Articles By Steven Lassan

Path: /college-football/big-east-footballs-breakout-players-2012
Body:

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

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

Predicting the Big East's Breakout Players for 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Related Big East Content

The Big East's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice
Ranking the Big East's Top 50 Players for 2012

Ranking the Big East Linebacking Corps for 2012

Ranking the Big East Defensive Lines for 2012

College Football 2012 Bowl Projections

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers

Ranking the Big East's Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Big East's Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

Top 25 Big East Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Big East Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-Big East Team

Which Big East Teams Are on the Rise Heading into 2012?

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

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

The Candidates:

#2 Bryan Bennett

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

#8 Marcus Mariota

2011 stats: Redshirted

The Breakdown:

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

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

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

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

Final Verdict

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

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

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

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

Predicted Winner: Mariota
 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

 


Related Pac-12 Content

The Pac-12's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice
Predicting the Pac-12's Breakout Players for 2012

College Football's 20 Worst Coaching Tenures of the last 50 Years

Ranking the Pac-12's Linebacking Corps for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Defensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Offensive Lines for 2012

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

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

Athlon's 2012 All-Pac-12 Team

Top 25 Pac-12 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Related SEC Content

College Football's All-Name Team for 2012
2012 Is a Make or Break Year for Tennessee's Derek Dooley

SEC 2012 Linebacker Rankings

SEC 2012 Defensive Line Rankings

SEC 2012 Offensive Line Rankings

SEC 2012 Wide Receiver Rankings

Athlon's 2012 SEC Predictions

2012 College Football Bowl Projections

Which SEC Teams Are on the Rise or Decline Going into 2012?

SEC's Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2012

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers

Athlon's 2012 All-SEC Team

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

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

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

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

Candidates for the 2012 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Notre Dame Content

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

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2012 Team Preview

2012 College Football All-Name Team

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

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

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

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

Athlon's Top 50 Big Ten Players for 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Related Big Ten Content

The Big Ten's Top 10 Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice
College Football's Darkhorse Title Contenders for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Defensive Lines for 2012

Michigan State is an Emerging Big Ten Power

Ranking the Big Ten's Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

College Football Bowl Projections for 2012

Big Ten's Top 25 Heisman Contenders

Athlon's 2012 All-Big Ten Team

Athlon's 2012 Big Ten Predictions

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

Urban Meyer's Arrival Has Ohio State Back on Track

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Related Pac-12 Content

Predicting the Pac-12's Breakout Players for 2012
College Football's 20 Worst Coaching Tenures of the last 50 Years

Ranking the Pac-12's Linebacking Corps for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Defensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Offensive Lines for 2012

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

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

Athlon's 2012 All-Pac-12 Team

Top 25 Pac-12 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Related ACC Content

College Football's National Title Darkhorses for 2012
Ranking the ACC's Defensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the ACC Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the ACC Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

College Football's 2012 Bowl Projections

Will Randy Edsall Turn Around Maryland?

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

ACC's Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 ACC Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-ACC Team

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

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

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

College Football's All-Name Team for 2012

OFFENSE

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

 


DEFENSE

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

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

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

 

SPECIALISTS

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

 

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

Related Content

20 Most Ridiculous Google Image Headshots in Sports
Strangest Non-Game Related Sports Injuries

10 Happiest Athlete Mugshots

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Big 12 Content

Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012
Big 12 Defensive Line Rankings for 2012

College Football Bowl Projections for 2012

Big 12 Offensive Line Rankings for 2012

Big 12 Wide Receiver Rankings for 2012
Athlon's 2012 Big 12 Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-Big 12 Team

Big 12 Heisman Contenders for 2012
College Football Realignment Winners and Losers
The History of Big 12 Realignment
Introducing West Virginia to the Big 12
TCU Comes Home to the Big 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Related Big Ten Content

College Football's Darkhorse Title Contenders for 2012
Ranking the Big Ten's Defensive Lines for 2012

Michigan State is an Emerging Big Ten Power

Ranking the Big Ten's Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

College Football Bowl Projections for 2012

Big Ten's Top 25 Heisman Contenders

Athlon's 2012 All-Big Ten Team

Athlon's 2012 Big Ten Predictions

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

Urban Meyer's Arrival Has Ohio State Back on Track

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Big East Content

Ranking the Big East's Top 50 Players for 2012
Ranking the Big East Linebacking Corps for 2012

Ranking the Big East Defensive Lines for 2012

College Football 2012 Bowl Projections

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers

Ranking the Big East's Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Big East's Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

Top 25 Big East Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Big East Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-Big East Team

Which Big East Teams Are on the Rise Heading into 2012?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

Related Pac-12 Content

College Football's 20 Worst Coaching Tenures of the last 50 Years
Ranking the Pac-12's Linebacking Corps for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Defensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Pac-12's Offensive Lines for 2012

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

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

Athlon's 2012 All-Pac-12 Team

Top 25 Pac-12 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Predictions

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

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

Sing might be a generous word.

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

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

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

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

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

Do Preseason Rankings Matter for College Football National Champions?

(Athlon’s projected 2012 final rank in parenthesis)

1. Texas (11)

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

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

2. Virginia Tech (16)

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

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

3. Wisconsin (17)

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

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

 

4. Michigan State (18)

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

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

5. Louisville (23)

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

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

6. Boise State (24)

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

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

-By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related College Football Content

Ranking the Big 12's Top 50 Players for 2012
Ranking the Big East's Top 50 Players for 2012

College Football Rankings for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Bowl Projections

20 Worst College Football Tenures of the Last 50 Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related SEC Content

SEC 2012 Linebacker Rankings
SEC 2012 Defensive Line Rankings

SEC 2012 Offensive Line Rankings
SEC 2012 Wide Receiver Rankings
Athlon's 2012 SEC Predictions
2012 College Football Bowl Projections

Which SEC Teams Are on the Rise or Decline Going into 2012?

SEC's Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2012

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers
Athlon's 2012 All-SEC Team

Teaser:
<p> Tennessee Football: 2012 Is a Make-or-Break Year for Derek Dooley</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 06:36
All taxonomy terms: College Football, USC Trojans, Pac 12, News
Path: /college-football/usc-football-matt-barkley-has-sights-set-national-championship
Body:

The official announcement came on a bright December day just before Christmas, and throughout Southern California, the stunning news flicked on smiles like so many twinkling holiday lights.

Matt Barkley was coming back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Pac-12 Content

Pac-12 2012 Linebacker Rankings
2012 College Football Bowl Projections

Pac-12 2012 Defensive Line Rankings

Pac-12 2012 Offensive Line Rankings

Pac-12 2012 Wide Receiving Corps Rankings

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

Grading the Best and Worst CFB Hires for 2012

Pac-12's Top 25 Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Pac-12 Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-Pac-12 Team

Teaser:
<p> USC Football: Matt Barkley Has Sights Set on National Championship</p>
Post date: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 06:15
All taxonomy terms: Mississippi State Bulldogs, SEC, News
Path: /news/mississippi-state-football-reveals-new-uniforms
Body:

Under coach Dan Mullen, Mississippi State is a program on the rise and has made a few uniform and helmet changes in the last few years. The Bulldogs will have another tweak in 2012, adding a white stripe on the helmet and a brighter maroon color on the home jerseys.

Here's a look at Mississippi State's new jerseys for 2012:
 

New Mississippi State Home Jersey

New Mississippi State Home Jerseys with Alternate Gray Pants:

New Mississippi State Away Jersey:

 

Here's a sideview of Mississippi State's alternate uniforms (with shoulder stripe):


 

Teaser:
<p> Mississippi State Football Reveals New Uniforms</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 15:42
All taxonomy terms: Northwestern Wildcats, Big Ten, News
Path: /news/northwestern-football-upgrades-uniforms
Body:

Northwestern football hasn't made many dramatic changes to its uniforms in recent years, but there are some noticeable tweaks in the new version released by Under Armour for 2012.

The Wildcats will stick with the same purple and white color scheme, but the uniforms now have a stripe in the center of the jersey and there's some sharp-looking gloves featuring the Northwestern logo.

Here's a look at Northwestern's new uniforms for 2012:


Northwestern's new away jersey:


Here's a look at the new home jersey:

 


Here's a closer look at the Northwestern uniforms with gloves featuring the school logo:
 


And the white jersey-purple pants combination:

Teaser:
<p> Northwestern Football Upgrades Uniforms</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 10:08
Path: /college-football/big-12-player-rankings-top-50-players-2012
Body:

The Big 12 welcomes West Virginia and TCU as new members in 2012, and both teams will add to the already deep and talented league. The Mountaineers bring one of the nation's best offenses, while the Horned Frogs have been strong on defense in the Mountain West.

Even though the Big 12 loses some big names like Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon and Baylor's Robert Griffin, there's no shortage of talent in the league. The offenses should rule the day again, but Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State should have a handful of defensive players in the top 50 at the end of the season. 

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

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

(Published July 26, 2012)

Athlon's Top 50 Big 12 Players for 2012

1. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
After throwing for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns in his first year working in Dana Holgorsen’s spread attack, Smith is primed for an even bigger 2012 season. He finished 2011 by throwing for 407 yards and six touchdowns in the 70-33 rout over Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Smith tied or set 21 career, season or game school records last year and earned first-team All-Big East honors. With one of the nation’s top receiving corps returning, the senior quarterback should be in for an even bigger statistical season. The Big 12 is known for its offense, and West Virginia should fit in well in 2012, especially with Smith more comfortable in the second year of Holgorsen’s offense.

2. Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Few players ever enter the college ranks ready to play like Jeffcoat was. Obviously, his long-standing NFL legacy helps, as his fundamental understanding of the game is superior to most players his age. His 6-foot-5, 250-pound frame helps too. Jeffcoat started all 13 games as a sophomore, earning second-team All-Big 12 honors after recording 54 total tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. With another stellar season on the 40 Acres, JJ-44 will likely take his talents to the next level.

3. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
Klein emerged from obscurity last season to account for 40 total touchdowns, leading the Wildcats to 10-3 season and the Orange Bowl. Kansas State’s emotional leader, Klein rushed for 27 touchdowns, tying the Division I record held by Navy’s Ricky Dobbs, and became the first Big 12 quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards since Missouri’s Brad Smith in 2005. The Wildcats also learned they could rely more on his arm as the season went along.

4. Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State
With Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon playing on Sundays now, Randle will have to carry the offense. He rushed for 1,216 yards and 24 scores, while catching 43 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns last year. Randle earned second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2011 and is an Athlon Sports first-team All-Big 12 selection for 2012. With freshman Wes Lunt taking over under center, defenses will be gearing up to stop Randle, but the junior back’s all-around ability makes him one of the top 10 players in the conference for 2012.

5. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
At 5-foot-9 and 174 pounds, Austin isn’t your prototypical wide receiver. Don’t be fooled though, the Baltimore native is one of college football’s top playmakers and will give Big 12 defenses plenty of headaches in 2012. He led the team with 101 receptions, ranked second with 1,186 yards, while catching eight touchdowns and taking two returns for a score on special teams. Austin closed out 2011 on a high note, catching 12 passes for 123 yards and four touchdowns in the Orange Bowl victory over Clemson. The senior is one of college football’s top all-purpose threats and should top 100 receptions once again in 2012.

6. Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
Jeffcoat’s partner in crime hails from an Austin suburb called Pflugerville. “Big Oak” has played in 39 games in his Longhorn career and is coming off his best season. The 6-foot-4, 265 pound end set career highs in tackles (56), tackles for a loss (14.0) and sacks (7.0) to go with 14 quarterback hurries. He earned AFCA All-American honors and was a unanimous first-team All-Big 12 selection. Okafor and Jeffcoat might form the best defensive end duo in the nation this fall.

7. Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma
Few players exhibit as much raw athletic ability as the 5-foot-11, 200-pound safety. After playing a hybrid safety position which required much more time in the box, Jefferson has moved to his natural position of free safety. He will be allowed to flow all over the field and make plays now that Mike Stoops and Tim Kish are calling the plays. Jefferson has loads of talent supporting him, so the Sooners should be vastly improved in the secondary this fall.

8. Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State
If not for a nagging injury last year that eventually required surgery and kept him out of spring practice, Knott was on the verge of back-to-back All-American caliber seasons. Over the last two years, the Waukee, Iowa native has 245 total tackles, 10.0 tackles for a loss, eight forced fumbles and six interceptions. And he helped led Iowa State to a bowl berth last fall. He is a watch list candidate for every major defensive national award and should have his best season to date alongside A.J. Klein.

9. A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State
The combination of Jake Knott and A.J. Klein might be the best one-two linebacking duo in college football. Klein earned Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors last season, recording 116 tackles, two sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss. He delivered a key performance in Iowa State’s biggest win over 2011, recording 14 tackles in the 37-31 overtime upset of Oklahoma State. He will shift from outside to man the middle linebacker spot in 2012

10. Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State
A highly regarded recruit when he signed with Miami in 2008, he struggled to earn regular playing time before he transferred to Kansas State. Back in his home state, Brown anchored the Kansas State linebacker group. He finished with 101 tackles and 9.5 tackles for a loss, using his speed to help K-State finish 37th nationally in rush defense. 

11. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
Jones wasn’t the same near the end of the season when injuries to Ryan Broyles and Dominique Whaley took their toll on the Sooners offense. On Nov. 5, Jones had 28 touchdown passes and nine interceptions, but threw one touchdown pass and six picks over the final four games. After passing for 12,379 career yards and 93 touchdowns, Jones could set a number of Big 12 records, but can he lead Oklahoma to a national title.

12. Stansly Maponga, DE, TCU
Even before last season, Maponga was tabbed as the next defensive star for the Horned Frogs. He delivered in his second season as a starter and looks to continue his improvement as a junior. Maponga had nine sacks and five forced fumbles last season. In one season, he jumped from three tackles for a loss to 13.5. The Big 12 awaits.

13. Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia
Bailey was a high school teammate of quarterback Geno Smith, and the chemistry showed. Bailey caught 72 passes, including 12 touchdowns. His 1,279 receiving yards set a school record and his eight 100-yard receiving game tied one. He’s the other half of the Big 12’s best receiving tandem along with Tavon Austin.

14. Gabe Ikard, OG, Oklahoma
With Ikard leading the way, Oklahoma expects to have one of the Big 12’s top offensive lines. He started 12 games as a freshman in 2010 and earned first-team All-Big 12 honors for his performance in 2011. Ikard’s value to the team was on full display after he moved from guard to center to replace the injured Ben Habern last year. The junior is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for 2012.

15. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
A stable force at the back end of Mack Brown’s defense since 2009, Vaccarro has played in 38 games in three seasons. The Brownwood, Texas safety nearly claimed the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award (honorable mention POY). He did a little bit of everything for Manny Diaz last fall as he set career highs in tackles (82) but also proved to be able to get into the opponent’s backfield with 8.0 TFL and 2.0 sacks. With loads of starting experience, and plenty of talent around him, the 6-foot-1, 220-pounder is easily one of the best safeties in the nation.

16. Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor
Circle Richardson’s name if you are looking for someone who could emerge as one of the nation’s best linemen in 2012. He started all 13 games at left tackle last season and earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. Richardson will move back inside to guard this year, and has massive frame (6-foot-5, 335 pounds) should give quarterback Nick Florence plenty of protection, while opening up rushing lanes for Jarred Salubi and Lache Seastrunk.

17. Brodrick Brown, CB, Oklahoma State
It’s never easy being a cornerback in the Big 12, especially when you have to face offenses at Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and now West Virginia. Brown has been one of the league’s top corners over the last two years, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors in 2011. The senior isn’t the biggest corner (5-foot-8), but he broke up 15 passes and is a physical presence on the outside.

18. Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas
Just a freshman, Diggs stepped into one of the best defensive backfields in the country last season and fit right in. The younger brother of former Longhorn and San Diego Charger Quentin Jammer, Diggs had four interceptions last season. With Diggs a year older, the Texas secondary could be even better than the one that finished 10th nationally in pass efficiency defense.

19. Nigel Malone, CB, Kansas State
The senior from Manteca, Calif., didn’t take long to prove to be another JUCO gem for Bill Snyder. The first-year player led the Big 12 in interceptions a year ago with seven and is the leading returnee in what is a depleted secondary. Expect quarterbacks to avoid Malone’s side of the field this time around.

20. Casey Pachall, QB, TCU
In filling in for the greatest QB in the history of TCU football, all Pachall did as a sophomore was set single-season school records for yards, completions and completion rate. The burly — 6-5, 226 — passer has above average athletic ability and led the Frogs to a conference championship that featured a brilliant 473-yard, 5-TD road performance against then unbeaten Boise State. Now, he steps into a league known for its quarterback play. Yet, Pachall should have no problem fitting right in. His 2,921 yards, 66.5% and 25:7 TD:INT ratio plays no matter what league he is in.

21. Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas
Few linebackers have the sheer explosiveness of the West Chester, Ohio native. He saw his first significant starting action last fall and should be ready to step into a bigger role as a junior. He racked-up 64 tackles in only eight starts and will undoubtedly make more plays in 2012.

22. Trey Millard, FB, Oklahoma
Several coaches on the Sooners’ staff consider Millard to be the best all-around player on the roster and Athlon doesn’t disagree. Intangibles, leadership and poise are difficult to measure, but his 6-foot-2, 249-pound frame isn’t — be it running, receiving, blocking or tackling.

23. Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma
Bob Stoops said Landry Jones’ late-season swoon wasn’t all on the shoulders of the quarterback. Certainly, that means Stills needs to improve his consistency. He was more productive last season as a No. 2 receiver to Ryan Broyles, but failed to catch a touchdown or produce a 100-yard game after the calendar turned to November. He has great potential, so now it’s time to put it all together.

24. Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor
Robert Griffin and Kendall Wright are gone, but the Baylor passing attack shouldn’t suffer too big of a drop in 2012. Williams will take over as the team’s No. 1 receiver after catching 59 passes for 957 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011. At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, the senior has the size and speed combination that will be very attractive for NFL teams next April. 

25. Seth Doege, QB, Texas Tech
It was easy to overlook Doege with Brandon Weeden, Landry Jones, Collin Klein and Robert Griffin all lining up under center in the Big 12. Doege finished 2011 with 4,004 yards and 28 touchdowns, including 441 yards and four scores in the upset win over Oklahoma. The senior should have a chance to push those numbers even higher in 2012, as the Red Raiders bring back receivers Eric Ward, Darrin Moore and Alex Torres, while running back Eric Stephens should be near full strength for the opener in his return from a torn ACL.

26. Josh Boyce, WR, TCU
Boyce is TCU’s top big-play threat at receiver, with nearly twice as many yards last season than the Horned Frogs’ No. 2 wideout. Boyce finished last season with 61 catches for 998 yards for an average of 14.9 yards per catch. Three of his nine touchdowns came in the upset of Boise State, including two touchdowns that torched the Broncos secondary for 74 and 69 yards.

27. Demontre Hurst, CB, Oklahoma
Improving the pass defense is one of the top priorities for new coordinator Mike Stoops. The Sooners allowed 241.5 yards per game through the air last season, including 485 in the loss to Baylor. Hurst was a second-team All-Big 12 selection last season and has started 27 games over the last two years. The senior should be Oklahoma’s top corner, but this unit will have an uphill battle to earn first-team all-conference honors with Quandre Diggs, Brodrick Brown, Nigel Malone and Carrington Byndom all returning.

28. Ben Habern, C, Oklahoma
Note: Habern retired after this article was published.
Oklahoma’s offensive line was one of the best in the Big 12 last year and will only get better with Habern’s return. The Texas native missed five games due to an arm injury in 2011, but was one of the top centers in the conference in 2010. Assuming Habern can shake off the injury bug, he will finish 2012 ranked as the Big 12’s No. 1 center and one of the leaders for one of the nation’s top offensive lines. 

29. Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State
An outside linebacker with a nose for ball, Lewis was the best of the three returning starters in that group. In two seasons, Lewis has five career interceptions, returning two for touchdowns, to go with 17.5 career tackles for a loss.

30. Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas
The Lufkin, Texas native has appeared in 25 games during his two-year career. He started every game last fall and recorded 57 tackles, 8.0 tackles for a loss and two interceptions.

31. LaAdrian Waddle, OL, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders anchor up front is this senior from Columbus, Texas. Waddle has started 25 consecutive games and enters his final season in Lubbock as a reigning second-team All-Big 12 selection. Fans can bet on a first-team-type of season from the 6-foot-6, 320-pounder.

32. Lane Taylor, OL, Oklahoma State
The leader of the Pokes offensive line, Taylor returns for his final season with 36 career starts under his belt. As the only returning starter up front for one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, the Arlington, Texas native will be counted on for more leadership this fall.

33. Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas
The talent is there, the offensive line is there and the one full year of experience is there. The only real question surrounding Brown's potential breakout sophomore campaign is his workload. Mack Brown has such a loaded backfield to work with that Brown may not get the full compliment of touches.

34. Tom Wort, LB, Oklahoma
Entering his third season as a starter, Wort has become a complete linebacker over the years. He’s topped 60 tackles both seasons and added his first two career interceptions last season. He’s tough and physical, but he’s filling a leadership void left by Travis Lewis.

35. Corey Nelson, LB, Oklahoma
As a sophomore, Nelson started 11 games and recorded 60 tackles, but the Sooners used him both at linebacker and as a stand-up defensive end. Now that he’s a junior in a linebacker corps missing Travis Lewis, Nelson’s role could be more defined.

36. Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor
Dixon was a huge catch for Baylor on the recruiting trail and the former top 100 recruit is poised for his best season in Waco. He made 89 stops and recorded one interception last year, while earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. Dixon will man Baylor’s hybrid linebacker/defensive back position and should make a push for first or second-team all-conference honors.

37. David King, DE, Oklahoma
An intriguing prospect for his first three seasons on campus, King started only eight games. Last season hinted at his potential as he finished with 31 tackles and four for a loss as a backup. Both starting ends are gone in Norman, so it’s his turn to emerge.

38. Toben Opurum, DE, Kansas
Opurum was the rare bright spot for the KU defense, with 10.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks last season. Not bad for a guy who started his career at running back and led the Jayhawks in rushing in 2009. Now in his third season on defense, he could be a breakout player.

39. Joe Madsen, C, West Virginia
The offensive line wasn’t a strength for the Mountaineers last season, and this unit must improve for West Virginia to win the Big 12. Madsen has been a consistent performer in his career, starting all 38 games and earning second-team all-conference honors last year. The senior should make a push to be the No. 1 center in the Big 12 this season.

40. Quinn Sharp, K/P, Oklahoma State
Sharp had a huge miss against Iowa State last year, but there’s no denying he’s one of the top special teams players in college football. Sharp connected on 22 of 25 field goals and averaged 46.3 yards per punt last season. He earned Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year honors in 2011 and is an Athlon Sports third-team All-American punter for 2012.

41. Meshak Williams, DE, Kansas State
Williams was an instant impact junior college transfer for the Wildcats last year. He led the team with seven sacks and ten tackles for a loss in 13 contests. Expect Williams to see a bigger role in Kansas State’s defense in 2012.

42. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Gilbert’s ability to cover wide receivers on the edge isn't the only thing he does extremely well. He is one of the league's fastest players and can be a dangerous return specialist as well — as indicated by his OSU record four kick return touchdowns.

43. Jaxon Shipley, WR, Texas
The younger brother of Jordan is a carbon copy of skillsets. He is short in stature but has great quickness, hands and acceleration. Both are good return men and both are dependable.

44. Tracy Moore, WR, Oklahoma State
Justin Blackmon is gone, and so is Josh Cooper and their 193 catches between them. Moore is the Cowboys’ top returning receiver with 45 receptions for 692 yards and four touchdowns. The early returns on his move from inside receiver to outside have been positive.

45. Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma
The junior started at strong safety last season after playing his freshman season at cornerback. Colvin, who had 84 stops last season, might be best suited for corner, but that might depend on the rest of the personnel in the secondary.

46. Darrin Moore, WR, Texas Tech
A suspension for a DWI arrest has clouded Moore’s status with the team for 2012. Before a leg injury against Nevada last year, Moore was one of college football’s leading receivers with 21 receptions through the first two games. If he avoids a length suspension, the senior should finish 2012 ranked higher on this list.

47. Mason Walters, OL, Texas
The top blocker on a unit that has underachieved, Walters has started all 25 games of his two-year career at right guard. He is hoping to build upon his honorable mention All-Big 12 selection from last year.

48. Tanner Hawkinson, OT, Kansas
Hawkinson hasn’t gained much national recognition, but he’s quietly emerged as a solid lineman in the Big 12. He enters 2012 with 36 consecutive starts and is an Athlon Sports second-team All-Big 12 selection for 2012.

49. Steve Edmond, LB, Texas
If there’s a hole in the Texas defense, it’s at linebacker where Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson are gone. The sophomore Edmond is a hard-hitter who will need to emerge as a full-time difference-maker this season.

50. Tyler Lockett, WR/RS, Kansas State
Lockett missed significant time with an injury but still earned Freshman All-American honors based on huge special teams play. Expect an expanded role in 2012.

Team Breakdown of the Top 50 Players

Baylor - 3
Iowa State - 2
Kansas - 2
Kansas State - 5
Oklahoma - 11
Oklahoma State - 7
TCU - 3
Texas - 10
Texas Tech - 3
West Virginia - 4

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

Related Big 12 Content

Big 12 Defensive Line Rankings for 2012
College Football Bowl Projections for 2012

Big 12 Offensive Line Rankings for 2012

Big 12 Wide Receiver Rankings for 2012
Athlon's 2012 Big 12 Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-Big 12 Team

Big 12 Heisman Contenders for 2012
College Football Realignment Winners and Losers
The History of Big 12 Realignment
Introducing West Virginia to the Big 12
TCU Comes Home to the Big 12

Teaser:
<p> Big 12 Player Rankings: The Top 50 Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 06:06
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/15-unethical-college-football-programs
Body:

Penalties and sanctions are an unfortunate and rather large part of college football. The NCAA has been especially busy over the last few years, as Penn State, Ohio State, North Carolina, USC and Miami have all run into some sort of trouble with in regards to violations. 

In light of the recent sanctions handed down at Penn State, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look back at some of the most unethical programs/moments in college football history.

Alabama
Mike DuBose took over at Alabama after a successful run by Gene Stallings, but the program recorded only two bowl appearances under his watch. The highlight of DuBose’s tenure was a 10-3 record in 1999 but that year also brought plenty of controversy. Alabama booster Logan Young paid Means’ high school coach to have the top recruit join the Crimson Tide, which brought on an extensive hit from the NCAA. Alabama was banned for two years from postseason play and were forced to reduce 21 scholarships. This incident wasn’t the only one in recent years for the Crimson Tide, as the program was forced to vacate 21 wins from 2005-07 as a result of a textbook scandal.

Colorado
Gary Barnett may have taken the Purple to Pasadena during a groundbreaking tenure at formerly hapless Northwestern, but his reputation took a hit during a controversial stint at Colorado. A culture of corruption apparently existed on Barnett's watch, including the use of sex and booze to entice recruits to Boulder. Equally damaging was Barnett's dismissive attitude toward rape allegations levied by placekicker Katie Hnida. A 70–3 loss to Texas in the 2005 Big 12 Championship game, along with more allegations of improprieties, led to Barnett's resignation. The program was put on probation and fined for the specific violation of undercharging athletes for meals over a six-year period.

Florida
Before Steve Spurrier arrived in Gainesville, the Gators football program was a bit of an underachieving, probation-earning mess. The low point came under coach Charley Pell. After an 0–10–1 season in 1979, his first year at the helm, Pell earned eight wins during an impressive second campaign and seemed to have the Gators on the brink of title contention in the SEC after a 9–2–1 season in 1984. But those improvements had come at a cost. The NCAA found Pell's program to have committed 59 infractions, resulting in a TV and bowl ban for the 1985 and 1986 seasons and a three-year scholarship reduction, penalties that crippled the program until Spurrier's arrival in 1990.

Florida State
The Seminoles encountered two scandals under former coach Bobby Bowden. A sports agent bought more than $6,000 worth of shoes for Florida State players in 1993, putting the program on probation for a year. The Seminoles ran into NCAA trouble once again in 2007, as 61 players from 10 sports were implicated in an academic scandal. Florida State’s football program was forced to vacate 12 wins and six scholarships.

Hart Lee Dykes (OSU, Texas A&M, Illinois, Oklahoma)
Never has an underachieving wide receiver wreaked so much havoc on the recruiting trail. The Bay City, Texas, native was the subject of a furious recruiting battle that raised the suspicions of the NCAA, and for good reason. Granted immunity by the NCAA for cooperating in their investigation, Dykes revealed a bidding war that involved Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Illinois and Oklahoma State — all of which ended up on probation. The Cowboys finally "earned" Dykes' services, and he contributed to a potent OSU offense, although the presence of Thurman Thomas, Barry Sanders and Mike Gundy no doubt played a role in the Cowboys’ success as well.

Miami
The Hurricanes have been in and out of the NCAA doghouse over the last 20 years. Former academic advisor Tony Russell helped to falsify Pell Grants in the 1990s, which helped add some extra cash in the pockets of athletes. Miami lost 31 scholarships over three years and faced a one-year bowl ban. The Hurricanes are under NCAA scrutiny once again, as former booster Nevin Shapiro allegedly provided extra benefits to players. One of Shapiro’s associates (Sean Allen) was recently accused of continuing to work as an illegal recruiter for Miami. Miami instituted a bowl ban in 2011 to help soften the blow from the Shapiro investigation, but the program is still facing stiff penalties from the NCAA.

North Carolina
Butch Davis guided Miami in the aftermath of NCAA sanctions but ran afoul of the NCAA in Chapel Hill. While it’s unfair to pin everything on Davis, especially with line coach John Blake steering players to an agent, but he certainly has to take some of the blame. The allegations weren’t limited to Blake, as some Tar Heel players received improper benefits and there’s an ongoing investigation into an academic scandal. 

Oklahoma
Barry Switzer was a self-proclaimed players' coach, and late in his tenure in Norman, the inmates were clearly in charge of the asylum. The Sooners athletic dorm was the scene of drug use and gunplay, and former star quarterback Charles Thompson was arrested for attempting to sell cocaine to undercover FBI agents, resulting in Sports Illustrated's famous cover featuring Thompson in handcuffs and prison orange, under the heading "Oklahoma: A Sordid Story - How Barry Switzer's Sooners Terrorized Their Campus." Switzer resigned in 1989, as the program he left behind was going on NCAA probation.

Ohio State
NCAA sanctions derailed a potential run at a national title for Ohio State in 2011. The Buckeyes were picked by many to win the Big Ten last season but Jim Tressel resigned in late May, star quarterback Terrelle Pryor did quit the team in June, and the team had to deal with suspensions and a black cloud hanging over the program all year. The Buckeyes’ troubles began when Tressel failed to report violations of players selling memorabilia for money and tattoos in April 2010. These violations came to light in December 2010, but Pryor and four other teammates were still allowed to participate in the Sugar Bowl. The NCAA tagged Ohio State with a one-year bowl ban in 2012 and docked the Buckeyes nine scholarships over three years.

Penn State
What was once one of college football’s premier programs was hammered with NCAA violations following a child sexual assault scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Head coach Joe Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and school vice president Gary Schultz all failed to report Sandusky after learning of allegations in 1998 and 2001, which eventually led the downfall of the program. Paterno was fired in November 2011, while Schultz and Curley are facing perjury charges. The Nittany Lions were slapped with a four-year postseason ban beginning in 2012, must pay a $60 million fine, vacation of wins from 1998-2011 and a reduction in scholarships to 15 a year.

SMU
Still the gold standard for cheating in college football, the SMU Mustang football program of the early and mid-1980s was the poster child for the renegade Southwest Conference and general college football lawlessness. An NCAA investigation revealed the existence of a "slush fund" for athletes, and it came to light that in 1985 and 1986 alone, 13 players had been paid a total of $61,000. But that was probably only the tip of an iceberg of corruption; Eric Dickerson had notoriously spent his senior season in high school tooling around Sealy, Texas, in a shiny new Trans-Am before unexpectedly committing to the Mustangs. On Feb. 25, 1987, the NCAA hammer fell in the form of an unprecedented "death penalty" — the suspension of the football program for the 1987 season and the loss of all four home games in 1988.

Texas A&M
Speaking of the Southwest Conference, a close runner-up for mid-1980s corruption in the storm-tossed league would seem to be Texas A&M. Amid positive developments under Jackie Sherrill, such as Cotton Bowls and the institution of the 12th Man tradition, the Aggies ran a loose ship and were ultimately deemed to be guilty of such shenanigans as improper employment, extra benefits, unethical conduct and lack of institutional control. Sherrill was not personally implicated in the infractions, but he did resign in 1988, the same year his program went on probation.

Washington
Don James was a legend in Seattle, leading the Huskies to six Pac-10 titles, four Rose Bowl wins and a share of the 1991 national championship. Sadly, his career ended in ignominy, as improper booster involvement — including loans, summer jobs and funds for on-campus visits — led to the dreaded NCAA label of "lack of institutional control" and earned the school NCAA and Pac-10 sanctions. James resigned in protest of a lack of support for the coaching staff by then-university president William Gerberding.

UCLA
He never made it in the pros, but Cade McNown had a stellar college career — and he was also at the center of a major scandal. McNown and other players were charged with illegal possession of handicapped parking passes, leading to countless parking violations and misdemeanor charges for the players involved. McNown pleaded no contest to the charge. In all, 19 Bruins players were implicated in the scam.

USC
Pete Carroll turned USC back into a national title contender but the program also ran afoul of the NCAA under his watch. Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush was allegedly provided gifts, which resulted the NCAA hitting USC with the dreaded lack of institutional control. The Trojans were hit with a two-year postseason ban and a reduction in 30 scholarships over three years. The Trojans are still dealing with the effects of the penalties but should be one of the top contenders for college football’s national title in 2012.

Related College Football Content

Athlon's 2012 College Football Rankings
2012 Bowl Projections

Where Penn State's Players Could Transfer

Did the NCAA Get it Right With Penn State Sanctions?

20 Worst College Football Tenures of the Last 50 Years

Teaser:
<p> 15 Unethical College Football Programs</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 05:57
Path: /college-football/unit-rankings-2012-big-ten-linebackers
Body:

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is still two months away, but it's never too early to project how the year might play out. Athlon will be taking a look at how each position stacks up in the BCS conferences and nationally until the start of the season.

Each unit ranking was evaluated based upon how it will perform in 2012 - not how the team played in 2011.

Ranking the Big Ten's Linebackers for 2012

1. Michigan StateFew teams in the nation have as complete and talented a linebacking corps as Mark Dantonio has in East Lansing. A dependable, consistent tackling machine up the middle? His name is Max Bulllough. A speedy, explosive outside backer who can pressure the quarterback with the best defensive ends in the nation? Check, his name is Denicos Allen. A rangy, powerful strongside senior who fills gaps and delivers big hits? Got that too in Chris Norman. Toss in a deep group of thumpers who are champing at the bit to get playing time and Pat Narduzzi has the pleasure of the Big Ten’s top linebackers.

2. Wisconsin The Badgers don’t have the depth of Michigan State or Penn State, but few teams in the nation have a duo like Chris Borland and Mike Taylor. Borland is a relentless playmaker who finds the football on a regular basis, while Taylor dominates the weakside with a Big Ten-leading 150 tackles. Both were healthy and both enter year two in their new positison (Borland slide inside last fall) and should be that much better. Ethan Armstrong and Conor O’Neill will battle for the third starting spot. Not many teams have one All-American candidate at linebacker and Wisconsin has two.

3. Penn State Penn State fans certainly expect talented linebacker play in Beaver Stadium. With yet another stacked set of linebackers, the Linebacker-U moniker given to PSU many years ago won’t go anywhere in 2012. Gerald Hodges is one of the nation’s best outside players and could be a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year candidate. The consistent Glenn Carson returns to the middle while Michael Mauti is welcomed back into the starting lineup after tearing his ACL last September. With future stars like Khairi Fortt and Mike Hull on the depth chart, this unit will easily be the most dependable group of Nittany Lions this fall.

4. Ohio StateWhen Storm Klein was dismissed from the roster this summer, Urban Meyer was faced with a linebacking corps with no returning starters. Have no fear, however, as this is still Ohio State. There is plenty of talent left on the roster in the form of Ryan Shazier, Etienne Sabino and Curtis Grant. This trio could be more explosive and athletic if it can deliver on its elite recruiting status. Conner Crowell and Stewart Smith will figure in the mix as well. With a powerful defensive line in front of them, whoever lines-up at linebacker for the Buckeyes will have little excuse in 2012.

5. Michigan There is a lot to like about the Wolverines linebacking corps. All three starters return, including an extremely talented true freshman named Joe Bolden. Although the Wolverines bring back some solid talent, there are also concerns about toughness and consistency. Desmond Morgan, Kenny Demens and Jake Ryan could all be shuffled around if Bolden can pick up the college game quick enough. Ryan seems the safest at strongside, but Demens could easily shift outside to accommodate Bolden. There is a lot of talent and experience here, but nothing is set in stone for this Maize and Blue tackling unit.

6. Illinois Champaign is no joke when it comes to linebackers. A long and storied tradition of tacklers should continue in 2012 with star junior Jonathan Brown. His 108 stops paced the Illini a year ago and he should develop into the leader of the Orange Crush defense. A trio of southern linebackers — Houston Bates, Ralph Cooper, Henry Dickinson — will fill the other traditional spot next to Brown. Technically, Ashante Williams is listed as a linebacker but is really more of a hybrid at the STAR position. He is 5-11, 205 pounds and got plenty of experience last year after Trulon Henry went out. This is a unique alignment that was ranked the No. 2 defense in the Big Ten last fall. Brown is being counted on as the next big star on the Illini defense.

7. Iowa Two starters return to Kinnick Stadium in the form of juniors James Morris and Christian Kirksey. Each tied with the team lead in stops at 110 a year ago and should continue the recent Iowa tradition of stout linebacker play. If they both can stay healthy all year long, this unit has a chance to be improved. Former defensive back Anthony Hitchens will try to hold off a collection of hard-charging underclassmen for the third and final spot. The group has to show improvement in a crucial year in Iowa under new coordinator Phil Parker.

8. Nebraska Lavonte David was a special talent who cannot be replaced. Yet, that is exactly what Will Compton has been charged with doing in 2012. He is now the leader of this set of tacklers from his middle backer position. Alonzo Whaley will get the first chance at filling David’s weakside spot while Sean Fisher brings senior experience to the strongside. Two possibly contributors will be fellow redshirt freshmen David Santos and Max Pirman. Santos was poised to play a year ago before an injury forced Bo Pelini’s hand. Both could play significant minutes now that David is gone.

9. Purdue The return of middle linebacker Dwayne Beckford is a must for Danny Hope’s bowl aspirations in 2012. After some legal issues at the end of last fall and into the spring, Beckford appears ready to anchor the middle of the Boilermakers defense. Will Lucas will be more productive in the simplified system. Joe Gilliam, Armstead Williams and Andy Garcia are three youngsters who will battle for starting time in the base 4-3 scheme.

10. MinnesotaSenior outside backer Mike Rallis was a pleasant surprise in the spring when moved inside. He showed a knack for recognition and leadership and his shift inside stabilizing the middle of the Gopher defense. Keanon Cooper and converted safety James Manuel  are now free to roam the edge with the speed and quickness that Jerry Kill desires. The duo should make the Gophers defense significantly faster in 2012. Jephte Matilus provides intriguing depth as well. This unit should be improved.

11. Northwestern It’s only fitting that a Pat Fitzgerald-coached team will have experience and leadership at the linebacker position. With three starters back, the former linebacker himself has to be excited about his former unit. David Nwabuisi, Damien Proby and Collin Ellis return the linebacking corps completely intact for 2012. Now, they need to show improved toughens and mental acumen. Something that shouldn’t be an issue for a coach of Fitzgerald’s pedigree. The staff is also excited about the athleticism and depth behind its starters as well.

12. IndianaThis unit will feature plenty of new faces in 2012, as two junior college recruits could be starting from day one. Both David Cooper and Jacarri Alexander enrolled in January and proved to be talented enough in spring to start. Redshirt sophomore Chase Hoobler also showed in spring that he could take on more of a role in his second year. This defense finished last in the Big Ten in scoring, rushing and total defense, so newcomers were needed to inject energy.

 

-by Braden Gall

@bradengall 

Related Big Ten Content

Ranking the Big Ten's Defensive Lines for 2012
Michigan State is an Emerging Big Ten Power

Ranking the Big Ten's Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Big Ten's Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

College Football Bowl Projections for 2012

Big Ten's Top 25 Heisman Contenders

Athlon's 2012 All-Big Ten Team

Athlon's 2012 Big Ten Predictions

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers for 2012

Urban Meyer's Arrival Has Ohio State Back on Track

Teaser:
<p> Unit Rankings: 2012 Big Ten Linebackers</p>
Post date: Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 05:49
Path: /college-football/big-east-player-rankings-top-50-players-2012
Body:

Ranking the best of the best in any conference is never an easy task. However, the Big East was perhaps the most difficult BCS league to rank. Rutgers' Khaseem Greene is an Athlon Sports' second-team All-American selection, but there's also a handful of young players ready to emerge in 2012. Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater is coming off an impresive freshman campaign and should only get better in 2012. Pittsburgh's Ray Graham was well on his way to rushing for 1,000 yards last year but suffered a torn ACL in the victory over Connecticut.

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

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

Athlon's Top 50 Big East Players for 2012

1. Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers (SR)
Shifting Greene from safety to linebacker paid big dividends for Rutgers’ defense in 2011. He led the team with 141 tackles, recorded 14 tackles for a loss and forced two fumbles. Greene was named a first-team All-Big East selection and shared the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year honor with Cincinnati’s Derek Wolfe. Even with a new defensive coordinator, Greene is primed for another big season and is projected as an Athlon Sports second-team All-American for 2012.

2. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh (JR)
A local product out of Pittsburgh Penn Hills, Donald was second in the Big East with 11 sacks and tied for second with 16 tackles for a loss in his first season as a starter. He will have to adjust to a 4-3 defense after playing every lineman position in the 3-4 last season. He started the final five games at end last season, but he’ll be a tackle in 2012.

3. Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh
After Oct. 15, Graham was second in the nation in rushing at 134 yards per game. Alas, his season came to an end the following week with a torn ACL against Connecticut. When healthy, Graham, who is Khaseem Greene’s half brother, was a big-play back (5.8 yards per carry) despite subpar offensive line play. He could flourish in Paul Chryst’s offense.

4. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
As expected, Bridgewater experienced ups and downs as a freshman last season. He threw an interception in his only pass attempt in the opener against Murray State but finished the year with five touchdown tosses over the final two games. Bridgewater’s play was crucial to keeping Louisville in the Big East title hunt last season and will only get better as a sophomore. With plenty of weapons at his disposal and a talented offensive line, Bridgewater should finish 2012 ranked among the top five players in the Big East.

5. Justin Pugh, OL, Syracuse
One of the nation’s top offensive tackles, Pugh enters his junior season with high expectations. He has started all 25 games over the last two seasons, culminating in two all-conference awards (2nd team in 2010 and 1st team in 2011). He has paved the way for back-to-back 1,000-yard rushers and is charged with protecting star quarterback Ryan Nassib this fall. With a great year at Syracuse, Pugh could leave early for the NFL following the 2012 season.

6. Ryne Giddins, DE, South Florida
Giddins as a huge catch for South Florida on the recruiting trail and has steadily climbed the ranks to be one of the Big East’s top defenders. He started two games in 2010 and recorded 3.5 sacks in limited action. Giddins stepped up his play last season, recording 5.5 sacks and 44 tackles in 12 starts. He also earned second-team All-Big East honors in 2011. Giddins is South Florida’s best speed rusher and is poised to have his best all-around year in 2012.

7. Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers
As a Thorpe and Benarik Award watch lister, Ryan might be the top pure coverman in the Big East. The in-state product (New Berlin, N.J.) posted 67 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 14 pass break ups and three interceptions as only a sophomore on what was easily the league’s top defense. Ryan is getting plenty of NFL attention and could be tempted to leave for the next level with another stellar year of play in Piscataway.

8. Hakeem Smith, S, Louisville
After a Big East Rookie of the Year award back in 2010, Smith turned in a first-team All-Big East season as only a sophomore last fall. The Jonesboro, Ga., native has quickly supplanted himself as one of the most versatile safeties in the country. The junior has posted back-to-back 80-tackle seasons and has a chance to enter the NFL Draft in 2013 with another great campaign this year. Especially, if he can lead the Cardinals defense to a Big East Championship.

9. DeDe Lattimore, LB, South Florida
The speedy linebacking corps is the backbone of the USF defense, and Lattimore is the best of the bunch. A starter since his redshirt freshman season, Lattimore finished 2011 with 94 tackles, including 13 tackles for a loss and seven sacks.

10. Lyle McCombs, RB, Connecticut
The Huskies have had a recent tradition of churning out talented and productive tailbacks. McCombs proved a year ago that he is the next in line after rushing for 1,151 yards and seven touchdowns as only a freshman. The diminutive runner — listed at 5-foot-8 and 166 pounds — has a shot at Big East Offensive Player of the Year honors should a reworked offensive line gel quickly in front of him.

11. Mario Benavides, C, Louisville
Benavides was hobbled early last season due to a knee injury and his leadership and presence on the offensive line was clearly missed. In his absence, Louisville managed only one rushing score and managed 83 rushing yards against FIU. The Cardinals line improved once Benavides returned to the lineup, recording at least 100 rushing yards in eight of the last nine games. The senior should be the Big East’s top center and has been selected to the Rimington Award watch list.

12. Jarred Holley, S, Pittsburgh
Holley is entering his fourth season as a starter for his third head coach with the Panthers. Holley set a career high in tackles last season with 67, but he’s also proven to be a ball hawk with five interceptions as a sophomore and three as a redshirt freshman. 

13. Steve Beauharnais, LB, Rutgers
It’s easy to overlook Beauharnais considering he plays next to All-American candidate Khaseem Greene. However, the senior is one of the Big East’s premier defenders, as evidenced by his 16 tackles for a loss and five sacks last year. Beauharnais will have to adjust to a new coordinator but he should close out his Rutgers’ career with a standout senior season.

14. Mark Popek, OL, South Florida
In his first full season as starter, the left tackle anchored an offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks in the Big East and led the conference in rushing.

15. B.J. Daniels, QB, South Florida
Few players since Michael Vick have possessed the type of speed, explosiveness and running ability that Daniels showed early in his career. Developing into a great quarterback, however, takes more than athletic ability. Entering his fourth year as the starter, Daniels is poised for his best season. He has elevated his completion rate all three seasons and posted easily his best statistical season in 2011 (3,186 total yards, 19 total TD). With a stable coaching staff and his best supporting cast yet, USF fans can expect big things from the Tallahassee native in 2012.

16. Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse
After leading Syracuse to a bowl game in his first season as a starter in 2010, Nassib watched his numbers improve in 2011, but the Orange slipped to a 5-7 record. His 2,685 passing yards and 259 completions were a Syracuse single-season high, while tying the school-record for touchdown passes in a year (22). The Orange finished last in the Big East in scoring and total defense last season, so it’s up to Nassib and the offense to carry this team in 2012. With Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales back at receiver, Nassib should have a chance to surpass last season’s totals.

17. Montel Harris, RB, Temple
A knee injury sidelined Harris for nearly all of last season, but when healthy, he is one of the top backs in the Big East. The senior transferred to Temple from Boston College for his final year of eligibility and enters 2012 as the NCAA’s active leading rusher with 3,735 yards. Harris should team with Matt Brown to form a dangerous one-two punch against Big East defenses. The senior could finish 2012 higher on this list but also needs to prove his knee is 100 percent.

18. Trevardo Williams, DE, Connecticut
The undersized defensive end from Bridgeport, Conn. has yet to miss a game in his three-year Husky career. He set career highs with 43 total tackles, 15.0 tackles for a loss and led the Big East with 12.5 sacks last fall.

19. Walter Stewart, DE, Cincinnati
The Ashville, Ohio native has never missed a game in his Bearcat career and could be in for a breakout final season. He posted 44 total tackles, 11.0 tackles for a loss and 6.0 sacks, while helping Cincinnati's defense show big improvement last year.

20. Sio Moore, LB, Connecticut
From North Carolina originally, Moore is in for big things in 2012. He has 196 total tackles over the last two seasons and has played in opposing backfields the entire time. Need proof? How about 6.5 sacks in 2011 and 27.5 career tackles for a loss?

21. Scott Vallone, DL, Rutgers
The defensive line will lean heavily on Vallone again as the starting linebackers and defensive backs return almost entirely intact. He had 58 tackles and 8.5 tackles for a loss last season.

22. Ryan Griffin, TE, Connecticut
Griffin will never be the flashiest pass-catching tight end in any league, but his all around play as both an in-line blocker and experienced receiver make him the best tight end in the Big East. His leadership will be invaluable along the line this fall.

23. Adrian Bushell, CB, Louisville
Bushell joined Louisville just before the start of last season and finished as a first-team All-Big East selection. Despite not having much time to get acquainted with his new surroundings, he recorded 50 tackles, one interception and blocked two kicks. Bushell should be Louisville’s top corner and build upon a promising 2011 season.

24. Kayvon Webster, CB, South Florida
The former nickelback emerged in his first season as a full-time starter, recording a career-high 49 tackles and returning a fumble 96 yards for a touchdown in the win over Notre Dame.

25. Marquis Spruill, LB, Syracuse
As a sophomore, Spruill was thrust into a leadership role in an inexperienced group of linebackers. That won’t be the case in 2012.

26. Alec Lemon, WR, Syracuse
Lemon was quarterback Ryan Nassib’s top target last season, catching 68 passes for 834 yards and six touchdowns. He earned second-team All-Big East honors and enters 2012 as Syracuse’s No. 1 option in the passing game once again. Lemon ranks fifth on Syracuse’s career receptions list and should push for at least 70 in 2012.

27. Devin Street, WR, Pittsburgh
Arguably the best deep threat and most talented wideout in the league, Street has a chance to post huge numbers in Paul Chryst’s new offensive scheme. He posted 471 yards on 33 catches over the final six games of the year last fall. Expect 1,000 yards from Street in 2012.

28. Duron Harmon, S, Rutgers
After spending his first two years as a backup, Harmon emerged as one of the leaders in the secondary in 2011. He made 49 tackles and picked off five passes, en route to earning first-team All-Big East honors. With another offseason to work as the starter, Harmon build upon last year's success with another All-Big East campaign in 2012.

29. Matt Brown, RB, Temple
At 5-foot-5 and 165 pounds, Brown doesn’t have the ideal size to be an every-down back. However, he was been a perfect complement to Bernard Pierce over the last three years, rushing for 2,275 yards and 18 scores. Brown will be expected to work in the same role in 2012, as Boston College transfer Montel Harris is likely to be the lead back. 

30. Sam Barrington, LB, South Florida
Another cog in USF’s impressive linebacker trio, Barrington had a career-high 72 tackles last season along with 6.5 tackles for a loss. He’s entering his third year as a starter.

31. Preston Brown, LB, Louisville
Replacing middle linebacker Dexter Heyman is the biggest concern for coordinator Vance Bedford this fall. However, Bedford and Charlie Strong hope shifting Brown from the outside to the interior will keep Louisville’s defense ranked among the top 10 nationally in rush defense. Brown recorded 84 stops last year.

32. Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, Connecticut
The Huskies’ pass defense fell apart when Wreh-Wilson was hurt last season. The senior had four interceptions and two touchdowns in his last full season in 2010.

33. Drew Frey, S, Cincinnati
Sixth-year senior set career high last season with 73 tackles and eight pass break ups. He’s one of three returning starters in the Cincinnati secondary.

34. Dan Giordano, DL, Cincinnati
Senior defensive end kept pressure on quarterbacks with five sacks and seven QB hurries.

35. Sterling Griffin, WR, South Florida
After catching 40 passes in the first seven games, Griffin’s momentum was slowed due to a broken foot suffered in the 37-34 loss to Cincinnati. The junior should be B.J. Daniels’ No. 1 target in 2012.

36. Kaleb Johnson, OT, Rutgers
Johnson turned in a solid freshman campaign, recording 11 starts at right tackle and was named a FWAA Freshman All-American. He is expected to start on the left side in 2012 and could push for All-Big East honors. 

37. Chris Jacobson, OL, Pittsburgh
Jacobson can be Pitt’s best lineman when healthy, but he’s suffered season-ending knee injuries in 2007 and 2011.

38. DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
With Teddy Bridgewater’s development comes opportunity for Parker. As only a sophomore, six of his 18 total catches last fall went for touchdowns.

39. K’Waun Williams, CB, Pittsburgh
The junior could be headed to a breakout season after recording 64 tackles and six pass break ups last season.

40. Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers
Is 32.5 yards per catch good? That is what the freakishly talented (6-6, 220) Coleman did as a sophomore on only 17 receptions. He was second on the team with six TD catches.

41. Adam Masters, OL, Connecticut
With Moe Petrus and Mike Ryan gone, Masters will need to become the new senior anchor of the line.

42. Jawan Jamison, RB, Rutgers
Jamison overshadowed the much more touted Savon Huggins a year ago by leading the team in carries (231), yards (897) and touchdowns (9) as only a freshman.

43. Shamarko Thomas, S, Syracuse
Thomas will be the headliner in a Syracuse secondary that must improve after allowing 258.3 passing yards per game in 2011. He has posted back-to-back seasons of 67 tackles but has yet to record his first career interception.

44. Dwayne Gratz, CB, Connecticut
The second half of the Huskies senior cornerback tandem, Gratz had three interceptions and 4.5 sacks last season.

45. Jory Johnson, LB, Connecticut
Johnson broke through in his first year as a starter, recording 97 tackles and two interceptions. He should team with Sio Moore and Yawin Smallwood to form one of the Big East’s best linebacking trios.

46. Michael Smith, WR, Connecticut
Smith missed last season due to academic reasons, but he led the Huskies’ in receiving (46 catches, 615 yards) in 2010.

47. Jesse Joseph, DE, Connecticut
Injuries prevented Joseph from improving upon his 2010 numbers – 39 tackles, 8.5 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. With a full offseason to recover, he will be expected to rank among the Big East’s top pass rushers.

48. R.J. Dill, OT, Rutgers
Dill transferred from Maryland to Rutgers for his final season of eligibility. He will be the Scarlet Knights’ most experienced lineman after recording 33 starts with the Terrapins.

49. Ryan Turnley, C, Pittsburgh
In his first year at the position, Turnley started at 13 games at center despite dealing with injuries all year. With a healthy line and Ray Graham around him, Pitt’s rushing attack should be improved under Chryst.

50. Roy Philon, DT, Louisville
Philon was a key cog in Louisville’s run defense last season and should only get better as a junior in 2012. He recorded 36 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 2011.
 

Team Breakdown of the Top 50 Players  
Cincinnati - 3
Connecticut - 10
Louisville - 7
Pittsburgh - 7
Rutgers - 9
South Florida - 7
Syracuse - 5
Temple - 2

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

Related Big East Content

Ranking the Big East Linebacking Corps for 2012
Ranking the Big East Defensive Lines for 2012

College Football 2012 Bowl Projections

College Football's Top 10 Impact Transfers

Ranking the Big East's Offensive Lines for 2012

Ranking the Big East's Wide Receiving Corps for 2012

Top 25 Big East Heisman Contenders for 2012

Athlon's 2012 Big East Predictions

Athlon's 2012 All-Big East Team

Which Big East Teams Are on the Rise Heading into 2012?

Teaser:
<p> Big East Player Rankings: The Top 50 Players for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 06:52
All taxonomy terms: Notre Dame Fighting Irish, News
Path: /news/notre-dame-unveils-sharp-looking-gloves-2012
Body:

There's no question Notre Dame's helmet is one of the most recognizable in college football. While there has been few changes to the Irish's uniforms throughout the years, the team is doing its best to keep up with the recent trends in college football. Uniform changes and different colors/schemes are a current craze across the nation, but it's hard to go wrong with Notre Dame's traditional look. 

On Tuesday, the Irish's football equipment twitter account revealed some sharp-looking gloves for Notre Dame for the 2012 season. The gloves include the famous motto outside of the Irish locker room and should be a hit with the players.

The only complaint with Notre Dame's new gloves...where is the "M" in champion? 

Teaser:
<p> Notre Dame Unveils Sharp-Looking Gloves for 2012</p>
Post date: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - 06:35

Pages