Articles By Steven Lassan

All taxonomy terms: College Football, Georgia Bulldogs, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/georgia-bulldogs-2012-team-predictions-0

The Georgia Bulldogs check in at No. 8 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: QB Aaron Murray
Last season Murray posted his second-straight 3,000-yard campaign, while setting the Georgia single-season record for touchdown passes (35) and touchdown responsibility (37). The junior was a second-team All-SEC selection as he finished second in the conference in passing yards and fifth in passing efficiency. Murray is already third on Georgia’s career touchdown passes list with 59 and fifth in total offense. He needs just 14 touchdown passes in 2012 to break David Greene’s career mark for touchdown passes and another 3,000-yard season would place him third all-time in Bulldogs’ history in total offense. If Murray needs to improve in any area, it would be to cut down on his interceptions. Besides leading the SEC in touchdown passes in 2011 by a wide margin (Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson was second with 24), he also led the conference in interceptions with 14.

Upset Alert: at Missouri (Sept. 8)
Missouri would like nothing better than to beat Georgia in its first game as a member of the SEC. It’s the second game on both team’s schedules and a win for the Tigers would not only serve as “proof” that they belong in the SEC, but it also would give them an early leg up on the Bulldogs in the East Division standings. The Georgia defense will be missing a few key players in its secondary due to suspension, so Missouri’s offense, which ranked No. 12 in the country in 2011, is not the ideal opponent to face. It also doesn’t hurt the Tigers’ chances that the game is in Columbia. Since 2005, Missouri is 35-8 at Memorial Stadium under Gary Pinkel, and the Tigers are 11-1 at home over the last two seasons.

Revenge Game: at South Carolina (Oct. 6)
Georgia went into last season’s game against South Carolina coming off of a disappointing opening loss to Boise State in the Georgia Dome. The Gamecocks then proceeded to add to the Bulldogs’ misery by capitalizing on three turnovers in a 45-42 win in Sanford Stadium. The back-to-back losses had everyone talking about head coach Mark Richt’s job security. Fortunately for Richt, those conversations stopped after the team rolled off 10 straight wins to capture the SEC East crown and a trip to the SEC Championship Game. Still, Richt and the rest of the Bulldogs remember all too well how last season’s meeting was decided and would like to return the favor to the Gamecocks on their home turf the first weekend in October. If the Bulldogs want to leave Columbia with a win, the defense will need to do a much better job against the run. In last season’s contest, South Carolina rushed for 253 yards, 176 of those courtesy of Marcus Lattimore, which was the most Georgia gave up in a game in 2011.

Trap Game: vs. Georgia Tech (Nov. 24)
Unless Georgia Tech emerges as the top team in the ACC’s Coastal Division, Georgia will have more on the line by the time the two in-state rivals meet up Thanksgiving weekend. If all goes according to plan, Georgia will head into this contest knowing that it has another game the following Saturday – the SEC Championship. If that’s the case, then the Bulldogs’ BCS fate will be decided by the outcome of their next game and not this one against the Yellow Jackets. However, there’s also the possibility that Georgia could head into the SEC title game undefeated or with just one loss. Under that scenario, the Bulldogs would not be able to afford a loss to Georgia Tech if they wanted to even remain in the national title discussion headed into the SEC Championship Game. A Yellow Jackets’ win under these circumstances would be the epitome of a “stinging” loss for Georgia fans, no?

Biggest Game AND Season-Defining Moment: SEC Championship (Dec. 1)
If all goes according to plan this fall, Georgia should come out on top in the SEC East and make a second straight trip to the conference championship game. If that happens, the Bulldogs will be presented with a golden opportunity to put the struggles of 2009 and ’10 and the disappointing end to the ’11 campaign behind them if they are able to knock off the best of the SEC West, presumably LSU or Alabama. Besides defeating one of the nation’s top teams and being crowned as the champion of the nation’s toughest conference, Georgia would secure no worse than its first BCS bowl invitation since the 2007 season. In fact, if everything were to fall into place (see Trap Game), a win in the SEC Championship Game could potentially result in Georgia getting the opportunity to win its first national title since 1980.

Defensive MVP: LB Jarvis Jones
Jones had to sit out the 2010 season following his transfer from USC. If his 2011 campaign is any indication, he was well worth the wait. In his first season at Georgia, Jones wreaked havoc on the SEC as he became the school’s first position player to be named a consensus All-American since 2005. Jones also was a Butkus Award finalist who led the SEC and finished fifth in the nation in sacks per game, while also leading the conference in tackles for loss (16th nationally). Jones’ total of 13.5 sacks in 2011 was a half-sack shy of David Pollack’s school single-season record of 14, which he set in 2002.  And he did all of this as a sophomore. The good news for the rest of the SEC is chances are he will only be around for one more season, as he considered leaving early for the NFL this year. The bad news is he will be around for one more season.

Unsung Hero: DE Abry Jones
Georgia’s other Jones went from a part-time starter in 2010 to a full-time starter in 2011 and certainly produced like one. The senior posted career bests across the board last season, finishing with 48 tackles (28 solo), seven tackles for loss, four sacks, three pass breakups and a forced fumble. At the conclusion of the season, Jones was named one of the recipients of the team’s Most Improved Player Awards on the defense. Jones’ presence on the defensive line and his production from his defensive end position was one of the reasons why the Bulldogs finished fifth in the nation in total defense and 11th in rushing defense in 2011.

Newcomer to Watch: TE Jay Rome
Rome has seen more action on the basketball court rather than the football field to this point, but that figures to change this season for the redshirt freshman. Rome played in seven games for Georgia’s basketball team last season, during which he scored a total of two points, pulled down seven rebounds and two steals in 17 minutes of court action. The production coaches are hoping for this fall is in terms of catches, yards and, hopefully, touchdowns as Rome and junior Arthur Lynch will get the first crack at replacing the production of Orson Charles. Charles, who earned first-team All-SEC honors and tied for second on the team with 45 catches and five touchdown receptions in 2011, was Georgia’s lone early entry into this year’s NFL Draft. The Cincinnati Bengals took Charles in the fourth round and now quarterback Aaron Murray is hoping Rome or Lynch will be able to develop into a reliable target in the Bulldogs’ passing game. Lynch may have more experience than Rome, but he has caught a total of two passes in his two previous seasons, whereas Rome was a highly regarded in-state tight end prospect coming out of Valdosta High School. Perhaps as a sign of things to come, Rome hauled in a 66-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Christian LeMay in the spring game.

Comeback Player: OL Kolton Houston
Houston sat out last year due to NCAA “eligibility issues” and entered spring practice fighting for playing time at one of the guard positions on Georgia’s revamped offensive line. By the end of spring practice, however, the sophomore from Buford, Ga., was the starter at right tackle. Offensive line coach Will Friend apparently saw enough from the former Under Armour All-American to not only switch him from guard to tackle, but to also tab him as the presumptive starter headed into fall practice. Whether Houston is able to retain the starting assignment by the time Georgia opens its 2012 season against Buffalo on Sept. 1 remains to be seen. However, given the fact that the Bulldogs are looking to replace three starters, all of whom were taken in this year’s NFL Draft, the opportunity is clearly there for someone to emerge and lay claim to one of these jobs. And it appears Houston is already on his way to doing just that.

Freshman to Watch I: RB Keith Marshall
Even though Georgia is returning four of its top five rushers from last season, led by reigning SEC Freshman of the Year Isaiah Crowell (850 yards rushing, five TDs), don’t be surprised if Marshall gets his share of touches before the 2012 season is finished. Marshall was one of the top running back prospects in the nation coming out of Millbrook High School in Raleigh, N.C. He enrolled in January to participate in spring practice, but suffered a hamstring injury that limited his involvement and kept him from participating in the spring game. However, Marshall, who rushed for 1,891 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior, still figures to be a part of what should be a spirited competition once fall practice begins. Besides Marshall and Crowell, others vying for carries in the Bulldogs’ backfield in 2012 include senior Richard Samuel, junior Brandon Harton, sophomore Ken Malcome and incoming freshman Todd Gurley. Gurley, like Marshall, is also a highly regarded recruit from North Carolina, and it was actually Marshall who helped convince Gurley to sign with Georgia.

Freshman to Watch II: LB Josh Harvey-Clemons
Georgia’s top recruit on the defensive side, Harvey-Clemons was rated one of the top linebacker prospects in the nation and one of the top players in Georgia after starring at Lowndes High School in Valdosta. The Bulldogs are in great shape at linebacker with All-American Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Christian Robinson and others, but the coaching staff is already thinking of ways to get Harvey-Clemons on the field, despite the fact that he hasn’t even arrived on campus yet. There has already been talk that the talented freshman will see time at both linebacker and safety on defense, and perhaps even make an appearance on offense lined up as a tight end or receiver, especially once the Bulldogs are in the red zone.

Position to Watch: Offensive Line
Georgia saw three offensive linemen — Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones and Justin Anderson — taken in April’s NFL Draft, which means there will be several new faces along the line come this fall. Combined those three made 125 starts for the Bulldogs, meaning quarterback Aaron Murray and the running game will be relying on a relatively inexperienced unit in 2012.

The returning starters are juniors Chris Burnette (right guard) and Kenarious Gates (left tackle). After that is where things get interesting as evident by the fact that sophomore Kolton Houston, who missed all of last season due to “eligibility issues,” is currently penciled in as the starter at right tackle. Another sophomore, David Andrews appears to have an early hold on the starting assignment at center.

There is no lack of candidates for the final spot, left guard, including juniors Austin Long and Dallas Lee and sophomores Mark Beard and Watts Dantzler. There’s also incoming freshman John Theus, the No. 2 offensive lineman prospect in the nation by Athlon Sports.

Whoever the starting five end up being come Georgia’s Sept. 1 opener against Buffalo, the coaching staff is hoping that it’s a unit that can come together and do its part to help the Bulldogs reach their goals for the 2012 season, namely a SEC championship.

Related Georgia Content

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Can Georgia Win the SEC Title in 2012?

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<p> Georgia Bulldogs 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 24, 2012 - 05:51
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Georgia Bulldogs, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/georgia-football-can-bulldogs-win-sec-title-2012

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 8 Georgia. The Bulldogs are the defending SEC East champions and return quarterback Aaron Murray and one of the conference's best defenses. However, Georgia must replace a couple of key players on the offensive line, along with navigating suspensions in the secondary.

Can Georgia Win the SEC Title in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Optimism sure runs high in May. I believe I’ve talked myself into at least five teams with a chance to win the SEC if everything breaks right. Deep down, I know it’s going to be LSU, Alabama or possibly South Carolina. So here’s the case for Georgia anyway: The defense led by Jarvis Jones and Bacarri Rambo will be nasty, but I’d like to see how Georgia holds up against teams like Florida and Tennessee playing a little closer to form on the offensive side of the ball. Georgia even faced Vanderbilt before the Commodores fully committed to quarterback Jordan Rodgers. On offense, Aaron Murray could be the SEC’s top quarterback if he can cut down on his 14 picks. Despite Isaiah Crowell’s issues last season, he still managed to rush for 850 yards as a freshman. And of course, you have to love that schedule. The SEC West offers up Ole Miss and Auburn. Georgia took advantage of the lucky schedule last year, using wins over Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Auburn to clinch the East while South Carolina went undefeated against the division. If Georgia can win the East, sure, I’ll give the Bulldogs a shot to defeat the West champion in Atlanta, despite what LSU did to Georgia in the second half of last year’s SEC title game. Here’s the case against Georgia: South Carolina may be the better team, and the Gamecocks face Georgia in Columbia. The Bulldogs’ SEC opener at Missouri for the Tigers’ first game as a member of the new league is worrisome, too. James Franklin, the quarterback not the coach, can throw the ball around, and he’ll do it against secondary hindered by suspensions, including Rambo. By Oct. 6, Georgia could be facing two losses – Missouri and South Carolina on the road. That might be enough to take a good Georgia team out of the race.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
The SEC East in 2012 feels nearly as wide open as it has been the last years. I fully expect South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee to be improved from a year ago. The league has added Missouri (and for some, Texas A&M) to the schedules in the East. And Vanderbilt should be as good — at least, on offense. The new landscape in the SEC East makes it only that much more tenuous a hold on the division for the Georgia Bulldogs. Especially, considering the losses along the offensive line and the pending suspensions on defense. So CAN the Dawgs win the East? Most assuredly. But WILL they?

Let's start with the good. This team claims arguably the top quarterback in the league in Aaron Murray, who lapped the SEC field statistically (with the exception of Tyler Wilson) a year ago. They have a deep and electric skill corps that boasts elite talents at running back and wide receiver. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has one of the nation's stingiest defensive units and arguably the top front seven in the East — a bold statement considering the talent at South Carolina and Florida up front. The Dawgs also get some fortuitous scheduling as LSU, Alabama and Arkansas are notably absent from the slate (again) this year. Meanwhile, chief contender South Carolina visits LSU and hosts the Hogs. Last but certainly not least, Georgia is the defending champion. There is little that can take the place of championship experience.

Now, for the bad. The offensive line is a mess. There is plenty of talent, but this group has to gel quickly after its top three blockers moved on from Athens. Running the football and protecting Murray against some of the nation's top D-Lines could prove to be difficult this fall. This team must also deal with a big chunk of the early schedule — which includes a key road trip to Mizzou in Week 2 — without most of its talented defenders. Many of the suspended names — Ogletree, Rambo, Smith, etc — should be around for the heart of the SEC schedule, but there is little depth in the defensive backfield. Should anything else go wrong, on or off the field, it could spell doom for the Dawgs back-seven. Georgia is also the 'hunted' now as the defending champs and will need to face heightened expectations the likes haven't existed in Athens since 2007. And frankly, I believe that, by a razor's edge, South Carolina is the better overall football team.

WIth such heavy scheduling disparity, it is hard to count more losses for UGA than for South Carolina. And while the Dawgs likely won't have to go into Columbia and win to repeat as division champs, it might have to win every other game. For now, I am picking the Georgia Bulldogs to win the East — almost by default — but their grasp upon the SEC East crown is slippery at best.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think the gap between the top of the SEC East and West Divisions has closed, but still think Georgia will have a tough time knocking off Alabama or LSU in Atlanta this season.  

The Bulldogs return one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks in Aaron Murray, who is primed for his best season after setting a school record with 35 touchdown tosses last year. Murray will be throwing to a deep group of receivers, but the offense will need to find a replacement for tight end Orson Charles. The rushing attack should be better this year, as Isaiah Crowell is healthy, and freshmen Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley arrive to inject some depth and talent into the backfield. The biggest question mark will be an offensive line that has to replace stalwarts Cordy Glenn (left tackle) and Ben Jones (center). Three starters are back, but losing an All-SEC left tackle and center won’t be easy to replace.

Nine starters are back on defense, and this unit should rank near the top of the SEC. The linebacking corps could be the nation's best, especially with the return of All-American Jarvis Jones. However, the secondary could be an issue early in the year – especially against Missouri on Sept. 8 – as starters Bacarri Rambo and Sanders Commings are suspended. Receiver Malcolm Mitchell spent the spring practicing at cornerback and will have to play on both sides of the ball at least through the first four games of the season.

Georgia’s schedule is very favorable, which should allow it to edge South Carolina for the SEC East title. The Bulldogs do not have to play LSU, Alabama and Arkansas, but must matchup against Missouri, Auburn and South Carolina on the road. If Georgia can successfully fill the voids on the offensive line, this team will have a chance to beat Alabama or LSU in the SEC title game. Helping the Bulldogs' case to win the SEC is the line will have 12 games to jell before the conference title game. However, while the gap has closed, the power of the SEC is still tilted in favor of the West. 

Mark Ross
I think Georgia is just as capable of winning the SEC this year as any team coming from the West. The Bulldogs should be pretty strong on offense led by quarterback Aaron Murray, it's just a matter of figuring out a crowded backfield and seeing if an inexperienced offensive line can come together.

The defense also should be fairly stout, provided their best players stay on the field. Three starters in the secondary, most notably All-American safety Baccari Rambo, along with a starting linebacker, already have been suspended for at least one game this fall. Georgia should be fine without these guys for the short term, but the team can't afford many personnel losses of this type if it wants to contend for the conference title.

As far as the SEC East goes, Georgia's toughest opposition should come from South Carolina. If the Bulldogs can go to Columbia on Oct. 6 and take care of business, the path to the division crown and a spot in the SEC Championship Game should be pretty clear, especially since the Bulldogs don't have to play Alabama, Arkansas or LSU from the West.

Speaking of those three, should Georgia win the SEC East, then chances are the Bulldogs will play one of those three for the SEC title on Dec. 1 in Atlanta. These three have question marks of their own — Alabama lost a lot on offense (Trent Richardson) and defense (just four starters return), Arkansas has had to deal with former head coach Bobby Petrino's unexpected dismissal, and LSU will have a new quarterback among a total of 11 new starters on both sides of the ball — so it could come down to which team has the most answers come that Saturday in December.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The Bulldogs can definitely win a league title with the tried-and-true formula of a stingy defense and top quarterback, but I do believe there is still a gap between UGA and the top two teams in the Western division — LSU and Alabama. The Dawgs defense can play with anyone, and there is a ton of skill on offense because Mark Richt and staff have recruited so well. The difference between the Bulldogs and the Tigers and Tide this season looks like the offensive line. UGA lost three starters in NFL draftees Cordy Glenn, Ben Jones and Justin Anderson, and the unit’s development this year will hold the key to the season.

Todd Grantham’s bunch ranked fifth nationally in total defense in 2011, and this year’s group — led by the best linebackers unit in the country — could be even better. The defense should keep Georgia in every game. Aaron Murray tossed 35 touchdowns a year ago, but he still tends to have some lapses in play against tougher opponents. The junior quarterback will have plenty of weapons with promising runner Isaiah Crowell and a solid set of receivers. The Bulldogs have an easier league schedule than fellow East favorite South Carolina, so a repeat trip to Atlanta in December is likely. UGA has the defense and overall roster to win the nation’s toughest league, but I’ll say the favorite still lies in the West.

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<p> Can Georgia Win the SEC Title in 2012?</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 24, 2012 - 05:50
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-florida-state-no-9-2012-preseason-top-25-poll

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

To celebrate the Florida State Seminoles being named No. 9, will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Jimbo Fisher’s Florida State Seminoles continue the countdown at No. 9 with three preseason All-Americans and 11 players selected as All-ACC performers. Athlon Sports predicts Florida State will finish first in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“The Seminoles return a stingy defense that was playing elite football at the end of last season,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “If the young weapons continue to develop around veteran quarterback EJ Manuel, Florida State will be the favorite to win the ACC.”

Three Florida State standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with punt returner Greg Reid being voted to the second team and defensive lineman Brandon Jenkins and kicker Dustin Hopkins making the third team. In addition, the FSU defensive line was ranked No. 2 nationally and best in the ACC. The secondary was rated No. 3 in the country and tops in the conference, while the wide receivers unit was tabbed No. 7 in the nation.

Eleven Seminoles earned preseason All-ACC honors, including Jenkins, Hopkins, defensive back Lamarcus Joyner and Reid at punt returner on the first team. Wide receiver Rashad Greene, tight end Nick O’Leary, defensive lineman Bjoern Werner and defensive backs Xavier Rhodes and Greg Reid were named to the second team, while quarterback EJ Manuel, defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan and linebacker Christian Jones garnered third-team honors.

Florida State Team Preview

Florida State's Top 10 Players of 2012

Florida State’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 * analysis of college football preseason publications.

<p> <strong><span>Athlon Sports Names Florida State No. 9 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</span></strong></p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 10:15
Path: /college-football/ranking-college-footballs-top-25-coaches

Ranking the coaches in any college football conference is a difficult task. Many factors play into just how successful a coach is at any school. How well are the assistants paid? Are the facilities up to par with the rest of the conference? Can the coach recruit or is he more of an x's and o's manager? Are there off-the-field or age issues to take into consideration? Has a coach built a program or continued the success from a previous coach? How is the resume outside of their current position? These questions and more were posed to the editors at Athlon Sports, as they were asked to rank the coaches of each of the six BCS conferences. One thing to keep in mind - the record is not always indicative of where a coach should rank in a conference or nationally among the top 25. 

Ranking the Coaches: ACC
Ranking the Coaches: Big East
Ranking the Coaches: Pac-12
Ranking the Coaches: Big 12
Ranking the Coaches: Big Ten
Ranking the Coaches: SEC

1. Nick Saban, Alabama (5 years)
Alma Mater:
 Kent State (1970-72)
Overall: 146-54-1 (16 years)

There’s not much debate about this: College football’s top coach resides in Tuscaloosa. Saban has led the Crimson Tide to two national titles and four straight seasons of at least 10 victories. Saban’s track record is impressive, going 48-16 in five years at LSU, 34-24-1 in five seasons with Michigan State and a 9-2 mark in 1990 with Toledo. Saban is certainly one of the most demanding coaches in college football, but there’s no question he knows what it takes to succeed. Saban has returned Alabama to national prominence and has brought in some of college football’s best recruiting classes over the last five seasons. As long as Saban sticks around in Tuscaloosa, expect Alabama to be ranked among the top 10 teams every preseason. And after winning two titles in five seasons, expect the Crimson Tide to only add to that total in the near future.

2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State (First year)
Overall Record: 104-23

The resume is as complete as it gets: Two BCS National Championships, four conference titles, three conference Coach of the Year awards, one Heisman Trophy, one national Coach of the Year honor and the Sports Illustrated Coach of the Decade (2000-2009). Meyer’s success is unquestioned; he wins and he wins big. He built Bowling Green into a conference contender in only two seasons before taking Utah to a BCS bowl in two short years in Salt Lake City. In his second year at Florida, he earned his first BCS Crystal Ball. After a second title with the Chosen One under center, Meyer took a brief respite from the sideline in 2011. He returns to the coaching ranks renewed and reinvigorated — and back in his home state at the Big Ten program with the most natural and financial resources in the league. His ability to recruit was on full display at the close of the 2012 cycle and his offensive game plan is as proven a system as there is in the collegiate playbook. The only crack in his armor is the health concerns — aka his dedication. He coached only six years at what could be considered the second-best job in the nation, won championships, and simply walked away. Other than his long-term commitment, there are not too many better options in America.

3. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma (13 years)
Overall Record: 139-34 (1999-present)

The Sooners have had a few down years under Stoops, but since his arrival in Norman, Oklahoma has emerged once again as a national power. Stoops’ tenure has been a picture of success, leading the Sooners to 10 double-digit win seasons and eight BCS bowl appearances. The biggest knock on Stoops has been the lack of success in BCS bowl games, as Oklahoma is just 1-5 in its last six BCS bowl appearances. And that criticism of Stoops always stirs this debate: Would you take a coach that struggles to get to a BCS bowl and wins one every eight years or take a coach that consistently gets there, but has a disappointing BCS record after six years? Regardless of whether or not Stoops wins three BCS bowls in a row or loses the next three, it’s going to be hard to knock him off the top spot in the Big 12.

4. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech (25 years)
Overall Record: 251-121-4 (31 years)

Born in the Commonwealth, playing in the Commonwealth and coaching the Commonwealth, “Beamerball” has been a fixture of Virginian football for more than four decades. Prior to his arrival in Blacksburg, the Hokies had been to six bowls games. After six years and a 24-40-2 record, Beamer broke through with his first bowl appearance in 1993. He has been to 19 straight bowl games since, including a Michael Vick-led chance at the 1999 national championship against Florida State. Beamer has claimed three Big East Championships (1995, 1996, 1999), four ACC titles (2004, 2007, 2008, 2010) and five conference Coach of the Year honors. He is the longest tenured and winningest active FBS coach in the nation and has had at least 10 wins in eight straight seasons and 11 of the last 13. Beamer was there to usher in two new eras of Hokie football as he transitioned his team from Independent status to the Big East in 1991 and then into the ACC in 2004. Virginia Tech has won the Coastal Division five times in its seven-year history and will likely be the preseason favorite once again in 2012. There are few better in the nation than Beamer.

5. Chris Petersen, Boise State (6 years)
Overall Record: 73-6 (2006-present)

Few coaching careers have begun like Petersen’s has at Boise State. After learning under Mike Bellotti at Oregon, Petersen began his Bronco career as Dan Hawkins’ offensive coordinator. For five years, Petersen churned out one of the nation’s most powerful offenses under Hawkins. When Hawkins left for Colorado, Petersen was given the reins to the Smur-ffense and has taken the program to a new level. In his first year, Petersen led Boise State to its first undefeated season and the memorable Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma. It would be his first of two BCS bowl wins. He has never won fewer than 10 games in a season and just watched the 2011 graduating class finish 50-3 over their four-year career. Kellen Moore quarterbacked those four teams and is now the winningest quarterback in NCAA history. Most importantly, Petersen has elevated Boise State football to a BCS conference as he will usher the Broncos into a new era of football when they join the Big East in 2013. He has had multiple opportunities to take “better” jobs and has come within two missed field goals of playing for a national championship.

6. Chip Kelly, Oregon (3 years)
Overall Record: 34-6 (2009-present)

No coach in NCAA history has seen a rise from FCS coordinator to competing for National Championships in quicker fashion than Kelly. His meteoric rise from New Hampshire offensive coordinator to winning three straight Pac-12 titles is virtually unheard of in big time college football. In fact, Oregon had two outright conference championships between 1958 and 2008, giving Kelly more outright titles in three years as the program posted in the previous 50. He has two Pac-12 Coach of the Year awards on his mantle, the Ducks’ first Rose Bowl win in school history last year over Wisconsin and a trip to the 2010 BCS National Championship game. Kelly has created an offense that is the fastest in the nation and possibly the most difficult to stop. He’s had one tailback win the Doak Walker Award, finish as a two-time Heisman finalist and nation’s leading per game rusher in LaMichael James. He just had another claim Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year and reset the Oregon freshman scoring record with 18 touchdowns in De’Anthony Thomas. With the help of flashy uniforms and Nike dollars, Kelly has raised the brand image of his program more in the last three years than any coach in the nation. Two issues could remove Kelly from the Pac-12 coaching pedestal: Looming NCAA questions about potential recruiting violations involving Texas “handler” Willie Lyles and the lure of the NFL. Otherwise, there is one man who stands above all other Pac-12 coaches. 

7. Gary Patterson, TCU (12 years)
Overall Record: 109-30 (2000-present)

Patterson coached at 10 different programs over a 16-year period before given the chance to lead TCU in 2000 (one game). The hard-nosed defensive guru went to bowl games in three straight seasons to start his career and needed only two years to register his first 10-win season. It was only the second 10-win season for the Horned Frogs in the Post-World War II era. He has rattled off eight such seasons over the last 10 years in Fort Worth, including a current streak of four straight. He has won the program’s first BCS Bowl (Rose in 2010) and has elevated TCU to a BCS level as the Frogs will join the Big 12 in 2012. In 11 full seasons on the job, Patterson has five conference championships, three conference Coach of the Year awards and was the unanimous 2009 National Coach of the Year (AFCA, AP, Walter Camp, Boddy Dodd, Eddie Robinson, Liberty Mutual). TCU has experienced one losing season under Patterson (2004), but has been to a bowl every year since, winning seven of those eight post-season games. TCU has gone 36-3 over the last three years with 13 NFL Draft picks over that span and two BCS bowl appearances.

8. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina (7 years)
Alma Mater:
 Florida (1963-66)
Overall: 197-75-2 (22 years)

It has taken some time, but Spurrier finally has South Carolina into contention for the SEC title. The Gamecocks won at least six games in each of Spurrier’s first five years, but have combined for 20 over the last two. Spurrier also led South Carolina to its first appearance in the SEC title game and a top 10 finish in most polls last year. Spurrier has had plenty of success outside of South Carolina, finishing with a 122-27-1 record at Florida and leading Duke to a 20-13-1 mark from 1987-89. Building a program into a consistent challenger for an SEC title is no easy task, but Spurrier seems to have South Carolina on the right path, and the Gamecocks are positioned for another run at the East Division title in 2012.  

9. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame (2 years)
Alma Mater: 
Assumption (1979-82)
Record: 16-10 (2010-present)
Record: 34-6 (Cincinnati, 2006-09)
Record: 19-16 (Central Michigan, 2004-06)
Record: 118-35-2 (Grand Valley State, 1991-2003)
Overall: 187-66-2 (22 years)

Kelly has built an impressive resume, making stops as a head coach at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, Cincinnati and now at Notre Dame. He led Grand Valley State to two Division II titles and took Central Michigan to a bowl game in 2006. After coaching with the Chippewas for three seasons, Kelly made the jump to Cincinnati and led the Bearcats to back-to-back BCS bowls. Although Kelly provided quick turnarounds at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, the wins have been tougher to come by at Notre Dame. The Irish are a solid 16-10 under his watch, but were picked by many to push for a BCS bowl last year. Notre Dame has not won more than eight games since posting 10 victories in 2006. Kelly certainly has some work to do in order to turn the Irish back into a consistent top-10 team. However, there’s a solid foundation beginning to take shape, and Notre Dame is assembling solid recruiting classes under Kelly’s watch. Although more was expected out of Kelly two years into his tenure in South Bend, his track record is too successful to ignore. 

10. Lane Kiffin, USC (2 years)
Overall Record: 25-13 (3 years)

Considering he is just 36 years old, Kiffin has already had quite a career as a head coach. After spending two years with the Oakland Raiders (5-15), Kiffin landed on his feet as Tennessee’s head coach in 2009. The Volunteers went 5-7 in the season prior to his arrival, but posted a 7-6 record in Kiffin’s first year in Knoxville. However, Kiffin bolted Tennessee for a better job, choosing to succeed Pete Carroll at USC. The Trojans posted an 8-5 record in Kiffin’s first year (2010), but finished with a 10-2 mark last year. With the postseason ban lifted, USC is expected to be one of the frontrunners to win the national title in 2012. Kiffin drew headlines at Tennessee for his recruiting practices and comments about other SEC coaches, but has toned down his act since coming to Los Angeles. The Trojans are still dealing with scholarship reductions for the next three years, so Kiffin won’t have a full cupboard to work with during that span. However, Kiffin appears to have positioned the Trojans for a run at the national championship in 2012, while leaving the team in good shape to compete for the Pac-12 South crown in 2013 and 2014.

11. Brady Hoke, Michigan (1 year)
Alma Mater: 
Ball State (1977-80)
Overall Record: 58-52 (9 years)

Deciding between Hoke and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio as the top coach in the Big Ten Legends Division is no easy task. Hoke has done a good job of resurrecting two programs that did not have much success prior to his arrival. In six seasons with Ball State, Hoke recorded a 34-38 mark, including an appearance in the MAC title game in 2008. The Cardinals also made two bowl games under Hoke’s watch. After a solid stint at Ball State, Hoke left for the West Coast, choosing to coach at San Diego State. The Aztecs won just nine games in the three years prior to his arrival, but led San Diego State to a 9-4 record and an appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2010. After Rich Rodriguez was fired at Michigan, Hoke was an easy choice to become the Wolverines’ next coach, especially considering he coached in Ann Arbor from 1995-2002. Considering he was born in Ohio, Hoke isn’t necessarily a “Michigan Man.” However, he is a great fit for the Wolverines, has done a good job of rebuilding two struggling programs (Ball State and San Diego State) and led the Wolverines to a BCS bowl in his first season.

12. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State (6 years)
Alma Mater:
 South Carolina (1976-78)
Overall Record: 62-39 (9 years)

If Brady Hoke is the top coach in the Legends Division, Dantonio is really 1B. In six seasons in East Lansing, Dantonio has turned the Spartans from underachiever to Big Ten title contender. The Spartans won 22 games through his first three years, but has posted back-to-back seasons of 11 victories. And there’s one more feather in the cap for Dantonio and Michigan State to brag about – the Spartans own a four-game winning streak over rival Michigan. Dantonio has yet to lead Michigan State to a Rose Bowl appearance, but with the program on the right track, it’s only a matter of time before the Spartans make the trek to Pasadena. Dantonio’s success isn’t just limited to Michigan State, as he posted an 18-17 record in three years with Cincinnati and led the Bearcats to two bowl trips. Dantonio seems to be a perfect fit at Michigan State and should keep this program among the best in the Big Ten as long as he sticks around in East Lansing. 

13. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State (7 years)
Alma Mater: Oklahoma State (1986-89)
Record: 59-30 (2005-present)

Gundy has been slowly moving up the Big 12 coach rankings over the last few seasons. After posting 18 victories through his first three seasons in Stillwater, Gundy has led the Cowboys to four consecutive years of at least nine wins. Oklahoma State is coming off its first BCS bowl appearances and was one win away from playing for the national championship. The Big 12 isn’t getting any easier with the arrival of West Virginia and TCU, but Gundy has the Cowboys well-positioned to remain a conference title contender for the foreseeable future.

14. Mack Brown, Texas (14 years)
Alma Mater: 
Vanderbilt, Florida State
Overall Record: 227-113-1

Senator Brown has seen better days but still must be considered one of the league’s best options. After learning the coaching ropes at FCS power Appalachian State and Tulane, Brown rebuilt the North Carolina program. He posted three 10-win seasons in Chapel Hill and went to six straight bowls before taking the best job in college football. All Brown did in his first 13 seasons on the 40 Acres was win at least nine games and finish no worse than second in the South Division every year. After seven seasons, including three Big 12 South titles, Brown broke through with his first conference title in 2005. Behind the leadership of Vince Young, Texas won one of college football's greatest games ever played against USC in the Rose Bowl and the National Championship returned to Austin for the first time since 1970. Despite another trip to the national title game in 2009, Brown’s program eroded in 2010. He posted his first losing season since 1989 as a head coach and was forced to fire multiple assistants. The Horns returned to their winning ways last fall and 2012 will go a long way in proving whether or not Brown has gotten complacent or should be ranked No. 1 on this list. Texas is the single best coaching job in America with more natural and financial resources than any other program in the nation. Therefore, recruiting and on-the-field success should be measured with more scrutiny — especially for a man who has, for some reason, dealt with retirement rumors of late.

15. Bill Snyder, Kansas State (20 years)
Alma Mater: William Jewell (1959-1962)
Overall Record: 159-83-1 (1989-2005), (2009-present)

Prior to Snyder’s arrival in Manhattan, the Wildcats had struggled to find much success on the gridiron. From 1985-88, Kansas State posted an awful 3-40 record and had only one winning season from 1971-82. Snyder won only one game in his first season, but recorded at least five in every season from 1990-2003. Under his watch, the Wildcats have made two BCS bowl appearances and won or shared the Big 12 title four times. The one concern about Snyder is his age. Although he shows no signs of slowing down, he will be 73 at the end of the 2012 season. If you are an athletic director looking to make a hire and Snyder is one of three available candidates – you have to wonder how many years he will stick around. However, Snyder understands the culture and what it takes to win at Kansas State. It’s not an easy job, but Snyder has transformed the Wildcats from a laughingstock to a consistent contender in the Big 12.

16. Mark Richt, Georgia (11 years)
Alma Mater: Miami
Record: 106-38 (2001-present)

The longest tenured coach in the SEC (tied with Gary Pinkel) has had one losing season in his entire head-coaching career. The Bulldogs, under Jim Donnan and Ray Goff, failed to realize an opportunity to grow into the SEC power in the 1990s. While Alabama and LSU toiled, Florida and Tennessee took advantage and won titles. Goff and Donnan claimed seven seasons of six wins or fewer and the program posted only two 10-win seasons from 1984 to 2001. Richt entered the game in 2001 and proceeded to win the programs’ first conference title in 20 years in 2002. Richt posted two conference titles, six 10-wins seasons in his first eight years and won two SEC Coach of the Year Awards. However, Dawgs’ faithful watched its team get worse four straight years from 2007 to 2011 while Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Florida were winning national titles and returning to national prominence in a big way. Richt adapted, though, by finally making sweeping coaching changes that have saved his job. Todd Grantham reinvented the Georgia defense and Richt got to his fourth SEC Championship game in 2011. He has his team poised to be the favorite to win the East once again this fall.

17. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern (6 years)
Alma Mater: 
Northwestern (1993-96)
Overall Record: 40-36 (2006-present)

Fitzgerald is the perfect coach for Northwestern and barring something unexpected, will likely be here until he retires. As a Northwestern graduate, Fitzgerald is well-aware of the culture and what it takes to win in Evanston. The former Wildcat linebacker has led Northwestern to four consecutive bowl games and just one losing season. Fitzgerald’s overall record over the last six seasons is a solid 40-36, but is still searching for his first bowl victory. Northwestern is not an easy place to win, but Fitzgerald has found the right formula and will continue to make the Wildcats a yearly threat to reach a bowl and pull off an upset or two along the way. 

18. Mike Leach, Washington State (First Season)
Alma Mater:
Record: 84-43 (Texas Tech, 2000-09)

From 2000 to 2009, there were few things as guaranteed as Texas Tech’s quarterback throwing for 3,000 yards. Leach was the architect behind Tim Couch’s huge numbers at Kentucky and carried his lightning-quick spread passing attack to Lubbock. Leach-led quarterbacks B.J. Symons and Graham Harrell own the top two single-season passing marks in NCAA history with 5,833 and 5,705 yards respectively. Graham Harrell (3rd: 15,793 yards) and Kliff Kingsbury (15th: 11,931) are both in the top 15 in NCAA history in passing yards. Until 2011, Harrell was the NCAA record-holder for career touchdown passes with 134. Needless to say, Leach’s passing attack had reached unprecedented levels of success before his questionable firing. There were six total 10-win seasons in Texas Tech history and Leach posted a school-record 11 wins in 2008. His winning percentage of 66.1% trails only Pete Cawthon (69.3%) in Tech history — who won all of his games between 1930 and 1940. The highly-publicized divorce with Texas Tech (and mentally unstable Craig James) likely cost Leach a couple of years on the sideline, but is not enough to keep any athletic director from hiring him. His teams produce big numbers, his athletic departments make bigger money, his stadiums grow and subsequently sell out and, most importantly, he wins games. Look for a similar program-wide impact from Leach in Pullman. 

19. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State (3 years)
Alma Mater:
Record: 21-17 (2009-present)

In Athlon’s meeting to rank the SEC coaches, Mullen and LSU’s Les Miles were the most difficult ones to rank. Mullen is only 39 years old, so his best coaching years appear to be ahead of him. However, his overall record is just 21-17 and his only SEC West victories came against rival Ole Miss. While winning the in-state battle is crucial, the Bulldogs need to start beating some of the other teams in the division. Mullen has also led Mississippi State to back-to-back bowl victories and should be in position to reach the postseason once again in 2012. Considering the depth of the SEC, winning big in Starkville is no easy task. Give Mullen the resources of what Alabama or LSU has and he can take Mississippi State even higher. The Bulldogs have ranked higher than ninth in the SEC in recruiting only once in the last six years, yet have a better record over the last three seasons than Tennessee (18-20) — a team that consistently recruits better than Mississippi State. While the record suggests Mullen is only a .500 coach, expect him to continue pushing the Bulldogs to eight or nine win seasons, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he left for a better job in the next couple of years. An overall record isn't always a good judge of how effective some coaches are and Mullen is the perfect case, as he has helped to turn Mississippi State into a consistent bowl team in a very difficult SEC West.

20. Les Miles, LSU (7 years)
Alma Mater: 
Overall: 103-39 (11 years)

Inexplicably, LSU, a program with as many built-in advantages as anyone in the nation, laid dormant for three decades. LSU won two conference championships from 1971 to 2000 and only three bowl games from 1971 to 1995. However, the name atop this list of SEC coaches entered the picture in 2000 and reestablished the Bayou Bengal brand. Nick Saban won more games in his first year (8) than LSU had won the two previous (7). He had LSU back in the SEC title game by 2001, giving the Tigers their first outright conference title since 1986. By his fourth season, Saban had returned the Tigers to the promised land by delivering their first national title since 1958. Enter Les Miles. The Hat has maintained an elite level of success with four 10-win seasons in six years, including the 2007 National Championship. He brings energy, intensity and an internal rallying cry to his locker room. The players love him, and he is certainly an entertaining character. He is a fantastic recruiter who has assembled arguably the best roster in America. However, he has also developed another reputation based on bizarre eating habits, poor end-game management, vocal gaffes, and now, the worst BCS performance in the series’ 14-year history. Questions about his teams’ mental focus, discipline and overall ability to adjust were beginning to subside after the 13-0 romp through the regular season last fall. However, those issues resurfaced after the most under-prepared, poorly game-managed title game of the BCS era. Miles and Saban will be eternally linked the annals of SEC football, and relatively speaking, Miles is one of the better coaches in the nation. But in the Southeast, the stakes — and standards — are higher (sometimes unfairly so), and after LSU became the first and only two-loss team to win a BCS title, Saban has been the far superior coach. Miles has lost 12 games to Saban’s six since 2007, and with what could be perceived as the best roster in the nation, three losses per season isn’t getting it done.

21. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech (5 years)
Alma Mater: Western Carolina (1979), Appalachian State (1982)
Overall Record: 140-58 (15 years)

After two I-AA National Championships at Georgia Southern, Johnson completely reinvented the Naval Academy before bringing his patented triple-option attack to the big leagues. Navy had been to nine bowl games in over 100 years of football when they hired Johnson. He led them to five bowl games in six seasons, including two wins. At Georgia Tech, there were doubts about whether or not the antiquated system would work in the ACC. After five seasons, two division championships and one ACC crown (2009), the answer is most definitively yes. The Jackets have led the ACC in rushing all four seasons under Johnson and finished no worse than fourth nationally on the ground. Georgia Tech enters 2012 as the top contender to Virginia Tech in the Coastal Division.

22. Art Briles, Baylor (4 years)
Alma Mater: 
Houston, Texas Tech, Abilene Christian
Overall Record: 59-53

After a very long and very distinguished Texas high school coaching career from 1979 to 1999, Briles got his break at his alma mater. At Houston, Briles designed one of the most prolific passing attacks in NCAA history. Under the two previous regimes, (Kim Helton and Dana Dimel) the Cougars won an average of 3.2 games per year from 1993 to 2002 for an overall record of 32-79. Briles won more games (34) in his five-year stint at Houston as well as one conference title in 2006. He landed at Baylor after two straight C-USA West division titles and was charged with leading a dormant program into the new Big 12 era. After back-to-back 4-8 seasons, Briles (with a little help from Robert Griffin III) led the Bears to its first bowl game since 1994. Over the last two seaons, Baylor won its first postseason contest since 1992 and more games (17) over a two-year span than it has since 1985-1986 (18). Griffin III claimed the first Heisman Trophy in school history and will likely be the second pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Can Briles maintain the Bears’ current level of success without the most valuable player in the nation and most popular player in school history? This is what Briles is charged with in 2012.

23. Bret Bielema, Wisconsin (6 years)
Alma Mater: 
Record: 60-19 (2006-present)

Hand picked by Wisconsin legend Barry Alvarez, few imagined Bielema had the talent to maintain the Badgers’ level of success. After six years of Meyer-esque winning percentages, those concerns have definitively been squashed. His back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances were the first for Wisconsin since 1998 and 1999, and despite not winning either game, the Badgers can hang their hats on back-to-back conference titles. In fact, Bielema’s bowl record might be his only weakness. He is 2-4 in postseason play and is likely the only thing keeping him from being ranked higher on this list. That, and the fact he was handed the keys to a program that functions in a vastly different manner than it did in late '80s. Alvarez took UW from an also-ran, bye week program and turned it into a $100-million Midwest football powerhouse. Bielema hasn’t recruited at an elite level — aka Top 25 nationally — but has done an incredible job evaluating and developing talent. Without a single top-25 recruiting class to his name, the Badgers’ head man has sent 11 players into the first three rounds of the NFL Draft since 2006. He has never experienced a losing season as a head coach and earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors back in 2006 when he led Wisconsin to a 12-1 record in his first season. Iowa Hawkeye leg tattoo aside, fans in Madison are very happy to have transitioned so seamlessly from Alvarez to Bielema.

24. Gary Pinkel, Missouri (11 years)
Alma Mater: 
Kent State
Overall: 158-91-3 (21 years)

Not many people can say they started their football careers rooming with Jack Lambert and playing with Nick Saban while learning from Don James. But that is how Pinkel broke into this business when played tight end at Kent State under James. He spent nearly twenty years, most of it under James at Kent and Washington, before landing his first head coaching job in 1991 at Toledo. He earned one MAC championship, three MAC East Division titles and the 1995 MAC Coach of the Year honor before the Mizzou Tigers came calling. In his 11 years since, Pinkel has led Missouri to unprecedented heights of football success. His 85 wins are third all-time in school history. From 1983 to 2001, the Tigers went to two bowl games. Since Pinkel landed in Columbia, MU has eight bowls in 11 years, winning four of them. Prior to the former MAC guru tenure, Missouri posted two 10-win seasons in 111 years of football. He has won at least 10 games three times in the last five years. Eight of the Tigers nine top scoring teams have been ruled by Pinkel. He now has accomplished arguably his greatest achievement in Tigers football history by ushering his program into the nation’s best conference. There will be a major adjustment period, but for the SEC’s longest tenured head coach (tied with Richt), this has to feel like a juicy opportunity to continue the Tigers rise up the college football food chain.

25. Al Golden, Miami (1 year)
Alma Mater: Penn State (1987-91)
Overall Record: 33-40 (6 years)

After spending time on Tom O’Brien’s staff at Boston College and Al Groh’s Virginia staff, Golden was plenty familiar with ACC football when he got the call from Coral Gables. He landed at Miami after building Temple into a MAC contender (he claimed 2009 MAC Coach of the Year honors). Despite the scrutiny from the Nevin Shapiro scandal and potential NCAA sanctions, Golden appears to have Miami trending back towards conference contention. After only its third non-winning season since 1979, Miami decided to withdraw itself from bowl contention due to the ongoing NCAA investigation in Golden's first year. The strong-willed, brutally honest head man recruited incredibly well in 2012 in the face of possible sanctions. His tribute to Howard Schnellenberger — his dress shirt, tie, slacks and jacket gameday combo — has once again become an iconic symbol on the Hurricanes’ sideline. The sky is the limit for Golden and Miami should they avoid heavy-handed NCAA sanctions.

The Best of the Rest:

Mike London, Virginia (2 years)
Alma Mater: Richmond (1979-82)
Overall Record: 36-18 (4 years)

Virginia wanted to keep it in state in all senses of the word when it hired Mike London away from Richmond. He has completely reinvigorated the Cavalier brand name within the state as Wahoo recruiting has sky-rocketed since London took over in 2010. In only two seasons at the helm, London returned Virginia to posteason play for the first time since 2007 and has his program back near the top of the ACC recruiting hierarchy. The Cavaliers improved from 10th in the ACC in total and scoring defense in 2010 to third in total defense and fifth in scoring defense. London has constructed an excellent staff and has himself positioned for long-term success in Charlottesville.

Kyle Whittingham, Utah (7 years)
Alma Mater:
 BYU (1978-81)
Overall Record: 66-25 (7 years)

Even after leading the Utes to six consecutive seasons with at least eight wins, Whittingham probably hasn’t received the national respect he deserves. Utah went 33-6 from 2008-10, which included a win over Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Whittingham has done a good job of guiding the Utes through their transition into the Pac-12 and nearly won the South Division with a backup quarterback last season. Whittingham is a solid coach who should continue to win consistently at Utah. The Utes have stepped up their recruiting since coming to the Pac-12, which is another testament to Whittingham and his staff continuing to build the program. The biggest hurdle Whittingham could face over the next few seasons is keeping his staff intact. Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake is a highly-respected assistant and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson is a rising star in the coaching ranks. With Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State all making coaching changes this offseason, keeping Whittingham happy and his assistant coaches in Salt Lake City will be crucial to Utah's success.

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona (First Season)
Alma Mater: 
West Virginia (1981-84)
Overall Record: 120-84-2 (18 years)

After an unsuccessful stint with Michigan, Rodriguez is hungry to prove he is still among the top coaches in college football. Rodriguez posted a 60-26 record with West Virginia, but recorded a disappointing 15-22 mark in three seasons with the Wolverines. Although he deserves some of the blame for the failed tenure in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez was simply a bad fit and Michigan never embraced him as its coach. Don’t expect any of those issues to arise at Arizona, as Rodriguez seems to be a good fit and should have the Wildcats in contention for a bowl game in 2012. Arizona had three winning seasons under former coach Mike Stoops, but Rodriguez is capable of taking this program even higher. 

Charlie Strong, Louisville (2 years)
Alma Mater: 
Central Arkansas (1980-83)
Overall Record: 14-13 (2 years)

It has taken Strong only two years to emerge as one of the top coaches in the Big East. After spending over 20 years as an assistant with stops at Florida, Ole Miss, Notre Dame and South Carolina, Strong has led the Cardinals to a 14-12 record and two bowl appearances. Even with one of the youngest rosters in college football, Louisville claimed a share of the Big East crown in 2011. The future looks bright for the Cardinals with Strong at the helm, as they should be the early favorite to win the conference in 2012. The biggest question for Louisville is whether or not it can keep Strong if one of the top programs in the SEC open up, but for now, he should have the Cardinals knocking on the door of a finish in the top 25 this season.

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

How does your coach rank? Check out how Athlon Sports ranked the coaches in each of the BCS conferences:

Ranking the Coaches: ACC
Ranking the Coaches: Big East
Ranking the Coaches: Pac-12
Ranking the Coaches: Big 12
Ranking the Coaches: Big Ten
Ranking the Coaches: SEC

<p> College Football's Top 25 Head Coaches for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 07:00
Path: /college-football/florida-state-seminoles-2012-team-predictions

The Florida State Seminoles check in at No. 9 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: EJ Manuel, QB
There’s no question Florida State has to be better in offense in 2012. Spring practice concluded with question marks remaining about the offensive line and rushing attack – two areas that plagued the Seminoles last year. Manuel didn’t have a bad first season as the starter (2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns), but more was expected out of him. A shoulder injury suffered against Oklahoma hindered the offense’s development, and Manuel never seemed to be comfortable behind a shaky offensive line. The senior has the talent, but it’s time to put everything together. If Manuel plays up to expectations, Florida State’s offense should show improvement on the stat sheet.

Upset Alert: at NC State (Oct. 6)
Florida State’s last trip to Raleigh didn’t go so well. The Seminoles lost 28-24 to the Wolfpack in 2010, which was their second defeat at NC State in the last three matchups. Florida State will be on upset alert once again this season, as the Wolfpack return quarterback Mike Glennon and most of the key players from a defense that forced 39 turnovers last season. NC State lost 34-0 in Tallahassee last season, but this matchup should be much closer in 2012.

Revenge/Biggest Game: Clemson (Sept. 22)
Not only is this a revenge game for Florida State, but this matchup will have a significant impact on the race to win the ACC Atlantic. The Seminoles were without quarterback EJ Manuel in last year’s contest and lost only 35-30 to the Tigers in Death Valley. Clemson’s biggest question mark is an offensive line that loses three starters, which figures to be an issue against Florida State’s loaded defensive line. The Seminoles are 2-5 against the Tigers in their last seven matchups. However, both of Florida State’s victories came in Tallahassee and it should be favored to get revenge on Sept. 22. 

Defensive MVP: Brandon Jenkins, DE
The Seminoles are loaded on defense, so there’s no shortage of candidates for this honor. Jenkins has been one of college football’s top pass rushers over the last two years, recording 21.5 sacks and 36.5 tackles for a loss. His numbers declined slightly from 2010 to 2011, which can be blamed on receiving more attention from opposing offenses. Jenkins should threaten 10 sacks, while leading one of the top defensive lines in the nation.

Trap Game: at USF (Sept. 29)
A week after the matchup with Clemson in Tallahassee, the Seminoles hit the road for a stop against in-state rival South Florida. These two teams have met only once, with the Bulls winning 17-7 in Tallahassee in 2009. Considering the magnitude of the game against Clemson, and a hungry South Florida squad looking to earn bragging rights with the state’s top programs, this is a dangerous trap game for Florida State.

Breakout Player: Rashad Greene, WR
Some could say Greene broke out last season after catching 38 passes for 596 yards and seven touchdowns. However, an ankle injury forced him to miss four games and he was never 100 percent when he returned to the lineup. Greene’s numbers were solid for a freshman, but can only get better with a full complement of snaps in 2012. Don’t be surprised if Greene approaches 60 receptions with 1,000 yards and 10 scores this year.

Bounce Back Candidate: Xavier Rhodes, CB
After a standout freshman season, big things were expected of Rhodes in 2011. He played in all 13 games, but picked off only one pass after recording four interceptions in 2010. Rhodes did not earn all-conference honors and his play left a lot of room for improvement. The junior needs to have a big season to work his way back into the mix for the first round of the NFL Draft, and his play in 2012 should closely resemble his freshman campaign.

National Title Defining Moment: at Virginia Tech (Nov. 8)
It’s not going to be easy for the ACC to get a team into the national championship this year, but this game will have major top 25 implications. While neither team’s schedule is clear of potential land mines, it’s not unreasonable to think Florida State and Virginia Tech could enter the Nov. 8 matchup unbeaten. The Seminoles have lost two out of the last three matchups to the Hokies and have not won in Blacksburg since 1989. Virginia Tech also has a huge advantage with this game scheduled on Nov. 8, as this will give the Hokies plenty of time to sort out their offensive line and running back concerns. With both teams expected to win their division, this should be an ACC Championship Game preview.

Freshman to Watch: Mario Pender, RB
A freshman led Florida State in rushing last year and it wouldn’t be a surprise if that happened again in 2012. Devonta Freeman and Chris Thompson hold the early edge in the battle to start at running back, but Pender will get another opportunity to earn playing time in the fall. He ranked as the No. 37 overall player in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and will be expected to contribute significant snaps this season.

Comeback Player: Chris Thompson, RB
The rushing attack was almost non-existent for Florida State last year, as it ranked 104th nationally by averaging just 112.2 yards per game. Finding a spark on the ground does rely on an improved offensive line, but the Seminoles are hoping the return of Thompson can help. He rushed for 83 yards and one touchdown through the first five weeks of last year, but suffered a broken back in the loss to Wake Forest. He missed most of spring practice with a broken hand, so rust could be an issue early in the year. Even if Thompson doesn’t lead the team in yards, having a veteran presence and his pass-protection out of the backfield will be a boost to an offense that struggled to establish anything on the ground last year.

Newcomer to Watch: Karlos Williams, S
Safety hasn’t been a position of strength for Florida State’s defense in recent years, but Lamarcus Joyner stepped up and solidified one spot last season. Is it Williams’ turn in 2012? Junior Terrence Brooks left spring practice with a slight edge, but it will be difficult for the coaching staff to keep Williams off the field. He was ranked among the top 25 players in the 2011 signing class by most scouting services and recorded eight stops in 12 games last year. Even if Brooks starts, Williams should play a key role in Florida State’s secondary this season.

Position Battle: Offensive Line
This unit was a mixture of inexperience and overall bad play last season. The Seminoles started 10 different players up front, including a handful of freshmen. This group played well in the second half of the Champs Sports Bowl against Notre Dame, but can they find that same rhythm for the entire 2012 campaign? Line coach Rick Trickett and head coach Jimbo Fisher may have found a solution to some of the line’s problems, as Cameron Erving switched from defensive tackle to left tackle and solidified that position in the spring. The front five is going to be young and could decide whether or not Florida State wins the ACC Championship in 2012. 

Related Florida State Content

Florida State Seminoles 2012 Team Preview
Florida State Seminoles Top 10 Players for 2012

Is Florida State Back as an Annual National Title Contender?
The Top 10 Greatest Florida State Seminoles Since 1967

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<p> Florida State Seminoles 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 05:44
Path: /college-football/florida-state-football-are-seminoles-back-annual-national-title-contender

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 9 Florida State. The Seminoles were expected to challenge for the ACC title last season, but came up short. Florida State is loaded on defense, but the offense has question marks.

Is Florida State Back as an Annual National Title Contender?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I always contend teams like Florida State aren’t truly “back” until they’re competing for national championships. That’s the bar the Seminoles have set, and claiming FSU is back for merely finishing in the top 25 in each of the last two seasons doesn’t do the program’s history justice. Certainly, Florida State is back on the right track. Arguably, the Seminoles have the most upside of any program in the state, with Florida being the only real competition here – and FSU defeated the Gators 21-7 last season in Gainesville. FSU’s 19 wins in two seasons under Jimbo Fisher are the most in a two-year span since 2003-04. The Seminoles are in better shape than they’ve been in several years, but the goal here isn’t to play in Champs Sports and Chick-fil-A bowls. FSU hasn’t even won the ACC since 2005. The Seminoles have a chance to end that streak this year. They had a ton of bad luck last year, starting with EJ Manuel’s injury against Oklahoma, which made the following game against Clemson that much more difficult. Florida State’s defense should be tremendous and the offense a little more steady, but enough questions remain – is Manuel the elite quarterback he’s hinted he’d become? Is the young offensive line ready for the prime time? Can Florida State overcome missteps against teams like Virginia and Wake Forest? Florida State may be good enough to win the ACC, but that’s not good enough to be the elite team FSU should be before we declare the Noles “back.”

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Define back? Is Florida State about to go on a decade-long run of dominance that sees the Noles win 9 conference titles in 10 years, finish in the top five nationally every season and visit the BCS National Championship game three times? Absolutely not. But that run of ACC terror will likely never be replicated by any team in any league ever again. However, can the Seminoles win their first conference championship in seven years? Absolutely.

I will argue that the 2012 defensive unit is the closest thing Tomahawk Nation has seen on that side of the ball since the Mickey Andrews glory days of the mid-to-late 90s. Along with an efficient year from EJ Manuel in his final attempt to validate his lofty recruiting status, the Noles have as good a chance since 2005 to claim an ACC crown. They get top divisional challenger at home and Miami could potentially have one of its youngest — and worst — teams in decades. Two road trips to NC State and Virginia Tech will be key. That said, FSU can lose on the road in Blacksburg on November 8 and still win the Atlantic if it can slow the Tajh Boyd-led Tigers' attack in Doak Campbell on September 22.

Either way, Jimbo Fisher has reestablished the Seminole name brand on the recruiting trail. And despite what the Board of Trustees in Tallahassee wants you to believe, the Garnett and Gold is still the most powerful football program in the league. Fisher just needs to go out and prove it on the field.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This question seems to come up every preseason when discussing Florida State. In fairness to the Seminoles, their run from 1987-2000 is going to be very difficult to repeat. However, everything in college football seems to come in cycles, and while the program slipped at the end of the Bobby Bowden era, Florida State is trending back in the right direction.

Jimbo Fisher has won 19 games in his first two years, while landing some of the nation’s top recruiting classes. Although the Seminoles will always have some of college football’s best talent, the depth is finally starting to get back to a level where this team can compete for national championships.

Is Florida State ready to win the national title this year? I don’t think this team is ready to beat any of the teams in the top five this season, but the Seminoles should be favored to win the ACC. There’s some talented youth on this team and as long as Fisher continues to reel in top-five recruiting classes, the Seminoles will be back in the national title mix in the next couple of years. The first step for Florida State is to win the ACC – something they haven’t done since 2005. Once the Seminoles win the conference title and a BCS bowl game, then it will be easier to see where they stack up nationally. Florida State is on its way back, but it may take another year or two to become an annual top 10 once again.

Mark Ross
Did Florida State ever leave? Look, I know that it was the '90s when the Seminoles dominated the ACC and won their two national championships, the last one coming in 1999. And I know that this is 2012, which means it's been more than a decade since the mighty 'Noles were on top of the college football mountain and six seasons since they made their last BCS bowl appearance (2006 Orange Bowl), but it's not like they've plummeted to the bottom of the rankings either. Overall, Florida State has won its last four bowl games and in Jimbo Fisher's first two years as head coach, the 'Noles have won 19 games combined and were ACC Atlantic Division champions in 2009.

In the end, I think it comes down to expectations, and it's clear that the bar is set pretty high when it comes to Florida State, and that's from both the fans' and outsiders' perspectives. That said, Fisher's team this year should have a pretty decent shot at getting "back" to that expected level of success, but to do so the 'Noles will have to finish ahead of Clemson and North Carolina State and the rest of the Atlantic Division. The easiest route back to a BCS bowl, and a potential shot at a national title, is to get the automatic bid by winning the ACC Championship game, something Florida State has done just once (2005) in the game's seven-year history.

Florida State brings back 16 starters, seven on offense and nine on defense, and its defense should be among the best in entire nation. As long as the offense, led by senior quarterback EJ Manuel, can put enough points on the board and the defense can hold up, the Seminoles are as big a threat in the ACC, if not the country, of any other team. The non-conference schedule is certainly manageable with a trip to South Florida (Sept. 29) and the season-finale vs. in-state rival Florida the only potential trouble spots, and in the ACC, the 'Noles two key games are when they host Clemson (Sept. 22) and go to Blacksburg, Va., to face Virginia Tech on Nov. 8.

If Florida State can defeat Clemson when the Tigers come calling in September, the Seminoles should be in excellent position to win the Atlantic Division and go to Charlotte, N.C., to play for the ACC title. If they win that game then it's back to a BCS bowl and maybe even a spot in the national championship game, which no doubt would be a welcome sight for Florida State fans. Otherwise, they will just have to be happy with another nine- or 10-win season, which is apparently the new "normal" for the Seminoles, which also happens to be a measure of annual success the fans of the vast majority of college football programs around the country would happily accept. 

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think it’s fair to say FSU is back, at least to the point where the Seminoles look like the favorite in the ACC. Since Jimbo Fisher took over in Tallahassee, the recruiting has been at an elite level so the roster is loaded on both sides of the ball. Florida State should be led by a stingy defense that really came together at the end of last season. From the middle of October to the bowl victory over Notre Dame, no opponent scored over 20 points on the athletic FSU unit.

The key to the Seminoles title chances rests with senior quarterback EJ Manuel and the development of sophomores Devonta Freeman and Rashad Greene. The talented duo led FSU in rushing and receiving as freshmen, and both players could be set for a breakout 2012. I don’t think even the most optimistic Noles fan can expect the program to repeat the accomplishments of the ‘90s — when Florida State claimed two national championships and won the league crown every season from 1992-2000 — but Fisher has FSU primed to compete for the ACC title each season in the near future.

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<p> Is Florida State back as an annual national title contender?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 05:40
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-south-carolina-no-10-2012-preseason-top-25-poll

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

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

Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks continue the countdown at No. 10 with two preseason All-Americans and four players selected as All-SEC performers. Athlon Sports predicts South Carolina will finish second in the SEC’s Eastern Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Heisman candidate Marcus Lattimore and a stingy defense will lead the Gamecocks this season,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “If Connor Shaw continues his solid play from late last season, South Carolina will be in the hunt for an SEC East title.”

Two South Carolina standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with running back Marcus Lattimore and defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney both being voted to the first team. In addition, the USC running backs unit was ranked No. 4 nationally and the defensive line was rated No. 5 in the country.

Four Gamecocks earned preseason All-SEC honors, including Lattimore and Clowney on the first team. Offensive lineman T.J. Johnson and defensive lineman Devin Taylor garnered second-team honors.

South Carolina Team Preview

South Carolina's Top 10 Players of 2012

South Carolina’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 * analysis of college football preseason publications.

<p> Athlon Sports Names South Carolina No. 10 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/south-carolina-football-what-record-will-gamecocks-have-sec-play-2012

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 10 South Carolina. The Gamecocks should be in the hunt for the SEC East, but need a healthy year from running back Marcus Lattimore.

What Will South Carolina's SEC Record Be in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The more I look back at South Carolina’s 2011 season, the more impressive the Gamecocks’ year looks. Despite only seven games from Marcus Lattimore, a subpar year from Alshon Jeffery and inconsistent quarterback play until the second half of the season, South Carolina still managed to win 11 games, including routs over Clemson and Nebraska to finish up the season. Once he became the full-time starter, quarterback Connor Shaw stabilized the offense in the second half of the season. I’m looking forward to what the Gamecocks look like with him and Lattimore running the show full-time next season. Shaw and Lattimore only started two games in the same backfield last season, both wins, over Kentucky and Mississippi State. The defense should be top-notch again, though in the SEC, it’s probably a notch behind LSU, Alabama and Georgia. Even if South Carolina has a shot to win 10 or more games this season, the schedule is going to be difficult – especially compared to fellow SEC East contender Georgia, which again catches a break by missing LSU, Alabama and Arkansas while the Gamecocks visit Baton Rouge and host the Razorbacks. The Gamecocks are probably looking at a loss at LSU plus another game, at home against Georgia or Arkansas on the road against Florida, with potential to trip up the Gamecocks. I’d pick South Carolina to finish 6-2 again in the East.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Before Bobby Petrino got run out of town at Arkansas, I had South Carolina going 5-3 in the league. Not even the most diehard South Carolina fans honestly expect to go into Baton Rouge and beat LSU. An upset win certainly isn't impossible, it just can't be expected. A home loss to Arkansas was penciled in as well. The Hogs have crushed the Gamecocks three straight times by a total of 118 to 64 with no game decided by less than 16 points. And the Gamecocks are always good for at least one unexpected loss — let's call it the Clemson effect. The 2012 candidates for this year's Auburn would be road games at Vanderbilt and Florida as well as home games against improved Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri teams. It's this brutal schedule that has forced Athlon Sports to pick the Dawgs to win the East the last two years.

Having said all of that, I think Carolina is the better team than Georgia this fall. And now that John L. Smith is leading the Hogs into Williams-Brice, I feel comfortable picking the Cocks to end their losing ways against cross-over rival Arkansas. The East is improved around the Cocks at almost every turn and will provide loads of speed bumps, so I still have to call for the lone unexpected disappointing performance. This leaves Steve Spurrier's bunch at 6-2 for the season in SEC play — which easily could be enough to win the East, especially should they beat the Bulldogs at home on October 6.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Gamecocks are coming off their best two-year stretch in school history, so the expectations are high going into 2012. The pieces are in place to contend for the SEC East title once again, but South Carolina does have a few key question marks to answer.

Quarterback Connor Shaw played well at the end of last season, but can he carry that momentum into a full year? The receiving corps also needs to replace Alshon Jeffery, while running back Marcus Lattimore is recovering from a torn ACL. The defense brings back six starters, but must replace lineman Melvin Ingram (first-team All-SEC in 2011), while cornerback Stephon Gilmore and safety Antonio Allen are departing from the secondary.

Despite the question marks, South Carolina has a chance to win 10 games. The opener against Vanderbilt won’t be easy, but the Gamecocks should escape Nashville with a close victory. After taking on the Commodores in Week 1, South Carolina should improve to 5-0 before taking on Georgia on Oct. 6, LSU on Oct. 13 and Florida on Oct. 27. Those three games should define the Gamecocks’ position in the SEC East. Win all three and South Carolina should cruise to the East title. However, losses in two of those games and the battle with Georgia likely won’t be decided until the SEC finale against Arkansas. The Gamecocks also take on rival Clemson in Death Valley on Nov. 24, which is not a guaranteed win.

I think the Gamecocks go 6-2 in SEC play and finish with a 9-3 or 10-2 overall record. Considering Georgia does not play LSU, Alabama or Arkansas, South Carolina desperately needs to beat the Bulldogs on Oct. 6 to take an early lead in the battle to win the SEC East. I give a slight edge to Georgia in the division, but wouldn't be surprised if South Carolina represents the East in Atlanta.

Mark Ross
I think South Carolina will go 5-3 in the SEC this season. Georgia is the best in the East in my opinion and I expect the Bulldogs to beat the Gamecocks in Columbia on Oct. 6. The other tough games on SC's conference schedule in 2012 are at LSU (Oct. 13), at Florida (Oct. 20) and home to Arkansas (Nov. 10). Having to play in Baton Rouge and Gainesville in the same season is bad enough, but back-to-back just adds to the degree of difficulty. And then there's Arkansas, who the Gamecocks get in Columbia, but it's not like this Hogs team is UAB or Wofford, who South Carolina also hosts this season. Arkansas will be one of the more potent offenses in the entire SEC and should the Hogs be able to put points on the board against South Carolina's defense, I'm not so sure the Gamecocks' offense has the firepower to go point-for-point with them.

Bottom line is I see Steve Spurrier's crew dropping at least two of the three games against LSU, Florida and Arkansas, which coupled with the loss to Georgia, puts them at 5-3 in the SEC. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me that much if they lost all four of these. And that's before the Gamecocks end the season at in-state rival Clemson, who could have one of the most potent offenses in all of college football. Considering all five of these games occur in about a stretch of 50 days, it could be a long seven weeks for South Carolina's defense by the time October rolls around.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I predict Steve Spurrier’s squad to go 6-2 in league play. The Gamecocks may have the best team in the East division, but the schedule is very difficult. September games against Vanderbilt and conference-newcomer Missouri will not be easy, but then a brutal October slate will decide SC’s chances for winning a division crown. The Gamecocks take on Georgia, have back-to back trips to LSU and Florida and then host an improved Tennessee bunch. After a bye week to begin November, South Carolina hosts an Arkansas squad that has beaten the Gamecocks three years in a row by a combined score of 118-64.

The return of All-America running back Marcus Lattimore will be a huge boost to the SC offense, and quarterback Connor Shaw was playing great football at the end of last season. The main question mark on offense will be at wideout, where only Ace Sanders has significant experience. The defense should be excellent once again, led by stellar rush ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. If Lattimore returns to his previous form and some answers emerge at receiver, South Carolina will be in the hunt for a December trip to Atlanta.

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<p> What will South Carolina's SEC Record be in 2012?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/south-carolina-2012-team-predictions

The South Carolina Gamecocks check in at No. 10 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Marcus Lattimore, RB
The Heisman candidate may be the best running back in the nation. Lattimore has run for over 2,000 yards and has scored 30 total touchdowns in just 20 career games. Of course, he must return to form after a knee injury cut his season to seven games last year. Lattimore should be healthy in the fall and right back to being an All-America-level superstar for the Gamecocks offense.

Upset Alert: Florida (Oct. 20)
The Gamecocks have handled the Gators over the last two seasons, but Will Muschamp’s bunch has a ton of talent — especially on defense. Besides this game taking place in the tough environment of The Swamp, it comes at a tough point in the schedule. USC will take on Georgia two weeks prior, and then travel to LSU on October 13. Back-to-back trips to Baton Rouge and Gainesville are just plain cruel.

Trap Game: Tennessee (Oct. 27)
Once again, here’s a tradition-laden program that the Gamecocks have handled the last two years. Derek Dooley’s squad has some serious offensive weapons in Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers, so South Carolina cannot let down after the brutal three-week stretch of taking on Georgia, LSU and Florida. If USC can make it through October, look out.

Defensive MVP: Jadeveon Clowney, DE
The uber-talented Rock Hill native came to campus as the nation’s No. 1 recruit before last season, and he did not disappoint during a solid freshman campaign. Clowney had 36 stops, including 12 tackles for loss, and an eye-opening five forced fumbles. With a year of experience and an offseason to hit the weight room, Clowney could be an All-America pass rusher in just his sophomore year of 2012.

Breakout Player: Ace Sanders, WR
With the departure of leading receiver Alshon Jeffery, Sanders is the most likely candidate to become a force on the outside. The Sunshine State speedster was the team's second-leading receiver last season with 29 catches for 383 yards and two touchdowns. Sanders was also a weapon at punt returner, averaging 9.3 yards per return and scoring once. His development will be a key to the growth of the South Carolina offense this season.

Unsung Hero: T.J. Johnson, C
The SEC had outstanding centers last season like William Vlachos of Alabama and Ben Jones of Georgia, so Johnson’s name may not be known as well as it should. The three-year starter has had to deal with many changes in offensive personnel but still has been a force inside. He will be counted on this season to lead a talented but young offensive line through a challenging group of SEC defenses.

Biggest Game: Georgia (Oct. 6)
The Gamecocks had to be thinking about a return trip to Atlanta after beating UGA, 45-42, in Athens. Of course, South Carolina ran the table in the East while the Dawgs benefited from an easier West-opponent slate. That happens again this season, with Georgia facing Auburn and Ole Miss while the Cocks travel to LSU and host Arkansas. Consequently, USC will need to take care of business at home versus Georgia.

Revenge Game: Arkansas (Nov. 10)
This one is simple. The Razorbacks have had the Gamecocks’ number over the last three seasons, winning all three games by a combined score of 118-64. Arkansas will travel to Williams-Brice Stadium this year, and South Carolina will have an extra week to prepare for the Petrino-less Hogs. Steve Spurrier’s crew should be primed to stop the current three-game skid.

Freshman to Watch: Shaq Roland, WR
The Lexington native could become the next stud receiver from the Palmetto State.  Roland was rated the No. 41 overall player in the nation in the AC100, and won Mr. Football in the state of South Carolina. He will follow in the footsteps of fellow highly-rated instate products like Stephon Gilmore, Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney, and Roland should compete for early playing time.

Comeback player: Devin Taylor, DE
After a stellar sophomore season in 2010 (13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks), many projected Taylor as All-SEC and even All-America last year. He fell short of those expectations in 2011 but still had a solid season with 42 tackles and six sacks. He and Clowney will form a scary pass rush combination, and look for Taylor to have a very productive senior campaign.

Position Battle: Wide Receiver
The aforementioned departure of Bears second-round selection Alshon Jeffery creates a huge void at this position. Ace Sanders has shown that he can produce at the SEC level, but there are questions marks after him. The candidates to step up for the Gamecocks include senior D. L. Moore and sophomores Nick Jones and Damiere Byrd.  Jeffery's brother, redshirt freshman Shamier, and true freshman Shaq Roland could also join the receiving rotation.

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<p> South Carolina Gamecocks 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - 05:37
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-texas-no-11-2012-preseason-top-25-poll

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

To celebrate the Texas Longhorns being named No. 11, will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Mack Brown’s Texas Longhorns continue the countdown at No. 11 with two preseason All-Americans and 11 players selected as All-Big 12 performers. Athlon Sports predicts Texas will finish second in the Big 12 Conference. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Texas will be led by its outstanding defense and running game this season,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “If the Longhorns can find some consistency at quarterback, Mack Brown's program will be back to an elite level nationally.”

Two Texas standouts were named preseason All-Americans, with defensive end Alex Okafor and defensive back Quandre Diggs both being voted to the third team. In addition, the Longhorns secondary was ranked No. 1 nationally. The defensive line was rated No. 3 in the country and best in the Big 12, while the running backs unit was tabbed No. 10 in the nation.

Eleven Longhorns earned preseason All-Big 12 honors, including Okafor, Diggs, running back Malcolm Brown, defensive lineman Jackson Jeffcoat, linebacker Jordan Hicks and defensive back Kenny Vaccaro on the first team. Offensive lineman Mason Walters and punt returner Quandre Diggs were named to the second team, while wide receiver Jaxon Shipley, defensive lineman Ashton Dorsey, linebacker Steve Edmond and defensive back Carrington Byndom garnered third-team honors.

Texas Team Preview

Texas' Top 10 Players of 2012

Texas’ 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 * analysis of college football preseason publications.

<h1 class="ha"> <span class="hP" id=":56">Athlon Sports Names Texas No. 11 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</span></h1>
Post date: Monday, May 21, 2012 - 10:35
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas Longhorns, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/texas-longhorns-football-has-mack-brown-lost-his-edge

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 11 Texas. The Longhorns missed out on a bowl in 2010, but rebounded with an eight-win campaign last year. Texas has quarterback question marks, but should contend for the Big 12 title.

Has Mack Brown Lost His Edge?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The extreme reaction to the last two seasons at Texas is more of a testament to what Mack Brown rebuilt in Austin than the actual results. I’m not excusing how Texas has performed in 2010-11. The Longhorns should have no excuse to go 5-7 as they did in 2010. Ever. But after nine season with at least 10 wins, Brown deserves at least the benefit of the doubt. He delivered on that in 2011 by going 8-5. Now it’s time to finish this brief and unexpected rebuilding job. I don’t know if Brown ever lost his touch; he just pushed the wrong buttons for a couple of years. Garrett Gilbert wasn’t the answer at quarterback. Will Muschamp wasn’t the guy to be coach in waiting. Brown’s best skill has been more as a great program manager – recruiting, hiring the right assistants and so on. And it looks like that is returning to normal. Texas is still pulling in top-10 recruiting classes. Although quarterback play is still a question, Brown has two ace coordinators in place in Bryan Harsin on offense and Manny Diaz on defense. After improving by three wins last season, Texas should contend for the Big 12 title in 2012. Brown, 60, may not be with Texas for another nine-year run like the one that ended in the BCS championship game against Alabama, but the foundation looks like it has been rebuilt to finish in the top 10 more often than not.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
It is virtually impossible to operate with the same fervor, passion and drive in your 39th year in the labor force as it is in the first 15 or 20. This rings true for essentially any walk of life and any professional field. To quote a well-listened to radio show, it is nearly impossible to keep the "passion bucket full." Life is full of peaks and valleys. Mack Brown reached his ultimate summit in 2005 and nearly repeated that feat in 2009. Yet, the Longhorns haven't been the same ever since the anti-climactic loss to Alabama in the BCS title game.

Do I think that Brown burns the midnight oil designing game plans, working 20 hour days, seven days a week? Not a chance. But you don't just forget how to coach, so the word complacent feels much more appropriate. At the level with which Texas recruits, a seven-loss season should be completely unacceptable. Even in a rebuilding year. And I believe that when he hired Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz to run his team, that he realized he had settled into a groove — and got extremely fortunate to go from the most unstoppable force in modern college football history (Vince Young) to the one-time winningest quarterback in NCAA history (Colt McCoy).

The result was an increase in wins from five to eight and a bowl win over Cal. It meant the No. 1 rushing, passing and total defense in the Big 12. It meant heightened expectations heading into 2012. It also means that fans everywhere will find out exactly where Brown's heart is this season. If he is still as dedicated as he was for the first decade of time in Austin, this offensive line will show marked improvement, David Ash will play relatively efficient football and Texas will challenge for the Big 12 crown. If they lose five games once again with a defense that could be the best in the nation and one of the top three or four rosters in the nation, the word complacent won't be going anywhere.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think 2012 is going to be a very telling year for Texas and Mack Brown. Everything in college football seems to come and go in cycles. Right now, Texas is on the way back up – or so it seems. If the Longhorns fail to improve off their 2011 win total, then I think we can say Brown has lost his edge.

After winning five games in 2010, there was a sense that complacency had set into the program. Remember the Mack Brown retirement rumors that persisted late last year? While Brown may retire in the next couple of years, it seems to have ignited some energy back into the program. And it certainly helps to have some fresh blood on the coaching staff, as Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz are two of the top rising stars in the assistant ranks and both could be head coaches by this time next year.

Even with uncertainty at quarterback, the pieces are in place for Texas to threaten for at least 10 victories in 2012. The running back corps is deep, while Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis are emerging threats at receiver. The linebacking corps needs to be revamped, but the defensive line and secondary are among the best in college football. The schedule isn’t overwhelming, as the Longhorns should start 3-0 with an easy non-conference slate, while catching Oklahoma State (with a true freshman quarterback) in the Big 12 opener.

With its location and ability to recruit, Texas should be one of the top 10-15 programs in college football every year. Mack Brown may have slipped, but I don’t think he’s lost his edge yet. If the Longhorns stumble again in 2012, then it’s fair to wonder if this program if really back on track.

Mark Ross
Texas has certainly slipped in the last two seasons, going from 13 wins and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game in 2009 to just five wins in '10. But the Longhorns rebounded somewhat last season, increasing their win total by three and finishing the season with a victory in the Holiday Bowl over California. However, the Holiday Bowl in December is a far cry from the national title game or even the Fiesta Bowl, which Texas won to cap off its 12-1 '08 campaign, but I still think it's premature to say Mack Brown has lost his "edge."

Prior to the 2010-11 seasons, Brown had done no worse than nine wins since he became Texas head coach in 1998. What's more, from 2001-09, the Longhorns rattled off nine straight seasons of double-digit wins, including 13-0 in 2005 when they won their fourth national championship in program history. When you have that much sustained success, I think you have earned the benefit of the doubt.

To me, Texas' "decline" can largely be attributed to one position — quarterback. In the Longhorns' heydays of 2000s, Brown had the likes of Major Applewhite, Chris Simms, Vince Young and Colt McCoy under center. The cream of this crop was clearly Young, who carried Texas to the national title in 2005 and finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting that season, and McCoy, who led the Longhorns back to the national title game in '09, in which he got injured and had to leave early, and left Texas as not only the school's most prolific quarterback in history, but at the time, he was the winningest quarterback in NCAA history (45 wins).

Since McCoy graduated, Brown has had to rely on Garrett Gilbert, David Ash and Case McCoy, Colt's younger brother. Gilbert, who was the full-time starter in 2010, is no longer with Texas as he transferred to SMU after he lost his starting job in early September of last season and later underwent season-ending shoulder surgery. Still, he finished his UT career with more interceptions (23) than touchdowns (13). Ash and McCoy didn't fare much better, however, as they combined for more interceptions (12) compared to touchdown passes (11) the rest of the way in 2011.

As far as 2012 goes, Texas' defense should be pretty stout, which will take some of the pressure off either Ash or McCoy and the rest of the offense. If Brown has "lost" anything, perhaps it's his eye when it comes to recruiting quarterbacks, as none of them have seemed to work out since McCoy left Austin.

That said, McCoy was a sophomore and Ash was a freshman in 2011, so like Brown, perhaps we should give them the benefit of the doubt and see what strides they make this season. Besides, earlier this year Texas extended Brown's contract through the 2020 season, so if anything, it certainly looks like Brown will get the opportunity to prove to the doubters that he, the coach who has already won 227 games in his career, 141 of those at UT, hasn't lost his edge.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think Mack Brown may have lost some of his edge a few years ago, but he also seems to have fixed those issues. The return to elite status is not complete, but the signs in Austin point towards regaining the consistency that the Longhorns enjoyed for so many years. After winning nine games in each of his first three seasons, Brown led Texas to double-digit victories from 2001-09 including a national title. That type of performance is so difficult to maintain, although the 5-7 debacle in 2010 was still a shocker.

One of the keys for Texas’ resurgence was the fact that Brown knew he had to adapt, and he hired quality coordinators in Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz. The program has continued to recruit at a top five level, and the Horns should be back to national prominence as the offense develops consistency. The weapons are there, especially in the running game. The defense should be nasty this year, led by ends Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat and the best secondary in the country. After eight wins last year, Brown has the program primed to compete for the Big 12 title and a 10-win season.

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<p> Has Mack Brown lost his edge?</p>
Post date: Monday, May 21, 2012 - 06:08
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas Longhorns, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/texas-longhorns-2012-team-predictions

The Texas Longhorns check in at No. 11 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Malcolm Brown, RB
The Cibolo native had an outstanding freshman campaign, compiling 742 yards and five touchdowns in just 10 games. Brown was named the AP’s Big 12 Newcomer of the Year last season, and he had 100-yard efforts against UCLA, Oklahoma State and Kansas. If the Horns passing game improves and defenses don’t key on the running game, Brown could have a monster sophomore year.

Trap Game: West Virginia (Oct. 6)
The Mountaineers were a BCS team a year ago, but how seriously will the Longhorns take the former Big East champions? WVU has an electric offense with senior quarterback Geno Smith and two 1,000-yard receivers, and coach Dana Holgorsen is a familiar Big 12 name from his days as the Oklahoma State offensive coordinator. This game is in Austin but is sandwiched in between the Oklahoma State and Oklahoma contests. Texas cannot afford an uninspired performance against the new league member.

Upset Alert: at Texas Tech (Nov. 3)
The Red Raiders do not play much defense, but quarterback Seth Doege leads a Tech aerial attack that can score in bunches. Many Big 12 foes have been upset in Lubbock over the years, and the Longhorns must make sure they play a solid game when meeting their longtime rival. Texas ran all over the Tech defense last season, and Mack Brown’s crew will need more of the same to not get surprised like Oklahoma a year ago.

Defensive MVP: Alex Okafor, DE
The All-Big 12 pass rusher will be a top All-America candidate in 2012. Okafor had 58 tackles last season with seven sacks. He also totaled 17 quarterback pressures, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Along with Jackson Jeffcoat, Okafor is part of one of the top defensive end duos in the country. The defensive line will be excellent once again, and Okafor is major reason the Longhorns will have one of the nation’s top defenses this season.

Breakout Player: Jaxon Shipley, WR
The younger brother of former UT star and current Bengals receiver Jordan will be a favorite target as a sophomore. In 2011 as a freshman, Shipley had 44 catches for 607 yards and three touchdowns in just 10 games. He showed his potential with over 120 receiving yards against Iowa State and Baylor, plus an 89-yard, one-score effort against Oklahoma. Shipley should have a very productive sophomore season.

Unsung Hero: Carrington Byndom, DB
Much of the talk — and deservedly so — when it comes to the stellar Texas secondary revolves around All-Big 12 safety Kenny Vaccaro and the Defensive Freshman of the Year in the league, cornerback Quandre Diggs. However, Byndom is a talent at the other corner and many thought he deserved more recognition than the honorable mention honor from the Big 12’s coaches. He had 58 tackles, 15 pass breakups and two interceptions last year and is a player to watch in 2012.

Biggest Game: Oklahoma (Oct. 13)
You may have noticed this one on the schedule. Besides the usual intensity that goes with the Red River Rivalry, the fact is that the hated Sooners have dominated the Big 12 for a good part of the last decade. There is no denying that the Longhorns have not played on an elite level the last two seasons, but a win over Oklahoma could be a springboard for a 10-win season and a symbol that Texas is back.

Revenge Game: Baylor (Oct. 20)
The Horns won 12 in a row over the Bears from 1998-2009, but the boys from Waco have won this game the last two seasons. Obviously NFL first-round selections Robert Griffin III and Kendall Wright had a lot to do with those victories, but Art Briles has raised the level of the BU program. Texas should be ready to go against Baylor, as the Horns do not want to become the first team in school-history to lose three straight versus the Bears.

Freshman To Watch: Johnathan Gray, RB
The electric back from Aledo was ranked the No. 7 player in the country in this year’s AC100. Moore set the all-time national record for total touchdowns with an astounding 205. He rushed for 10,889 yards during his illustrious high school career, while also compiling 1,244 receiving yards. Gray is obviously a scoring threat from anywhere on the field and will form a dynamic duo with Malcolm Brown in the backfield.

Newcomer To Watch: Brandon Moore, DT
The 6-foot-5, 335-pound transfer from East Mississippi Community College could be a supreme run stuffer for the Longhorns. Moore spent two seasons at the University of Alabama where he played under current UT tackles coach Bo Davis. Last year, he helped lead his JUCO team to a 12-0 record and national title. With Kheeston Randall gone, Moore could be a massive solution in the middle of the defense.

Position Battle: Linebackers
Junior Jordan Hicks is the only linebacker on the roster with significant experience after the departure of leading tacklers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson. The senior duo combined for a whopping 237 tackles a year ago, with 29 of those for loss. Sophomore Steve Edmond had 16 tackles last season, and he has the size and ability to be a playmaker in the middle for Manny Diaz. Speedy Demarco Cobbs should fill the other outside role, but depth and inexperience could be major issues.

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<p> Texas Longhorns 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Monday, May 21, 2012 - 05:56
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-west-virginia-no-12-2012-preseason-top-25-poll

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

To celebrate the West Virginia Mountaineers being named No. 12, will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

Dana Holgorsen’s West Virginia Mountaineers continue the countdown at No. 12 with two preseason All-Americans and seven players selected as All-Big 12 performers. Athlon Sports predicts West Virginia will finish third in the Big 12 Conference. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“Heisman candidate Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will lead a prolific passing attack once again,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “Dana Holgorsen's familiarity with the Big 12 will be beneficial in adjusting to a new league, and the Mountaineers should be in the hunt for the Big 12 title.”

Two West Virginia standouts were named preseason All-Americans. Geno Smith was voted second-team quarterback, and Tavon Austin was named to the second team at the all-purpose position. In addition, the WVU quarterbacks unit was ranked No. 2 nationally and best in the Big 12. The wide receivers group was rated No. 3 in the country and tops in the conference.

Seven Mountaineers earned preseason All-Big 12 honors, including Smith, wide receiver Stedman Bailey and Austin at both wide receiver and punt returner on the first team. Offensive lineman Joe Madsen, defensive back Terence Garvin and kick returner Tavon Austin were named to the second team, while offensive lineman Jeff Braun and defensive lineman Will Clarke garnered third-team honors.

West Virginia Team Preview

West Virginia's Top 10 Players of 2012

West Virginia’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 * analysis of college football preseason publications.

<p> <strong><span>Athlon Sports Names West Virginia No. 12 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</span></strong></p>
Post date: Friday, May 18, 2012 - 10:39
Path: /college-football/west-virginia-mountaineers-2012-team-predictions

The West Virginia Mountaineers check in at No. 12 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Geno Smith, QB
After watching film of Big 12 defenses this summer, Smith should be one of the players most excited about West Virginia’s switch in conference affiliation. He threw for 4,385 yards and 31 scores last season, including 407 yards and six touchdowns in the Orange Bowl rout over Clemson. Defense hasn’t exactly been a strong suit in the Big 12, which should allow Smith a chance to shatter last season’s numbers. He also has plenty of help in the receiving corps, as Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will be two of the Big 12’s top wideouts in 2012.

Trap Game: at Texas Tech (Oct. 13)
West Virginia’s inaugural Big 12 schedule is manageable, but it has a huge test on Oct. 6 at Texas. The Mountaineers open conference play with a home date against Baylor, but the matchup against the Longhorns is almost a “welcome to the Big 12” type of game. Winning in Austin won’t be easy, but neither will be making another trip to Texas the following Saturday at Texas Tech. West Virginia should be favored in that game, but the Red Raiders won’t be an easy out at home.

Upset Alert: at Iowa State (Nov. 24)
The Mountaineers should be well aware of Iowa State’s upset potential, as the Cyclones ended Oklahoma State’s national title run on Friday night in November last season. The matchup in Ames occurs after a tough stretch of games for West Virginia, as the Mountaineers play Kansas State, TCU, at Oklahoma State and Oklahoma before closing the year against Iowa State and Kansas. Although West Virginia should be favored, history suggests this may not be as easy of a matchup as most expect.

Defensive MVP: Terence Garvin, S
The Mountaineers have to replace a handful of key contributors on defense, including All-Big East selections in defensive end Bruce Irvin, linebacker Najee Goode and cornerback Keith Tandy. The defense is undergoing some scheme changes, as coordinator Jeff Casteel departed for Arizona, and Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson were hired to serve as co-coordinators. West Virginia will be switching from a 3-3-5 to a 3-4 scheme, which puts Garvin under the spotlight. The senior will play a hybrid safety/linebacker role in 2012, which should help the Mountaineers cover the Big 12’s spread offenses. Garvin recorded 72 tackles and 3.5 sacks last year and needs to be one of the leaders for West Virginia on defense in 2012.

Injury Watch: Dustin Garrison, RB
West Virginia never managed to find a consistent rushing attack last year, but freshman running back Dustin Garrison was a bright spot. He rushed for 742 yards and six scores, while catching 24 passes for 201 yards. However, a good chunk of Garrison’s yards came against Bowling Green (291) and he did not have another 100-yard effort the rest of the year. Garrison suffered a torn ACL in Orange Bowl practices and his status for the season opener is uncertain. If he is sidelined early in the year, senior Shawne Alston and sophomore Andrew Buie will have to pickup the slack on the ground.

Breakout Player: Will Clarke, DE
Clarke isn’t a secret to West Virginia fans, as he recorded 34 stops and two sacks in 13 games last season. With Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin finishing their eligibility, Clarke needs to be more involved with the pass rush and become a disruptor up front. At 6-foot-6 and 269 pounds, he certainly has the physical tools to make life difficult for opposing quarterbacks.

Unsung Hero: Joe Madsen, C
The offensive line wasn’t a strength for West Virginia last season, but Madsen played well enough to earn second-team All-Big East honors. He has made 38 starts since coming to Morgantown and will be one of the Big 12’s top centers. Madsen isn’t a household name, but his steady play is a huge asset for an offense that works primarily out of the shotgun.

Biggest Game: Oklahoma (Nov. 17)
With nine new conference mates, it’s certainly going to be a learning curve for West Virginia in its first year of Big 12 play. The schedule has its obstacles, including an Oct. 6 date at Texas and a Nov. 10 matchup at Oklahoma State. However, the Nov. 17 showdown against Oklahoma could decide the Big 12 title. West Virginia can push for a finish among the top three in the conference, but if it can knock off Oklahoma in Morgantown, the Mountaineers have to be thinking Big 12 title and a BCS bowl. 

Freshman to Watch: Jordan Thompson, WR
Is Thompson the next Tavon Austin? At 5-foot-7 and 159 pounds, Thompson certainly resembles Austin, but he is unproven. The true freshman caught 66 passes for 1,117 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior in high school and was rated as a top 100 recruit by the Houston Chronicle. Thompson is expected to contend for playing time at one of the inside receiver spots in 2012 and even if he doesn’t win a starting spot, he will see playing time this season.

Comeback Player: Josh Jenkins, OG
Jenkins hasn’t quite lived up to his recruiting hype, but his return will help bring stability to an offensive line that struggled throughout the 2011 season. Jenkins missed all of last season with a knee injury, but returned for spring practice and participated in the spring game. The senior is expected to start at left guard and could contend for All-Big 12 honors in 2012.

Newcomer to Watch: Isaiah Bruce, LB
The linebacking corps will be a point of focus for new defensive co-coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson. The Mountaineers are switching to a 3-4 scheme and have to replace first-team All-Big East performer Najee Goode. There’s experience returning, led by Jewone Snow, Doug Rigg and Jared Barber, but this unit lacks a playmaker. Terence Garvin is expected to play a hybrid safety/linebacker role, but Bruce’s emergence is critical to the play of West Virginia’s linebacking corps. The redshirt freshman had a strong spring and will be expected to start this year.

Position Battle: Linebackers
West Virginia’s depth chart doesn’t have many glaring position battles, but the linebacking corps is largely in flux going into fall camp. The coaching staff was pleased with the progress of Josh Francis and redshirt freshman Isaiah Bruce. Sophomore Jared Barber collected 23 tackles last season and is expected to start in 2012. West Virginia has talent, but is also breaking in a new 3-4 scheme. Do the Mountaineers have the depth to make things work at linebacker? Finding the right pieces to fill out the linebacking corps is going to be one of the top priorities for DeForest and Patterson this fall.

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<p> West Virginia Mountaineers 2012 Team Predictions.</p>
Post date: Friday, May 18, 2012 - 05:46
Path: /college-football/west-virginia-football-geno-smith-big-12s-best-quarterback

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 12 West Virginia. The Mountaineers are on the move from the Big East to the Big 12, and should own one of the league's top offenses this season. The defense is a work in progress, especially with a new scheme and the loss of a couple of key performers.

Is West Virginia's Geno Smith the Big 12's Best Quarterback?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Smith looks like he’ll be the Big 12’s top quarterback, but the answer to that question probably depends on two factors: How will Smith adjust to a new set of defenses in his third year as a starter, and how will Landry Jones perform now that he has an entire offseason to prepare for life without receiver Ryan Broyles. In many statistical areas, Smith would have ranked third in the Big 12 last season – His 337.3 yards per game would have trailed only Brandon Weeden and Landry Jones, his 152.6 pass efficiency rating, 8.3 yards per pass attempt and 31 touchdown passes would have trailed only Weeden and Griffin. Of course, one argument would be Smith did that against the Big East and not the Big 12, though Smith also passed for 463 yards against LSU. But what’s most remarkable is Smith’s low interception rate. He threw only seven picks on 526 attempts. That’s 75.1 passes per interception. Robert Griffin was an extraordinarily efficient passer. He started his career with the record for most pass attempts without an interception. Through the first three games, he had more touchdown passes than incomplete passes. Griffin finished his Heisman-winning season with 67 passes per interception, Weeden finished at 43.4 and Jones at 37.5.  That kind of decision-making is tough to find. I’ll take Smith as the top Big 12 quarterback.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
It can be tough to compare the values of the signal callers in the Big 12 due to the differences in scheme. The Texas quarterback is asked to do something dramatically different than the starter at Kansas State, which is different from West Virginia. If Landry Jones and Collin Klein swapped places, I do not think either would be as effective as they are in their current systems. Casey Pachall is efficient and is a perfect fit for what Gary Patterson wants to do on offense at TCU. Wes Lunt clearly has the skillset Mike Gundy is looking for in Stillwater. And lost in the shuffle is a guy who threw for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns in Lubbock last year, Seth Doege.

This is a tremendous league for quarterbacks. Pachall is an intriguing talent with size, efficiency and two more years to play and develop. Jones plays with the best supporting cast and has career numbers that would normally be Hall of Fame-esque if not for turnovers and a 7-8 road record. Klein is the least talented passer of the bunch but is easily the best leader in the conference and likely has the most athletic ability. He is a gritty, tough-nosed performer who wills his team to victory — what else do you want from a quarterback?

But when it comes to raw overall talent, production and winning, it's hard to argue with Smith. He has the strongest arm in the league and one of the best in the nation. He can make every throw in the playbook and has a conference and BCS bowl championship under his belt already. He is efficient (65.8%), doesn't turn the ball over (seven interceptions in 526 attempts) and produces big numbers in the passing game (4,385 yards, 31 TDs). Certainly, his system under Dana Holgorsen is pass-happy and quarterback friendly and can inflate the numbers, but so can every other system in the Big 12. If Smith can eliminate his one weird game per year — looking at you Syracuse — not only will he be the top quarterback in the Big 12, but could push for a conference championship and find himself drafted in the first round next April.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Big 12 has an interesting group of quarterbacks returning for the 2012 season. Proven options like Landry Jones at Oklahoma, TCU’s Casey Pachall and Kansas State’s Collin Klein are back, while the conference has up-and-comers like Texas’ David Ash and Oklahoma State’s Wes Lunt ready to take control of their teams.

A case could be made that Klein, Jones or Pachall is the Big 12’s top quarterback, but my vote goes to Geno Smith. Transitioning to a new offense is never easy, but Smith was outstanding last season, throwing for 4,385 yards and 31 scores. He also torched Clemson for 407 yards and six touchdowns in the 70-33 Orange Bowl victory. Even more impressive was Smith throwing just seven interceptions on 526 attempts, while completing 65.8 percent of his passes.

With another offseason to master Holgorsen’s scheme and the move to the offensive-minded Big 12, Smith should easily surpass last season’s totals. Helping Smith’s cause is a solid group of receivers, which includes likely All-Big 12 selections in Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. The offensive line struggled last season, but should be better with three starters returning and guard Josh Jenkins back in the lineup after missing all of 2011 with an injury.

The Big 12 is usually home to solid quarterback play and this season will be no different. Smith may have a few ups and downs as he adjusts to life in the Big 12, but he should be the Big 12’s best quarterback in 2012. 

Mark Ross
Don't get me wrong, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith had an outstanding 2011 campaign, finishing 17th in the nation in passing efficiency with 4,385 yards, 31 touchdowns and seven interceptions. With wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey and other weapons at his disposal, there is no reason to think he won't put up similar, if not better, numbers in the Mountaineers' first season in the Big 12. However, I am still going to go with Oklahoma's Landry Jones as the conference's top quarterback.

For one, it's not like Jones was downright awful last season. He finished 33rd overall in passing efficiency with 4,463 yards, 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, numbers that he put up despite the fact that All-American wide receiver Ryan Broyles missed four games. And while Jones' 2011 season would be considered a career year for just about any other quarterback, it wasn't even Landry's best. He threw for more yards (4,718), touchdowns (38) and had fewer interceptions (12) in 2010. It's this experience factor that puts Jones on top for me. He's produced at a high level consistently for three years, while Smith had his first breakout campaign last season.

Jones also is well familiar with the Big 12, while Smith will be facing all of these defenses, the likes of an Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, to name a few, for the first time. Jones will be going up against Big 12 newcomers TCU and West Virginia for the first time in his career, and he will do so on their respective home turfs, but Smith has the steeper learning curve as far as this season goes. In the end, Smith may very well end up with better numbers, but for now, I will go with the Big 12 veteran Jones as the conference's top signal caller.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I think Geno Smith should get the nod as the top quarterback in West Virginia’s new league. The senior signal caller threw for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns against only seven interceptions last season, and elite receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will thrive in the pass-happy Big 12. Head coach and offensive guru Dana Holgorsen has a familiarity with the league from his time at Oklahoma State, and the WVU offense should continue prowess in its new conference.

Oklahoma’s Landry Jones is also a top candidate, but he did throw 15 picks last year and has struggled on the road in his career. Jones struggled late last year after the Sooners lost top wideout Ryan Broyles, and Blake Bell took many of the red zone snaps last year. Jones still has the experience and weapons around him to have a solid season, but I’ll go with West Virginia’s Smith to lead the Big 12’s signal callers in 2012.

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<p> Is West Virginia's Geno Smith the Big 12's Best Quarterback?</p>
Post date: Friday, May 18, 2012 - 05:38
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-arkansas-no-13-2012-preseason-top-25-poll

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

To celebrate the Arkansas Razorbacks being named No. 13, will devote an entire day to the program, including a look at the Top 10 Players for 2012, the Greatest Players since 1967 and a Team Preview. (Direct links are included below.)

John L. Smith’s Arkansas Razorbacks continue the countdown at No. 13 with one preseason All-American and nine players selected as All-SEC performers. Athlon Sports predicts Arkansas will finish third in the SEC’s Western Division. In the five year period from 2007-11, Athlon Sports was one of the most accurate preseason magazines in prediction accuracy.*

“The Razorbacks could have another special season with Tyler Wilson leading the way,” says Athlon Sports Managing Editor Mitch Light. “There will be an adjustment with John L. Smith taking over in Fayetteville, but Arkansas has the talent to be in the SEC West hunt.”

One Arkansas standout was named a preseason All-American, with offensive lineman Alvin Bailey being voted to the first team. In addition, the Arkansas quarterbacks unit was ranked No. 5 nationally.

Nine Razorbacks earned preseason All-SEC honors, including Bailey, running back Knile Davis, wide receiver Cobi Hamilton and tight end Chris Gragg on the first team. Quarterback Tyler Wilson and linebacker Alonzo Highsmith were named to the second team, while offensive lineman Travis Swanson, kicker Zach Hocker and kick returner Dennis Johnson garnered third-team honors.

Arkansas Team Preview

Arkansas' Top 10 Players of 2012

Arkansas’ 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 * analysis of college football preseason publications.

<p> <strong><span>Athlon Sports Names Arkansas No. 13 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</span></strong></p>
Post date: Thursday, May 17, 2012 - 09:33
All taxonomy terms: Arkansas Razorbacks, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/arkansas-razorbacks-2012-team-predictions

The Arkansas Razorbacks check in at No. 13 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

Offensive MVP: Tyler Wilson, QB
Wilson was the first Razorbacks signal caller to be named first-team All-SEC since the Hogs joined the league in 1992. Obviously his 3,638 passing yards and 24 touchdown throws were excellent numbers, but Wilson’s efficiency in tossing only six interceptions in 438 attempts was also impressive. The Greenwood native will have to find new favorite targets this season but should have a stellar senior season.

Upset Alert: at Auburn (Oct. 6)
The Razorbacks have to travel to the Lone Star State the week before Auburn to take on SEC newcomer Texas A&M, and then head to the always-challenging environment of Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers went through a rebuilding season last year of the national championship campaign of 2010. Gene Chizik’s crew will be improved this season, and the Hogs will have to bring their top game to Auburn.

Trap Game: at Mississippi State (Nov. 17)
Once again, the Hogs will be on the second leg of two straight road trips when they take on the Bulldogs. Arkansas plays a very tough game at South Carolina on November 10 and hosts rival LSU on November 23, the Friday after Thanksgiving. The Razorbacks cannot overlook a Mississippi State that is desperate to score an SEC West win outside of Ole Miss.

Defensive MVP: Alonzo Highsmith, LB
The senior linebacker is Arkansas’ leading retuning tackler, finishing last season with 80 stops, 4.5 sacks and one interception. There was bad news in March as Highsmith missed the entire spring practice period with an injury to his left pectoral muscle. He should be healthy for the fall, and the active backer will need to be the leader of a defense that lost top tacklers Jerry Franklin and Tramain Thomas.

Breakout Player: Cobi Hamilton, WR
Arkansas should have another powerful offense this season, and Hamilton looks like the next star receiver in Fayetteville. With Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Jarius Wright now in the NFL, the 6-foot-3, 209-pound Hamilton will assume the role as top pass catcher. He had 34 catches for 542 yards and four scores in 2011, and Hamilton should be one of the top wideouts in the SEC this season.

Unsung Hero: Tenarius Wright, DE/LB
The Memphis pass rusher has established himself as a solid SEC defensive end over three seasons, but he will make the selfless move to linebacker this fall to help out a thin unit on the defense. Wright had five tackles for loss in eight games in 2011, and his senior leadership and team-first transition to linebacker will be valuable to the Hogs this season.

Comeback player: Knile Davis, RB
The long-anticipated return of Davis will provide a major boost to the Arkansas offense this fall. He became a star in 2010, rushing for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns. In fact, he totaled 1,028 yards and 12 scores in the last seven games of that Sugar Bowl season. A severe ankle injury kept Davis out of action last year, but he should provide great balance to the powerful Hogs passing game in 2012.

Biggest Game: Alabama (Sept. 15)
The Razorbacks have lost five straight to the Crimson Tide, but the defending national champions lost several stars to the NFL. Alabama will always present a tough challenge, but this game is in Fayetteville and could be a springboard for an amazing season. If the defense can keep the Hogs in it, Wilson and company could pull off a meaningful upset.

Revenge Game: LSU (Nov. 24)
The Hogs were leading the undefeated Tigers last year in Baton Rouge, 14-0, in the middle of the second quarter. LSU roared back for a 21-14 halftime lead, and Arkansas only trailed by a touchdown after three quarters before the SEC champions took over late. This year’s game in Fayetteville will be a chance to pay back Les Miles’ bunch, and the Razorbacks were victorious the last two times the Tigers traveled to Arkansas.

Freshman to Watch: Otha Peters, LB
The inside linebacker from Louisiana has the size and strength to play early at Arkansas. Peters was a Tennessee verbal throughout the recruiting process before flipping to the Razorbacks in the final week before Signing Day. With leading tackler Jerry Franklin gone and a spring injury to Alonzo Highsmith, the linebacking group will be looking for help. Peters should get in the mix right away.

Position Battle: Wide receiver
Cobi Hamilton will lead the receiver group and Chris Gragg is a solid tight end, but the Razorbacks offense needs more than one outside threat for All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson. No other returning wideouts caught 10 balls last season. Marquel Wade, Julian Horton, Javontee Herndon, Keante Minor and Maudrecus Humphrey are among the candidates to emerge as a complement to Hamilton and Gragg. However, Wade and Humphrey are suspended indefinitely due to an off-the-field incident in May.

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<p> Arkansas Razorbacks 2012 Team Predictions</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 17, 2012 - 06:06
All taxonomy terms: Arkansas Razorbacks, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/arkansas-football-can-razorbacks-win-sec-without-bobby-petrino

Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 13 Arkansas. Bobby Petrino was fired as the team's coach, prompting John L. Smith to be hired for the 2012 season. The offense is dangerous, but doubts remain about the Razorbacks without Petrino.

Is Arkansas Still a Threat to Win the SEC West Without Bobby Petrino?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Arkansas seems to think that’s possible as the Razorbacks brought in John L. Smith to patch the coaching staff without rocking the boat too much with an outsider coach or new philosophy. Smith can be something of a punchline at times. But he’s also been successful in spurts, which is pretty much all Arkansas is seeking from him. He turned a 4-8 Michigan State team into a 8-5 team in his first season there. He also led Louisville to an 11-2 season led by Dave Ragone and Deion Branch. At least for 2012, Smith is taking over a more established team. Arkansas’ personnel is good enough to win the West, especially on offense. Tyler Wilson was already the SEC’s top passer, and on top of that, he was on fire during spring practice. If Knile Davis is the same running back he was in during the second half of 2010, the Hogs’ offense will be that much more balanced. What Arkansas may miss most is Bobby Petrino’s play calling. The margin of error against SEC defenses is thin enough as it is, and even last season Petrino, Wilson and Arkansas couldn’t crack 20 points against either LSU or Alabama. It’s going to be tough to expect that to change this season. If there is an advantage, though, Arkansas will face Alabama on Sept. 15, perhaps while the Crimson Tide are still trying to work out the kinks on a defense returning only four starters. The Hogs’ will make up for it on the other end of the schedule with a road trip South Carolina and a home game against LSU in November. Arkansas can win the West without Petrino, but the Hogs don’t have much room for error.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
No. Arkansas will not compete for an SEC title in 2012 now that Bobby Petrino isn't ruling the roost in Fayetteville. Leadership is the only aspect of college football that trumps talent and that is exactly what Petrino had done for Arkansas football in recent years. Despite what most uninformed national media members tell you, the Razorbacks do not have a "top 10 roster". They do not have "elite talent" everywhere on the depth chart. No, Arkansas has finished ninth, 10th and eighth consecutively in the SEC recruiting rankings the last three seasons. There are plenty of nice pieces and this is a quality football team, but it does not boast the same level of overall talent and depth that Alabama and LSU can claim.

If anything, it's a crystal clear testament to the development, evaluation and game day preparation skills of Petrino. He overachieved during his time at Arkansas. The edge with which he works permeated every aspect of the football program and that edge led to victories. Additionally, there are few coaches in the nation who manage the game on Saturday's as well as Petrino. Calling plays, making adjustments and motivating greatness is an innate talent that is largely based on instincts and feel more than anything else. And Petrino can do it with the best in the nation.

Getting Alabama and LSU at home gave Arkansas a chance to compete in the West, but even with Bobby-P, I had the Hogs penciled in for 10-2. The Razorback defense does not operate at the same level as the Bayou Bengals or Crimson Tide, as the 79-31 combined score a year ago indicated. John L. Smith is a solid caretaker who will get this team to a bowl game, but he lost 32 games his last five seasons as a head coach and posted one bowl win in seven career tries. His antics play well at the local watering hole, but not in national primetime against Nick Saban. He will lose two games that Bobby-P would not have — my guess is at South Carolina and either at Auburn, Texas A&M or Mississippi State — and will win a bowl game for a 9-4 mark.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even with Bobby Petrino on the sidelines, Arkansas was going to have a difficult time passing LSU and Alabama in the SEC West standings. Consider this: The 21 victories by the Razorbacks from 2010-11 was the best two-year stretch in school history. Although Petrino had his shortcomings, there’s no denying he was one of the top coaches in the SEC.

John L. Smith is a good short-term answer for the program and his experience in Fayetteville will allow the assistants to stay in their current roles. Bobby Petrino’s gameplans and play-calling will be missed, but his brother – Paul Petrino – is well-versed in this offense. Quarterback Tyler Wilson is one of the best in college football, and the Razorbacks will get a boost on the ground with the return of running back Knile Davis. Finding replacements at receiver for Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs will be crucial to keeping the passing attack among the best in the nation, but Cobi Hamilton and tight end Chris Gragg are two reliable weapons.

Scoring points won’t be a problem for Arkansas, but the defense is a question mark once again. New coordinator Paul Haynes has six returning starters, but must replace end Jake Bequette, linebacker Jerry Franklin and safety Tramain Thomas. Linebacker Alonzo Highsmith missed spring practice due to a pectoral injury, but he is expected to return in time for the 2012 season. The Razorbacks have some pieces to work with on defense, but this unit needs to make strides to win the SEC West.

With Bobby Petrino, I think Arkansas would have been ranked in Athlon’s Top 10 for 2012. However, there’s too much uncertainty hanging around this program to expect the Razorbacks to win 10 or 11 games once again. Catching LSU and Alabama at home is a tremendous opportunity, but Arkansas won’t be able to capitalize off of that this season and will finish third in the SEC West. 

Mark Ross
Arkansas will no doubt look different with Bobby Petrino no longer roaming the Hogs' sidelines, but I don't think his absence will have that much effect on their SEC title aspirations. For one, the new head man is John L. Smith, a familiar face who was part of Petrino's staff the past three seasons before leaving (briefly) to take the head coaching job at his alma mater, Weber State.

There also will still be a Petrino on the coaching staff, although he will be up in the press box rather than on the sidelines on game days. Paul Petrino, Bobby's younger brother, is back with the Hogs after serving as Illinois' offensive coordinator the past two seasons. The younger Petrino actually rejoined the team prior to last season's Cotton Bowl and he was Arkansas' offensive coordinator from 2008-09. Between Smith and the other Petrino, there's enough familiarity there that for most intents and purposes, it will seem like nothing's changed to the players.

And in the end, it's the players, not the coaches, who will ultimately decide whether Arkansas will contend for the SEC title or not. To get there, the Hogs will first have to take care of business in its own division, meaning beating defending national champion Alabama and defending SEC champion LSU and rest of the West teams in the standings so they end up playing in Atlanta on Dec. 1 in the SEC Championship Game.

The last time Arkansas played in the SEC title game was in 2006, a game that they lost to eventual national champion Florida. That season, the Hogs beat Alabama, but lost to LSU. In fact, the last time Arkansas has defeated both Alabama and LSU In the same season was in 1998. This season the Hogs get both the Crimson Tide and LSU in Fayetteville, so the schedule appears to be set up for them, now it's up to the players, and not the coaches, to follow through.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I do not see the Razorbacks contending for the SEC crown after a tumultuous offseason. Competing against LSU and Alabama in the SEC West is tough enough, but the departure of offensive guru Petrino and other off-the-field issues may prevent the Hogs from closing the gap on the Crimson Tide and Tigers. Arkansas will still have a quality team, with quarterback Tyler Wilson leading a potentially potent aerial attack. The offense will also receive a boost with the return of running back Knile Davis, who rushed for 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2010.

The Hogs should have top pass catchers in receiver Cobi Hamilton and tight end Chris Gragg, but no other returning wideout caught 10 balls last season. Legal issues could affect the eligibility of Marquel Wade and Maudrecus Humphrey, so a complement to Hamilton will need to emerge. The defense has talent but loses key players in Jerry Franklin, Tramain Thomas and Jake Bequette. It’s not doom and gloom in Fayetteville, but an SEC title looks too ambitious for a program going through a ton of issues at the current time.

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<p> Can the Razorbacks Win the SEC Without Bobby Petrino?</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 17, 2012 - 06:00
Path: /college-football/college-football-2012-realignment-breakdown

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

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


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

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

Big East

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

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

Big Ten

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

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

Big 12

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

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

Conference USA

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Mountain West

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

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


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

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


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

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

Sun Belt

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

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


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

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

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

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<p> College football realignment preview for 2012.</p>
Post date: Thursday, May 17, 2012 - 05:04
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-nebraska-no-14-2012-preseason-top-25-poll

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nebraska Team Preview

Nebraska's Top 10 Players of 2012

Nebraska’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 * analysis of college football preseason publications.

<p> Athlon Sports Names Nebraska No. 14 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 - 10:16
Path: /college-football/nebraska-football-taylor-martinez-one-big-tens-top-quarterbacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Nebraska Content

<p> Is Taylor Martinez One of the Big Ten's Top Quarterbacks?</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 - 05:56
Path: /college-football/nebraska-cornhuskers-2012-team-predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Nebraska Content

<p> Nebraska Cornhuskers 2012 Team Predictions</p>
Post date: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 - 05:51
All taxonomy terms: News
Path: /news/athlon-sports-names-clemson-no-15-2012-preseason-top-25-poll

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clemson Team Preview

Clemson's Top 10 Players of 2012

Clemson’s 10 Greatest Players Since 1967

 * analysis of college football preseason publications.

<h1 class="ha"> Athlon Sports Names Clemson No. 15 in 2012 Preseason Top 25 Poll</h1>
Post date: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - 09:38
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Clemson Tigers, College Football, News
Path: /college-football/clemson-tigers-2012-team-predictions

The Clemson Tigers check in at No. 15 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Clemson Content

Clemson Tigers 2012 Team Preview
Clemson Tigers Top 10 Players for 2012

Will Clemson Repeat as ACC Champions in 2012?

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

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

Will Clemson Repeat as ACC Champions in 2012?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Clemson Tigers 2012 Team Preview
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<p> Clemson Football: Will the Tigers Repeat as ACC Champions?</p>
Post date: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - 05:33