p> What Will the Spartans' Division Record Be in 2012?</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 10, 2012 - 05:43
Path: /college-football/michigan-state-spartans-2012-team-predictions
Body:

The Michigan State Spartans check in at No. 18 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Andrew Maxwell, QB
That is, Spartans fans need to hope that Maxwell can be the MVP. If he possesses half of Kirk Cousins’ leadership skills, his raw talent should give Michigan State the ability to win most weekends. Maxwell has patiently waited his turn and learned from arguably the best quarterback in school history. The time is now for the 6-foot-3, 215-pound signal caller.

Offensive MVP: Chris McDonald, RG
With a new quarterback and new receiving corps, the leadership of this offense will fall to the big hog mollies up front. It will be their job to protect Maxwell, give him time to throw and open up lanes for the backs. McDonald is a three-year letterman with 26 starts under his belt and will be, along with Dan France, the stabilizing influence in the Spartans huddle.

Trap Game: Iowa (Oct. 13)
The divisional home test against the Hawkeyes comes right on the heels of a road trip to Indiana and one week before the Spartans head to in-state rival Michigan. With interesting match-ups with Boise State, Notre Dame and Ohio State in the first five weeks, Michigan State will be plenty tested when it faces Iowa. However, will it be looking ahead to back-to-back road trips to Ann Arbor and Madison?

Upset Alert: Boise State (Aug. 31)
With a brand new quarterback, a completely new receiving corps and one massive void on the defensive line, could Sparty be primed for an upset in the first week of action? Boise State is replacing even more than Michigan State, but Mark Dantonio’s bunch will be at its weakest point in Week 1. It’s better to get them early and a Friday night primetime match-up with a team that has lost three games in four years could be tougher than expected.

Unsung Hero: Dion Sims, TE
After missing the entire 2010 season, Sims returned to the field in 2012 to catch three touchdowns. In fact, Sims will be the only Spartan returning in 2012 with more than one touchdown reception on his 2011 resume. He posted a solid freshman line (11 rec., 133 yards, 3 TD) and as Michigan State breaks in a quarterback and a totally new set of receivers, Sims could turn out to be a quality safety valve.

Biggest Game: At Michigan (Oct. 20)
After losing six straight to the Wolverines, Michigan State has dominated its in-state archrival for the last four years. Following a BCS bowl win over Virginia Tech and renewed recruiting fervor, the Maize and Blue are considered the Legends Division favorite. With a tough early schedule, will Michigan State be battle tested or beaten-up when they head to Ann Arbor in Week 8? Bragging rights and a division title could be on the line.

Revenge Game: Notre Dame (Sept. 15) and Nebraska (Nov. 3)
The Spartans lost in embarrassing fashion on the road to both the Fighting Irish and the Cornhuskers by a combined 55-16. The visit from the Big Red carries heavy Big Ten title implications while the rivalry with Notre Dame has featured no love lost of late. You can bet that Dantonio’s bunch has both of these contests circled and underlined.

Freshman To Watch: Aaron Burbridge, WR
The unanimous top recruit in the state of Michigan, Burbridge brings excellent play-making ability to the top position of need for the Spartans. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder was a two-time first-team All-State selection and is the top-rated recruit in this class. If he can grasp the offense quickly, he should be able to contribute to the depleted receiver corps in short order.

Comeback Player: Larry Caper, RB
After 120 carries as a freshman, Caper seemed poised for a breakout career in East Lansing. Yet, he dealt with minor injuries over the next two seasons, missing three of the Spartans final five regular season games last fall. With Edwin Baker moving on to the NFL, Caper should slide back into the No. 2 role in the backfield behind Le'Veon Bell.

Defensive MVP: Max Bullough, LB
Along with Denicos Allen, Chris Norman and Taiwan Jones, the Spartans boast a deep and versatile linebacking corps. But Bullough rules the middle of the defense and leads the team in tackles (89). The 6-foot-3, 250-pound linebacker is a third-generation Spartan legacy and has never missed a game in his 27-game career.

Newcomer To Watch: R.J. Williamson, FS
The redshirt freshman safety is in a heated battle with sophomore Kurtis Drummond for the starting free safety position. While the first-year letterman may not win the starting job, he certainly will play a prominent role in nickel and dime coverages. Watch out for the Middletown, Ohio, native in 2012.

Newcomer To Watch II: Juwan Caeser, WR
With no depth whatsoever at the wide receiver position, Michigan State fans can expect many new faces to make an impact in the passing game. While Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphrey will likely earn the starting jobs, it appears a healthy Caesar could work his way into the three-wide packages. Any help Dantonio can give new quarterback Andrew Maxwell will be huge.

Season Defining Moment: October
The final two weekends in October will feature back-to-back road trips to Michigan and Wisconsin before the Spartans host Nebraska on November 3. If MSU can somehow make it through October with only one or two losses, it could be in the mix for a second straight Legends Division title. If it limps into the home game against the Cornhuskers, spoiler is all Sparty will be playing in final month of the season.

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Michigan State Cheerleader Gallery

Jokes About Michigan State Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Michigan State Spartans 2012 Team Predictions</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 10, 2012 - 05:37
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-oklahoma-state-no-19-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
Body:

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

To celebrate the Oklahoma State Cowboys being named No. 19, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State Cowboys continue the countdown at No. 19 with two preseason All-Americans and 10 players selected as All-Big 12 performers. Athlon Sports predicts Oklahoma State will finish fourth in the Big 12 Conference. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Top running back Joseph Randle and an aggressive defense will be the key to helping Oklahoma State through an early transition,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “The Cowboys lost some big-time offensive stars, but Mike Gundy has built them into a perennial Top 25 program.”

Two Oklahoma State standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with running back Joseph Randle being voted to the second team and defensive back Brodrick Brown to the third team. In addition, the Cowboys running backs unit was ranked No. 9 nationally and best in the Big 12.

Ten Cowboys earned preseason All-Big 12 honors, including Randle, Brown, offensive lineman Lane Taylor and Quinn Sharp at both kicker and punter on the first team. Linebacker Shaun Lewis was named to the second team, while wide receiver Tracy Moore, defensive lineman Nigel Nicholas, linebacker Alex Elkins, safety Daytawion Lowe and Justin Gilbert at both cornerback and kick returner garnered third-team honors.

Oklahoma State Team Preview

Oklahoma State's Top 10 Players of 2012

Oklahoma State’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 *Stassen.com analysis of college football preseason publications.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports Names Oklahoma State No. 19 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 9, 2012 - 10:06
Path: /college-football/oklahoma-state-football-can-cowboys-repeat-big-12-champs
Body:

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 19 Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are the defending Big 12 champs, but must replace quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon.

Can Oklahoma State Repeat as Big 12 Champs with a True Freshman Quarterback?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Mike Gundy, with some help from T. Boone Pickens’ bank account, has turned Oklahoma State into a program built to last. Two years ago, the departure of Zac Robinson, Dez Bryant and Russell Okung was reason for concern. Then it was the departure of offensive coordinator Larry Fedora a year later. By 2011, the names and faces had changed but the results were among the best in school history with Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon and offensive coordinator Todd Monken leading the way last season. I believe in Oklahoma State’s ability to replace talent in offensive personnel, but starting a freshman quarterback may be pushing the limits of the system Gundy has built in Stillwater. For the last four seasons, Oklahoma State has had the benefit of starting juniors and seniors at quarterback (Weeden and Robinson). Gundy hasn’t started a freshman since his first season in Stillwater, when the Cowboys went 4-7. The quarterback rotation in 2005 didn’t end until 2006 when Gundy benched Reid and settled on the sophomore Robinson. During the offseason, selecting Lunt after the spring clearly is a more decisive outcome than what Gundy had in his early years, but that doesn’t mean Lunt is going to put up results like Weeden and Robinson did as veterans, particularly in a league where he stands to be the only freshman starting quarterback. The Big 12 projects to have five senior starting quarterbacks and one junior. Only two of those six (Baylor’s Nick Florence and Kansas’ Dayne Crist) are not returning starters, but they still have starting experience in previous seasons. Oklahoma State will be a bowl team with a freshman quarterback. The Cowboys, however, should adjust their expectation level as Lunt goes through some early bumps.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Not a chance. The good news is Oklahoma State is close to entering "reloading" status rather than "rebuilding." But in a league with elite coaches and so many quality football teams, it seems virtually impossible for the Pokes to repeat. This is a solid football team with eight- or nine-win potential, but replacing Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon and the majority of the offensive line without missing a beat is a tall order. Mike Gundy has his offensive installed and transitioning from one quarterback to the next has proven to be possible. But Wes Lunt is almost a decade younger than Weeden was when he took over for Zac Robinson. The transition won't be nearly as smooth.

Key swing games against Texas, TCU, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Iowa State all come at home. But that is as daunting a home slate as there is in the league, so running that gauntlet unblemished seems unlikely — something I feel the Cowboys would have to do in order to win the Big 12. The road schedule, with the exception of the Bedlam Series, is very manageable as Okie State visits Kansas, Kansas State and Baylor along with Oklahoma. A 4-1 home mark and a 3-1 road record feel like the maximum upside for this team. The great news for Oklahoma State football fans is that, thanks to Gundy's coaching and hefty financial contributions from one major booster, this team is in a position to replace a handful of the greatest players in school history and still target a 7-2 league record. A remarkable statement for a team coming off its first outright conference championship since winning the Missouri Valley in 1948 (co-champs of the Big 8 in 1976 and the MVC in 1953).

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
It’s not easy winning a Big 12 title with a true freshman quarterback, but I think Oklahoma State can certainly contend in 2012. The Cowboys have won at least nine games in each of the last four seasons, including 11 with a first-year starter (Brandon Weeden) in 2010.

A factor working in Oklahoma State’s favor is the rest of the conference. Oklahoma is expected to be the preseason favorite, but the Sooners finished 2-2 over the final four games of last season and must replace receiver Ryan Broyles. Texas is climbing back into contender status, but can the Longhorns get consistent quarterback play? West Virginia will be a factor in its first year of the Big 12, but its offensive line is a question mark, and the defense is breaking in new co-coordinators.

Another positive for Oklahoma State is the return of eight starters on defense. Sure, the Cowboys might give up some yards, but led the nation in takeaways last year. The line needs to find replacements for ends Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones, but the rest of the defense is solid. And with a true freshman quarterback, the defense may have to carry the team early in the year.

While Lunt will have his growing pains, he will be surrounded by a solid supporting cast. Running back Joseph Randle is one of the best in college football, and Tracy Moore, Josh Stewart and Isaiah Anderson form a quality trio at receiver. Replacing Levy Adcock and Grant Garner on the offensive line won’t be easy, but there’s enough experience to keep this unit playing at a high level.

The schedule also sets up favorably for Oklahoma State, as it has winnable games against Savannah State, Arizona and Louisiana-Lafayette in the first three weeks. After a bye week in Week 4, the Cowboys host Texas in Stillwater, then have an off date in Week 6, followed by games against Kansas and Iowa State. The schedule is backloaded with TCU, Kansas State, West Virginia and Oklahoma in the last half of the season, and that should give Lunt plenty of time to get comfortable as the starter.

Even though Oklahoma State suffered some key losses, I wouldn’t write this team off from contending for the Big 12 title in 2012.

Mark Ross
So it looks like coach Mike Gundy has decided to go with true freshman Wes Lunt as the successor to Brandon Weeden under center for Oklahoma State. No one can expect Lunt to do what Weeden did last season (4,727 passing yards, 37 TDs), especially with electric wide receiver Justin Blackmon having joined Weeden as first-round picks in last month's NFL Draft. But have no fear Cowboys fans, Lunt doesn't need to put up Weeden-like numbers this fall because your beloved team has all the pieces it needs to repeat as champions of the Big 12.

On offense, the running game should be pretty strong with Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith leading the way. The duo combined for more than 1,800 yards and 33 TDs on the ground alone in 2011. The Cowboys also bring back plenty of experience along the offensive line and in the receiving corps to help Lunt settle into the starter's role. Even without Weeden and Blackmon and some other key players, the offense should still be able to point a fair number of points on the board, although it probably won't result in nearly 49 points a game like last year's team produced.

The 2012 team's strength may actually be the defense, which has not been the case in Stillwater in recent years. The Cowboys return eight starters on defense, including all but one from its back seven. Cornerbacks Brodrick Brown and Justin Gilbert, safety Daytawion Lowe and linebacker Shaun Lewis are the standouts on the defense, which also has plenty of depth up front. Stopping the best offenses in the Big 12 is next to impossible, but sometimes all that is needed to turn the tide in your favor is to slow them down. This Cowboys' defense appears to have the horses to do just that, but can the unit do so consistently?

The true tests for this team will come when the offense is matched up against one of the conference's better defenses like Texas (Sept. 29, Big 12 opener) or Oklahoma (in Norman on Nov. 24) or when the defense is tasked with slowing down the Big 12's most potent offenses. To that end, the Cowboys' 2012 title hopes may come down to how well the defense holds up in November when it has to face West Virginia, Texas Tech (both at home) and the aforementioned Sooners on consecutive Saturdays. 

Last season, the Oklahoma State offense finished near the top of the Big 12 in the major offensive categories, including first in both total and scoring offense. On the other hand, the defense finished fourth or lower in the major defensive categories, with the exception of pass efficiency defense (2nd). With a true freshman running the show on offense, no one should be surprised to see the Cowboys' rankings fall on offense.

The key, however, will be with the defense. If the defense capitalizes on its experience and plays up to its potential, the unit's improvement should be reflected in the conference rankings. As long as the defense finishes in the top half of the conference in a majority of the defensive categories then I think the Cowboys have a pretty good shot at making it two Big 12 titles in a row, even if their starting quarterback is 16 years younger than last year's.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I do not see Oklahoma State repeating in the Big 12 with any of the quarterbacks on the roster. Wes Lunt may be a star one day, but the Cowboys lost too many stars to contend for the league crown this season. Mike Gundy does have several returning starters and has built OSU into a perennial Top 25 program, but players like Justin Blackmon, Levy Adcock, Brandon Weeden and Markelle Martin were on an All-America level. That attrition, along with the loss of all-conference performers Grant Garner and Jamie Blatnick, projects the Cowboys to take a step back from the 11- and 12-win seasons from the past two years.

Gundy and staff have instilled an expectation of winning in Stillwater, and there are still All-America caliber players at Oklahoma State like running back Joseph Randle and cornerback Brodrick Brown. The offense has solid potential, and the defense did a great job of forcing turnovers last year despite finishing 107th in the country. I see the Cowboys finishing anywhere from third to fifth in the Big 12 in 2012.

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Teaser:
<p> Can the Oklahoma State Repeat as Big 12 Champions in 2012?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 9, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/oklahoma-state-cowboys-2012-team-predictions
Body:

The Oklahoma State Cowboys check in at No. 19 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Joseph Randle, RB
With quarterback Brandon Weeden moving onto the NFL, the focus of the offense will shift to the rushing attack. Randle was superb in his first season as the starter last year, rushing for 1,216 yards and 24 scores. He was also a major factor in the passing game, catching 43 passes for 266 yards and two scores. Randle was a threat to score each time he touched the ball and will be expected to handle 220-240 carries in 2012.

Trap Game: Texas Tech (Nov. 17)
Oklahoma State has an interesting schedule, as it has off dates in Week 4 and 6, while playing eight consecutive games to end the 2012 season. The Cowboys have a loaded back half of the schedule, especially with dates against TCU, Kansas State, West Virginia and Oklahoma starting in late October. Oklahoma State is a better team than Texas Tech, but the timing of the matchup could leave it vulnerable. The Cowboys host West Virginia one week before playing the Red Raiders and have a trip to Norman to take on Oklahoma on Nov. 24. If Oklahoma State is looking too far ahead, Texas Tech could sneak out of Stillwater with a victory.

Upset Alert: Louisiana-Lafayette (Sept. 15)
This will be the third consecutive season Oklahoma State has matched up against Louisiana-Lafayette. The Cowboys won 54-28 in 2010 and won 61-34 last season in Stillwater. Although Oklahoma State was in control of last year’s game, the Ragin’ Cajuns picked off Brandon Weeden three times and returned two of those for scores. Louisiana-Lafayette should be one of the top teams in the Sun Belt this year and won’t be a pushover on Sept. 15. The Cowboys should win this one, but a sluggish start would allow the Ragin’ Cajuns to build some early confidence. It’s a longshot to suggest Louisiana-Lafayette will win, but this is not a team that should be overlooked.

Defensive MVP: Brodrick Brown, CB
It’s not easy being a cornerback in the Big 12. Five teams averaged at least 290 passing yards per game last year, and new conference members West Virginia and TCU will certainly throw the ball around in 2012. Brown has been a steady performer at cornerback and he enters 2012 with 28 consecutive starts. He earned first-team All-Big 12 honors last year and recorded 68 tackles with five interceptions and 15 passes broken up. In a conference dominated by offense, Brown will give up some plays. However, he’s also a reliable cornerback and should be one of the best in the Big 12 once again in 2012.

Breakout Player: Josh Stewart/Charlie Moore, WR
Justin Blackmon is gone to the NFL, leaving Oklahoma State with a void in the receiving corps. Stewart played well as a true freshman last season, catching 19 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns. At 5-foot-10, the sophomore isn’t the biggest option for Oklahoma State quarterbacks, but he should thrive in one of the inside receiver roles. Charlie Moore has just seven receptions through the first two years, but turned in a monster performance in the spring game and will be a factor in the passing attack.

Unsung Hero: Lane Taylor, OL
Grant Garner and Levy Adcock garnered most of the attention on the offensive line over the last few years, but now it’s Taylor’s return in 2012. The senior has 36 career starts and will start at right guard this season. Taylor earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last year, but is expected to challenge for first-team accolades in 2012.

Biggest Game: at Oklahoma (Nov. 24)
You could point to a number of games on Oklahoma State’s schedule to fill this category. However, the Sooners will likely begin the year as the preseason favorite in the Big 12. If Oklahoma State wants to repeat as Big 12 champions, it needs to go on the road and win in Norman. Beating Oklahoma away from Stillwater has been rare, as the Cowboys have just one win in Norman since 1998.

Revenge Game: Iowa State (Oct. 20)
The only blemish on Oklahoma State’s schedule last season was a costly one. The Cowboys were upset 37-31 at Iowa State, which likely cost them a shot to play for the national championship. The Cyclones won’t be a pushover, but Oklahoma State will be out for revenge.

Freshman to Watch: Wes Lunt, QB
Replacing Brandon Weeden is no easy task. During his Oklahoma State career, the former minor league baseball player threw for 9,260 yards and 75 scores. Although Weeden will be missed, coach Mike Gundy has done a good job of replacing successful starting quarterbacks in Stillwater. Lunt ranked as a four-star prospect by rivals.com and enrolled in time for spring practices. Although he was an underdog to win the starting nod, Lunt outplayed J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf to emerge as Oklahoma State’s No. 1 quarterback. There will certainly be some growing pains, but Lunt appears to be a future star in the Big 12.

Comeback Player: Jonathan Rush, OL
With three starters gone from the offensive line, Rush’s return will help ease the transition for new quarterback Wes Lunt. Rush was lost in the fourth game of last season due to a knee injury, but is expected to return at full strength in 2012. The senior had made 16 consecutive starters prior to his injury and is expected to start at left guard this year.

Newcomer of the Year: Blake Jackson, TE
At 6-foot-3 and 238 pounds, Jackson isn’t exactly a receiver and he’s not exactly a prototypical tight end. However, he raised eyebrows with his performance in the spring and is expected to claim one of the four starting receiver spots. Jackson is a transfer from Scottsdale Community College and earned first-team NJCAA All-American honors last year.

Position Battle: Defensive Line
With Lunt taking an early lead in the quarterback derby, the focus turns to the defensive line for Oklahoma State in the fall. Coordinator Bill Young has moved some players around, shifting Nigel Nicholas from tackle to end. The Cowboys must replace ends Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones, who combined for 12 sacks last year. Finding players who can keep the pass rush going is going to be critical for Young in fall camp.

Related Oklahoma State Content

Oklahoma State 2012 Team Preview
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Jokes About Oklahoma State Rivals

Teaser:
<p> Oklahoma State Cowboys 2012 Team Predictions</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 9, 2012 - 05:50
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-notre-dame-no-20-2012-preseason-top-25-poll
Body:

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

To celebrate the Notre Dame Fighting Irish being named No. 20, AthlonSports.com will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish continue the countdown at No. 20 with two players being tabbed as preseason All-Americans. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“There are huge expectations for Brian Kelly’s program in his third season in South Bend,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “The Fighting Irish defense should be a solid unit, and the key to Notre Dame navigating a tough schedule will be finding stability and production at quarterback.”

Two Notre Dame standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with tight end Tyler Eifert and linebacker Manti Te’o being voted to the first team. In addition, the Fighting Irish offensive line and linebackers units were ranked No. 9 in the country.

Notre Dame Team Preview

Notre Dame's Top 10 Players of 2012

Notre Dame’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports Names Notre Dame No. 20 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - 09:59
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-football-can-brian-kelly-lead-irish-bcs-bowl
Body:

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 20 Notre Dame. The Irish enter the year with uncertainty at quarterback, but should be solid on defense.

Can Brian Kelly Lead Notre Dame to a BCS Bowl?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Considering the BCS likely ceases to exist in two years, Kelly’s under some pressure here. The bigger question is if Kelly will be the coach who returns Notre Dame to national prominence and to a level where the Irish are playing meaningful postseason games. In that sense, Notre Dame still has a long way to go. The closest Notre Dame has come to playing at that elite level in recent years was the 31-13 win over Big Ten Legends champ Michigan State in September last season. At the same time, Notre Dame lost by multiple touchdowns to USC and Stanford and then by 4 in the bowl game to a weakened Florida State team. Turnovers were a major culprit in last year’s 8-5 season, but it’s not like Notre Dame was an otherwise dominating team – the Irish were 35th nationally in total offense and 30th in total defense. With the quarterbacks continuing to struggle in the spring combined with the sudden departure of defensive end Aaron Lynch, it’s tough to see Notre Dame improving drastically from last season. However, I’m a believer in Kelly. If he can’t bring Notre Dame back, the probably might be with Notre Dame, not the coach. Kelly has won at every stop, including two Division II national championships at Grand Valley State. He’s won at programs where most of his predecessors have not – Central Michigan and Cincinnati. There’s too much of a track record here for me to think Kelly suddenly will be a failure in South Bend. It’s going to take a few years, but Kelly deserves time to get his chance.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The initial luster has certainly worn off of the Brian Kelly hiring in South Bend, but I am still a believer that the offensive guru will be able to return Notre Dame to national prominence. It just won't happen in 2012. Kelly stepped onto campus in northern Indiana with as much fanfare as a Jimmy Clausen commitment ceremony and he had quick success by winning eight games in his first year. With high expectations swirling last fall, the Irish lost two heartbreakers to start the season that should have been wins. Clearly, the Irish were a overrated by the preseason prognosticators — e.g., us here at Athlon Sports. But Kelly's bunch then finished the season 8-2 with their only losses coming at the hands of 10-2 USC and 11-2 Stanford.

The bowl loss to Florida State was tough to watch, especially for anyone who has seen a Brian Kelly offense click on all cylinders. But the defense has clearly been upgraded since the Charlie Weis days and quarterback savior, Gunner Kiel, is, in fact, on campus. The quarterback position has weighted this program down with Kelly at the helm, but Kiel should be able to remedy the situation. Again, it just won't happen in 2012. This team will lose key pieces at the end of the season — Te'o, Eifert, Wood, Watt, Martin, etc — but has a chance to continue to improve after what could be three straight eight-win seasons. Kelly has recruited at an elite level, will have a stellar defensive line coming back and may finally have his quarterback in 2013 — if Kiel can develop. One huge if.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Considering the success Brian Kelly had at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati, I’m a little surprised Notre Dame has recorded back-to-back eight-win seasons. Going 16-10 in two years isn’t awful, but there are high expectations at Notre Dame, and many, including myself, thought Kelly would have this team in contention for a BCS bowl last season.

I still think Kelly is one of the best coaches in college football, but I think this team might be a year away from contending for a BCS bowl. The Irish should be solid on defense, but losing end Aaron Lynch to a transfer will impact the pass rush. The secondary also suffered some key losses and could be an issue early in the year.

While the defense should be solid, Notre Dame’s offense remains a question mark. Who will start at quarterback in 2012? After Tommy Rees’ arrest in early May, Kelly’s decision under center may be easy – Everett Golson or Andrew Hendrix. Rees can be steady, but he’s not a difference-maker at quarterback. Finding consistency and jumpstarting the offense has to be the top priority for Kelly this fall.

Even if the Irish find a quarterback, getting to 10 wins won’t be easy. Notre Dame has road tests against Michigan State, USC and Oklahoma and home dates against Michigan, Stanford and BYU. With the personnel question marks and tough schedule, it seems 2013 may be the year Notre Dame returns to the BCS. And considering the upcoming changes to college football’s postseason, who knows what the BCS and Notre Dame’s bowl options will look like in 2014. The Irish won’t be left out, but getting into one of the BCS bowls isn’t going to get any easier. 

Mark Ross
When Brian Kelly replaced Charlie Weis as Notre Dame's head coach in December 2009, the general consensus is that it would only be a matter of time before he had the Fighting Irish back in contention for the national title with annual appearances in BCS bowls. Two seasons into Kelly's tenure Notre Dame fans are not only still waiting for that BCS bowl appearance, they would probably just like to see their team play in a bowl game in January, period.

Kelly's first two Notre Dame teams have each gone 8-5, ending the 2010 season with a victory over Miami (Fla.) in the Sun Bowl and concluding last season with a disappointing 18-14 defeat to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl. The Irish played in back-to-back BCS bowls in the 2005-06 seasons, but those appearances in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl and 2007 Sugar Bowl probably seem even further away than they actually are.

So back to the present, can Brian Kelly take Notre Dame back to the promised land that is the BCS? Yes, as long as he's given enough time to continue to build the roster and the team according to his style of play, because I certainly don't see it happening this year. For starters, Notre Dame's schedule this year is full of BCS conference contenders, not to mention a few national title contenders, along with some other potential pitfalls.

Notre Dame opens its season against Navy in, appropriately, Dublin, Ireland. Whether the luck of the Irish travels across the ocean remains to be seen, but Kelly's team is well aware of how the season-opener can set the tone for what's to come. Look no further than last season's stunning 23-20 opening loss to South Florida in South Bend. Notre Dame will be back at it the next Saturday getting Purdue at home before it faces Michigan and Michigan State, two teams expected to contend for the Big Ten title, in consecutive weeks.

The Irish finally get to catch their breath the last weekend of September to prepare for their Oct. 6 game against Miami at Soldier Field in Chicago. Although they haven't played in the regular season since 1990, these two have plenty of history between them. Notre Dame's next four opponents are Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma and Pittsburgh. They are home for all but Oklahoma, who is considered to be a national title contender this season, but all that really matters is who your matching up with on the other side of the field, and there isn't a cupcake among this quartet.

Notre Dame's final three games are much more manageable, at Boston College, home against Wake Forest, but the Irish conclude their season on the road against USC, another of their traditional rivals and a team that could open, and very will finish, the season at No. 1. For Notre Dame to get to a BCS bowl, it has to finish in the top eight of the BCS standings. Last year, that meant 10 wins. I don't see 10 wins for the Irish with this slate. I'm not sure I see any more than eight. So while I think Notre Dame's football program is in good hands with Kelly at the helm, I still think a return to elite status is at least a year or two away. For the time being, Irish fans should view a return to any January bowl game as a step in the right direction, especially should that happen this year.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I do not see the Fighting Irish making a BCS bowl this season, and Brian Kelly must find an elite quarterback before they get back to an elite level. ND’s talent level projects to an 8-4 or maybe even a 9-3 record, but a big-time signal caller must emerge to navigate the Irish through a tough schedule. Returning starter Tommy Rees’ status is in question in lieu of his recent arrest, so Andrew Hendrix or Everett Golson will battle through August to be that difference maker at quarterback. The skill positions are solid with Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, TJ Jones and All-America candidate Tyler Eifert, and the defense has some major potential — especially in the front seven.

Notre Dame must avoid the costly turnovers that prevented a 10-win season a year ago. It will be interesting to see if Kelly can find the quarterback to get his offense running the way it did at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. Road trips to Michigan State, Oklahoma and USC highlight a very difficult slate for the Irish, but I think Notre Dame has recruited well enough to reach eight or nine wins. However, a BCS-type season will not happen until the offense becomes a major force in South Bend.

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Teaser:
<p> Can Brian Kelly Lead the Irish to a BCS Bowl?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - 05:41
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The Notre Dame Fighting Irish check in at No. 20 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Tyler Eifert, TE
Any quarterback certainly loves a good security blanket – and that’s the role Eifert will be expected to play and more in 2012. With uncertainty at the quarterback spot, and Michael Floyd finishing his eligibility in South Bend, Eifert will be targeted frequently in 2012. He posted 63 receptions for 803 yards and five touchdowns last season, which were all career highs. Eifert is coming off a solid performance in the Champs Sports Bowl, catching six passes for 90 yards, and he could expect to see 10 to 12 passes in his direction each game this year.

Trap Game: Purdue (Sept. 8)
It’s not often you see a trap game in Week 2, but the Irish need to be on upset alert against the Boilermakers. Notre Dame has a long flight to play in Dublin, Ireland in Week 1 and has a date at Michigan State on Sept. 15. Purdue hasn’t won in South Bend since 2004 and will be an underdog in this game. However, with a game in Dublin in Week 1 and a revenge matchup against Michigan State in Week 3, the Irish need to be careful not to overlook the Boilermakers. 

Upset Alert: BYU (Oct. 20)
Notre Dame will likely be favored to win at least eight of its games in 2012, but there are a few potential landmines on the schedule. BYU started 1-2 last year but finished 9-1 over its final ten games. The Cougars didn’t play a particularly difficult schedule in the second half of last season but seemed to jell as a team during that stretch. Quarterback Riley Nelson settled into the starting job, while the defense did not allow an opponent to score more than 21 points in each of the final four games. The Cougars have the offensive firepower to test Notre Dame’s secondary and won’t be pushed around on defense. This will be the first meeting between these two schools since 2005.

Breakout Player: Everett Golson, QB
It’s anybody’s guess who will start the season opener for Notre Dame at quarterback. However, it’s a good chance it won’t be Tommy Rees after his off-the-field incident, and freshman Gunner Kiel probably needs another year to develop. Golson has yet to play a down, but his dual-threat ability could be a much-needed spark for the Irish offense. The redshirt freshman needs more seasoning as a passer, but if he gets the start against Navy, he may not relinquish the job the rest of the year.

Defensive MVP: Manti Te’o, LB
From the moment he stepped on campus, Te’o has been a leader and one of Notre Dame’s top defensive players. He has started 36 games in his career and has topped at least 100 tackles in each of the last two years. Te’o also recorded 13.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks last season. He should be a first-team All-American in 2012 and is likely to be a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Te’o’s decision to return to South Bend was huge for Notre Dame’s defense, which may have to carry the team with question marks at quarterback.

Unsung Hero: Louis Nix III, NG
Anchoring the interior of a 3-4 defense isn’t a glamorous position. The nose tackles don’t garner much in the way of stats and are often used just to plug the gaps. Nix started 11 games last season and recorded 45 tackles. He also registered 4.5 tackles for a loss and broke up one pass. With Aaron Lynch transferring out of Notre Dame, Nix will be counted upon even more for leadership and opening up the lanes for the rushers in 2012.

Biggest Game: at Michigan State (Sept. 15)
If Notre Dame wants to return to a BCS bowl, it’s important to set the tone early in the year. The Spartans defeated the Irish in dramatic fashion in 2010, but Notre Dame returned the favor with a 31-13 victory in South Bend last season. The Irish have not won in East Lansing since 2006. Although it’s only the third game of the year, this matchup will go a long way to determining where Notre Dame stacks up nationally. Michigan State has some key personnel losses, but will still be a top 25 team. If the Irish can win on the road, Brian Kelly’s team just might have a shot to get to 10 wins.

Revenge Game: Michigan (Sept. 22)
Michigan-Notre Dame provided one of the most memorable finishes of the 2011 college football season, and this matchup should be close once again in 2012. The Irish led 24-7 going into the fourth quarter, but a 16-yard touchdown pass from Denard Robinson to Roy Roundtree capped a 28-point fourth quarter by Michigan to win 35-31. The Wolverines should be the better team in 2012 and have won two out of the last three matchups in South Bend. Considering Notre Dame dominated for three quarters last year, there will certainly be plenty of motivation to avenge last season’s fourth-quarter collapse.

Freshman to Watch: Gunner Kiel, QB
Kiel was committed to Indiana, but switched to LSU and appeared set to join the Tigers for the spring. However, he had a change of heart and jumped to South Bend in mid-January and will have an opportunity to compete for the starting job this year. Kiel ranked as the No. 24 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100, but drew mixed reviews from scouts. The freshman has some work to do in order to win the starting job, but he will be awarded every opportunity to play this year.

Freshman to Watch II: Davonte Neal, WR
With Michael Floyd no longer catching passes in South Bend, the Irish desperately need a go-to target to emerge at wide receiver. Neal (5-foot-9) lacks Floyd’s height, but could be a dangerous playmaker. Although TJ Jones, John Goodman and Robby Toma are the likely starters, there’s plenty of room for Neal to work his way into the mix in the fall.

Comeback Player: Braxston Cave, C
The Irish didn’t have many major injuries last year, but Cave missed the final four games due to foot surgery. He started all 13 games in 2010 and was named to the Rimington Trophy watchlist before the 2011 season. Cave’s return should help Notre Dame boast a solid offensive line in 2012.

Offensive Newcomer of the Year: DaVaris Daniels, WR
In addition to settling the quarterback position, the Irish have to find a new go-to receiver. TJ Jones, John Goodman and Robby Toma appear to be the early favorites for the starting receiver positions, but true freshman Davonte Neal and Daniels will figure into the mix. Daniels did not see playing time last year, but was regarded as one of the top receivers coming out of high school in 2011.

Defensive Newcomer of the Year: Ishaq Williams, LB
With Aaron Lynch’s decision to transfer to South Florida, the Irish need Williams to help boost their pass rush in 2012. He played sparingly last year, recording six tackles in 11 games. Williams enters fall behind Prince Shembo on the depth chart, but he is expected to see significant playing time each week.

Position Battle: Quarterback
If the Irish can fix the quarterback position, contending for a BCS Bowl will be within reach. However, the offense left spring practice with few answers under center. Tommy Rees has started 16 games over the last two years, but hasn’t developed into a difference maker. He also ran into legal trouble in early May, which could cloud his availability for the first few contests of 2012. Redshirt freshman Everett Golson and sophomore Andrew Hendrix bring dual-threat potential to the position, but both are inexperienced. True freshman Gunner Kiel enrolled for the spring and will have a chance to earn playing time in the fall. Rees is the safe pick, but for the Irish offense to improve in 2012, it’s likely Golson needs to take the reins.

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<p> Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2012 Team Predictions</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - 05:39
Path: /college-football/stanford-football-how-many-pac-12-games-will-cardinal-lose-2012
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Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 21 Stanford. The Cardinal must replace three NFL first-round draft picks, including No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck. Despite the losses, Stanford remains a contender to push Oregon for the Pac-12 North title, but it will face a challenge from Washington and California. 

How Many Pac-12 Games Will Stanford Lose in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I predict the Cardinal will go 6-3 in Pac-12 play. Stanford did suffer some major personnel losses in quarterback Andrew Luck, top offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro, tight end Coby Fleener and safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas, but David Shaw — and Jim Harbaugh before him — have recruited well enough to keep the program in the top 25. A physical running game and stingy defense should carry the weight this season while Brett Nottingham or Josh Nunes develop into a Pac-12 signal caller.

The front seven on defense should be excellent, led by a stellar group of linebackers that includes All-America candidate Chase Thomas. Running back Stepfan Taylor has surpassed the 1,100-yard mark in each of the last two seasons, and he will be the focal point of the Cardinal offense this season. Stanford will be an underdog to USC and Oregon, and I think Shaw’s crew will drop one other game during the league slate. Many pundits may expect the Cardinal to fall off the national scene with the departure of Luck and other stars, but Stanford has formed an expectation of winning over the last few years. I see that Cardinal staying in the top 25 and near the top of the Pac-12 pecking order.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
I will go with three — which is one more than the Cardinal have lost over the last two seasons combined. But Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck aren't walking back onto The Farm anytime soon, so a step back should be expected in 2012. There appears to be two certain losses on the schedule as the Pac-12 slate gets kicked-off in brutal fashion as the Men of Troy visits Palo Alto in Week 3 of the season. Much later in the year, November 17, the Cardinal will have to visit Eugene to face North Division favorite. It's tough to see David Shaw's bunch upsetting either of those two West Coast powers this year.

Given those two losses and the much-improved nature of the Pac-12 North, it is hard to see Stanford finishing the rest of its conference schedule unbeaten. Washington State and Arizona have dramatically upgraded their sidelines and offensive schemes. Road trips to Washington, UCLA and Cal should all feature opponents who are better this year than last. Toss in an improving Oregon State team and this conference slate is littered with major land mines that will provide plenty of shrapnel. A 6-3 record in the league this fall should be considered a major success considering who recently traded a Saturday timecard for a Sunday paycheck.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Without quarterback Andrew Luck and two of college football’s best offensive linemen (David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin), there’s no question Stanford will take a step back in 2012. The Cardinal returns a solid core, but there’s a lot of pressure on new quarterback Brett Nottingham to keep this team in the mix for a North title.

Games against San Jose State and Duke in the first two weeks of 2012 should give Nottingham a chance to get comfortable as the starting quarterback. With USC in Week 3, Stanford needs Nottingham to be up to speed and ready to open up the passing attack. The Trojans will also test a rebuilt Cardinal secondary, but the defense could get a boost if linebacker Shayne Skov (torn ACL and likely suspension from off-the-field incident) returns to action by Week 3.

Although the schedule begins favorably, an 0-2 start in Pac-12 play is very likely. After playing USC on Sept. 15, Stanford heads to Washington for a Thursday night showdown on Sept. 27. The Huskies should challenge the Cardinal for second in the North, and the winner of this game will have an early edge for positioning within the division.

After opening up with USC and Washington in Pac-12 play, the schedule lightens for Stanford. The Cardinal should be favored in their next five games (Arizona, California, Washington State, Colorado and Oregon State), before taking on Oregon at Autzen Stadium on Nov. 17. Stanford has lost its last two games against the Ducks by at least 20 points and the outcome likely won’t be much different in 2012.

Considering the personnel losses, an 8-4 season with a 6-3 record in Pac-12 play is my expectation for Stanford in 2012.

Mark Ross
Andrew Luck no longer wears cardinal and white, having swapped it for the blue and white of the Indianapolis Colts, and to me the change at quarterback will directly translate into fewer wins in 2012 for Stanford. This stance is only further strengthened by the fact that head coach David Shaw will not determine who Luck's replacement will be until the fall.

That said, this is still a Cardinal team that will be heard from, thanks to a strong running game led by Stepfan Taylor and a pretty solid defense. In Pac-12 play, however, is where the inexperience under center will come to the forefront. I just don't think Stanford will have the offensive firepower to keep up with some of their conference brethren, who in turn will be able to eventually wear down a tired Cardinal defense.

Stanford certainly didn't get any breaks when it comes to their conference schedule, either. The Cardinal open Pac-12 play by hosting USC, who will no doubt be looking to exact some payback for last season's 56-48 triple-overtime defeat. Stanford then gets a week off before its next game, a road trip to Seattle, followed by a home contest against an Arizona team that will look and play completely different since they are now coached by Rich Rodriguez. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Stanford starts its Pac-12 slate 1-2 or even 0-3, especially if Arizona's new offense is clicking by Oct. 6.

The Cardinal return to Pac-12 play two weeks later against California after hosting Notre Dame the previous Saturday. The final six conference games appear to be more manageable, outside of a Nov. 17 visit to Autzen Stadium to face Oregon, but that doesn't mean there aren't any potential pitfalls remaining either. One game that certainly bears watching is Oct. 27 against Washington State. Like Arizona, Washington State is under new leadership as Mike Leach has brought his Air Raid offense to the Cougars. Although Stanford has a clear advantage when it comes to the defensive match up in this game, Washington State's pace and attacking offensive style could cause problems if Stanford is unable to put up some points of its own.

In the end, I think Stanford is looking at a 5-4 Pac-12 record this season, as a difficult opening conference schedule and offensive disparity translate into three more losses compared to last season. But look at it this way Cardinal fans, that's still probably more wins than your beloved and departed former quarterback and his new team will be able to claim in 2012.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I predict the Cardinal will go 6-3 in Pac-12 play. Stanford did suffer some major personnel losses in quarterback Andrew Luck, top offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro, tight end Coby Fleener and safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas, but David Shaw — and Jim Harbaugh before him — have recruited well enough to keep the program in the top 25. A physical running game and stingy defense should carry the weight this season while Brett Nottingham or Josh Nunes develop into a Pac-12 signal caller.

The front seven on defense should be excellent, led by a stellar group of linebackers that includes All-America candidate Chase Thomas. Running back Stepfan Taylor has surpassed the 1,100-yard mark in each of the last two seasons, and he will be the focal point of the Cardinal offense this season. Stanford will be an underdog to USC and Oregon, and I think Shaw’s crew will drop one other game during the league slate. Many pundits may expect the Cardinal to fall off the national scene with the departure of Luck and other stars, but Stanford has formed an expectation of winning over the last few years. I see that Cardinal staying in the top 25 and near the top of the Pac-12 pecking order.

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Teaser:
<p> Stanford Football: How Many Pac-12 Games Will the Cardinal Lose in 2012?</p>
Post date: Monday, May 7, 2012 - 05:55
Path: /college-football/stanford-cardinal-2012-team-predictions
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The Stanford Cardinal check in at No. 21 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Stepfan Taylor, RB
Taylor has topped the 1,100-yard mark in each of the last two seasons, and he could threaten Darrin Nelson’s school record of 4,033 rushing yards with a solid 2012 campaign. The Texas native has 30 total touchdowns in his career, and he should become the focus of the Cardinal offense with the departure of All-America quarterback Andrew Luck.

Upset Alert: Oregon State (Nov. 10)
The Beavers struggled mightily last season, but Mike Riley’s crew should be much-improved this year. The OSU contest at home should be a win for David Shaw’s Cardinal, but he must make sure that his team is not looking ahead to the following week’s trip to Oregon. The Ducks are the North favorites, but Stanford must take care of business against Oregon State first.

Trap Game: Arizona (Oct. 6)
The Wildcats will present a challenge with Rich Rodriguez’ offense coming to the Pac-12. Stanford has a trip to Washington at the end of September, and then road games with Notre Dame and rival Cal in the middle of October. In between those contests, the Cardinal will host an interesting Arizona squad that cannot be overlooked.

Defensive MVP: Chase Thomas, LB
Thomas was a first-team All-Pac-12 defender last year, and he will be up for All-America honors in 2012. Stanford’s outside linebackers do a quality job at getting into opponents’ backfields, and Thomas led the team last season with 17.5 tackles for loss while also forcing five fumbles. He will need similar big plays this year with the Cardinal inexperience in the secondary.

Breakout Player: Ty Montgomery, WR
Stanford lost its three leading pass catchers in Griff Whalen, Coby Fleener and Chris Owusu, and Montgomery is the top candidate to fill that void. The native Texan had 24 receptions for 350 yards and two touchdowns last season, and he should put up big numbers in 2012 if the Cardinal can find stability at the quarterback position.

Unsung Hero: Terrence Stephens, NG
The linebackers get much of the credit – and deservedly so – for Stanford’s productive defense, but someone has to tie up the blockers so the LBs can make plays. Stephens is that type of hard-working player. He does not show up much on the stat sheet but plays an important role in the Cardinal top rushing defense.

Biggest Game: at Washington (Sept. 27)
USC and Oregon may be the Pac-12 favorites, but the road trip to Seattle may hold the key to the season for the Cardinal. A loss to the favored Trojans would not derail Stanford’s shot at the North division, but losing to an improving Huskies club would be tough. A victory against UW could provide the confidence that the Cardinal need to have another special season.

Revenge Game: Oregon (Nov. 17)
With all of the success that Stanford has enjoyed over the last couple of seasons, there is not much in the revenge department. However, the Ducks have won two straight over the Cardinal by a combined score of 105-61. Oregon will be breaking in a new quarterback as well, and a win in Eugene would be very sweet for David Shaw’s club.

Freshmen to Watch: Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy, OT
Stanford will find it difficult to replace left tackle Jonathan Martin, but one of this pair of highly-touted recruits could claim the job in August. Both tackles were ranked in the top 25 overall players in the AC100, and they could make the unusual jump to playing time as true freshmen.

Comeback player: Shayne Skov, LB
The 2010 leading tackler suffered a severe knee injury in last season’s third game at Arizona. His healthy return will add even more playmaking to a loaded linebackers unit. Skov had 84 tackles and 7.5 sacks during that ’10 campaign, but it’s difficult to know how much burst he will have when he returns to the filed in the fall. After a brief suspension, Skov should provide a lift to the Stanford defense.

Position Battle: Quarterback
This one is obvious, as Stanford has the monumental task of trying to replace All-America signal caller Andrew Luck. Brett Nottingham and Josh Nunes are the top two candidates, and coach David Shaw said the competition was still even after spring ball. Nottingham has the stronger arm, while Nunes seems to excel at managing the game. The winner of the QB derby will be a major factor in deciding if Stanford will remain a top team in the Pac-12.

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Teaser:
<p> Stanford Cardinal 2012 Team Predictions</p>
Post date: Monday, May 7, 2012 - 05:50

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