Articles By Steven Lassan

Path: /college-football/texas-football-can-longhorns-win-big-12-2012
Body:

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

Can Texas Win the Big 12 in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Texas is probably closer to winning the Big 12 title than it is to finishing 8-5 again, especially if we’re to believe what we saw from quarterback David Ash in the bowl game. If Texas can win eight games (and finish 11th in the country in defense) in its back-to-the drawing board season after the 5-7 debacle, the Longhorns certainly can complete the rebuilding job in two years. The question is if the offense is ready to compete for the Big 12 title. I think it will be. The run game is proven, and the young offensive line will have another year to develop. Provided Jaxon Shipley is healthy and Ash can cut his turnovers, Texas has the potential for a balanced offense. On the other side of the ball, Texas could have the best pass defense in the league, a critical cog in winning the Big 12. Texas won’t be a national title contender, but the Longhorns could be good enough to win the Big 12. Oklahoma probably will be the favorite, but the Sooners have lingering questions in the passing game with Ryan Broyles gone. Landry Jones and receivers Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds seemed lost without the all-time reception leader on the field. As a conference favorite, Oklahoma may be vulnerable. If Texas can repeat the strides made last year, the Longhorns will be a worthy contender.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Without question the Texas Longhorns will compete for a Big 12 title in 2012. Manny Diaz enters year number two on the 40 Acres with clearly the best defensive unit in the conference. There is elite level talent on every level of the Burnt Orange defense after leading the Big 12 in rushing, passing, pass efficiency and total defense a year ago. With Robert Griffin III, James Franklin, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden all gone from the schedule in 2012, there is no reason to think this side of the ball won't get even better for Mack Brown.

Bryan Harsin and the Longhorn offense, however, is a totally different story all together. Harsin, also entering his second year on campus, should have no concerns about his offensive playmakers in the backfield or on the edge. The stable of backs and trio of talented receivers give quarterback David Ash plenty to work with in 2012. Yet, the sophomore's development and consistency are still major question marks. We think he solidified himself in the bowl win over Cal and we think he locked down the starting job in spring practice last month. But we won't know anything until the bright lights at DKR Memorial Stadium click on in September. While quarterback play is huge for Texas, the offensive line could actually be the lynchpin for any Longhorn success this fall. If Ash can turn around and trust his talented tailbacks to pick-up key yards, his job will be that much easier. The O-Line has to lead the offense this year.

The schedule sets up nicely for the Horns to challenge for a conference title as well. Gamey Big 12 newcomers TCU and West Virginia both have to come to Austin while road trips against road trips to Lubbock and Lawrence shouldn't be too difficult. Brown catches a break by facing Oklahoma State (in Stillwater) early in the year as true freshman quarterback Wes Lunt will be facing a pass rush the likes he has never even dreamed about. As usual, the trip to the Texas State Fair on October 13 will likely determine the Big 12 champion — that is, if Texas can exercise some purple demons on the final weekend of the season in Manhattan, Kansas.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think Oklahoma has to be the favorite to win the Big 12, but the gap between the Sooners and Texas is very narrow. Losing receiver Ryan Broyles certainly had a huge impact on the offense late last season, but Oklahoma’s passing attack should be better with a full offseason to scheme to make changes to its scheme to compensate for the personnel losses. Trey Metoyer should be a breakout player at receiver for quarterback Landry Jones, but the offense also needs a full year from running back Dominique Whaley. Oklahoma’s defense has a few holes but will benefit from the return of Mike Stoops as defensive coordinator.

Its not crazy to think Texas’ Big 12 title hopes could rest on one person – quarterback David Ash. The Longhorns have a deep stable of running backs and the best defense in the conference, but won’t win the league if the passing game doesn’t improve. Ash doesn’t have to be Robert Griffin, but he can’t throw more interceptions than touchdowns.

I am picking Oklahoma to win the Big 12, but would not be shocked if Texas ended up as conference champs. The Longhorns improved their win total by three last year and improving the quarterback play could mean another two victories. If Ash develops consistency and allows Texas to open up the offense, there’s no reason why the Longhorns can’t win the Big 12 – especially if Oklahoma struggles to get its passing attack in order. Regardless of which team finishes No. 1 and No. 2 in the conference, the Big 12 should have a good shot to get two teams into BCS bowls in 2012.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The Longhorns have the talent to get back on top of the Big 12, but I think Oklahoma has to be the favorite. Texas will be led by a stingy defense, featuring a pair of ferocious ends in Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat. The secondary will be excellent as well, with safety Kenny Vacarro and corners Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs leading the way. The obstacle that Mack Brown’s club faces to regain league supremacy is getting the offense back to the high level it enjoyed under Vince Young and Colt McCoy. The running game improved last season with Malcolm Brown toting the rock, but the Horns must find some stability at quarterback. Davis Ash looks to be the leading candidate to improve the Texas passing game, and the Longhorns must find a way to score more points in a conference that gives up a lot defensively. The UT roster is loaded, but I still see the Sooners as the class of the Big 12.

Where will Texas finish in the 2012 Big 12 standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day.

Related Big 12 Content

How Will West Virginia Fare in the Big 12 in 2012?
How Will TCU Fare in the Big 12 in 2012?

Big 12 Running Back Rankings for 2012

Big 12 Quarterback Rankings for 2012

Can Kansas State Repeat Last Season's Success?

Ranking the Big 12 Head Coaches for 2012
College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Texas Football: Can the Longhorns Win the Big 12 in 2012?</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 19:15
Path: /college-football/pac-12-2012-football-schedule-analysis
Body:

College football's 2012 season is still a couple of months away, but it's never too early to take a look at the schedules and highlight some of the key games. The Pac-12 slate once again features nine conference games for each team, while there are some intriguing non-conference matchups.

Here's a team-by-team look at schedule analysis for each of the teams in the Pac-12 for 2012:

North Division

Cal Golden Bears

Sept. 1 Nevada
Sept. 8 Southern Utah
Sept. 15 at Ohio State
Sept. 22 at USC
Sept. 29 Arizona State
Oct. 6 UCLA
Oct. 13 at Washington State
Oct. 20 Stanford
Oct. 27 at Utah
Nov. 2 Washington (Fri.)
Nov. 10 Oregon
Nov. 17 at Oregon State
Nov. 24 Bye Week

* Few teams in the nation will finish the first month of the season in tougher fashion than the Golden Bears. Jeff Tedford has the unenviable task of leading his team on road trips to the Horseshoe and the Coliseum. Both USC and Ohio State should be ranked in the Top 10 nationally in the preseason and should be unbeaten when they face them. Best of luck Coach Tedford.

* In addition to USC, the crossover schedule also doesn’t give too many breaks. Cal misses Colorado (likely picked sixth in the South) and Arizona (likely picked third or fourth in the South) from the South. This means they play the top three teams in the other division this fall.

* The good news for Cal fans is the home slate within the division. Cal gets the top three teams in the North — Oregon, Stanford and Washington  — all at home. If Tedford wants to keep his job, he may have to pull an upset of one of those three teams and getting them all at home might give him the best chance.

* Could the bye week come at a worse time? If Cal was the clear pick to the win the North — and they could still surprise — then the bye week falling during the last week of the regular season might provide some value. But if Cal does anything other than play in the Pac-12 title game, this bye week is essentially worthless. So the Bears get nine weeks to prepare for a bowl game against Kansas State instead of eight? So what.

Oregon Ducks

Sept. 1 Arkansas State
Sept. 8 Fresno State
Sept. 15 Tennessee Tech
Sept. 22 Arizona
Sept. 29 at Washington State
Oct. 6 Washington
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 18 at Arizona State
Oct. 27 Colorado
Nov. 3 at USC
Nov. 10 at Cal
Nov. 17 Stanford
Nov. 24 at Oregon State

* Noticeably absent from the Ducks schedule is a marquee non-conference tilt. The Ducks are used to playing LSU, Tennessee, Boise State or some other preseason top-15 team. Arkansas State is a solid team, but the trio of non-conference matchups this season should provide little competition. This could be a good thing for an offense that is replacing Darron Thomas, LaMichael James and most of the pass-catchers.

* This year’s Game of the Century will also take place on the first weekend in November, but it will happen in Los Angeles instead of Tuscaloosa. The first of what could be two meetings between USC and Oregon will take place Nov. 3. All eyes in college football will be focused on the Coliseum as the winner will likely host the rematch in the Pac-12 title game. And it could decide a berth in the national championship.

* Other than USC, the crossover schedule for Oregon is fairly easy. The Ducks miss both Utah and UCLA (likely picked second and third respectively in the South) and instead face the bottom three teams in the division. In fact, Colorado and Arizona both visit Autzen Stadium making the crossover schedule that much easier. Look for Oregon to be, worst-case scenario, a cool 3-1 against the South.

* In key North Division contests, the Ducks get a nice break by hosting both Stanford and Washington. If either of those teams expects to challenge the three-year reign of Duck Pac-12 dominance, then they will have to pull the upset on the road in Eugene. No easy task.

Oregon State Beavers

Sept. 1 Nicholls State
Sept. 8 Wisconsin
Sept. 15 Bye Week
Sept. 22 at UCLA
Sept. 29 at Arizona
Oct. 6 Washington State
Oct. 13 at BYU
Oct. 20 Utah
Oct. 27 at Washington
Nov. 3 Arizona State
Nov. 10 at Stanford
Nov. 17 Cal
Nov. 24 Oregon

* It may not be as tough as Cal’s daunting early season slate, but Oregon State have two very tricky non-conference tests against Wisconsin (who beat them 35-0 in Madison last year) and a road trip to face BYU. Unless the Beavers show marked improvement on defense, they will hard pressed to be anything by 1-2 in non-conference action.

* Crossover play won’t kill Oregon State this year. The Beavers miss the potential National Championship contender USC and get Utah at home. Early road trips to UCLA and Arizona could be swing games for all three teams in terms of bowl eligibility. Oregon State also gets Arizona State at home on the first weekend in November.

* Mike Riley’s bunch will need to get work done early if he wants to get his team back to the postseason — and potentially keep his job. Because the month of November will be absolutely brutal to finish the year. The final three games of the season feature a road trip to Stanford and back-to-back visits from Cal and Oregon to wrap-up 2012. A 1-2 record to finish the season would be considered a success.

Stanford Cardinal

Sept. 1 San Jose State
Sept. 8 Duke
Sept. 15 USC
Sept. 22 Bye Week
Sept. 27 at Washington
Oct. 6 Arizona
Oct. 13 at Notre Dame
Oct. 20 at Cal
Oct. 27 Washington State
Nov. 3 at Colorado
Nov. 10 Oregon State
Nov. 17 at Oregon
Nov. 24 at UCLA

* Year one A.L.H — After Luck and Harbaugh — will place the magnifying glass directly above David Shaw. And the Pac-12 schedule doesn’t get started easily for the Cardinal. USC comes to town very early on (Sept. 15), and following a bye week, Stanford visits Washington (Sept. 27). The trip to Seattle should decide the pecking order in the North and will set either the Cardinal or Huskies into the drivers seat to challenge Oregon. That said, the bye week is strategically placed between these two tough games. Yet, Shaw could start 0-2 in conference play — which would be as many Pac-12 losses as Andrew Luck experienced over the last two seasons.

* Cardinal fans should just leave their bags packed after the October 6 home game against Arizona. Stanford finishes on the road in five of its final seven games of the 2012 season. This includes a huge non-conference tilt against Notre Dame as well as divisional games against Cal (Oct. 20) and Oregon (Nov. 17). Colorado is the only road trip in those five games where Stanford will be a clear favorite.

* Stanford must face all three North contenders — Oregon, Washington, Cal — on the road in 2012.

* Crossover play, with the exception of USC at home, isn’t all that treacherous. Arizona at home and a road trip to Colorado is not daunting at all. Visiting UCLA could be sneaky tough on the final weekend of the year — depending on how the new coaching staff in Westwood gels. Missing Utah is a small blessing.

Washington Huskies

Sept. 1 San Diego State
Sept. 8 at LSU
Sept. 15 Portland State
Sept. 22 Bye Week
Sept. 27 Stanford
Oct. 6 at Oregon
Oct. 13 USC
Oct. 20 at Arizona
Oct. 27 Oregon State
Nov. 2 at Cal
Nov. 10 Utah
Nov. 17 at Colorado
Nov. 23 at Washington State (Fri.)

* The Huskies have one of the most intriguing and exciting opportunities in the nation this fall when they visit LSU in Week 2. The Keith Price-led passing attack will test the Bayou secondary, but the lines of scrimmage will likely be dominated by the Tigers. There are very few positives that come from early season losses, but Washington could win a moral victory if they can keep it close in Baton Rouge. Additionally, the LSU defensive line will be the best Washington faces all season and the challenge could help prepare U of W for Pac-12 play. Again, if they can keep it close.

* A three-week span early in the season will likely determine the entire outlook of the 2012 campaign for Washington. In consecutive weeks, the Huskies will host Stanford, visit Oregon and welcome USC to Seattle. If Washington wants to continue its upward trajectory under Steve Sarkisian, it must defeat the Luck-less Cardinal at home. A 1-2 record over that span might be good enough to earn second place in the North. Anything more would be a pleasant surprise.

* Crossover play features the best two teams in the South, but both USC and Utah have to come to Seattle. The road trips in South Division play, at Arizona and at Colorado, are games Washington must win in order to continue trending upwards.

* Three of the final four games, including a key test against Cal as well as the Apple Cup, will come on the road for the Huskies. The renewed energy in Pullman, as well as the hot seat in Berkeley, will make for tough, albeit manageable, sledding down the stretch for Washington.

Washington State Cougars

Sept. 1 at BYU
Sept. 8 Eastern Washington
Sept. 15 at UNLV
Sept. 22 Colorado
Sept. 29 Oregon
Oct. 6 at Oregon State
Oct. 13 Cal
Oct. 20 Bye Week
Oct. 27 at Stanford
Nov. 3 at Utah
Nov. 10 UCLA
Nov. 17 at Arizona State
Nov. 23 Washington (Fri.)

* It is never fair to place the entire weight of a season’s outcome on the first game, but making it to a bowl game for the first time since 2003 may be determined in Week 1. A trip to Provo to take on BYU is not easy task, but for a Mike Leach coached team, it is a winnable game. If Wazzu wins its opener, fans should be in for a great first season under Leach. A loss will make it tough to reach the postseason. UNLV and Eastern Washington are must wins if Leach wants to go bowling.

* Helping Wazzu’s case for bowl eligibility is the crossover play. There is no USC and no Rich Rodriguez on the schedule this fall. Road trips to Utah and Arizona State won’t be easy, but home tests against Colorado and UCLA could provide bowl help. A 3-1 record against the South and Washington State should land in a bowl game.

* In order to reach a bowl, the Cougars will need to pull a home upset or two in 2012. Cal, UCLA and Washington provide tough but winnable conference games in Pullman. If the Cougars can win two of those games, they will all but locked into postseason play.

* The bye week is nicely placed after four Pac-12 games and just before two tough road trips to Stanford and Utah. It is virtually dead in the middle of Pac-12 play and should provide a perfect respite for a team fighting for a bowl game.

South Division

Arizona Wildcats

Sept. 1 Toledo
Sept. 8 Oklahoma State
Sept. 15 South Carolina State
Sept. 22 at Oregon
Sept. 29 Oregon State
Oct. 6 at Stanford
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 Washington
Oct. 27 USC
Nov. 3 at UCLA
Nov. 10 Colorado
Nov. 17 at Utah
Nov. 23 Arizona State

* Arizona should be in the mix for a bowl, but the non-conference schedule certainly doesn’t help its quest to get to six wins. South Carolina State is a cupcake, but Toledo and Oklahoma State aren’t guaranteed wins. Even though both teams have some losses, neither will be an easy out for the Wildcats.

* Rich Rodriguez didn’t catch a break either, as his first Pac-12 game is at Oregon. The Ducks have won four in a row over Arizona, including a blowout 56-31 win in Tucson last year.

* In addition to playing Oregon in crossover games with the North, the Wildcats also catch Stanford and Washington – the likely No. 2 and No. 3 teams.

* USC is the clear favorite in the South, but second place is up for grabs. Utah is the early preseason frontrunner for the No. 2 spot, but Arizona has a chance to push for a finish in the top three of the division. The key game will be against UCLA on Nov. 3, which could decided whether or not the Bruins or Wildcats finish third in the South.

* There’s no doubt there may be a few ups and downs during Rodriguez’s first season, but he could make a lot of people happy in Tucson with a victory over Arizona State on Nov. 23. The Sun Devils also have a new coach (Todd Graham), so there’s a lot of new energy surrounding this rivalry. Arizona has won three out of the last four against Arizona State.

Arizona State

Sept. 1 Northern Arizona
Sept. 8 Illinois
Sept. 15 at Missouri
Sept. 22 Utah
Sept. 29 at California
Oct. 6 Bye Week
Oct. 11 at Colorado
Oct. 18 Oregon
Oct. 27 UCLA
Nov. 3 at Oregon State
Nov. 10 at USC
Nov. 17 Washington State
Nov. 23 at Arizona

* Todd Graham’s first season in Tempe should get off to a good start with the opener against Northern Arizona. However, the rest of the non-conference schedule is challenging. The Sun Devils host Illinois and hit the road to play Missouri. Arizona State will probably be favored to beat the Fighting Illini, but a trip to Columbia against the Tigers won’t be easy.

* If Arizona State wants to reach the postseason, the Sept. 29 date at California will be a key swing game. The Sun Devils have lost eight out of their last nine games to the Golden Bears and this year’s matchup is on the road in Berkeley.

* The Sun Devils close out 2012 with three of their final four games on the road.

* Arizona State has a favorable crossover slate with the North. Although the Sun Devils have to play Oregon, they do not play Washington or Stanford.

* The intensity in the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry should be on the rise in 2012. With Rich Rodriguez taking over in Tucson, both programs will have new coaches. And adding a little more spice to the mix – Graham coached under Rodriguez at West Virginia from 2001-02.

Colorado Buffaloes

Sept. 2 Colorado State (Denver)
Sept. 8 Sacramento State
Sept. 15 at Fresno State
Sept. 22 at Washington State
Sept. 29 UCLA
Oct. 6 Bye Week
Oct. 11 Arizona State
Oct. 20 at USC
Oct. 27 at Oregon
Nov. 3 Stanford
Nov. 10 at Arizona
Nov. 17 Washington
Nov. 23 Utah

* For a team coming off a 3-10 season, the Buffaloes need to build some momentum early in the year. Colorado faces off against Colorado State in Denver and should be favored to win this game. The Buffaloes have won four out of the last five in this series, including a 28-14 victory last season.

* Assuming Colorado handles Sacramento State in Week 2, it will have another chance to pickup a non-conference victory in Week 3 against Fresno State. The Bulldogs have a new coaching staff, but are loaded with talent on offense. If Colorado is struggling to get its new quarterback (likely Connor Wood) on track, Fresno State could upset the Buffaloes.

* The Buffaloes finished 97th nationally in pass defense last season and the secondary will be put to the test in the Pac-12 opener against Washington State. The Cougars return quarterback Jeff Tuel and receiver Marquess Wilson, which will be one of the top pass-catch duos in the nation.

* Could Colorado have one of the most difficult back-to-back road trips in the nation? The Buffaloes play at USC on Oct. 20 and at Oregon on Oct. 27. Ouch.

* Finding wins in Pac-12 play could be difficult with a team full of question marks, but Colorado’s best opportunities would appear to be at home against UCLA on Sept. 29 and on Nov. 23 against Utah. Although the Utes are the better team on paper, the Buffaloes won in Salt Lake City last year. 

UCLA Bruins

Aug. 30 at Rice
Sept. 8 Nebraska
Sept. 15 Houston
Sept. 22 Oregon State
Sept. 29 at Colorado
Oct. 6 at California
Oct. 13 Utah
Oct. 20 Bye Week
Oct. 27 at Arizona State
Nov. 3 Arizona
Nov. 10 at Washington State
Nov. 17 USC
Nov. 24 Stanford

* UCLA opens the season in Texas for the second consecutive season. The Bruins played at Houston last year and open against Rice in 2012.

* The Bruins will meet Nebraska for the first time since 1994. UCLA is 4-6 all-time against the Cornhuskers, but only one of those wins has come in Lincoln.

* This will be the third consecutive season UCLA has played Houston during the regular season. The Bruins won the 2010 matchup, but lost last season.

* Two of UCLA’s first three conference games will be on the road. However, the Bruins will be heavily favored to win against Colorado and beat California last season.

* The matchup with Arizona on Nov. 3 is expected to be an important one for the final standings in the Pac-12. The Wildcats and Bruins will likely be picked by most to finish third or fourth in the South, so this game could decide which team goes to a bowl or which team stays home in the postseason.

* The final two games of the season offer an interesting barometer for UCLA. New coach Jim Mora wasn’t the most popular selection as head coach, but has pieced together a good staff. Stanford and USC easily handled the Bruins last year, and keeping the score closer this time would be a good sign for Mora heading into 2013.

USC Trojans

Sept. 1 Hawaii
Sept. 8 Syracuse (East Rutherford)
Sept. 15 at Stanford
Sept. 22 California
Sept. 29 Bye Week
Oct. 4 at Utah
Oct. 13 at Washington
Oct. 20 Colorado
Oct. 27 at Arizona
Nov. 3 Oregon
Nov. 10 Arizona State
Nov. 17 at UCLA
Nov. 24 Notre Dame

* The biggest game on USC’s schedule is clearly the Nov. 3 showdown against Oregon. The Trojans won 38-35 in Eugene last year and it’s likely this game will decide which team has homefield advantage in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

* The Trojans open the year against a familiar face. Norm Chow worked as USC’s offensive coordinator from 2001-04 and 2012 will be his first year as Hawaii’s head coach. The Trojans beat the Warriors 49-36 in Honolulu in 2010, but it would be a major surprise if Hawaii kept the opening week matchup within 30 points.

* After opening up at home with Hawaii in Week 1, the Trojans will rack up some frequent flyer miles in Week 2. USC makes the long flight to the opposite coast, taking on Syracuse in East Rutherford. The Orange are coming off a 5-7 season, but as we have seen in the NFL, teams making long flights across the country often turn in a sluggish effort that week.

* The Trojans open Pac-12 play with a road date at Stanford. USC has lost four out of the last five games to the Cardinal, including a 56-48 shootout last season. With Andrew Luck no longer at Stanford, this matchup should favor USC.

* USC has won eight in a row over rival California. The Trojans won last year’s matchup 30-9 and won 48-14 in 2010.

* A key part of USC’s 2012 schedule will be a difficult two-game road trip in early October. The Trojans travel to Salt Lake City for a Thursday night matchup against Utah and hit the road again the following week for a matchup against Washington. Although USC will be favored, Utah held its own in Los Angeles last year, and the Huskies have won two out of the last three games against the Trojans.

* Trap game? With a date against Oregon the following week, USC should be on upset alert against Arizona on Oct. 27. The Wildcats have defeated the Trojans only once since 2001, but this could be a case of looking ahead on the schedule creates an upset possibility.

* Crosstown rivalry? The USC-UCLA series has been a one-sided affair in recent years. The Trojans have won five in a row and most of the matchups haven’t been close. Will that change in 2012 with Jim Mora taking over at UCLA?

* USC has won nine out of the last ten meetings against Notre Dame.

Utah

Aug. 30 Northern Colorado
Sept. 7 at Utah State
Sept. 15 BYU
Sept. 22 at Arizona State
Sept. 29 Bye Week
Oct. 4 USC
Oct. 13 at UCLA
Oct. 20 at Oregon State
Oct. 27 California
Nov. 3 Washington State
Nov. 10 at Washington
Nov. 17 Arizona
Nov. 23 at Colorado

* Utah has not played in-state rival Utah State since 2009, but owns a 12-game winning streak over the Aggies. Although the Utes should win this matchup once again, Utah State won’t be a pushover, which will give Utah a good test just before playing BYU and opening up Pac-12 play.

* The Utes crushed BYU last season, winning 54-10 in Provo. However, the loss to Utah sparked the Cougars, as they won nine out of their last 10 games. Revenge will certainly be on BYU’s mind this year, but the Utes have not lost to the Cougars in Salt Lake City since 2006.

* The Oct. 4 date against USC will have major ramifications in the South Division. The Utes held their own against the Trojans last year and this season’s matchup is in Salt Lake City. If Utah can knock off USC, it will have a huge early advantage in the South title race.

* Utah catches a huge break in Pac-12 scheduling once again, as it does not play Stanford and Oregon in crossover games with the North.

* The Pac-12 opener against Arizona State is one of the Pac-12’s most intriguing early season matchups. The Utes are the better team on paper, but the Sun Devils are a mystery. With a new coaching staff, who knows how much Arizona State will show in the non-conference portion of its schedule. 

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

Related Pac-12 Content

Pac-12 Running Back Rankings for 2012
Washington or Stanford: Better 2012 Record?

Pac-12 Quarterback Rankings for 2012

Can California Beat Stanford and Washington in the 2012 North Standings?

College Football's Top 25 Coaches for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Head Coaches for 2012

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

Teaser:
<p> Pac-12 2012 Football Schedule Analysis.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 06:56
Path: /college-football/rutgers-football-can-scarlet-knights-win-big-east-2012
Body:

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

Is Rutgers Still a Big East Title Contender Without Greg Schiano?

Mark Ennis, Manager of Big East Coast Bias (@Mengus22)
Rutgers is definitely a Big East contender despite Greg Schiano's departure for the NFL. First, Greg Schiano never won the Big East title outright as a coach at Rutgers, anyway. So while I've always respected the amazing job he did at Rutgers in building that program from almost nothing, it's not as though he was a championship coach that needs replacing. We may very well come to find that Flood and his made over staff are better managers of big games.

Second, Rutgers will compete for the Big East title because it has as much talent as Louisville, the main contender, and more than the rest of the conference. One thing Schiano did well was recruit, and Kyle Flood did a good job holding on the last recruiting class once he departed. Most of the starters from last year's defense, which was the best in the Big East, return and will be buttressed by the addition of a number of highly rated freshmen. Flood's got a talented and now experienced offensive line, a blue chip running back in Savon Huggins, and is determined to settle on one quarterback.

Third, Rutgers is a Big East title contender because it gets Louisville at home in the final game of the regular season in what should be a de facto Big East championship game. Having the home field advantage in a game of that magnitude, especially if it is especially cold that time of year, could be the difference between winning and losing and heading to a BCS Bowl in 2012. 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Let’s face it: Rutgers was a marginal Big East contender with Schiano. That’s not a knock against the new Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach; he built that program essentially from scratch, and I’d bet Rutgers eventually would have won the Big East had he stayed. Still, Rutgers is 16-19 in the Big East since going 11-2 overall in 2006. If Schiano remained in Piscataway in 2012, Rutgers would be a sleeper for the Big East title, and since none of the players have changed, I suppose the Scarlet Knights still are. That said, a sleeper pick usually means everything has to break right. For Rutgers, that means the Scarlet Knights need some long-awaited stability at quarterback, they running game to stabilize under Jawan Jamison and perhaps a healthy Savon Huggins, and the offensive line to come together after two difficult years. In addition to all those questions on offense, Rutgers will miss Schiano’s touch on defense. With Schiano, Rutgers probably would need a few breaks to contend for the Big East. Without him, his defensive acumen and the other changes on the staff, the margin of error is even slimmer. Rutgers probably goes to a bowl game, but asking the Scarlet Knights to challenge Louisville might be too much to ask in Kyle Flood’s first season.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
In the short term I would say yes. It is impossible to totally eliminate Greg Schiano's influence on Rutgers football in a matter months. This team is three classes of tough-nosed, defensive-minded Schiano-coached athletes, so there will be a certain residue left over from more than a decade of teaching. The Knights boasted not just the Big East's top defensive unit a year ago, but one of the nation's stingiest groups. They won't forget how to play football because one man has departed campus. And there is more good news: Rutgers expects the most talented signing class in school history to join the party this summer.

And it's the mostly highly-touted class in program history where questions begin to arise about the future of Scarlet Knights football. Kyle Flood learned under Schiano for six years and undoubtedly will attempt to maintain as much continuity as possible within his community. He had a great talent to learn from and should able to keep Rutgers at certain level of competition for the time being. Yet, a major facet of his hiring had to be tied somewhat to keeping intact the historic haul of prospects. His long term coaching talents are a relative unknown.

This team should be very competitive in year one after Schiano, especially with the schedule setting up the way it does. The Knights could start 7-2 or, with a win at South Florida, 8-1 (loss coming at Arkansas). But the ability of Flood to get Rutgers in competition for a BCS bowl is still left in question. He could very easily be the right coach to lead this program for the next decade. Although, if he were to reach a BCS bowl, I suppose he would have already outperformed Schiano, right?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Before Greg Schiano left Rutgers, I thought the Scarlet Knights had a chance to be considered one of the top two teams in the Big East. Without Schiano, I don’t think this team can win the conference title in 2012. Kyle Flood seems like a good fit at Rutgers, but is he more of a short-term solution or can he continue to build off of what Schiano started? Considering Flood has no head coaching experience, you really have to wonder how this hire will work out for Rutgers.

In addition to the concerns about the coaching change, the Scarlet Knights have some question marks on offense. Will a quarterback settle into the job and bring stability to the position? Gary Nova and Chas Dodd alternated time last year and neither stepped forward in spring practice. The running game, led by backs Jawan Jamison and Savon Huggins, certainly has potential, but the offensive line has only two returning starters from a so-so group last year. The good news for the Scarlet Knights is the defense could be the best in the Big East with eight starters returning.

Outside of a date at Arkansas, Rutgers should easily handle the opponents in its non-conference schedule. Road dates against South Florida and Pittsburgh and the season finale against Louisville will be the toughest games in Big East play.

I think Rutgers is still a threat to win the Big East crown, but I’m hesitant to pick them first or second in the conference without Schiano. Flood did a good job of keeping the recruiting class intact, but it’s difficult to know what to expect from a first-year coach.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The Scarlet Knights are not the favorite in the league, but I think they can compete with Louisville for the conference crown. The Cardinals probably return the most talent, but Charlie Strong’s club should be challenged by Rutgers, USF and possibly Pittsburgh. Greg Schiano will be missed, especially since the key to Rutgers success will continue to be its defense. Eight starters return on that side of the ball, led by all-league linebacker Khaseem Greene. That unit carried the Scarlet Knights to nine wins a year ago, and the defense will need to be a force once again in 2012. New coach Kyle Flood will try to find some stability at the quarterback position, and that would give RU a chance to compete for the title. If the Scarlet Knights’ defense can win low-scoring, close games early while the offense develops, they will have a chance to do some damage late with a season-ending slate of at Cincinnati, at Pittsburgh and home against Louisville. I would project Rutgers for third in the Big East, but the Flood’s crew has a shot if the defense carries the weight one again.

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

Related Big East Content

Can Pittsburgh Challenge for the Big East Title in 2012?
Ranking the Big East Running Backs for 2012

Ranking the Big East's Quarterbacks for 2012
Who Is Louisville's Biggest Challenger in the Big East for 2012?

Ranking the Big East Head Coaches for 2012

College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Is Rutgers a Big East Title Contender Without Greg Schiano?</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 26, 2012 - 06:55
Path: /college-football/nebraska-football-can-cornhuskers-win-big-ten-2012
Body:

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

Can Nebraska Win the Big Ten Title in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Here’s a shocking number: Since Nebraska led the nation in turnover margin in 2003, the Cornhuskers have finished on the plus-side of that statistic only once. Nebraska was plus-five in 2009 and even in 2006, but in the other six seasons, Nebraska coughed up the ball more than the Cornhuskers took it away from opponents. Turnover margin is the biggest predictor of team performance, and Nebraska’s trend of being on the wrong end of the turnover margin is a major reason the Cornhuskers haven’t been able to move out of the nine- and 10-win range into nationally elite territory. The 11 conference champions last season averaged plus-7.7 in turnover margin. Conference champions in the six major conferences averaged plus-11. If Nebraska is going to win the Big Ten, that’s where Nebraska’s going to need to make its turnaround. Now a veteran, Taylor Martinez should be less likely to turn the ball over, though his 15 interceptions in two seasons as a starter aren’t terrible. Rex Burkhead fumbled only once last season, albeit in the loss to Northwestern. The defense on the other hand forced only 18 turnovers last season. Only Indiana and Minnesota forced fewer in the Big Ten. Nebraska still won nine games and was in the Big Ten race before the Northwestern loss on Nov. 5, so that speaks well of the rest of Nebraska’s team a year ago. In 2012, Michigan will be the favorite in the Big Ten Legends Division, but Nebraska has the pieces to contend for the Rose Bowl if the Cornhuskers start to get some long-awaited breaks.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Absolutely. But it will come down to two major overriding factors: Taylor Martinez' ability to complete key passes and new defensive coordinator John Papuchis' ability to get stops. After a fairly strong freshman season, Martinez entered last fall needing to show mental maturity and toughness. He did that as he became the leader of the offense and master of the Huskers playbook. The next step in his development as he enters his third season under center will be improving his accuracy and efficiency. He must be able to keep defenses away from the line of scrimmage by completing third down, fourth quarter passes on a regular basis. With Rex Burkhead carrying the load, and arguably the best collection of receivers in the Big Ten as his disposal, there is no reason to think T-Magic doesn't continue to blossom as one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the league.

The defense might be the bigger issue. After straight crushing opponents in 2009, the Black Shirts have been pushed around. And it starts at the line of scrimmage. Three contributors, including the injured Jared Crick, have moved on from a D-Line that has allowed over 150 yards rushing per game since '09 — where they averaged 93.1 yards allowed per game with a Boy Names Suh leading the way. But Papuchis has plenty of talent to work with in the front seven. Baker Steinkuhler and Will Compton lead a group that needs to slow the run with more toughness and get more pressure on the quarterback than 1.62 sacks per game (84th nationally in 2011). Fixing the front seven will go a long way to competing for a Big Ten title.

The schedule gives the Huskers a few opportunities for revenge as Michigan and Wisconsin visit Lincoln this fall, while road trips to Michigan State and Ohio State could be the toughest tests of the season. There is no dominate, undefeated type of team in this league this fall so the Huskers could survive a loss to Ohio State with ease. And since no one will have to face the Buckeyes in the title game, the winner of the Legends Division will likely claim the trip to Pasadena. How Nebraska fares against the state of Michigan should determine how far this team can go in 2012.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Michigan is getting most of the preseason hype as the favorite in the Legends Division, but the gap between the Wolverines and Michigan State and Nebraska is very narrow. Brady Hoke did a good job of moving Michigan back onto the national scene last year, but this team suffered some key losses, including center David Molk and defensive tackle Mike Martin. Denard Robinson is back for a run at the Heisman, but filling the voids in the trenches is crucial to winning the Big Ten title.

I give Nebraska a slight edge over Michigan State for second place in the Legends Division, but again, the margin is very, very small. For the Cornhuskers to improve on last season’s win total, quarterback Taylor Martinez has to get better as a passer, while the defense has to stop the run. Losing quarterback Kirk Cousins and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy will be difficult for the Spartans to overcome. Coach Mark Dantonio has done a good job of building up Michigan State’s depth, but Cousins and Worthy were two of the best players in the Big Ten last year. The schedules are essentially even, as Nebraska and Michigan State play Ohio State and Wisconsin from the Leaders Division, while the Spartans host the Cornhuskers on Nov. 3.

If Michigan struggles to replace Molk and Martin, the division race will be wide open. I think 10 wins is a realistic goal for the Cornhuskers in 2012, but to win the division, they have to beat Michigan in Lincoln on Oct. 27. The Wolverines handled Nebraska 45-17 last season, but this could be a different game in Lincoln.

While I think it’s certainly possible for Nebraska to win the division crown, I think a second-place finish is more likely. However, if the Cornhuskers can get to 10 wins, a BCS bowl appearance is certainly within reach.

Where will Nebraska finish in the 2012 Big Ten standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day.

Related Big Ten Content

Michigan or Ohio State: Which Team Will Have More Wins in 2012?
Ranking the Big Ten's Running Backs for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Quarterbacks for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Head Coaches for 2012

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Nebraska Football: Can the Cornhuskers Win the Big Ten in 2012?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - 08:05
All taxonomy terms: Arkansas Razorbacks, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/arkansas-makes-bizarre-coaching-choice-john-l-smith
Body:

If you were surprised at the announcement Weber State’s John L. Smith would be Arkansas’ head coach for 2012, you certainly weren’t alone. Many reports over the last two weeks linked a number of names, including UAB coach Garrick McGee, former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer or expected Arkansas to pick an assistant on staff. 

Although Smith was a bizarre hire, the Razorbacks could have done worse. Sure, this isn’t a home-run hire by any means, but what choices did Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long have?

Staying the interim route was a strong possibility, but Taver Johnson or Paul Petrino had no head coaching experience. Petrino has a good resume and would have made a lot of sense to be the next coach, but his last name may have prevented him from getting the job. Taking Johnson or Petrino out of their current roles would have had a ripple effect on the rest of the staff, as responsibilities may have been shuffled. Bringing in Smith helps keep the status quo in Arkansas for 2012.

Make no mistake – this is not a long-term solution for Arkansas. Smith is a safe pick for 2012 and will allow the school to conduct an extensive search for its next coach. Although Long could have hired McGee or made a run at Arkansas State head coach Gus Malzahn, there’s no need to rush an important search or make a rash decision that could hurt the school in the long run.

While this will be Smith’s first and likely only season as Arkansas’ head coach, he has the experience necessary to guide this program through the 2012 season. He served as Idaho’s head coach from 1989-94, recording a 53-20 record. After six years with the Vandals, Smith took over at Utah State and posted a 16-18 mark with one bowl appearance in three seasons. He left the Aggies for Louisville, leading the Cardinals to a 41-21 record with five bowl appearances. Smith didn’t have tremendous success at Michigan State from 2003-06, but his overall career record is 132-86.

Perhaps the most important factor in Smith landing the job was his experience from 2009-2011 as the special teams coach at Arkansas. Although he wasn’t the head coach, Smith knows the players and schemes, which should provide for a seamless transition. Hiring Smith as the head coach allows Taver Johnson to continue focus on his duties on the defensive side of the ball.

Although losing Petrino has certainly changed the outlook for the Razorbacks in 2012, Smith brings a sense of familiarity and some stability to the program. Arkansas still ranks behind Alabama and LSU, but no longer seems to be in a free fall. Considering what has transpired this spring, the Razorbacks are going to be a hungry team. The players certainly want to prove they are capable of winning a SEC title, while the coaches could be working for a job on Arkansas’ staff for 2013 or auditioning for another school.

Replacing a head coach in the middle of spring practice is no easy task – especially one that was as successful as Bobby Petrino was at Arkansas. Although McGee or Malzahn make more sense from a long-term perspective, it’s difficult to ask a head coach at a FBS school to leave just after spring practice.

After Smith’s rocky tenure at Michigan State, it’s surprising to see him back on the sidelines at a BCS school. And it’s a bizarre fit at Arkansas considering what has transpired this offseason.

However, considering the circumstances, the marriage of Smith and Arkansas is one that makes a lot of sense. The Razorbacks aren’t going to win the SEC West, but bringing Smith from Weber State allows for the assistants to stay in their roles and the players to have a coach who certainly has some familiarity with them and life in the SEC.

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related SEC Content:

Ranking the SEC Running Backs for 2012
Georgia or South Carolina: The SEC East's Best Team in 2012?

Ranking the SEC's Quarterbacks for 2012

Ranking the SEC's Head Coaches for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

Tennessee or Vanderbilt: Which Team Will Have More Wins in 2012?

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012

College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

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

Teaser:
<p> Arkansas Makes Bizarre Coaching Choice with John L. Smith.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 07:52
Path: /college-football/clemson-or-florida-state-which-team-wins-acc-atlantic-2012
Body:

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

Clemson or Florida State: Which Team Wins the ACC Atlantic in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Both programs are reliving the same story each season. Even in a year when it won the ACC, Clemson still had an inexplicable late season swoon and an even more shocking loss in the bowl game. In Tallahassee, another season went by without Florida State turning the corner back into a national contender. I’m inclined to believe Florida State is more likely to win the Atlantic and reclaim ACC dominance. The Seminoles not only had a rash of injuries early last season, including quarterback E.J. Manuel, they allowed the loss to Oklahoma on Sept. 17 turn into three losses. So much emphasis was put on the game against the Sooners, that the loss to Oklahoma, combined with all the injuries, seemed to throw Florida State into disarray early. Clemson’s lapses were more unforgivable. The offense fell apart in October and November, and the defense bottomed out in the bowl game. I’ll take Florida State to rebound from its bad luck. Both Clemson and Florida State will be good teams, but I’ll pick the Seminoles in this one.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The traditional belief that defense wins championships tends to hold true in college football. In that sense, the Florida State Seminoles have a clear advantage over the Clemson Tigers. The Noles defense returns nine starters from the ACC's top unit and claim a potpourri of star-studded recruits — both freshman, redshirt freshman and sophomores — stepping into bigger roles this fall. Most importantly, FSU boasts one of the best secondaries in the nation, something required to even attempt to stop the Tajh Boyd-Sammy Watkins-DeAndre Hopkins high-octane passing attack.

The Tigers can score point in bunches, but as fans saw in the second half of the season, it couldn't stop anyone. And it led to one of the worst collapses in the nation last fall. In four losses down the stretch, Clemson allowed 43 points per game. In seven conference games against non-Virginia Tech competition, Dabo Swinney's bunch allowed 31.9 points per game. If Boyd and company want to repeat as ACC champions, new coordinator Brent Venables must produce dramatic improvement on the defensive side of the ball.

From a scheduling standpoint, Florida State hosts the all important head-to-head battle that was decided by only five points last fall in Death Valley. With a fully healthy EJ Manuel, and improved skill talent on offense, I will take Florida State to win the Atlantic Division. Clemson and Florida State are clearly the most talented teams in this half of the ACC, but don't be surprised if NC State, who crushed Clemson 37-13 last fall, impacts this race in a big way.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The overriding question in the ACC over the last few years has been: Is this the year Florida State returns to national prominence? The Seminoles have won 19 games over the last two years, but still hasn’t emerged as a threat to win the national title. Clemson has had its own issues of underachieving, but finally broke through to win the ACC Atlantic last season. The Tigers have the necessary pieces to win the division once again in 2012, but a reworked offensive line and the defense are huge question marks.

There’s not much separating Clemson and Florida State in the Atlantic, but I give a slight edge to the Seminoles. Florida State’s defense is starting to build some impressive depth in the trenches, and the secondary has two solid corners in Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes. Virginia Tech’s defense is strong, but I think Florida State’s will be the best in the ACC. The biggest question mark for the Seminoles is on the other side of the ball and finding ways to rejuvenate an offense that ranked 77th nationally in yards per game last year. With EJ Manuel and a talented group of receivers returning, Florida State should have one of the top passing attacks in the ACC. However, the offensive line and rushing attack remains an issue.

Although I think Florida State will win the division, there’s a lot to like about Clemson. The offensive firepower is impressive, but how will the line respond with three new starters? The defense loses four key contributors from the line, but the back seven should be in good shape. The biggest obstacle for the Tigers to overcome could be the Sept. 22 date in Tallahassee. With a young offensive line still coming together, Florida State’s defensive front is not what Clemson needs to see early in the year.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think Florida State will surpass Clemson in the Atlantic this season because of the talent and depth of the Seminoles defense. From the middle of October to the bowl victory over Notre Dame, the FSU defense performed at an elite level and that momentum should carry into this year. Senior quarterback EJ Manuel found some weapons last year in freshmen Devonta Freeman and Rashad Greene, and that talented duo should put up more points as sophomores. Clemson will flourish on offense with quarterback Tajh Boyd, running back Andre Ellington and receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, but the Tigers did lose three starters on the offensive line. The defense is a concern once again, so former Oklahoma coordinator Brent Venables faces a tough challenge in his first Clemson season. Most of the back seven returns, but linemen Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson will be missed. The Tigers will challenge ACC defenses, but I see Florida State as the more complete team and the one that will advance to Charlotte.

Where will Clemson and Florida State finish in the 2012 ACC standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day.

Related ACC Content

Who Will Challenge Virginia Tech in the ACC Coastal in 2012?
ACC Running Back Rankings for 2012

ACC Quarterback Rankings for 2012

ACC Head Coach Rankings for 2012

College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Clemson or Florida State: Which Team Wins ACC Atlantic in 2012?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 06:57
Path: /college-football/west-virginia-football-how-will-mountaineers-fare-big-12
Body:

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

How Will West Virginia Fare in the Big 12 in 2012?

Tony Dobies, BlueGoldNews.com (@DOBIEST on Twitter)
Many people look past some of the statistics when evaluating West Virginia’s high-powered offense. Sure, the Mountaineers put up 70 points vs. Clemson in the Orange Bowl, but realistically it was underwhelming throughout the 2011 regular season. While the talent is there, more talent is waiting on Big 12 defenses, and it will be key for the Mountaineers’ best playmakers to stand out. West Virginia’s new defensive scheme is better suited for many Big 12 offenses that it will face. The biggest question to me is how WVU’s defensive talent will stand up to Big 12. The Mountaineers have proven in the past in BCS games and regular season games vs. teams like Auburn and LSU that it can keep up in a one-game situation. But, will that change in an entirely new league? WVU could have some troubles there. I see West Virginia with a legitimate chance at winning the Big 12 title in its first year; it has a better chance than many of the other teams who switched conferences a year ago, because the Mountaineers have true Big 12 ties on its coaching staff. However, the overall depth and talent might not be there yet. A top-three finish in the conference is expected, and I’d say that’s what will happen. But, there isn’t a team in the Big 12 that would finish in the bottom half of the Big East. This up in competition will give WVU trouble.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
West Virginia is built for quick success in the Big 12, just how quick is the question. A former assistant at Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen knows the territory. As does his new defensive coordinator from Oklahoma State, Joe DeForest. Behind quarterback Geno Smith and his stable of returning receivers, West Virginia is ready to move up and down the field like a Big 12 team. The Mountaineers could lead the league in a handful of offensive categories. However, while West Virginia has the personnel to finish in the top three in the Big 12, I’m a believer that a conference move can trip up any good team. Just consider Nebraska and its loss at home to Northwestern last season. As well as Holgorsen and his staff know the league, all those new venues and new matchups could catch up with the players. I wouldn’t be shocked if West Virginia looks like a Big 12 champion one week, but ends up on the wrong end of an upset in its first trip to Texas Tech or Iowa State.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
You have to have offense to succeed in the Big 12 and West Virginia has a coal mine full of explosives on that side of the ball. In Geno Smith and his wideouts, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, Dana Holgorsen has arguably the best QB-WR combination in the conference. And Holgorsen has experience in the Big 12 at both Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, so he should be able to ease his team into the new conference on a day-to-day operational standpoint. That said, winning the Big East and winning the Big 12 are totally different obstacles. The step-up in competition will require not only a high-flying offense but power and strength in the trenches and on defense. Both the offensive and defensive lines will be key question marks heading into conference play this fall.

The schedule is intriguing for the Mountaineers and their bid to return to a BCS bowl bid. The first four games are winnable and are at home in Morgantown, so the Mounties should be unblemished heading into their toughest road test of the season in Austin. Key swing games against Kansas State and TCU come at home and West Virginia should be favored in two important road trips to Texas Tech and Iowa State (strange things tend to happen in Ames and Lubbock). This leaves the state of Oklahoma as the deciding factor for WVU in back-to-back weekends in mid-November. Holgorsen will visit his former employer in Stillwater before hosting the conference favorite in the Sooners. The Mountaineers must win at least one of those games, without slipping up anywhere else, in order to get to 10 wins.

West Virginia will find it tough to defeat Texas and Oklahoma. But if it can beat the teams it is supposed to (Texas Tech, Iowa State, Kansas State, TCU) and pull-off an upset (at Oklahoma State), a 10-win season isn't out of the question. However, if the offensive line can't get movement and the defense doesn't show improvement, the Mounties will fall victim to at least one or two tough losses along the way. I will go with 9-3 for the Mountaineers first romp through the Big 12 — a record WVU fans should probably be proud and excited about as it heads into a much tougher conference.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Although Oklahoma is the preseason favorite to win the Big 12, I think the conference is more open than some may believe. The Sooners are vulnerable and Texas is still rebuilding, which gives West Virginia a chance to contend in its first season in the Big 12. The Mountaineers finished last season on a high note, scoring 70 points in the bowl rout over Clemson. The offense returns plenty of firepower, including quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. However, the offensive line and rushing attack is a concern. The Big 12 is an offensive-minded conference, so there’s little doubt West Virginia will be able to adapt to its new league without much of an issue. If the Mountaineers want to beat Oklahoma and Texas for the conference crown, the defense has to adapt to life in the Big 12. West Virginia returns six starters, but has to replace ends Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin, along with cornerback Keith Tandy and linebacker Najee Goode. The Mountaineers are also changing schemes, but new co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest comes from Oklahoma State and his experience in the Big 12 should help West Virginia transition from the Big East.

Although West Virginia might have the best offensive trio (Smith, Austin and Bailey), I have concerns about the offensive line and how the defense will hold up in the new league. The schedule features road trips to Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, while the Mountaineers host Kansas State, TCU and Oklahoma. Any time a team transitions to a new league, there’s always a game that ends up as a surprise loss. I think West Virginia will be in the mix for the Big 12 title, but will fall short and likely finish third behind Texas and Oklahoma.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think the Mountaineers will hit the ground running — actually, passing — in their new league. Many times when a school moves into a tougher conference, the week-in, week-out grind can be quite the challenge. However West Virginia’s transition will not be as severe having played in a BCS conference and having a top passing offense with veteran leaders. Senior quarterback Geno Smith and elite receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will continue to put up big points in the pass-happy Big 12, and head coach Dana Holgorsen has a familiarity with the league from his time at Oklahoma State. The WVU defense has some questions with the loss of top players like defensive end Bruce Irvin, linebacker Najee Goode and cornerback Keith Tandy, so new coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson will have their work cut out. That being said, I see West Virginia finishing the regular season with nine or 10 wins and challenging Oklahoma and Texas for the Big 12 supremacy.

Where will West Virginia finish in the 2012 Big 12 standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day.

Related Big 12 Content

How Will TCU Fare in the Big 12 in 2012?
Big 12 Running Back Rankings for 2012

Big 12 Quarterback Rankings for 2012

Can Kansas State Repeat Last Season's Success?

Ranking the Big 12 Head Coaches for 2012
College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

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

Teaser:
<p> West Virginia Football: How Will Mountaineers Fare in the Big 12?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 06:54
Path: /college-football/georgia-or-south-carolina-sec-easts-best-team-2012
Body:

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

Georgia or South Carolina: Which Team Will Win the SEC East in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Steve Spurrier must be confident in this year’s team, since he’s bringing some of his old, familiar swagger to interviews. I’d be inclined to agree with him. If Marcus Lattimore is healthy and Connor Shaw is the answer at quarterback, South Carolina is the top team in the SEC East. Shaw accounted for 22 touchdowns (14 passing, eight rushing) in the final eight games with wins over Florida, Clemson and Nebraska. Lattimore was near the top of the Heisman mix before he blew out his knee against Mississippi State. I’m excited to see what the offense can do when both are healthy and on their games. Meanwhile, the defense ranked third in the nation in yards allowed per game. This wasn’t the Alabama or LSU defense, but the Gamecocks were in the discussion for the national No. 3. Spurrier has good reason to be confident -- until he looks at the schedules for Georgia and South Carolina. He’ll have to take his team to LSU and face Arkansas at home. The Razorbacks may be reeling from the Petrino departure, but Tyler Wilson carved up the stout South Carolina defense for a 44-28 win in Fayetteville. Georgia may be just as good a team as South Carolina, but the Bulldogs again have a fortunate schedule that skips Alabama, Arkansas and LSU. In 11 seasons under Mark Richt, Georgia has played the West winner only four times during the regular season. Two of those West champs were Auburn, whom Georgia plays every year. Avoiding the West champ probably happens again this year for Georgia, but the Bulldogs have to visit South Carolina. The division may come down to that game, so I’m going to favor South Carolina in the East.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
For the second straight year the SEC East crown will come down to Georgia and South Carolina. And despite Steve Spurriers' best efforts, overall SEC record will still determine the East champion. Just like 2011, the schedule will likely be the deciding factor. Carolina luckily won the head-to-head last fall and finished 5-0 within the division, but managed to inexplicably stumble to an inferior opponent in Auburn — at home, nonetheless. A trip to Arkansas also ended in ugly fashion for the Cocks, giving them a 1-2 crossover record. Georgia, meanwhile, didn't have to face LSU, Alabama or Arkansas and rolled through its crossover schedule at 3-0, including a 38-point dismantling of the same Auburn team that defeated the Gamecocks.

The schedules are even more lopsided in 2012. Carolina will once against face Arkansas, although the home game against the Hogs got dramatically easier without Bobby Petrino on the sidelines, but adds a road trip to LSU. Georgia will again miss all three western powers and instead faces Ole Miss at home and Auburn on the road. The saving grace for Carolina could be hosting this year's contest with the Dawgs on October 6.

On paper, I like South Carolina. They have a better offensive line, better running game and are just as stout on the defensive side of the ball, especially considering Georgia's pending suspensions. Neither team gets the clear advantage in the coaching department but the Bulldogs gets an edge at the ever-important quarterback position. However, it's hard to see South Carolina — who defeated average Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi State teams by a combined 18 points last year — not losing at least two games in league play this fall. They have to beat Georgia and Arkansas at home without slipping up against any other Eastern Division team to top Georgia (because they won't defeat LSU in Death Valley). And Florida, Tennessee, Missouri and Vanderbilt should all be improved in 2012 from last fall. So I will stick with the defending SEC East champs (for the time being) as the pick to get to Atlanta.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Both Georgia and South Carolina should be among the top 10-15 teams in college football this year, but I have to give a slight edge to Georgia. The Bulldogs are loaded with talent at the skill positions, and quarterback Aaron Murray is back for his junior year. Running back Isaiah Crowell seems more focused than he was last season, which should give him a chance to rush for 1,000 yards. The biggest question on Georgia’s offense is the line. Three key starters are gone, leaving Kenarious Gates, Chris Burnette and Dallas Lee as the most experienced returnees. Sorting out the left tackle and center positions will be the top preseason priority for coach Mark Richt. The defense figures to be one of the SEC’s best with 10 starters returning.

There’s no question Steve Spurrier has South Carolina on the right track to becoming a consistent contender in the SEC East. The Gamecocks have won 20 games over the last two years and now want to take the next step and make a BCS bowl appearance. If quarterback Connor Shaw picks up where he left off last year, South Carolina should easily improve off last season’s ranking of 95th in passing offense. Running back Marcus Lattimore is recovering from a torn ACL, but all indications point to a full return by the fall. The defense has some holes to fill, especially with the departures of linemen Melvin Ingram and Travian Robertson, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Antonio Allen.

Last year’s East title was decided by just a game and another tight race can be expected once again. Georgia has a huge advantage in schedule, especially since they don’t play Alabama, LSU or Arkansas from the West. South Carolina’s crossover schedule features a home date against the Razorbacks and a tough road date against LSU. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Gamecocks beat the Bulldogs in their head-to-head matchup once again, but Georgia wins the division and represents the East in the SEC title game. 

Barrett Sallee, Lead SEC Blogger for Bleacher Report (@BarrettSallee)
This is a tough one because South Carolina is the more talented team, but games at LSU and at home vs. Arkansas make me inclined to pick the Bulldogs. Georgia misses Arkansas, LSU and Alabama from the West, so I think that by virtue of the schedule, Georgia is more likely to wind up playing in the SEC Championship Game. Georgia's defense wasn't on the same level as LSU and Alabama last season, but it was pretty darn close—and they will ride that defense to another solid season.

However, Georgia is facing a trip to Missouri in Week 2 with several starters on defense suspended. If the Tigers top the Bulldogs in Columbia, it will throw the entire division up in the air—and South Carolina will probably find its way to the Georgia Dome.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
This question is a tough one because I’m not sure that the answer lies with the better team. Both teams are very close, but Georgia has to be the favorite based on a better schedule draw on teams from the SEC West. The Bulldogs will face Auburn and Ole Miss, while the Gamecocks have a tougher slate in traveling to LSU and hosting Arkansas. South Carolina may be favored to win the head-to-head matchup against Georgia at Williams-Brice Stadium, but LSU will be a difficult trip and the Razorbacks have beaten Steve Spurrier’s club by double-digits three years in a row. Georgia does have offensive line issues and early suspensions to some top defenders, but Mark Richt’s bunch has an easier path to get back to Atlanta for a second-straight season. South Carolina could be the better team if Connor Shaw picks up where he left off at the end of last year, but I’ll give Georgia and its top defense the slight edge to win the SEC East.

Other SEC Spring Preview Content:

Ranking the SEC's Running Backs for 2012
Ranking the SEC's Quarterbacks for 2012

Ranking the SEC's Head Coaches for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012

College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

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

Teaser:
<p> Georgia or South Carolina: Which is the SEC East's Team to Beat in 2012?</p>
Post date: Monday, April 23, 2012 - 08:40
Path: /college-football/michigan-or-ohio-state-which-team-will-have-more-wins-2012
Body:

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

Michigan or Ohio State: Which Team Will Have More Regular Season Wins in 2012?
 
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Urban Meyer has never won fewer than eight games in his debut season at any school in his career – he went 8-3 at Bowling Green, 10-2 at Utah and 9-3 at Florida. He should hit that mark again at Ohio State, even without the benefit of a bowl or a potential Big Ten title game appearance. I look at Ohio State’s schedule and I don’t see any game that’s a definite loss. The Buckeyes aren’t going to go undefeated – road trips to Michigan State and Wisconsin, plus home dates with Nebraska and Michigan are swing games. I could see Ohio State splitting those four games. That gives the Buckeyes a nine-win season heading into the Michigan game. On the other hand, the Wolverines have the tougher schedule. Michigan opens with Alabama in Arlington and must visit Notre Dame and Nebraska before heading to Columbus for the finale. I know others are buying into Ohio State – with Meyer on the sideline and a full season of quarterback Braxton Miller – being a Big Ten contender in all but name. I still like Michigan as the better team with the defense continuing to improve and Denard Robinson and the offensive coaching staff spending another season together. Even though Michigan will have a tougher road than Ohio State, the Wolverines seem headed to a higher win total.
 
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
If we are strictly debating the regular season win totals of Michigan and Ohio State, I will have to go with the Scarlet and Gray in a tie-breaker. There are five total "losable" games on the Buckeyes' schedule. That said, road trips to Michigan State and Penn State are not all that scary for an Urban Meyer-coached, Braxton Miller-quarterbacked squad. The Bucks likely would have beaten Nebraska on the road last fall had Miller not gotten hurt, so a visit from the Huskers to start October shouldn't be too menacing either. That leaves the final two weeks of the regular season in which Ohio State visits Wisconsin and hosts that team from up north. While the road trip to Madison seems daunting, there is nothing special about this Badger team that forces me to pencil in a loss for Ohio State — especially coming off a bye the week before. Finally, it feels like an awfully tall order for Michigan to walk into the Horseshoe and beat a team that knows it will be playing its final game of the season with a chance to ruin the lofty goals of its rival — be it a Big Ten title, BCS bowl bid or more. Keep in mind, the worst Ohio State team in more than a decade nearly beat the best Michigan team in five years on the road last fall. On the conservative side, I will go with a 10-2 record for Ohio State and a win over Brady Hoke.

I will also give Michigan a 10-2 record for the 2012 regular season. The Wolverines will exercise some in-state demons by beating Michigan State for the first time in five seasons and will exact some revenge on an underwhelming Iowa team. And while I would love to pick Denard Robinson to upset the defending champions and their totally reworked defense on a lighting fast tract in Dallas in Week 1, I just can't see the Maize and Blue line of scrimmage holding up against Alabama. That leaves the trip south to Columbus in the season finale as the tie-breaker. An Ohio State win gives both teams a 10-2 record (in my scenario) and thus the Bucks get the nod via tie-breaker.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
It’s tough to gauge where Ohio State stands as a team going into 2012. The Buckeyes underachieved last season, largely due to the coaching situation and overall uncertainty surrounding the program. However, Ohio State still has one of the Big Ten’s best rosters, and new coach Urban Meyer has been a winner at every stop. Meyer has also produced immediate results, which bodes well for Ohio State's record in 2012. The Buckeyes have a few question marks on offense - offensive line and receiving corps - but return quarterback Braxton Miller, a perfect fit for Meyer's spread attack.

Michigan had a tremendous first season under coach Brady Hoke, but suffered two key losses on the lines (center David Molk and tackle Mike Martin) and play in the tougher division. The Wolverines should score plenty of points, thanks to the return of quarterback Denard Robinson and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. Michigan’s defense made huge strides under coordinator Greg Mattison last year, and should continue to show improvement in 2012.

There’s a good chance both teams finish with a 10-2 record, but I will give Ohio State a slight edge over Michigan for the most wins in 2012. The Wolverines have a tougher non-conference slate, facing a neutral site game against Alabama and a road test against Notre Dame. The Buckeyes have an easier road in non-conference play, taking on Miami (Ohio), UCF, California and UAB. Ohio State does have a tough Big Ten slate, as it will take on Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska in crossover games with the Legends. Considering how weak the Leaders Division is this year, the Wolverines should be able to sweep their crossover games, with the exception of the matchup against Ohio State. Expect the battle between rivals for the best record in the regular season to come down to the final weekend, with the Buckeyes edging the Wolverines in Columbus. 

Kevin Noon, BuckeyeGrove.com
I am not sure if this is a totally fair question based upon the fact that Ohio State could play in as many as two fewer games with a bowl ban and a B1G Championship Game ban. It is safe to say that Michigan will make a bowl game and I do think it is one of the favorites in the Legends Division to go to Indy. So if you are counting the potential "postseason" games for Michigan, I will say the Maize and Blue wins more games. Yet, I believe that Ohio State's schedule sets up well for a 10-2 season with tricky games at Madison (Wis.) and East Lansing (Mich.) and a tough home game with Nebraska. I see Michigan going 9-3 during the same timeframe with losses to Alabama, Ohio State and either Michigan State or Nebraska. The Wolverines struggled to the end last season with one of the poorest performing Ohio State teams in recent memory, Buckeyes get the edge this year at home. Ohio State posts more regular season wins, but Michigan finishes with more due to NCAA sanctions in Columbus.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think the Buckeyes will win more than the Wolverines during the regular season, mainly because of an easier out-of-conference schedule. Michigan might be able to catch up in wins during the postseason, since Ohio State will not be eligible for the Big Ten Championship or a bowl game. Urban Meyer might have inherited a sanctioned program, but he also is walking into a talented roster in Columbus. The defense should be excellent, led by John Simon, Johnathan Hankins and Christian Bryant. On offense, quarterback Braxton Miller looks like the perfect fit for Meyer’s dual-threat system. With linemen Andrew Norwell and Jack Mewhort clearing the way, the Buckeyes could put up enough points to win double-digit games this season. Michigan will also score big this year, with the electric Denard Robinson leading the way. The Wolverines did lose a couple of key linemen on each side of the ball, and that will hurt in trying to repeat last year’s 10-win regular season. OSU should go 4-0 outside of the Big Ten, while UM has games against Alabama and at Notre Dame. I think the Buckeyes will be greatly improved and have a good shot at 10 wins, while the Wolverines will battle a tougher slate and finish with eight or nine victories.
Teaser:
<p> Michigan or Ohio State: Which Team Will Have More Wins in 2012?</p>
Post date: Friday, April 20, 2012 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/sec-football-running-back-rankings-2012
Body:

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

Here's how Athlon ranks the running backs in the SEC for 2012:

1. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina (JR)
Rushing Stats:
163 att., 818 yards, 10 TD
Receiving Stats: 19 rec., 182 yards, TD

If healthy, there is no running back in the nation with more physical talent than Marcus Lattimore. In 20 career games, he has averaged over 100 yards rushing and has scored 30 total touchdowns. Not counting the Florida State bowl game in which he got hurt early on, he has failed to reach paydirt in only four career games. Lattimore can move the pile with power, can get to the edge with speed and will make defenders look silly trying to cover him in the passing game. He has averaged an absurd 130.5 yards from scrimmage for his career and has topped 170 yards rushing five times in 20 games. He has missed time in both seasons due to injury, mostly due to his incredibly physical running style, and he was held back in spring ball this year. However, Lattimore appears ready to lead the Gamecocks in 2012 and, needless to say, he is the complete package in the backfield.

2. Knile Davis, Arkansas (JR)
Rushing Stats:
None
Receiving Stats: None

Arkansas was dealt a tough blow in preseason workouts last year when Davis suffered a season-ending ankle injury. As a sophomore in 2010, he rushed for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns, while catching 19 passes for 136 yards and one score. Davis earned all-conference honors for his breakout sophomore campaign, but was unable to build off of that due to the ankle injury. Davis is expected to return at full strength for the 2012 season and should emerge as Arkansas’ go-to back once again. The junior will have to knock off a little rust after missing an entire season, but he should finish among the SEC leaders in yards.

3. Eddie Lacy, Alabama (JR)
Rushing Stats:
95 att., 674 yards, 7 TDs
Receiving Stats: 11 rec., 131 yards, 0 TD

Trent Richardson will be missed, but Alabama should have no trouble replacing his production in 2012. Lacy served as Richardson’s backup last year, rushing for 674 yards and seven touchdowns. He recorded 161 yards and two touchdowns in the 41-0 win over North Texas and posted 96 yards and two scores on 11 attempts against Mississippi State. Lacy doesn’t quite match Richardson in terms of talent, but he’s still one of the best running backs returning in the SEC for 2012. The junior is averaging 7.2 yards per carry, which could go down with more touches this season, but he should easily approach 1,000 yards and 10 scores in 2012. 

4. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt (SR)
Rushing Stats:
201 att., 1,193 yards, 14 TD
Receiving Stats: 20 rec., 106 yards

Over the first five games of the 2011 seasons, Stacy averaged eight carries per game. Over the final eight games of the season, he posted 20.1 attempts per game — and he flourished behind a developing offensive line. He topped the century mark in rushing yards in four of the Commodores final seven games. Stacy also put plenty of points on the scoreboard by scoring 13 of his 14 touchdowns over that span as well. At the end of the year, one could argue Stacy produced the best single-season by a running back in Vanderbilt history as his yardage and touchdown totals set single-season school benchmarks. After dealing with some injury issues early in his career, Stacy proved to be more than capable if healthy. Look for another stellar year from the Vandy tailback.

5. Spencer Ware, LSU (JR)
Rushing Stats:
177 att., 707 yards, 8 TD
Receiving Stats: 11 rec., 73 yards, TD

Sorting through and ranking the LSU running backs is virtually impossible. They are all extremely talented, extremely physical and very productive. Ware got the most carries in 2011, posted 10 starts on the year and was the star of the running game early in the season. He topped the 20-carry mark in five of the team’s first seven games, including two of the entire team’s four 100-yard efforts for the season. The 233-pound back is a bulldozer on third downs and rarely goes down on first contact. The fact that Ware got only 33 carries in the final five games is more of a testament to the talent on the depth chart rather than any struggles by No. 11. However, three rushing attempts against Alabama in the national title game does seem inexplicable.

6. Isaiah Crowell, Georgia (SO)
Rushing Stats:
185 att., 850 yards, 5 TD
Receiving Stats: 8 rec., 59 yards, TD

The amount of recruiting hype surrounding Crowell was almost unfair when the freshman stepped onto campus. Yet, the in-state product posted one of the best true freshman rushing season in school history. He topped the 100-yard mark four times and earned AP SEC Freshman of the Year awards. His raw physical talent is clearly SEC-ready, but Crowell could finish this season much higher on this list if he matures and commits to being a leader on his team. The youngster’s report card likely includes “does not work well with others” and “distracts class often.” These are easily correctable issues that could vault Crowell in stardom — if the UGA offensive line can come together and create space for the sophomore in 2012.

7. Christine Michael, Texas A&M (SR)
Rushing Stats:
149 att., 899 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving Stats: 8 rec., 35 yards, 1 TD

If he can stay healthy, Michael has a chance to be one of the top five running backs in the SEC. Unfortunately for Texas A&M, Michael’s last two years have been cut short by injury. He suffered a broken leg in late October during the 2010 season, and tore his ACL in the 41-25 defeat to Oklahoma last year. Michael had four efforts of over 100 yards last season, including a 230-yard effort against Arkansas. All signs point to the senior returning at full strength for the 2012 opener, but coach Kevin Sumlin may take it slow with Michael’s recovery. The senior has the talent to rush for 1,000 yards, but his health will largely determine how much playing time he can receive.

8. Onterio McCalebb, Auburn (SR)
Rushing Stats:
112 att., 641 yards, 5 TDs
Receiving Stats: 32 rec., 344 yards, 2 TDs

McCalebb has been a solid change of pace option in his career, but is expected to be the No. 1 running back in 2012. With Michael Dyer transferring to Arkansas State, the senior should top 200 carries for the first time in his career. McCalebb rushed for 641 yards and five scores last year, but also added 32 receptions for 344 yards and two touchdowns. In his Auburn career, McCalebb has 2,016 career rushing yards and 18 touchdowns, while catching 45 passes and scoring once on special teams. The senior weighs only 174 pounds, so Auburn will have to be careful not to overload him in 2012. Tre Mason and Mike Blakely will spell McCalebb as backups, but the senior could approach 200 carries and over 1,000 yards this year. 

9. Michael Ford, LSU (JR)
Rushing Stats:
127 att., 756 yards, 7 TD
Receiving Stats: 4 rec., 10 yards

Over the course of the entire season, Ford might have been the most consistent player in the backfield. He never topped 20 carries but received at least 10 attempts in eight games. He finished second on the team in attempts but first in rushing yards and tied for second in touchdowns. He made the biggest play of the season on an option pitch in overtime against Alabama. His six yards per carry were third in the SEC for any back with at least 100 carries. The 215-pound senior is a physical player who is looking to build on his two starts from last year in 2012.

10. Kenny Hilliard, LSU (SO)
Rushing Stats:
62 att., 336 yards, 8 TD
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., 13 yards

It took a couple of months for Hilliard to earn his spot in the backfield rotation, but he might have been the best running back on the team down the stretch last fall. While Ware and Ford were racking up stats against lowly competition, Hilliard saved his best performances for the likes of Auburn, Arkansas and the SEC championship game against Georgia. The nephew of former LSU and New Orleans Saints great Dalton Hilliard, the 240-pound back posted five carries in the first seven games of his career. Yet, he exploded for 65 yards and two scores against Auburn, 102 yards and a score against the Hogs and 72 yards and two touchdowns against the Bulldogs. His eight touchdowns paced the Bayou Bengals — and he scored all of them in the final seven games of the year. In one short season, the massive tailback proved he belongs on the field with the Wares and Fords of the world.

11. Mike Gillislee, Florida (SR)
Rushing Stats:
56 att., 328 yards, 2 TD
Receiving Stats: None

Will Muschamp is looking for a three-down feature back and it appears that the 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior will get the call. Gillislee has played in 36 career games making him the most experienced back on the roster. The good news is he showed flashes of ability last fall by posting his two best career games with 79 yards and a score against UAB and 84 yards and a score against Kentucky. The bad news is he showed flashes against UAB and Kentucky. With an offensive line that struggled mightily a year ago, Gillislee will need to prove he can produce against front sevens from Athens, Columbia, and Baton Rouge to be considered a success in 2012.

12. LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State (JR)
Rushing Stats:
87 att., 422 yards, 2 TDs
Receiving Stats: 13 rec., 59 yards, 2 TDs

With Vick Ballard out of eligibility at Mississippi State, all signs point to Perkins emerging as the new No. 1 back for coach Dan Mullen. The junior has shown flashes of ability in limited action, rushing for 422 yards and two touchdowns on 87 attempts and recording 566 as a redshirt freshman in 2010. Nick Griffin should be Perkins’ biggest competition for carries and may split time in the backfield. However, Perkins has waited his turn and is in for a breakout year in 2012. 

13. Alfred Blue, LSU (JR)
Rushing Stats:
78 att., 539 yards, 7 TD
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., -3 yards

Possibly the toughest player to peg of the four elite LSU backs, Blue showed the ability to make big plays in the ground game. He averaged 6.9 yards per carry and was the lead back in the SEC title game with 96 yards and two scores. His 119-yard effort against Western Kentucky was just one of four total 100-yard games by any Tiger a year ago. The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder can appear to be the forgotten man in the Bayou backfield, but fans can be sure that Les Miles knows exactly what he has in No. 4. Blue, who is at best third on the LSU depth chart, would likely start for Tennessee, Mississippi State, Auburn, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Florida, Missouri and possibly Georgia.

14. Jeff Scott, Ole Miss (JR)
Rushing Stats:
116 att., 529 yards, 6 TDs
Receiving Stats: 15 rec., 99 yards, 0 TD

If Ole Miss wants to improve upon last season’s 2-10 record, improving the offense is at the top of the priority list for coach Hugh Freeze. Scott is one of the Rebels’ few proven offensive weapons, rushing for 529 yards and six touchdowns last season. He rushed for 118 yards and three scores against Southern Illinois and posted 138 yards and two touchdowns against Vanderbilt. Scott doesn’t have the size to be an every down back, but should be the Rebels’ leading rusher in 2012.

15. Kendial Lawrence, Missouri (SR)
Rushing Stats:
119 att., 566 yards, 5 TD
Receiving Stats: 14 rec., 77 yards

Lawrence earned the starting tailback job heading into last season but saw his year come to a screeching halt in the form of a cracked fibula after Week 1. He missed three games and returned to find Henry Josey torching defenses to the tune of 116 yards per game. Against Texas, however, Josey also suffered a severe injury and Lawrence was called upon once again. He got 75 touches in the season’s final four games and he produced more than 100 yards from scrimmage in three of those games — including games against the defensively stout Longhorns and Tar Heels. He also scored three times over that span, indicating that he is capable of toting the rock should Josey not be able to return in 2012. Sledding will undoubtedly be tougher in the SEC, but senior-to-be has the talent to be successful.

16. Ben Malena, Texas A&M (JR)
Rushing Stats:
67 att., 259 yards, 4 TDs
Receiving Stats: 10 rec., 52 yards, 1 TD

Christine Michael’s ACL injury opened the door for Malena to earn playing time late last season. In the final two games of 2011, he recorded 83 yards against Texas and rushed for 77 yards and two touchdowns in the bowl win over Northwestern. Malena has only 67 career attempts, but he has shown that he has the talent to be Texas A&M’s No. 1 running back if Michael is slow to return from his injury.

17. Marlin Lane, Tennessee (SO)
Rushing Stats:
75 att., 280 yards, 2 TD
Receiving Stats: 17 rec., 161 yards, 2 TD

If you wore Orange and White a year ago and wanted to pick up yards on the ground, you likely found life extremely difficult. A still-young offensive line struggled to block, the offense lost its top playmaker in Justin Hunter and had to play the heart of the schedule without its starting quarterback. But the running backs didn’t help the case much either. Lane has a chance to change all of that this fall. The highly-touted tailback has plenty of talent and versatility in the passing game to be successful. Additionally, he should be running behind a better collection of blockers this fall. Lane is first in line to snag the Vols starting job but will have to constantly battle to keep Raijon Neal at bay. With Hunter and Tyler Bray healthy for a full season, fans can expect an improvement in the ground game in Knoxville. Because, let’s face it, there is only one way to go after ranking 116th in the nation in rushing.

18. Dennis Johnson, Arkansas (SR)
Rushing Stats:
106 att., 670 yards, 3 TDs
Receiving Stats: 24 rec., 255 yards, 2 TDs

After missing most of 2010 with an abdominal injury, Johnson bounced back to lead Arkansas with 670 rushing yards last season. He scored only three rushing touchdowns, but caught two passes for scores and took a kickoff return for a touchdown. With Knile Davis back in the mix, Johnson likely won’t lead the team in rushing yards in 2012. However, he should be one of the SEC’s best all-around backs, contributing on the ground, in the passing game and on returns.

19. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama (FR)
With Eddie Lacy, Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler returning, Alabama is loaded with options at running back. However, this group got even deeper with Yeldon’s arrival this spring. He ranked as the No. 32 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and recorded 179 overall yards in the spring game. Yeldon may not see a ton of carries this year, but he’s a name to keep an eye on if an injury occurs to Lacy in 2012. 

20. CoShik Williams, Kentucky (SR)
Rushing Stats: 118 att., 486 yards, 3 TD
Receiving Stats: 19 rec., 70 yards

The diminutive tailback (5-foot-9, 178 pounds) missed three of the team’s first six games last fall but injuries forced Williams into the lineup. The former walk-on — he earned his scholarship after his sophomore season — took over for the injured Raymond Sanders and Josh Clemons in Week 7 of the season. In his first start of the year, he rushed for 148 yards on 22 carries in a rare win for the Cats. He went on to average 16.8 carries and 67.7 yards rushing per game while scoring all three of his touchdowns. Williams, arguably the toughest player on the Big Blue roster, has dealt with shoulder issues this spring but is considered the clear starter heading into his final season.

21. Kenny Miles, South Carolina (SR)
Produced in the final two games of the 2011 season and is listed as the No. 2 back on the depth chart.

22. Raijon Neal, Tennessee (JR)
Possibly better suited for the traditional feature back role than Lane, but possesses less physical ability.

23. Warren Norman, Vanderbilt (JR)
Dores active all-purpose yardage leader redshirted last fall due to leg injury. Gives Vandy tremendous depth behind Stacy.

24. Tre Mason, Auburn (SO)
With Michael Dyer choosing to transfer to Arkansas State, Mason will be the top backup to Onterio McCalebb this season. With Dyer and McCalebb entrenched as the go-to backs last year, he only registered 28 attempts for 161 yards and one touchdown. However, Mason showcased his upside with 64 yards and one score on nine attempts in the Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Virginia. 

25. Brandon Wilds, South Carolina (SO)
Topped 20 carries three times in Lattimore’s absence and posted three 100-yard games over that span.

Others to Watch

Mike Blakely, Auburn
Jalston Fowler, Alabama
Dee Hart, Alabama
Jeremy Hill, LSU
Ken Malcome, Georgia
Keith Marshall, Georgia
Raymond Sanders, Kentucky
Brandon Wilds, South Carolina

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

@AthlonSports

Other SEC Spring Preview Content:

Georgia or South Carolina: The SEC East's Best Team in 2012?
Ranking the SEC's Quarterbacks for 2012

Ranking the SEC's Head Coaches for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

Tennessee or Vanderbilt: Which Team Will Have More Wins in 2012?

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012

College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

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

Teaser:
<p> SEC Football: Running Back Rankings for 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, April 20, 2012 - 08:01
Path: /college-football/oregons-deanthony-thomas-ranks-pac-12s-top-running-back
Body:

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

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

1. De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon (SO)
Rushing Stats:
55 att., 595 yards, 7 TD
Receiving Stats: 46 rec., 605 yards, 9 TD

Few players in the nation bring more explosion or elusiveness to an offense than the Black Mamba of football. Toss in other adjectives like versatile, speedy and big play and it might begin to explain what Thomas can do on a football field. After 2,235 all-purpose yards, Thomas claimed Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year. Lining up as both a running back and a receiver, Thomas posted nearly 12 yards per touch last fall on offense, including a 31.5-yard clip in the first Rose Bowl victory in school history. In the third phase of the game, he can flip a game’s momentum instantly. He scored twice on special teams and averaged 27.3 yards per kick return (and a sneaky 17.3 yards per punt return on three returns). Expect much of the same from Thomas in 2012 — except fans can bet that Chip Kelly will get him the ball more than his 10.0 total touches per game last year.

2. Kenjon Barner, Oregon (SR)
Rushing Stats:
152 att., 551 yards, 6 TD
Receiving Stats: 17 rec., 184 yards, 3 TD

The career backup enters his final season in Eugene with a shot at being the primary ball carrier in one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. Doak Walker winner LaMichael James missed three games over the last two years and Barner proved he could be more than capable. Try 58 carries, three receptions, 433 yards rushing, 102 yards receiving and eight total touchdowns in those three starts. In 36 career games, 33 as a backup, he averaged over 60 yards from scrimmage. The only thing that will keep Barner from a massive 2012 campaign will be, that’s right, De’Anthony Thomas. Because it certainly won’t be Pac-12 defenses.

3. John White, Utah (SR)
Rushing Stats:
316 att., 1,519 yards, 15 TDs
Receiving Stats: 13 rec., 44 yards, 2 TDs

White ranked as one of the top 25 junior college recruits in the signing class of 2011 and didn’t disappoint last year. He ranked third among all running backs in FBS play with 316 carries and finished with 1,519 yards and 15 scores. He also caught 13 passes for 44 yards and two touchdowns. White’s best performance came in a 27-8 victory over Oregon State, recording 205 yards on 35 attempts, but he also posted 115 yards and a touchdown in the bowl victory over Georgia Tech. White’s numbers are even more impressive when you consider Utah lost starting quarterback Jordan Wynn to a shoulder injury early in the year and was never really able to establish a consistent passing attack after that. With the arrival of junior college transfer Kelvin York and the emergence of sophomore Harvey Langi this spring, White probably won’t see over 300 touches again. However, he should easily surpass 1,000 yards and earn All-Pac-12 honors.

4. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford (SR)
Rushing Stats:
242 att., 1,330 yards, 10 TD
Receiving Stats: 25 rec., 182 yards, 2 TD

The senior-to-be has posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons as the starter in the Stanford backfield. He has 13 100-yard games over the last two seasons and has scored a total of 28 touchdowns. He has had no fewer than 13 carries in 23 straight games and finished last fall with a career high 35 attempts and 177 yards in the bowl loss to Oklahoma State. Few players are as consistent as Taylor has been, as he hasn’t missed a game in his 39 career contests. There is one giant ‘however’ for Stanford this fall and it involves four potential first-round NFL Draft picks. Gone is superstar quarterback Andrew Luck and a pair of all-everything hog mollies in Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro. Most running backs in the Pac-12 would be successful behind that trio, so Taylor could find sledding much tougher in 2012.

5. Isi Sofele, California (SR)
Rushing Stats:
252 att., 1,322 yards, 10 TD
Receiving Stats: 6 rec., 33 yards

Cal and Jeff Tedford have been churning out stellar tailbacks for the better part of a decade and, after a slow start, Sofele is emerging as the next in line. The diminutive ball carrier stands 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds but has yet to miss a game in his career (38 games). When Tedford refocused midseason a year ago on running the football, Sofele answered the bell to the tune of three 100-yard games in the final four contests. Cal went 3-1 over that span and made it to the postseason because of Sofele’s solid play. In fact, he posted his three best career rushing totals (190 yards, 145 and 138) and scored in six of the final seven games of the year. With Zach Maynard and Keenan Allen keeping defenses honest this fall, Sofele is a great bet to post his second straight 1,000-yard season.

6. Cameron Marshall, Arizona State (SR)
Rushing Stats:
230 att., 1,050 yards, 18 TDs
Receiving Stats: 24 rec., 188 yards, 0 TD

Although new Arizona State coach Todd Graham wants to increase the offensive tempo and keep a spread offense in place, Marshall’s role isn’t likely to be diminished in 2012. Marshall was Arizona State’s No. 1 back last season, rushing for 1,050 yards and tying a school record with 18 rushing scores. With 11 rushing scores in 2012, the senior would own an Arizona State career touchdown record. Deantre Lewis is back after missing 2011 with an injury, but Marshall should still see 200-240 carries. Arizona State has some pieces to replace on the offensive line, but the senior should earn all-conference honors in 2012.

7. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA (SR)
Rushing Stats:
166 att., 976 yards, 5 TDs
Receiving Stats: 9 rec., 74 yards, 1 TD

Franklin isn’t going to garner national attention like Utah’s John White or Oregon’s Kenjon Barner could this year, but he is quietly one of the Pac-12’s most productive running backs. He rushed for 976 yards and five touchdowns last year, including 162 yards and one touchdown in the 45-6 blowout win over Colorado. Franklin’s 976 last season yards were a slight drop from his 1,127 yards as a sophomore in 2010, largely due to Derrick Coleman’s expanded role in the backfield. With Coleman out of eligibility, Franklin should see over 200 carries in 2012 and top the 1,000-yard mark.

8. Curtis McNeal, USC (SR)
Rushing Stats:
145 att., 1,005 yards, 6 TDs
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., 19 yards, 0 TD

McNeal has experienced an up and down career at USC. He recorded six carries as a freshman in 2009, but was academically ineligible in 2010. After sitting out a year, McNeal emerged as USC’s No. 1 running back, finishing with 1,005 yards and six touchdowns. He was used sparingly through the first five weeks of the year (24 carries), but recorded four 100-yard games in USC’s final six contests. McNeal is only 5-foot-7, so the Trojans may not be able to rely on him for 250 carries. However, the senior gave the rushing attack a spark last year and should lead the team in yards in 2012.

9. Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona (SO)
Rushing Stats:
91 att., 425 yards, 6 TDs
Receiving Stats: 15 rec., 203 yards, 2 TDs

Carey ranked second among Pac-12 freshmen running backs with 425 yards, while posting an impressive 4.7 yards per rush attempt. He did not record a 100-yard game, but finished with 92 yards on 13 attempts in the 31-27 win over rival Arizona State. With Keola Antolin departing, Carey should be the workhorse for new coach Rich Rodriguez. The Wildcats are shifting from a pass-first offense to more of a run-spread, which figures to be a huge benefit to Carey. Expect this sophomore to be one of the Pac-12’s top breakout players in 2012.

10. Jesse Callier, Washington (JR)
Rushing Stats:
47 att., 260 yards, TD
Receiving Stats: 7 rec., 65 yards

Callier has the unenviable task of replacing one of the program’s greatest running backs in the departed Chris Polk. Polk touched the ball 878 times over his career in Seattle, producing 4,732 yards from scrimmage and scoring 30 times. While Steve Sarkisian will use more than just one back in 2012, Callier figures to get the bulk of the carries. The SoCal product posted a historic prep season as senior by rushing for 3,010 yards and 43 touchdowns at Warren High School. The 5-foot-10, 205-pounder is lighter than Polk but loves the contact like the former Husky tailback. He has proven himself on special teams — he ranks No. 2 all-time in UW history with 1,309 return yards — and will have his chance to prove it in the backfield this fall.

11. Malcolm Agnew, Oregon State (SO)
Rushing Stats:
89 att., 423 yards, 5 TD
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., 8 yards

Under Mike Riley, Oregon State has seen some ridiculous rushing numbers posted by the likes of Steven Jackson, Yvenson Bernard and Jacquizz Rodgers. A fact that makes Agnew’s startling team leading totals (carries, yards and touchdowns) that much more shocking. Even more shocking is 223 of his team-best 423 yards came in the first week of the season. In his first career game, Agnew rushed 33 times and scored three touchdowns against Sacramento State. However, like most of the 2011 Beaver campaign, the loss overshadowed a fine statistical performance. In only six games, the 5-foot-8, 204-pound runner conjured up images of Rodgers with his tiny frame and tough-nosed attitude. The key for the sophomore, who nursed a tender hamstring this spring, will be staying healthy. Expect Riley to steal a page out of cross-state rival Oregon’s book and use Agnew (and a host of other backs) in a variety of ways this fall.

12. Rickey Galvin, Washington State (SO)
Rushing Stats:
114 att., 602 yards, 5 TD
Receiving Stats: 28 rec., 242 yards, TD

No Mike Leach tailback has ever been considered a workhorse, but Galvin has a chance to give the new head coach exactly what he looks for in a tailback. Speed, quickness and the ability to catch the football. Galvin was strong down the stretch last fall, receiving double-digit carries in four of the last five games. Most importantly, the smallish runner caught 17 of his 28 passes over that stretch as well. In only six career starts, Galvin has proven he has the skillset to excel in Leach’s spread attack. You PPR fantasy players might want to give this sophomore a look in 2012.

13. Tony Jones, Colorado (SO)
Rushing Stats:
78 att., 297 yards, 2 TDs
Receiving Stats: 27 rec., 168 yards, 2 TDs

With quarterback Tyler Hansen and running back Rodney Stewart out of eligibility, there are few proven offensive weapons returning for Colorado in 2012. Making matters even worse was the loss of receiver Paul Richardson to an ACL tear in spring practice. Jones was a spring standout for the Buffaloes and will get the first opportunity to replace Stewart at running back. He rushed for 297 yards and two scores last year, but also caught 27 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns. Jones is only 5-foot-7, but might see 200 carries for Colorado this season.

14. Bishop Sankey, Washington (SO)
Coach Sark isn’t committed to any type of set rotation at tailback so Sankey should see the field plenty this fall.

15. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford (SR)
Not many teams feature a 215-pound senior backup who scored eight times and averaged over six yards per carry last year.

16. C.J. Anderson, California (SR)
Anderson will serve as the top backup for Isi Sofele. As a junior college transfer last year, he rushed for 345 yards and eight touchdowns. 

17. Nelson Agholor, USC (FR)
With NCAA sanctions still limiting the amount of players USC can have on scholarship this year, depth is going to be an issue at almost every position. Agholor was signed as a receiver, but could play a hybrid running back/wide receiver role, especially after Tre Madden was lost for the year with a knee injury in spring practice. Agholor is too talented to keep on the sidelines and he could see around 50 touches at running back this year.

18. Deantre Lewis, Arizona State (SO)
Arizona State already has one of the Pac-12’s top running backs (Cameron Marshall), and now the depth gets a boost in 2012 with Lewis’ return from injury. As a freshman in 2010, he rushed for 539 yards and four scores, while catching 23 passes for 370 yards. However, a gunshot wound prevented him from suiting up in 2011, but all signs point to a full recovery and significant playing time in 2012. Lewis may not record 500 rushing yards this year, but he should be an excellent change of pace option to Marshall. 

19. Carl Winston, Washington State (SR)
Winston actually carried the ball (123 times) more than Galvin a year ago, so expect him to see plenty of playing time.

20. D.J. Morgan, USC (SO)
With Tre Madden suffering a torn ACL in spring practice, Morgan will once again serve as Curtis McNeal’s backup this season. The sophomore recorded two games of at least 50 or more yards, posting 56 against Colorado and 70 against Minnesota. Morgan was a top 100 recruit coming out of high school, but he needs to stay healthy to make an impact in 2012.

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

Related Pac-12 Content

Washington or Stanford: Better 2012 Record?
Pac-12 Quarterback Rankings for 2012

Can California Beat Stanford and Washington in the 2012 North Standings?

College Football's Top 25 Coaches for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Head Coaches for 2012

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

Teaser:
<p> Athlon ranks the running backs in the Pac-12 for the 2012 season.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 06:55
Path: /college-football/tcu-football-how-will-horned-frogs-fare-big-12-2012
Body:

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

How Will TCU Fare in its First Season of Big 12 play?

Sir Wesley Willis, SpitbloodTCU.com
Well, we're apparently losing Gary Patterson to the Curse of the Cell Phone Arkansas gig, so I suppose wins and losses are the least of our worries, no?  In all seriousness though, I'm not sure anyone truly knows what to expect.  Even before the overblown drug-related events of the spring, Patterson was tight lipped about his team's performances in practice, closing them to the public and media alike; after that, the man was practically a sealed vault, offering only the most cryptic of insights.  Offensively, at the skill positions the Frogs should be set to go toe-to-toe with any other offense in the Big 12.  The three headed rushing attack of Ed Wesley, Matthew Tucker and Waymon James returns fully intact and QB Casey Pachall has old favorite Josh Boyce still in tow plus new toys like Brandon Carter, Cam White, David Porter and the elusive Ladarius Brown to pick apart the always questionable Big 12 defenses. The O line is a little thin where depth is concerned due to injuries so for my money OL Coach Eddie Williamson is the most important assistant on the coaching staff, at least for this year.  Stay tuned...

Speaking of questionable defenses, TCU should be right at home in year one because if you call yourself a TCU fan and aren't a little concerned then you haven't been paying attention.  Linebacker, typically a strong point for the Frogs, is particularly thin due to graduation and the extracurricular activities of Tanner Brock and it sounds like the spot opposite Kenny Cain is absolutely ripe for the taking.  Same goes in the secondary where CB Jason Verrett seems to be the only guy with his position locked down.  The defensive line isn't as thin as it seems, but you can't discount losing bonehead DJ Yendrey to suspension and rising star David Johnson to a spring injury.  D Line is our deepest position on defense, but it may take contributions from true freshmen to fill in the holes, a rarity for a GP defense.  After all these years it's hard not to trust Patterson as a defensive mastermind, and the defense last year steadily improved after a slow start,  but those guys are going to have to grow up quickly before Big 12 play.  Fortunately opening week opponent Grambling State doesn't have a Heisman candidate dark horse under center that I'm aware of.

Again, it's hard for me to make an actual prediction based on the lack of solid information leaking out of the spring, but I'd say TCU should conservatively go 9-3 in Year 1, and maybe even 10-2.  Not that the Frogs aren't as talented or more so than their Big 12 opponents, but it's going to take a season or two to build the depth needed to compete at the highest level on a week-to-week basis.  Talent wise, I'd put TCU up against anyone in the Conference, but if on-paper talent won games, UT and OU would win the Big 12 every single year so clearly it takes a little something else.  It's going to be a bit of a learning curve this year as far as gauging how to keep your team energized and healthy when you're playing top quality opponents each week, but I have full faith in this coaching staff and maybe they'll shock the college football world and win the thing, who knows?  One thing I'm certain of, though - it's going to be a hell of a lot of fun.

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
TCU is in a similar spot to a handful of other Big 12 teams between Oklahoma (the favorite) and Kansas (the cellar dweller): The Frogs will be difficult to figure out in the preseason. TCU’s in a mix with teams like Texas, West Virginia, Kansas State and Oklahoma State who all could finish in any spot in the top half of the league. That said, I’m not totally optimistic about TCU finishing in the top three or four. The defense may lag behind the Casey Pachall-led offense next season. A defense that’s already losing linebacker Tank Carder also must absorb losses from the drug bust scandal earlier this year. The learning curve of moving from the Mountain West to the Big 12 is bound to catch up with the Horned Frogs, especially late in the season when the Frogs play every Big 12 contender – and only Big 12 contenders – after Oct. 27.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
First, all Big 12 fans need to understand how Gary Patterson has constructed his teams at TCU. He builds them from the inside out with a heavy focus on defense. This is how the most powerful BCS conference teams are constructed and thus gives the Horned Frogs a unique set-up for a mid-major program jumping to BCS play. On the offensive side of the ball, TCU already looks exactly like a Big 12 program — great passing quarterback, deep running back stable and electric wide receivers. And there is nothing on the schedule that indicates that Patterson won’t have success in his first romp through the Big 12. Until November. The purple amphibians could very easily be 7-0 entering Halloween weekend (Oct. 27), but the rest of their schedule is filled with freaks and ghouls that don't reside in the Mountain West. The Horned Frogs finish: At Oklahoma State, at West Virginia, Kansas State at home, at Texas and Oklahoma in Ft. Worth. Should the Frogs win three of their last five, 2012 will be considered a major success and fans should be amped about their future in the league. But a 2-3, 1-4 or, gasp, 0-5 run would push TCU down the Big 12 pecking order significantly. It would indicate that the jump in competition was much steeper than anticipated and that conference contention is still a couple of seasons away.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
After dominating the Mountain West, TCU is ready for its next challenge of contending in the Big 12. The move to a BCS conference isn’t going to be easy, but there’s also a lot to like about TCU in 2012. The offense returns only five starters, but the backfield is loaded with options and the receiving corps is one of the best in the Big 12. Quarterback Casey Pachall should contend for all-conference honors after throwing for 2,921 yards and 25 touchdowns last year. However, there are question marks about an offensive line that loses three starters.

Considering the Big 12 is an offensive-minded league, TCU should fit in just fine in 2012. However, a usual strongpoint – the defense – is a concern. Although the Horned Frogs return five starters, gone are linebacker Tank Carder, safety Tekerrein Cuba and defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey. The secondary ranked 60th nationally last season and a handful of key contributors have finished their eligibility. With the talent returning at quarterback and receiver in the Big 12, the personnel turnover and last season’s so-so play has to worry coach Gary Patterson. The schedule isn’t too overwhelming, but road trips at Baylor, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Texas could all easily be losses.

It’s certainly possible TCU finishes with 10 wins, but the Big 12 is a much tougher conference than the Mountain West. The week-to-week grind of playing in a BCS conference could cost the Horned Frogs a game or two, which leads me to my projection of an 8-4 or 9-3 season. 

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I see the Horned Frogs finishing fourth or fifth in league play, with a Big 12 record in the 6-3/5-4 range. Most quality non-BCS teams can beat the big boys on a given Saturday, but the challenge is when you have to play four quality opponents in a six-week span. There will definitely be an adjustment for Gary Patterson’s club, but the veteran coach has built a solid program that expects to win.  The TCU offense loses three starters on the offensive line but returns top-notch skill players in quarterback Casey Pachall, receiver Josh Boyce and a trio of quality backs. The Frogs did lose offensive coordinator Justin Fuente to Memphis, but they should still put up points in their new league. The toughest obstacle for TCU competing in a BCS conference will be improving a defense that lost several contributors and gave up too many passing yards last season. The offenses in the Big 12 can air it out, so Patterson and veteran coordinator Dick Bumpas will have their work cut out. Even with the step up in competition, I think TCU has the type of program that can handle the week-in, week-out rigors of the Big 12 and finish with a winning record in conference play.

Where will TCU finish in the 2012 Big 12 standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day.

Related Big 12 Content

Big 12 Running Back Rankings for 2012
Big 12 Quarterback Rankings for 2012

Can Kansas State Repeat Last Season's Success?

Ranking the Big 12 Head Coaches for 2012
College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

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

Teaser:
<p> How will TCU fare in its first year of the Big 12?&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 06:53
Path: /college-football/virginia-tech-football
Body:

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

Which Team Will Be Virginia Tech's Biggest Challenger in the ACC Coastal?

Jim Young, ACCSports.com (@ACCSports)
Virginia Tech has its flaws, but so does everyone else in the Coastal Division - BIG flaws in some cases - which makes it hard to find a truly credible challenger to the Hokies. After hemming and hawing for a while, I've settled on Georgia Tech. The O-line returns much of its experience and should have better depth. Tevin Washington is in year two of running the offense. B-back David Sims has looked good in spring practice and Johnson has added a shotgun option wrinkle to his potent rushing attack. Meanwhile the defense, which returns six starters, will be in the third year of its transition to a  3-4 unit and should finally be getting the hang of Al Groh's scheme. A key for the D - mammoth nose guard T.J. Barnes has been impressive this spring. 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
By process of elimination, this pretty much has to be Virginia, right? The Cavaliers were a different team after Mike London ditched the quarterback rotation and stuck with Michael Rocco as his starter. I like the depth at the running back and receiver, as well. The Cavs’ defense is going to be a major question after losing some key players up front and a shutdown corner, Chase Minnifield. And beyond that, this is a team that lost 38-0 at home to Virginia Tech last season (and followed that with a 43-23 loss to Auburn in the bowl game). If not Virginia, then North Carolina may be a sneaky team in the division. New coach Larry Fedora – whose Southern Miss team beat Virginia in Charlottesville last year, mind you – has a good foundation on offense with quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Giovani Bernard. North Carolina also has a beneficial schedule (no Clemson, no Florida State, Virginia Tech in Chapel Hill). Those are two awfully shaky contenders, including one that is barred from playing for the ACC title. If Virginia Tech has another 1,000-yard running back up its sleeve and finds stability on the offensive line, the Hokies could win this division without much drama.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Miami is too young and Duke just doesn’t have the horses to compete. That leaves North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia as the top competitors to Hokie dominance in the Coastal Division. I really want to pick North Carolina, which looks like the most talented team on paper and won’t have to face Clemson or Florida State in crossover play. They have the most offensive skill talent of the three teams and possesses arguably the top offensive line in the league. Yet, winning a division (aka claiming the best record) with a whole new coaching staff while on sanctions seems a tall order. The Wahoos took major steps forward into prominence last fall by beating North Carolina and Georgia Tech. Virginia also misses the Tigers and the Seminoles in Atlantic Division play. But they are limited offensively and got hammered by 57 combined points at the hands of Virginia Tech (with the ACC title game trip on the line) and Auburn to end the 2011 season.

With 16 starters back, one of the league’s best coaches, a deep and talented running back corps that features a returning starter under center and stellar offensive line comparable to that in Chapel Hill, I will take the Yellow Jackets to be the top challenge for the Hokies. Paul Johnson’s bunch will face a brutal first month to its season that features road trips to Virginia Tech (Labor Day night) and Clemson to go with home divisional tests against Miami and Virginia — all within the first six games of the year. If the Jackets can escape that stretch with only one conference loss, they will be in a great position to compete for another ACC title. That loss better be to Clemson, however, as the first weekend match-up with Virginia Tech will likely decide the entire season. The winner of the Tech-mo Bowl has gone on to win the Coastal Division every year of its existence — and Beamer’s bunch will have all summer to prepare for the triple option.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Barring a huge surprise, Virginia Tech is going to be the only ranked team out of the Coastal Division. The Hokies are clearly the top team in the division, and there’s really not much separating Virginia, Georgia Tech and North Carolina for second place. Considering how close all three are, it wouldn’t be a shock to see all three potentially tie at 5-3 or 4-4 in ACC play.

Even though North Carolina is ineligible for a bowl and is going through a coaching transition, I like the Tar Heels to finish second in the Coastal. Out of the three teams most likely to finish second, North Carolina has the best quarterback-running back combination and perhaps the best offensive line in the ACC. The Tar Heels also have a favorable schedule, missing Florida State and Clemson from the Atlantic, while hosting Virginia Tech, NC State and Georgia Tech. North Carolina suffered some key losses on defense, but coordinator Vic Koenning did a good job at Illinois and his arrival should help this unit from struggling too much in 2012. I like the direction Virginia is headed and think Georgia Tech will be solid once again, but the Tar Heels will find a way to edge out second in the Coastal.  

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think the choice is North Carolina. Georgia Tech and Virginia will be contenders as well, but a new direction in Chapel Hill will be beneficial for a talented UNC roster. There will be an adjustment period with new coach Larry Fedora and staff, but the Tar Heels return a solid offense led by All-ACC running back Giovani Bernard and quarterback Bryn Renner. With four offensive linemen back, Fedora should be able to engineer plenty of points. UNC’s main challenge will be replacing several quality defenders, but Vic Koenning and Dan Disch should get the most of out of that unit. North Carolina catches a break in not having to face Florida State or Clemson from the Atlantic, and the Tar Heels get Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and NC State at home. Virginia also misses the Seminoles and Tigers, but I see UNC playing well in Fedora’s first ACC season and finishing second to the Hokies.

Related ACC Content

ACC Running Back Rankings for 2012
ACC Quarterback Rankings for 2012

ACC Head Coach Rankings for 2012

College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

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

Teaser:
<p> <strong>Which Team Will Be Virginia Tech's Biggest Challenger in the ACC Coastal?</strong></p>
Post date: Thursday, April 19, 2012 - 06:50
Path: /college-football/tennessee-or-vanderbilt-more-sec-wins-2012
Body:

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

Tennessee or Vanderbilt: More SEC Wins in 2012

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The reaction to the 2011 season for Tennessee and Vanderbilt says everything about the two programs. In Nashville, coach James Franklin is a rock star after going to a bowl in his first season at Vanderbilt. In Knoxville, coach Derek Dooley is sweating even though his team finished only one game behind Vanderbilt in the standings. That’s with good reason. It’s probably tougher to take Vanderbilt to a bowl game than to go 1-7 in the SEC at Tennessee. I think the Volunteers will overtake Vanderbilt again, despite all the momentum and mojo at Vandy. If Tennessee gets full seasons from a healthy quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receiver Justin Hunter, the Volunteers are probably a bowl team. Bray started the season with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions in the first four games, three of those with Hunter. Vanderbilt should continue to improve under Franklin, but I wonder if this might be a year when the Commodores take a dip. They’ll be better with Jordan Rodgers as the primary quarterback teaming with running back Zac Stacy all year, but they won’t catch anyone off guard either. My biggest concern about Vanderbilt is the loss of some key defensive players – Tim Fugger, Chris Marve and Casey Hayward. Tennessee and Vanderbilt are going to compete for a lower-tier SEC bowl, so there’s not much separation here. I’m still picking Tennessee to be marginally better.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The Dores get the big leg up in the crossover scheduling department. Vanderbilt will not face Alabama, LSU or Arkansas in 2012 and instead visits Ole Miss and hosts Auburn. Tennessee, on back-to-back weekends, must visit Mississippi State before hosting the defending champions on the Third Saturday in October.

Unfortunately for the Commodores, however, they have a brutal early conference slate. South Carolina comes to town to open the season on Thursday night before the Dores have to visit Missouri and Georgia all in the first five games of the season. It doesn’t get any easier with Florida and Auburn then visiting West End by October 20. How good — and healthy — will Vanderbilt be in the final four weeks of the season could be crucial to returning to the postseason. They have winnable games against Ole Miss, Kentucky and Tennessee to start November.

Tennessee does have to travel to Nashville to face the Commodores and fans on both sides can bet James Franklin hasn’t let his team forget how the Vols celebrated the overtime win in Knoxville last season. Tennessee’s schedule is tougher in the middle but has winnable games at the backend as well. The two swings games in this debate are the head-to-head at Vanderbilt Stadium and each’s contest with SEC newbie Missouri. Tennessee gets the Tigers late in the year at home, while Vandy has to visit Mizzou.

I will pick the Vols to beat Mizzou at home and Vandy on the road. This will give Tennessee a one-game edge in the standings over the Dores.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
No matter which way you want to rank the teams, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina seem to be the clear top three in the SEC East for 2012. Missouri, Tennessee and Vanderbilt can each make a case to be ranked fourth and there’s not really much separation between the three teams.

This is really going to be an interesting season for Vanderbilt and Tennessee. Coach Derek Dooley has his back against the wall with the Volunteers, especially after losing to Kentucky and missing out on a postseason berth last year. The Commodores are on the rise under second-year coach James Franklin, but they were hit hard by key losses on defense.

If quarterback Tyler Bray can stay healthy and become a better leader for Tennessee, I like the Volunteers to barely edge Vanderbilt for the better record in SEC play. The crossover schedule with the West slightly favors the Commodores, playing Ole Miss on the road and hosting Auburn. And Vanderbilt hosts South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee, so there is the potential for a few upsets. Tennessee hosts Florida and Missouri, which is a good opportunity to pickup two key conference wins. I wouldn’t be shocked to see both teams tie in SEC wins at the end of the season, but a desperate Tennessee team will edge Vanderbilt in the final East standings. 

Chris Lee, VandySports.com (@ChrisLee70)
Tennessee is primed for improvement, returning 20 starters, and perhaps most importantly, gets quarterback Tyler Bray and receiver Justin Hunter back healthy. Combine that with receivers Da’Rick Rogers, and newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson, and UT’s passing attack is lethal. The defense isn’t dominant, but it did finish 27th a year ago, and has one of America’s more experienced secondaries.

While Vandy quarterback Jordan Rodgers and receivers Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews can’t match UT in talent, but the trio makes tons of big plays. The ‘Dores are loaded at running back with Zac Stacy and Warren Norman, and perhaps the fastest freshman in America in Brian Kimbrow. Defensively, VU returns most players from America’s 18th-best defense, coached defensive genius Bob Shoop.

Vandy finished a game ahead of UT last year, but lost to the Vols head-to-head. The Commodores have two small scheduling advantages, too: they play Auburn and Ole Miss where Tennessee plays Alabama and Mississippi State, and they get the Vols in Nashville. Still, I think UT’s explosive offensive talent puts the Vols just a notch ahead – but given the off-field problems with players and the revolving door of assistants under coach Derek Dooley, I wouldn’t bet money on it.

Barrett Sallee, Lead SEC Blogger for Bleacher Report (@BarrettSallee)
Tennessee will have a better record than Vanderbilt, but it'll be close. The pressure is on in Knoxville, and head coach Derek Dooley knows that. Injuries really hampered the Vols last season, but with quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receiver Justin Hunter back, that offense is set to be explosive yet again. New defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri is finally getting a break and getting his shot at being a coordinator at the FBS level, and the addition of junior college transfer Darrington Sentimore on the defensive line should help the Vols as they transition to the 3-4.

Color me skeptical on Vanderbilt. I know James Franklin is a rock star in Nashville, and the Commodores were a couple of bad breaks away from being an eight-win team, but I think that six or seven wins may be the ceiling there.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Both teams will probably be in the 4-4/3-5 range in league play, so this answer comes down to the head-to-head matchup I think Tennessee wins at Vanderbilt Stadium (or Neyland West to Vols fans), so Derek Dooley’s club gets the nod. Everything went wrong for Tennessee in 2011, but a healthy Tyler Bray at quarterback and Justin Hunter at receiver could mean big offensive numbers in 2012. Receiver Da’Rick Rogers can be a star, and the running game will be better with an improved offensive line under Sam Pittman’s leadership. There is talent on the Vols defense, but the adjustment to new coordinator Sal Sunseri’s 3-4 scheme may take time. Vanderbilt should have a solid offense led by running back Zac Stacy and quarterback Jordan Rodgers, but the defense lost some high-end talent and experience with the departures of Tim Fugger, Chris Marve Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson. The Commodores have a schedule advantage by drawing Auburn and Ole Miss from the West, but I’ll still take the Vols to be much-improved and finish better than the Dores.

Other SEC Spring Preview Content:

Ranking the SEC's Quarterbacks for 2012
Ranking the SEC's Head Coaches for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012

College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

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

Teaser:
<p> Will Vanderbilt or Tennessee have more wins in SEC play in 2012?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 08:08
Path: /college-football/pittsburgh-football-are-panthers-contender-big-east
Body:

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

Is Pittsburgh a Surprise Contender in the Big East for the 2012 season?

Mark Ennis, Manager of Big East Coast Bias (@Mengus22)
While I think it is certainly possible that Pittsburgh could be a surprise contender for the Big East title in its final year in the league, I think it is very unlikely. Still, Louisville was picked to finish at or near the bottom of the Big East last year and finished the season in a three-way tie for the conference title. With the distance from the top to the bottom being so small, I would be surprised but not shocked to see Pittsburgh in contention come November. With Paul Chryst bringing his run-heavy, play-action passing offense to Pittsburgh, the Panthers should benefit from an offense more suited to the personnel on hand instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole like Todd Graham did for virtually all of 2011.

Pittsburgh has several experienced offensive linemen back (injuries forced them to play several young linemen last year) that will block for what ought to be one of the better running back trios in the conference in Ray Graham, Isaac Bennett, and blue-chip freshman running back Rushel Shell. They also return virtually all of their receiving targets in tight end Hubie Graham and wide receivers Devin Street, Mike Shanahan, and Cameron Saddler.

Much like South Florida, Pittsburgh's fortunes depend on quarterback play and defense. Tino Sunseri was abysmal last year, throwing 11 interceptions and 10 touchdowns, while being sacked a nation-leading 6 times per game. In a system that runs the ball first and puts him back under center, he should be more comfortable and any improvement from him will make Pitt a formidable opponent. Defensively, the Panthers lose two their leading tacklers (Max Gruder, Tristan Roberts) and their best pass rushers (Brandon Lindsey, Chas Alecxih). For the first time in several years, there are no feared defensive ends on the Pitt defense and that means teams will try to run it on them just as much as they try to run the ball themselves. If no replacements develop, it could be a long year for the defense.

The schedule isn't too terrible, as they get Rutgers and Louisville at home and the toughest road conference game is at South Florida. 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The Big East seems impossible to pick each season. West Virginia was the runaway favorite last year, and although the Mountaineers eventually ended in the BCS, they sure made the season interesting after a shocking loss to Syracuse. Louisville probably will be the prohibitive favorite again, but the Cardinals couldn’t handle success at all last season. Pittsburgh is in that next group of teams that could challenge Louisville if the Cardinals stumble. USF may be the only other team in the Big East’s second tier. Ray Graham, the Big East’s best offensive player at the time of his injury, should be healthy. Tino Sunseri has to be better than he was last season when he never took to the spread offense. As long as he doesn’t get sacked upwards of 60 times again, Pitt’s offense should give the Panthers a chance. And we know Paul Chryst knows what to do with an elite running back and capable starting quarterback. The biggest question will be on the offensive and defensive lines. Part of Sunseri’s problem taking sacks was the offensive line, some was on him. The offensive line, with Chris Jacobson healthy, needs to be better. On defense, the tandem of Chas Alecxih and Myles Caragein at defensive tackle was underrated. They’ll be tough to replace. For Pitt, the good news is the Big East is winnable for just about any team. The Panthers should be in the mix even into November.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
There is one clear-cut team that will be picked by nearly everyone to win the Big East in 2012. Since the Pitt Panthers are one of the top challengers to the afore-not-mentioned predicted winner, it is hard to call them a sleeper. So my answer to the question is yes and no. Pitt will be a contender for the Big East title in 2012 but it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if they do. Pitt gets two of the other top three teams in the league, Louisville and Rutgers, at home this fall. An early road trip to Cincinnati and season finale visit to South Florida will be the toughest road trips of the conference slate this fall. Offensive genius Paul Chryst takes over as head coach after producing the most prolific offenses in Wisconsin history. He has a returning quarterback in Tino Suneri, and running game that should be dramatically better with the return of injured Ray Graham and Chris Jacobson, as well as the addition of talented freshman Rushel Shell.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think it’s safe to say Louisville is the preseason favorite in the Big East, but I’m definitely on board with the idea that Pittsburgh is going to be a surprise contender this year. Sure, the Panthers were 6-7 and were smacked 28-6 by SMU in the BBVA Compass Bowl. However, one of the biggest reasons for Pittsburgh’s lackluster record in 2011 was a bad job by the coaching staff of adapting to the personnel in place. Although Todd Graham wanted to run an up-tempo attack on offense, the Panthers didn’t have the roster to make it work. Graham left for Arizona State, and Pittsburgh made one of the top coaching hires of the offseason by luring Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst to the Steel City. Chryst does not have any head coaching experience, but was one of college football’s top offensive coordinators during his stint in Madison. Quarterback Tino Sunseri and the offensive line weren’t without blame from last season’s struggles, but the coaching change is a much-needed fresh start and the change in systems should bring immediate improvement. The defense does have some key personnel losses, but returns likely All-Big East selections in defensive lineman Aaron Donald and safety Jarred Holley.

If Sunseri can play better, and running back Ray Graham returns 100 percent from an ACL tear, Pittsburgh can contend for the Big East title. The Panthers went 4-3 in conference play last year and two of those losses came by three points or less. With Louisville and South Florida visiting Heinz Field, I wouldn’t be shocked if Pittsburgh finishes in the top three of the Big East in 2012.  

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I see Pittsburgh finishing third or fourth in the conference, but it would not be a total surprise to see the Panthers win the crown in Paul Chryst’s first season.  Pitt hit a home run with the hire of the former Wisconsin offensive coordinator, and Chryst will have plenty of talent on that side of the ball. Star running back Ray Graham should be healthy, and we’ll have to wait and see how the new staff develops an inconsistent offensive line and quarterback Tino Sunseri. My concern with the Panthers is on defense, especially in the front seven. I see that inexperienced group taking a year to develop, and keeping Pitt from winning the league this season. USF and Rutgers should be the main challengers to Louisville for the Big East title, but the unexpected does happen in this conference quite often. Pitt will make it interesting with Graham and the new offense in 2012, and the best news for Panthers fans is that they have a great coach who will do very well in the Steel City in the near future.

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

Related Big East Content

Ranking the Big East Running Backs for 2012
Ranking the Big East's Quarterbacks for 2012
Who Is Louisville's Biggest Challenger in the Big East for 2012?

Ranking the Big East Head Coaches for 2012

College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Pittsburgh Football: Are the Panthers a Contender in the Big East?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 08:01
Path: /college-football/big-12-football-running-back-rankings-2012
Body:

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

Here's how Athlon ranks the running backs in the Big 12 for 2012:

1. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State (JR)
Rushing Stats:
208 att., 1,216 yards, 24 TDs
Receiving Stats: 43 rec., 266 yards, 2 TDs

While quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon gathered most of the headlines, Randle was quietly one of the most productive running backs in college football. In his first season as the starter, he rushed for 1,216 yards and 24 touchdowns, while catching 43 passes for 266 yards and two scores. Randle posted three 100-yard efforts to begin the season and posted 138 yards in the win over Missouri and gashed rival Oklahoma for 151 yards and two touchdowns. With Weeden and Blackmon playing on Sundays in 2012, it’s up to Randle to become the offensive workhorse. Jeremy Smith will see some time in the backfield, but Randle figures to approach 250 carries and will contend for All-American honors in 2012.  

2. Malcolm Brown, Texas (SO)
Rushing Stats:
172 att., 742 yards, 5 TD
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., 17 yards

The No. 1 recruit in the nation at running back posted a solid debut season in Austin in 2011. He led the team in rushing by a wide margin and did so despite missing three games due to injury — including two of the team’s five losses. The Big 12 Newcomer of the Year was the first true freshman to lead Texas in rushing since Cedric Benson did in 2001. He should return for his sophomore season stronger and more prepared to handle the workload. Brown posted back-to-back 100-yard games and had scored two touchdowns in each game prior to getting hurt and missing the Texas Tech and Missouri games. While he won’t be asked to carry the load due to tremendous depth in Austin, Brown has the talent to lead the league in rushing.

3. Ed Wesley, TCU (SR)
Rushing Stats:
120 att., 726 yards, 6 TD
Receiving Stats: 6 rec., 82 yards

Wesley was clearly the top rusher in 2010 on a team that possesses one of the deepest and most used running back corps in the nation. He led TCU in attempts (166), yards (1,078) and touchdowns (11) as a sophomore. The carries were more evenly spread in 2011 but Wesley got the majority of the starts last fall (9) and finished second on the TCU team in rushing. His 2011 got off to slow start after he missed three of the first four games with an injury, but he bounced back and registered three of the team’s six 100-yard games. He capped his junior season by scoring in the final three games of the season and powered the TCU rushing attack in the bowl win over Louisiana Tech (16 att., 77 yds). Gary Patterson is unlikely to change his overall “by committee” approach to his running game, but odds are Wesley gets the first touches each weekend.

4. Trey Millard, Oklahoma (JR)
Rushing Stats:
24 att., 169 yards, 2 TD
Receiving Stats: 13 rec., 127 yards, TD

The stats will never indicate that Millard might be one of the most valuable backs in the Big 12. He is successful and dependable in all phases of the game and is counted on by Bob Stoops as a lead blocker, runner, pass catcher, quarterback protector and special teams dynamo. He led the team in special teams tackles with 14 stops and scored three times on 37 total offensive touches. And his value was not lost on Big 12 coaches as he earned first-team All-Big 12 honors last fall. In fact, Millard has never played a season at Oklahoma in which he was not at least a second-team All-Big 12 selection. The fullback/H-back/tight end/running back/special teamer might actually be the best player on the Oklahoma roster. It’s a shame the numbers will never prove that out. In fact, Tim Kish and Mike Stoops have echoed that exact sentiment since arriving from Arizona. Maybe the Sooners should get No. 33 the ball more often.

5. Joe Bergeron, Texas (SO)
Rushing Stats:
72 att., 463 yards, 5 TD
Receiving Stats: None

The less-heralded of the 2011 Texas’ running back class, Bergeron proved in limited duty that he belongs in the Big 12. During Malcolm Brown’s two-game absence in the heart of the schedule, Bergeron posted the best game of his young career against Texas Tech. He carried 29 times for 191 yards and three touchdowns in the lopsided win. At 6.4 yards per carry for the season, the sophomore showed the ability to rip-off large chunks of yardage. Yet at 230 pounds, he also has the size to move the pile when needed. He only topped the 10-carry mark twice last fall, but Mack Brown knows he has a phenomenal second option to his starter. In fact, expect both players to get plenty of touches.

6. Eric Stephens, Texas Tech (SR)
Rushing Stats:
108 att., 565 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving Stats: 16 rec., 133 yards, 0 TD

Stephens was easily one of the Big 12’s best running backs through the first five weeks of the season in 2011. He rushed for 100 yards in four out of Texas Tech’s first five games, including 134 yards and two rushing scores against Nevada. However, Stephens suffered a major knee injury in the 45-40 loss to Texas A&M and was sidelined for the remainder of the season. All signs are positive on Stephens’ recovery, but Texas Tech could bring him along slowly to start the 2012 season. If healthy, Stephens should finish the year much higher on this list. However, with a redshirt year available, Stephens could choose to sit out 2012 and return at full strength in 2013.

7. Dominique Whaley, Oklahoma (SR)
Rushing Stats:
113 att., 627 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving Stats: 15 rec., 153 yards, 0 TD

Whaley was one of college football’s best stories through the first six games of 2011. A former walk-on and transfer from Langston, Whaley got off to a hot start by rushing for 627 yards and nine touchdowns in the first six contests. He rushed for 83 yards and one score in the win over Texas and 165 yards and one touchdown in a 47-17 rout over Kansas. However, Whaley’s season was cut short by an ankle injury and he has yet to return to full strength. The senior is expected to return by fall practice, but it is uncertain if Oklahoma can depend on him as a 20-25 carry option early in 2012. If we knew Whaley would be able to start in the opener, he would rank higher on this list. However, there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding his availability, which knocks him down a few spots going into 2012. 

8. Waymon James, TCU (JR)
Rushing Stats:
121 att., 875 yards, 6 TD
Receiving Stats: 10 rec., 113 yards

Trying to decipher the TCU running backs is nearly impossible and James, the youngest of the bunch as a junior, is just as talented as starter Ed Wesley. James was the least used player in 2010 (87 att., 513 yards), but took his turn atop the yardage standings by leading the Frogs in rushing last fall. He had three of the team’s 100-yard rushing efforts, including huge performances against Wyoming (12 att., 181 yards), Colorado State (15 att., 108 yards) and UNLV (nine att., two touchdowns) in the final five games of the season. The 5-foot-8, 203 pounder may be the smallest of the group, but has all-conference potential as well.

9. Matthew Tucker, TCU (SR)
Rushing Stats:
123 att., 702 yards, 12 TD
Receiving Stats: 8 rec., 77 yards

Tucker, the biggest of the trio of TCU backs at 227 pounds, was a touchdown machine for Gary Patterson last fall. He led the team with 12 rushing scores and actually led the team in rushing attempts at 123. He reached paydirt as many times as his running mates Wesley and James did combined, scoring in nine of 13 possible games. He started three games last fall and was honorable mention All-Mountain West just like his other two backfield mates. He was the No. 2 option in 2010 after finishing just short of Wesley in attempts (148), yards (709) and touchdowns (7). His 27 career rushing scores paces one of the deepest backfields in the nation.

10. Jeremy Smith, Oklahoma State (JR)
Rushing Stats:
91 att., 646 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving Stats: 11 rec., 81 yards, 0 TD

Smith didn’t see a ton of playing time in 2011, but he certainly made the most of his opportunities. Joseph Randle was clearly the No. 1 rusher, but Smith was a perfect complement, adding 646 yards and nine touchdowns on 91 attempts. He posted two 100-yard efforts, rushing for 140 yards against Texas and 119 yards in the win over Oklahoma. With the Cowboys losing quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon, the rushing attack could be a bigger focus for the offense in 2012. Smith won’t outgain Randle, but his 7.1 yards per carry average suggests more big plays could be in store this year.

11. James Sims, Kansas (JR)
Rushing Stats:
182 att., 727 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving Stats: 14 rec., 119 yards, 0 TD

Sims was one of the few bright spots for Kansas last season, rushing for 727 yards and nine touchdowns. He ranked ninth among running backs in the Big 12 with an average of 60.6 yards per game, but failed to record a 100-yard effort in conference play. Although Sims’ numbers aren’t particularly overwhelming, the lack of a consistent passing attack didn’t allow the Jayhawks to find much running room. Kansas is expected to be more competitive in 2012, but Sims is suspended for the first three games of 2012 due to an off-the-field incident. Tony Pierson and Brandon Bourbon are expected to carry the backfield in Sims’ absence, but anytime a new coaching staff takes over, it’s uncertain what long-term effect the incident could have on the junior’s playing time after he returns to the lineup. 

12. Jarred Salubi, Baylor (SR)
Rushing Stats:
58 att., 331 yards, 3 TD
Receiving Stats: 4 rec., 46 yards

Art Briles didn’t go to his backup running back much in 2011, but when he did, Salubi was productive. He posted a 100-yard game in his first career game with a rushing attempt (131 yards in 2009) and hadn’t topped the century mark since. That is, until the 67-56 win over Washington last fall. In his best career game, the senior to posted 114 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns on only six total touches. Salubi looks like the front-runner to be the starter and has shown the big play ability (in practice at least) but will have to work hard all summer long to hold off Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin.

13. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor (SO)
Rushing Stats:
Transfer Year
Receiving Stats: Transfer Year

Seastrunk orginially signed with the Oregon Ducks as one of the most heralded running back recruits in the nation back in 2010. The speed demon redshirted during his season at Oregon, and then amidst a recruiting scandal that involved himself and Texas handler Willie Lyles, decided to transfer closer to home. After sitting out last fall at Baylor, Seastrunk enters 2011 with a chance to make a huge impact. Seastrunk was the star of the Baylor spring game with 138 yards on only seven carries, including a 75-yard touchdown run. However, spring stats mean very little and Seastrunk has a long way to go to prove he deserved his lofty 2010 recruiting ranking. He may still be behind a few names on Art Briles’ depth chart, but his home-run ability is something his counterparts simply do not possess

14. John Hubert, Kansas State (JR)
Rushing Stats:
200 att., 970 yards, 3 TDs
Receiving Stats: 24 rec., 188 yards, 1 TD

With quarterback Collin Klein shouldering much of the rushing attack, Hubert was relegated to only 200 carries in 2011. The highlight of last year was a 166-yard effort against Miami, but he also rushed for 126 yards against Missouri. Hubert wasn’t much of a big-play threat and scored only three touchdowns last season. In order for Kansas State to repeat last season’s win total, it needs to find more help for Klein, while leaning on Hubert to grind out a few more yards. Hubert isn’t flashy, but could have a chance to top 1,000 yards in 2012. 

15. Jonathan Gray, Texas (FR)
For the second straight season Mack Brown will add the nation’s No. 1 running back prospect in the nation to his roster. Malcolm Brown was solid in his rookie year last fall and many think Gray could be even better. The durable, workhorse has every tool a running back needs to succeed at the next level. He comes to the 40 Acres with a remarkable prep resume that includes over 10,000 yards rushing and the national high school record with 205 touchdowns. Gray might be the best running back in the conference the second he steps onto a field, but don’t expect him to get more than 100 touches as a freshman.

16. James White, Iowa State (JR)
Rushing Stats:
159 att., 743 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving Stats: 21 rec., 165 yards, 1 TD

Despite losing starter Shontrelle Jackson to a neck injury early in the year, the Iowa State rushing attack never missed a beat. White finished with 743 yards and eight touchdowns, while catching 21 passes for 165 yards and one score. He recorded two 100-yard games, posting 148 yards against Baylor and 138 against Texas Tech. White was a key factor in the win over Oklahoma State, recording 97 total yards and two scores. The Cyclones should be in good shape at running back with White, Johnson and Jeff Woody returning in 2012. White should lead the team in yards, but with good depth at this position, seems unlikely to top 1,000 yards.

17. Dustin Garrison, West Virginia (SO)
Rushing Stats:
136 att., 742 yards, 6 TDs
Receiving Stats: 24 rec., 201 yards, 0 TD

Garrison had a solid debut season, leading the Mountaineers with 742 rushing yards, while chipping in 24 receptions for 201 yards. He recorded only one effort over 100 yards (291, Bowling Green), but notched 87 in a key win over South Florida and 80 in a 43-16 blowout victory over Connecticut. Although Garrison had a successful freshman campaign, he suffered a significant knee injury in a practice before the Orange Bowl and likely won’t return to full strength until early 2012. If healthy, Garrison should rank higher on this list. However, with his status uncertain, the sophomore may struggle to match last season’s rushing totals.

18. Roy Finch, Oklahoma (JR)
Rushing Stats:
111 att., 605 yards, 3 TDs
Receiving Stats: 34 rec., 296 yards, 0 TD

With Dominique Whaley’s status for the season opener uncertain, Finch could be Oklahoma’s No. 1 back. The junior has been a solid performer through his first two seasons, recording 1,003 career yards and five rushing scores. Finch also has 44 receptions for 345 yards over the last two years. Finch does not have a 100-yard effort in his career and really isn’t built to handle 200-250 carries. However, he could carry Oklahoma’s backfield early, while forming a nice one-two combination with Whaley whenever the senior returns to full strength.

19. Shawne Alston, West Virginia (SR)
Rushing Stats:
97 att., 416 yards, 12 TDs
Receiving Stats: 2 rec., 6 yards, 0 TD

Alston hasn’t been a major contributor in his West Virginia career, but he could be poised to shoulder a majority of the carries early in 2012. With Dustin Garrison nursing a knee injury, Alston will likely be the Mountaineers’ starting running back. The senior has 682 career yards and 12 rushing scores and closed out the 2011 season on a high note, rushing for 77 yards and two touchdowns against Clemson.

20. Kenny Williams, Texas Tech (SO)
Rushing Stats:
43 att., 135 yards, 2 TDs
Receiving Stats: 6 rec., 52 yards, 0 TD

With Eric Stephens and DeAndre Washington battling significant knee injuries, Williams could see a significant role in the backfield this season. He rushed for 135 yards in limited time last year and caught 6 passes for 52 yards. Williams posted only one game of double-digit carries (Texas, 10), but scored two touchdowns in the regular season finale against Baylor. Until Stephens proves he is 100 percent, the Texas Tech coaches will have to lean on Williams and SaDale Foster at running back.

Others to Watch

Andrew Buie, West Virginia
Shontrelle Johnson, Iowa State
Glasco Martin, Baylor
Tony Pierson, Kansas
Alex Ross, Oklahoma
Herschel Sims, Oklahoma State
DeAndre Williams, Texas Tech

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

Related Big 12 Content

Big 12 Quarterback Rankings for 2012
Can Kansas State Repeat Last Season's Success?

Ranking the Big 12 Head Coaches for 2012
College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Athlon ranks the running backs in the Big 12 for the 2012 season.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - 07:02
Path: /college-football/washington-or-stanford
Body:

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

Assuming Oregon is the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12 North, who would you pick second - Washington or Stanford?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I am sticking with Stanford here, though the gap is closing. My quick reaction at first was to pick Washington ahead of the Cardinal, but I’m not so sure anymore. Stanford is going to fall a bit without Andrew Luck and two elite offensive linemen, and Washington is not going to be a mess on defense like it was a year ago. That said, Washington still has to make up a three-game difference in the Pac-12 standings just to catch up to Stanford. It could happen. That said, for all its talent on offense with Keith Price, Chris Polk and Jermaine Kearse, Washington was still seventh in the Pac-12 in total offense in league games. Not to mention the Huskies defense, which couldn’t stop anyone. On the other hand, Stanford’s going to have a solid defense, especially if Shayne Skov is on the field in his 2010 form. The Cardinal is not going to move the ball like it did under Luck, but I think David Shaw is going to be able to re-tool his offense around Stepfan Taylor in the running game. Stanford’s spot among the national elite may end this season, but Washington’s journey to the top of the Pac-12 is still a long one.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Give me the Huskies or give me death. Steve Sarkisian has the Huskies poised for their best season in over a decade this fall. He took a first-year starter and underclassman at quarterback and delivered the first winning season for Washington since 2002. Keith Price now enters his junior season having already dramatically outperformed the legend he replaced in Jake Locker. The roster as a whole has been dramatically upgraded, as is evident by how easily Coach Sark can replace star skill players like Chris Polk and Jermaine Kearse with Jesse Callier, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams. And the program has clearly decided to dedicate more resources to producing a winner as the Huskies spent big money to lure talented coaches from all across the country this off-season.

Stanford, meanwhile, is heading in a much different direction. Two years removed from coaching savant Jim Harbaugh, David Shaw now faces his biggest challenge: Replacing all-everything quarterback Andrew Luck. The best amateur football player in the world left Palo Alto with every major school record a quarterback can hold, including winning 23 of 26 games over the last two seasons. Brett Nottingham might be a solid player, but fans will find out very quickly just how good Luck was under center. Additionally, gone are two two-time first-team All-Pac-12 offensive lineman and stud tight end Coby Fleener. Defensively, this team should be better than Washington, and I realize that the Cardinal recruited at a record level in 2012, but many of those player won't make a significant impact this fall. The in-conference schedules are similar, so this argument could be decided on the field in Week 5 when Stanford comes to Seattle to face Washington.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This is one of the toughest calls to make in the Pac-12 predictions for 2012. Stanford has won 23 games over the last two years and has brought in top 25 recruiting classes in each of the last four seasons. However, former coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Andrew Luck were a key reason for much of that success. David Shaw did a good job in his first season as Stanford’s head coach last year, but the Cardinal now have to replace Luck and two first-team All-Pac-12 linemen in 2012. There’s no question Stanford is due for a fall, but just how far is the debate.

Washington has just 14 wins over the last two years and its defense was a disaster last season. The Huskies also suffered some key personnel losses going into 2012, including running back Chris Polk, defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu and linebacker Cort Dennison. However, Washington is a program headed in the right direction. Coach Steve Sarkisian is bringing in solid recruiting classes and hired an excellent defensive staff, pulling in coordinator Justin Wilcox from Tennessee and defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi from California. The acquisition of Wilcox should bring immediate improvement to Washington’s defense, which will help an offense that should be one of the best in the conference.

The schedules are essentially even, but Washington hosts Stanford this year. Although the Cardinal has been the better team over the last few years, I think the Huskies will surprise and claim second in the North standings and finish among the top 25 teams in the nation.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I’ll go with Stanford to finish second in the Pac-12’s North Division. Most pundits around college football will probably take Washington because of the Cardinal personnel losses and a tough schedule, but I think Stanford has built a strong program that will not fall very far this season. Obviously Andrew Luck leaves a huge void at quarterback, and the Cardinal will also miss top performers like left tackle Jonathan Martin, guard David DeCastro, and safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas. While the offense may not be as potent in 2012, the defense could be better than last year’s quality group. Stanford has one of the top linebacking units in the country, led by All-America candidate Chase Thomas and leading tackler Jarek Lancaster. Shayne Skov should return to the group in late September, and AJ Tarpley was solid as well last season.

David Shaw will have a talented quarterback whether it’s Brett Nottingham or Josh Nunes, and offensive linemen Cameron Fleming and David Yankey should lead a physical crew that will pave the way for outstanding running back Stepfan Taylor. Stanford plays hit-you-in-the-mouth football, like when the Cardinal steamrolled Washington for 446 rushing yards a year ago. While the Huskies do have an exciting signal caller in Keith Price, the defense is still a year away in Seattle. Both teams should be in the 6-3 range in league play, and I’ll go with Stanford to win the head-to-head matchup and finish as the runner-up to Oregon in the North.

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

Related Pac-12 Content

Pac-12 Quarterback Rankings for 2012
Can California Beat Stanford and Washington in the 2012 North Standings?

College Football's Top 25 Coaches for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Head Coaches for 2012

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

Teaser:
<p> Washington or Stanford: Which is the second best team in the 2012 Pac-12 North?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 - 07:01
Path: /college-football/acc-running-back-rankings-2012
Body:

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

Here's how Athlon ranks the running backs in the ACC for 2012:

1. Giovani Bernard, North Carolina (SO)
Rushing Stats:
239 att., 1,253 yards, 13 TD
Receiving Stats: 45 rec., 362 yards, TD

As a redshirt freshman, few players in the ACC had the type of impact Bernard had a year ago save for Mr. Watkins (a true freshman) at Clemson. It didn’t take long for fans to see the potential as Bernard scored two touchdowns in each of his first two games. He then rattled off five straight 100-yard games. He struggled down the stretch — likely hitting a rookie wall — with four games of 60 yards or less in his final six games. But he also posted a career-high 165 yards on a career-high 30 carries in the regular season finale against Duke. With a tremendous quarterback in Bryn Renner returning behind him and a solid offensive line up front, Bernard has a chance to build on his stellar first campaign in 2012. Additionally, his ability to excel as a receiver has to get new head coach and offensive guru Larry Fedora excited about using No. 26 this fall.

2. Andre Ellington, Clemson (SR)
Rushing Stats:
223 att., 1,178 yards, 11 TDs
Receiving Stats: 22 rec., 109 yards, 0 TD

Ellington’s first season as the starter in 2010 was cut short by a toe injury, but he rebounded with an excellent 2011 campaign. Ellington rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns last year and added 22 receptions for 109 yards. He also closed out the year with back-to-back 100-yard games and rushed for 212 yards in a 56-45 victory over Maryland. Ellington is averaging an impressive 5.8 yards per rush during his career and has recorded 27 overall scores. There’s not much separating Ellington and North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard for the top spot in the ACC running back rankings. However, with Mike Bellamy likely to see a few more carries this year, it’s hard to see Ellington passing Bernard in rushing yardage. 

3. Perry Jones, Virginia (SR)
Rushing Stats:
184 att., 915 yards, 5 TD
Receiving Stats: 48 rec., 506 yards, 3 TD

The 5-foot-8, 185-pound tailback started all 13 games for the Wahoos last fall. He isn’t the typical three-down feature back but can make big things happen in all phases of the offense. He had at least five games of at least five receptions and finished as the team’s No. 2 leading receiver with 48 catches. His three receiving touchdowns tied for the team lead and he even tossed a 37-yard touchdown pass in the upset road win over Miami. He only topped the 20-carry mark three times last fall but averaged nearly five yards a carry over the coarse of the season. As the Virginia brand name continues its resurrection, expect Jones to be a focal point of the offense in 2012.

4. Kevin Parks, Virginia (SO)
Rushing Stats:
152 att., 709 yards, 9 TD
Receiving Stats: 11 rec., 82 yards, TD

Parks came to Virginia with arguably the greatest prep resume for any tailback in history. His 10,895 yards are third all-time in American prep football history and no other player carried the football more than Parks’ 1,370 career attempts. Parks proved his high school resume was no fluke when he topped the 100-yard mark and scored three times in his UVa debut. He then scored twice more in Week 2. Despite missing the Idaho game and as only a freshman, Parks set the Virginia single-season rushing touchdown record with nine scores. And he did it as the back-up. Like his running mate Perry Jones, Parks is short in stature at 5-foot-8, but unlike Jones, he is thickly built and can be a goalline and short yardage player due to toughness and lower body strength. No matter who is technically named the starter, Mike London has to be pleased with his running back situation.

5. Montel Harris, Boston College (SR)
Rushing Stats:
31 att., 135 yards, 0 TD
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., 36 yards, 0 TD

Harris could rank higher on this list, but it’s hard to know what to expect out of him in 2012. He entered last season with a chance to break the ACC’s career rushing record, but managed only 135 yards and played in only two games after having knee surgery in the preseason. Harris was expected to be at full strength in spring practice, but aggravated his knee injury and it’s uncertain if he will return at 100 percent in time for the regular season. If the senior can’t return or is limited, Boston College will likely lean on junior Andre Williams to carry the load on the ground. Harris has had a terrific career, but it could end in disappointment if he can’t return in 2012.

6. Mike Bellamy, Clemson (SO)
Rushing Stats:
57 att., 343 yards, 3 TDs
Receiving Stats: 2 rec., 4 yards, 0 TD

Bellamy may not have the numbers to rank No. 6 on this list, but he certainly has the talent. As a true freshman last year, he rushed for 343 yards and three touchdowns. Bellamy ranked as the No. 7 overall running back in the 2011 Athlon Consensus 100, but playing time is limited with Andre Ellington ahead of him on the depth chart. Also, the sophomore has been in and out of coach Dabo Swinney’s doghouse, but it appears Bellamy is working his way back into his good graces heading into the summer. Bellamy may have only 300-500 rushing yards this year, but look for him to emerge as one of the ACC’s best backs going into 2013.

7. Orwin Smith, Georgia Tech (SR)
Rushing Stats:
61 att., 615 yards, 11 TD
Receiving Stats: 13 rec., 306 yards, TD

The “A-Back” in Paul Johnson’s patented triple-option attack averaged over 10 yards per clip a season ago, making Smith the clear big play threat in Tech’s offense. Over the last two seasons, he has touched the ball only 139 times and posted only one game with double-digit rushing attempts (12 against Miami in 2010). Yet, the 6-foot, 202 pounder mustered 1,632 yards from scrimmage over that span for an appalling per-touch average of 11.7 yards. And his 11 touchdowns last fall led all Yellow Jacket running backs. The offensive line at Tech returns largely intact, and the backfield is loaded, so expect Smith to only continue to rip off chunks of yards in 2012.

8. David Sims, Georgia Tech (JR)
Rushing Stats:
135 att., 698 yards, 7 TD
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., 29 yards, TD

The “B-Back” in the Yellow Jackets’ offense is asked to be a much more physical, more short yardage ball-carrier and Sims performed admirably a year ago. Filling in for famed Jonathan Dwyer, Sims led all running backs in carries and yards last year despite not playing in the bowl game. He checks in at around 220 pounds, so he fits the position perfectly. Sims is never going to be asked to pick-up big plays, but he will be a consistent force up the heart of the triple-option offensive attack in 2012 — especially running behind a veteran offensive line and quarterback.

9. Mike James, Miami (SR)
Rushing Stats:
72 att., 275 yards, 7 TD
Receiving Stats: 9 rec., 80 yards, TD

Serving as the backup for Lamar Miller, James appeared in 12 games with two starts a year ago. He finished second on the team in rushing, carries and total touchdowns. He showed flashed of upside in his best performance of the season against Duke, when he scored two touchdowns and recorded 101 yards from scrimmage on only nine touches against Duke. At 5-foot-11 and 222 pounds, James has the skillset to be the three-down feature back that Al Golden craves. However, James’ upside in 2012 may be limited by a youthful offense and inconsistent quarterback play.

10. Josh Harris, Wake Forest (JR)
Rushing Stats:
101 att., 432 yards, 3 TDs
Receiving Stats: 5 rec., 22 yards, 0 TD

A hamstring injury essentially ended Harris’ 2011 season after five games. Although he returned for two games later in the year, Harris wasn’t the same player and was relegated to only 10 carries after tallying 91 through the first five weeks. When healthy, Harris is capable of contending for All-ACC honors. As a sophomore in 2010, he rushed for 720 yards and seven touchdowns. Harris was averaging 82.4 yards per game before his injury and also chipped in five receptions. Assuming he returns at full strength for 2012, the junior will have a chance to rush for 1,000 yards. However, Harris will be running behind an offensive line that must replace four starters in 2012.

11. James Washington, NC State (SR)
Rushing Stats:
226 att., 897 yards, 7 TDs
Receiving Stats: 42 rec., 315 yards, 0 TD

Washington was a pleasant surprise for NC State last season. After rushing for just 291 yards in his first two seasons in Raleigh, he recorded 897 yards and seven scores last year. Washington was also a key factor in the passing attack, catching 42 passes for 315 yards. He posted three 100-yard efforts, rushing for a season-high 131 yards against Georgia Tech, 109 against Central Michigan and 110 in a 13-0 shutout win over rival North Carolina. NC State would probably like to see Washington improve slightly on his 3.9 yards per rush, but he will face competition from Tony Creecy and Mustafa Greene (provided a legal incident in the spring won’t prevent him from returning to the team).

12. Devonta Freeman, Florida State (SO)
Rushing Stats:
120 att., 579 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving Stats: 15 rec., 111 yards, 0 TD

Florida State’s ground attack was one of the worst in the ACC last year, but it’s hard to fault Freeman or any of the other running backs. The Seminoles struggled to establish consistency or open any rushing lanes on the offensive line, which prevented Freeman from getting on track last season. As a true freshman last year, he rushed for 579 yards and eight scores, while catching 15 passes for 111 yards. Freeman posted back-to-back 100-yard efforts in mid-October, rushing for 109 yards against Duke and 100 against Maryland. The sophomore certainly has some talent and should be Florida State’s leading rusher in 2012. However, he will face competition from incoming freshman Mario Pender and sophomore James Wilder Jr. If Freeman was the clear No. 1 back, he would likely rank higher on this list.

13. Andre Williams, Boston College (JR)
Rushing Stats:
124 att., 517 yards, 4 TDs
Receiving Stats: 2 rec., 11 yards, 0 TD

With Montel Harris battling a knee injury once again, Williams may end up shouldering much of Boston College’s rushing offense early in the year. The junior has shown flashes of ability, rushing for 185 yards on 42 attempts in the 2010 regular season finale. He also rushed for 114 yards and two scores in the opener against Northwestern in 2011 and posted 61 yards on 18 attempts in an upset win over NC State last year. If Harris is limited or unable to go, Williams could finish with over 200 carries and over 1,000 rushing yards. The junior needs a little help from the offensive line and passing attack to keep defenses from keying on the run, but this Boston College back could be higher on the list at the conclusion of the 2012 season. 

14. Michael Holmes, Virginia Tech (FR)
Rushing Stats:
Redshirted in 2011
Receiving Stats: Redshirted in 2011

Not much is known about the young tailback and that is just the way he likes it. The shy, soft-spoken prep star has yet to play a game in a Hokies uniform and has already become the center of attention in Blacksburg. The Harrisonburg High star rushed for a school record 2,877 yards in his career and scored 41 touchdowns as a senior. He now sits atop the Hokies depth chart and is preparing to carry the load for the Coastal Division favorites. The 5-foot-11, 208-pound tailback will compete with Tony Gregory, who is sitting out spring ball with a knee injury, and early enrollee J.C. Coleman.

15. Juwan Thompson, Duke (JR)
Rushing Stats:
110 att., 457 yards, 7 TD
Receiving Stats: 22 rec., 182 yards, TD

Thompson can be a bulldozer of a ball-carrier for the Blue Devils as he enters upperclass status. The 230-pounder finished last season as the team’s leading rusher and leading touchdown provider. When Desmond Scott missed three games early in the year, Thompson took over and never looked back. He posted his best two-game stretch at the end of September when he touched the ball 32 times for 131 yards and two scores in wins over Tulane and FIU. With Thompson, head coach David Cutcliffe has one of the ACC’s top triplets with quarterback Sean Renfree and wideout Conner Vernon.

Others to Watch

Rolandan Finch, Boston College (JR) – Finch led Boston College with 705 yards last season, including 243 in a 28-17 victory over Maryland. Andre Williams appears to be the Eagles No. 1 back, but don’t count out Finch from working his way into a split carry situation.

Mustafa Greene, NC State (SO) – Greene missed last season due to injury and had an off-the-field incident this spring that has put his status with the team in doubt. As a freshman in 2010, he rushed for 597 yards and four scores.

Charles Perkins, Georgia Tech (SO) – Rushed for only 95 yards last season, but could push for more playing time at the B-Back position.

Justus Pickett, Maryland (SO) - Pickett recorded 274 yards and one score as a freshman last season, but is not guaranteed a starting spot going into 2012.

Clifton Richardson, Virginia (SO) – With Perry Jones and Kevin Parks returning, there’s not a ton of carries available for Richardson. As a true freshman, he managed 366 yards and two rushing scores.

Desmond Scott, Duke (SR) – Scott finished second on the team with 367 rushing yards last season. He will compete with Juwan Thompson for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart.

Josh Snead, Duke (SO) – Snead missed 2011 with an injury, but rushed for 221 yards and one score as a freshman in 2010. Although Juwan Thompson and Desmond Scott are likely the top two backs, Snead could work his way into playing time.

James Wilder Jr., Florida State (SO) – Big expectations surrounded Wilder going into 2011, but he managed only 160 yards and one rushing score on 35 attempts. The sophomore had an off-the-field issue early in the spring, but is back at practice and expected to contend with Devonta Freeman and Mario Pender for carries.

Top Freshmen To Watch:

Randy “Duke” Johnson, Miami
The Duke is an speedy, incredible playmaker with the ability to score from anywhere on the field. Could also contribute on special teams. Whether or not his smallish 5-foot-9, 183-pound frame handle the pounding of three-down play remains to be seen.

Mario Pender, Florida State
The Cape Coral, Fla., native is already enrolled and working with an offense that is in desperate need of a true playmaker at running back. Keep an eye on the 6-foot-0, 190-pounder in Tallahassee.

J.C. Coleman and Drew Harris, Virginia Tech
The smaller (5-7, 170) Coleman perfectly compliments the burly (6-1, 220) Harris. Coleman brings third-down ability and out-of-the-backfield skill while Harris should excel around the goalline and in short yardage. Coleman enrolled early and could compete for carries with Michael Holmes right away.

Wes Brown, Maryland
Randy Edsall has always had successful running backs and Brown has workhorse written all over him. The 210-pound local product could have a chance to contribute right away for a program in desperate need of positive energy.

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

Related ACC Content

ACC Quarterback Rankings for 2012
ACC Head Coach Rankings for 2012

College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Athlon ranks the running backs in the ACC for the 2012 season.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 16, 2012 - 08:11
Path: /college-football/big-east-running-back-rankings-2012
Body:

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

Here's how Athlon ranks the running backs in the Big East for 2012:

1. Ray Graham, Pittsburgh (SR)
Rushing Stats:
164 att., 958 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving Stats: 30 rec., 200 yards, 0 TD

Graham was well on his way to a 1,000-yard season, but a torn ACL in Pittsburgh’s eighth game ended his 2011 campaign. Through the first eight games, Graham posted 958 yards, including 201 in the opener against Buffalo and 226 in a 44-17 victory over South Florida. His production was even more impressive considering the struggles of the passing attack and an offensive line that never seemed to jell. Graham did not practice this spring, but is expected to return in time for the season opener. The Panthers won’t rush the senior back into action, but as long as he returns at full strength, Graham should be the Big East’s leading rusher at the end of 2012.

2. Lyle McCombs, Connecticut (SO)
Rushing Stats:
275 att., 1,151 yards, 7 TDs
Receiving Stats: 19 rec., 172 yards, 1 TD

The Huskies have pieced together a string of productive rushers, as three running backs have reached 1,000 yards since 2008. Donald Brown posted 2,083 yards in 2008 and Jordan Todman posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2009-10. McCombs was an unknown going into last year, but quickly emerged as the Huskies’ go-to back. He rushed for 141 yards and four touchdowns in the 35-3 rout of Fordham in the season opener and recorded 118 yards against Vanderbilt in Week 2. McCombs posted a season-high 152 yards against Syracuse and rushed for 130 yards on 32 attempts against South Florida. His rushing total is even more impressive when you consider Connecticut struggled to establish a passing attack last year, allowing defenses to key on stopping the run. McCombs is expected to be the Huskies’ No. 1 back once again in 2012 and should have a chance to equal last season’s numbers.

3. Matt Brown, Temple (SR)
Rushing Stats:
155 att., 916 yards, 6 TDs
Receiving Stats: 3 rec., 7 yards, 0 TD

At 5-foot-5 and 170 pounds, Brown was the perfect complement to Bernard Pierce over the last three years. However, Pierce left early for the NFL and Brown will assume the No. 1 role in Temple’s backfield for 2012. In three years with the Owls, Brown has rushed for 2,275 yards and 18 scores and caught 24 passes for 95 yards. Although the senior is averaging 5.6 yards per carry throughout his career, will he hold up with over 200 carries in 2012? There’s no question Brown can be effective, but at his size, Temple needs to be sure to find another back that can handle 5-10 carries a game.

4. Jawan Jamison, Rutgers (SO)
Rushing Stats:
231 att., 897 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving Stats: 8 rec., 62 yards, 0 TD

The Scarlet Knights expected a freshman back to handle most of the workload in the rushing attack last year, but Jamison wasn’t the pick in the preseason. Most expected Savon Huggins to become Rutgers’ No. 1 back, but Jamison emerged as the workhorse. He recorded his first 100-yard effort against Navy and posted 200 yards in a 20-3 victory over Cincinnati. Jamison capped off the season on a high note, rushing for 131 yards and two scores in the 27-13 Pinstripe Bowl win over Iowa State. Although Huggins is back from injury, Jamison will begin the year as the No. 1 back and should threaten the 1,000-yard mark once again in 2012.

5. Demetris Murray, South Florida (SR)
Rushing Stats:
121 att., 503 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving Stats: 18 rec., 205 yards, 0 TD

With Darrell Scott departing early for the NFL, Murray is expected to take on the No. 1 role in the South Florida backfield. He has rushed for at least 500 yards in each of the last two seasons and has 12 scores on the ground during that span. Murray did not record 100 yards in a game last year, but posted 86 yards on a 37-17 win over Syracuse. Although Murray will likely lead the team in carries and rushing yards, offensive coordinator Todd Fitch will work in speedy Lindsey Lamar and another back to keep the senior fresh.

6. Jeremy Wright, Louisville (JR)
Rushing Stats:
73 att., 334 yards, 1 TD
Receiving Stats: 7 rec., 27 yards, 0 TD

There were high expectations for Wright going into 2011, but he finished with just 334 yards and one touchdown. After rushing for 327 yards and four scores as a freshman, Wright was supposed to push Victor Anderson for the No. 1 spot in the backfield. However, Wright posted only one 100-yard effort (108, Rutgers) and registered only seven rushing attempts in the final three games. Anderson finished as the team leader in rushing yards, but Dominique Brown surpassed Wright in the pecking order. Assuming Louisville’s offensive line performs better in 2012, Wright should easily surpass last season’s totals and emerge as the leading rusher.

7. Dominique Brown, Louisville (JR)
Rushing Stats:
140 att., 533 yards, 4 TDs
Receiving Stats: 16 rec., 98 yards, 1 TD

Brown was not expected to play a significant role at running back last season, but he finished second on the team in yards. The converted quarterback recorded 533 yards and four rushing scores, while catching 16 receptions for 98 yards and one touchdown. Brown did not record 100 yards in any game, but he rushed for 91 yards on 14 attempts in the 24-17 victory over Kentucky and 69 yards and one touchdown in the 34-24 win over South Florida. The junior will team with Jeremy Wright to anchor Louisville’s rushing attack in 2012, but the guess here is Wright will edge Brown for the lead in yards.

8. George Winn, Cincinnati (SR)
Rushing Stats:
40 att., 219 yards, 2 TDs
Receiving Stats: 2 rec., 6 yards, 0 TD

As if losing quarterback Zach Collaros wasn’t enough, Cincinnati has to replace running back Isaiah Pead. The Bearcats probably won’t replace Pead’s production from one rusher, but Winn has the inside track on the No. 1 role going into the fall. The senior has been used sparingly throughout his career, but rushed for 81 yards on 19 attempts against Miami (Ohio) in 2010 and recorded 78 yards and a score in the bowl victory over Vanderbilt. Winn will likely lead Cincinnati in carries, but sophomores Ralph David Abernathy IV and Jameel Poteat will also figure into the mix.

9. Lindsey Lamar, South Florida (SR)
Rushing Stats:
17 att., 150 yards, 0 TD
Receiving Stats: 11 rec., 157 yards, 3 TDs

A case could be made that Lamar has been under utilized in his career at South Florida. The 5-foot-9 speedster is averaging 23.1 yards per kickoff return, but has only 354 receiving yards and 361 yards on the ground in his career. The senior started his career at running back, but was moved to receiver in 2010. However, Lamar has been shifted back to running back for his senior year and is expected to be a change of pace option to Demetris Murray.

10. Isaac Bennett, Pittsburgh (SO)
Rushing Stats:
58 att., 237 yards, 2 TDs
Receiving Stats: 14 rec., 88 yards, 1 TD

With Ray Graham coming off a torn ACL, it’s a good thing Pittsburgh has some depth at running back. Bennett became the Panthers’ go-to option in the backfield after Graham’s injury last year, rushing for 237 yards and two scores over the final five games. He posted back-to-back efforts of 69 yards against Louisville and West Virginia and rushed for 51 yards in the 33-20 win over Syracuse. Bennett will face competition for the No. 2 role in the backfield when highly-touted freshman Rushel Shell arrives in the fall.

Others to Watch

Ralph David Abernathy IV, Cincinnati (SO) – The Bearcats will struggle to replace Isaiah Pead’s production, but the team isn’t hurting for options. George Winn will likely start, but the speedy Abernathy will also serve as a change of pace option.

Kenneth Harper, Temple (SO) – Expected to win the battle to be Temple’s No. 2 back in 2012. Considering starter Matt Brown is only 5-foot-5, Harper will see plenty of carries this year.

Savon Huggins, Rutgers (SO) – Huggins was the top recruit in the Big East last season, but never got on track. He rushed for 146 yards and five touchdowns before a knee injury ended his season. If Huggins stays healthy, he will compete with Jawan Jamison for snaps.

Jameel Poteat, Cincinnati (SO) – Expected to team with Ralph David Abernathy IV to spell George Winn in 2012. Rushed for 108 yards and one score in 2011.

Rushel Shell, Pittsburgh (FR) – Shell ranked as the No. 33 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and is expected to figure into the mix for carries as soon as he arrives on campus. Isaac Bennett holds the lead on the No. 2 spot on the backfield…for now.

Jerome Smith, Syracuse (JR) – Antwon Bailey has finished his eligibility in Syracuse, leaving Smith as the likely No. 1 back for 2012. However, the Orange expect to use Prince-Tyson Gulley and Adonis Ameen-Moore in the rotation. Smith rushed for 134 yards and one touchdown in limited work last year.

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on twitter) 

Related Big East Content

Ranking the Big East's Quarterbacks for 2012
Who Is Louisville's Biggest Challenger in the Big East for 2012?

Ranking the Big East Head Coaches for 2012

College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Big East Running Back Rankings for 2012</p>
Post date: Monday, April 16, 2012 - 08:10
Path: /college-football/sec-football-quarterback-rankings-2012
Body:

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

Here's how Athlon ranks the 14 quarterbacks in the SEC for 2012:

1. Aaron Murray, Georgia (JR)
Passing Stats:
3,149 yards, 35 TD, 14 INT, 59.1%
Rushing Stats: 87 att., 103 yards, 2 TD

Only USC quarterback Matt Barkley returns to college football with more touchdown passes than Murray’s 35. In fact, he nearly lapped the entire SEC field as only Tyler Wilson topped 20 scoring strikes a year ago. He has now posted back-to-back 3,000-yard seasons and has accounted for 65 total touchdowns over the last two years. He also led his team to its first SEC Championship game since 2005. As an upperclassman now, he will face his tallest order as the heavy SEC East favorite without his three best offensive linemen protecting him. The junior quarterback from Tampa, Fla., needs to cut down on his mistakes, but like most gunslingers, he is willing to make the tough play and, at times, it costs him. Murray is a gamey, tough, poised leader who has competed for championships at every level of play. He will only get better in 2012.

2. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas (SR)
Passing Stats:
3,638 yards, 24 TDs, 6 INTs, 63.2%
Rushing Stats: 60 att., -3 yards, 4 TDs

Wilson patiently waited his turn behind Ryan Mallett and emerged as one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks last season. In his first year as the starter, Wilson led the SEC with an average of 261.2 passing yards per game in conference play and posted a 141.4 passer efficiency rating. He finished second to Georgia’s Aaron Murray in passing touchdowns in conference play, but led the SEC in total offense per game. Although Wilson was voted first-team All-SEC last season, the senior could struggle to repeat his 2011 passing totals, especially without Bobby Petrino calling the plays in Fayetteville. Wilson also loses receivers Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs, so new weapons will be forced to emerge. Don’t expect the Arkansas’ offense to fall completely off the map, but Petrino’s playcalling and gameplans will be missed. 

3. AJ McCarron, Alabama (JR)
Passing Stats:
2,634 yards, 16 TDs, 5 INTs, 66.8%
Rushing Stats:  30 att., -22 yards, 2 TDs

McCarron went into last season as an unknown, but finished as one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC. He wrestled control of the No. 1 spot away from Phillip Sims early in the year, throwing for 226 yards against Kent State and leading Alabama to a 27-11 victory over Penn State in Week 2. McCarron threw for 200 yards and two scores in a 38-14 blowout win over Arkansas and posted three touchdown passes in games against Auburn and Georgia Southern. In the first matchup against LSU, McCarron threw for only 199 yards and tossed one interception. However, his play in the national title game was a huge factor in Alabama’s win, as McCarron finished with 234 yards on 23 completions. Although offensive coordinator Jim McElwain has departed, McCarron should easily surpass last season’s totals. The junior also has an improving group of receivers and will be playing behind one of the top offensive lines in college football. 

4. Tyler Bray, Tennessee (JR)
Passing Stats:
1,983 yards, 17 TD, 6 INT, 59.5%
Rushing Stats: 26 att., -70 yards, 1 TD

The Vols passer finished third in the SEC in touchdown passes — and he only played seven games. Bray was off to a scorching start with 14 touchdowns in his first four games. But the loss of star wideout Justin Hunter, and then a broken thumb against Georgia, cost Bray most of his potential in 2011. He returned to play the final two games of the season but was clearly aggravated by the injury — he completed only 43.6% of his passes in the final two contests. In order to be considered a great player nationally, Bray needed to mature as a leader and get stronger. It appears that he is finally taking conscious steps to accomplish both of these goals. With Hunter back leading a loaded receiving corps in Knoxville this fall, the sky is the limit for the 6-foot-6, 213 pound California native.

5. James Franklin, Missouri (JR)
Passing Stats:
2,865 yards, 21 TD, 11 INT, 63.3%
Rushing Stats: 217 att., 981 yards, 15 TD

Franklin made some early mistakes in his first year as the starter, but at season’s end, had eclipsed all expectations. He scored a rushing touchdown in all but three games last fall and threw an interception in only six of his 13 starts. The electric athlete finished his first year by pounding an SEC-esque front seven from North Carolina to the tune of 142 yards rushing, 132 yards passing and three total touchdowns in the Independence Bowl. However, Gary Pinkel and Mizzou nation got some horrible news this spring when Franklin injured his throwing shoulder (a sprained GH joint) and had to have surgery. The expected timetable for his return to the field is August — putting his availability for Mizzou’s first SEC season in jeopardy. It is unknown what type of player he will be in 2012, since the injury has been known to sap arm strength. The Tigers will host East Division favorite Georgia in their first SEC game in Week 2.

6. Connor Shaw, South Carolina (JR)
Passing Stats:
1,448 yards, 14 TD, 6 INT, 65.4%
Rushing Stats: 135 att., 525 yards, 8 TD

Shaw got 16 touches in the season opener against East Carolina and totaled 47 yards. So Steve Spurrier’s apparent love of Stephen Garcia essentially kept Shaw off the field for the first month of the season. Eventually, the troubled signal caller was officially kicked off the team and the huddle was given to Shaw full-time. He flourished in his role as the starter, throwing for 311 yards and four touchdowns in his first start as the new executive of the Gamecocks offense. He was also the team's leading rusher once running back Marcus Lattimore was sidelined for the year with a torn ACL. Shaw continued to develop over the course of the season, culminating in his best career game against rival Clemson. In the 34-13 win over the Tigers, Shaw completed 14-of-20 passes for 210 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions while adding 107 yards rushing and another score on 19 carries. He scored a rushing touchdown in each of his last six games and posted a nasty 8:1 TD:INT ratio in the final three contests. Most importantly, Shaw was 7-1 after Garcia was given the boot. With Lattimore returning to the field, Shaw could be in for big things in 2012.

7. Zach Mettenberger, LSU (JR)
Passing Stats:
92 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 72.7%
Rushing Stats: 2 att., 28 yards

After watching Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson struggle over the last few years to consistently produce a passing attack, LSU fans are anxious to get an extended look at Mettenberger. Although the junior passer has zero career starts, he figures to be an upgrade and should help the Tigers easily exceed last season’s average passing yards per game (152.5). Mettenberger began his career at Georgia, but was dismissed after an off-the-field incident. After one season at Butler Community College, he landed back in the SEC with LSU and is the clear-cut starter in Baton Rouge this year. Mettenberger is unproven, but has plenty of talent and should give the Tigers a much-needed boost in the passing attack.

8. Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt (JR)
Passing Stats:
1,524 yards, 9 TD, 10 INT, 50.0%
Rushing Stats: 117 att., 420 yards, 4 TD

While the younger brother of Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers is nowhere near as physically gifted as his older sibling, Jordan Rodgers proved to be a gritty, hard-nosed, poised leader of his team. He struggled in his first two starts against Alabama and Georgia — he totaled 151 yards passing, 0 TDs and three INTs — but most players were stymied by those two defensive units. Beginning with the Army game, Rodgers began to find his legs – both literally and figuratively. He led the Dores to a 3-3 record to finish the season while rushing for nearly 50 yards per game and scoring all four of his ground touchdowns. This roster is more talented at the skill positions than it has been in decades, so Rodgers will have plenty of toys to work with in 2012 — if he can hold off Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels.

9. Tyler Russell, Mississippi State (JR)
Passing Stats:
1,034 yards, 8 TDs, 4 INTs, 53.5%
Rushing Stats: 33 att., 45 yards, 1 TD

Chris Relf has expired his eligibility in Starkville, leaving the starting job to Russell this spring. The junior has thrown for 1,669 yards and 13 touchdowns over the last two seasons, but this will be his first year as the full-time No. 1 passer. Russell ranked as one of the top 15 quarterbacks coming out of high school and has shown flashes of promise in limited duty. The junior has a lot to prove in his first year as the starter, but Mississippi State has improved the depth and talent in the receiving corps, which should help Russell’s transition into the No. 1 role.

10. Jameill Showers, Texas A&M (SO)
Passing Stats:
40 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 80%
Rushing Stats: 33 yards, 1 TD

Not only is Texas A&M making a difficult transition from the Big 12 to the SEC, the Aggies have to break in a new quarterback. Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury and head coach Kevin Sumlin hope to establish an offense in College Station similar to the one they had at Houston, but it won’t be easy in the SEC. Showers has the most experience of the four quarterbacks competing for time, but it’s no slam dunk that he wins the job. He finished with 40 passing yards and added 33 on the ground last year in limited action. Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel and true freshman Matt Davis are the two candidates pushing Showers the most for playing time, but this battle is expected to go deep into fall practice. Despite the uncertainty entering the season, Sumlin and Kingsbury’s track record at Houston suggests the passing attack will be fine by midseason. 

11. Jacoby Brissett, Florida (SO)
Passing Stats:
206 yards, 2 TDs, 4 INTs
Rushing Stats: 13 att., 7 yards, 2 TDs 

New offensive coordinator Brent Pease has a difficult decision facing him this summer. He has two talented sophomores who were clearly not ready for the bright lights of SEC football last fall. And there is little separating Brissett from Jeff Driskel. Both have strong arms and both have above average athletic ability. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Brissett is the better passer and likely has a better grasp of working through progressions. The 6-foot-4, 232-pound Driskel has more raw athletic ability and is the better runner of the two. Brissett would have to be considered the favorite to win the job, but both players will get plenty of reps leading up to fall camp. The fact both players were prematurely forced into game action as freshman works as a positive, as neither will be overwhelmed when SEC play arrives in September. 

12. Kiehl Frazier, Auburn (SO)
Passing Stats:
34 yards, 0 TD, 2 INTs, 41.7%
Rushing Stats: 76 att., 327 yards, 3 TDs

A year after owning one of the top offenses in college football, Auburn finished seventh in the SEC in scoring and ranked 10th in passing. Youth and roster turnover contributed to the offensive struggles, but the Tigers failed to show much progress last year. If Auburn wants to contend for the SEC West crown once again, new coordinator Scot Loeffler will have to find some improvement from the passing attack. Frazier played in all 13 games last season, but completed only 41.7 percent of his throws. He was used mostly as a runner, recording 327 yards and three scores on the ground. Frazier ranked as one of the top quarterbacks in the 2011 recruiting class, but is far from a finished product. With a talented offensive line and receiver Emory Blake returning, Frazier has some pieces to work with, but has to prove he can be a consistent passer to move higher on this list.

13. Maxwell Smith, Kentucky (SO)
Passing Stats:
819 yards, 4 TD, 4 INT, 54.9%
Rushing Stats: 20 att., -109 yards, 0 TD

Smith heads into his sophomore year as the default starter for Joker Phillips. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder got his baptism into SEC football in November last year. Smith went 1-3 in four games against Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Georgia. He attempted between 31 and 36 passes in each game and posted easily his best performance in the win over the Rebels. He threw for a career high 283 yards and two scores in the 30-13 drubbing. With Morgan Newton recovering from injury, Smith is the leader in the clubhouse to start. However, anything could go with Phillips’ offense in 2012 as the head coach tries to save his job.

14. Barry Brunetti, Ole Miss (JR)
Passing Stats:
144 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 54.3%
Rushing Stats: 33 att., 110 yards, 0 TD

It was a miserable all-around season last year in Oxford. The Rebels finished 2-10, which included a winless season in SEC play. The offense was largely to blame, as three quarterbacks received extended snaps, but none was able to emerge as the No. 1 starter. Brunetti completed 19 of 35 throws for 144 yards last year and added 110 yards on the ground. New coach Hugh Freeze had a high-scoring offense at Arkansas State but has a lot of work to do to replicate that at Ole Miss. Junior college transfer Bo Wallace is neck-and-neck with Brunetti for the No. 1 spot and both passers could see significant snaps. Until proven otherwise, the Rebels have one of the worst quarterback situations in the SEC.

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

@AthlonSports

Other SEC Spring Preview Content:

Ranking the SEC's Head Coaches for 2012
Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012

College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

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

Teaser:
<p> SEC Football: Quarterback Rankings for 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, April 13, 2012 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/kansas-state-football-can-wildcats-repeat-last-years-success
Body:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Big 12 Content

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

Ranking the Big 12 Head Coaches for 2012

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Big Ten Content

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

Ranking the Big Ten's Head Coaches for 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Pac-12 Content

Can California Beat Stanford and Washington in the 2012 North Standings?
College Football's Top 25 Coaches for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Head Coaches for 2012

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

Teaser:
<p> Athlon ranks the quarterbacks in the Pac-12 for 2012.</p>
Post date: Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 07:02
Path: /college-football/louisville-football-who-challenges-cardinals-big-east-title
Body:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Big East Content

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

Ranking College Football's Top 25 Coaches for 2012

Big East 2012 Schedule Analysis

College Football's Top Quarterback Battles to Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related SEC Content

College Football's Top 25 Coaches for 2012
10 Coaching Candidates to Replace Bobby Petrino at Arkansas
Ranking the SEC Head Coaches for 2012

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

Teaser:
<p> Missouri or Texas A&amp;M: Which Team Will Have More Wins in 2012?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - 08:43

Pages