Articles By Steven Lassan

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They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context.

Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature.

Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.

It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 12th annual Athlon Awards.

Athlon's Top 20 Offensive Lines for 2012

1. Alabama The offensive line was one of the key pieces to Alabama’s national title last season, and this unit will be strong once again in 2012. Barrett Jones (right) is regarded as college football’s best returning offensive lineman and will move from left tackle to center to replace William Vlachos. Left guard Chance Warmack and right tackle D.J. Fluker should challenge for All-SEC honors this year. Anthony Steen (right guard) and highly regarded Cyrus Kouandjio (left tackle) round out the starting lineup.

2. LSU Leading the way for college football’s top running back corps will be a veteran offensive line that returns four starters. Tackles Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst started all 14 games last year and are drawing significant interest from the NFL as first-round picks next year. Center P.J. Lonergan has 26 career starts, while Josh Williford is back at guard after starting nine games last year. Josh Dworaczyk missed all of 2011 with an injury but has All-SEC potential when healthy.

3. USCMatt Kalil will be missed, but USC is in good shape up front. Four starters are back, led by Athlon Sports preseason second-team All-America center Khaled Holmes. Right tackle Kevin Graf was solid in his first year as a starter last season and will be flanked on the left side by promising sophomore Aundrey Walker. John Martinez and Marcus Martin are dependable guards. Depth is a concern, but that problem could be alleviated when incoming freshmen Zach Banner and Jordan Simmons arrive.

4. Texas A&MThe Aggies will have a tough time contending in the difficult SEC West in 2012, but the line should be a building block on offense for new coach Kevin Sumlin. Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel form one of the best tackle combinations in the nation, and both should be All-SEC performers in 2012. The interior of the line will be manned by veteran center Patrick Lewis (35 career starts), while Jarvis Harrison, Shep Klinke and Cedric Ogbuehi will fight for playing time at the guard spots.

5. Oklahoma Three starters are back from last season’s unit, which allowed only 11 sacks and led the way for rushers to average 4.5 yards per carry. Guard Gabe Ikard has started 25 games over the last two years and is an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-American for 2012. Ikard may slide to center this year, especially with Ben Habern’s decision to give up football before fall practice. Lane Johnson will bring senior leadership to the lineup, while Adam Shead will likely take Ikard’s place at guard. This unit suffered another tough loss when Tyler Evans was ruled out for the year with a torn ACL.

6. WisconsinEven with the departure of first-team All-Big Ten selections Peter Konz (center), Josh Oglesby (tackle) and Kevin Zeitler (guard), the Badgers remain one of the top offensive lines in college football. Anchoring the line will be senior Ricky Wagner and center Travis Frederick – both Athlon All-Americans for 2012. This unit will be under the direction of a new coach (Mike Markuson), but Wisconsin always seems to produce standout offensive lines.

7. North CarolinaSwitching from a pro-style offense to a spread attack will require an adjustment period from this group, but the Tar Heels remain the No. 1 line in the ACC. Left tackle James Hurst and guard Jonathan Cooper are two of the ACC’s top players and could be in the mix for All-American honors. The only question mark will be finding a replacement for Cam Holland at center.

8. Oregon Two starters are gone from last season’s line but don’t expect that to slow down the Ducks’ offense in 2012. Guard Carson York is recovering from a knee injury suffered in the Rose Bowl and could be sidelined or limited for the first few games of 2012. Sophomore Jake Fisher and center Hroniss Grasu are in for big seasons, while seniors Ryan Clanton and Nick Cody anchor the right side of the line.

9. Notre Dame Lost in the quarterback issues from last season was a solid offensive line in South Bend. This unit allowed only 17 sacks last year and returns three starters for 2012. Left tackle Zack Martin is the unit’s top performer after starting 26 consecutive games in his first two years on campus. Guard Chris Watt and senior Braxston Cave are back as returning starters, while the unit will look to Mike Golic Jr. and Christian Lombard to replace Taylor Dever and Trevor Robinson on the right side.

10. MichiganIt’s not a particularly strong year for offensive lines across the nation, so even with the departure of David Molk, the Wolverines should rank among the top 10-15. Left tackle Taylor Lewan has All-American potential, while senior Patrick Omameh and junior Michael Schofield are back as returning starters. Ricky Barnum will likely replace Molk at center.

11. Michigan StateThis unit went into 2011 as a question mark but emerged as a strength by season’s end. The Spartans finished 19th nationally with just 16 sacks allowed, and the line led the way for rushers to average four yards a carry. Four starters are back for 2012, including Athlon Sports first-team All-Big Ten guard Chris McDonald. With Andrew Maxwell taking over for Kirk Cousins at quarterback, Michigan State will likely lean on its rushing attack early in the year.

12. Texas With concerns about the quarterback play, look for the Longhorns to rely heavily on their rushing attack in 2012. Although Texas has one of the top backfields in the nation, the offensive line’s improvement has also made a big difference in the ground game. Guard Mason Walters should be in the mix for all-conference honors, while the coaching staff is high on sophomore tackle Josh Cochran. Junior college transfer Donald Hawkins is expected to win the left tackle spot.

13. Stanford Replacing All-Pac-12 performers David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin won’t be easy, but the Cardinal at least has a solid foundation to start the rebuilding process. David Yankey started all 13 games as a freshman last season and should be the unit’s top performer in 2012. Cameron Fleming and Sam Schwartzstein are back as key contributors for a unit that allowed only 11 sacks last year.

14. Arkansas This unit struggled at times last year, but the pieces are in place to rank among the top five offensive lines in the SEC. Alvin Bailey is one of the top guards in college football, while center Travis Swanson has started all 26 games in his career. The tackle spots are in good hands with Jason Peacock and Brey Cook.

15. South Carolina Line coach Shawn Elliott has some work to do this fall, as the Gamecocks return only two starters on the line. However, the cupboard isn’t bare. Guard A.J. Cann is an emerging force on the left side, while center T.J. Johnson enters his senior year with 40 consecutive starts. Redshirt freshman Brandon Shell will take over for Rokevious Watkins at left tackle.

16. NC StateThere’s plenty of room for this unit to improve after allowing 34 sacks year. However, with four starters back, the Wolfpack should have one of the nation’s most-improved offensive lines. Four seniors could anchor the starting lineup, including center Cam Wentz and left tackle R.J. Mattes. Rob Crisp has big-time talent and will be counted upon to win the job at right tackle.

17. Georgia Tech It’s always tough to judge an offensive line that does very little pass blocking, but the Yellow Jackets should rank among the best in the ACC this year. Guard Omoregie Uzzi is an Athlon Sports second-team All-American for 2012 and enters his third season as a starter. Jay Finch is one of the top centers in the ACC, while Will Jackson and Ray Beno are back as returning starters.

18. VirginiaThe Cavaliers will miss Austin Pasztor and Anthony Mihota, but three starters are back, including Athlon Sports third-team All-American Oday Aboushi. Morgan Moses will start at right tackle and is a rising star to watch in the ACC. Luke Bowanko returns after starting all 13 games at right guard last year. 

19. South Florida Chaz Hine and Jeremiah Warren must be replaced, but the Bulls should be the Big East’s No. 1 line with the return of three starters. Senior left tackle Mark Popek is the headliner, while sophomore Quinterrius Eatmon is a rising star on the right side.

20. Louisiana Tech The Bulldogs are a heavy favorite to win the WAC title and should have no trouble scoring points with four starters coming back on the line. Seniors Kevin Saia, Stephen Warner and Jordan Mills should all be in the mix for all-conference honors.

 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 20 Offensive Lines for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 9, 2012 - 05:22
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-wide-receiving-corps-2012
Body:

They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context.

Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature.

Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.

It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 12th annual Athlon Awards.

Athlon's Top 20 WR/TE Corps for 2012 

1. USC There’s not a better one-two receiver combination in the country than Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. The duo combined for 2,435 yards on 184 catches and 26 scores. Both players should contend for All-America honors in 2012. Sophomore George Farmer, redshirt freshman Victor Blackwell and junior De’Von Flournoy are expected to round out the rotation, and true freshman Nelson Agholor could earn playing time as well. Tight end Randall Telfer is an underrated weapon. Bottom line: Matt Barkley should have no trouble finding weapons to throw to in 2012.

2. Clemson The Tigers must replace tight end Dwayne Allen, but there’s no shortage of weapons for quarterback Tajh Boyd. Sammy Watkins was one of the top freshmen in college football last season and is an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-American for 2012. However, he is suspended for the first two games of the season due to an off-the-field incident. DeAndre Hopkins was overshadowed by Watkins last year, but he finished with 72 catches for 978 yards and five scores. Jaron Brown, Adam Humphries, Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant are capable options as well, and Brandon Ford is expected to step in for Allen at tight end.

3. West VirginiaThe Mountaineers don’t have much proven depth here, but there’s a lot to like about the starting corps. Tavon Austin led the team with 101 receptions last season, while Stedman Bailey ranked first with 1,279 yards and 12 receiving scores. Ivan McCartney was a solid No. 3 option last year, catching 49 passes for 585 yards, but his status for 2012 was up in the air early in fall practice. This group could get a boost from freshmen Jordan Thompson, Dante Campbell and Travares Copeland.

4. Tennessee "If" is the key word surrounding Tennessee’s receiving corps for 2012. Justin Hunter was off to a fast start in 2011 but suffered a torn ACL in the third game of the season. He is expected to be at full strength this fall. Da’Rick Rogers led the team with 67 receptions for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns, but he spent most of the spring in Derek Dooley’s doghouse. If Hunter and Rogers stay on the field, Tennessee will have the SEC’s best collection of pass-catchers, especially with tight end Mychal Rivera and junior college wideout Cordarrelle Patterson expected to be significant contributors.

5. Baylor Kendall Wright will be catching passes on Sundays, but Art Briles isn’t worried about his receiving corps for new quarterback Nick Florence. Terrance Williams finished second on the team with 59 receptions for 957 yards last year and should assume the go-to role in 2012. Tevin Reese returns after averaging 17.2 yards per catch last season and will be joined by Lanear Sampson (42 catches) and tight end Jordan Najvar (15 catches) as experienced and dangerous weapons for the Bears. This group got a boost in July with the addition of Michigan transfer Darryl Stonum.

6. Florida State If the Seminoles can find the right mix on the offensive line, quarterback EJ Manuel is going to have a huge season. Rashad Greene was one of the ACC’s top receivers last season, even after missing four games due to injury. Look for the sophomore lead the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns in 2012. Senior Rodney Smith caught 36 passes last year and is back as a solid No. 2 threat. The Seminoles are loaded with options outside of Greene and Smith, including sophomore Christian Green and juniors Willie Haulstead and Kenny Shaw. Redshirt freshman Kelvin Benjamin has the talent to become a major factor in the receiving corps in 2012.

7. Washington Even with Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar departing, the Huskies are still in great shape at receiver. Kasen Williams had a solid freshman campaign, catching 36 passes for 427 yards and six scores last year. Look for Williams to become the No. 1 target for quarterback Keith Price. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins also had a standout freshman season, nabbing 41 receptions for 538 yards and six touchdowns. Seniors James Johnson and Cody Bruns are experienced and will factor prominently into the receiving corps.

8. Georgia Wide receiver or cornerback? That’s the question facing the Bulldogs coaching staff and where to play Malcolm Mitchell. With suspensions taking a toll in the secondary early in the year, Georgia may be forced to play Mitchell more on defense – at least through the first few games. Even if Mitchell has to play cornerback, there’s plenty of options for quarterback Aaron Murray. Senior Tavarres King led the team with 47 catches and 705 yards last year, while Michael Bennett returns after recording 32 receptions in 2011. The coaching staff hopes Marlon Brown finally reaches his potential, but the group has other contributors waiting in the wings, including Chris Conley and Justin Scott-Wesley.

9. Washington StateMike Leach pass-first offense should have no trouble getting off the ground this year. Marquess Wilson is one of the nation’s best receivers and will surpass 1,000 yards for the second year in a row. The Cougars need a few targets to step up around Wilson, and sophomore Kristoff Williams and freshman Dominique Williams will be two players to watch in fall practice. Converted tight end Andrei Lintz is also expected to be a key factor in the receiving corps.

10. Oklahoma How will the Sooners replace Ryan Broyles? That’s the big question facing this unit in the fall. The passing attack struggled once Broyles was knocked out for the year and now that he’s moved onto the NFL, the door is open for inexperienced players to step up. Junior Kenny Stills should challenge for first-team All-Big 12 honors, and freshman Trey Metoyer is one of the Big 12’s top breakout players. However, after Stills and Metoyer is where the question marks begin. Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks are suspended indefinitely, leaving freshmen Durron Neal, Derrick Woods and Sterling Shepard as major contributors. Junior college recruit Lacoltan Bester joined the team after spring practice and will be a wildcard to watch this fall.

11. Texas A&M New coach Kevin Sumlin and coordinator Kliff Kingsbury are no stranger to producing standout passing attacks. During Sumlin’s tenure at Houston, the Cougars ranked among the nation’s best through the air. With a new quarterback taking over, it could be a challenge finishing in the top 10 in passing offense this season. However, the Aggies have plenty of receivers to ease the transition. Senior Ryan Swope will be the No. 1 target after catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 scores last year. Uzoma Nwachukwu (50 catches) and Kenric McNeal (8 catches) are experienced receivers, but sophomore Malcome Kennedy and freshman Thomas Johnson will figure prominently into the mix.

12. TCUThe Horned Frogs should have no trouble fitting into the offensive-minded Big 12. Quarterback Casey Pachall is back after throwing for 2,921 yards and 25 scores last season, and he will be throwing to a deep, athletic group of receivers. Josh Boyce is the headliner, catching 61 passes for 998 yards and nine scores last year. Skye Dawson (45 catches) and Brandon Carter (23) are back as the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers, while sophomore David Porter and freshman LaDarius Brown will add depth and playmaking ability.

13. Texas TechAs usual, the Red Raiders aren’t short on receiving options. Eric Ward led the team with 84 catches, 800 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and is primed to be the team’s go-to target once again in 2012. Darrin Moore got off to a fast start last year, but an injury prevented him from becoming a bigger factor in the offense. Moore’s status with the team for 2012 is up in the air due to an off-the-field incident. Senior Alex Torres is a dependable option for quarterback Seth Doege, but he is recovering from a torn ACL. This group needs freshman Jakeem Grant and sophomores Jace Amaro and Bradley Marquez to step up as key contributors in 2012.

14. Texas There’s no question the Longhorns have talent here. However, the quarterback position remains a concern going into fall practice. Jaxon Shipley had a standout freshman season, catching 44 passes for 607 yards and three touchdowns. He should be an even bigger factor in the passing attack this year. Mike Davis heads into his junior year with back-to-back seasons of at least 45 catches, while freshman Cayleb Jones could be an impact newcomer. The wildcard to watch will be redshirt freshman tight end M.J. McFarland.

15. BYU The Cougars return their top three targets from last season, including Cody Hoffman (61 catches) and Ross Apo (34). JD Falslev will serve as the No. 3 option for quarterback Riley Nelson after grabbing 31 passes last year. Marcus Mathews caught 27 passes last season and is the likely starter at tight end.

16. Notre Dame Michael Floyd will be missed, but the Fighting Irish return the nation’s best tight end (Tyler Eifert) and capable targets in TJ Jones, Theo Riddick and Robby Toma. DaVaris Daniels and Davonte Neal are two names to watch in 2012.

17. Missouri T.J. Moe is back as the No. 1 receiver, but all of the excitement in Columbia is with Dorial Green-Beckham. The true freshman ranked as the top prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and should be an impact newcomer. Juniors Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington will likely be the No. 3 and No. 4 options for quarterback James Franklin.

18. Nebraska It’s a weak year for receivers in the Big Ten, but there’s also a lot of potential with the group returning to Nebraska. Kenny Bell had a solid freshman campaign in 2011, catching 32 passes for 461 yards and three scores. He should be the go-to target for quarterback Taylor Martinez, but keep an eye on sophomore Jamal Turner and junior Quincy Enunwa. The Cornhuskers are in great shape at tight end with seniors Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton returning.

19. South FloridaThe Bulls should have the Big East’s No. 1 receiving corps, especially if Sterling Griffin can stay healthy for the entire year. The junior emerged as the favorite receiver for quarterback B.J. Daniels, but a foot injury sidelined him late in the season. Sophomore Andre Davis is an intriguing talent, while the coaching staff hopes Florida transfer Chris Dunkley can become another dangerous weapon for Daniels. Tight end Evan Landi is an underrated option over the middle.  

20. RutgersMohamed Sanu is gone, but the cupboard is far from bare for coach Kyle Flood. Senior Mark Harrison looks to bounce back after a disappointing junior year, while sophomore Brandon Coleman should be one of the Big East’s top breakout players. Senior Tim Wright and junior Quron Pratt will see plenty of snaps as the No. 3 and No. 4 options. Tight end D.C. Jefferson is due for a breakout season and should see more passes his way with Sanu catching passes in the NFL.

 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

Athlon's College Football Rankings for 2012

Athlon's All-American Team for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big East's Top 50 Players for 2012

Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 20 Wide Receiving Corps for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 06:30
Path: /college-football/acc-player-rankings-top-50-players-2012
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Florida State, Virginia Tech and Clemson are the clear favorites to win the ACC title in 2012 and there's no shortage of players from those three teams in the top 50 players. Clemson's Sammy Watkins will serve a two-game suspension this year but ranks as the conference's best player. Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas should be better in his second season as the starter, while Florida State is loaded with defensive talent. 

Compiling the top 50 players of any conference is never an easy task. However, Athlon established a criteria to help compile the rankings. 

Here are five factors that contributed to the criteria for the rankings:
1. Projection on 2012 Performance 
2. Importance to team
3. Positional importance
4. NFL Draft stock
5. Career performance 

Athlon's Top 50 ACC Players for 2012

1. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Despite his two-game suspension to start 2012, Watkins checks in as Athlon’s No. 1 player in the ACC. High expectations surrounded Watkins from the moment he arrived on campus, and he quickly emerged as Clemson’s top target, catching 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 scores. The Florida native was also a dangerous weapon on special teams, averaging 25 yards per kickoff return and taking one back for a touchdown in the win over Maryland. Although Watkins could have trouble matching last season’s totals, expect the sophomore to finish as a first-team All-American.

2. David Amerson, CB, NC State
At 6-foot-3, 194 pounds, Amerson has uncommon size for a cornerback. He also put up uncommon results last season. His 13 interceptions last season were an ACC record and one short of the FBS record held by Washington’s Al Worley. Amerson had four multi-interception games last season and returned two picks for touchdowns. Hard to believe, but Amerson did not have any interceptions in his first season in 2010.

3. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
Thomas wasted little time in establishing himself as the latest productive and dangerous dual-threat quarterback to wear a Virginia Tech uniform. Last season, the sophomore set a new school single-season mark for total yards with 3,482 and accounted for a total of 30 touchdowns. He was the team’s second-leading rusher (469 yards) and passed for more than 3,013 yards, the second-most by a Hokie quarterback in a season, with all of this coming as a first-year starter.

4. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson 
The junior from Hampton, Va., led the ACC in total offense last year (289.0 ypg) and was a key reason why Clemson hoisted the conference championship trophy a year ago. He accounted for an ACC record 38 touchdowns in 2011 and ranks first in Tigers’ history in most every major passing category. His 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame fits Chad Morris’ system perfectly, and with a variety of supremely talented skill players around him, he should post another huge statistical season in Death Valley. The key for Boyd’s long-term legacy, however, will be how his team finishes the season. Cutting back on his interceptions, he threw nine of his 12 during Clemson’s 2-4 finish, will go a long way to repeating as ACC champs.

5. Joe Vellano, DT, Maryland 
The 6-foot-1, 285-pound defensive end from Rexford, N.Y., is the star of the Maryland roster. He led the nation in tackles per game (7.8) by a lineman last year. He has started all 25 games the last two years with 157 tackles, 18.0 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. While he doesn’t possess true down lineman size that the scouts on Sundays look for, his motor is unmatched by most of the nation and allows him to achieve at an All-American level. It is why he is ranked as the ACC’s top defensive lineman by Athlon Sports for the 2012 season.

6. Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State
Jenkins’ numbers dropped last year, but he still remains one of the nation’s top pass rushers. He recorded 13.5 sacks as a sophomore in 2010 but with defenses paying more attention to his side of the line, Jenkins finished with eight sacks and 12 tackles for a loss in 2011. The Tallahassee native has earned All-ACC honors each of the last two years and is on the preseason watchlists for the Bednarik, Nagurski and Lott Impact Trophy. With Bjoern Werner emerging as one of the ACC’s top ends on the other side, Jenkins and Florida State's defensive line should rank among the nation's best.

7. Omoregie Uzzi, OG, Georgia Tech
Uzzi is the leader of Georgia Tech’s offensive line, starting 24 games over the last two years and earning first-team All-ACC honors in 2011. He is a good fit in Georgia Tech’s blocking scheme, largely due to his good lateral ability and physical presence when clearing the way for rushers. The senior is an Athlon Sports second-team All-American for 2012 and was a big reason why the Yellow Jackets ranked second in the nation in rushing last season.

8. Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
Bernard burst on the scene in his first season in a North Carolina uniform as he became the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 1997. The leading rusher among all FBS freshmen, Bernard finished the season third in the ACC In rushing with 1,253 yards, scored 14 total touchdowns and was a first-team all-conference selection.  Bernard redshirted in 2010 after tearing his ACL on the third day of fall practice, but made an immediate impact in 2011 and enters this season as one of the ACC’s top running backs.

9. James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech
A second-team All-ACC selection last season, Gayle tied for sixth in the conference and led Virginia Tech in sacks with seven. He also had 38 total tackles and was second on the team with 12.5 tackles for a loss. He was named the ACC’s Defensive Lineman of the Week on two different occasions in 2011 and started every game he played in (13), missing one due to injury.

10. Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Werner is one of the most interesting stories in the ACC. As a German exchange student, he played only two seasons of high school football in the United States and quickly emerged as a key member of Florida State’s rotation in the trenches. Werner recorded 37 stops, seven sacks and 11 tackles for a loss last year and is an Athlon Sports second-team All-ACC selection for 2012. With Brandon Jenkins back on the other side for his senior year, Florida State should have one of the top defensive end combinations in college football.

11. EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State
Despite a shoulder injury and little help from his offensive line and rushing attack, Manuel finished 2011 with 2,666 yards and 18 passing scores. Even more impressive than his passing yards was his 65.3 completion percentage and eight interceptions over 311 attempts. Manuel had plenty of highlights, throwing for 249 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Notre Dame in the Champs Sports Bowl and 321 yards against NC State. With a loaded group of receivers, Manuel should have a chance to surpass last season’s totals. However, Florida State’s offense needs the offensive line to give him more protection, and the rushing attack to provide more balance in 2012.

12. Mike Glennon, QB, NC State
In many ways, NC State’s offense didn’t miss a beat in 2011 even with first-year starter Mike Glennon assuming the reigns from All-ACC performer Russell Wilson, who transferred to Wisconsin for his final season. Glennon tossed 31 touchdown passes, which is the second-most in a single season in school history, while passing for more than 3,000 yards and completing nearly 63 percent of his attempts. 

13. Oday Aboushi, OL, Virginia
The Brooklyn, N.Y., lineman has started the last two seasons on an improving Cavaliers offensive line. Aboushi was twice the ACC’s offensive lineman of the week on the way to second-team all-conference honors. Aboushi, whose parents moved to the U.S. from Palestine, was honored at a reception last season for Muslim-Americans hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

14. James Hurst, OT, North Carolina
Hurst has started every game but one in his first two seasons as North Carolina’s left tackle. He got his first start in the second game of his true freshman season and has been a mainstay at left tackle since. A Freshman All-American in 2010, Hurst received second-team All-ACC honors last season. He and teammate Jonathan Cooper became the first Tar Heel offensive line tandem to receive all-conference honors since 1993.

15. Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
A two-time second-team All-ACC honoree, Cooper has the most starts (35) of any player on North Carolina’s roster. Cooper is a four-year starter on the Tar Heels’ offensive line as he made 10 starts at left guard as a redshirt freshman in 2009. For his career, Cooper has started every game he has played in, missing three in his first season because of injury. He pairs with tackle James Hurst to form one of the top left sides in the ACC.

16. Bryn Renner, QB, North Carolina
After sitting behind then-starter and current Houston Texans backup quarterback T.J. Yates, Renner took full advantage of his first opportunity to shine. The sophomore set a North Carolina single-season record in 2011 with 26 touchdown passes while becoming only the second player in school history to pass for more than 3,000 yards in a season. He also led the ACC and was 10th in the nation in passing efficiency as he completed nearly 70 percent of his throws.

17. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
A second-team All-ACC selection last season, Fuller established himself as the next great Virginia Tech defensive back in 2011. After playing primarily in the Hokies’ nickel package in 2010, Fuller started all 14 games last season – half of those at nickel back/whip linebacker and the other seven at cornerback. Fuller led the team with 14.5 tackles for a loss and also added 4.5 sacks and two interceptions.

18. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
While Greg Reid will be missed, Rhodes was Florida State’s top cover corner and should keep the Seminoles ranked among the top 25 in pass defense in 2012. Rhodes had a strong freshman year, recording 58 stops and four interceptions and earning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. His play in 2011 dropped off a bit, but at 6-foot-2, 217 pounds, Rhodes should easily bounce back into All-American contention.

19. Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson
When healthy, Ellington is one of the top backs in the ACC. He missed part of 2010 with a toe injury and was hobbled at various times last season. Ellington still managed to run for the eighth-best total in Clemson history in 2011 with 1,178 yards. The 5-9, 190-pound back has carried Clemson’s tradition of big-play backs by averaging 5.8 yards per carry in his career.

20. Lamarcus Joyner, S, Florida State
After playing in all 14 games at cornerback as a true freshman in 2010, Joyner moved back to safety in time for 2011 and emerged as one of the ACC’s top defensive backs. He recorded 54 stops and four interceptions, while earning first-team All-ACC honors. At 5-foot-8 and 195 pounds, Joyner is a tad undersized for safety, but his physical presence, speed and range make up for any concerns about his height.

21. Nitkita Whitlock, DT, Wake Forest
The self-proclaimed 5-foot-9 and ¾ defensive tackle (don’t forget those three-quarters by the way) has come a long way from Texas prep outside linebacker with no offers to play Division I football. Heading into 2012, Whitlock has become one of the peskiest defensive lineman in the nation after a second-team All-ACC, 64-tackle, 14.0-TFL season in 2011. 

22. Bruce Taylor, LB, Virginia Tech
Taylor led the team in tackles in 2010 and was doing the same through the first eight games of last season before suffering a leg injury that cut his junior campaign short. Despite missing the last six games, Taylor still earned honorable mention All-ACC recognition after posting a total of 53 tackles, seven tackles for a loss and five sacks in less than eight full games.

23. Dalton Freeman, C, Clemson 
The 6-foot-5, 285-pound senior from Pelion, S.C., is the unquestioned leader of the Tigers offensive line. He is the lone returning starter from a group that led the ACC in passing offense and finished second in scoring. Protecting the deep collection of skill players is atop his priority list, and should he do that, Clemson could repeat as ACC champs.

24. Jeremiah Attaochu, LB, Georgia Tech 
Despite missing two games a year ago, Attaochu led the team in sacks (6.0) and tackles for a loss (11.5). He is developing into one of the most dynamic edge players in the ACC and can be unblockable on the outside. The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder from Washington, D.C., is only a junior and has a chance to explode onto the national scene. Improving the ACC’s seventh-ranked rush defense would go a long way to getting Tech back to the title game.

25. Earl Wolff, S, NC State 
In one of the nation’s top secondaries, Wolff locks down the back end. He is a physical player at 6-foot-0 and 207 pounds and it showed with his 105 tackles last year — good for second on the team. He intercepted three passes while playing for a defense that led the ACC in turnover margin (+1.08/game). The senior from Raeford, N.C., returns for his final season with eyes on a conference championship.

26. Merrill Noel, CB, Wake Forest
Jim Grobe’s penchant for redshirting freshmen paid off again as Noel was widely recognized as a freshman All-American last season. The ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year had an astonishing 19 pass breakouts to go with 66 tackles and two picks.

27. Steve Greer, LB, Virginia
The only major holdover from the Al Groh era, Greer is an anchor at linebacker for his second coach and second scheme (from 3-4 to 4-3) in Charlottesville. The fifth-year senior led the Cavs in tackles last season with a career-high 103 stops despite missing the bowl game. 

28. Kevin Reddick, LB, North Carolina
Reddick is a four-year starter at linebacker who finished second on team in tackles last season with 71 total stops, 39 of those solo. He was the Tar Heels' leading tackler in 2010 with 74 (48 solo stops) and was named to The Sporting News' All-ACC Freshman team in 2009.

29. Conner Vernon, WR, Duke
Vernon has racked up 2,675 receiving yards and 13 touchdown passes on 198 catches in three seasons for the Blue Devils, leading the team in receiving the last two seasons. He could threaten school and ACC records by the end of the season.

30. DeAndre Hopkins, WR Clemson
Hopkins is a clear No. 2 receiver on a team with Sammy Watkins, but he’s poised to make a statement of his own in 2012. The junior caught 72 passes last season (fourth-most in Clemson history) for 978 yards with five touchdowns. He also had three 100-yard receiving games in the final seven.

31. Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State
Thanks to Sammy Watkins’ emergence last season, it was easy to overlook Greene’s freshman totals. He caught 38 passes for 596 yards and seven scores but was slowed by an injury that forced him to miss four games midway through the year. With a full offseason to heal back to 100 percent, Greene should be one of the ACC’s top receivers and the No. 1 target for quarterback EJ Manuel.

32. Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
If ACC fans weren’t familiar with Jernigan after his standout freshman season, it might be time to get acquainted. He quickly emerged as Florida State’s top defensive tackle, recording 30 stops and six tackles for a loss. Jernigan is already garnering plenty of attention this preseason, as he was named to the Outland Trophy watchlist and is an Athlon Sports third-team All-ACC selection. With another offseason to work in the weight room and with coordinator Mark Stoops, look for Jernigan to build off his impressive debut season.  

33. Perry Jones, RB, Virginia 
Few backs in the nation play as versatile a role as Jones does for the Wahoos. He had 20+ carries only three times last year and nearly got to 1,000 yards rushing, but he also posted 48 receptions for 506 yards in the passing game. His big-play, open-space ability even landed him on the punt return team for a few games. Expect another solid year from the non-traditional running back from Chesapeake, Va.  

34. Anthony Chickillo, DE, Miami
The sophomore from Tampa, Fla., is one of the few proven commodities along the Miami defensive line. He never takes a play off and has all the physical tools at 6-foot-4, 250-pounds to become an All-ACC star. Yet, he is still young and has plenty of growing to do. Should some names develop around him, Chickillo could become the Canes top defensive player.

35. Morgan Moses, OL, Virginia
The Cavaliers resurgence under Mike London began with recruiting victories like Moses, who came to UVa with five stars next to his name. He helped pave the way for Jones and Kevin Parks en route to finishing fourth in the ACC in rushing last fall. Additionally, the 6-foot-6, 335-pounder helped the Virginia finish third in the league (23rd nationally) with only 1.23 sacks allowed per game. Look for Moses to lead the Wahoo rushing attack once again in 2012.

36. Demetrius Hartsfield, LB, Maryland 
The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder from Raleigh, N.C., had to fill the void when Kenny Tate got hurt a year ago. He performed more than admirably by posting 12.0 tackles per game, good for fifth nationally and second in the ACC.

37. Christian Jones, LB, Florida State
Jones is on the move this year, switching from the strongside to the weakside of the linebacking corps. Although the change in positions isn’t that big of a deal, Jones helped in coverage from the strongside in 2011 and that assignment is expected to go to converted safety Nick Moody in 2012. Moving to the weakside should help Jones be more of a playmaker for Florida State’s defense this year.

38. J.R. Collins, DE, Virginia Tech
Collins earned honorable mention All-ACC honors last season after starting all 14 games and leading Hokie defensive linemen with 57 total tackles. He also contributed 9.5 tackles for a loss, six sacks and picked off a pass.

39. Kenny Tate, LB, Maryland
Tate received a medical redshirt after missing all but four games last season, giving the Terrapins a major boost on defense. He had 100 tackles, 8.5 for a loss and three interceptions in his last full season in 2010. He’s a former safety looking to play a full year at linebacker.

40. Everett Dawkins, DT, Florida State
The Seminoles are overflowing with depth on the defensive line. Ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner are two of the best in the ACC, while sophomore Timmy Jernigan is a rising star in the middle. In his first full year as the starter last season, Dawkins recorded 25 tackles and earned honorable mention All-ACC honors.

41. Kevin Parks, RB, Virginia 
All this record-setting back needs is touches. He is built low to the ground, which makes him impossible to hit cleanly, and plays much bigger than his 5-8 frame,. All he did in his first two college games last year was score five touchdowns. 

42. Antone Exum, CB, Virginia Tech
An honorable mention All-ACC selection at safety in 2011, Exum is expected to start at cornerback for the Hokies this fall. Exum led the team with 89 total tackles and had 10 pass break ups to go with one interception.

43. Derrick Hopkins, DE, Virginia Tech
Hopkins started all 14 games last season, including five of them alongside older brother Antoine, on the Hokies’ defensive line. Derrick finished his first season as a full-time starter with 51 total tackles, five tackles for a loss and three sacks.

44. Tanner Price, QB, Wake Forest
Price was one of the most improved players in the ACC last season, passing for 3,017 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. He improved his completion percentage from 56.8 percent to 60 percent as well.

45. Brandan Bishop, S, NC State
David Amerson garners much of the attention in the Wolfpack secondary, but Bishop and fellow safety Earl Wolff form a solid duo. Bishop has nine interceptions and 204 tackles over the last three years.

46. Malliciah Goodman, DE, Clemson
A senior and a returning starter, Goodman (51 tackles, eight quarterback hurries) is the key player on a Tigers defensive line lacking depth and veterans.

47. Michael Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest
With Chris Givens moving onto the NFL, Campanaro will become the new No. 1 receiver for quarterback Tanner Price. He had a huge sophomore year last season, catching 73 passes for 833 yards and two scores. The junior will have a chance to push those totals even higher in 2012. 

48. Orwin Smith, RB, Georgia Tech
Smith is a home-run threat out of the backfield for the Yellow Jackets, averaging an national-best 10.1 yards per carry. Eleven of his 61 touches went for touchdowns.

49. Kevin Pierre-Paul, LB, Boston College 
With Luke Kuechly departing, KPP will have to be a leader now on the weakside. The slightly undersized (6-1, 212) junior from Norwalk, Conn., finished second on the team in tackles with 74 stops.

50. Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
After transferring from junior college, Williams made his presence known immediately as he was one of four North Carolina defensive players to start all 13 games in 2011. Williams finished his junior season with 54 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, three pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.


Team Breakdown of Athlon's Top 50 ACC Players

Boston College - 1
Clemson - 6
Duke - 1
Florida State - 9
Georgia Tech - 3
Maryland - 3
Miami - 1
NC State - 4
North Carolina - 6
Virginia - 5
Virginia Tech - 7
Wake Forest - 4

 

by David Fox (@DavidFox615), Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven) and Mark Ross

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Teaser:
<p> ACC Player Rankings: The Top 50 Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 06:12
Path: /college-football/big-ten-coaches-talk-anonymously-about-conference-foes
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It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches in the Big Ten to talk anonymously about their opponents. 

Illinois

Opposing coaches size up the Fighting Illini: “I hated to see the Zooker (Ron Zook) get let go last season, but you could see it coming. After getting to the Rose Bowl a few years ago and then regressing after that, it was only a matter of time if he didn’t do better than 6–6. … I think Tim Beckman steps into a great situation in his first season at Illinois because they have a lot of talent returning. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is the key. He should be the biggest beneficiary under Beckman’s offense that had no problems lighting up the scoreboards at Toledo. Scheelhaase should have a breakout season if Illinois can find an adequate replacement for wide receiver A.J. Jenkins. He was really productive last year. … The defense was underrated last season, and they could be as good or better. Of course, I may be in the minority thinking that way since defensive end Whitney Mercilus is gone, but they have seven or eight returning starters, including nearly the entire defensive backfield. … I ultimately think Beckman will be successful at Illinois, but how successful his first season is depends on how they fare on the Big Ten road against Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State and Northwestern. They’ve got to steal a game or two on the road.”

Indiana

Opposing coaches size up the Hoosiers: “Wow. Poor Kevin Wilson. It didn’t take long for him to find out the difference between coaching as an assistant with Bob Stoops at Oklahoma and being a head coach at Indiana. One win and 11 losses, and losses to teams like Ball State and North Texas. At least we know it can’t get any worse in Year 2. They also catch a break in the Big Ten portion of their schedule as none of the road trips are too daunting: Northwestern, Illinois, Penn State and Purdue. … Quarterback Tre Roberson, running back Stephen Houston and wide receiver Kofi Hughes, their top three offensive players, all return for new coordinator Seth Littrell. A bunch of defensive linemen are back — Larry Black, Adam Replogle, Bobby Richardson and Ryan Phillis. … I know Wilson also is counting on a number of junior college transfers to contribute immediately. This will be key for them because last season Wilson was forced to play mostly freshman, and it showed. This go-around, the Hoosiers should be vastly improved. I don’t think they’ll be so much improved that they’ll be bowl bound, but they’ll certainly win more games and be a lot more competitive in 2012 compared to last season. They have to be.”

Iowa

Opposing coaches size up the Hawkeyes: “Kirk Ferentz has had a great run in Iowa and makes it look much easier than most people realize, but the Hawkeyes have had a little bit of a dip, at least by their standards, the past two seasons. They had eight wins two years ago on a team that was loaded and then last year they only won seven games. … A number of off-the-field issues have grabbed headlines along with a run of bad luck on the injury front. Ferentz’s job security is fine, but I think a number of people are beginning to wonder if Iowa can return to prominence and be among the Big Ten’s elite teams. … For the first time since he came to Iowa, Ferentz will have a new offensive and defensive coordinator in Greg Davis and Phil Parker. … James Vandenberg is back at quarterback. He’ll be one of the better quarterbacks in the league, but his top target from last year, wide receiver Marvin McNutt, is gone as is leading rusher Marcus Coker. Those two guys are huge losses. They also must replace five or six starters from the defense. … The schedule sets up nicely for them in that a 5–0 start is not out of the question. Ferentz should have no trouble getting back to a bowl game, but challenging the upper echelon of the Big Ten seems more in the Hawkeyes’ past than their immediate future.””

Michigan

Opposing coaches size up the Wolverines: “I wonder what Brady Hoke can do for an encore. It was not a bad Michigan debut for Hoke by winning 11 games, beating Ohio State and winning the Sugar Bowl. Although I’m sure Michigan fans would not list them in that order of importance. Now how can Hoke follow that up or improve on it? It won’t take long to find out as we’ll certainly get a good idea if Michigan can be a legitimate national title contender when they open the season against Alabama in Dallas. … Quarterback Denard Robinson is back, along with running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and wide receiver Roy Roundtree. Junior Hemingway, who was Robinson’s favorite and sometimes only target, is gone, as well as defensive stopper Mike Martin. There’s no way to overemphasize his importance to the Wolverines’ defense last season. Martin is one of three defensive line starters that are gone, but basically the rest of the defense returns. They made huge strides under first-year coordinator Greg Mattison, but it’s imperative that they are able to consistently stop the run, especially against Alabama in the first game of the season and in Big Ten play. … I think Michigan can be even better than last season, but now that they’re expected to be better, can they handle the added expectations? That is the key for them.”

Michigan State

Opposing coaches size up the Spartans: “Kirk Cousins might not have been the most talented quarterback and he certainly wasn’t the most elusive in the pocket, but Cousins was the quintessential team leader and pulse of the Spartans. You don’t simply throw a new starter in there and replace someone with his character and integrity and all the intangibles he meant to the team. But that’s what Mark Dantonio’s got to try to do. Andrew Maxwell has the unenviable task of trying to replace Cousins as the Spartans’ quarterback. … If replacing Cousins isn’t daunting enough, the Spartans also must replace their top two receivers, B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin, and running back Edwin Baker. … While the offense takes some time to develop a new identity, the defense will be expected to do most of the heavy lifting. And the Spartans will be loaded on defense. Eight starters are back, including defensive backs Isaiah Lewis and Johnny Adams, linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, and defensive lineman William Gholston, all of which are All-Big Ten-caliber players. … I’ll be interested to see if the Spartans can return to the Big Ten Championship Game and also what kind of start they get off to with three tough home games early against Boise State, Notre Dame and Ohio State.”

Minnesota

Opposing coaches size up the Golden Gophers: “I say this with all due respect to Jerry Kill, but I hope this fall is a lot more boring for him. He is an amazing person, and I’m so grateful, as well as everyone else in our profession, that he is good to go this season after suffering those seizures. He obviously does not want any attention on him, but is more concerned about making the Golden Gophers better this year than last year and I think they will be. … Last season was so bizarre for Minnesota. They started the year almost upsetting USC in Los Angeles and then lose at home to New Mexico State and North Dakota State. Then in Big Ten play they upset Iowa and Illinois and nearly knock off Michigan State. … With quarterback MarQueis Gray back, Kill has a good one to continue to build the offense around. He’s a dual threat and should bring more consistency this year. … The defense was exposed at times last season and has a lot of work to do, but a number of regulars return so that’s promising. … For Minnesota to improve on last year’s three-win total, they need to stockpile some victories early, because their November schedule is brutal with games against Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska and Michigan State. … Kill is very good coach who will give that program a chance to get better in the next few years.”

Nebraska

Opposing coaches size up the Cornhuskers: “Most places, if they had a choice, would take nine wins a year. Nebraska is not one of those places. Bo Pelini’s nine-win season was viewed somewhat as a disappointment — okay, it was viewed as a major disappointment. … The Cornhuskers thought the Big Ten would have to adjust to them, but it was the other way around. Nebraska’s only signature victory was against a Michigan State team playing the week after an emotional Hail Mary upset against Wisconsin. The losses were brutal. They were blown out by Wisconsin and Michigan and upset at home by Northwestern. The Capital One Bowl loss to South Carolina summed up the year. … Will the Huskers bounce back or will they regress? They have nearly everyone back, at least most of the key contributors, such as quarterback Taylor Martinez, I-back Rex Burkhead and wide receiver Kenny Bell. I like Burkhead. He is really good. Tough kid. … The defense also returns nearly intact, but last year they were simply porous at times. I can’t remember the last time a Nebraska defense allowed that many points. Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini moved on to take the head coaching position at FAU, so we’ll get to see if John Papuchis, who was their defensive line coach, can fare any better as Nebraska’s new coordinator.”

Northwestern

Opposing coaches size up the Wildcats: “The Wildcats have proven they can put up plenty of points, but they just can’t get the hang of slowing down offenses. Dan Persa was a battler for Northwestern at quarterback, and Kain Colter takes over full-time for him. Pat Fitzgerald has a good offensive system in place, so I expect Colter will do just fine with the offense. They do, however, need more productivity from their running backs. They haven’t had a difference-maker at that position in a few years. … It’s the defense where the Wildcats need to make drastic improvements. They had a stretch last year where they allowed at least 30 points in five consecutive games. They still somehow managed a bowl game even with a leaky defense and a head-shaking loss at Army. … They lost a ton of seniors but do return starting linebackers Damien Proby, Collin Ellis and David Nwabuisi among five returning starters. … Northwestern’s first-half schedule is very manageable, and they conceivably could start 5–0, but the back end is loaded with games against Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State. Another bowl trip isn’t out of the question, but another six- or seven-win season is likely unless the defense makes huge strides.”

Ohio State

Opposing coaches size up the Buckeyes: “Last season, they had to deal with the suspensions of Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, Boom Herron and others to start the year. This time they have to deal with the realization that they are banned from playing in the postseason. Even with no hopes for a bowl game, Urban Meyer will quickly learn firsthand the expectations of coaching at Ohio State. … Meyer’s got most of the key contributors back from last season’s disappointing six-win team. Quarterback Braxton Miller is obviously the key to running Meyer’s spread attack. And Meyer’s got a good one. I have no doubt Miller will thrive in that system. … As promising as the offense looks with Miller at the controls, the defense could be even better. All but two starters return, led by defensive lineman John Simon and safety C.J. Barnett. … They are recruiting at a very high level. The first season might not be great, but they are set up to win at a high level in the next few years. … The schedule sets up very favorably for Meyer. Ohio State shouldn’t even be tested in its first four games before consecutive games against Michigan State and Nebraska. After that, the Buckeyes’ biggest challenge is their final two games against Wisconsin and Michigan. Ohio State should easily post eight wins under Meyer in his first season, and reaching double digits isn’t that much of a stretch.”

Penn State

Opposing coaches size up the Nittany Lions: “There is not a more difficult head coaching situation in the country than the one Bill O’Brien stepped into. Not only does he have the unenviable task of replacing the legend that was Joe Paterno, but what I think is worse is the unknown. Granted, no one still at the school had anything to do with that horrible tragedy, but you can bet rival recruiters will somehow bring that up when recruiting against Penn State. While dealing with any bombshell off-the-field distractions that could happen at any time, rebuilding the on-the-field product won’t be easy either. … Linebacker Gerald Hodges is one of their top returning players from what’s really a small group of returning starters (eight overall). … O’Brien obviously had a great deal of success with the Patriots as offensive coordinator, but how will that translate as a college head coach? I think he’ll be successful, but I know a lot of my colleagues who feel he won’t. It’s a lot easier to work with a Tom Brady than it is a Matt McGloin. Besides blocking out any off-the-field distractions, probably O’Brien’s biggest challenge is finally establishing a clear-cut starter. … The defense should be pretty good, as always, but I have serious issues with that team on offense.”

Purdue

Opposing coaches size up the Boilermakers: “Finally, Danny Hope posted a winning record in his third season with the Boilermakers. That’s pretty significant for him because you’d think he’s been nothing but jinxed since getting to Purdue. He has had four starting quarterbacks lost to injuries, but maybe his luck is finally evening out. Robert Marve, the kid who transferred from Miami, was able to get a sixth year from the NCAA after suffering a knee injury last year, and I think Purdue can win with him. Of course, they can also win with Caleb TerBush, who started last year, or Rob Henry, who also is back. One thing is certain: Purdue will not be short of quarterback options this year. Whoever ends up at quarterback will have plenty of weapons. Purdue returns a bunch of starters on offense and defense, so they should be able to build on last year’s seven-win season. … The talent level there is decent. Clearly not as good as the big boys in the league, but they do have some players to work with. … Other than a consecutive three-game stretch in the middle of the season against Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State, the Boilermakers won’t be huge underdogs in any other games, so Purdue could be headed for another winning season.”

Wisconsin

Opposing coaches size up the Badgers: “What has happened to Wisconsin is fascinating. The Badgers have lost six assistants since last year. They’re now scattered all over the country. It will be interesting to see how the staff comes together this year, with some new faces. … They also lost quarterback Russell Wilson, who was basically a one-year free agent, but Bret Bielema’s managed to bring in another quarterback in Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien. I don’t think O’Brien will put up the numbers that Wilson did, but he doesn’t have to — his main duty will be turning around and handing the ball to Montee Ball. … Ball’s decision to return for his senior season is a huge boost for the Badgers. I think most people, including myself, thought he would be gone to the NFL. I think the fact that Ball returns keeps the Badgers in the running for a third consecutive Rose Bowl trip. … Returning linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland lead what I thought was an underrated defense. For the most part, other than the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State and the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon, the defense shut down a lot of offenses. … If not for surrendering a couple of last-minute Hail Mary passes against Michigan State and Ohio State, the Badgers could have had an unbeaten regular season. The Badgers get both teams at home this year.”

 

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Teaser:
<p> Big Ten Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 05:17
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-25-running-back-units-2012
Body:

They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context. 

Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature. 
 
Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.
 
It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 12th annual Athlon Awards. 
 
Athlon's Top 25 Running Back Units for 2012

1. LSUWhile there may not be an All-American in the backfield, the depth chart is overflowing with talent. Michael Ford and Spencer Ware each rushed for over 700 yards last season and enter 2012 as the frontrunners for playing time. However, Alfred Blue (539 yards), Kenny Hilliard (336) and Terrence Magee (133) each showed flashes of promise last year. True freshman Jeremy Hill also is expected to push for playing time. Even though the Tigers may not have a running back on the All-SEC team at the end of the season, having six players who could start for a lot of teams in the nation is certainly worth the No. 1 spot.

2. Wisconsin Beating last season’s totals (1,923 rush yards and 33 touchdowns) is an unrealistic expectation for Montee Ball, but he remains one of the top running backs in college football. The senior needs 19 rushing scores to set an NCAA career record and is college football’s top active rusher (3,310 yards) entering the 2012 season. Ball should be considered one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman Trophy this season. James White, who rushed for 713 yards last fall, is a valuable change-of-pace option for the Badgers and is expected to serve as the No. 2 back once again this year after rushing for 1,052 yards in 2010. Redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon should serve as the No. 3 back and is expected to be a future star in Madison.

3. Oregon LaMichael James is gone, but the Oregon rushing attack won’t slow down. Kenjon Barner returns after rushing for 939 yards and 11 scores in a reserve role last year. He may not match James’ rushing totals from last season, but Barner should be one of the Pac-12’s top rushers. De’Anthony Thomas is one of college football’s most dangerous all-around threats and should receive more opportunities in 2012. He rushed for 595 yards and seven scores, averaging 10.8 yards per rush attempt, while also catching 46 passes for 599 yards and nine scores last year as a freshman. True freshmen Bralon Addison and Byron Marshall will likely serve as the No. 3 and No. 4 backs.

4. South Carolina Marcus Lattimore’s 2011 season was abruptly ended by a knee injury in the 14–12 victory over Mississippi State. Although he was unable to participate in spring workouts, all signs point to a full recovery by fall practice. Lattimore is the most talented running back in college football and has 2,015 yards and 27 touchdowns through 20 career games. Brandon Wilds and Kenny Miles will battle for the role as top backup. True freshman Mike Davis will get an opportunity to play right away, but he could redshirt in preparation for a bigger role in the offense in 2013.

5. Alabama There’s no doubt that Trent Richardson will be missed; the Heisman Trophy finalist rushed for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns last year. But there’s no shortage of options for the Crimson Tide. Eddie Lacy averaged an impressive 7.1 yards per carry on 95 attempts last season and is expected to assume the No. 1 role. Redshirt freshman Dee Hart is a perfect change-of-pace threat, while true freshman T.J. Yeldon was one of the top performers in the spring. Jalston Fowler will also figure into the mix after rushing for 385 yards and four scores last year. Similar to LSU, Alabama may not have one running back that rushers for 1,000 yards, but the depth and talent here should ease any concerns about the rushing attack without Richardson.

6. Nebraska Strong rushing attacks are no stranger to Lincoln. The Cornhuskers averaged 217.2 yards per game on the ground last season, largely due to the play of running back Rex Burkhead. He led the team with 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns, while catching 21 passes for 177 yards and two scores. Burkhead is a workhorse (284 carries) and carried Nebraska to victories against Iowa (38 carries, 160 yards) and Michigan State (35 carries, 130 yards). The senior could push for 275-300 carries once again, especially with no proven go-to back behind him. Sophomore Ameer Abdullah is a good change-of-pace option, while fullback Mike Marrow could help in short-yardage situations.  

7. USC Exiting spring practice, the Trojans owned the nation’s top quarterback and receiving corps. With the addition of Penn State transfer Silas Redd, USC now owns one of the top 10 running back units in the nation. In his first season as a starter last year, Redd rushed for 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns with the Nittany Lions. Expect Redd to be the No. 1 back, but Curtis McNeal will figure prominently into the rushing attack. McNeal rushed for 1,005 yards and six scores last season and considering his size (5-foot-7, 190 pounds), is best suited as a change-of-pace option. Sophomore D.J. Morgan or redshirt freshman Buck Allen will work as the No. 3 back.

8. Stanford With Andrew Luck departing to the NFL, Stanford will lean more on its rushing attack to win in 2012. The good news? The depth chart is full of options for coach David Shaw. Stepfan Taylor is back after rushing for 1,330 yards and 10 scores last season. He was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection last season and is just the third back in school history to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Junior Anthony Wilkerson will serve as the top reserve after rushing for 282 yards and three scores last season. True freshman Barry Sanders has great bloodlines and is Stanford’s back of the future. However, he will likely serve as the No. 3 option this season. Redshirt freshman Kelsey Young could see time at receiver and running back in 2012.

9. Oklahoma StateAfter a standout sophomore season, the Cowboys are expecting even bigger things from Joseph Randle in 2012. He earned second-team All-Big 12 honors after rushing for 1,216 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. Randle was also a key factor in the passing attack, catching 43 passes for 266 yards and two scores. The junior will have more pressure on his shoulders to perform with the departure of quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon. Jeremy Smith was solid in a backup role last year, rushing for 646 yards and nine scores. He should push 100 carries once again in 2012.

10. TexasA strong case could be made the Longhorns have the No. 1 backfield in the Big 12. Despite battling a toe injury, Malcolm Brown had a standout freshman season, rushing for 742 yards and five touchdowns. Fellow freshman Joe Bergeron registered 463 yards and five scores last year. He had a strong spring and could push Brown for the No. 1 spot. Both players will have competition for snaps in the fall, as true freshman Johnathan Gray – the No. 7 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 – will be in the mix for time.

11. Arkansas – The return of Knile Davis should give the Razorbacks’ rushing attack a boost in 2012. Also joining Davis as key contributors will be Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo.

12. Pittsburgh – Ray Graham was on his way to rushing for over 1,000 yards last season but a torn ACL ended his 2011 year early. Graham and Isaac Bennett form a solid tandem, and this group will get a boost with the addition of highly-touted true freshman Rushel Shell.

13. North Carolina – Depth is an issue in the backfield, but starter Giovani Bernard (1,253 yards in 2011) is the ACC’s best running back.

14. TCU – Despite the loss of Ed Wesley, the Horned Frogs still have plenty of options in the backfield. Waymon James and Matthew Tucker form a solid one-two punch, while UCLA transfer Aundre Dean will likely be the No. 3 back.

15. Michigan State – With Edwin Baker leaving East Lansing, look for Le’Veon Bell to have a huge junior season. Senior Larry Caper (728 career yards) and sophomore Nick Hill will serve as the No. 2 and No. 3 options.

16. Clemson – Losing Mike Bellamy was a blow to the Tigers’ depth, but starter Andre Ellington is an Athlon Sports first-team All-ACC selection for 2012.

17. Utah – John White had a monster year in his first season after transferring from a junior college, rushing for 1,519 yards and 15 touchdowns. The Utes will likely turn to junior college recruit Kelvin York as White’s backup in 2012.

18. Vanderbilt – Zac Stacy is back after rushing for 1,193 yards and 14 scores last year, but the Commodores will get a boost in depth with the return of Warren Norman (missed 2011 due to injury). True freshman Brian Kimbrow will also figure into the mix.

19. Texas A&M – If Christine Michael returns 100 percent from a torn ACL, the Aggies should rank higher on this list by the end of the year. Junior Ben Malena and freshman Trey Williams will spell Michael when called upon in 2012.

20. Arizona State – Senior Cameron Marshall is the headliner for the Sun Devils, but there’s plenty of depth for coordinator Mike Norvell, including junior college recruit Marion Grice, freshman D.J. Foster and sophomore Deantre Lewis.

21. Oklahoma - The Sooners need Dominique Whaley to return at full strength, but there's proven depth with Roy Finch and Brennan Clay returning to Norman. Junior college recruit Damien Williams and true freshman Alex Ross will compete for snaps this fall. 

22. Michigan - The uncertainty surrounding Fitzgerald Toussaint's status has pushed the Wolverines' down this list for now. An off-the-field incident has clouded Toussaint's status for the opener and has allowed Thomas Rawls, Justice Hayes and Vincent Smith to push for more playing time.

23. Virginia - One of the key reasons for last season's turnaround at Virginia was due to the one-two punch of Perry Jones and Kevin Parks. Jones led the team in yards (915), but Parks held the edge in rushing touchdowns (9).

24. Notre Dame - Cierre Wood is back after rushing for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Expect the junior to challenge for that mark once again in 2012, but he will face competition for carries from USC transfer Amir Carlisle. 

25. Georgia - Despite losing Isaiah Crowell, the Bulldogs are still in good shape at running back. Ken Malcome enters fall practice as the No. 1 back, but true freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall will be in the mix. Georgia may not have one dominant rusher in 2012, but a committee approach should work out well with three talented rushers.  

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 25 Running Back Units for 2012</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 05:07
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas A&M Aggies, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/texas-am-aggies-2012-qb-battle-jameill-showers-vs-johnny-manziel
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Moving to the SEC was already expected to be a challenge for Texas A&M, but the Aggies will also have a new head coach and quarterback for 2012. Considering all of the new faces, it may take a season or two for all of the pieces to fall into place for new coach Kevin Sumlin. During Sumlin’s tenure at Houston, the Cougars boasted some of the nation’s top scoring offenses. Quarterback Case Keenum finished his career with 19,217 yards and 155 touchdowns – numbers that a Texas A&M quarterback will be unlikely to achieve over the next four seasons in the SEC. 

Although Sumlin and coordinator Kliff Kingsbury torched opposing defenses with the pass in Conference USA, the SEC will present a different challenge. 11 of the 12 defenses in the SEC ranked 27th or better nationally against the pass in 2011. While the spread, pass-first offenses can work in the SEC, there’s no question Sumlin will have to have more balance in order to contend in the West Division.

The Candidates:

#3 Jameill Showers (SO)
2011 stats: 40 yards, 0 TD, 33 rush yards, 1 TD

#2 Johnny Manziel (FR)
2011 stats: Redshirted

#16 Matt Joeckel (SO)
2011 stats: None

#6 Matt Davis (FR)
2011 stats: High School

The Breakdown:

Although the Aggies will have to break in a new quarterback, the line is one of the best in the nation and running back Christine Michael is a threat to rush for 1,000 yards.

Until a starter gets settled, look for Michael and the offensive line to shoulder much of the offensive focus early in the year.

Sophomore Jameill Showers served as the backup to Ryan Tannehill last season and completed 4 of 5 passes in limited work. He held onto the lead in spring practice, completing 20 of 31 throws for 203 yards and two touchdowns in Texas A&M’s spring game. Showers ranked as the No. 27 pro-style quarterback coming out of high school by Rivals. 

Johnny Manziel pushed Showers for time in the spring but an off-the-field issue has raised question marks about his status for the season opener. Manziel ranked higher among recruiting sites coming out of high school and brings more of a dual-threat presence to the offense. 

True freshman Matt Davis ranked as the No. 11 overall quarterback in the 2012 recruiting class by Athlon Sports and enrolled in time to compete for spring practice. Davis has an uphill battle to win the job as a true freshman, but he should be Texas A&M’s quarterback of the future.

Sophomore Matt Joeckel did not play last year and would seem like a longshot to win the starting job.

Related content: Texas A&M's 2012 Team Preview

Final Verdict:

Barring a push by Davis, the quarterback battle seems to be a two-man battle between Showers and Manziel. However, Manziel’s off-the-field incident certainly didn’t help his chances of winning the job.

Transitioning to a new offense and a tough defensive conference will likely make life difficult on Texas A&M’s quarterbacks this year. However, Showers should have plenty of time to throw behind a solid offensive line, while receiver Ryan Swope is one of the best in the SEC.

Expect Sumlin and Kingsbury to bring Showers along slowly, but there’s not much time to ease into the job with the SEC opener against Florida on Sept. 8.

Unless Showers or Manziel really struggles to move the offense, expect Davis to redshirt and make a run at the starting job next season.

Predicted Winner: Showers

 


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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Teaser:
<p> Texas A&amp;M Aggies 2012 QB Battle: Jameill Showers vs. Johnny Manziel</p>
Post date: Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - 04:51
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-20-storylines-watch-fall-practice
Body:

The start of the 2012 college football season is just a few weeks away. However, as fall practice kicks off around the nation, plenty of unanswered questions remain, including some that will have an impact on the national title race. Athlon preps you for everything you need to know about fall practice with the 20 biggest storylines to watch over the next couple of weeks.

College Football's Top 20 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Is Zach Mettenberger the missing piece at LSU?
National championship caliber defense? Check. Punishing running game and offensive line? Check. Quarterback? Wait and see. The biggest issue for the Tigers in recent years has been quarterback play. Although LSU made the national title game last year, having a difference maker under center could make the Tigers the most complete team in college football. Mettenberger played sparingly last season, completing 8 of 11 passes for 92 yards in mop-up duty against Northwestern State. The Tigers won’t ask Mettenberger to win many games on his own, but his emergence will allow the offense to open up more in 2012 and finally give the team a chance to stretch the field. The junior will have his share of ups and downs in his first season, but it looks like LSU finally has a quarterback that it can lean on to win games through the air.

2. Bryan Bennett or Marcus Mariota: Who will start at quarterback for Oregon?
Regardless of whether Bennett or Mariota takes the first snap, Chip Kelly shouldn’t have too much concern about his quarterbacks. Sure, anytime that you replace a starter there is bound to be a few ups and downs. However, both players are more than capable of keeping Oregon’s offense as one of the best in the nation. Bennett played in eight games last season, including one start against Colorado. He finished the year with 369 passing yards and six touchdowns, along with recording 200 yards on the ground. Bennett entered spring practice with an edge, but Mariota closed the gap. The redshirt freshman dazzled in the spring game, throwing for 202 yards and one score, while adding 99 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Both players should be more dynamic on the ground than their predecessor (Darron Thomas). It could be a mystery as to which Oregon quarterback will be in the opener against Arkansas State, and both players could play significant snaps in 2012. Regardless of whether Mariota or Bennett starts the year, it’s unlikely the Ducks will have many concerns under center.

3. Can Texas improve its passing attack?
The Longhorns have the rushing attack and defense to win the Big 12. However, in a league known for offense, Texas still has to find a way to generate more from its quarterbacks. The Longhorns finished eighth in the conference in passing offense last year, and quarterbacks combined to throw 15 picks on 357 attempts. David Ash took control of the No. 1 spot late last season but injured a hamstring in summer workouts and could be limited for fall camp. Case McCoy and true freshman Conner Brewer will get every opportunity to win the job, but Ash is expected to finish atop the depth chart. Texas doesn’t need Ash to be Colt McCoy, but the passing attack has to be better than it was in 2011. With one of the nation’s deepest backfields and the Big 12’s best defense, Texas should be one of college football’s top 15 teams. However, winning the conference title and making a BCS bowl will come down to how quickly Ash, McCoy or Brewer can jumpstart the passing game.

4. How big of a concern is USC’s defensive line?
The Trojans’ best defense in 2012 may be the offense. With Matt Barkley back under center and Robert Woods and Marqise Lee catching passes, USC will have no trouble averaging around 40 points a game in 2012 – which is important since the Trojans will have to win with offense. The defense made improvement in the second year under coordinator Monte Kiffin last season but suffered some key departures on the line. End Nick Perry and tackles Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris depart, while end Devon Kennard suffered an injury in summer workouts and could miss 2012. With the personnel losses and Kennard’s injury, the Trojans are very thin up front. Wes Horton and George Uko are two solid building blocks, but the defense needs big contributions from freshmen Greg Townsend and Leonard Williams. USC’s issues in the trenches may not be a concern in Pac-12 play, but a national title appearance against a team from the SEC could expose the concerns up front.  

5. Will unproven commodities at wide receiver and defensive line derail title hopes at Oklahoma?
A prolific veteran quarterback, the best offensive line in the Big 12 and the return of Mike Stoops as defensive coordinator was enough to push Oklahoma in to the top five of the Athlon national rankings, but the Sooners have plenty of questions to answer if they’re going to compete for a national title. At receiver, the passing game struggled when Ryan Broyles was hurt. Now he’s gone permanently. That puts more pressure on Kenny Stills to be the No. 1 option. Meanwhile the suspension to Jaz Reynolds puts pressure on newcomers Trey Metoyer and Lacoltan Bester to perform right away. On the defensive line, seniors R.J. Washington, David King and Jamarkus McFarland have been around for a while, but they have yet to emerge as consistent factors on the defensive front. That needs to change if Oklahoma is going to be a factor in the national race.

6. How could early season suspensions hamper Georgia?
Mark Richt hasn’t revealed any suspensions other than two games for starting cornerback Sanders Commings, but a handful of other starters on the Bulldogs’ defense could miss a crucial game at Missouri in the second week of the season. Safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alex Ogletree are possibilities to miss the Tigers’ SEC debut. Rambo’s suspension could stretch into four games, which would include a home date with upstart Vanderbilt. The Commodores came within five points of upsetting the Bulldogs last season. Richt’s silence on the matter may be gamesmanship for the Missouri game, but even if Georgia’s only missing a couple of key players on defense, coordinator Todd Grantham may need to prepare his secondary to take some lumps.

7. How quickly can Alabama’s defense find replacements?
Losing Trent Richardson is a huge blow for the offense, but the Crimson Tide has capable replacements waiting in the wings with Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart. The biggest obstacle to a repeat national title will be the loss of several key players on defense, including All-SEC selections Mark Barron, Courtney Upshaw, Josh Chapman, Dont’a Hightower and Dre Kirkpatrick. Alabama has recruited well, so the cupboard is far from bare for coordinator Kirby Smart and coach Nick Saban. The secondary will have three new starters, but juniors Dee Milliner and John Fulton have experience at cornerback. Sophomore Vinnie Sunseri will likely start at strong safety. Additionally, junior college recruits Travell Dixon and Deion Belue had a solid spring and will push for time in the fall. The biggest questions on defense could be in the front seven. Jesse Williams will move from end to nose guard, while the starting linebacking corps could be composed of three sophomores. Repeating last season’s No. 1 rank in total, scoring, rush and pass defense is probably too much to ask of a rebuilt defense. However, don’t expect the Crimson Tide to suffer much of a drop in production, especially as some of the younger players get comfortable with more playing time.

8. Who’s leaving, who’s staying at Penn State?
Quarterback Rob Bolden is already gone to LSU. Meanwhile, coach Bill O’Brien says about 50 players have pledged to stay with the Nittany Lions despite ample opportunities to transfer immediately and without penalty. The biggest domino was standout running back Silas Redd with his transfer to USC. Even if Penn State starts the season without a mass exodus, players can leave any time before the start of the 2013 season without having to sit out a year. With Redd leaving, Penn State loses one of its only offensive threats. O’Brien also has to be concerned if one or two key players leave, others will follow.

9. Can Ohio State execute Urban Meyer’s spread offense?
After finishing last in the Big Ten in passing offense last season, plenty of doubts remain about quarterback Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes’ passing attack. Those concerns are amplified even more due to an offensive line that returns only two starters and a receiving corps that lacks a proven No. 1 option. Freshman Mike Thomas opened some eyes in the spring game, catching 12 passes for 131 yards. With Thomas’ emergence and the return of tight end Jake Stoneburner, the Buckeyes should have two solid targets for Miller. However, the receiving corps needs a big year from junior Philly Brown and sophomore Devin Smith. The potential is there for Ohio State’s offense to seamlessly pickup Meyer’s spread attack and emerge as one of the best in the conference. However, fall practice will be a good indicator of just how far the offensive line has come, which could hold the key to Ohio State’s season.

10. Is Marcus Lattimore fully healthy?
Reports from South Carolina indicate the Gamecocks star running back is ready to go for the season, but we won’t know for certain until we see Lattimore take the field for the first time since his Oct. 15 knee injury against Mississippi State. Steve Spurrier says the Gamecocks are protecting Lattimore in practice, so his first true game action may be the opener at Vanderbilt. Lattimore’s injury last season enabled Brandon Wilds and Kenny Miles to gain experience. South Carolina could be in better shape in the backfield than it was at the start of last season, but Lattimore’s knee may be the difference between winning the SEC East or not.

11. Can Oklahoma State repeat as Big 12 champs with a freshman QB?
There’s always pressure when you have to replace a quarterback like Brandon Weeden, but Lunt is under extra scrutiny in 2012, as the Cowboys hope to repeat as Big 12 champs. The freshman was one of three candidates vying for time in the spring and edged out J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf for the No. 1 spot. Walsh is expected to see time as a change of pace quarterback, but barring a setback in the fall, Lunt will be Oklahoma State’s starter in the opener against Savannah State. The Cowboys haven’t had much trouble producing good quarterback play under Mike Gundy, but it’s a lot to ask a true freshman quarterback to win a Big 12 title. Expect Oklahoma State to lean on running back Joseph Randle and a defense that led the nation in takeaways last season early in the year. However, for the Cowboys to win the Big 12, Lunt needs to be ready to deliver in the Big 12 opener on Sept. 29 against Texas. The freshman doesn’t have to be Brandon Weeden – but he needs to play beyond his years for Oklahoma State to repeat as Big 12 champs.

12. Who takes the lead at quarterback for Notre Dame?
If the Irish want to have any shot at topping last season’s win total (eight), they have to get better quarterback play. Tommy Rees led the team with 2,871 yards and 20 touchdowns last year but ran into off-the-field trouble and is suspended for the season opener. With Rees sidelined for the first game, the focus of the quarterback battle will shift to redshirt freshman Everett Golson, sophomore Andrew Hendrix and true freshman Gunner Kiel. Golson is an intriguing talent, as his dual-threat ability would give Notre Dame a different dimension on offense. Hendrix played in five contests last year, throwing for 249 yards and one touchdown while also adding 162 yards and one score on the ground. Golson and Hendrix figure to have an edge over Kiel for the No. 1 spot, but the true freshman will have every opportunity to earn playing time. Even if a starter doesn’t emerge, it’s important for the coaching staff to get Golson, Kiel and Hendrix as many snaps as possible, as neither of the trio have a career start.

13. Can Brent Venables fix Clemson’s problems on defense?
If Clemson’s Orange Bowl performance were an isolated incident, maybe it would be easier to accept (or maybe not, ask a Clemson fan or Kevin Steele). The 70 points allowed to West Virginia was the worst of the season by far, but Clemson’s defensive shortcomings were apparent all season. The Tigers ranked 70th or lower in six major defensive categories. Now, here comes Oklahoma’s Brent Venables to fix the Tigers’ D. Though Oklahoma fans may have grumbled, the Sooners finished in the top four in the Big 12 in total defense in each of Venables’ eight seasons as defensive coordinator. Clemson has eight returning starters on defense, but seven are at linebacker and defensive back. Inexperience and a lack of depth are major concerns on the defensive line. Venables might need to get creative while his defensive front grows up.

14. Is EJ Manuel the right quarterback to lead Florida State back to prominence?
Florida State fans have held high hopes for Manuel since he arrived on campus in 2008. After spending 2009 and 2010 as a backup to Christian Ponder, Manuel received the keys to the Seminoles’ offense last year, throwing for 2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns. He completed 65.3 percent of his throws and tossed only eight interceptions on 311 attempts. Although Manuel’s numbers weren’t eye-popping, it’s unfair to pin Florida State’s offensive concerns on him. The Seminoles struggled to establish the run, and the offensive line never found the right combination. Manuel was also bothered by a shoulder injury throughout the year and did not play in the 35-30 loss to Clemson. With a deep receiving corps returning and experience coming back on the line, Florida State’s offense should be improved in 2012. Manuel has all of the physical tools to succeed and should be more comfortable in his second year as the starter. While the Seminoles underachieved last season, Manuel is the right quarterback to lead Florida State back to a national title – provided his offensive line and rushing attack step up in 2012.

15. How quick can Boise State reload?
With only seven starters and a new quarterback under center, the Broncos will struggle to match last season's win total (12) and compete for a BCS bowl. Replacing quarterback Kellen Moore is no easy task, but junior Joe Southwick and freshman Nick Patti should keep the offense performing at a high level. Senior running back D.J. Harper is capable of rushing for over 1,000 yards but must stay healthy. Despite the return of only one starter, the Broncos should have one of the top defenses in the Mountain West. The opener at Michigan State will be a good barometer test, but the season finale against Nevada could decide if Boise State can finish inside of the top 10 in the BCS standings. Don't count out the Broncos from making another run at a BCS bowl. However, the personel losses suggest this team is probably one year away from playing in a BCS game.

16. What will we see from John L. Smith at Arkansas?
The motorcycle fiasco that eventually cost Bobby Petrino his job seems like ancient history. John L. Smith appears to have rallied the players, and then he enjoyed a charm offensive with reporters at SEC Media Days. All of that is great for the summer, but he’ll be back under the microscope on game days. Arkansas still has some questions on offense, including the line, the health of Knile Davis and depth in the receiving corps. The Hogs have early cakewalks against Jacksonville State and Louisiana-Monroe to iron out those issues before facing Alabama in Week Three.

17. If Stanford is going to rely on Stepfan Taylor to run the ball, who’s going to pave the way?
Wait, Stanford lost more than Andrew Luck in the offseason? Yes. David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin, both taken in the first 42 picks on the NFL draft, are gone. The other three starters (left guard David Yankey, center Sam Schwartzstein and right tackle Cameron Fleming) are back to form a solid foundation for the line. There’s healthy competition among returning players for the two vacant slots. Stanford’s impressive freshman line class -- which included three linemen in the Athlon Consensus 100 -- will be worth watching as well. True freshmen rarely start on the offensive line anywhere, but we should note Martin and DeCastro both started as redshirt freshmen at Stanford.

18. Which ACC contender will find the right mix on the offensive line?
Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech are expected to be the ACC’s best teams in 2012. However, neither of the three should feel particularly good about its offensive line. Virginia Tech must replace four starters, including standouts Blake DeChristopher and Jaymes Brooks. Center Andrew Miller is a solid place to start rebuilding but there’s very little experience around him. Florida State returns a handful of experienced players, but the starting five could all be sophomores. Clemson loses three starters but returns center Dalton Freeman. The Tigers have one of the college football’s top trios coming back (Tajh Boyd, Andre Ellington and Sammy Watkins), but the offense could sputter without better performance from the line. It’s possible that none of the three teams will find an answer during the year. However, whichever team can sort out its offensive line question marks the earliest could have the inside track at winning the ACC title.

19. Can Michigan find the right answers in the trenches?
Even with quarterback Denard Robinson returning, Michigan could find it difficult to repeat last season’s 11 wins. The Wolverines have a tough schedule and must replace two stalwarts from the trenches in center David Molk and defensive tackle Mike Martin. The Wolverines will likely turn to senior Ricky Barnum at center, while freshman Ondre Pipkins could play a key role on the defensive line. Considering Barnum’s experience and Taylor Lewan’s return at left tackle, the Wolverines should feel confident that the line can still perform at a high level. The defensive line is a bigger question mark, especially with run-first teams like Alabama, Michigan State and Nebraska on the schedule. It’s unreasonable to expect both units to match their production from 2011, but too much of a drop could cost Michigan a chance to win the Legends Division.

20. How will Danny O’Brien take the reins at Wisconsin?
Though O’Brien and Russell Wilson arrived under similar circumstances as graduate student transfers from the ACC, the Badgers shouldn’t necessarily expect similar results. Wilson had the best single-season for a Big Ten quarterback. Ill-suited as he may have been with the Terrapins under Randy Edsall, O’Brien did lose his starting job for a 2-10 Maryland team last season. Wilson was as accurate and efficient as any quarterback in the country, but he also took an active leadership role when he arrived on campus. O’Brien may have less on his shoulders thanks to Montee Ball, but how well he takes to his new team and new role may determine the course of the Badgers’ season.

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 20 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 05:50
Path: /college-football/big-east-footballs-breakout-players-2012
Body:

Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task. 

Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of breakout players for 2012 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season.

Predicting the Big East's Breakout Players for 2012

Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, Coleman is one of the most physically imposing receivers in the nation. As a redshirt freshman last year, he caught 17 passes for 552 yards and six touchdowns. Coleman was playing at a high level at the end of the season, catching six passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns against Connecticut and an 86-yard touchdown reception in the bowl win over Iowa State. The Scarlet Knights need more stability from their quarterbacks, but with Mohamed Sanu moving onto the NFL, Coleman could become Rutgers’ go-to target.

Chris Coyer, QB, TempleWith running back Bernard Pierce leaving for the NFL, the Owls will probably ask more of Coyer in the air in 2012. He played in eight games last season (four starts) and finished with 562 yards and three scores on the ground. Coyer threw only 50 passes all of last year but threw six touchdowns and tossed zero interceptions. With Coyer’s rushing ability, the return of Matt Brown and the addition of Montel Harris, the Owls should have one of the Big East’s top rushing attacks. However, if Temple wants to make a push for a bowl game in its first year back in the Big East, Coyer needs to take his performance in four starts and expand that over a full season. 

Hubie Graham, TE, PittsburghNew coach Paul Chryst is bringing a pro-style offense back to Pittsburgh, and Graham should be one of the biggest benefactors of the change in offensive styles. He caught 28 passes for 325 yards and three scores last year but should increase those totals in 2012. Chryst’s offenses at Wisconsin heavily involved the tight ends – Jacob Pedersen caught 30 passes and eight touchdowns last year – so expect Graham to be one of the team’s leading receivers once again in 2012. 

Sterling Griffin, WR, South FloridaGriffin got off to a fast start last season, catching 40 passes through South Florida’s first seven games. During that stretch, he also nabbed two touchdown catches and posted 109 yards in the loss to Pittsburgh. Griffin’s progress was slowed after a broken foot suffered in the loss to Cincinnati, forcing him to miss the next four games. As long as the junior can stay healthy, he should be the No. 1 target for quarterback B.J. Daniels and is an Athlon Sports first-team All-Big East selection for 2012. 

DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville In some ways, Parker broke out last season. As a true freshman, he caught 18 passes for 291 yards and six touchdowns. His best performance came in the 24-17 loss to FIU, grabbing four receptions for 52 yards and one touchdown. With another offseason to work with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Parker should push for the team lead in receptions. As evidenced by his touchdown total from 2011 (6), Parker is one of the Big East’s top threats in the redzone and should be Bridgewater’s go-to guy around the goal-line once again.

Marcus Sales, WR, SyracuseSales was suspended for all of 2011 due to an off-the-field incident, but his return is huge for an offense that will rely on the pass to win in 2012. In 2010, Sales finished the year by catching at least five passes in each of the final four games, including 172 yards in the bowl win over Kansas State. Alec Lemon is entrenched as Syracuse’s go-to target, but Sales should help quarterback Ryan Nassib stretch the field and could push for All-Big East honors by the end of the year. 

Rushel Shell, RB, Pittsburgh With Ray Graham recovering from a torn ACL, the Pittsburgh coaching staff won’t rush him back into a full workload. Sophomore Isaac Bennett had a solid spring and is expected to see his share of carries in 2012, but it will be difficult to keep Shell on the sidelines. He ranked as the No. 33 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and will be expected to contribute early and often this season. Shell won’t beat out Graham for the No. 1 spot, but he should turn plenty of heads in his limited workload in 2012.

Marcus Smith, DE, LouisvilleThe Cardinals finished 10th nationally against the run last season, and this unit could be even better in 2012. Charlie Strong and coordinator Vance Bedford have accumulated depth and athletic ability, molding Louisville’s line into one of the best in the Big East. Smith has bounced around the field in his career, starting at quarterback and moving to linebacker in 2010. He moved to defensive end in 2011 and made five starts last season, recording 12 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Smith should be Louisville’s top pass rusher and will have an increased role in the defense in 2012. 

Walter Stewart, DE, Cincinnati Stewart certainly isn’t an unknown to fans in the Big East, but look for the senior to get some recognition on the national level in 2012. Derek Wolfe was one of the top defensive players in the Big East last season, and the Bearcats will lean on Stewart for the same type of production. He started all 13 games and recorded 44 stops, while also posting 11 tackles for a loss and six sacks. Losing Wolfe adds more pressure on the ends to produce, but Stewart is capable of pushing for the conference lead in sacks. 

Chandler Whitmer, QB, Connecticut All of the pieces are in place for the Huskies to push for the Big East title – except quarterback. Is Whitmer the answer under center? That’s the big question facing Connecticut in 2012. He started his career at Illinois but transferred after his redshirt freshman year to play one season at Butler Community College. Whitmer had a strong showing in the spring, completing 18 of 27 passes for 187 yards. The sophomore doesn’t have to throw for 3,000 yards, but has to give Connecticut’s more offense a threat through the air. Whitmer may have a few ups and downs due to his inexperience, but he should give the Huskies a much-needed boost in the passing game. 


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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Teaser:
<p> Big East Football's Breakout Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 05:47
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oregon Ducks, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/oregon-ducks-2012-qb-battle-bryan-bennett-vs-marcus-mariota
Body:

Darron Thomas’ decision to enter the NFL Draft caught some by surprise, but Oregon isn’t expecting to have much of a drop in production from its quarterbacks. Thomas threw for 5,910 yards and 66 touchdowns in his career and led the Ducks to two BCS bowls. Chip Kelly is one of the top offensive minds in college football and even with a new signal-caller, Oregon should rank among the best in the nation in scoring and total offense in 2012.

The Candidates:

#2 Bryan Bennett

2011 stats: 369 yards, 6 TDs, 0 INT, 54.3; 200 rush yards

#8 Marcus Mariota

2011 stats: Redshirted

The Breakdown:

Bennett gained an early edge in the quarterback competition last season, playing well in relief of Darron Thomas against Arizona State and starting in the 45-2 blowout victory over Colorado. In the win against the Buffaloes, Bennett completed 11 of 20 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 69 yards on the ground.

Although Bennett had the edge in experience entering spring practice, the coaching staff had an open competition, allowing redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota to fight his way into the mix. He ranked as the No. 12 dual-threat quarterback in the nation by Rivals.com in the 2011 recruiting class.

Mariota was the better quarterback in the spring game, completing 18 of 26 passes for 202 yards and one score, while adding 99 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. However, Bennett wasn’t too far behind in the throwing department, completing 19 of 32 attempts for 209 yards. The only downside to his passing numbers was two interceptions.

While it’s easy to put stock in a spring game performance, it’s important to remember the offense was divided into two teams, and Mariota had the advantage of playing with a better offensive line.

Final Verdict

There’s no question Chip Kelly has a tough decision to make. However, the news isn’t all bad, as Oregon has two options capable of leading this team to another Pac-12 Championship. And it’s not of the question that both players will be needed to play this year and a two-quarterback system could be used.

Bennett owns the edge in experience, but Mariota brings more big-play ability on the ground. Bennett is certainly a capable runner, but Mariota would seem to provide more of a big-play threat. Both players are inexperienced as passers, which could be the one area that receives the most attention in the fall.   

Whenever there’s a new starter under center, a few bumps in the road can be expected. However, expect a fairly seamless transition from Thomas to Bennett/Mariota.

Although Mariota won the spring game, this battle is a virtual dead heat going into the season opener against Arkansas State.

Predicted Winner: Mariota
 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

 


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Teaser:
<p> Oregon Ducks 2012 QB Battle: Bryan Bennett vs. Marcus Mariota</p>
Post date: Monday, August 6, 2012 - 04:27
Path: /college-football/secs-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

The SEC's 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Is Zach Mettenberger the missing piece at LSU?
National championship caliber defense? Check. Punishing running game and offensive line? Check. Quarterback? Wait and see. The biggest issue for the Tigers in recent years has been quarterback play. Although LSU made the national title game last year, having a difference maker under center could make the Tigers the most complete team in college football. Mettenberger played sparingly last season, completing 8 of 11 passes for 92 yards in mop-up duty against Northwestern State. The Tigers won’t ask Mettenberger to win many games on his own, but his emergence will allow the offense to open up more in 2012 and finally give the team a chance to stretch the field. The junior will have his share of ups and downs in his first season, but it looks like LSU finally has a quarterback that it can lean on to win games through the air.

2. How could early season suspensions hamper Georgia?
Mark Richt hasn’t revealed any suspensions other than two games for starting cornerback Sanders Commings, but a handful of other starters on the Bulldogs’ defense could miss a crucial game at Missouri in the second week of the season. Safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alex Ogletree are possibilities to miss the Tigers’ SEC debut. Rambo’s suspension could stretch into four games, which would include a home date with upstart Vanderbilt. The Commodores came within five points of upsetting the Bulldogs last season. Richt’s silence on the matter may be gamesmanship for the Missouri game, but even if Georgia’s only missing a couple of key players on defense, coordinator Todd Grantham may need to prepare his secondary to take some lumps.

3. How quickly can Alabama’s defense find replacements?
Losing Trent Richardson is a huge blow for the offense, but the Crimson Tide has capable replacements waiting in the wings with Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart. The biggest obstacle to a repeat national title will be the loss of several key players on defense, including All-SEC selections Mark Barron, Courtney Upshaw, Josh Chapman, Dont’a Hightower and Dre Kirkpatrick. Alabama has recruited well, so the cupboard is far from bare for coordinator Kirby Smart and coach Nick Saban. The secondary will have three new starters, but juniors Dee Milliner and John Fulton have experience at cornerback. Sophomore Vinnie Sunseri will likely start at strong safety. Additionally, junior college recruits Travell Dixon and Deion Belue had a solid spring and will push for time in the fall. The biggest questions on defense could be in the front seven. Jesse Williams will move from end to nose guard, while the starting linebacking corps could be composed of three sophomores. Repeating last season’s No. 1 rank in total, scoring, rush and pass defense is probably too much to ask of a rebuilt defense. However, don’t expect the Crimson Tide to suffer much of a drop in production, especially as some of the younger players get comfortable with more playing time.

4. How is Florida’s offense shaking out?
Florida fans won’t have Charlie Weis to kick around anymore, but what does the addition of Brent Pease as offensive coordinator mean for the Gators’ murky quarterback situation? Sophomores Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett remain neck and neck for the starting job, but the Gators may need answers quickly. Customarily, the Gators’ first major test of the season isn’t until Week Three against Tennessee, but a Sept. 8 trip to Texas A&M probably speeds up the timetable. Driskel and Brissett have 73 pass attempts between them, but coach Will Muschamp is at least comforted they have 73 more attempts than they did a year ago. Both struggled to pass downfield, so the quarterback who’s able to stretch the field beyond 10 yards might get the early edge.

5. Is Marcus Lattimore fully healthy?
Reports from South Carolina indicate the Gamecocks star running back is ready to go for the season, but we won’t know for certain until we see Lattimore take the field for the first time since his Oct. 15 knee injury against Mississippi State. Steve Spurrier says the Gamecocks are protecting Lattimore in practice, so his first true game action may be the opener at Vanderbilt. Lattimore’s injury last season enabled Brandon Wilds and Kenny Miles to gain experience. South Carolina could be in better shape in the backfield than it was at the start of last season, but Lattimore’s knee may be the difference between winning the SEC East or not.

6. Is Missouri quarterback James Franklin healthy?
Moving from the Big 12 to the SEC will be a challenge for Missouri, but the task is even more difficult with Franklin returning from a shoulder injury. In his first season as a starter, Franklin threw for 2,865 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 981 yards and 15 scores. Franklin missed most of spring practice due to an injury to his throwing shoulder but is on track to return by the season opener. Although the junior is expected to be ready to go by kickoff, the Tigers will have to be cautious. Franklin probably won’t handle 217 carries again, which makes the play of running backs Kendial Lawrence and Marcus Murphy even more important. Franklin will have a nice tune-up against SE Louisiana to test his arm, and it will be important to build some confidence with Georgia coming to Columbia in Week 2. Quarterbacks returning from a shoulder injury are always a concern, especially if there are any issues with lost arm strength or timing with receivers. However, all signs point to a full recovery from Franklin.

7. What happens when Tyler Bray hands the ball to a running back?
Tennessee’s rushing numbers have dropped in each of the last three seasons, bottoming out at 90.1 yards per game (116th nationally), 2.8 yards per carry (last in the SEC) and 11 rushing touchdowns. Bray and his receivers Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers will need to be the foundation of the offense, but the Volunteers’ run game needs to provide something. Rajion Neal may have the most potential in the Vols’ backfield after averaging nearly 5 yards per carry last season, but he’s a converted wide receiver who had trouble with fumbles. A committee approach might be the solution.

8. Quarterback Battles at Auburn and Texas A&M
LSU, Alabama and Arkansas seem set as the top three teams in the SEC West. However, the rest of the division is up for grabs, as Auburn, Texas A&M and Mississippi State could all make a case to be picked fourth. The Tigers are hoping sophomore Kiehl Frazier can emerge as the team’s No. 1 quarterback, and he left spring practice with a lead over junior Clint Moseley. New coordinator Scot Loeffler has implemented a pro-style attack, but Frazier – recruited to run Gus Malzahn’s spread – didn’t have much trouble picking up the offense in the spring. Not only is Texas A&M joining the SEC and breaking in a new coaching staff, but the Aggies must replace Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. Texas A&M hopes to implement a spread attack but there will be growing pains with little experience returning under center. Sophomore Jameill Showers left spring practice with an edge over Johnny Manziel and would be a surprise if that spot changed hands in the fall. Whichever team (Auburn or Texas A&M) settles its quarterback situation first could have a chance to put some pressure on Arkansas for third place in the SEC West.

9. What will we see from John L. Smith?
The motorcycle fiasco that eventually cost Bobby Petrino his job seems like ancient history. John L. Smith appears to have rallied the players, and then he enjoyed a charm offensive with reporters at SEC Media Days. All of that is great for the summer, but he’ll be back under the microscope on game days. Arkansas still has some questions on offense, including the line, the health of Knile Davis and depth in the receiving corps. The Hogs have early cakewalks against Jacksonville State and Louisiana-Monroe to iron out those issues before facing Alabama in Week Three.

10. Is Mississippi State ready to take the next step?
Outside of Kentucky and Vanderbilt, the toughest job in the SEC is at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs play in a brutal division and had only three winning seasons from 2000-2010. Dan Mullen has done a good job of getting the program pointed in the right direction, leading the Bulldogs to a 21-17 record in his first three years. However, it’s time for the program to take the next step. Mullen has yet to beat a team in the SEC West outside of Ole Miss. Despite the departure of quarterback Chris Relf and running back Vick Ballard, Mississippi State should be able to challenge for fourth place in the SEC West this season. LSU, Alabama and Arkansas are largely considered the top teams in the division, but Auburn and Texas A&M aren’t too far ahead of the Bulldogs. Even if Mississippi State doesn’t finish fourth in the SEC West, beating Tennessee on Oct. 13 or Arkansas on Nov. 17 would be another boost to the program. The Bulldogs have the schedule to make their third consecutive bowl appearance, but climbing higher in the SEC standings is one of the top goals for Mullen this season.
 

by David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

 

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Teaser:
<p> SEC's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Friday, August 3, 2012 - 18:55
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/candidates-announced-johnny-unitas-golden-arm-award
Body:

The Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award is one of college football's premier honors and is awarded to the NCAA's top quarterback for on-field performance and character. 

Below are the preseason candidates for the Johnny Unitas Award and some of their accomplishments heading into 2012. 

Check out the official site for more information on the candidates and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.

Candidates for the 2012 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award

Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State
Aplin is one of the nation’s most underrated quarterbacks, recording 4,176 yards and 29 overall scores last year. New coach Gus Malzahn is bringing an up-tempo offense to Jonesboro, which should allow Aplin to have Arkansas State in the hunt for the Sun Belt title once again.

Matt Barkley, USC
The senior is widely considered to be college football’s best player and opens 2012 as a frontrunner for most national awards. Barkley has thrown for 80 career touchdowns and is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for 2012.

Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Boyd emerged as one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks in his first season as a starter. He finished with 3,828 yards and tossed 33 touchdowns while leading Clemson to its first ACC Championship since 2011.

Alex Carder, Western Michigan
Carder has been one of the MAC’s top quarterbacks over the last two years and had five games of at least 400 passing yards last season. He also set a Western Michigan single-season record with 3,873 passing yards in 2011.

Derek Carr, Fresno State
The last name Carr and Fresno State are no stranger to success. David Carr won the 2001 Johnny Unitas Award and Derek should be the Mountain West’s top quarterback in 2012. He threw for 3,544 yards and 26 scores in 2011.

B.J. Daniels, South Florida
Daniels posted a career-best 3,205 total yards last season and should be one of the Big East’s top offensive players in 2012. The senior is one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks and expects to have South Florida in the mix for the conference title.

Seth Doege, Texas Tech
Quarterbacks at Texas Tech are no stranger to producing eye-popping numbers. Doege threw for 4,004 yards and 28 touchdowns, while leading Texas Tech to a huge upset over Oklahoma on Oct. 22 in his first full season as the starter in 2011.

Nick Florence, Baylor
Replacing Robert Griffin is no easy task, but Florence is experienced and primed for a standout senior year. He has 1,992 yards and eight touchdowns in 18 career games and started seven contests when Griffin was out due to a torn ACL.

Mike Glennon, NC State
Glennon shined in his first season as NC State’s starter, throwing for 2,932 yards and 31 scores. He closed out the year on a tear, leading the Wolfpack to three consecutive wins, including a bowl victory over Louisville. Glennon should be one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks in 2012.

Landry Jones, Oklahoma
Already the holder of 13 school passing marks, Jones has thrown for 12,379 yards and 93 touchdowns in his first three seasons. A starter since his redshirt freshman season, Jones has led the Sooners to a 22-5 record the past two seasons and is 3-0 in bowl games for his career.

Collin Klein, Kansas State
All Klein did in his first season as the Wildcats' starter was throw for more than 1,900 yards and rush for more than 1,100 while leading the team to 10 wins. He accounted for a total of 40 touchdowns, including 27 on the ground, which established a new FBS record for quarterbacks.

EJ Manuel, Florida State
A shoulder injury hindered Manuel at times in 2011 and with a full offseason to recover, should have an All-ACC caliber senior year. Manuel threw for 2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns last season and added 151 yards and four scores on the ground.

AJ McCarron, Alabama
McCarron led the Crimson Tide to the national championship last season, throwing for 2,634 yards and 16 touchdowns. Even though it was his first year as the starter, McCarron tossed only five picks. McCarron will have a bigger role in the offense in this season and should easily surpass last season’s totals.

Aaron Murray, Georgia
In his second season as a stater, Murray led Georgia to the SEC Championship Game by passing for 3,149 yards and a school-record 35 touchdown passes. He was second-team All-SEC last season and should make another bid for the SEC East title.

Ryan Nassib, Syracuse
Quarterback had long been a trouble spot for Syracuse, but Nassib has bucked that trend. In 2011, Nassib set school records for completions (259) and passing yards (2,685).

Casey Pachall, TCU
After taking over for four-year starter and second-round draft pick, Pachall improved as the 2011 season went along, completing nearly two-thirds of his passes for 2,921 yards with 25 touchdowns.

Keith Price, Washington
Despite dealing with knee injuries for most of last year, Price delivered in a big way for Washington’s offense. He threw for 33 touchdowns and 3,063 yards, while adding three rushing scores on the ground in the bowl game over Baylor. A healthy year from Price should deliver big results for Washington.

Sean Renfree, Duke
Renfree is yet another name in a list of prolific passers to play for David Cutcliffe. Renfree has passed for 6,022 yards and 28 touchdowns in his two season as a starter.

Bryn Renner, North Carolina
Renner led the ACC and finished 10th nationally in pass efficiency. Now he plays for no-huddle spread expert Larry Fedora. Renner passed for 3,086 yards and 26 touchdowns in his first season as a starter.

Denard Robinson, Michigan
With speed, athleticism and elusiveness, Robinson is one of college football’s most exciting players. He has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons on the ground and threw for a career-best 20 passing scores last season. Robinson’s play is a huge reason why Michigan enters 2012 as the favorite to win the Big Ten title.

Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt
The younger brother of reigning NFL MVP and Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Jordan made a name for himself after taking over as the Commodores' starter halfway through last season. After averaging 20.4 points and 244.4 yards of offense through the first five games, Vanderbilt's output increased to 31.6 points and 413.0 yards in its final seven regular-season games with Rodgers running the show.

Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois
Scheelhaase accounted for nearly 60 percent of Illinois' total offense in 2011 as he threw for more than 2,000 yards also and led the team in rushing. He capped off his sophomore season by earning Offensive Player of the Game honors as he led the Fighting Illini to a 20-14 win over UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Geno Smith, West Virginia
A year after throwing for 4,385 yards and 31 scores, Smith is poised for an even bigger 2012 season. The senior has another offseason of experience in coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense under his belt, while the move to the offensive-minded Big 12 Conference shouldn’t hurt Smith’s numbers.

Brad Sorensen, Southern Utah
Sorensen has had an interesting journey to get to Southern Utah, starting his career at BYU and playing one season at San Bernardino Valley College. Sorensen has been one of the top players on the FCS level over the last two seasons, throwing for over 3,000 yards in both years and placing as a Payton Award finalist in 2011.

Tyler Tettleton, Ohio
Last season Tettleton took the Bobcats to new heights both statistically and in terms of team success. Besides quarterbacking an offense that shattered the school single-season records for points, passing yards and total yards, Tettleton led the Bobcats to 10 wins, including the program's first-ever bowl victory.

Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
One of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, all Thomas did in his first season as a starter was break the school single-season record for total yards with 3,482. The Hokies' second-leading rusher in 2011, Thomas accounted for a total of 30 touchdowns, including 11 on the ground.

Jeff Tuel, Washington State
Injuries never allowed Tuel’s 2011 season to get off the ground. He played in only three games and finished with 276 passing yards. With Mike Leach coordinating Washington State’s offense, look for Tuel to have a monster senior season.

James Vandenberg, Iowa
The best drop-back passer in the Big Ten, Vandenberg passed for 3,022 yards last season with 25 touchdowns in his first season as a starter.

Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
Arkansas has set a handful of passing records in the last three seasons. In his first season as starting quarterback, Wilson was no exception. He became the first Razorback quarterback to be named first-team All-SEC last season after passing for 4,378 yards and 31 touchdowns. 
 

Check out the official site for more information on the candidates and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.

Teaser:
<p> Candidates Announced for Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award</p>
Post date: Friday, August 3, 2012 - 12:34
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-football-top-5-storylines-watch-fall-practice
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

Notre Dame's 5 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Who takes the lead at quarterback?
If the Irish want to have any shot at topping last season’s win total (eight), they have to get better quarterback play. Tommy Rees led the team with 2,871 yards and 20 touchdowns last year but ran into off-the-field trouble and is suspended for the season opener. With Rees sidelined for the first game, the focus of the quarterback battle will shift to redshirt freshman Everett Golson, sophomore Andrew Hendrix and true freshman Gunner Kiel. Golson is an intriguing talent, as his dual-threat ability would give Notre Dame a different dimension on offense. Hendrix played in five contests last year, throwing for 249 yards and one touchdown while also adding 162 yards and one score on the ground. Golson and Hendrix figure to have an edge over Kiel for the No. 1 spot, but the true freshman will have every opportunity to earn playing time. Even if a starter doesn’t emerge, it’s important for the coaching staff to get Golson, Kiel and Hendrix as many snaps as possible, as neither of the trio have a career start. 

2. Will a receiver emerge as a clear No. 1 target?
There’s no doubt in South Bend that Michael Floyd will be missed. After catching 271 passes for 3,686 yards and 37 touchdowns over the last four years, Notre Dame will miss Floyd’s presence in the redzone and his big-play ability. The cupboard isn’t bare at receiver, as junior TJ Jones and seniors John Goodman, Robby Toma and Theo Riddick (who will play at running back and receiver this year) are capable targets. However, none are the go-to guy that Floyd was throughout his career. Freshmen DaVaris Daniels and Davonte Neal will factor prominently into the receiving corps and could be key contributors by the end of the season. Jones has been steady over his first two years in South Bend, but bigger things were expected of him when he committed to Notre Dame. Even if the catches are spread around the receiving corps, the Irish quarterbacks can lean on tight end Tyler Eifert. The senior is an Athlon first-team All-American for 2012. The Irish don’t necessarily need a true No. 1 receiver, but this unit needs Jones, Daniels and Neal to produce a few big plays and pickup where Floyd left off.

3. Can the Irish find answers in the secondary?
With three key players departing from the defensive backfield, Notre Dame will have a hard time replicating its 38th overall finish in pass defense from 2011. Cornerbacks Gary Gray and Robert Blanton weren’t standouts, but both were multi-year starters. Stepping into the spotlight will be juniors Bennett Jackson and Lo Wood and most of their experience has come on special teams. Jackson was solid in the spring, putting pressure on Wood to solidify the other spot in the fall. Depth is thin in the secondary, as inexperienced sophomores Cam McDaniel and Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown will likely compose the backup spots at cornerback. The situation is a little better at safety, but Notre Dame must replace standout Harrison Smith. The good news is Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta are capable players and should help pickup the leadership void left behind by Smith.

4. Can Aaron Lynch be replaced?
At one point this offseason, Notre Dame had a strong case to be ranked among the top five defensive lines in college football. However, Aaron Lynch’s surprising decision to leave South Bend in the spring was a huge loss for the defense. Lynch was just scratching the surface of his potential, recording 33 tackles and 5.5 sacks last year. Despite losing a player of Lynch’s caliber, the Irish should still be solid up front. Sophomore Stephon Tuitt will likely slide into Lynch’s spot after recording 30 tackles and two sacks last year. Senior Kapron Lewis-Moore will man the other end spot, while 326-pound nose guard Louis Nix III will anchor the middle. The coaching staff is also excited about the potential of freshman Sheldon Day and sophomore Chase Hounshell. Although losing Lynch was a setback, Notre Dame’s defensive line has the pieces in place to be stout once again.

5. Playmakers on defense
With Aaron Lynch’s departure, the Irish not only need a big season from end Stephon Tuitt but also linebacker Ishaq Williams. The sophomore recorded only six tackles in 11 contests last year. However, Williams has the physical ability and talent to be an impact player on defense, and Notre Dame needs him to become one of the team’s top pass rushers in 2012. Junior Prince Shembo is also expected to help pickup the slack from Lynch’s departure. With concerns about the secondary, it's important for Notre Dame to find players who can get after the quarterback. 

Related Notre Dame Content

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections
College Football's 2012 All-American Team

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2012 Team Preview

2012 College Football All-Name Team

Teaser:
<p> Notre Dame Football: Top 5 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Friday, August 3, 2012 - 05:40
Path: /college-football/big-ten-player-rankings-top-50-players-2012
Body:

As usual, the Big Ten should produce plenty of elite defensive talent this season. Ohio State's John Simon and Michigan State's William Gholston should be two of the top defensive ends in college football, while Purdue's Kawann Short should be a household name by the end of the year. The offensive side of the ball isn't bad, but the conference lost several key offensive linemen and receivers. 

Compiling the top 50 players of any conference is never an easy task. However, Athlon established a criteria to help compile the rankings. 

Here are five factors that contributed to the criteria for the rankings:
1. Projection on 2012 Performance 
2. Importance to team
3. Positional importance
4. NFL Draft stock
5. Career performance 

Athlon's Top 50 Big Ten Players for 2012

1. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Ball emerged as one of the elite tailbacks in his junior season at Wisconsin, leading the nation with 1,923 rushing yards and an astounding 33 rushing touchdowns. His 39 total TDs last year tied the NCAA record originally set by Barry Sanders in 1988. Ball has rushed for at least 100 yards in 16 of the last 20 games dating back to November 2011. Don’t be surprised if Ball is on the podium in New York in early December accepting the Heisman Trophy.  

2. Denard Robinson, QB Michigan
The man they call Shoelace has been one of the most dynamic playmakers in college football over the past two seasons. Robinson has struggled at times with consistency in the passing game, but he led the nation last year by averaging 15.3 yards per completion and ranked fourth in the Big Ten in passing efficiency. Robinson does his best work on the ground, however; he has rushed for 3,229 yards on a 5.9-yard average in his three years in Ann Arbor.

3. John Simon, DE, Ohio State
Simon is the key player on a veteran Ohio State defensive line, ranked by Athlon as the best in the Big Ten. This wrecking ball is as difficult as anyone in the country to block from the outside. He’s improved each year, topping out at 16 tackles for a loss, seven sacks and three pass deflections last season. Urban Meyer’s background is on offense, but he has a knack for utilizing great pass rushers like Carlos Dunlap, Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss at Florida.

4. William Gholston, DE, Michigan State
Entering his junior season, Gholston appears to be only scratching the surface of his potential. The Michigan State coaching staff wasted no time in getting the Detroit native involved as a freshman, as Gholston played in 10 games and recorded 13 stops. In his first year as a starter in 2011, he recorded 70 tackles, five sacks and 16 tackles for a loss last season. Gholston earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last season and should be in the mix to earn All-American honors in 2012. Without Jerel Worthy plugging the middle, opposing offensive lines will devote more attention to Gholston’s side. Despite a few more double teams coming in his direction, the junior is poised to have his best overall season, which could be his last in East Lansing with NFL scouts already raving about his potential.   

5. Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska
Burkhead thrived in his first full season as Nebraska’s No. 1 back, rushing for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns. He averaged 106 yards per game in Big Ten play and earned first-team all-conference honors last season. Although quarterback Taylor Martinez should get better as a passer in 2012, the Cornhuskers will lean heavily on Burkhead to win games. The senior is capable of recording 300 overall carries and will also be a factor in the passing game, as evidenced by his 21 receptions last year. Burkhead is a sleeper candidate to watch in the Heisman race and should be one of the Big Ten’s top offensive players this season.

6. Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin
Entering his third season in the starting lineup, Wagner will anchor what should be the best offensive line in the Big Ten from the all-important left tackle spot. A 6-6, 322-pound fifth-year senior from West Allis, Wis., Wagner arrived in Madison as a walk-on tight end but has made a successive transition to the offensive line. He started at right tackle in 2010 but made the move to the left side last fall to replace former All-American Gabe Carimi. 

7. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
With his combination of size and athleticism, Short is drawing attention from NFL scouts and is expected to be a first-round pick in 2013. The East Chicago native has started all three seasons at Purdue and is coming off his best year, recording 54 stops, 17 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks. Improving the run defense is one of the top priorities for coach Danny Hope this season, but Short’s return to West Lafayette should help the Boilermakers improve on last year’s statistics (9th in the Big Ten in rushing defense). Short was named Purdue’s team defensive MVP last season and is an Athlon second-team All-American for 2012. 

8. Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
Hankins is developing into the next great defensive lineman to come out of the Ohio State program. In his first year as a starter last fall, the Michigan native recorded 67 total tackles, including 14 for a loss and three sacks. The large but nimble Hankins has slimmed down to 317 pounds for his junior season. “Hank is now a little less of an immovable object and more of an unstoppable force,” says Ohio State center Corey Linsley. 

9. Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
After missing most of the 2010 season with shoulder injuries, Borland returned to action last fall and developed into a big-time playmaker at middle linebacker. The Ohio native led the team in tackles for a loss (19) and forced fumbles (5) and ranked second in the Big Ten in total tackles (143). Borland was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten pick in ’11 and has been named a third-team 2012 preseason All-American by Athlon Sports.

10. Gerald Hodges, LB, Penn State
The exodus of quality players at Penn State has just begun, but so far the Nittany Lions’ star linebacker is staying put. An outside linebacker, Hodges led Penn State with 106 tackles last season as the defense ranked 20th nationally in yards allowed per game (323.9). When the dust settles with the roster at Penn State, Hodges, who also had 10 tackles for a loss last season, might be one of the few in contention for All-Big Ten honors or more.

11. Mike Taylor, LB, Wisconsin
The other half of one of the most devastating linebacking duos in the nation, Taylor is entering his fourth season as a starter. Last year, he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors after leading the Big Ten (and ranking third in the nation) with 150 tackles. With some issues on the defensive line and in the secondary, Taylor and fellow backer Chris Borland will need to be at their best in 2012. 

12. Travis Frederick, C, Wisconsin
After starting most of last season at left guard, Frederick slides over to center to replace Peter Konz, a second-round pick by the Falcons in the 2012 NFL Draft. Frederick is not entirely new to the position, however; he started two games at center in ’11 — vs. Penn State on Nov. 26 and the Big Ten Championship Game vs. Michigan State. A 6-4, 328-pound junior, Frederick earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last fall. 

13. Johnny Adams, CB, Michigan State
A third-year starter, Adams leads the top secondary in the Big Ten. NFL scouts will watch Adams closely in his final season on campus, a year after the Spartans ranked 18th nationally in pass efficiency defense. He doesn’t have the gaudy interception numbers (though he had three in each of the last two seasons), but he’s an elite cover corner and stands out in run support.

14. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Lewan, a 6-8, 302-pound junior, has started 22 games over the past two seasons at left tackle. A second-team All-Big Ten pick last season (by the coaches), Lewan will be asked to be the leader of the Wolverines’ offensive line following the graduation of Rimington Award-winning center David Molk.

15. Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue
Since stepping onto campus in 2010, Allen has been an impact player for the Boilermakers’ defense. He earned freshman All-American accolades in 2010 by starting 12 games and returning two interceptions for a touchdown. Allen followed up his standout freshman year with a solid sophomore season, recording 81 tackles and three interceptions. Allen has been picked to the Thorpe Award watch list (the nation’s top defensive back) and is an Athlon first-team All-Big Ten selection for 2012. 

16. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Based upon his performance in 2011, ranking Miller among the top 20 players in the Big Ten is probably a stretch. However, that’s where projecting for 2012 comes into play. Urban Meyer’s spread attack should jumpstart Ohio State’s offense, while turning Miller into one of the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks. The sophomore should have no trouble surpassing last season’s 1,159 passing yards and will top over 500 yards on the ground once again in 2012. 

17. Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State
With Denicos Allen, Bullough makes up half of an elite linebacker tandem, and with the rest of the Spartans ‘backers, he’s in the middle of the best unit in the Big Ten. Bullough is a standout play-caller on the field and excelled as a run-stuffer for a unit that allowed 100.5 rushing yards per game (first in the Big Ten, ninth nationally). 

18. Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois
At 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, Buchanan has intriguing size and ability for the pro ranks, but he elected to stay at Illinois rather than follow linemate Whitney Mercilus to the NFL Draft. Back for his senior season, Buchanan will try to show he can be a team’s top pass rusher after working aside Mercilus last season. Buchanan’s 7.5 sacks were less than half of Mercilus’ total (16) but still ranked fourth in the Big Ten.

19. Jonathan Brown, LB, Illinois
In a league that features Gerald Hodges, Mike Taylor and Chris Borland, it’s easy for Brown to be overlooked for preseason accolades. However, the junior should be one of Illinois’ top players in 2012. Brown recorded 108 tackles and 19.5 tackles for a loss last season, along with earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. Look for the Memphis, Tenn. native to raise his profile even more in 2012.

20. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Roby was a consensus three-star recruit out of Suwanee, Ga., but he must have learned something in his redshirt season in Columbus. The sophomore stepped right into the starting cornerback job last season. After finishing with 47 tackles and three interceptions in 2011, the new staff hopes to take advantage of Roby’s playmaking ability in his second season on the field.

21. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska
Martinez, who arrived at Nebraska as an athlete, has been one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation over the past two seasons. His efficiency was down a bit in 2011, but his yards passing (2,089) and touchdown passes (13) were up. He continues to be a threat in the running game, with 1,839 yards and 21 touchdowns during his career.

22. James Vandenberg, QB, Iowa
The Big Ten may have the nation’s best collection of athletic quarterbacks, so it may be tempting to overlook the league’s best dropback passer. Vandenberg was the Big Ten’s third-leading passer at 3,022 yards last season and was second only to Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins in attempts and completions. Vandenberg will be even more of a key player for the Iowa offense this season, but he’ll have to improve his play on the road and overcome the loss of clutch receiver Marvin McNutt. The concerns about the offensive line and rushing attack will only add to the pressure on Vandenberg's shoulders in 2012.

23. C.J. Barnett, S, Ohio State
Barnett missed all but two games of 2010 but didn’t miss a beat when he returned to the Buckeyes last season. He led Ohio State with 75 tackles and provided his share of thundering hits in the secondary. He also had interceptions against Miami and Michigan State.

24. Jordan Hill, DT, Penn State
With Devon Still moving on to the NFL, it’s up to Hill to become Penn State’s leader in the trenches. He recorded 59 stops and 3.5 sacks last year, while earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. Hill will likely see more double teams without Still, but the 6-foot-1 senior should be able to finish his career by pushing for All-American honors in 2012.

25. Micah Hyde, CB, Iowa
Hyde has been a mainstay in the Hawkeyes’ secondary over the past two seasons, with 25 starts at cornerback and two at safety. Last season, he tied for first in the Big Ten in passes defended (11) and added three interceptions. He is a 2012 preseason second-team All-Big Ten pick by Athlon Sports.

26. Spencer Long, OL, Nebraska
A walk on from Elkhorn, Neb., Long didn’t even see any game action until last season when he started every game at guard. Long was a key blocker for an offense that averaged 217.2 rushing yards per game, which ranked third in the Big Ten and 15th in the nation.

27. Denicos Allen, LB, Michigan State
After playing mostly on special teams in 2010, Allen was one of the Big Ten’s top breakout performers last year. He played in all 14 contests, recording 83 stops, 18.5 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks. Allen doesn’t have prototypical size, but his speed and athletic ability allows him to wreck havoc in opposing backfields.

28. Isaiah Lewis, S, Michigan State
Lewis quietly earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last season, recording 74 tackles and four interceptions in his first year as a starter. The junior is regarded as one of the biggest hitters in the Big Ten and will have to assume more of a leadership role in 2012 with the departure of Trenton Robinson. 

29. Chris McDonald, OL, Michigan State
McDonald has been a nearly automatic presence in the Spartans’ starting lineup, making 17 consecutive starts and 26 overall at right guard. With a new starting quarterback, McDonald may have to pave the way for running back Le’Veon Bell to carry the offense.

30. Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
A former high school quarterback, Abbrederis gives the Badgers a big-play threat in the passing game. Last season, he caught 55 passes for a team-high 933 yards and eight touchdowns, and his 17.0 yards-per-catch average ranked second in the Big Ten behind Michigan’s Junior Hemingway.

31. Fitzgerald Toussaint, RB, Michigan
The emergence of Touissant in late October took some of the pressure off quarterback Denard Robinson in the Michigan offense. He rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Purdue on Oct. 29 and then went on to run for 508 yards in the month of November, more than anyone in the Big Ten not named Montee Ball.

32. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State
With Kirk Cousins finishing his eligibility in East Lansing, the focus for Michigan State’s offense will shift back to the rushing attack. Bell is expected to be the Spartans’ workhorse in 2012 after rushing for 948 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. At 6-foot-2 and 244 pounds, the junior brings an intriguing blend of power and speed and should surpass 1,000 yards for the first time in his career this year.

33. Jacob Pedersen, TE, Wisconsin
Pederson was a reliable red zone threat for former Badger quarterback Russell Wilson, with eight of his 30 receptions resulting in a touchdown. The 6-4, 240-pound Illinois native caught at least one pass in all but one game — with a high of six for 80 yards and two scores vs. Oregon State — and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors.

34. Keenan Davis, WR, Iowa
The Hawkeyes’ record-breaking receiver Marvin McNutt drew most of the attention last season, but Davis had the breakout season. Davis finished with 50 catches last year, after catching 15 total passes his first two seasons on campus. His 713 receiving yards and 14.3 yards per catch were respectable stats for a No. 2 receiver. Now, Iowa will learn how he takes to being No. 1.

35. Christian Bryant, S, Ohio State
With all four starters returning, Ohio State should have one of the best defensive backfields in the nation. Bryant emerged as a key cog in the secondary last year, recording 69 stops and one forced fumble. The junior may not accumulate many interceptions, but he should be a force against the run, while delivering plenty of big hits. 

36. Jack Mewhort, OT, Ohio State
With the departure of three starters, Urban Meyer hopes Mewhort will emerge as the offensive line's leader in 2012. Mewhort started all 13 games last season and will slide from guard to left tackle in 2012. 

37. Akeem Spence, DT, Illinois
One of three returning starters and two starting tackles on the Illinois defensive line, Spence started at defensive tackle since Day One of his redshirt freshman season in Champaign. The 6-1, 300-pounder recorded 69 sacks last season, a high number for an interior lineman, and helped anchor a defense that ranked seventh nationally.

38. James Morris, LB, Iowa
An ankle injury hindered Morris at times last season, but he still managed to finish with 110 tackles. The junior is an Athlon Sports third-team All-Big Ten selection for 2012 and will have an active year around the line of scrimmage with Iowa replacing three starters on the defensive line. 

39. Brett Maher, K/P, Nebraska
Replacing Alex Henery was no easy task, but Maher asserted himself as one of the top kickers in the nation last season. He connected on 19 of 23 field goals and averaged 44.5 yards per punt. Maher was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award last year and is an Athlon Sports second-team All-American for 2012. 

40. Baker Steinkuhler, DT, Nebraska
The son of the Cornhuskers’ Outland and Lombardi winner Dean Steinkuhler, Baker began to make a name for himself over the second half of last season with five tackles for a loss and two sacks in the final six games of the season.

41. Cameron Meredith, DE, Nebraska
Along with Steinkuhler, Meredith will form the core of a Nebraska defensive line that must improve against the run. A starter the last two seasons, Meredith finished last season with 58 tackles and five sacks.

42. Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State
Stoneburner ran into some off-the-field trouble in the offseason but is expected to return to the roster in time for the opener against Miami (Ohio). The Dublin, Ohio native has 37 career catches for 445 yards and is expected to have a more prominent role in the offense in 2012. New coach Urban Meyer is installing a spread attack but Stoneburner’s athleticism and speed will be too attractive to keep on the bench. The senior could be Ohio State’s leading receiver in 2012. 

43. Will Compton, LB, Nebraska
The Cornhuskers’ middle linebacker improved as 2011 went along, as he averaged eight tackles per game in November (compared to 5.8 in the first eight games of the season). He’ll need to carry that into 2012 with Lavonte David gone.

44. Terry Hawthorne, CB, Illinois
Hawthorne was a highly decorated recruit in 2009, but he’d yet to live up to that billing until late last season. His 39-yard interception return for a touchdown turned the tide for the Illinois in the bowl game and prevented a losing season.

45. James Ferentz, C, Iowa
With three starters departing, Ferentz must be Iowa’s leader on the offensive line. He has started the last 26 games and was named to the Rimington Trophy watch for 2012. Ferentz will be coached by his brother (Brian) and his veteran presence will be crucial for Iowa’s offensive line. 

46. Daimion Stafford, S, Nebraska
Stafford was a huge contributor in his first year after transferring from Chaffey College. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors after recording 80 tackles in 13 games. Look for Stafford to be an even bigger contributor now that he has another offseason to get acclimated to life in the Big Ten.

47. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
With Johnny Adams and Dennard returning to man the cornerback spots in East Lansing, Michigan State should have one of the top defensive backfields in the nation. In his first year as a starter in 2011, Dennard recorded 42 tackles and three interceptions and returned one of his picks for a touchdown in the win over Georgia in the Outback Bowl. Dennard should be in the mix for All-Big Ten honors this year.  

48. MarQueis Gray, QB, Minnesota
Gray is far from a finished product, but there's also a lot of potential. He closed out 2011 by posting back-to-back 100-yard rushing efforts against Northwestern and Illinois and finished the season with 2,461 overall yards. Gray needs to become a better passer, but he should have a solid all-around senior season.

49. Chris Norman, LB, Michigan State
The rangy Norman is entering his third season as a starter for a veteran linebacker unit. He finished last season with 76 tackles despite missing two games with a shoulder injury.

50. Jordan Kovacs, S, Michigan
The Ohio native has started 33 of his 37 career games, including 12 games in 2011 and 12 in ’10. He ranked second on the team in total tackles last season with 75 and was third on the team with eight tackles for a loss. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last fall. 


Team Breakdown of Athlon's Top 50 Big Ten Players for 2012

Illinois - 4
Indiana - 0
Iowa - 5
Michigan - 4
Michigan State - 9
Minnesota - 1
Nebraska - 8
Northwestern - 0 
Ohio State - 8
Penn State - 2
Purdue - 2
Wisconsin - 7

by David Fox (@DavidFox615), Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven) and Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)


Related Big Ten Content

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College Football's Darkhorse Title Contenders for 2012

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College Football Bowl Projections for 2012

Big Ten's Top 25 Heisman Contenders

Athlon's 2012 All-Big Ten Team

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Teaser:
<p> Big Ten Player Rankings: The Top 50 Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 2, 2012 - 05:43
Path: /college-football/pac-12s-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

The Pac-12's 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Bryan Bennett or Marcus Mariota: Who Will Start at Quarterback for Oregon?
Regardless of whether Bennett or Mariota takes the first snap, Chip Kelly shouldn’t have too much concern about his quarterbacks. Sure, anytime that you replace a starter there is bound to be a few ups and downs. However, both players are more than capable of keeping Oregon’s offense as one of the best in the nation. Bennett played in eight games last season, including one start against Colorado. He finished the year with 369 passing yards and six touchdowns, along with recording 200 yards on the ground. Bennett entered spring practice with an edge, but Mariota closed the gap. The redshirt freshman dazzled in the spring game, throwing for 202 yards and one score, while adding 99 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Both players should be more dynamic on the ground than their predecessor (Darron Thomas). It could be a mystery as to which Oregon quarterback will be in the opener against Arkansas State, and both players could play significant snaps in 2012. Regardless of whether Mariota or Bennett starts the year, it’s unlikely the Ducks will have many concerns under center.

2. How big of a concern is USC’s defensive line?
The Trojans’ best defense in 2012 may be the offense. With Matt Barkley back under center and Robert Woods and Marqise Lee catching passes, USC will have no trouble averaging around 40 points a game in 2012 – which is important since the Trojans will have to win with offense. The defense made improvement in the second year under coordinator Monte Kiffin last season but suffered some key departures on the line. End Nick Perry and tackles Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris depart, while end Devon Kennard suffered an injury in summer workouts and could miss 2012. With the personnel losses and Kennard’s injury, the Trojans are very thin up front. Wes Horton and George Uko are two solid building blocks, but the defense needs big contributions from freshmen Greg Townsend and Leonard Williams. USC’s issues in the trenches may not be a concern in Pac-12 play, but a national title appearance against a team from the SEC could expose the concerns up front.   

3. How quickly will Arizona, Arizona State and Washington State reap the benefits from their new coaches?
We’ve heard it enough, and we’ve said it enough: The Pac-12 had an influx of good offensive coaches this offseason. But now that it’s time for fall camp, Rich Rodriguez, Mike Leach and Todd Graham have to get down to business. As much as Jeff Tuel/Marquess Wilson may fit Leach’s system or much as Matt Scott/Ka’Deem Carey may fit what Rodriguez wants to do, they still have to learn the offense. And those are just front-line skill position players. What about developing depth and the offensive line (an issue in particular for Wazzu)? At Arizona State, Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell take over a team with an entrenched running back (Cameron Marshall), a shaky quarterback situation -- not all that different from Pitt last season.

4. Will fresh faces on defense be enough to repair Washington this season?
The Huskies could at least be thankful for Clemson. Before the Orange Bowl, Washington’s 67 points and 777 yards allowed allowed to Baylor was the most embarrassing defensive performance of the postseason (and in terms of yards allowed, it was the third-worst of 2012). Coach Steve Sarkisian responded by cleaning house defensively, adding four new assistants including defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and recruiting whiz/line coach Tosh Lupoi. The new coaches will start from scratch for better or worse -- the Huskies’ defense will be young with only a couple of projected senior starters and a handful of freshmen on the depth chart. The defense may be a long-term fix, which could be trouble with LSU, Stanford, Oregon and USC all on the schedule in the first half.

5. If Stanford is going to rely on Stepfan Taylor to run the ball, who’s going to pave the way?
Wait, Stanford lost more than Andrew Luck in the offseason? Yes. David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin, both taken in the first 42 picks on the NFL draft, are gone. The other three starters (left guard David Yankey, center Sam Schwartzstein and right tackle Cameron Fleming) are back to form a solid foundation for the line. There’s healthy competition among returning players for the two vacant slots. Stanford’s impressive freshman line class -- which included three linemen in the Athlon Consensus 100 -- will be worth watching as well. True freshmen rarely start on the offensive line anywhere, but we should note Martin and DeCastro both started as redshirt freshmen at Stanford.

6. Can Utah depend on quarterback Jordan Wynn?
The Utes basically lost their passing offense after Wynn was injured in the 31-14 loss to Washington. Although Jon Hays ended the year with 12 touchdowns, Utah wasn’t able to stretch the field. Wynn was off to a solid start last season, throwing for 727 yards and six touchdowns through the first four games. However, he has dealt with shoulder injuries in each of the last two seasons and has never started a full 12-game regular season slate. If healthy, Wynn clearly gives Utah the best chance to win. The Utes have an underrated group of receivers, led by senior DeVonte Christopher, so there’s no reason for Utah to struggle like it did last season through the air. New coordinator Brian Johnson will use more spread looks, but the Utes have to find a way to keep Wynn healthy and on the field to have any shot at winning the Pac-12 South crown.

7. Will California develop other receivers outside of Keenan Allen?
The Golden Bears didn’t have much depth at receiver last season, and this unit suffered some losses with Marvin Jones and Michael Calvin expiring their eligibility. Allen was clearly the No. 1 target for quarterback Zach Maynard, catching 98 passes for 1,343 yards and six scores. While Allen should have another big season, California has to find some other weapons to help take the pressure off of him. Freshmen Maurice Harris and Bryce Treggs are intriguing possibilities, while tight end Richard Rodgers is an emerging weapon. The Golden Bears could make some noise in the Pac-12 North race, but Allen can’t be the team’s only receiver in 2012.

8. How has Jim L. Mora adjusted to the college game?
It’s no secret NFL coaches struggle in the college game -- Bill Callahan, Mike Sherman, Dave Wannstedt, Chan Gailey, to name a few. Working with 18-22 year olds with class demands and practice time limitations isn’t anything like working with professionals. Mora seems to understand some of these limitations, and he surrounded himself with a handful quality veteran college assistants. The first indications of whether he’s adjusted to the college game may be felt in fall camp. He’s already hoping to build team chemistry and camaraderie by taking the Bruins off-campus to Cal State-San Bernardino for two weeks of practice while UCLA’s practice field is renovated. And he’s pledged to bring toughness to the Bruins. Mora will have a chance to find out what he’s jumped into when the Bruins face Nebraska in Week Two.

9. Is there hope in Boulder?
Defeating Arizona at home and Utah on the road in the final three games at least gave Colorado something on which to build for 2012, but the Buffaloes still look to be grasping for answers. The Buffs likely will play a significant amount of freshmen and sophomores, a tough proposition for a team that went 3-10 and visits USC and Oregon in October. Wide receiver Paul Richardson, Colorado’s top offensive player, is hopeful he’ll make a quick recovery from a torn ACL from spring practice to play this season. Colorado can hope for that, but a bowl game might have to wait until this core group of freshmen and sophomores are juniors and seniors.

10. Can Oregon State generate a rushing attack?
For the first time since 2004, Oregon State failed to have a 1,000-yard rusher last season. Malcolm Agnew burst onto the scene in the opener, rushing for 223 yards and three touchdowns in the 29-28 loss to Sacramento State. However, hamstring injuries limited Agnew for most of last season and he managed only 200 yards the rest of the way. Jovan Stevenson and Terron Ward each chipped in just over 200 yards, and the Beavers finished with only 1,043 rushing yards as a team last year. For Oregon State to make a run back to a bowl game, the offense has to find some balance. Quarterback Sean Mannion and receiver Markus Wheaton is a dangerous combination, but the Beavers need to escape the Pac-12 cellar in rushing offense. Agnew is the team’s best option, but he also needs to stay healthy. A committee approach would not be a surprise, especially if incoming freshman Chris Brown impresses in fall practice. 
 

 

by David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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Predicting the Pac-12's Breakout Players for 2012
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Ranking the Pac-12's Linebacking Corps for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Defensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

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Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Predictions

Teaser:
<p> Pac-12's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Thursday, August 2, 2012 - 05:28
All taxonomy terms: Tennessee Volunteers, SEC, News
Path: /news/tennessee-fans-create-another-bad-college-football-rivalry-video
Body:

We are all for creativity and cheering for your college football team, but sometimes it can result in some embarrassing videos. 

Remember Texas A&M's Welcome to the SEC video? That was only one of many bad college football song/cheer videos that have been released this summer.

The trend continues with the band Elevated releasing the song and video "Overcome the Tide." We give them points for creativity, but the execution and song is certainly lacking.

Our reaction? The college football season can't get here fast enough.

Teaser:
<p> Tennessee Fans Create Another Bad College Football Rivalry Video</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 15:37
Path: /college-football/accs-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

The ACC's 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Can Brent Venables fix Clemson’s problems on defense?
If Clemson’s Orange Bowl performance were an isolated incident, maybe it would be easier to accept (or maybe not, ask a Clemson fan or Kevin Steele). The 70 points allowed to West Virginia was the worst of the season by far, but Clemson’s defensive shortcomings were apparent all season. The Tigers ranked 70th or lower in six major defensive categories. Now, here comes Oklahoma’s Brent Venables to fix the Tigers’ D. Though Oklahoma fans may have grumbled, the Sooners finished in the top four in the Big 12 in total defense in each of Venables’ eight seasons as defensive coordinator. Clemson has eight returning starters on defense, but seven are at linebacker and defensive back. Inexperience and a lack of depth are major concerns on the defensive line. Venables might need to get creative while his defensive front grows up.

2. Is EJ Manuel the right quarterback to lead Florida State back to prominence?
Florida State fans have held high hopes for Manuel since he arrived on campus in 2008. After spending 2009 and 2010 as a backup to Christian Ponder, Manuel received the keys to the Seminoles’ offense last year, throwing for 2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns. He completed 65.3 percent of his throws and tossed only eight interceptions on 311 attempts. Although Manuel’s numbers weren’t eye-popping, it’s unfair to pin Florida State’s offensive concerns on him. The Seminoles struggled to establish the run, and the offensive line never found the right combination. Manuel was also bothered by a shoulder injury throughout the year and did not play in the 35-30 loss to Clemson. With a deep receiving corps returning and experience coming back on the line, Florida State’s offense should be improved in 2012. Manuel has all of the physical tools to succeed and should be more comfortable in his second year as the starter. While the Seminoles underachieved last season, Manuel is the right quarterback to lead Florida State back to a national title – provided his offensive line and rushing attack step up in 2012. 

3. Which contender will find the right mix on the offensive line?
Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech are expected to be the ACC’s best teams in 2012. However, neither of the three should feel particularly good about its offensive line. Virginia Tech must replace four starters, including standouts Blake DeChristopher and Jaymes Brooks. Center Andrew Miller is a solid place to start rebuilding but there’s very little experience around him. Florida State returns a handful of experienced players, but the starting five could all be sophomores. Clemson loses three starters but returns center Dalton Freeman. The Tigers have one of the college football’s top trios coming back (Tajh Boyd, Andre Ellington and Sammy Watkins), but the offense could sputter without better performance from the line. It’s possible that none of the three teams will find an answer during the year. However, whichever team can sort out its offensive line question marks the earliest could have the inside track at winning the ACC title. 

4. How will Logan Thomas handle the spotlight?
Rarely has a Virginia Tech quarterback entered the season with as much fanfare as Logan Thomas. That’s with good reason. He’s a top-notch NFL prospect who set the Hokies’ record for total offense (3,482 yards) last season while accounting for 30 touchdowns. Beyond the numbers, Thomas will be the focus due to more than just his performance last season. Unlike past season, Virginia Tech doesn’t have an heir apparent at running back with redshirt freshman Michael Holmes leading a committee of ballcarriers. The Hokies’ always-underrated receiving corps also takes a hit without Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale. Thomas will have senior receivers ready to step into bigger roles, but they’re not entirely proven. Even the line has major holes to fill with center Andrew Miller the only returning starter. In other words, Thomas has little choice but to take charge of the Hokies’ offense in production and leadership.

5. Who will catch passes from Mike Glennon?
T.J. Graham, Jay Smith and tight end George Bryan accounted for 119 receptions, more than 40 percent of Mike Glennon’s completions last season. That leaves running back James Washington as the top pass-catcher on the team, along with a handful of questions. If NC State is going to threaten for an ACC Atlantic title, the Wolfpack will need receivers to emerge. NC State may lack proven commodities, but it does have an interesting skill set at receiver with Tobias Palmer and Byran Underwood’s ability to stretch a defense and good size from Quintin Payton and Hakeem Flowers, who are both at least 6-foot-3.

6. How will Miami reload in the backfield?
With 10 returning starters and NCAA trouble hanging over the program, the Hurricanes are a longshot to win the ACC in 2012. Losses were heavy on both sides of the ball, but the offense has to replace quarterback Jacory Harris and running back Lamar Miller. Harris wasn’t an All-ACC passer, but he had a solid senior year, throwing for 2,486 yards and 20 touchdowns. Miller ranked second in the ACC in rushing yards per game last season, averaging 106.0 on 227 carries. Stephen Morris is expected to win the Miami starting quarterback spot, but he will be challenged by Memphis transfer Ryan Williams in the fall. Miami should feel more secure about its running back depth, as senior Mike James is back after recording nearly 300 yards last season. James won’t be the only option in the backfield, as Eduardo Clements and Duke Johnson will see carries. The Hurricanes finished seven in the conference in scoring last year and a similar result can be expected in 2012. 

7. How does Maryland pick up the pieces from last season?
The preseason party line is that Randy Edsall and his players understand each other better this time around. Perhaps that shouldn’t be too much of a stretch after a glut of players transferred since Edsall took over. Not to mention the Terrapins have yet to play a game after losing the final seven games last season, six by double figures. Even if communication among Edsall and the players has improved, the Terrapins still have two new coordinators in Mike Locksley and Brian Stewart. Locksley was a successful offensive coordinator at Illinois when the Illini went to the Rose Bowl in 2008, and Houston showed marked improvement on defense under Stewart last season. A healthy Kenny Tate should improve the defense, while C.J. Brown (five starts last season) begins 2012 entrenched as the starter. The instability in College Park has to come to a stop soon, doesn’t it?

8. How will Georgia Tech replace Stephen Hill at receiver?
The Yellow Jackets will always rank among the nation’s best in rushing offense, but the passing attack needs to be better if this team wants to win the ACC in 2012. Quarterback Tevin Washington had his moments last year (10 of 14, 184 yards, one TD against North Carolina) but completed only 49.3 percent of his throws and tossed eight picks. The senior isn’t asked to throw for 300 yards every game, but the offense needs Washington to be more accurate and careful with the ball. Improving Georgia Tech’s passing attack won’t get any easier with the losses in the receiving corps. Stephen Hill and Tyler Melton were the team’s top two receivers last year but have expired their eligibility. The Yellow Jackets do not return a receiver with a career catch and will have to lean on inexperienced sophomores Jeff Greene and Darren Waller. Alabama transfer Chris Jackson will also figure into the mix, but Georgia Tech needs one to emerge as the clear go-to threat. Without Hill and Melton, the Yellow Jackets could struggle to top last season’s 142.3 yards per game average.

9. Will Michael Rocco hold off Phillip Sims?
Virginia’s season turned around when the Cavaliers stopped rotating David Watford and Michael Rocco. With Rocco as the starter, the Cavs went on a four-game winning streak to clinch a bowl appearance. Rocco’s does not have a firm grip on the quarterback job, however. Alabama transfer Phillip Sims was granted a hardship waiver and will be eligible this season. A year after challenging AJ McCarron for the starting quarterback job with the eventual national champions, he’ll contend to start for the Cavs.

10. What Can Be Expected of North Carolina in 2012?
With a ban on postseason play, it’s fair to wonder how motivated North Carolina will be this season. New coach Larry Fedora was a solid hire, but his arrival also brings new schemes on both sides of the ball. The Tar Heels will employ a no-huddle spread attack on offense, which should score plenty of points. Quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Giovani Bernard are two of the best offensive players in the ACC and will be playing behind one of college football’s top 10 offensive lines. The defense loses some key contributors, but landing Vic Koenning as a co-coordinator was a huge catch for Fedora. The Tar Heels have a favorable schedule and if motivation isn’t an issue, this team could push for nine victories in 2012.

by David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

 

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Will Randy Edsall Turn Around Maryland?

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ACC's Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 ACC Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-ACC Team

Teaser:
<p> ACC's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-2012-all-name-team
Body:

With 124 teams in the FBS and around 100 players on a roster, there are certainly some interesting names that pop-up throughout the course of production for Athlon's 2012 college football magazine or online research.

We took a look through the rosters for the 124 teams and pulled out some of the funniest and more interesting names in college football for the 2012 season.

College Football's All-Name Team for 2012

OFFENSE

Rob Blanchflower, TE, UMass
Blair Bomber, WR, Washington State
Brandon Bourbon, RB, Kansas
Bookie Cobbins, WR, Kentucky
Brander Craighead, OL, UTEP
Orleans Darkwa, RB, Tulane
Synjyn Days, QB, Georgia Tech
Duke DeLancellotti, QB, Texas State
Stevie Joe Dorman, QB, Colorado
Spiffy Evans, WR, Boston College
George George, TE, Virginia Tech
Tyshon Goode, WR, Kent State
Brynjar Gudmundsson, OL, South Florida            
Lynx Hawthorne, ATH, Baylor
Hunter Hollowed, OL, Hawaii
Win Homer, OL, Boston College
Steele Jantz, QB, Iowa State
Mister Jones, RB, Colorado State
Thor Jozwiak, OL, South Florida
Jazz King, WR, Marshall
Munchie Legaux, QB, Cincinnati
Philander Moore, WR, Ole Miss
Uzoma Nwachukwu, WR, Texas A&M
Fritz Rock, WR, Illinois
Konockus Sashington, RB, North Texas
Cayman Shutter, QB, Hawaii
Jack Snowball, RB, Miami (Ohio)
Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State
Sirgregory Thornton, RB, Arkansas State
Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State
Charlie Will Tuttle, OL, Texas State
Halapoulivaati Vaitai, OT, TCU
Wilson Van Hooser, WR, Tulane
Ivory Wade, C, Baylor
Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State

 


DEFENSE

Xavier Archangel, CB, UTSA
Chi Chi Ariguzo, LB, Northwestern
Zeek Bigger, LB, East Carolina
Chief Brown, DB, Ole Miss
Terrance Bullitt, LB, Texas Tech
Blaze Caponegro, LB, Temple
Tank Carradine, DE, Florida State
Jose Cheeseborough, DB, FIU
Mister Cobble, DT, Kentucky
Pudge Cotton, DB, Eastern Michigan
Fabby Desir, LB, North Carolina
Steele Divitto, LB, Boston College
Hugs Etienne, CB, Wisconsin

Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU
Maxx Forde, DE, Idaho
BooBoo Gates, S, Bowling Green
King Holder, CB, San Diego State
Sir Thomas Jackson, LB, Arizona
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
Wonderful Terrific Monds II, LB, Buffalo
Godspower Offor, DE, Wake Forest
Happiness Osunde, DB, Texas Tech
Leviticus Payne, DB, Cincinnati
Bacarri Rambo, S, Georgia
Cartier Rice, CB, Kentucky

Wave Ryder, DB, Navy
Prince Shembo, LB, Notre Dame
Aziz Shittu, DE, Stanford
Joe Stoner, LB, New Mexico
Eric Striker, S, Oklahoma
Momo Thomas, DB, Colorado State
Fudge Van Hooser, S, Tulane
Tronic Williams, CB, Western Michigan

 

SPECIALISTS

Chase Tenpenney, P, Nevada
Kirby Van Der Kamp, P, Iowa State

 

Did we miss out on any names? Add your suggestions into the comments and we'll add them to the list.

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's 2012 All-Name Team</p>
Post date: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 - 05:49
Path: /college-football/big-12s-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

The Big 12's 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Can Texas Improve Its Passing Attack?
The Longhorns have the rushing attack and defense to win the Big 12. However, in a league known for offense, Texas still has to find a way to generate more from its quarterbacks. The Longhorns finished eighth in the conference in passing offense last year, and quarterbacks combined to throw 15 picks on 357 attempts. David Ash took control of the No. 1 spot late last season but injured a hamstring in summer workouts and could be limited for fall camp. Case McCoy and true freshman Conner Brewer will get every opportunity to win the job, but Ash is expected to finish atop the depth chart. Texas doesn’t need Ash to be Colt McCoy, but the passing attack has to be better than it was in 2011. With one of the nation’s deepest backfields and the Big 12’s best defense, Texas should be one of college football’s top 15 teams. However, winning the conference title and making a BCS bowl will come down to how quickly Ash, McCoy or Brewer can jumpstart the passing game.

2. Will unproven commodities at wide receiver and defensive line derail title hopes at Oklahoma?
A prolific veteran quarterback, the best offensive line in the Big 12 and the return of Mike Stoops as defensive coordinator was enough to push Oklahoma in to the top five of the Athlon national rankings, but the Sooners have plenty of questions to answer if they’re going to compete for a national title. At receiver, the passing game struggled when Ryan Broyles was hurt. Now he’s gone permanently. That puts more pressure on Kenny Stills to be the No. 1 option. Meanwhile the suspension to Jaz Reynolds puts pressure on newcomers Trey Metoyer and Lacoltan Bester to perform right away. On the defensive line, seniors R.J. Washington, David King and Jamarkus McFarland have been around for a while, but they have yet to emerge as consistent factors on the defensive front. That needs to change if Oklahoma is going to be a factor in the national race.

3. Can Oklahoma State Repeat as Big 12 Champs With a Freshman QB?
There’s always pressure when you have to replace a quarterback like Brandon Weeden, but Lunt is under extra scrutiny in 2012, as the Cowboys hope to repeat as Big 12 champs. The freshman was one of three candidates vying for time in the spring and edged out J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf for the No. 1 spot. Walsh is expected to see time as a change of pace quarterback, but barring a setback in the fall, Lunt will be Oklahoma State’s starter in the opener against Savannah State. The Cowboys haven’t had much trouble producing good quarterback play under Mike Gundy, but it’s a lot to ask a true freshman quarterback to win a Big 12 title. Expect Oklahoma State to lean on running back Joseph Randle and a defense that led the nation in takeaways last season early in the year. However, for the Cowboys to win the Big 12, Lunt needs to be ready to deliver in the Big 12 opener on Sept. 29 against Texas. The freshman doesn’t have to be Brandon Weeden – but he needs to play beyond his years for Oklahoma State to repeat as Big 12 champs.

4. Will TCU have secondary to keep pace with the Big 12?
The Horned Frogs ranked an uncharacteristically low 32nd nationally in total defense last season, a stat that was not helped by allowing Baylor to pass for 414 yards and six touchdowns and SMU to pass for 349 yards and four touchdowns in TCU’s losses. The Horned Frogs must replace every full-time starter in the secondary, and the returning cast had only five starts last season, spread among three players. The pass defense may determine the course of TCU’s first season in the Big 12 as the Horned Frogs face SMU (again), Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Oklahoma.

5. Will West Virginia find any sense of balance on offense?
With Geno Smith at quarterback, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey at receiver and Dana Holgorsen calling the shots, West Virginia is going to throw the ball a ton, but will West Virginia have the ability to run when necessary? A 360-yard rushing performance against Bowling Green last year skewed the Mountaineers’ statistics a bit. The Mountaineers averaged 3.5 yards per carry in Big East games, ranking sixth in the league. Moreover, Dustin Garrison, West Virginia’s top rusher who accounted for 291 yards in that Bowling Green game, suffered a torn ACL during the spring. The Mountaineers’ inability to find balance bit them at times in the Big East last season. Could the same happen in the Big 12?

6. Can Baylor’s new backfield pickup where Robert Griffin/Terrance Ganaway left off?
There’s no question Baylor will miss Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin and running back Terrance Ganaway. The Bears ranked second in the nation in total offense and averaged 45.3 points a game in 2011. While the offense will probably struggle to reach those totals in 2012, don’t expect this unit to fall too much in terms of production. New quarterback Nick Florence started seven games when Griffin was sidelined with a torn ACL in 2009, throwing for 1,786 yards and six touchdowns. The Bears will miss Griffin’s ability to make plays outside of the pocket, but Florence has the experience and talent to keep this team among the best in the conference in passing offense. Terrance Ganaway was one of the Big 12’s biggest surprises last year, rushing for 1,547 yards and 21 touchdowns. Stepping into the backfield will be Oregon transfer Lache Seastrunk and Jarred Salubi. Seastrunk was one of the top recruits in the 2010 recruiting class and should add some big-play ability to the backfield. Although Baylor won’t match last year’s offensive totals, this unit should still perform at a high level.

7. Where’s the defense in Lubbock?
An average to below-average defense at Texas Tech wasn’t strange under Mike Leach. But it is a change of pace for Tommy Tuberville, former a defensive coordinator who fielded quality defenses at Auburn. Tuberville brought in Art Kaufman, his DC at Ole Miss, for his third coordinator in three years. He also brought in six junior college transfers on defense to improve a unit that ranked last in the nation against the run.

8. Will Kansas State Develop Other Weapons Outside Collin Klein?
Collin Klein was Mr. Everything for the Wildcats in 2011. He led the team with 1,141 rushing yards and 27 scores, while throwing for 1,918 yards and 13 touchdowns. Although Klein carried the offense last season, it’s probably too much to ask for him to repeat that task in 2012. The senior dealt with various injuries last year – likely a direct result from the 317 carries he accumulated. Kansas State doesn’t have to stray too far from Klein, but the offense needs more playmakers to emerge. Running back John Hubert is coming off a solid 2011 campaign – rushing for 970 yards and three scores – but the Wildcats would like to have more big-play ability on the ground. Another area that could lessen the wear and tear on Klein is his development as a passer. If the senior can lean more on his arm, it should help keep him fresh for the final weeks of the season.

9. Is there any hope at Kansas?
There’s hope, but change will be neither easy nor quick. After fielding one of the worst statistical teams on either side of the ball the last two seasons, Kansas is trying to plug holes with transfers. Quarterback Dayne Crist from Notre Dame is the most notable, but the defense adds defensive lineman Josh Williams (Nebraska) and linebacker Anthony McDonald (also Notre Dame) plus a handful of junior college linemen. Returning defensive end Toben Opurum is about the only sure thing on for defensive coordinator Dave Campo, who is continuing to figure out his personnel in fall practice.

10. Steele Jantz or Jared Barnett: Who Will Start at Iowa State?
The good news for Iowa State? The Cyclones have two experienced candidates ready to lead the team in the fall. The bad news? There wasn’t much separation in the spring, and the battle will resume in fall practice. Steele Jantz led the Cyclones to a 3-0 start but suffered an injury in the win over Connecticut and struggled in the next three games. Jared Barnett played well in Iowa State’s biggest win last season (Oklahoma State), throwing for 376 yards and three scores. Both players are good runners, but need to be better about managing turnovers (17 interceptions last year). Don’t be surprised if both quarterbacks see time, but Barnett should finish the year with the best stats and most starts. 
 

by David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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Teaser:
<p> Big 12's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 05:18
Path: /college-football/big-tens-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

The Big Ten's 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Who’s leaving, who’s staying at Penn State?
Quarterback Rob Bolden is already gone, possibly to LSU. Meanwhile, coach Bill O’Brien says about 50 players have pledged to stay with the Nittany Lions despite ample opportunities to transfer immediately and without penalty. The biggest domino, though, could fall soon, as standout running back Silas Redd may transfer to USC. Even if Penn State starts the season without a mass exodus, players can leave any time before the start of the 2013 season without having to sit out a year. If Redd leaves, Penn State loses one of its only offensive threats. O’Brien also has to be concerned if one or two key players leave, others will follow.

2. Can Ohio State Execute Urban Meyer’s Spread Offense?
After finishing last in the Big Ten in passing offense last season, plenty of doubts remain about quarterback Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes’ passing attack. Those concerns are amplified even more due to an offensive line that returns only two starters and a receiving corps that lacks a proven No. 1 option. Freshman Mike Thomas opened some eyes in the spring game, catching 12 passes for 131 yards. With Thomas’ emergence and the return of tight end Jake Stoneburner, the Buckeyes should have two solid targets for Miller. However, the receiving corps needs a big year from junior Philly Brown and sophomore Devin Smith. The potential is there for Ohio State’s offense to seamlessly pickup Meyer’s spread attack and emerge as one of the best in the conference. However, fall practice will be a good indicator of just how far the offensive line has come, which could hold the key to Ohio State’s season.

3. How much will Michigan State miss Jerel Worthy?
The defensive tackle anchored a defense that ranked ninth in run defense (100.1 yards per game) and seventh in yards allowed per carry (2.8). For certain, losing Worthy is a setback, but Sparty has the talent to replace him on the defensive line. End William Gholston is on his way to becoming a superstar after recording 16 tackles for a loss last season. On the other side of the line, Marcus Rush’s production tailed off near the end of his freshman season, but the end still finished with 12 tackles for a loss. The bigger questions are at tackle. Senior Anthony Rashad White’s performance in the bowl win over Georgia (seven tackles, three for a loss) hinted at his potential. At the other spot, senior Tyler Hoover and one-time Vanderbilt center James Kittredge will compete for playing time in two a days.

4. Can Michigan find the right answers in the trenches?
Even with quarterback Denard Robinson returning, Michigan could find it difficult to repeat last season’s 11 wins. The Wolverines have a tough schedule and must replace two stalwarts from the trenches in center David Molk and defensive tackle Mike Martin. The Wolverines will likely turn to senior Ricky Barnum at center, while freshman Ondre Pipkins could play a key role on the defensive line. Considering Barnum’s experience and Taylor Lewan’s return at left tackle, the Wolverines should feel confident that the line can still perform at a high level. The defensive line is a bigger question mark, especially with run-first teams like Alabama, Michigan State and Nebraska on the schedule. It’s unreasonable to expect both units to match their production from 2011, but too much of a drop could cost Michigan a chance to win the Legends Division. 

5. How will Danny O’Brien take the reins at Wisconsin?
Though O’Brien and Russell Wilson arrived under similar circumstances as graduate student transfers from the ACC, the Badgers shouldn’t necessarily expect similar results. Wilson had the best single-season for a Big Ten quarterback. Ill-suited as he may have been with the Terrapins under Randy Edsall, O’Brien did lose his starting job for a 2-10 Maryland team last season. Wilson was as accurate and efficient as any quarterback in the country, but he also took an active leadership role when he arrived on campus. O’Brien may have less on his shoulders thanks to Montee Ball, but how well he takes to his new team and new role may determine the course of the Badgers’ season.

6. Will Iowa find answers at running back, offensive line and on the defensive line?
Three areas where the Hawkeyes are usually strong – offensive line, defensive line and running back – are a question mark entering fall practice. The offensive line returns just two starters and must replace standout Riley Reiff. The defensive front loses three starters and finished seventh in the Big Ten against the run last year. Marcus Coker was expected to be one of the top running backs in the conference, but he left the team in January. Iowa’s back luck with running backs didn’t stop with Coker, as Mika’il McCall left the team, Jordan Canzeri suffered a knee injury in spring practice, and De’Andre Johnson was dismissed from the team in early August. Sophomore Damon Bullock and freshmen Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill will compete to be the No. 1 back in fall practice. With issues on both sides of the ball, quarterback James Vandenberg will have more pressure on his shoulders. There’s no question the senior is one of the top quarterbacks in the conference, but he needs some help if Iowa wants to improve off of last year’s 7-6 record.

7. Is Purdue healthy ... finally?
The Boilermakers enter fall camp with three quarterbacks with starting experience, who are finally healthy at the same time. Caleb TerBush started every game last season as the Boilermakers ended a four-year bowl drought. TerBush likely remains the starter in 2012, but the injury bug has a nose for the Purdue backfield. Fellow quarterback Rob Henry (seven starts in 2010) and Robert Marve (four starts in 2010) are both healthy. Both perhaps have higher ceilings than TerBush, but Henry has the speed to contribute at other positions. At running back, Ralph Bolden’s season is in doubt as he recovers from a knee injury sustained in the regular season finale against Indiana. If Purdue can stay healthy, it will be a welcome change of pace for coach Danny Hope.

8. Will Nebraska’s Defense Improve in 2012?
The Cornhuskers weren’t awful on defense last year, but they certainly weren’t as effective as they were in 2011. Nebraska ranked 42nd nationally in points allowed and 64th nationally against the run. Some fresh faces have joined the defensive staff, as Rick Kaczenski was hire to coach the line and Terry Joseph will man the secondary. Carl Pelini left to become the head coach at FAU, which allowed John Papuchis to be promoted to coordinator. The changes should bring some energy to the defense, but this unit must replace linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, while fixing the run defense. The interior of the line was an issue after Jared Crick’s season-ending injury last year and could be a work in progress once again. Nebraska’s defense should be more prepared for life in the Big Ten in 2012, but this unit still has a ways to go before returning to its 2009 or 2010 level.  

9. Will Minnesota's MarQueis Gray pickup where he left off last season?
With a non-conference schedule that features matchups against UNLV, New Hampshire, Western Michigan and Syracuse, the Golden Gophers should have a shot at reaching a bowl in 2012. Quarterback MarQueis Gray closed 2011 by playing some of his best football in his career, rushing for 160 yards against Northwestern and adding 167 yards and two scores on the ground in the 27-7 victory over Illinois. The senior is a work in progress as a passer, but his dual-threat ability will give defenses plenty of fits in 2012. With another offseason to work under coach Jerry Kill and coordinator Matt Limegrover, Gray should only get better and will have a chance to total 3,000 overall yards in 2012. 

10. Can Northwestern field a competitive defense?
The Wildcats’ offense, which has finished in the top half of the Big Ten in four of the last five seasons and as high as second last year, appears to be in good hands with quarterback Kain Colter. The question is if the defense can keep up. The Wildcats also had the fewest sacks (17) in the league and allowed opponents to convert half of their third-down opportunities. Northwestern (6.1) and Indiana (6.4) were the only teams in the Big Ten to allow more than six yards per play. The Wildcats’ defense will be anchored by three returning starters at linebacker in David Nwabuisi, Damien Proby and Collin Ellis, plus safety Ibraheim Campbell. An inexperienced defensive line and secondary will determine of Northwestern’s defense is good enough to get the Wildcats back to a bowl game.


by David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)


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Teaser:
<p> Big Ten's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 05:14
Path: /college-football/big-easts-top-10-storylines-watch-fall-practice
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks. 

The Big East's 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice

1. Will this finally be the year USF’s quarterback gets some help?
Since 2006, the Bulls’ offense has rested almost solely on the shoulders of dual-threat quarterbacks B.J. Daniels and Matt Grothe. The Bulls haven’t had a 1,000-yard running back since 2005 and has never had a 1,000-yard receiver. Darrell Scott’s 814 rushing yards was a step in the right direction last season in taking some of the weight off Daniels, who quietly had the best season of his career in 2011. Scott left early for the NFL Draft, so USF is back to looking for a second playmaker on offense. Demetris Murray is back after rushing for 1,036 yards the last two seasons, and Lindsey Lamar has bulked up to try to translate his dynamic special teams ability to running back. The biggest room for improvement, however, could be at wide receiver. Sterling Griffin missed four games with a broken foot, but he still led the Bulls with 530 receiving yards and 43 catches.

2. Is Pittsburgh’s Ray Graham 100 percent?
Before suffering a torn ACL in the 35-20 win over Connecticut, Graham was well on his way to a 1,000-yard season and was one of the top running backs in the nation. Without him in the lineup, the Panthers managed to score over 25 points only once over the last five games. New coach Paul Chryst developed some of the top rushing attacks in the nation at Wisconsin and should continue that trend at Pittsburgh, provided the offensive line improves in 2012. Graham did not participate in spring practice, allowing sophomore Isaac Bennett to impress the coaching staff. The competition will only increase in the fall with the arrival of top recruit Rushel Shell. All signs point to Graham returning for fall camp, but with Bennett and Shell capable options, Chryst and coordinator Joe Rudolph can afford to bring him along slowly. Even if Graham is limited early in the year, expect the senior to rank among the Big East leaders in rushing yards.

3. Can Kyle Flood Keep Rutgers On Track for a Big East Title?
Losing Greg Schiano to the NFL was a huge blow to a program that emerged as a consistent bowl team in the Big East. Rutgers went 12-43 in the five years prior to his arrival, but Schiano led the Scarlet Knights to five seasons of at least eight victories in the last six years. New coach Kyle Flood has been with Rutgers since 2006, so he’s certainly familiar with the ins and outs of the program. However, there’s no guarantee this will be a smooth coaching transition. Flood has no head coaching experience and also has a handful of new assistants. Rutgers finished 2011 by winning four out of its last five games and is picked by most to finish in the top four of the conference. If Flood can build off what Schiano started, the Scarlet Knights have a chance to win the Big East title in 2012. However, there’s plenty of skepticism surrounding the program, especially with a first-year coach and a team with quarterback question marks. It’s important for Flood to put his stamp on the program this fall and keep Rutgers in the mix for a Big East title.

4. Can Cincinnati continue its momentum on defense despite a change in leadership?
A year after Cincinnati finished seventh in the Big East in total defense and eighth in scoring defense, the Bearcats were in the top-10 nationally in rush defense, sacks and tackles for a loss in 2011. Meanwhile, the Bearcats improved from 14 takeaways, a Big East-low, to 33 takeaways in 2012. Illinois gobbled up co-defensive coordinator Tim Banks, leaving John Jancek in charge. Jancek won’t have defensive stalwarts like JK Schaffer and Derek Wolfe, so senior pass rushers Walter Stewart and Dan Giordano and an experienced secondary will need to be the foundation of the D. Depth is a bit of a question, and the defense will have less of a margin of error with the offense rebuilding around a new quarterback.

5. How will Teddy Bridgewater play out the entire season as Louisville’s starting quarterback?
The sophomore quarterback from Miami is so symbolic of Louisville’s future, it’s easy to forget he didn’t make his first start until the fourth game of the season and then lost his first three starts to Marshall, North Carolina and Cincinnati. Through the final six games of the regular season, Bridgewater led the Cards to a 5-1 finish, completing 68.3 percent of his passes for 1,146 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions during that span. That all unraveled in the bowl loss to NC State when Bridgwater threw three interceptions and took five sacks. Leading the Big East favorites means Bridgewater -- plus his sophomore receivers DeVante Parker, Michaelee Harris and Eli Rogers -- will need to take the next step to be a consistent, conference championship-caliber performer.

6. Was last season a hiccup in the rebuilding process at Syracuse or a return to the bad old days?
The optimism around Doug Marrone’s first two seasons is a little more cautious. A year after Syracuse found its way back to a bowl game in 2010, the Orange slid back into its losing ways, going 5-7 in 2011 with a five-game losing streak to end the season.  The question is if Syracuse will pick up where it left off at the end of 2011 or if that was minor speed bump on the way back to respectability. Syracuse still has a talent gap with the top of its conference and especially against non-conference opponents USC and Missouri. But last season included some bad luck including injuries to key players and suspensions. It’s been a quieter offseason for Marrone, so the Orange should be more focused on improving a defense that ranked last in the Big East and an offense that ranked 90th nationally.

7. How Will Montel Harris Fit in at Temple?
If he’s healthy, Harris will be a huge addition to Temple’s offense. Bernard Pierce was the Owls’ workhorse over the last three seasons, accumulating 663 carries and 3,570 yards. His decision to enter the NFL Draft was a setback to the offense, as expected starter Matt Brown lacks ideal size to be an every down back. However, Harris should be a perfect complement rusher. He is the NCAA’s active career rushing leader with 3,735 yards on 787 carries in 40 games with Boston College. Harris has battled knee issues since late in the 2010 season and was dismissed from the Eagles after spring practice. If healthy, the senior should finish near the top of the Big East in rushing. Temple isn’t the most prolific passing team, so Harris and Brown will have to carry the offense. However, the lack of a proven passing attack and offensive line question marks could prevent the Owls from matching last season’s 30.6 points a game average.

8. Who Will Win the Quarterback Battles at Cincinnati, Connecticut and Rutgers?
Cincinnati, Connecticut and Rutgers each finished spring practice with an uncertain situation under center. The Bearcats are leaning with junior Munchie Legaux, but senior Brendon Kay is pushing for time. Legaux started the final three regular season games in relief of Zach Collaros and finished with 749 passing yards and five touchdowns. However, Legaux’s 47.4 completion percentage shows he still needs a lot of work as a passer. Connecticut’s passing offense was the worst in the Big East last season and desperately needs a jumpstart in 2012. Junior college recruit Chandler Whitmer had an impressive showing in the spring game and is expected to edge Johnny McEntee for the No. 1 spot. Although Whitmer should upgrade the passing attack, he has no experience on the FBS level. Rutgers should be the best team out of this trio and returns two experienced quarterbacks: Chas Dodd and Gary Nova. Dodd started more games last year (eight), but Nova threw for more touchdowns (11). Both quarterbacks could see time in 2012, but Nova should have the inside track at the No. 1 spot. 

9. Who’s in and who’s out on the Connecticut defense?
Connecticut has talent on defense. We feel safe in saying that (Big East's Top 50 Players for 2012). However, we have some questions about the Huskies’ personnel on D. First, what kind of improvement can the Connecticut pass defense expect from a healthy Blidi Wreh-Wilson, one of the Big East’s best cornerbacks? With Wreh-Wilson out for part of last season last season, three opponents passed for at least 430 yards agains the Huskies (Western Michigan, West Virginia and Pittsburgh). The pass defense -- which includes three returning starters in the secondary plus Wreh-Wilson -- should be better, but now Connecticut might be more worried about the rush defense. First-team defensive tackle Kendall Reyes is gone, as is fellow starter Twyon Martin. Veterans Shamar Stephen, an eight-game starter in 2010, and Ryan Wirth will try to anchor a front seven that ranked fourth nationally against the run.

10. Can Pittsburgh’s Offensive Line and Tino Sunseri jell in 2012?
After allowing 64 sacks last season, Pittsburgh’s offensive line can only get better. It’s unfair to blame just the line, as quarterback Tino Sunseri often held the ball too long, and former coach Todd Graham’s high-octane offense was a bad fit with the personnel. New coach Paul Chryst was one of the nation’s top offensive coordinators during his time with Wisconsin and should bring immediate improvement to this unit in 2012. The line returns three starters and should get a boost with the return of guard Chris Jacobson from injury. Sunseri should benefit the most from Chryst’s arrival, and there’s no shortage of playmakers around him with Devin Street, Mike Shanahan and tight end Hubie Graham returning. The Panthers should have a strong rushing attack, but contending for a Big East title will depend heavily on how quick the line and Sunseri can pickup the new scheme and improve from last year. Fall practice will be critical for Chryst, as he looks to find the right mix in 2012.
 

by David Fox (@DavidFox615) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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Teaser:
<p> Big East's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 06:19
Path: /college-football/pac-12-footballs-breakout-players-2012
Body:

Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task. 

Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of breakout players for 2012 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season. 

Kiko Alonso, LB, Oregon Alonso was mostly known around the Pac-12 before 2011 for his off-the-field incidents. However, all of that appears to be in the rearview mirror after his performance last season. Although Alonso recorded only 46 tackles, he earned Rose Bowl Defensive Player of the Game honors and finished the regular season on a high note with an interception in the win over Oregon State. If Alonso can build off the momentum from the Rose Bowl, he should be one of Oregon’s top defenders.

Dion Bailey, LB, USC Fans around the Pac-12 are certainly familiar with Bailey, but expect him to emerge as a household name nationally in 2012. He redshirted in 2010 and moved from safety to linebacker in spring practice last season. The move paid big dividends for the defense, as Bailey’s emergence helped the Trojans rank 18th nationally against the run. He recorded 81 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions and earned Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year honors last season. Bailey doesn’t have prototypical linebacker size, but his speed will be valuable against all of the passing offenses in the Pac-12.

Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona It’s a loaded year for running backs in the Pac-12, but Carey could finish near the top of the Pac-12 in rushing yards. Arizona returns all five starters on the offensive line, and new coach Rich Rodriguez is implementing his spread attack, which has produced big rushing totals at West Virginia and Michigan. Carey rushed for 425 yards and six touchdowns last season, while also catching 15 passes for 203 yards and two scores. With a full complement of carries (200 or more), look for Carey to easily surpass 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Deandre Coleman, DE, California The Golden Bears have produced two first-round picks on the defensive line in the NFL Draft in two out of the last three years. And all signs point to Coleman being the next standout California end. Playing in a 3-4 scheme won’t allow Coleman to post huge numbers, but in a backup role he recorded 19 tackles and two sacks last season. Look for the junior to emerge as one of the Golden Bears’ top defenders in 2012.  

Michael Eubank, QB, Arizona State Yes, Eubank has zero career starts, but it’s hard to ignore his talent and potential in Arizona State’s offense. At 6-foot-5 and 242 pounds, the redshirt freshman has the size to stand tall in the pocket but is also a terrific athlete to make plays on the move. Eubank will be asked to create plays with his feet, especially early in the year while he gets acclimated to life as a starting college football quarterback. Todd Graham’s high-octane offense was a bust at Pittsburgh, but the personnel is in place for Arizona State to score plenty of points in 2012 – provided the hype around Eubank is real.

Tony Jones, RB, Colorado Rodney Stewart has expired his eligibility after four successful years as Colorado’s starting running back. Jones played sparingly as a redshirt freshman last season, recording 297 yards and two touchdowns on 78 attempts. He was also a factor in the passing game, catching 27 passes for 168 yards and two scores. At 5-foot-7 and 185 pounds, the sophomore doesn’t have prototypical size to be an every down back – but neither did Stewart. Expect Jones to record 175-200 carries and he may have to carry the offense early in the year with a new quarterback taking over under center.

Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLANot only is Kendricks under pressure to repeat last year’s impressive performance as a freshman, but he also has to pickup where his brother (Mychal) left off at California. Mychal was the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2011, and the Bruins certainly hope Eric can produce that type of season in 2012. He ranked second on the team with 77 tackles and recorded two sacks. Kendricks is expected to patrol the middle of UCLA’s new 3-4 scheme and will be one of the conference’s top breakout players.

Andrei Lintz, TE/WR, Washington StateWith Mike Leach’s pass-first offense coming to Pullman, there should be plenty of receptions to go around in 2012. Marquess Wilson should be the go-to target for quarterback Jeff Tuel, but there’s plenty of room for Lintz to get involved. The senior has only eight receptions through the first three years of his career but could easily surpass those totals in the season opener. Lintz has spent his career in Pullman as a tight end but will slide to the slot receiver role in 2012. At 6-foot-5 and 249 pounds, the senior will be a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses.

Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon Don’t look now, but the Ducks have another dangerous weapon ready to unleash on opposing defenses. Lyerla caught only seven passes for 147 yards and five touchdowns last season but will be a bigger part of the offense in 2012. The sophomore is a great athlete and is speed/size combination will be a difficult matchup for opposing linebackers and safeties – provided Marcus Mariota or Bryan Bennett pickup where Darron Thomas left off under center.

Wayne Lyons, CB, Stanford The secondary was the weak link in the Cardinal’s defense last season. And the situation may not be much better in 2012, especially with safeties Delano Howell and Michael Thomas expiring their eligibility. Lyons was expected to play a key role in Stanford’s secondary last year but played in only two games due to a foot injury. At 6-foot-1 and 194 pounds, he has the size, speed and strength to matchup against some of the top receivers in the Pac-12.

Steven Manfro, RB, UCLAThe Bruins are set with Johnathan Franklin returning at running back, but Manfro created a buzz in UCLA’s spring practice. In the spring game, he rushed for 20 yards on two attempts but caught seven passes for 105 yards. Manfro likely won’t beat out Franklin for carries, but expect the redshirt freshman to play a significant role in the offense this season.

Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State Mannion is a known commodity to fans around the Pac-12, but he’s not a household name around the nation. He wrestled the starting job away from Ryan Katz early last year and finished with 3,328 yards and 16 touchdowns. As expected with a redshirt freshman, Mannion made a few mistakes (18 interceptions), but also threw five touchdowns over the last two contests of 2012. With a full offseason to work as the No. 1 quarterback, Mannion should be more comfortable and all signs point to a much better sophomore season. Helping his cause will be a solid receiving corps, but the offensive line and rushing attack needs to be better in 2012.

Chris McCain, LB, California With Mychal Kendricks playing in the NFL, the Golden Bears need a new standout at linebacker. Despite missing three games due to injury, he recorded 29 tackles, 1.5 sacks and six tackles for a loss as a freshman in 2011. McCain has intriguing size (6-foot-6) and after playing well in his debut season, the California coaching staff hopes he can kick that up a notch in 2012.

Ty Montgomery, WR, StanfordThere’s no question the Cardinal will miss quarterback Andrew Luck but enough pieces return to expect another run at a double-digit win season. Montgomery did most of his damage in the second half of last year, finishing with 24 receptions for 350 yards and two touchdowns. To help take the pressure off of new quarterback Brett Nottingham, Stanford will lean on its rushing attack but also needs to take some shots downfield. Montgomery is a big-play threat and his performance in the second half of 2012 suggests he could push for 50 receptions. 

Eric Rowe, S, UtahWith an abundance of solid quarterbacks and receivers, it’s not easy starting as a freshman in the secondary in the Pac-12. Rowe did exactly that last year, recording 69 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and one interception. He will team with junior Brian Blechen to form one of the conference’s top safety combinations. Although Rowe likely won’t be a household name by the end of 2012, expect the sophomore to push for all-conference honors.  

Matt Scott, QB, Arizona With Nick Foles firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback last year, former coach Mike Stoops made the right decision to redshirt Scott. The senior has one more year of eligibility and should breakout with an opportunity to play in Rich Rodriguez’s spread offense. Scott has averaged 6.6 yards per carry on 99 career attempts and completed 114 of 176 throws for 1,301 yards and six touchdowns. With his experience and mobility, Scott should be a good fit in Arizona’s new offense.

Xavier Su’a-Filo, OT, UCLA The Bruins have been struggling to find the right combination on the offensive line over the last few years but will get a boost with the return of Su’a-Filo from a two-year Mormon mission. As a true freshman in 2009, he started all 13 games and earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors. Su’a-Filo may need a few games to knock off the rust, but he should contend for a spot on the All-Pac-12 team by the end of the year.

Randall Telfer, TE, USCWith Robert Woods and Marqise Lee headlining the receiving corps, it’s not easy for Telfer to get much recognition. In his freshman campaign last year, he nabbed 26 receptions for 273 yards and five touchdowns. Telfer also earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in 2011. It’s a good year for tight ends in the conference, as Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins and UCLA’s Joseph Fauira are All-American candidates, while there’s plenty of depth with Stanford’s Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz returning. Telfer may not earn first-team all-conference honors but he will be a much bigger factor in USC’s offense in 2012.

Shaq Thompson, S, WashingtonIf Washington wants to have any shot at competing for the Pac-12 North title, the defense has to show major improvement from 2011. Although the Huskies probably aren’t ready to lean on their defense to win games, this unit should be much better in 2012. New coordinator Justin Wilcox is an improvement over Nick Holt, and Thompson’s arrival gives Washington a difference maker in the secondary. He ranked as the No. 6 overall recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and will be expected to start from the opening snap.

George Uko, DT, USC – With the departures of Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris at tackle, the interior of the line is a big concern for coordinator Monte Kiffin. Uko was a top 100 recruit coming out of high school and was a key member of the line rotation in 2011. He recorded 18 tackles and two starts, while also earning 1.5 sacks. Uko is expected to step in the starting lineup and will be a key cog in USC’s rush defense in 2012.

Kasen Williams, WR, Washington With Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar expiring their eligibility, quarterback Keith Price will have a new No. 1 wide receiver. All signs point to Williams stepping into that role, especially after catching 36 passes for 427 yards and six touchdowns last season – as a true freshman. As a sophomore, Williams should have a much better grasp of the offense and should easily surpass last year’s totals.

 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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Teaser:
<p> Pac-12 Football's Breakout Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Monday, July 30, 2012 - 06:00
All taxonomy terms: Illinois Fighting Illini, Big Ten, News
Path: /news/illinois-coach-tim-beckman-sings-seventh-inning-stretch
Body:

Illinois coach Tim Beckman was a busy man last week. The Big Ten held its annual media days in Chicago on Thursday and Friday, and Beckman made an appearance at Wrigley Field on Saturday to sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh inning stretch.

Sing might be a generous word.

Beckman was a good coach at Toledo and appears to be a good fit at Illinois but let's just say his singing needs a little bit of work. Beckman's seventh inning stretch at Wrigley isn't the worst, but we don't think this one will go on Illinois' highlight reel this year.

Teaser:
<p> Illinois Coach Tim Beckman "Sings" Seventh Inning Stretch</p>
Post date: Sunday, July 29, 2012 - 23:57
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-darkhorse-national-title-contenders-2012
Body:

Predicting college football's national champion is never an easy task. In addition to combing through schedules, returning starters, players lost and statistics, there are several factors impossible to account for. Injuries and luck will have a major impact on the 2012 season - and neither can be projected. 

Most of college football's national title winners will come from within the top 10 of most preseason polls, but there are always a few darkhorses sneaking into the top 10 at some point during the season. 

What teams could be a darkhorse national title contender in 2012? Using Athlon's projected top 25 for 2012, the criteria was simple - the teams must be ranked anywhere outside of the top 10 to qualify. Although Georgia and South Carolina are popular sleeper picks, both teams are ranked inside of Athlon's projected top 10

Do Preseason Rankings Matter for College Football National Champions?

(Athlon’s projected 2012 final rank in parenthesis)

1. Texas (11)

Why They Will: If the adage of a strong running game and defense win championships is correct, the Longhorns will be in great shape. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron combined for 1,205 yards and 10 touchdowns as freshmen last season. This duo should only get better in 2012 and will face competition for carries from incoming freshman Johnathan Gray. The defense returns six starters off a unit that ranked sixth nationally against the run and 11th in yards allowed. The defensive line and secondary should be among the best in college football.

Why They Won’t: Quarterback play. Regardless of how well Texas can run the ball and play defense, it needs to bolster the passing attack. The Longhorns averaged just 189.9 yards per game through the air last season and enter 2012 with uncertainty under center. David Ash appears to have an edge over Case McCoy but this position is still a question mark for coordinator Bryan Harsin. The schedule isn’t too overwhelming, but the Longhorns catch Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Oklahoma in their first three Big 12 games - not exactly the best news for a team struggling to find a starting quarterback.

2. Virginia Tech (16)

Why They Will: How’s this for success: The Hokies have won at least 10 games every year since 2004 and recorded five BCS bowl appearances during that stretch. The offensive line was hit hard by departures, but quarterback Logan Thomas is poised to build off a solid sophomore season. The defense should be among the best in the nation, especially with a defensive line that has speed, depth and talent at each position. Virginia Tech’s schedule is very favorable, as it could be 7-0 heading into a road test at Clemson on Oct. 20. An away date at North Carolina on Oct. 6 will be tricky, but the Hokies catch a break by hosting Florida State on Nov. 8.

Why They Won’t: Despite the promise surrounding quarterback Logan Thomas, four new starters on the line are concerning. Center Andrew Miller is a good place to start rebuilding but there’s very little experience and depth at the other positions. Depth is also an issue in the secondary, but the starting group is one of the best in the ACC. Special teams are usually a strength in Blacksburg, but the Hokies struggled to find a consistent punter last year.

3. Wisconsin (17)

Why They Will: The defending Big Ten champs suffered some losses, but the cupboard is far from bare. Running back Montee Ball is back after rushing for 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, while six starters return from a defense that ranked third in the Big Ten in yards allowed. The offensive line lost some of the unit’s top players, but center Travis Frederick and tackle Ricky Wagner are two of college football’s top linemen. The non-conference slate should allow Wisconsin to begin the year 4-0 and there’s really only one tough conference road game (Nebraska). With Ohio State and Penn State banned from the conference title game, the Badgers are a clear favorite to return to Indianapolis and a win over Michigan, Michigan State or Nebraska would be a solid boost in the polls on the final weekend of action.

Why They Won’t: Although 11 starters are back, the Badgers have some holes to fill. Although quarterback Danny O’Brien has starting experience from his time at Maryland, he’s no Russell Wilson. O’Brien is more of a pocket passer and won’t give Wisconsin the dual-threat potential that Wilson brought to the table last year. As if breaking in a new quarterback wasn’t enough, the Badgers will have a new offensive coordinator – one of six new assistants on the Wisconsin coaching staff.  The Badgers will also have a new starter at kicker and punter, which could be a concern in close games this season.

 

4. Michigan State (18)

Why They Will: Replacing quarterback Kirk Cousins and three key receivers won’t be easy. However, the Spartans aren’t short on talent on offense, as running back Le’Veon Bell is back after rushing for 948 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. The offensive line should be improved with four starters returning. The defense should be among the best in college football, as junior William Gholston, linebacker Max Bullough and cornerback Johnny Adams could earn All-American honors in 2012. The schedule is challenging but also brings plenty of opportunities to earn marquee wins. 

Why They Won’t: The balance of power in the Big Ten is clearly with the Legends Division. If Michigan State can knock off Michigan and Nebraska, it would take a big step forward in the conference title race. However, beating both teams won’t be easy with a road date in Ann Arbor. The schedule doesn’t get any easier with dates against Boise State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Needless to say, if Michigan State finishes the regular season unbeaten, it will have earned a spot in the national title game. New quarterback Andrew Maxwell is talented but has very little experience. Although Maxwell should be a solid passer, there could be a few bumps in the road as he gets acclimated to the starting role – especially with new faces taking over in the receiving corps.

5. Louisville (23)

Why They Will: If you are looking for a team on the rise, look no further than Louisville. Sure, the Cardinals record is just 14-12 in the last two years, but the program is on the right track under coach Charlie Strong. Louisville has also played a handful of young players over the last two seasons, including sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. As a freshman last year, Bridgewater threw for 2,129 yards and 14 touchdowns. He should only get better in 2012, especially with a talented group of young receivers returning. The defense should rank among the best in the conference, and the incoming recruiting class will bolster the depth and talent on each level, particularly at linebacker with Nick Dawson and Keith Brown. The Cardinals have some tricky games on the schedule but should be favored in each contest. 

Why They Won’t: Even if the Cardinals can navigate through the season with one loss or an undefeated record, it’s a longshot they would climb high enough in the BCS standings to play for the national title. The Big East does not have a strong reputation right now, which will hurt Louisville in terms of national respect. In order for the Cardinals to make a run at the national title game, they need some help from their Big East foes. Getting Pittsburgh, Rutgers, and South Florida to make a run into the top 25 would help the conference’s reputation and give Louisville a boost in schedule strength. The biggest personnel issue for Louisville is youth. Eleven sophomores could earn starting spots in the two-deep, while there’s only six seniors expected to see significant snaps in 2012.  

6. Boise State (24)

Why They Will: With just seven returning starters, the Broncos are flying under the radar in most preseason rankings. Boise State is predicted to finish 24th in Athlon’s 2012 rankings but have finished outside of the top 16 in the Associated Press poll just twice since 2002. Despite only one starter returning, the Broncos should have one of the Mountain West’s top defenses, while there’s plenty of firepower on offense if a quarterback emerges. The schedule is favorable, especially if Boise State can find a way to win on road trips against Michigan State and Nevada.

Why They Won’t: Although there’s a lot of promise with the returning roster, Boise State lost some key players. Quarterback Kellen Moore, running back Doug Martin, defensive tackle Billy Winn, end Shea McClellin and safety George Iloka were all key cogs in Boise State’s recent success and expired their eligibility after the 2011 season. Boise State reloads fast but there are a lot of losses to overcome. Joe Southwick and Nick Patti appear to be capable quarterbacks but winning on the road in East Lansing for the first start in your career is not easy. The Broncos are probably underrated in Athlon’s 2012 rankings but seem to be a year away from pushing for a BCS bowl appearance.
 

-By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Darkhorse National Title Contenders for 2012</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 06:40
Path: /college-football/tennessee-football-2012-make-or-break-year-derek-dooley
Body:

The fan base isn’t happy. He’s working for a new athletic director. He won one SEC game in 2011. Simply Derek Dooley needs to win – and win right away.

For 37 days — a stretch that spanned from the final game of the 2011 regular season all the way to Jan. 3 of the new year — Tennessee coach Derek Dooley remained silent. He was off the grid, unable to address the mounting media requests that were piling up after one of the most disappointing losses in UT history.

When Dooley finally broke his silence, he had to address a laundry list of issues, the majority of which were negative in nature. He concluded the discourse with a message squarely directed at his fan base, a loyal group that has endured plenty of adversity since Phillip Fulmer’s firing in 2008.  

“I can tell you this: I’ve never been more excited about an offseason in all of my coaching career,” Dooley said. “As disappointed as I am about how the season ended, I’m equally optimistic about our team and our program heading into next year.”

For Vol fans, time wasn’t enough to heal the wounds inflicted by their team’s 10–7, season-ending loss to Kentucky. It wasn’t just that the Vols had lost to the Wildcats for the first time since 1984, and it wasn’t just that it kept UT out of a bowl game for the second time in four years. It was how the Vols lost that left an unsettling feeling that still hovers above the program and above Dooley’s head going into the 2012 season.

UT’s new athletic director, Dave Hart, was just two months on the job when it happened, but he quickly understood the gravity of the situation.

“I had a negative reaction. People should have had a negative reaction,” Hart said in December. “There would have been something dramatically wrong if there wasn’t a negative reaction to that particular performance on that particular day. Now, you’re into the unacceptable category.”

Avoiding the “unacceptable” will keep Dooley in good graces with his new boss. How Hart defines “unacceptable” in Dooley’s third year at UT, though, will differ significantly from what it meant during the first two seasons.

Asked if there were a certain number of wins that Dooley, who is 11–14 after two seasons at UT, needs to hit this year in order to feel comfortable with his future at Tennessee, Hart bristles, saying that he will “never do that.” He does, however, acknowledge that the Vols aren’t young anymore, and that type of excuse won’t be acceptable if they are to have a similarly lackluster season in 2012.

“That assessment, it goes deep,” Hart says. “It’s not an inch deep and a mile wide. It’s an honest assessment of all the prongs that you’re developing to try to have a championship-level program.”

Championship-level programs don’t often have the kind of staff turnover Dooley and the Vols experienced throughout the offseason. They also don’t have a star player drawing all sorts of negative attention for his inability to conform to standard rules and procedures.

Tennessee, unfortunately, had a heavy supply of both before the first of April, and those are the challenges Dooley has to overcome before the Aug. 31 season opener in Atlanta against NC State.

Starting with wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett, who was said to have retired but was paid like he was fired, and ending with secondary coach Terry Joseph, who left for a similar position at Nebraska just three weeks before the start of spring football, the Vols lost seven of their nine on-field assistant coaches from 2011. The two holdovers — wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney — are working with different position groups than they were last year. 

The second coach to part ways with Dooley, former special teams/tight ends coach Eric Russell, told the Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman-Review that he didn’t leave UT for Washington State because it was close to his hometown of St. Maries, Idaho. Rather, Russell was concerned about his long-term future.

“I think at Tennessee, it was going to come down to how many games you won the next year, and unfortunately nobody’s got a crystal ball,” Russell told the newspaper.

Dooley, aware of the “sinking ship” perception that came with the methodical exodus, says he thinks the turnover is a “healthy thing.”

“I think when you go through a tough year it’s hard on the coaches and hard on the players,” Dooley says. “Sometimes change is a welcome thing and everybody is going to have that and they’re going to walk into their meeting room with a new face, a new personality and it’s a good opportunity for the players to start over from scratch. They can put away anything that they wish they hadn’t done in the past.”

The past season was good for wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, but the past few months have been bad enough to warrant non-stop speculation about his future with the team. According to multiple media outlets, a confrontation with a strength coach during the offseason kept Rogers away from the program for nearly a month. He returned in time for spring practice but was briefly suspended for another infraction and held out of one practice before returning to the team yet again. Dooley denies that he was giving preferential treatment to Rogers.

“I don’t worry about (him being a distraction),” Dooley says. “And if he is, then we handle it just like any other player.”

Dooley’s disciplinary tactics won’t be what matters once the Vols start playing football. Winning can truly fix things in a hurry at Tennessee, which is coming off one of its worst-attended seasons since the expansion of Neyland Stadium.

The Vols return 17 starters, a group that includes promising quarterback Tyler Bray and all of five offensive linemen — but does not include standout wide receiver Justin Hunter, who returns after missing most of the 2011 season with a torn ACL. Under new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri, the Vols are going to play out of a 3-4 base defense, something Dooley says he’s wanted to do for years.

The schedule is as favorable as it’s been in years. The Vols get rivals Florida and Alabama at home, and they swap last year’s games against LSU and Arkansas for Mississippi State and SEC newcomer Missouri. 

While certainly at the top of the list, wins and losses aren’t the only variables that factor in when predicting Dooley’s future with the Vols.

Dooley left Louisiana Tech to become the Vols’ new coach in 2010 only because UT had just lost Lane Kiffin after one season. The program, for all intents and purposes, was in shambles. It clearly wasn’t a quick fix, and Dooley agreed to a contract that reflected it. His six-year deal stipulates that he would be owed $5 million if he were to be fired before Feb. 15, 2013. It drops down to $4 million for 2014 and 2015.

UT is still making monthly payments on Fulmer’s $6 million buyout. The athletic department, which boasts a budget that tops $100 million, made just $14,447 in net income during the 2010-11 fiscal year, according to BusinessofCollegeSports.com.

“We’ve got to get football healthy,” Hart says. “But that’s not all on Derek Dooley.”
 

This article appeared in Athlon's 2012 SEC Preview Annual.

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<p> Tennessee Football: 2012 Is a Make-or-Break Year for Derek Dooley</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 06:36
All taxonomy terms: College Football, USC Trojans, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/usc-football-matt-barkley-has-sights-set-national-championship
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The official announcement came on a bright December day just before Christmas, and throughout Southern California, the stunning news flicked on smiles like so many twinkling holiday lights.

Matt Barkley was coming back.

USC’s blond poster boy was giving up the potential millions he could have earned as an NFL first-round draft choice to play his senior year for his beloved Trojans. Barkley’s return culminated the university’s remarkable climb back from those controversial NCAA sanctions to the glittering pinnacle of the college football hierarchy.

And just like that, Barkley became an all-time USC hero, the quarterback of a potential national championship contender, the frontrunner for the 2012 Heisman Trophy and a poster boy for all that is good and clean and pure about amateur athletics.

It was a decision that delighted people from the coastline of Santa Monica to the desert of Palm Springs. It also surprised almost everybody, beginning with those in the university football offices.

“I thought he was gone,” says coach Lane Kiffin. “I think 95 percent of the kids would have left under similar circumstances.”

But Barkley isn’t like 95 percent of the kids. In many ways, he is the collegiate equivalent of Tim Tebow, so squeaky clean that he’s already been on humanitarian missions to Nigeria, South Africa and Mexico and still has the same girlfriend he first met at age 5 in preschool.

Barkley is one of those kids who’s never even missed a snap, let alone a practice. He is deeply religious, a self-described “technology nerd” who is more likely to be found playing his guitar in church than at some wild party.

“I keep telling people I’m still waiting for him to do something wrong,” says Kiffin.

It could be a long wait. Especially now that Barkley has turned his back on the NFL, preferring to play another year in front of the adoring, sold-out crowds in the L.A. Coliseum.

“I know my decision affected a lot of people,” Barkley says. “But it wasn’t just about having so much fun in college. I’ve had a great time. But this was more about making the most out of what you started. Today, there is such an emphasis on instant gratification. I kind of wanted to send a message to guys around the country: Finish what you start.

“We went through so much, starting with the end of the (Pete) Carroll era, with the sanctions and no bowls and stuff. But in the second half of the season last year we could see ourselves rising out of it. We started playing for each other and having fun again.”

Maybe Les Barkley, Matt’s proud dad, puts it best: “After all they went through, Matt just thinks this team can do something extraordinary. He thinks they can create memories that will last a lifetime, something they can tell their kids and grandkids about some day.”

Now you know why this is the most eagerly awaited football season at USC since Carroll’s stirring national championship runs.

One of the reasons — maybe one of the biggest — for Barkley’s return is his first-hand knowledge of how good this team can be. He understands, better than anybody, that he will have the luxury of the finest pair of wide receivers in college football in All-American Robert Woods and soon-to-be All-American Marqise Lee. In 2011, Woods and Lee combined for a staggering 184 receptions, 2,435 yards and 26 touchdowns.

With potential All-America safety T.J. McDonald also back for his senior season, the Trojans will return the entire back seven on defense, most of their offensive line and a feisty 1,000-yard runner in ever-improving Curtis McNeal.

Most of all, though, there is Barkley, the 6'2", 230-pound Heisman candidate, the quarterback who is ready to join Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer among the USC royalty at the position, the poised, strong-armed senior who could shatter most of the Trojans’ career passing records before he is finished.

“It’s crazy to think about that,” Barkley says. “I grew up watching those guys play quarterback at USC. The fact that we’re friends now is even crazier. I still think Leinart is the best college quarterback to ever play the game, and Carson had just a tremendous senior year after a lot of coaching changes. Guys like that showed perseverance.”

Barkley has demonstrated more than a little of that himself. He was rushed in by Carroll to start as a true freshman, and although he played well early in his freshman season — most notably in a Week 2 win at Ohio State — his inexperience eventually caught up to him. Through his first two-and-a-half seasons, he had some great games, but he had some shaky ones, too.

Then, sometime in the middle of 2011, it was as if a cardinal and gold light clicked on. “It was right around the Notre Dame game,” Barkley says. “I think I started having more confidence in my teammates. I’d been a little apprehensive early, but everything started to fall into place and there was more chemistry, more mojo, as a team.”

In his final six games last year, he threw 23 touchdown passes with just three interceptions. He was 26-of-34 for 323 yards and four TDs in the huge upset victory at Oregon, then topped it off by competing 35-of-42 attempts (including 19 of his first 20) for 423 yards and six TDs in the 50–0 blitz of cross-town rival UCLA that elevated the Trojans into the top five nationally.

Because of the sanctions, there was no bowl invitation waiting. But there are no such constraints this season. That’s why Barkley is so excited and why he thinks both he and the team can get better.

“There are things I can improve on,” he says. “I want to become a more accurate passer, raise my completion percentage. I want to play with more precision. I definitely felt ready for the NFL, but because of my decision, I think I’ll be even more ready next time. I always think more experience can help.”

His Christian faith is as important to Barkley as it has been to the more high-profile Tebow. “We just express it differently,” Barkley says. “He’s more outward about it, I’m more private. But I’m glad he stuck to his guns. I’ve talked to him a couple times on the phone and I admire him as a leader.”

At USC these days, the one being admired is the Trojans’ clear-cut leader, the Pac-12’s rightful heir to Stanford’s Andrew Luck, the self-effacing senior who is more than happy to show that the collegiate experience is not just limited to mindless jocks getting ready for the NFL.

Somebody better cue up those highlight reels. On college football’s grandest stage, Matt Barkley’s eagerly anticipated final act could be something special.
 

This article appeared in Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Preview Annual.

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Teaser:
<p> USC Football: Matt Barkley Has Sights Set on National Championship</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 06:15

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