Articles By Steven Lassan

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Path: /news/kansas-ohio-state-forgotten-final-four-matchup
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While all the Final Four hype seems wrapped around the David-Goliath plotline behind SEC’s powerhouse, Kentucky Wildcats, and their in-state rival, Louisville; the overshadowed match-up between Ohio State and Kansas will be quite the game as well. Though there is little rivalry between these two, the talent and tenacity of both teams—and readiness to avenge a loss for Ohio State— will make it nearly impossible for any fan painted head-to-toe in blue and white, or sporting black and red; or any fan for that matter, peel away from their seats following the first game. Both two seeds have surpassed impressive teams to make it to this point and neither is ready to go home anytime soon.

Ohio State defeated 1 seed Syracuse 77-70 last Saturday to earn their first trip to Final Four since 2007 where they lost in the Championship game to Joakim Noah and the gang at Florida.  The Buckeyes overcame adversity when Jared Sullinger was called for two early fouls in the first game and sat for the remainder of the half. Upon his return, he scored 19 points and pulled down seven rebounds in the win over Syracuse. Sullinger’s performance was supplemented with Deshaun Thomas’s 14 points and nine boards; as well as, the team’s impeccable free-throw percentage down the stretch. The Buckeyes went 13 for 14 from the line within the final 68 seconds.

While it seems that Ohio State’s offense that helped them make the Final Four, it was Kansas’ hellacious defense that stunned UNC and booked them a trip to New Orleans.  Elijah Johnson’s back court presence overwhelmed the Tar Heels’ back-up point guard, Stilman White as the Jayhawks claimed the 80-67 victory.

While Sullinger’s performance seems to the key to the Buckeyes taking the game, he will have his hands full against Jayhawks’ inside presence.  Forward Thomas Robinson and Center Jeff Withey have both caused havoc in the paint on both ends of the floor all season long. If those two come to play, they will definitely give Sullinger a run for his money.

These teams met in December at Kansas, and while the Jayhawks defeated Ohio State; the absence of the Buckeye’s Sullinger was definitely not overlooked. If Sullinger can stay out of foul trouble, this game will surely to be a fight to the finish. 

by Jordan Coleman

Teaser:
<p> Kansas-Ohio State is the forgotten Final 4 game in New Orleans.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 30, 2012 - 06:52
Path: /college-football/ohio-state-buckeyes-2012-spring-preview
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By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

Ohio State Buckeyes 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 6-7, 3-5 Big Ten

Spring practice: March 28-April 21

Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 9

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Braxton Miller, 85 of 157, 1,159 yds., 13 TD, 4 INTs
Rushing: Braxton Miller, 159 car., 715 yds., 7 TDs
Receiving: Devin Smith, 14 rec., 294 yds., 4 TDs
Tackles: C.J. Barnett, 75
Sacks: John Simon, 7
Interceptions: Two players tied with 3

Redshirts to watch: OL Tommy Brown, OL Chris Carter, DL Chase Farris, DL Kenny Hayes

Early Enrollees: OL Jacoby Boren, RB Bri’onte Dunn, QB Cardale Jones, LB Joshua Perry, DB Tyvis Powell, WR Michael Thomas

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 8 UCF
Sept. 15 California
Sept. 22 UAB
Sept. 29 at Michigan State
Oct. 6 Nebraska
Oct. 13 at Indiana
Oct. 20 Purdue
Oct. 27 at Penn State
Nov. 3 Illinois
Nov. 17 at Wisconsin
Nov. 24 Michigan

Offensive Strength: Quarterback Braxton Miller was thrown into the fire as a true freshman last season and that experience should pay big dividends in 2012. Miller totaled nearly 2,000 yards of offense, while posting 20 overall scores. With another offseason under his belt and new coach Urban Meyer bringing a spread attack to Columbus, Miller will easily surpass last season’s numbers and should be among the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks.

Offensive Weakness: There’s some concern about the running backs and wide receivers, but Ohio State’s biggest issue on offense is the line. Two starters are back up front (tackle Andrew Norwell and guard Jack Mewhort), but there’s very little depth and last season’s group allowed 3.5 sacks a game. In addition to the personnel questions, the line must learn a new scheme.

Defensive Strength: 2011 wasn’t exactly a banner year for the Ohio State defense, but it wasn’t awful either. The Buckeyes should be solid in all three levels of the defense next year, but the line has potential to be one of the best in college football. End John Simon picked up seven sacks last year and will benefit from the return of Nathan Williams from a knee injury. Tackle is in good hands with Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel returning. The Buckeyes will also get some help from a talented freshman defensive line class, which will be key in replenishing the depth up front.

Defensive Weakness: With nine starters back, co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers should feel good about this group. However, there are a few things this defense needs to shore up in the spring. The pass rush generated just 1.8 sacks a game last season, while the defense forced 20 turnovers. Both of those numbers could improve in 2012.

Spring Storylines Facing the Buckeyes

1. Change is in the air in Columbus. After a messy season of distractions and a coaching change, things have finally settled down for Ohio State. New coach Urban Meyer is one of the best in college football and should lead the Buckeyes to a quick turnaround in the win column. Meyer also hired a top-notch staff, bringing in Everett Withers from North Carolina to help Luke Fickell coordinate the defense, while one of the rising stars in the assistant ranks (Tom Herman) will help call the shots on offense. Although Herman is listed as the offensive coordinator, expect Meyer to play a significant role in calling plays and developing the offensive gameplan. After Meyer dealt with health issues at Florida, it was important for Ohio State to hire a top-notch coaching staff, which it seems to have accomplished. However, it’s important for this group of coaches to jell, especially with some key question marks facing the roster in 2012.

2. Although there’s a lot of positive momentum going for Ohio State, the Buckeyes are ineligible to play for the Big Ten title and a bowl game in 2012. Although Meyer is a terrific coach, will the postseason ban have any effect on the team? With no postseason possibilities, it’s all about pride for Ohio State in 2012. If the pieces fall into place, it’s not of the question the Buckeyes can finish among the top 10-15 teams in the final postseason poll. However, with nothing to play for, Meyer and his coaching staff will have to work a little overtime to keep this team motivated and ready to play each week.

3. Michigan’s Denard Robinson should be the Big Ten’s preseason first-team all-conference quarterback, but Ohio State’s Braxton Miller should get the No. 2 spot. Miller had a solid freshman year and should flourish under Meyer. A key question facing the Ohio State offense is the playmakers around Miller. Daniel Herron departs at running back, leaving Jordan Hall, Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith as the top three options going into spring practice. True freshman Bri’onte Dunn will also be one to watch in spring workouts. The receiving corps was a disappointment last year, but there’s a lot of young talent and this group should be improved in 2012. Although there’s plenty of options at both positions, the coaching staff would like to see a pecking order develop and go-to options emerge this spring. 

4. If there is one area on offense that will likely give Meyer a reason to lose sleep at night, it’s clearly the offensive line. Tackle Andrew Norwell and guard Jack Mewhort both garnered honorable mention All-Big Ten honors, but they are the only two returning starters on the offensive line. Marcus Hall started five games last season and will be expected to emerge as one of the starters this spring. After those three, the battle to replace center Mike Brewster and tackles J.B. Shugarts and Mike Adams is the biggest issue facing Ohio State. In addition to the personnel losses, the Buckeyes are switching from a pro-style approach to a spread attack. Settling the front five and developing some depth could be the difference between finishing with seven wins and another disappointing season or 10 victories and a finish at the top of the Leaders Division.

5. Linebacker Andrew Sweat and safety Tyler Moeller will be missed, but Ohio State’s defense should be one of the best in college football this season. The defensive line is stocked with talent, including potential All-American end John Simon. This group also got an infusion of talent through recruiting, as recruits Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington, Tommy Schutt and Se’Von Pittman all ranked as a top 100 recruits in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100. Outside of building the depth on the line, the biggest priority for Fickell and Withers needs to be sorting out the linebacking corps. Etienne Sabino, Ryan Shazier and Storm Klein all have experience, but there’s very little depth. Curtis Grant figures to be the top option off the bench, but more options need to be found.

Related Content Links

Athlon's 2012 Recruiting Class Rankings: No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes
Ranking the Big Ten's Head Coaches
College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

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

Teaser:
<p> Ohio State Buckeyes 2012 spring preview.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 07:13
Path: /college-football/danny-obrien-picks-wisconsin
Body:

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on Twitter)

It is a perilous balancing act, but for the time being, Bret Bielema and the Wisconsin Badgers have their starting quarterback.

Redshirt junior-to-be Danny O’Brien announced on Wednesday that he intends to transfer from Maryland to Wisconsin following his graduation this spring. After a very public divorce from Terps head coach Randy Edsall, O’Brien will be eligible to play right away for a team that will feature a transfer under center for the second consecutive season.

And for the second consecutive season, the Badgers will likely be predicted to play in the Big Ten title game because of it.

Athlon Sports will sit down and hash out its 2012 NCAA Football predictions in the coming weeks. There are always heated arguments and flying office supplies. But with O’Brien’s decision to head to MadTown, one tough resolution has been made for us.

Ohio State and new head coach Urban Meyer have easily the best roster in the Big Ten Leaders Division. There is no reason to think that the Buckeyes won’t finish with the best record in their half of the conference. However, since the Buck-Nuts are not eligible to play in the Big Ten Championship or go to a bowl game, the second place finisher will be sent to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on December 1.

This leaves Penn State, following the darkest scandal in NCAA history and a coaching change for the first time in nearly half-of-a-century, Illinois and Purdue left to compete with the Big Red of the Dairy State. With only seven returning starters in Happy Valley, Bill O’Brien has a steep slope to climb. Illinois returns plenty of talent but is dealing with its own regime change following one of the worst collapses in recent history. Purdue, which will host the Badgers on October 13, returned to the postseason for the first time since 2007 last year and might be the top challenger in the division.

So for the time being, let’s assume Wisconsin returns to the Big Ten title game. Just how good can O’Brien and Heisman finalist Montee Ball be in 2012? Can Bielema win his third straight conference title and get to a third straight Rose Bowl  — something that has never happened to Wisconsin? Or are they simply a Leaders Division placeholder in the Oil Drum?

Unfortunately, with or without Danny O’Brien, this will not be an elite U of W team. It will not return to Pasadena. And it will not beat Michigan in the title game. Not without offensive genius and Badger alum Paul Chryst, who left to become the head coach of the Pitt Panthers, calling the plays. Not without three first-team All-Big Ten offensive lineman. Not without top wideout Nick Toon.

And O’Brien is not Russell Wilson.

Wilson was a rare leader who was poised and forced others around him to elevate their game to a championship level — and if not for two blown pass plays in the secondary, the Badgers would have been undefeated in the regular season. He owns basically every single-season, and many career, school passing records at Wisconsin in only one year. His 191.78 QB rating was a single-season NCAA record and he currently owns the NCAA all-time record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass (38 games).

Here were his stats when he left NC State to sign with Wisconsin:

36 games played
Passing: 8,545 yards, 76 TD, 26 INT
Rushing: 362 att., 1,083 yards, 17 TD

Wilson is second all-time in ACC history with 93 total touchdowns, and, after 39 more trips to paydirt and 3,513 yards of total offense, Wilson ended his college career with 13,141 yards of total offense and 132 total touchdowns.

Here are O’Brien’s stats with two years left in his career as he heads to State Street:

22 games played
Passing: 4,086 yards, 29 TD, 18 INT
Rushing: 64 att., 9 yards, 3 TD

O’Brien lost his starting job at Maryland (partly due to a terrible coaching hire by Edsall and the offense certainly missed Torrey Smith) and accounted for one touchdown in his final five games as a Terrapin. He threw more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (7) and, most importantly, his team went 2-10. Wilson was a team captain, topped the ACC in total offense and led the Pack to a 9-4 record in his final season in Raleigh.

Undoubtedly, the Wisconsin offensive line and backfield offer O’Brien a fresh start and a dramatically better situation for success. And this Big Red team should now be the favorite to represent the Leaders Division once again in 2012.

But if Wisconsin fans are going to hold O’Brien to a Wilson-esque standard of statistical and scoreboard success, they will be sorely mistaken.

Related Content

2012 Wisconsin Badgers Spring Preview
Ranking the Big Ten Coaches for 2012

Teaser:
<p> Danny O'Brien decides to transfer to Wisconsin, making the Badgers the favorites in the Big Ten Leaders Division.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 07:10
Path: /college-football/big-east-2012-football-schedule-analysis
Body:

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

The start of the 2012 college football season is still months away, but it's never too early to take a look at the schedules and examine some of the key matchups and notes for each team. The Big East is the final BCS conference to release its schedule, and due to conference realignment and trouble finding a FBS opponent, Temple may only play 11 games in 2012. 

Here's a look at the schedule and some interesting notes, observations and games to watch for each of the Big East teams in 2012:

Cincinnati 

Sept. 1 Bye Week
Sept. 6 Pittsburgh
Sept. 15 Delaware State
Sept. 22 Bye Week
Sept. 29 Virginia Tech (Landover)
Oct. 6 Miami, Ohio
Oct. 13 Fordham
Oct. 20 at Toledo
Oct. 27 at Louisville
Nov. 3 Syracuse
Nov. 10 at Temple
Nov. 17 Rutgers
Nov. 23 USF
Dec. 1 at Connecticut

* Things get started in odd fashion for Cincinnati. The Bearcats start the year with a bye week (never a good thing) before opening the year against conference contender Pittsburgh on a Thursday night. To top it off, Cincy gets its second bye week out of the way by Week 4 of the season. This gives Butch Jones 10 straight weeks of football — all starting with a visit from ACC frontrunner Virginia Tech.

* Of the four other top conference contenders, Cincinnati plays only Louisville on the road. The Bearcats get USF, Pittsburgh and Rutgers at home this fall. In fact, Jones’ squad will only leave the confines of Nippert Stadium four times and will leave the state of Ohio only three times all season.

* If it expects to compete for a Big East title, Cincinnati will have to get work done early. It will face Pitt and Louisville in the first two conference games of the year. Syracuse, Temple and Connecticut — and two home games against USF and Rutgers — are the final five games of the season. An 0-2 start in league play could seal the Bearcats fate.

Connecticut 

Aug. 30 UMass
Sept. 8 NC State
Sept. 15 at Maryland
Sept. 22 at Western Michigan
Sept. 29 Buffalo
Oct. 6 at Rutgers
Oct. 13 Temple
Oct. 19 at Syracuse
Oct. 27 Bye Week
Nov. 3 at USF
Nov. 9 Pittsburgh
Nov. 17 Bye Week
Nov. 24 at Louisville
Nov. 29 Cincinnati

* Connecticut will play one of the more interesting non-conference slates in the Big East this fall. Buffalo and UMass likely won’t present much of a challenge but Western Michigan was a bowl team and NC State is coming off a bowl win and first-weekend game against Tennessee — which will have them riding high or very angry in Week 2…

* However, the non-conference game with the most appeal is clearly a trip to Maryland to face former head coach Randy Edsall. Connecticut certainly won’t be overlooked by the man who built the Husky program and is in hot water in College Park.

* The bye weeks seem to be “interestingly” placed for the Huskies. This is a team that plays one of the tougher non-conference slates in the league, so getting two bye weeks in a four-week span after playing on eight straight weekends to start doesn’t seem right. An early bye week would have helped this team more.

* That said, the good news is the off-weekends come within the heart of the conference slate against top Big East contenders Pittsburgh, Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati.

* Connecticut will play three games on days other than Saturday. The Huskies will open the season on a Thursday night and has two Friday night contests late in the year (at Syracuse, Pittsburgh at home).

Louisville

Sept. 1 Kentucky
Sept. 8 Missouri State
Sept. 15 North Carolina
Sept. 22 at FIU
Sept. 29 at Southern Miss
Oct. 6 Bye Week
Oct. 13 at Pittsburgh
Oct. 20 South Florida
Oct. 26 Cincinnati
Nov. 3 Temple
Nov. 10 at Syracuse
Nov. 17 Bye Week
Nov. 24 Connecticut
Nov. 29 at Rutgers

* The Cardinals snapped a four-game losing streak to in-state rival Kentucky last season and will host the Wildcats in the season opener for 2012. The Cardinals have not defeated Kentucky in Louisville since 2006. However, all of the momentum is with Charlie Strong’s program after the Wildcats finished 5-7 last year.

* Louisville and North Carolina will match up for the second consecutive season. These two teams met in Chapel Hill last year, with the Tar Heels winning 14-7. The all-time series between Louisville and North Carolina is tied at three.

* You can bet revenge is on the mind of Louisville on Sept. 22. The Cardinals lost to FIU last season and won’t overlook the Golden Panthers this year. Although FIU must replace receiver T.Y. Hilton, this team will still be picked near the top of the Sun Belt and won’t be an easy out in their home stadium.

* A road trip to Southern Miss won’t be easy, but the Golden Eagles lost some of the key pieces from last season’s 12-2 team. Louisville has played Southern Miss two out of the last three years, and the Cardinals have a five-game winning streak over the Golden Eagles.

* If there’s an under-the-radar Big East game to keep an eye on, it’s the Oct. 13 date at Pittsburgh. The Panthers have a new coaching staff and some personnel questions, but this team could be a sleeper to finish among the top three in the conference. The Cardinals need to get off to a good start in Big East play, but a road date at Pittsburgh won’t be easy. Making matters even more difficult – Louisville has a four-game losing streak to the Panthers.

* Winning the Big East title is priority No. 1 for coach Charlie Strong, but the Cardinals are also hungry to snap a four-game losing streak to rival Cincinnati. The Cardinals host the Bearcats this season, and with the personnel losses for Cincinnati, this should be the year that streak ends.

* Louisville will have four conference home games and three on the road.

* The Big East usually schedules its expected top teams to meet in the season finale and 2012 is no different. Louisville will travel to Rutgers in a Thursday night showdown for a game that could decide the Big East crown. The Scarlet Knights lost coach Greg Schiano, but will remain one of the top teams in the conference. The Cardinals have won two in a row over the Scarlet Knights.

Pittsburgh

Sept. 1 Youngstown State
Sept. 6 at Cincinnati
Sept. 15 Virginia Tech
Sept. 22 Gardner-Webb
Oct. 5 at Syracuse
Oct. 13 Louisville
Oct. 20 at Buffalo
Oct. 27 Temple
Nov. 3 at Notre Dame
Nov. 9 at Connecticut
Nov. 17 Bye Week
Nov. 24 Rutgers
Dec. 1 at South Florida

* The Panthers will play two FCS teams, which means Pittsburgh will need seven wins to get bowl eligible in 2012.

* The Sept. 15 date between Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh will be the first meeting between these schools since 2003. The Panthers have won three in a row over the Hokies, including the last two in Pittsburgh.

* Although Pittsburgh takes on Big East preseason favorite Louisville in early October, the Panthers’ position in the final standings could largely be shaped by the final two weeks of the season. Pittsburgh takes on Rutgers on Nov. 24 and South Florida on Dec. 1 – both teams expected to push Louisville for the top spot in the Big East.

* Future ACC. Syracuse and Pittsburgh will likely meet for the final time as Big East members on Oct. 5. Although the Big East has previously mentioned it would hold the teams to the 27-month exit agreement, all signs point to the Orange and Panthers joining the ACC in time for the 2013 season.

* Pittsburgh and Notre Dame have met for each of the last four seasons, with each team winning two matchups. Can the Panthers go into South Bend and get a victory? If Pittsburgh can’t knock off Virginia Tech on Sept. 15, this would be its best opportunity to score a marquee non-conference victory.

* As mentioned previously, Pittsburgh’s game with South Florida should be one of the conference’s key games for 2012. However, the Panthers have won four in a row over the Bulls, but the last two games in Tampa have been decided by seven points (2010) and five in 2008. 

Rutgers

Sept. 1 at Tulane
Sept. 8 Howard
Sept. 15 at USF (date subject to change)
Sept. 22 at Arkansas
Sept. 29 Bye Week
Oct. 6 Connecticut
Oct. 13 Syracuse
Oct. 20 at Temple
Oct. 27 Kent State
Nov. 3 Bye Week
Nov. 10 Army
Nov. 17 at Cincinnati
Nov. 24 at Pittsburgh
Nov. 29 Louisville

* The most glaring aspect of the Scarlet Knights’ schedule is the final three weekends of the year. New coach Kyle Flood can point to back-to-back road games against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh before the season finale at home against Louisville as the defining stretch of action for his squad. It makes the early season game against USF that much more important…

* If the USF games stays put in Week 3, a key domino in the Big East title hunt will topple nearly as early as the Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game (Week 2). Other than an impossible trip to Fayetteville to face SEC contender Arkansas, every other game before November 17 is winnable…

* This is due in part to a weak non-conference slate that features Tulane, Howard, Kent State and Army. When mixed with home games against Connecticut and Syracuse as well as a road trip to Temple, the Knights could be looking at a 8-1 start if they can somehow go down to Tampa and win — a place the Knights have won two out of three all-time. USF is 2-5 all-time against Rutgers.

* The Knights will play six road games in 2012.

South Florida

Sept. 1 Chattanooga
Sept. 8 at Nevada
Sept. 15 Rutgers (date subject to change)
Sept. 22 at Ball State
Sept. 29 Florida State
Oct. 6 at Temple
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 at Louisville
Oct. 27 Syracuse
Nov. 3 Connecticut
Nov. 10 Bye Week
Nov. 17 at Miami, Fla.
Nov. 23 at Cincinnati
Dec. 1 Pittsburgh

* South Florida wins the marquee match-up award from its schedule makers. With the possible exception of Virginia Tech’s early visit to Pitt, there are few other key non-conference games for this league to prove itself. Arkansas will crush Rutgers, Syracuse will not challenge USC or Missouri, NC State will handle UConn with ease and Temple won’t play Penn State as tough in Happy Valley as it did last season in Philadelphia. The Bulls’ schedule features games against in-state rival Miami on the road (a place USF won in 2010) and Florida State at home, as well as an early road trip to Nevada. USF might have the best shot at a Big East defining non-conference win.

* Three road trips — Miami, Ball State, Nevada — and a visit from Florida State gives USF one of the tougher non-conference slates in this league.

* The bye weeks fall at perfect locations — the week before visiting Louisville on October 20 and the week before visiting Miami on November 17. These two games are “resume-building” wins for a team that hopes to contend for a conference title in 2012. Getting an extra week of preparation for those two marquee showdowns could prove large.

* The season finale, a visit from Pittsburgh, won’t ever be able to replace the Backyard Brawl (let’s get on that, Athletic Directors), but it might be a defacto conference title game. In that same week (Thursday), Louisville will visit Rutgers and both teams could know exactly what is at stake when they match-up in the New Sombrero — a BCS bowl bid.

Syracuse

Sept. 1 Northwestern
Sept. 8 USC (East Rutherford)
Sept. 15 Stony Brook
Sept. 22 at Minnesota
Sept. 29 Bye Week
Oct. 5 Pittsburgh
Oct. 13 at Rutgers
Oct. 19 Connecticut
Oct. 27 at South Florida
Nov. 3 at Cincinnati
Nov. 10 Louisville
Nov. 17 at Missouri
Nov. 23 at Temple

* For a team that will likely be fighting for bowl eligibility, the Orange has a rather tricky non-conference slate. Northwestern won’t be an easy out in the opener, although Syracuse knocked off the Wildcats 37-34 in the Carrier Dome in 2009. After taking on Northwestern in the opener, the Orange will play a neutral site affair against USC – arguably the No. 1 team in the nation. A date against Stony Brook should provide a victory, but a road date at Minnesota and against Missouri in November are two huge swing games for this team.

* Syracuse’s matchup with Temple is its first since a 34-24 loss to the Owls in 2004.

* Although the Big East previously stated its intentions to hold Syracuse and Pittsburgh in the Big East until 2013, there’s a good chance both teams depart after this season.

* In addition to Syracuse’s difficult non-conference slate, it has four Big East road games and only three at home in conference play. Considering the Orange will likely be fighting for a finish in the middle tier of the Big East, road games at Rutgers, South Florida and Cincinnati will be difficult challenge for this team as it tries to get bowl eligible.

Temple

Aug. 31 Villanova
Sept. 8 Maryland
Sept. 15 Bye Week
Sept. 22 at Penn State
Sept. 29 Bye Week
Oct. 6 South Florida
Oct. 13 at Connecticut
Oct. 20 Rutgers
Oct. 27 at Pittsburgh
Nov. 3 at Louisville
Nov. 10 Cincinnati
Nov. 17 at Army
Nov. 23 Syracuse

* For the third consecutive season, the Owls will open with rival Villanova in the battle for the Mayor’s Cup. Temple has won two in a row over Villanova, including a blowout 42-7 victory last season.

* Week 2 should be a good barometer test for Temple and Maryland. The Owls dominated the Terrapins 38-7 in College Park last season, but Temple loses a handful of key players from that team. Maryland expects to be better in Randy Edsall’s second year, but this is a very winnable game for Temple.

* The biggest challenge in the non-conference slate is clearly the Sept. 22 date at Penn State. The Owls nearly defeated the Nittany Lions last season (14-10), but have to try to pull off the upset on the road this time.

* Temple has only 11 games scheduled and may not play a 12th game in 2012.

* The Oct. 6 date against South Florida will be Temple’s return to the Big East. The Owls were a member of the Big East from 1991-2004, but were booted from the conference due to low fan support and struggling to be competitive.

* The Owls get four conference home games and three on the road.

Related Big East Content

Ranking the Big East Coaches for 2012
College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

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

Teaser:
<p> Athlon breaks down the schedules for the 2012 Big East season.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 08:23
Path: /news/virginia-tech-hokies-2012-spring-preview
Body:

— By Mark Ross

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

Virginia Tech Hokies 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 11-3, 7-1 ACC

Spring practice: March 28-April 21

Returning Starters: Offense – 3, Defense – 8

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Logan Thomas: 234 of 391, 3,013 yards, 19 TDs, 10 INTs
Rushing: Logan Thomas: 153 car., 469 yds., 11 TDs
Receiving: D.J. Coles: 36 rec., 480 yds., 3 TDs
Tackles: Antone Exum, 89
Sacks: James Gayle, 7
Interceptions: Tariq Edwards and Kyle Fuller, 2

Redshirts to watch: DT Kris Harley, LB Griffin Hite, RB Michael Holmes, WR Demitri Knowles, DE Dadi Nicholas, TE Darius Redman, DE Matt Roth, DE Justin Taylor

Early Enrollees: DE Dewayne Alford, RB J.C. Coleman, DB Donaldven Manning

2012 Schedule

Sept. 3 Georgia Tech
Sept. 8 Austin Peay
Sept. 15 at Pittsburgh
Sept. 22 Bowling Green
Sept. 29 vs. Cincinnati (Landover, Md.)
Oct. 6 at North Carolina
Oct. 13 Duke
Oct. 20 at Clemson
Nov. 1 at Miami
Nov. 8 Florida State
Nov. 17 at Boston College
Nov. 24 Virginia

Offensive Strength: Logan Thomas is one of the ACC’s top Logan Thomas is one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks and is a legitimate dual threat with both his arm and legs. Virginia Tech’s offense is in good hands with Thomas, who should continue to improve entering his second season as the Hokies’ starting quarterback.

Offensive Weakness: The offense returns just three starters and Virginia Tech faces the daunting task of replacing running back David Wilson, the ACC Player and Offensive Player of the Year in 2011. The offensive line must be rebuilt as well with center Andrew Miller the only starter returning. The returning wide receivers also must take the next step in their development to help Thomas and the passing game.

Defensive Strength: Virginia Tech returns eight starters from a unit that finished second in the ACC and top 10 in the nation in both total and scoring defense last season. The defensive line is fairly deep and the linebacking corps will get back its leader, Bruce Taylor, who missed the final six games of the 2011 season because of a foot injury. The Hokies also have two of the ACC’s top defensive backs in Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller.

Defensive Weakness: Although Taylor returns to bolster the linebacking corps, the unit is relatively young and will be without Tariq Edwards this spring. Edwards, who was the team’s third-leading tackler in 2011, will be out the next four months as he recovers from leg surgery. Outside of Exum and Fuller, the secondary is inexperienced and will be a focus of the coaching staff during spring practice.

Spring Storylines Facing the Hokies

1. All David Wilson did last season was rush for a school-record 1,709 yards, accounting for 65 percent of the ACC’s second-best rushing attack all by his lonesome. With Wilson off to the NFL, the opportunity is there for someone to take advantage of the opportunity and become the next in a long line of productive Virginia Tech running backs. The question is who? Daniel Dyer and Tony Gregory are the returning running backs with the most experience, but they combined for a grand total of 57 yards last season. Thomas is the team’s leading returning rusher, but the quarterback can’t expected to do it all, so the Hokies are really hoping someone stands out during spring practice. That someone could be either redshirt freshman Michael Holmes or early enrollee J.C. Coleman.

2. Virginia Tech’s offensive line was one of the best in the ACC last season, as it gave up the second-fewest sacks per game in the conference and ranked 22nd in the nation. Four starters, including three who received All-ACC recognition, are gone with center Andrew Miller the lone returning starter. It’s no secret that the Hokies have big shoes to fill when it comes to replacing the departed Wilson in their backfield, but the work the coaching staff will need to do along the offensive line should not go unnoticed. The good news is it appears the staff does have some potential building blocks to work with including senior Nick Becton, junior David Wang and Georgia transfer Brent Benedict. If Virginia Tech is unable to find the right mix along the offensive line, it may not matter if a new running back emerges or not.

3. Virginia Tech returns eight starters on defense, which is good, but some of those starters will be acclimating themselves to new positions this spring and depth will be a point of emphasis at linebacker and in the secondary. The return of Bruce Taylor to lead the linebacking corps is huge, but the loss of Tariq Edwards to injury and the dismissal of Telvion Clark are the latest blows to the unit’s depth and experience. In the secondary, cornerbacks Exum and Fuller should contend for all-conference and maybe even some All-America honors, but the makeup of the rest of the unit is unknown at this point. Sophomores Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett will get first crack at earning the starting safety jobs and will need to make the most of their opportunities this spring. The secondary is one of the key components to defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s schemes and game plans, as evidenced by the number of former Hokie defensive backs who went on to play in the NFL.

4. With the uncertainty at both running back and offensive line, the success of Virginia Tech’s offense in 2012 will depend largely on Logan Thomas. One of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, Thomas will need several wide receivers to step up to replace the production of Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale. Together, the duo combined for 121 receptions, 1,665 yards and eight TDs in 2011. The talent is there in D.J. Coles and Marcus Davis, along with Dyrell Roberts, who missed most of last season with a broken arm, but they lack the experience and chemistry Thomas had with Boykin and Coale. Spring practice will be a great opportunity for the receivers and Thomas to get on the same page, as the passing game will probably play a bigger role in the Hokies’ offense in 2012 due to the questions surrounding the backfield.

5. Virginia Tech has won 10 or more games in eight straight seasons and in 11 of the last 13 overall. The Hokies have won four of the last eight ACC titles and played in five BCS bowls in that same span. Under Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech has established itself among the premiere programs in college football. The Hokies have come so far that fans have started to take the team’s year-in year-out success for granted and raised the level of their expectations. Anything short of a spot in the ACC Championship game and a BCS bowl bid is labeled a disappointment. Even though Beamer and his coaching staff are having to replace eight starters on offense, including the ACC’s top player in 2011 and rebuild one of the conference’s best offensive lines, the fans’ expectations for 2012 remain the same. Championships may not be won or lost during the spring, but these next three weeks will be critical to laying the groundwork for the fall. After all, “rebuilding” is not a word Virginia Tech fans are used to hearing.

Related College Football Content

Ranking the ACC's Head Coaches
Grading College Football's New Coaching Hires for 2012

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

Teaser:
<p> Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas will be the focal point of a offense that must replace eight starters in hopes of running the Hokies' streak of consecutive 10-win seasons to nine in 2012.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 08:13
Path: /college-football/tennessee-volunteers-2012-spring-preview
Body:

By Braden Gall (@BradenGall on Twitter)

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

Tennessee Volunteers 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 5-7, 1-7 SEC

Spring Practice: March 26-April 21

Returning Starters: Offense – 9, Defense – 8

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Tyler Bray, 147-of-247, 1,983 yards, 17 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: Marlin Lane, 75 att., 280 yards, 2 TD
Receiving: Da'Rick Rogers, 67 rec., 1,040 yards, 9 TD
Tackles: A.J. Johnson, 80
Sacks: Prentiss Waggner, 2
Interceptions: Prentiss Waggner and Eric Gordon, 2

Redshirts to Watch: OL Alan Posey, OL Mack Crowder, S Geraldo Orta

Early Enrollees:

Cody Blanc, ATH (6-1, 200), Knoxville (Tenn.) Central
Alden Hill, RB (5-11, 180), Alliance (Ohio) Marlington
Justin Meredith, TE (6-5, 225), Anderson (S.C.) T.L. Hanna
Nathan Peterman, QB (6-3, 210), Fruit Cove (Fla.) Bartram Trail
Darrington Sentimore, DL (6-2, 273), Norco (La.) Destrehan (Gulf Coast C.C.)
Trent Taylor, DL (6-2, 271), Lakeland (Fla.) Lake Gibson
Tino Thomas, DB (5-11, 195), Memphis (Tenn.) Melrose

2012 Schedule

SEC 2012 Schedule Analysis

Aug. 31 NC State
Sept. 8 Georgia State
Sept. 15 Florida
Sept. 22 Akron
Sept. 29 at Georgia
Oct. 6 Bye Week
Oct. 13 at Mississippi State
Oct. 20 Alabama
Oct. 27 at South Carolina
Nov. 3 Troy
Nov. 10 Missouri
Nov. 17 at Vanderbilt
Nov. 24 Kentucky

Offensive Strength: The passing game. Quarterback Tyler Bray and wideouts Da'Rick Rogers (maybe) and Justin Hunter form one of the most talented QB-WR combos in the nation. Toss in an elite recruiting class at wideout and tight end Mychal Rivera and the Vols boast one of the best passing attacks in the country.

Offensive Weakness: Everything else. The running game was seriously lacking last fall and will once again be an area of concern for the Big Orange faithful. Finding a feature back and linemen who can create holes will be the top priority for offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.

Defensive Strength: The secondary. At least, the depth and experience in the defensive backfield. Veteran Prentiss Waggner is on the move from safety to corner. The top ten DBs from a year ago return to Knoxville.

Defensive Weakness: The linebackers, and more specifically, the pass rush are a major concern. New coordinator Sal Sunseri will be installing a new 3-4 scheme and needs to find playmakers to fill the starting linebacker positions.

Spring Storylines Facing the Volunteers:

1. Dealing with the Dooley drama. Head coach Derek Dooley is squarely on the hot seat after two losing seasons in Knoxville. He dealt admirably with a massive coaching exodus (more on this in a moment) by rebuilding his staff with quality coaches. And for the first time in years, this program returns a deep, talented and experienced roster. The expectation to win has to weigh heavy on not just Dooley but every member of the Vols program. The circus surrounding his tenure isn't going to slow anytime soon, so the quicker he can answer questions the better his team will be. 

2. Stabilizing and integrating seven new coaches into the program. With 19 starters back, it will be the coaching staff that needs to get acclimated, not the players. Chaney is still in place as the OC, but new running backs coach Jay Graham and offensive line coach Sam Pittman will have their hands full trying to restablish the dormant Big Orange rushing attack. There is plenty of talent to work with on that side of the ball, however, and the quarterback position is stable. With the implementation of the new 3-4 scheme, it is the defensive coaching staff that has the most work to do this spring. New DC Sal Sunseri brings an extraodinary track record with him to Knoxville in terms of developing linebackers — something that could be the difference between a bowl game and sitting at home this winter (and an employment check for everyone). Additionally, Sunseri and defensive line coach John Palermo will need to develop a scheme that can somehow put pressure on opposing quarterbacks (Tennessee finished 11th in the SEC in sacks, 100th nationally).

3. All of the above issues would be helped with much-needed growth and maturity from team leaders like Bray. Dooley and Sunseri can lead the horse to water, but it is up to the horse to actually drink. Names like Bray need take it upon themselves to prove that they can make others around them better by leading by example. The Corey Millers (currently dealing with academic issues) and Jacques Smiths need to live up to the massive recruiting hype and develop into every down performers. The last two seasons featured so much youth and inexperience, that mental mistakes — both on and off the field — were almost expected. This will not be the case in 2012 and it should not just be the coaching staff holding the team accountable — it needs to be the players. The star quarterback even admitted as much in his first media session of the spring, "Last year I wasn't the smartest guy. Kind of dumb. This year I'm trying to get my act together and trying to get this team where it needs to be."

4. Settling on a linebacker rotation and getting pressure on the quarterback is the top priority for Sunseri and Palmero. Smith seems to possess a perfect skillset for the Jack Back position, but will be pushed by Willie Bohannon. Youngsters A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt had quality first seasons, but have to adjust to the new scheme. Maggitt might be one of the biggest hitters in the SEC and is apparently loving his shift inside to the Mike position. His recognition skills now need to catch-up with his physical ability. He will be pushed by the contact-craved Herman Lathers, who returns after sitting out an entire year from a severe ankle injury. Former strong safety Brent Brewer, who tore his ACL in November, is gaining weight in order to play backer and also feels more comfortable because of it. Former fullback Channing Fugate might be making the biggest adjustment after being shifted to weakside linebacker. This was a thin position coming into spring and the shift to a 3-4 only puts added pressure on the depth chart. There are some nice pieces to this puzzle but Sunseri must implement a new system with players at new positions without wearing out his first stringers.

5. Helping the backers will be the new three-man front line. Maurice Couch needs to play the way he appears to be capable of more consistently on the interior. He has the ability to stabilize the front and allow for names like Miller, Marlon Walls and Daniel Hood to develop. Organizing this group will go a long way in helping to stabilize the totally reworked linebacker rotation. Junior college transfer — and former Crimson Tider in his own right — Darrington Sentimore might be the most intriguing new piece to the puzzle to watch this spring.

6. Dooley wants a feature back. There is only one issue - he may not have one on the roster. Marlin Lane is the leading returning rusher and might be the most talented, but is generously listed at 6-0, 205 pounds. He will most certainly split time with more physical Raijon Neal. Look also for diminutive sophomore Devrin Young (5-8, 171) to also get plenty of chances as well. Graham and Dooley know that 90.1 yards per game — where the Vols finished 2011, good for 12th in the SEC — is completely unacceptable in Knoxville. With another year of growth, an offensive line that has collectively become an upperclass unit together must develop into a strength for this team.

Related Content Links

2012 Recruiting Class: No. 20 Tennessee Vols
College Football's Top Spring Quarterback Battles for 2012

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

SEC 2012 Schedule Analysis
2012 Very Early SEC Predictions
Athlon's Very Early Top 25 for 2012

Teaser:
<p> Tennessee Volunteers 2012 Spring Preview</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 - 08:01
Path: /news/iowa-hawkeyes-2012-spring-preview
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

Iowa Hawkeyes 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 7-6, 4-4 Big Ten

Spring practice: March 24-April 14

Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 5

Returning Leaders:

Passing: James Vandenberg, 237 of 404, 3,022 yds., 25 TD, 7 INTs
Rushing: Jordan Canzeri, 31 car., 114 yds., 0 TDs
Receiving: Keenan Davis, 50 rec., 713 yds., 4 TDs
Tackles: James Morris, 110
Sacks: Dominic Alvis, 1.5
Interceptions: Two players tied with 3

Redshirts to watch: OG Austin Blythe, OG Jordan Walsh, DE Dean Tsopanides, DE Melvin Spears, DT Darian Cooper, DE Riley McMinn, LB Cole Fisher

Early Enrollees: OL Eric Simmons, QB Cody Sokol

JUCO Transfers to Watch: OL Eric Simmons, QB Cody Sokol

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Northern Illinois (Chicago)
Sept. 8 Iowa State
Sept. 15 Northern Iowa
Sept. 22 Central Michigan
Sept. 29 Minnesota
Oct. 13 at Michigan State
Oct. 20 Penn State
Oct. 27 at Northwestern
Nov. 3 at Indiana
Nov 10 Purdue
Nov. 17 at Michigan
Nov. 23 Nebraska

Offensive Strength: Quarterback James Vandenberg should be one of the top signal-callers in the Big Ten this year. Vandenberg threw for 3,022 yards and 25 scores last season and tossed only seven interceptions. The senior will have a quality group of receivers to throw to, led by Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley.

Offensive Weakness: The Hawkeyes are usually strong in the rushing game, but that may change in 2012. The offensive line returns only two starters and last season’s returning rusher (Marcus Coker) left the team. Iowa usually churns out running backs, but it may take a group effort to match Coker’s production in 2012.

Defensive Strength: Even with the departure of Tyler Nielsen, the Hawkeyes will be among the top linebacking corps in the Big Ten. James Morris garnered honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last year, picking up 110 tackles and one interception. Christian Kirksey also returns after matching Morris’ 110 stops last year.

Defensive Weakness: Coach Kirk Ferentz has to be concerned about the glaring hole on the defensive line this spring. Four key contributors from last season's group depart - including second-team All-Big Ten selection Broderick Binns - which will create plenty of competition from some inexperienced candidates in the preseason.

Spring Storylines Facing the Hawkeyes

1. Has the program gone stale? That’s the big question Iowa fans are asking this spring. Although Kirk Ferentz has won 96 games with the Hawkeyes, the win total has declined over the last three seasons. There’s some fresh blood on the coaching staff for 2012, as offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe took a job in the NFL and defensive coordinator Norm Parker decided to retire. Ferentz appointed former Texas playcaller Greg Davis as the team’s new offensive coordinator, while veteran Iowa assistant Phil Parker will call the shots on defense. Brian Ferentz moves from the NFL ranks to join his father in Iowa City as the team’s offensive line coach, while LeVar Woods was picked as the team’s new linebacker coach. Will the staff changes inject some energy into the program? Davis was criticized during his tenure with Texas, but also coordinated some solid offenses. It’s important for this coaching staff to jell this spring and get the players adjusted to any changes in scheme on both sides of the ball.

2. Running the ball is usually not an issue for Iowa. However, there’s a major concern over the running back position in 2012. Marcus Coker left the team after the 2011 season, leaving behind a handful of inexperienced candidates to fill his shoes. Three sophomores have the early lead for playing time, with Jordan Canzeri the frontrunner to open the season as the No. 1 back. Canzeri rushed for only 114 yards last year, while fellow sophomores Damon Bullock and De’Andre Johnson chipped in 99 yards. Incoming freshmen Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill will also figure into the mix this fall. The Hawkeyes should be fine in this area, but they need to find someone who can consistently take 20-25 carries a game. Developing some type of rotation and pecking order in the preseason will be crucial to Iowa’s offense in 2012.

3. Even with the question marks at running back and the departure of receiver Marvin McNutt, the position with the most issues on offense is the line. Left tackle Riley Reiff decided to bolt a year early for the NFL, while stalwarts Adam Gettis and Markus Zusevics expired their eligibility. Iowa has two returning starters up front, including honorable mention All-Big Ten center James Ferentz. Sophomore Brandon Schreff has the inside track to start at left tackle and has three starts under his belt. However, he will get a push from fellow sophomore Andrew Donnal, while former starter Nolan MacMillan is healthy and back to compete for a spot on the right side. There’s some solid pieces in place, and Iowa’s track record suggests this position won’t be too big of an issue during the season. However, it will remain a question mark until the Hawkeyes settle on a front five and that group gives Vandenberg enough time to throw during the Big Ten play.

4. 2011 was not a banner year for the Iowa defense, as the Hawkeyes ranked seventh or worse in the Big Ten in rush, scoring, total and pass defense. New defensive coordinator Phil Parker certainly has his work cut out for him this spring, as only five starters return and major question marks exist about the defensive line. Tackles Dominic Alvis and Carl Davis are expected to play a significant role in the middle, but both will miss spring practice with knee injuries. There’s also very little experience returning at end, as three redshirt freshmen cracked the two-deep for spring practice. Although this is a position Iowa usually finds players, the recovery of Alvis and Davis will be crucial to the line’s success. Not only is establishing a rotation of linemen important, Parker needs to figure out how to generate a pass rush that was mediocre last year.

Related Content Links

Ranking the Big Ten's Head Coaches
College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch

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

Teaser:
<p> Iowa Hawkeyes 2012 spring preview.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-fighting-irish-2012-spring-preview
Body:

 

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 8-5

Spring practice: March 21-April 21

Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 6

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Tommy Rees, 269 of 411, 2,871 yds., 20 TD, 14 INTs
Rushing: Cierre Wood, 217 car., 1,102 yds., 9 TDs
Receiving: Tyler Eifert, 63 rec., 803 yds., 5 TDs
Tackles: Manti Te’o, 128
Sacks: Aaron Lynch, 5.5
Interceptions: Three players tied with 1

Redshirts to watch: QB Everett Golson, WR DaVaris Daniels, CB Josh Atkinson, CB Jalen Brown

Early Enrollees: QB Gunner Kiel, DE Sheldon Day

Transfer to watch: OT Jordan Prestwood (Florida State), RB Amir Carlisle (USC)

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Navy (Dublin, Ireland)
Sept. 8 Purdue
Sept. 15 at Michigan State
Sept. 22 Michigan
Oct. 6 Miami (Chicago)
Oct. 13 Stanford
Oct. 20 BYU
Oct. 27 at Oklahoma
Nov. 3 Pittsburgh
Nov. 10 at Boston College
Nov. 17 Wake Forest
Nov. 24 at USC

Offensive Strength: There’s plenty to like about Notre Dame’s offense for 2012. Cierre Wood leads the ground attack after rushing for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns last season, while the receiving corps is solid with the return of Theo Riddick, T.J. Jones and tight end Tyler Eifert. Two starters must be replaced on the offensive line, but left tackle Zack Martin, center Braxston Cave and guard Chris Watt return. But the offense won’t go anywhere unless…

Offensive Weakness: …The quarterback play is improved. Three quarterbacks received playing time last year and none were able to consistently move the offense. Dayne Crist decided to transfer to Kansas, leaving Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, redshirt freshman Everett Golson and true freshman Gunner Kiel to battle for the starting spot.

Defensive Strength: By the end of the 2012 season, the Irish could have one of the best front sevens in college football. End Aaron Lynch had a solid freshman year, recording 5.5 sacks and 33 tackles. He will be joined by junior Louis Nix at nose guard and sophomore Stephon Tuitt at end to form a solid trio up front. Senior Manti Te’o turned down the NFL Draft and will anchor a Notre Dame linebacking corps that could be among the top 10-15 in the nation.

Defensive Weakness: The Irish need to hope the defensive line can consistently get pressure on opposing quarterbacks early and often in 2012, as both starting cornerbacks (Robert Blanton and Gary Gray) and safety Harrison Smith are gone. There’s some experience returning at safety, but cornerback is a bigger concern. While the defensive line is talented, depth is an issue.

Spring Storylines Facing the Fighting Irish

1. High expectations surrounded Notre Dame in 2011, but the team started off the year with a disappointing loss to South Florida in the season opener and a last-second defeat to Michigan in Week 2. The Irish finished a respectable 8-5, but still fell short of preseason expectations, which pegged Notre Dame as a likely BCS bowl team. Going into Brian Kelly’s third season in South Bend, it’s important for this team to show progress. Is Notre Dame back on track or should Kelly be on the hot seat entering 2013? Needless to say, only one of those questions can be answered this year for the Irish. The schedule isn’t particularly easy, as the Irish will face eight bowl teams and two others (USC and Miami) that would have played in the postseason if it wasn’t for NCAA investigations. Although the schedule will be a challenge, the Irish should be able to contend for nine victories in 2012.

2. Getting back to a BCS bowl in 2012 will largely hinge on what happens under center. Dayne Crist started the season opener against South Florida, but was pulled in favor of Tommy Rees. Although Rees started the remaining 12 games, he enters spring practice locked into a tight battle for the starting job. Crist decided to transfer to Kansas, leaving sophomore Andrew Hendrix, redshirt freshman Everett Golson and true freshman Gunner Kiel to battle for the No. 1 spot. Hendrix played some last year, rushing for 162 yards and one touchdown, while completing 18 of 37 passes for 249 yards and one touchdown. Golson and Kiel are both highly-regarded prospects, but have yet to take a snap. This should be a wide-open battle with the winner not likely to be announced until late in fall camp. Although Rees is the returning starter and most experienced quarterback on the roster, don’t be surprised if Hendrix or Golson takes the opening snap for Notre Dame in 2012.

3. The quarterback battle is going to get all of the attention in spring practice, but the Irish also need to find a replacement for receiver Michael Floyd. Theo Riddick and TJ Jones each caught 38 passes last season and will be counted upon to fill a bigger role in the passing attack this year. Robby Toma and John Goodman are capable weapons at receiver, but the return of tight end Tyler Eifert for his senior year is the biggest positive in the developing the passing attack for 2012. Freshman Davonte Neal is also expected to challenge right away for playing time, so the Irish should have plenty of options. However, Floyd was clearly the go-to guy. Is Riddick or Jones ready to be that type of player? Or will Eifert see more passes in his direction? The Irish should be fine in the receiving corps, but it’s not easy replacing a talent like Floyd.

4. As highlighted in the strengths and weaknesses, Notre Dame’s defensive line could be among the best in college football by the end of 2012. Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix are a promising young trio and should wreck havoc on opposing offensive lines. Senior Kapron Lewis-Moore will provide veteran leadership and recorded 32 stops last season. However, there’s very little depth up front, which could require incoming freshmen Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones to play right away. Although Notre Dame should be fine with its top four linemen, keep an eye on depth if an injury occurs during the season.

5. While the Irish are set in the front seven, all eyes will be on the secondary this spring. Cornerbacks Gary Gray and Robert Blanton, along with safety Harrison Smith have expired their eligibility, leaving the secondary with two returning starters – Zeke Motta and Jamoris Slaughter. While Slaughter and Motta should be a solid combination at safety, cornerback is the team’s biggest question mark. Bennett Jackson and Lo Wood are the team’s most experienced options, but neither is as proven as Gray and Blanton. The Irish expected incoming freshman Tee Shepard to play a key role at cornerback, but he decided to leave before spring practice started. Expect redshirt freshmen Jalen Brown and Josh Atkinson and incoming freshman Elijah Shumate to see a lot of playing time at cornerback in 2012.

Related Content Links:

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

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

Teaser:
<p> 2012 Notre Dame football spring preview.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 26, 2012 - 08:18
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-tens-college-football-coaches
Body:

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

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

Ranking the Coaches: ACC
Ranking the Coaches: Big East
Ranking the Coaches: Pac-12
Ranking the Coaches: Big 12
Ranking the Coaches: Big Ten
Ranking the Coaches: SEC
Ranking the Coaches: 2012 Top 25 Coaches (Fri.)

Here is how Athlon Sports ranks the coaches of the Big Ten:

1. Urban Meyer, Ohio State (First year)
Alma Mater: Cincinnati
Record: 65-15 (Florida, 2005-2010)
Record: 22-2 (Utah, 2003-04)
Record: 17-6 (Bowling Green, 2001-02)
Overall: 104-23

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

2. Brady Hoke, Michigan (1 year)
Alma Mater: 
Ball State (1977-80)
Record: 11-2 (2011-present)
Record: 13-12 (San Diego State, 2009-10)
Record: 34-38 (Ball State, 2003-08)
Overall: 58-52 (9 years)

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

3. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State (6 years)
Alma Mater:
 South Carolina (1976-78)
Record: 44-22 (2007-present)
Record: 18-17 (Cincinnati, 2005-06)
Overall: 62-39 (9 years)

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

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

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

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

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

6. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa (13 years)
Alma Mater: 
Connecticut (1974-76)
Record: 96-66 (1999-present)
Record: 12-21 (Maine, 1990-92)
Overall: 108-87 (16 years)

Ferentz got off to a slow start as Iowa’s head coach, posting a 4-19 record through the first two years. However, the Hawkeyes went on to reel off five consecutive winning seasons, including an appearance in the Orange Bowl and victories in the Outback and Capital One bowls. Iowa has claimed at least a share of the Big Ten title two times and has missed out on a bowl game only once since 2001. Ferentz has had his share of ups and downs, and the Hawkeyes are just 15-11 over the last two years. Although Ferentz has accumulated 96 victories – second-most in Iowa history – there are concerns from the Iowa fanbase that the program has gone stale. Ferentz’s track record suggests the Hawkeyes will get back on track, but a couple more seven-win seasons won’t sit too well in Iowa City.

7. Bo Pelini, Nebraska (4 years)
Alma Mater: 
Ohio State (1987-90)
Record: 39-16 (2003, 2008-present)

Pelini had an interesting path to become Nebraska’s head coach. After Frank Solich was fired following the 2003 season, Pelini served as the Cornhuskers’ interim coach in the Alamo Bowl, recording a 17-3 victory over Michigan State. Although Pelini led Nebraska to a victory, he was passed over in favor of Bill Callahan and instead of sticking around in Lincoln, chose to work with Bob Stoops at Oklahoma in 2004. After one season in Norman, Pelini left for LSU from 2005-07, helping to lead the Tigers to a national title in the 2008 BCS Naitonal Championship. Despite being passed for the job just a few seasons before, Pelini returned in Lincoln in 2008 to become Nebraska’s head coach. There’s no question Pelini is one of the top defensive minds in college football, but he is still looking to take this program to the next level. Nebraska has at least nine victories in each of Pelini’s four seasons at the helm, but is still searching for its first BCS appearance. Pelini is a solid coach and has the Cornhuskers back on the right track to emerging as a national title contender once again. However, the Big Ten is crowded at the top and Pelini needs to push Nebraska higher to be ranked ahead of some of the other names on this list.

8. Jerry Kill, Minnesota (1 year)
Alma Mater: 
Southwestern (1979-82)
Record: 3-9 (2011-present)
Record: 23-16 (Northern Illinois, 2008-10)
Record: 55-32 (Southern Illinois, 2001-07)
Record: 11-11 (Emporia State, 1999-2000)
Record: 38-14 (Saginaw Valley State, 1994-98)
Overall: 130-82 (18 years)

Considering Kill’s successful track record, a 3-9 record in his first year with Minnesota was somewhat surprising. Although the Golden Gophers weren’t expected to challenge for 10 wins, the schedule was favorable enough to contend for a bowl appearance. Minnesota pulled off two upsets to finish last season, but also lost to New Mexico State and North Dakota State. Kill also dealt with health issues last year, which certainly had some impact on the team and coaching staff. Kill has an impressive resume at four different stops, which includes leading Southern Illinois to five playoff appearances and posting a 23-16 record in three seasons with Northern Illinois. Although Kill’s debut season didn’t go according to plan, his successful track record at four other schools suggests it won’t be long until the Golden Gophers emerge as a consistent bowl team.

9. Tim Beckman, Illinois (First year)
Alma Mater: 
Findlay
Record: 21-16 (Toledo, 2009-2011)

After learning under Jim Tressel at Ohio State and Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State, Beckman got his first chance at the big chair in 2009. After five years of tremendous success under Tom Amstutz, Toledo had eroded into one of the MAC’s worst programs. Three straight losing seasons (5-7, 5-7, 3-9) got Beckman into town. He proceeded to improve the team’s win total in three consecutive seasons from three to five to eight to nine. He has been responsible for developing such prominent MAC stars as Eric Page and Adonis Thomas and is now charged with another rebuilding project at Illinois.

10. Danny Hope, Purdue (4 years)
Alma Mater: 
Eastern Kentucky
Record: 16-21 (2009-present)
Record: 35-22 (Eastern Kentucky, 2003-2007)
Overall: 51-43

After 20 years as an assistant at both the college and high school levels, Hope got his first chance at running a program when his alma mater hired him in 2003. He never had a losing season at Eastern Kentucky and eventually got the Colonels into the NCAA playoffs after an Ohio Valley Conference championship in 2007. Purdue was familiar with Hope due to a solid five-year stint as the offensive line coach under Joe Tiller and Drew Brees during the Boilers most recent heyday (1997-2001). After one year as the assistant head coach in 2008, Hope was given the top job in 2009. It took him three seasons, but Purdue experienced its first winning season and subsequent bowl appearance since 2007 when PU beat Western Michigan in last year’s Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl. His Boilermakers have been one of the most injury-riddled programs in the nation of late and appear to be snake-bitten. However, that hasn’t kept Hope from pulling off a few massive upsets over perennial Big Ten powers (we're looking at you Columbus).

11. Bill O’Brien, Penn State (First year)
Alma Mater: 
Brown
Record: First Year

Romeo Crennel is 26-41 as a head coach. Charlie Weis is 35-27 as a head coach. Josh McDaniels is 11-17 as a head coach. Bill Belichick assistants have gone on to win 45.8% of their games as head coaches on both the college and NFL level. This is one of the few concrete pieces of statistical evidence available to evaluate Penn State’s hiring of the Patriots offensive coordinator. Much like the relatively unsuccessful Nick Saban assistants (Derek Dooley, Wil Muschamp, Jimbo Fisher), it can be a double-edged sword hiring a Belichick protégé. First, Belichick, like Saban, doesn’t hire bad personnel. You have to be a hard worker who is willing to grind out wins in the toughest of circumstances. Check. Yet, shockingly, the assistants never seem to be as good without the sage leadership of the head honcho to guide them. The only other piece of concrete evidence is O’Brien’s undeniable experience and knowledge of college football on the East Coast. He has coached at Georgia Tech (1995-2002), Maryland (2003-2004) and Duke (2005-2006). He has recruited up and down the Atlantic seaboard and this aspect of his resume should help him ease into what could be the most difficult situation in the history of college football. 

12. Kevin Wilson, Indiana (1 year)
Alma Mater:
 North Carolina
Record: 1-11 (2011-present)

Wilson deserves credit for creating one of the nation’s best offenses while at Oklahoma. Under his watchful eye from 2002 to 2010, the Sooners churned out 3,000-yard passers and conference championships. His offensive prowess in Norman culminated with the 2008 Broyles Award given to the nation’s top assistant coach and a trip to the BCS title game. While Indiana fans don’t expect Oklahoma-level success in Bloomington, Hoosiers fans deserve more than one win over an FCS opponent. In fact, the win over South Carolina State last fall was Wilson’s first and only career win as a head coach at any level. He went 0-10 in one season as the head coach of Fred T. Foard High School in 1989, giving him an all-time record of 1-21 as a head coach. Wilson showed marked improvement in one area last fall, however, as his rushing attack showed major promise in the second half of the season. Yet, losing out on the nation’s No. 2 quarterback recruit Gunner Kiel during the winter months didn’t lengthen the leash at all. There is still much to be proven for the former Sooner assistant.

Related Content Links:

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Athlon continues its spring preview by ranking the coaches in the Big Ten.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - 07:50
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-12s-college-football-coaches
Body:

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

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

Ranking the Coaches: ACC
Ranking the Coaches: Big East
Ranking the Coaches: Pac-12
Ranking the Coaches: Big 12
Ranking the Coaches: Big Ten (Wed.)
Ranking the Coaches: SEC (Thur.)
Ranking the Coaches: 2012 Top 25 Coaches (Fri.)

Here is how Athlon Sports ranks the coaches of the Big 12:

1. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma (13 years)
Alma Mater:
Iowa (1979-82)
Record: 139-34 (1999-present)

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

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       Bob Stoops has more wins (119) from 2001-Present than any other active head coach

·       Bob Stoops is 66-3 in home games 

·       Bob Stoops is 96-5 when scoring 30 or more points in a game

·       Bob Stoops teams have scored 30 or more points 101 times (68.24%)

·       Bob Stoops is 63-25 (71.59%) vs. teams finishing the season over .500

2. Gary Patterson, TCU (12 years)
Alma Mater: Kansas State
Record: 109-30 (2000-present)

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

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       Patterson is 45-21 (68.18%) vs. teams finishing the season over .500

·       Patterson is 7-3 in bowl games

·       Patterson has won 10+ games 8 times from 2001-Present

·       Patterson's defenses force a 3-and-out or a turnover in 50.72% of possessions

·       Patterson's defenses have given up 20 points or less in 60% of the games he has been the head coach

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

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

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       Gundy's teams have scored TD's in 38.14% of offensive possessions

·       Gundy's teams have scored 40+ pts in 40.45% of the games he has been the head coach

·       Gundy is 1-6 vs. Oklahoma

·       Gundy has won 9+ games every year from 2008-2011

4. Mack Brown, Texas (14 years)
Alma Mater:
Vanderbilt, Florida State
Record: 141-39 (1998-present)
Record: 69-46-1 (North Carolina, 1988-97)
Record: 11-23 (Tulane, 1985-87)
Record: 6-5 (Appalachian St, 1983)
Overall: 227-113-1

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

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       Mack Brown is 56-25 (70.24%) vs. teams finishing the season over .500

·       Mack Brown is 23-4 (85.19%) in games decided by 4 pts or less

·       Texas won 60.34% of their games in the five years prior to Brown's arrival. Brown has won 80.28%

·       Brown has had 12 first round draft picks from 2001-2011

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

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

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       Five years prior to Snyder being named the head coach, Kansas St. won 10.77% of their games. Snyder has won 60% and won 9+ games 11 times in his 20-year stint as head coach of the Wildcats

·       Snyder is 7-1 vs. Kansas

·       Since 2001, Snyder is 6-15 vs. Top 25 teams (Time of Game Ranking)

·       Since 2001, Snyder is 24-36 against teams finishing the season over .500

6. Art Briles, Baylor (4 years)
Alma Mater:
Houston, Texas Tech, Abilene Christian
Record: 25-25 (2008-present)
Record: 34-28 (Houston, 2003-2007)
Overall: 59-53

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

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       Baylor won 31.13% of their games 5 yrs prior to Briles' arrival. Briles has won 50% 

·       Briles is 16-49 vs. teams finishing the season over .500

·       Art Briles teams go 3-and-out on offense just 18.23% of the time

·       Art Briles is 4-20 vs. Top 25 teams (Time of Game ranking)

7. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State (3 years)
Alma Mater:
Missouri Western (1985-88)
Record: 18-20 (2009-present)

Winning at Iowa State is not easy. Auburn coach Gene Chizik posted a 5-19 record in two seasons in Ames, while Dan McCarney recorded a 56-85 mark from 1995-06. Even Johnny Majors had a so-so tenure at Iowa State, finishing with a 24-30-1 record from 1968-72. Although sustained success has been difficult to achieve, the Cyclones have some momentum after three solid years with Rhoads at the helm. The Iowa native has led the Cyclones to two bowl appearances and an 18-20 record. Although a losing record may not stand out nationally, considering how difficult it is to win at Iowa State – especially in a revamped 10-team Big 12 – Rhoads has emerged as one of the most underrated coaches in college football. Considering the head coaches in the Big 12, it’s not an easy conference to rank. Although Rhoads checks in near the middle of the rankings, one could argue (outside of Kansas State’s Bill Snyder) he has done the most with the least.  

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       Rhoads has lost 6 or more games in each of his 3 seasons at ISU

·       Rhoads is 3-12 vs top 25 teams (Time of Game ranking)

8. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia (1 year)
Alma Mater:
Iowa Wesleyan (1991-92)
Record: 10-3 (2011-present)

Holgorsen was supposed to spend 2011 serving as the offensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting for West Virginia. However, Bill Stewart was forced to resign in early June, forcing Holgorsen to step into the head coach role a year early than expected. Even though the coaching change occurred after spring practice, it didn’t have any impact on the team. West Virginia finished 9-3 in the regular season and won the Orange Bowl in impressive fashion over Clemson. Holgorsen is one of college football’s top offensive minds, but is still learning the ropes as a head coach. West Virginia’s move to the Big 12 is a good one for Holgorsen, as he has served as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Although Holgorsen is a bright offensive mind, it’s hard to rank him any higher in the Big 12 coaching ranks after just one season in Morgantown.

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       As an offensive coordinator and head coach, Dana Holgorsen's teams have scored 40+ points 51% of the time

9. Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech (2 years)
Alma Mater:
Southern Arkansas
Record: 13-12 (2010-present)
Record: 85-40 (Auburn, 1999-2008)
Record: 25-20 (Ole Miss, 1995-1998)
Overall: 123-72

Tuberville has perhaps one of the most intriguing coaching careers in the nation. He took a sanction-laden Ole Miss program back to the postseason, earning SEC Coach of the Year honors in 1997. When the opportunity presented itself after his fourth season, Tubes bolted for division rival Auburn. Tuberville went on to win the SEC West five times in six years, appeared in eight straight bowls and finished the 2004 season unbeaten — the only undefeated BCS team not to win a national championship. Auburn finished lower than second in the West one time in eight years (third in 2003) and after one bad season in 2008, Tuberville supposedly “resigned voluntarily.” He surfaced at Texas Tech with an outstanding track record and positive momentum after one year as a TV analyst. Tech won eight games and a bowl in his first year, but 2011 has cast a dark shadow over Tuberville’s reputation for a variety of reasons. Aside from posting the first losing season in Lubbock since 1992, the Red Raiders allowed 51.2 points per game over the final five game (losing all of them) after pulling what was arguably the biggest upset of the year over Oklahoma. To top it all off, the ‘radioactivity’ emanating from the Tuberville household makes him a tough sell to any AD. He is mentioned in a potential lawsuit back in Alabama involving alleged investment transgressions, and his wife has her own legal troubles following a car accident in late 2011. Just three years ago, Tuberville would have been near the top of this list. And his fall from coaching grace is as sensational as it was rapid.

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       At Texas Tech, Tuberville's teams have given up 30+ pts 64% of the time

·       At Texas Tech, Tuberville's teams have given up 40+ pts 36% of the time

10. Charlie Weis, Kansas (First year)
Alma Mater:
Notre Dame
Record: 35-27 (Notre Dame, 2005-2009)

Gastric bypass surgery aside, Weis has had a lumpy head-coaching career. He took Ty Willingham’s players and went to back-to-back BCS bowl games where his Irish got shellacked by Ohio State and LSU. Since the loss to the Bayou Bengals, Weis went 16-21 as the head coach before getting aced by Notre Dame. He has shown he is a successful NFL offensive architect (NY Jets, New England, Kansas City), but has much to prove if he plans on keeping ‘Head Coach’ in front of his name on the college level. His Florida offense struggled mightily a season ago, but how much of that was spread players not fitting his pro-style scheme? For now, Weis seems to be closer to Norv Turner than Bill Belichick.

Related Content Links:

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Athlon continues its spring preview by ranking the coaches in the Big 12.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 - 06:43
Path: /college-football/ranking-pac-12s-college-football-coaches
Body:

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

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

Ranking the Coaches: ACC
Ranking the Coaches: Big East
Ranking the Coaches: Pac-12
Ranking the Coaches: Big 12
Ranking the Coaches: Big Ten (Wed.)
Ranking the Coaches: SEC (Thur.)
Ranking the Coaches: 2012 Top 25 Coaches (Fri.)

Here is how Athlon Sports ranks the coaches of the Pac-12:

1. Chip Kelly, Oregon (3 years)
Alma Mater:
New Hampshire
Record: 34-6 (2009-present)

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

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       As a head coach and offensive coordinator, Chip Kelly's offenses have scored 40+ points 69 of 106 (65%) games

·       As a head coach, Chip Kelly's offenses have scored TD's on 46% of offensive possessions

·       As a head coach, Chip Kelly's teams have scored 12 Special Teams TD's and given up 0

·       As a head coach, Chip Kelly's defenses are allowing points on just 32% of defensive possessions. This ranks him in the top 15 among active head coaches with a minimum of three years experience

2. Lane Kiffin, USC (2 years)
Alma Mater:
Fresno State (1994-96)
Record: 18-7 (USC, 2010-present)
Record: 7-6 (Tennessee, 2009)
Overall: 25-13 (3 years)

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

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       As a collegiate head coach, Lane Kiffin is just 11-11 against teams finishing the season over .500

·       As a collegiate head coach, Lane Kiffin's offenses have ended possessions with a 3 and out just 15% of the time. This ranks him 6th among active head coaches with more than one year of experience

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

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

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       Mike Leach has won 8+ games in eight of the 10 seasons he has been a head coach

·       Mike Leach's offenses have scored 40+ points in 48% of the games he has been a head coach

·       Among active head coaches with more than one year of experience, Coach Leach has the lowest percentage of offensive possessions ending in a 3 and out (11.44%)

·       Mike Leach's offenses passed for an average of 394 yards in conference games during his tenure at Texas Tech

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

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

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       Whittingham has won 72% of his games as a head coach and has won 10+ games (including a perfect 13-0 season in 2008) in three of his seven years as head coach

·       Coach Whittingham is 6-1 in Bowl Games

·       When he has superior talent, Coach Whittingham has a 35-8 record.

·       Coach Whittingham's defenses force a 3 and out or punt on 66% of defensive possessions

5. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona (First Season)
Alma Mater:
West Virginia (1981-84)
Record: 15-22 (Michigan, 2008-10)
Record: 60-26 (West Virginia, 2001-07)
Record: 43-28-2 (Glenville State (1990-96)
Record: 2-8 (Salem, 1988)
Overall: 120-84-2 (18 years)

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

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       As a head coach, his offenses have averaged 28 or more points per game in eight of the 10 seasons he has been a head coach.

·       Rich Rod’s offenses have scored 30+ points in 50% of the games he has coached over the last decade

6. Steve Sarkisian, Washington
Alma Mater:
BYU
Record: 19-19 (2009-present)

The time is now for the former Pete Carroll disciple. If nothing else, Sarkisian has proven he knows how to run a big-time college football program. Through excellent recruiting, he has elevated the level of talent across the board on the Huskies roster. He has taken the Huskies to back-to-back bowl games and produced a winning record for the first time since 2002 — yes, Washington’s 2010 7-6 season was the first winning season for the Huskies in eight years. And he clearly knows how to build a coaching staff in the face of adversity. With the hiring of Justin Wilcox and Peter Sirmon from Tennessee and Tosh Lupoi and Eric Kiesau from Cal, Sarkisian, along with more money from his supporters, has put his team in a position for long-term success in Seattle.

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       In the five years before he arrived, Washington won 20% of their games. Coach Sarkisian has won 50% of his games as the head coach at Washington

·       In 2011, Washington's offenses was the 25th ranked scoring offense in the nation. This was the highest rating in more than a decade for the Huskies.

7. Mike Riley, Oregon State
Alma Mater:
Alabama
Record: 72-63 (1997-98, 2003-present)

The circuitous flow of Riley’s coaching career can be difficult to track. He first landed in Corvallis in 1997 after winning two Grey Cups as the head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and leading the now-defunct San Antonio Riders in the WLAF. After two years with the Beavers (8-14), he left for the NFL. After a failed stint as the head man of the Chargers and one year as an assistant with the Saints, Riley returned to Oregon State. This time, Riley entered a program with a solid foundation left behind from Dennis Erickson and continued that success for the next decade. He posted at winning record in six of his first eight years (of his second shift) and produced only the second 10-win season in school history in 2006 and was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year in 2008. One of the nicer guys in the business will be facing a key season this fall as his win total has dropped four years in a row. That said, with three wins in 2012, Riley will pass Lon Stiner as the winningest coach in Oregon State history.

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       Coach Riley's teams have won 8+ games in five of the last nine years

·       Coach Riley is just 26-38 against teams finishing the season over .500 and 4-11 against over .500 teams over the last two seasons

·       Coach Riley is just 9-27 against Top 25 teams (Time of Game ranking)

·       Coach Riley is 5-1 in Bowl Games

8. Jeff Tedford, Cal (10 years)
Alma Mater:
Fresno State
Record: 79-48 (2002-present)

The luster has worn off Coach Tedford in recent years, but Cal fans need to be careful what they wish for. Over the last five seasons, Cal certainly has been stagnant – losing 28 games over that span — and the offensive guru needs to win to stay employed. However, the track record of Golden Bear football proves that Tedford is easily the most successful coach in school history. Cal was 4-29 in the three seasons prior to Tedford taking over in Berkeley and he proceeded to start his head coaching career with eight straight winning seasons. Since 1950, this program has three 10-win seasons on its resume. Tedford has two of them. The Bears claim 21 postseason appearances and Tedford is responsible for nearly half (8) of them. Finally, no head coach has won as many games at Cal as Tedford has (79). He is undoubtedly on the hot seat in 2012, but the Cal administration needs to think long and hard about what Tedford has meant to the program before acting too quickly.

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       In the five years before he arrived, the Cal Bears had won just 25% of their games. In his 10 years as head coach, Cal has won 62% of their games.

·       Coach Tedford has won 8+ games seven of his 10 years as head coach at Cal

·       From 1970-2001, Cal had just 10 seasons when they won more games than they lost. In Coach Tedford's 10 years, he has nine winning seasons

·       From 2009-2011, Coach Tedford won just 52% of his overall games and just 44% of conference games

·       From 2009-2011, Coach Tedford is just 5-15 against teams with winning records

9. David Shaw, Stanford (1 year)
Alma Mater:
Stanford
Record: 11-2 (2011-present)

There is much to like about Shaw and there is much that is still unknown. This fall will feature the first in Palo Alto without a Harbaugh or a Luck on the roster and it falls to Shaw to maintain an unprecedented level of success. Jim Harbaugh deserves all of the credit for re-establishing the Cardinal brand nationwide and developing Andrew Luck into the best player in the nation the last two years. Replacing two first-round offensive linemen will also be an issue for Stanford in 2012. Shaw is steeped in Stanford tradition as a player and son of a coach for the Cardinal, but legacy alone won’t keep Shaw in Bob Bowlsby’s good graces. This is one name that could be ranked much higher (or lower) on this list come next offseason. 

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       In his first year as a head coach, Coach Shaw's offense scored TD's on 51% of offensive possessions and went 3 and out less than 10% of offensive possessions

·       Coach Shaw's defense allowed just 88 rushing yards per game in 2011

10. Todd Graham, Arizona State (First Season)
Alma Mater:
East Central (1983-86)
Record: 6-6 (Pittsburgh, 2011)
Record: 36-17 (Tulsa, 2007-10)
Record: 7-6 (Rice, 2006)

Graham has been heavily criticized (and rightfully so) for the job -hopping in his short career as a head coach. He spent only one season at Rice (2006) and agreed to an extension following the season, only to leave a few days later for Tulsa. After spending four seasons with the Golden Hurricane, Graham left for Pittsburgh and recorded a 6-6 mark this season. Although the Panthers were a disappointment, Graham’s track recorded suggested they would be back in the Big East title mix in the next couple of seasons. However, Graham bolted for Arizona State and the 2012 season will be his first in Tempe. Although Graham’s job-hopping should be criticized, his record as a head coach is a solid 49-29 and he has won at two difficult places to win – Rice and Tulsa. While you can criticize Graham for what happened at Rice and Pittsburgh, he is actually a pretty good coach and should win at Arizona State.

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       In the five years before he arrived at Tulsa, the Golden Hurricanes had won 48% of their games. Coach Graham won nearly 70% of his games at Tulsa

·       Coach Graham is 14-24 against teams finishing the season over .500

·       Todd Graham is just 28-23 without Gus Malzahn as his offensive coordinator

11. Jim Mora, UCLA (First Season)
Alma Mater:
Washington (1980-83)
Record: 26-22 (Atlanta Falcons, 2004-06)
Record: 5-11 (Seattle Seahawks, 2009)

There were several eyebrows raised when Mora was hired as UCLA’s head coach in December. After making a run and striking out with some bigger names – including Boise State’s Chris Petersen – the Bruins didn’t have many appealing options on the table. Mora has only one season of collegiate experience (1984, Washington), but has two stops as a NFL head coach on his resume. He posted a 26-22 record with the Atlanta Falcons and a 5-11 mark with the Seattle Seahawks, with one trip to the playoffs on his resume. Considering Mora’s lack of collegiate experience, hiring a staff was going to be one of the most critical elements to his success at UCLA. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has a wealth of college experience, while offensive line coach Adrian Klemm is one of the top recruiters in the nation. It will take some time for Mora to win over his detractors and adjust to the college game, but this hire may work out better than most expect.

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

12. Jon Embree, Colorado (1 year)
Alma Mater:
Colorado (1983-86)
Record: 3-10 (2011-present)

Considering he played under Bill McCartney at Colorado from 1983-86 and coached in Boulder from 1993-2002, Embree is a good fit for rebuilding the Buffaloes. However, this is his first head-coaching position, so there will be several bumps in the road. Embree inherited a relatively bare roster and led Colorado to a 3-10 record in 2011. The Buffaloes finished with two wins in their final three games, but were largely uncompetitive in most Pac-12 contests last season. Embree will get a couple of years to turn things around in Boulder, but until this team shows more progress, he will be ranked near the bottom of coaches in the Pac-12.

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       Coach Embree's defense allowed TD's on 44% of defensive possessions

·       Embree's offense scored 20 points or less in eight games in his first season as head coach

Related Content Links:

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Athlon continues its spring preview with a ranking of the coaches in the Pac-12.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 - 06:41
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-easts-college-football-coaches
Body:

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

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

Ranking the Coaches: ACC
Ranking the Coaches: Big East
Ranking the Coaches: Pac-12 (Tues.)
Ranking the Coaches: Big 12 (Tues.)
Ranking the Coaches: Big Ten (Wed.)
Ranking the Coaches: SEC (Thur.)
Ranking the Coaches: 2012 Top 25 Coaches (Fri.)

Editor's Note: Boise State, San Diego State, Memphis, UCF, Houston, SMU won't join the Big East until 2013. Navy will join the Big East in 2015. 

Here is how Athlon Sports ranks the current and future coaches of the Big East:

1. Chris Petersen, Boise State (6 years)
Alma Mater:
UC Davis (1983-86)
Record: 73-6 (2006-present)

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

2. Charlie Strong, Louisville (2 years)
Alma Mater:
Central Arkansas (1980-83)
Record: 14-12 (2010-present)
Record: 0-1 (Florida, 2004)
Overall: 14-13 (2 years)

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

3. June Jones, SMU (4 years)
Alma Mater:
Oregon (1971-72), Hawaii (1973-74), Portland State (1975-76)
Record: 24-28 (2008-present)
Record: 76-41 (Hawaii, 1999-2007)
Overall: 100-69 (13 years)

Resurrecting one program is difficult enough, but Jones has been successful at two stops with not much recent success prior to his arrival. Jones took over at Hawaii in 1999, leading the Warriors to a 9-4 record after posting a 0-12 mark in 1998. Under his direction, Hawaii posted a 76-41 record and made six bowl appearances, including a berth in the Sugar Bowl. Jones went 1-11 in his debut season with SMU, but has led the Mustangs to three consecutive bowl appearances. SMU has made a solid financial commitment to Jones, but that won’t stop other BCS programs from inquiring about his services in the future. The Mustangs have come a long way over the last three years and should be in good shape once they make the move to the Big East. 

4. Butch Jones, Cincinnati (2 years)
Alma Mater:
Ferris State (1987-89)
Record: 14-11 (2010-present)
Record: 27-13 (Central Michigan, 2007-09)
Overall: 41-24 (5 years)

Jones has followed Brian Kelly’s footsteps at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati. He coached under Kelly at CMU in 2004 before he was given the Chippewas’ job when Kelly left for Cincinnati in 2007. When Kelly departed for Notre Dame, Jones, following two MAC championships in three years, again took over for Kelly at Cincinnati. After a tough rebuilding year in 2010, the Bearcats proved they made the right call in hiring Jones by winning 10 games for only the fourth time in school history. In total, Jones has at least a share of three conference titles in five years as a head coach and is poised to compete for Big East titles for years to come.

5. Skip Holtz, South Florida (2 years)
Alma Mater:
Holy Cross Junior College (1982-84), (Notre Dame 1984-86)
Record: 13-12 (2010-present)
Record: 38-27 (East Carolina, 2005-09)
Record: 34-23 (Connecticut, 1994-98)
Overall: 85-62 (12 years)

After successful stops at Connecticut and East Carolina, Holtz is still trying to find the right formula at South Florida. The Bulls are just 13-12 over the last two years and were unable to capitalize off a 4-0 start in 2011. Despite the early so-so results with South Florida, Holtz still has a solid 85-62 career record and led East Carolina to two Conference USA championships. The hype surrounding Holtz’s hire hasn’t quite matched the results, but with the results at East Carolina and Connecticut, it should be only a matter of time before the Bulls are in contention for the Big East crown. 

6. Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh (First Year)
Alma Mater:
Wisconsin (1986-88)
Record: First Season

No one can call Chryst a slacker. He has held 14 different jobs in the NFL, CFL and college ranks since graduating from Wisconsin in the late 80s. Once he finally returned to his alma mater in 2005, it was clear to fans he wouldn’t be around too long. In Barry Alvarez’ final season, Chryst led Wisconsin’s most prolific offense in school history, scoring 446 points. In each of the last two seasons, he has broken his own school scoring record, giving Chryst the credit for the three highest scoring teams in Badgers’ history. He led the Big Ten in rushing in 2008, led the Big Ten in rushing, total and scoring offense in 2009, posted the highest scoring team in the league again in 2010 and wrapped-up his coordinator-ship in Madison with the Big Ten’s highest scoring and most productive unit in 2011. Tailback Montee Ball posted the best single-season in Big Ten history as he tied Barry Sanders single-season NCAA touchdown record with 39. He takes over at Pitt with extensive knowledge of the Midwest and perfect personnel for his power-spread scheme.

7. Doug Marrone, Syracuse (3 years)
Alma Mater:
Syracuse (1983-85)
Record: 17-20 (2009-present)

The cupboard at Syracuse was pretty bare when Marrone was hired as head coach. The Orange were coming off a disastrous 10-37 record under former coach Greg Robinson and had slipped to the bottom of the Big East. Marrone’s first year showed some promise as the Orange finished with a 4-8 record and followed that up with an 8-5 record and a bowl appearance in 2010. Although Syracuse had some momentum coming into 2011, the Orange finished a disappointing 5-7 with one conference victory. Marrone is the right coach for Syracuse, but with a move to the ACC likely happening next year, the Orange can’t afford to fall too far behind. Syracuse will have low expectations in most preseason polls for 2012, but it would not be a surprise to see this team push for a finish among the top four in the final standings.

8. Steve Addazio, Temple (1 year)
Alma Mater:
Central Connecticut (1978-81)
Record: 9-4 (2011-present)

So far, so good for Addazio. In his first season as Temple’s head coach, Addazio led the Owls to a solid 9-4 record with a victory over Wyoming in the New Mexico Bowl. Al Golden did a good job of resurrecting Temple’s program before leaving to take the top spot at Miami and now it’s up to Addazio to continue the momentum. Although Addazio did a good job in one season, this is his first head coaching stop and we need to see more of a track record before ranking him higher. However, this seems to be a good fit for both sides, especially since Addazio is familiar with coaching in the Northeast.

9. George O’Leary, UCF (8 years)
Alma Mater:
New Hampshire (1968)
Record: 50-51 (2004-present)
Record: 52-33 (Georgia Tech, 1994-2001)

The two-time ACC Coach of the Year spent a couple of years in the NFL after a resume snafu cost him the Notre Dame job. He landed on his feet at UCF and has built the Knights into a solid C-USA (soon to be Big East) program. The Knights had posted four winning FBS seasons when O’Leary took over and has since posted two of its three total 10-win seasons. He has won two C-USA championships (2007, 2010) and three Coach of the Year Awards (2005, 2007, 2010) and has a 50-40 record since 2005. O’Leary has been responsible for all four bowl appearances in UCF history including the program’s first bowl victory in 2010 over SEC power Georgia and will elevate the program for a second time when the Knights join the Big East in 2013. That said, falsifying his resume, the 2008 death of Ereck Plancher and widespread UCF athletic department transgressions keep O’Leary from being higher on this list.

10. Rocky Long, San Diego State (1 year)
Alma Mater:
New Mexico (1969-71)
Record: 8-5 (2011-present)
Record: 65-69 (New Mexico, 1998-2008)

After 11 years and recording five bowl games, but no conference championships at his alma mater, Long resigned in 2008 and became the defensive coordinator with the Aztecs. Under Brady Hoke, San Diego State went 13-12 in two seasons before he left for Michigan. Long was then elevated to the top spot and went 8-5 with a bowl appearance in his first year. Fans know exactly what they are getting with the dependable veteran. Long might not be the flashiest head coach, but the 62-year old should be able to maintain the Aztecs' upward trajectory into the Big East. Many believe this program is a “sleeping giant,” and with BCS funding, this might finally be true.

11. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy (4 years)
Alma Mater:
Hawaii (1987-89)
Record: 32-21 (2007-present)

After making three consecutive bowl trips, the Midshipmen took a step back with a disappointing 5-7 2011 season. Niumatalolo has done a solid job of continuing what Paul Johnson built at Navy, but will he elevate the program over the long haul? The Midshipmen will move into the Big East in 2015, which will be a step up in competition from playing as an Independent. Navy has only nine starters this year and more questions about Niumatalolo will be raised if the Midshipmen miss out on the postseason in 2012. 

12. Justin Fuente, Memphis (First Year)
Alma Mater:
Oklahoma, Murray State (1996-99)
Record: First Season

For the last five years, Funete has learned under one of the nation’s best head coaches at TCU. The first Gary Patterson disciple to land a “BCS” job, Fuente was responsible for the four highest scoring Horned Frogs teams in program history. He coached Andy Dalton to the program’s first unbeaten season since 1932 and won TCU’s first-ever BCS bowl when they went 13-0 in 2010. After losing the program’s greatest quarterback (Dalton), Fuente’s offense didn’t miss a beat behind sophomore Casey Pachall in 2011. Fuente is a relatively unknown commodity as a head coach, but Paterson doesn’t hire bad personnel and TCU’s offenses were dominant in Fort Worth.

13. Paul Pasqualoni, Connecticut (1 year)
Alma Mater:
Penn State (1968-71)
Record: 5-7 (2011-present)
Record: 107-59-1 (Syracuse, 1991-2004)
Record: 34-17 (Western Connecticut, 1982-85)

Pasqualoni was a curious hire by Connecticut last season and the jury is still out on how well this marriage will work. The Huskies had some key personnel losses from 2010 to 2011 and watched their win total dip by three games. Connecticut’s offense was also a source of criticism throughout the year, and this unit has to improve if the Huskies want to push for the Big East title in 2012. Pasqualoni had a solid record at Syracuse (107-59-1), but his last three years with the Orange produced a 16-20 record. Only time will tell if Pasqualoni is the right coach to turn Connecticut into an annual contender in the Big East, but his first year with the Huskies wasn’t anything special. 

14. Kyle Flood, Rutgers (First Year)
Alma Mater:
Iona (1989-92)
Record: First Season

Flood will have to quell concerns that Rutgers made this hire to keep intact what turned out to be the program’s greatest recruiting class in history. The longtime Rutgers offensive line coach (2006-11) was elevated to assistant head coach in 2008. As a part of the most successful era of football in Piscataway, Flood is charged with replacing one of the winningest coaches in program history (Greg Schiano, 68 wins, fourth in school history). He is a complete unknown as a head coach, but will certainly have plenty of young talent to work with in year one.

15. Tony Levine, Houston (First Year)
Alma Mater: Minnesota (1992-95)
Record: 1-0 (2011-present)

Kevin Sumlin did a solid job during his four years at Houston and now it’s up to Levine to continue that momentum. Levine coached the Cougars in the bowl against Penn State, leading the team to an impressive 30-14 victory. Levine is well-liked by the players at Houston, but this is his first head coaching gig and he has no coordinator experience. He has stops at Louisiana Tech, Louisville and Houston as an assistant, with one stop in the NFL for two seasons with the Carolina Panthers. Levine’s debut was impressive, but can he continue that momentum over the next couple of seasons as Houston enters the Big East?

Related Content Links:

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

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

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Sports ranks the coaches in the current and future Big East.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 19, 2012 - 08:29
Path: /college-football/florida-state-seminoles-2012-spring-preview
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

Florida State Seminoles 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 9-4, 5-3 ACC

Spring practice: March 19-April 14

Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 9

Returning Leaders:

Passing: EJ Manuel, 203 of 311, 2,666 yds., 18 TD, 8 INT
Rushing: Devonta Freeman, 120 car., 579 yds., 8 TDs
Receiving: Rashad Greene, 38 rec., 596 yds., 7 TDs
Tackles: Christian Jones, 56
Sacks: Brandon Jenkins, 8
Interceptions: Lamarcus Joyner, 4

Redshirts to watch: WR Kelvin Benjamin, DB Kaelin Smith, LB Arrington Jenkins

Early Enrollees: P Cason Beatty, OL Daniel Glauser, RB Mario Pender

JUCO Transfers to watch: OL Daniel Glauser, OL Menelik Watson

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Murray State
Sept. 8 Savannah State
Sept. 15 Wake Forest
Sept. 22 Clemson
Sept. 29 at South Florida
Oct. 6 at NC State
Oct. 13 Boston College
Oct. 20 at Miami
Oct. 27 Duke
Nov. 8 at Virginia Tech
Nov. 17 at Maryland
Nov. 24 Florida

Offensive Strength: The Seminoles struggled to find the right mixture on the offensive line last year, but that didn’t slow down the passing attack. Quarterback EJ Manuel is back for his second year as Florida State’s starter and the receiving corps is one of the deepest in the ACC.  

Offensive Weakness: As mentioned previously, the offensive line was an issue for Florida State last year and heads into 2012 as the team's biggest question mark. The Seminoles threw several young players out on the field last year and that experience should pay dividends in 2012. Getting improved play out of the line would also help jumpstart a rushing attackthat ranked a disappointing 104th nationally last season.  

Defensive Strength: With nine starters returning, Florida State should have one of the best defenses in college football next season. The defensive line will continue to set the tone for the rest of the unit, as ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner are back after combining for 15 sacks last season. Despite losing two key contributors to the secondary, the Seminoles will be near the top of the pass defense stats once again in 2012. 

Defensive Weakness: Considering what Florida State has coming back, there’s not much to be concerned about on defense. The biggest issue will be finding a replacement for linebacker Nigel Bradham, who led the defense with 86 stops last year. While it’s not really a defensive category, the Seminoles have to find a replacement for All-ACC punter Shawn Powell.

Spring Storylines Facing the Seminoles

1. Here come the high expectations once again. Florida State was picked among the top 10 teams by most preseason polls, but finished with a disappointing 9-4 record and a berth in the Champs Sports Bowl against Notre Dame. The turning point of the season occurred in Week 3, as the Seminoles lost 23-13 to Oklahoma. Quarterback EJ Manuel was injured in the loss to the Sooners and missed Florida State’s loss to Clemson and came off the bench after the Seminoles fell behind against Wake Forest. Although the Seminoles didn’t meet the preseason expectations, they did finish with wins in seven out of their final eight games. Most preseason predictions won’t start coming out until May or June, but early indications have this team picked near the top of the ACC and among the top 10-15 teams for 2012. Considering what Florida State returns, there’s no reason for this team to finish with a 9-4 record once again – and the Seminoles are certainly hungry to prove they are back as a national powerhouse.

2. If Florida State is to contend for the national title, the offensive line has to show big improvement. This group allowed 3.2 sacks per game and rushers averaged only 3.3 yards per carry. Making matters worse is the line loses its best player from last year in left tackle Zebrie Sanders. While last year’s numbers are not pretty and replacing Sanders is a tall task, the Seminoles return several players with experience. Center Bryan Stork and guard Jacob Fahrenkrug are the most experienced returning options, but Bobby Hart, Austin Barron, Garrett Faircloth, Tre Jackson and Josue Matias all received starts last season. Line coach Rick Trickett is regarded as one of the best in college football and it will be important to find the right mix and develop some chemistry in preseason workouts. If Florida State struggles up front once again, this team will have trouble winning the ACC Championship.

3. The offensive line deserves much of the blame for last season’s struggles on the ground, but this is one area the Seminoles need to focus on in spring practice. Devonta Freeman is back for his sophomore year after rushing for 579 yards and eight scores last season. Big things were expected of James Wilder last year, but he managed only 160 yards and was suspended indefinitely due to an off-the-field incident. Freeman will likely be the No. 1 back when the season opens up, but incoming freshman Mario Pender could work his way into significant carries. With quarterback EJ Manuel and a plethora of talented receivers returning, there’s no question Florida State will be able to move the ball through the air. However, this offense needs to develop more balance in 2012.

4. Coordinator Mark Stoops should be feeling good about his defense in 2012. The Seminoles ranked fourth nationally in total and scoring defense last season, while finishing second against the run. Considering nine starters are back, it’s not out of the question this defense could be just as good, if not better than it was last year. The defensive line is one of the best in college football, led by ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner. The interior line is stacked with depth, including future star Timmy Jernigan and honorable mention All-ACC performer Everett Dawkins. The two biggest question marks for Stoops and the defensive staff will be finding a replacement for Nigel Bradham at linebacker, as well as replacing Mike Harris and Terrance Parks in the secondary. Although those three players were key contributors, their departure isn’t going to significantly hurt the defense. There’s plenty of depth and young talent waiting to step into key roles this spring. It’s up to Stoops and this defensive staff to sort things out in the linebacking corps, as well as get the new faces acquainted in the secondary.

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College Football Coaches on the Hot Seat: Spring Practice Edition
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2012 ACC Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews spring practice for Florida State.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 19, 2012 - 08:24
Path: /college-football/vanderbilt-commodores-2012-spring-preview
Body:

By Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch on Twitter)

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

Vanderbilt Commodores 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 6-7, 2-6 SEC

Spring Practice: March 16-April 14

Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 7

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Jordan Rodgers, 108 of 216, 1,524 yds, 9 TDs, 10 INTs
Rushing: Zac Stacy, 201 car., 1,193 yds., 14 TDs
Receiving: Jordan Matthews, 41 rec., 778 yds, 5 TDs
Tackles: Archibald Barnes, 59
Sacks: Rob Lohr, 5
Interceptions: Trey Wilson, 3

Redshirts to Watch: CB Derek King, OT James Lewis, WR Josh Grady, WR Jacquese Kirk, TE Darien Bryant 

Early Enrollees: LB Daerreon Herring, QB Patton Robinette

2012 Schedule

Aug. 30 South Carolina
Sept. 8 at Northwestern
Sept. 15 Presbyterian
Sept. 22 at Georgia
Oct. 6 at Missouri
Oct. 13 Florida
Oct. 20 Auburn
Oct. 27 UMass
Nov. 3 at Kentucky
Nov. 10 at Ole Miss
Nov. 17 Tennessee
Nov. 24 at Wake Forest

Offensive Strength: The Commodores made dramatic improvement on offense as the 2011 season progressed due in large part to the emergence of Zac Stacy as an elite SEC tailback. Running behind a vastly improved offensive line, Stacy rushed for a single-season school record 1,193 yards on a healthy 5.9-yard average. The passing attack was also quite a bit more potent in the latter half of the ’11 season, but the Commodores’ offense this fall will rely heavily on its rushing attack.

Offensive Weakness: The offensive line was arguably the most improved unit on the team last season, but this is still a group that has trouble with big, physical defensive lines. Herb Hand feels pretty good about his starters — most notably Wesley Johnson — but the veteran O-Line coach will be looking to develop some depth this spring and into preseason camp. Vanderbilt would prefer to play Johnson at left tackle, but might have to move him back to center if no one emerges as that position.

Defensive Strength: Despite losing two starters to the NFL in cornerback Casey Heyward and safety Sean Richardson, the secondary remains the strength of the Vanderbilt defense. Andre Hal, the nickel back for much of the 2011 season, likely will step in and join Trey Wilson as a starting cornerback. Eric Samuels, Javon Marshall and Kenny Ladler will battle for starts at safety.

Defensive Weakness: Vanderbilt is dangerously thin at linebacker. The Commodores were forced to play more nickel coverages than they might have preferred last year to mask their deficiencies at linebacker. That will likely be the case once again unless some young, untested players emerge over the next six months.

Spring Storylines Facing the Commodores:

1. Who will be the quarterback? Jordan Rodgers, the starter for the final seven games last season, had some great moments directing the Vanderbilt offense in 2011. But don’t assume that Rodgers will be the starter on opening day. Austyn Carta-Samuels, a transfer from Wyoming who was the 2009 Mountain West Freshman of the Year, impressed the coaching staff while running the scout team last fall. He is an outstanding athlete who will be given an opportunity to win the job.

2. The return of tailback Warren Norman. One of the few playmakers on the Vanderbilt offense in 2009 and ’10, Norman missed all of last season with a knee injury. He is expected back this fall, but he has clearly been passed on the depth chart by Zac Stacy, a second-team All-SEC pick in 2011. Norman will no doubt be involved in the offense — if healthy — but his greatest contributions might be on special teams. He returned three kick-offs for touchdowns as a freshman in 2009 and has averaged 25.9 yards on 62 career returns.

3. The linebacker position. Finding some capable bodies to man the three linebacker positions will be a primary focus this spring. There are basically only two healthy linebackers with significant experience going through spring practice — Chase Garnham and Archibald Barnes. Tristan Strong, who tore his ACL early last season, is expected back in the fall. After that? Who knows. Don’t be surprised if some true freshmen like Darreon Herring (early enrollee), Jake Sealand and Harding Harper get a long look.

4. The kicking game. There are no concerns with punter Richard Kent, but the Commodores simply must get more consistency from their placekickers. Carey Spear and Ryan Fowler each made 4-of-7 attempts last year, and neither made a kick over 40 yards. It’s not likely that either one will win the job during spring practice, but coach James Franklin would love to see both kick with more confidence. Colby Cooke, a true freshman, will join the competition in the fall. 

Related Content Links

College Football's Top Spring Quarterback Battles for 2012
Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

SEC 2012 Schedule Analysis
2012 Very Early SEC Predictions
Athlon's Very Early Top 25 for 2012

Teaser:
<p> Can Jordan Rodgers lead Vanderbilt back to a bowl in 2012?</p>
Post date: Friday, March 16, 2012 - 07:47
Path: /college-football/pittsburgh-panthers-2012-spring-preview
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

Pittsburgh Panthers 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 6-7, 4-3 Big East

Spring practice: March 15-April 14

Returning Starters: Offense – 9, Defense – 5

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Tino Sunseri, 247 of 385, 2,616 yds., 10 TDs, 11 INTs
Rushing: Ray Graham, 164 car., 958 yds., 9 TDs
Receiving: Devin Street, 53 rec., 754 yds., 2 TDs
Tackles: Jarred Holley, 67
Sacks: Aaron Donald, 11
Interceptions: Six players tied with 1

Redshirts to watch: TE Sam Collura, RB Malcolm Crockett, LB Nicholas Grigsby, DB Roderick Ryles

Transfers to watch: OL Tom Ricketts (Penn State), WR Brendon Felder (North Carolina), DB Cullen Christian (Michigan), DB E.J. Banks (Notre Dame), DB Ray Vinopal (Michigan)

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Youngstown State
Sept. 15 Virginia Tech
Sept. 22 Gardner-Webb
Oct. 6 at Buffalo
Nov. 3 at Notre Dame
TBD at Cincinnati
TBD at Connecticut
TBD Louisville
TBD Rutgers
TBD at Syracuse
TBD Temple
TBD at USF

Offensive Strength: Ray Graham was well on his way to rushing for 1,000 yards, but a torn ACL ended his season in the victory over Connecticut. All signs point to Graham returning for the 2012 opener, but if he is slowed early on, there’s solid depth at running back with Isaac Bennett and true freshman Rushel Shell.

Offensive Weakness: Quarterback Tino Sunseri had a disappointing junior year, throwing 11 picks to only 10 touchdowns and often held the ball too long in the pocket. Sunseri struggled, but the offensive line deserves its share of the blame. The front five never found its rhythm, largely due to injuries and the struggles of adapting to a new scheme.

Defensive Strength: End/tackle Aaron Donald had a breakout season last year, collecting 47 tackles and 11 sacks. Donald will need to anchor the line with three key contributors departing. The secondary ranked 72nd nationally in pass defense last season, but cornerback K’Waun Williams and safeties Jared Holley and Andrew Taglianetti are back.

Defensive Weakness: With six starters departing, there are several holes for new coordinator Dave Huxtable to fill this spring. Up front, the Panthers suffered huge losses, as Brandon Lindsey, Chas Alecxih and Myles Caragein have expired their eligibility. The linebacking corps must also be rebuilt thanks to the departures of Greg Williams, Max Gruder and Tristan Roberts.

Spring Storylines Facing the Panthers

1. For a team that has had four head coaches since December 2010, this spring is all about building stability. After Todd Graham decided to bolt for Arizona State after one season, the Panthers brought in Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst as the new head coach. This will be Chryst’s first head coaching gig, but he was one of the top coordinators in college football and should be a terrific fit in Pittsburgh. The Panthers aren’t far off from contending in a wide-open Big East race. However, how quickly the team adapts to Chryst will determine how high Pittsburgh can climb in the Big East standings this year.

2. Quarterback Tino Sunseri was a lighting rod for criticism last year, as the Panthers offense slumped to a disappointing 83rd nationally in scoring. Graham promised a high-octane offense, but Pittsburgh was stuck in neutral most of last year. Sunseri had a few bright spots, including a 419-yard passing performance in the 35-20 win over Connecticut. However, Sunseri had some awful games, throwing for only 38 yards in a loss to Utah and tossing three picks in a 34-10 defeat to Rutgers. The senior enters spring with a fresh start and a system that should be more suited to his strengths. The Panthers really need Sunseri to improve this year, especially when there are no proven backups on the roster. Sophomores Trey Anderson, Anthony Gonzalez and Mark Myers will compete with incoming freshman Chad Voytik for the backup role. If Sunseri fails to show much progress early on, expect Chryst to get an extended look at the other quarterbacks on the roster.

3. Although Sunseri deserved a good chunk of the blame for last season’s offensive struggles, the offensive line also deserves its share of criticism. The front five ranked last in the nation with 64 sacks allowed or around 4.9 per game. Coming from Wisconsin, Chryst is well-aware of the importance of a solid offensive line. Outside of the quarterback play, this group has to make the biggest strides for Pittsburgh to compete for the Big East title in 2012. The Panthers lose three starters up front, but return six with starting experience. Guard Chris Jacobson was limited last year due to injuries, but his return should help solidify a line that cannot be any worse than it was last year. The switch from a spread to pro-style scheme should also benefit this group and prevent another disastrous sack total at the end of 2012.

4. Running back Ray Graham is expected to sit out spring practice as he continues to recover from a torn ACL. Although Graham needs as much work as possible in the new offense, the Panthers need him at 100 percent and can’t afford to rush his recovery. With Graham sidelined this spring, look for Isaac Bennett and Corey Davis to shoulder the workload in the backfield. All signs point to Graham returning at full strength in the fall, and his recovery will be one of the top injuries to monitor before the 2012 Big East gets underway. 

5. Defense was usually a strength under former coach Dave Wannstedt and overall, this group wasn’t bad last year. The Panthers finished 21st nationally against the run, allowed 22.9 points a game and generated 3.3 sacks a game. There’s some key voids to fill this preseason, as Pittsburgh must replace six starters. The front seven will be the biggest area of focus, as end Brandon Lindsey is gone after collecting 8.5 sacks last year and two solid contributors are gone at linebacker. The secondary ranked 72nd nationally in passing yards allowed per game, but should be improved with three starters returning for 2012. Although there are some pieces to work with, new defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable has to rebuild the front seven and find players that can replace Lindsey’s production off the edge.  

Related Content Links:

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

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews spring practice for the Pittsburgh Panthers.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 15, 2012 - 06:40
Path: /college-football/arkansas-razorbacks-2012-spring-preview
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

Arkansas Razorbacks 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 11-2, 6-2 SEC

Spring practice: March 14-April 21

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 6

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Tyler Wilson, 277 of 438, 3,638 yds., 24 TDs, 6 INTs
Rushing: Dennis Johnson, 106 car., 670 yds., 3 TDs
Receiving: Chris Gragg, 41 rec., 518 yds., 2 TDs
Tackles: Alonzo Highsmith, 80
Sacks: Alonzo Highsmith, 4.5
Interceptions: Eric Bennett, 3

Redshirts to watch: WR Kane Whitehurst, WR Quinta Funderburk, OL Andrew Peterson, DT DeMarcus Hodge, CB Kelvin Fisher

Early Enrollees: TE Demetrius Dean, DE Austin Flynn

JUCO Transfers to watch: DE Austin Flynn, WR Demetrius Wilson

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Jacksonville State
Sept. 8 UL Monroe
Sept. 15 Alabama
Sept. 22 Rutgers
Sept. 29 Texas A&M (Site TBD)
Oct. 6 at Auburn
Oct. 13 Kentucky
Oct. 27 Ole Miss
Nov. 3 Tulsa
Nov. 10 at South Carolina
Nov. 17 at Mississippi State
Nov. 24 LSU

Offensive Strength: Quarterback Tyler Wilson pondered a move to the NFL, but decided to return for his senior year at Arkansas. Wilson’s decision to come back to Fayetteville will keep the Razorbacks in the thick of the SEC and national title race. Running back is also a strength, as Knile Davis returns after missing all of last season with a leg injury and Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo are back in the fold after combining for over 1,000 rushing yards last season.

Offensive Weakness: With Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs all out of eligibility, Arkansas will have a revamped group of receivers in 2012. There’s some nice talent returning, as Cobi Hamilton grabbed 34 passes for 542 yards and four scores last season, but there may be a transition period for Wilson and the passing attack.

Defensive Strength: Even though end Jake Bequette is gone, the Razorbacks should field a formidable defensive line. Tenarius Wright was limited to eight games due to injury, but will team with Chris Smith and Trey Flowers to form a solid trio at end. Byran Jones and DeQuinta Jones are back at tackle, giving Arkansas the necessary pieces to finish higher than 74th in rush defense next season.

Defensive Weakness: The Razorbacks aren’t in terrible shape on defense, but each level loses a key player from 2011. End Jake Bequette recorded 10 sacks and was the team’s best pass rusher. Joining Bequette as a key departure is linebacker Jerry Franklin (second-team All-SEC) and safety Tramain Thomas. How will the Razorbacks replace that leadership in 2012?

Spring Storylines Facing the Razorbacks

1. Is this the year? Arkansas has posted 21 victories and made appearances in the two top-notch bowl games ( over the last two seasons. The Razorbacks have inched closer to the top of the SEC West under coach Bobby Petrino and will have an opportunity to win the division in 2012. Petrino made a few changes to his coaching staff, bringing his brother Paul back from Illinois to coordinate the offense, while former Ohio State assistant Paul Haynes will lead the defense. Haynes did a good job of preparing the defense for the Cotton Bowl, but this will be his first full season going through the SEC. With Alabama replacing a handful of key starters on defense and LSU breaking in a new quarterback, the door is open for the Razorbacks to win the SEC West. The schedule also sets up perfectly for Arkansas, as both the Crimson Tide and Tigers visit Fayetteville in 2012.

2. Quarterback Tyler Wilson earned first-team All-SEC honors after throwing for 3,638 yards and 24 touchdowns last year. The good news for Wilson and the Arkansas offense is the line should be improved in 2012. Grant Freeman and Grant Cook depart, but guard Alvin Bailey should be one of the top linemen in college football, while Travis Swanson provides steady leadership at center. The bad news for Wilson and the offense is the departure of three key receivers, including All-SEC performers Joe Adams and Jarius Wright. Cobi Hamilton is expected to be the new No. 1 target after catching 34 passes for 542 yards last season. Joining Hamilton as top targets in the receiving corps should be Marquel Wade, Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon, while tight end Chris Gragg is back after catching 41 balls last year. There’s talent coming back to Arkansas’ receiving corps, but it’s largely unproven. It’s hard to imagine much of a step back for the Razorbacks passing attack, but this group is worth monitoring throughout spring practice.

3. Arkansas’ 2011 SEC title hopes suffered a huge setback before the season even started, losing running back Knile Davis to an ankle injury in fall practice. Davis was terrific in 2010, rushing for 1,322 yards and 13 scores on 204 attempts. Although Davis has some rust to knock off, all indications are that he will be 100 percent when the season opens in September. With Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo returning, Arkansas has two solid fallback options in case Davis is limited early in the year. Assuming Davis is healthy, he should challenge for All-American honors in 2012.

4. If Arkansas wants to knock off LSU and Alabama in the SEC West, it has to show improvement on defense. The Razorbacks don’t need to finish among the top 10 defenses in college football, but the stats have to be better. Arkansas finished 74th nationally in rush defense last season, ranked sixth in the SEC stopping the pass and 47th nationally by allowing 23.4 points a game. New coordinator Paul Haynes did a good job of preparing Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl victory over Kansas State, but he will have to find replacements for three of the defense’s top players from 2011 - end Jake Bequette, linebacker Jerry Franklin and safety Tramain Thomas. If the Razorbacks can improve their rush defense and force more turnovers, that should be enough to close the gap even more on LSU and Alabama in the SEC West race. However, that's easier said than done considering how important Bequette, Franklin and Thomas were to this defense. 

Related Content Links

College Football's Top Spring Quarterback Battles for 2012
Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

SEC 2012 Schedule Analysis
2012 Very Early SEC Predictions
Athlon's Very Early Top 25 for 2012

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews the Arkansas Razorbacks 2012 spring practice.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - 07:23
Path: /college-football/big-ten-2012-football-schedule-analysis
Body:

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

College football spring practice is already underway and it won't be long until Athlon's 2012 preseason annuals are hitting the shelves. The top 25 countdown will begin in May, but until then, Athlon will be taking a look at some of the schedules and some of the key games facing each team in 2012. The Big Ten should be one of the most competitive conferences in college football next year, especially with a loaded Legends Division featuring Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska.

Indiana 

Sept. 1 Indiana State
Sept. 8 at UMass
Sept. 15 Ball State
Sept. 22 Bye Week
Sept. 29 at Northwestern
Oct. 6 Michigan State
Oct. 13 Ohio State
Oct. 20 at Navy
Oct. 27 at Illinois
Nov. 3 Iowa
Nov. 10 Wisconsin
Nov. 17 at Penn State
Nov. 24 at Purdue

* Indiana has averaged 3.3 wins per season over the last four and the Hoosiers should hit that number in 2012. Three very winnable non-conference games start year two of the Kevin Wilson era. For Indiana fans to feel confident with the direction of the program, Wilson must win his first three contests in 2012. Especially considering…

* After the bye week, there isn’t a winnable game on the schedule. Certainly, it is still very early, but it is hard to see a game in which Indiana will be favored. Games that would appear like their best chance at a W — Illinois, Purdue, Northwestern, Navy — will all take place on the road.

* Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa visits during the year has to have at least the athletic department accountants in Bloomington excited.

* The crossover slate doesn’t offer much help as home games against Iowa and Michigan State will be tough for IU. A road test at Northwestern is the “easiest” game in the crossover slate.

Illinois 

Sept. 1 Western Michigan
Sept. 8 at Arizona State
Sept. 15 Charleston Southern
Sept. 22 Louisiana Tech
Sept. 29 Penn State
Oct. 6 at Wisconsin
Oct. 13 at Michigan
Oct. 20 Bye Week
Oct. 27 Indiana
Nov. 3 at Ohio State
Nov. 10 Minnesota
Nov. 17 Purdue
Nov. 24 at Northwestern

* For a new head coach and offense that completely fell apart a year ago, two non-conference tests against Arizona State in Tempe and WAC champion Louisiana Tech at home won’t be easy. Yet, with four of its first five games at home, Tim Beckham knows he needs to build positive momentum heading into a nasty Big Ten slate.

* The bye week couldn’t come at a better time following a brutal three-game stretch against Big Ten powers Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan — even if it used to simply lick its wounds. Back-to-back trips to Camp Randall and The Big House could end the Illini’s Big Ten season right out of the gate as those will likely be the preseason picks to play in the Big Ten title game.

* Two tough road trips to Ohio State (Nov. 3) and Northwestern (Nov. 24) dot the final month of the schedule that should prove to be much easier than Ron Zook’s 0-7 season-ending record. Assuming a win at home over Indiana and a loss at Ohio State, Illinois finishes with three very winnable games. While all three will be tricky (and are showing improvement), Illinois has to point to the final month of the schedule as an opportunity rather than simple survival. Should Illinois finish 4-1 down the stretch, it’s not out of the question that they would be in the Leaders’ Division title hunt.

* Crossover games with the Legends Division: at Michigan, Minnesota, at Northwestern.

Iowa

Sept. 1 Northern Illinois (Chicago)
Sept. 8 Iowa State
Sept. 15 Northern Iowa
Sept. 22 Central Michigan
Sept. 29 Minnesota
Oct. 6 Bye Week
Oct. 13 at Michigan State
Oct. 20 Penn State
Oct. 27 at Northwestern
Nov. 3 at Indiana
Nov. 10 Purdue
Nov. 17 at Michigan
Nov. 23 Nebraska

* The Hawkeyes will open the 2012 season with a neutral site game against Northern Illinois. This is the second time in the last six years Iowa has opened with the Huskies in Chicago. These two teams met in 2007, with the Hawkeyes winning 16-3.

* Revenge game. After losing 44-41 in three overtimes to Iowa State last season, you can bet the Hawkeyes have the Sept. 8 matchup circled on their calendar. Iowa is 3-1 in its last four meeting with the Cyclones and has won four straight at home in this series.

* For a team that will be breaking in a new running back and needs to find some new faces on the defensive line, the first part of the schedule sets up very favorably. Northern Illinois is a dangerous team, but will be replacing a handful of key contributors. Assuming the Hawkeyes can get past the Huskies and Cyclones, they should be 5-0 going into the bye week on Oct. 6. And Iowa won’t have to play its first true road game until Oct. 13 against Michigan State.

* The Hawkeyes didn’t catch a break with the Big Ten schedule, as they have to go on the road to face Michigan State and Michigan – arguably the top two teams in the Legends Division next season. However, Iowa does host Nebraska on Nov. 23 and has manageable road trips to Northwestern and Indiana.

* Crossover opponents with the Leaders Division: Penn State, at Indiana, Purdue

Michigan

Sept. 1 Alabama (Arlington)
Sept. 8 Air Force
Sept. 15 Massachusetts
Sept. 22 at Notre Dame
Sept. 29 Bye Week
Oct. 6 at Purdue
Oct. 13 Illinois
Oct. 20 Michigan State
Oct. 27 at Nebraska
Nov. 3 at Minnesota
Nov. 10 Northwestern
Nov. 17 Iowa
Nov. 24 at Ohio State

* If Michigan wants to be a national title contender, beating Alabama on Sept. 1 is a must. The Wolverines are 20-6 in previous meetings against the SEC, including two wins over Alabama (1988 and 2000). Even though the Crimson Tide has some heavy losses on defense, it’s going to be a tough task for Michigan to beat Alabama in the season opener.

* As if preparing for Alabama in the opener isn’t difficult enough, Michigan has a quick turnaround to face Air Force in Week 2. The Falcons’ option offense is difficult to prepare for in a week, so expect defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and coach Brady Hoke to devote some time in the fall to getting the defense acclimated to Air Force.

* Massachusetts is transitioning to FBS status and will play a full MAC schedule in 2012.

* Michigan has controlled the recent series with Notre Dame, winning five out of the last six matchups. The Wolverines claimed a 28-24 victory over the Irish in South Bend in 2010 and won a 35-31 thriller in Ann Arbor in 2011.

* Revenge game. Michigan State has won four in a row against Michigan, including a 34-17 victory in Ann Arbor in 2010. With quarterback Kirk Cousins out of eligibility for the Spartans, the Wolverines should be favored to snap the four-game losing streak. Throw out the revenge factor and it’s still a huge game in the Big Ten Legends race, especially since the Wolverines, Spartans and Cornhuskers will be neck-and-neck in the standings.

* Letdown alert? Although the Wolverines desperately want to get revenge against Michigan State, they can’t overlook the next opponent on the schedule – Nebraska.

* The Wolverines snapped a seven-game losing streak to rival Ohio State last year, but winning in Columbus won't be easy. Michigan has not defeated the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe since 2000. 

* Crossover opponents with the Leaders Division: at Purdue, Illinois, at Ohio State

Michigan State

Aug. 31 Boise State
Sept. 8 at Central Michigan
Sept. 15 Notre Dame
Sept. 22 Eastern Michigan
Sept. 29 Ohio State
Oct. 6 at Indiana
Oct. 13 Iowa
Oct. 20 at Michigan
Oct. 27 at Wisconsin
Nov. 3 Nebraska
Nov. 10 Bye Week
Nov. 17 Northwestern
Nov. 24 at Minnesota

* The Spartans open the 2012 a day earlier than most, hosting Boise State on Friday night. The Broncos have a plethora of losses on both sides of the ball, but are still a dangerous team. This will be the first meeting between Boise State and Michigan State.

* Michigan State has played in-state foe Central Michigan eight times, but this will be its first trip to play at Mount Pleasant. The Chippewas are coached by former Michigan State assistant Dan Enos, who has recorded a disappointing 6-18 record through two seasons.

* The matchup with Notre Dame won’t mean anything in the Big Ten standings, but this game is huge for momentum purposes. With Boise State rebuilding and Central Michigan coming off a 3-9 season, the Irish figure to give the Spartans their best gauge of where they stand going into Big Ten play. Michigan State has won the last two meetings against Notre Dame in East Lansing.

* The Spartans open Big Ten play with a date against Ohio State on Sept. 29. Michigan State has not defeated the Buckeyes in East Lansing since 1999.

* Michigan State’s Legends Division title hopes will reside on a three-game stretch, beginning with an Oct. 20 date at Michigan, followed by a trip to Madison on Oct. 27 and a home date with Nebraska on Nov. 3.

* The Spartans have won four in a row against Michigan, including a 34-17 win over Ann Arbor in 2010. The Wolverines are back on the rise and there’s no doubt they have revenge on their mind after last season’s 28-14 loss to Michigan State.

* Crossover opponents with the Leaders Division: Ohio State, at Indiana, at Wisconsin

Minnesota

Aug. 30 at UNLV
Sept. 8 New Hampshire
Sept. 15 Western Michigan
Sept. 22 Syracuse
Sept. 29 at Iowa
Oct. 6 Bye Week
Oct. 13 Northwestern
Oct. 20 at Wisconsin
Oct. 27 Purdue
Nov. 3 Michigan
Nov. 10 at Illinois
Nov. 17 at Nebraska
Nov. 24 Michigan State

* The Golden Gophers finished 2011 with some momentum, knocking off Illinois in the season finale and beating Iowa 22-21 on Oct. 29. The second year of the Jerry Kill era in Minneapolis should see an improvement in the win column, especially with a favorable start to the season. Minnesota should be favored to win its first three games and a victory over Syracuse wouldn’t be surprising.

* Minnesota and Syracuse have met only three times, with the Golden Gophers holding a 2-1 series edge. Minnesota won the last meeting between these two teams, a 23-20 matchup in Syracuse in 2009.

* Although Minnesota is riding a two-game winning streak over Iowa, it has not won in Iowa City since 1999. Is this the year that losing streak ends?

* If the Golden Gophers want to get to a bowl game, beating Northwestern on Oct. 13 is going to be crucial. Assuming Minnesota begins the year 4-0, a win over the Wildcats would put them within one victory of bowl eligibility.

* Minnesota didn’t catch a break in its November slate, as it has to play the three best teams from the Legends Division in the final month. The Golden Gophers host Michigan and Michigan State, but have to travel to Nebraska on Nov. 17.

* Crossover opponents with the Leaders Division: at Wisconsin, Purdue, at Illinois

Nebraska

Sept. 1 Southern Miss
Sept. 8 at UCLA
Sept. 15 Arkansas State
Sept. 22 Idaho State
Sept. 29 Wisconsin
Oct. 6 at Ohio State
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 at Northwestern
Oct. 27 Michigan
Nov. 3 at Michigan State
Nov. 10 Penn State
Nov. 17 Minnesota
Nov. 23 at Iowa

* The Cornhuskers kick off their 2012 season against Southern Miss, a team Nebraska fans are certainly familiar with. The Golden Eagles upset the Cornhuskers 21-17 in Lincoln in 2004. Although Southern Miss is a quality non-BCS team, don’t expect Nebraska to fall victim to an upset this time around. The Golden Eagles have a new coaching staff and must replace quarterback Austin Davis.

* With a new coaching staff taking over at UCLA, it’s going to be a guessing game for Nebraska when it takes on the Bruins on Sept. 8. The Cornhuskers and Bruins have not played since 1994, with Nebraska owning a 6-4 edge in the series. UCLA takes on Rice in its season opener, so there will be a lot of unknowns as Nebraska prepares for what the Bruins might throw at them on Sept. 8.

* Upset alert? Nebraska should beat Arkansas State, but it’s a game that could give the Cornhuskers some headaches. The Red Wolves are led by first-year coach and former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, while quarterback Ryan Aplin is quietly one of the nation’s most underrated signal-callers. Arkansas State is a dangerous team and one that the Cornhuskers can’t afford to take lightly.

* The Cornhuskers didn’t get any breaks in the Big Ten schedule. A brutal five-game stretch (Sept. 29-Nov. 3) will decide whether Nebraska can knock off Michigan or Michigan State for the division crown. Nebraska’s Big Ten schedule kicks off with a matchup against Wisconsin on Sept. 29 and it must travel to Columbus on Oct. 6. After a bye, the Cornhuskers travel to Northwestern, then back home to take on Michigan, followed by a road trip to Michigan State. Yikes.

* The Oct. 6 date against Ohio State is a homecoming of sorts for Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. The Cornhuskers’ head coach was born in Youngstown, Ohio and played at Ohio State from 1987-90.

* Crossover opponents with the Leaders Division: Wisconsin, at Ohio State, Penn State

Northwestern

Sept. 1 at Syracuse
Sept. 8 Vanderbilt
Sept. 15 Boston College
Sept. 22 South Dakota
Sept. 29 Indiana
Oct. 6 at Penn State
Oct. 13 at Minnesota
Oct. 20 Nebraska
Oct. 27 Iowa
Nov. 3 Bye Week
Nov. 10 at Michigan
Nov. 17 at Michigan State
Nov. 24 Illinois

* The Wildcats open the 2012 season with a trip to Syracuse. Northwestern played at Syracuse in 2009, losing in a 37-34 shootout. The Orange own a 5-4 edge in this series and has not lost at home to Northwestern since 1940.

* Northwestern’s tricky, but manageable non-conference slate continues in Week 2 with a date against Vanderbilt. The Wildcats have played the Commodores only three times, with the series tied at 1-1 with a tie in 1952. Northwestern defeated Vanderbilt 23-21 in 2010 and these two teams have not played in Evanston since 1952.

* If Northwestern wants to make its fifth consecutive trip to a bowl game, it’s critical to sweep the non-conference portion and knock off Indiana on Sept. 29. Although Syracuse and Vanderbilt will be swing games, those are matchups the Wildcats should have a chance to win. With Penn State, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan and Michigan State coming up after the first five games, Northwestern could need an upset or two to get bowl eligible.

* How’s this for a back-to-back slate of games in November: Nov. 10 at Michigan and Nov. 17 at Michigan State. Ouch.

* Could the Nov. 24 date against Illinois be for bowl eligibility for both teams? Both schools should be right around the 5-7 win mark in 2012, which could add some extra importance to the season finale.

* Crossover opponents with the Leaders Division: at Penn State, Iowa, Illinois

Ohio State 

Sept. 1 Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 8 UCF
Sept. 15 Cal
Sept. 22 UAB
Sept. 29 at Michigan State
Oct. 6 Nebraska
Oct. 13 at Indiana
Oct. 20 Purdue
Oct. 27 at Penn State
Nov. 3 Illinois
Nov. 10 Bye Week
Nov. 17 at Wisconsin
Nov. 24 Michigan

* The non-conference slate doesn’t feature any national showcases like Texas, USC or Miami of recent years, but a visit from Cal will be intriguing. Jeff Tedford could save his job if they can miraculously go into the Horseshoe and get a win. Having said that, it appears that a 4-0 start heading into Big Ten play is all but certain for the Napoleonic new football coach in Columbus.

* Urban Meyer will get his baptism into Big Ten play very quickly. A road trip to East Lansing and a home game against Nebraska kicks-off the Buckeyes’ conference schedule. You can bet revenge will be on the mind of Scarlet and Gray nation as Ohio State lost to both of those teams last fall.

* The Ohio State revenge tour will undoubtedly continue through the middle of the schedule that features only minor speed bumps for Braxton Miller and company. A four-game stretch against Indiana (road), Purdue, Penn State (road) and Illinois simply does not look daunting enough to cause OSU any real trouble. The road trip to Happy Valley might be the only losable game in the bunch.

* Meyer and Ohio State will have two weeks to prep for a brutal two-game finish to its 2012 season. A trip to Madison and a home game against that team from up North is no easy way to end the 2012 season. Without any bowl or Big Ten title to play for, however, the Buckeyes could easily spoil a few seasons along the way and wins over UW and Michigan could knock one or both out of the championship game.

* If there is going to be a year to play the best three teams from the other division — like Ohio State does in 2012 — it might as well be the fall you are not eligible.

Penn State 

Sept. 1 Ohio
Sept. 8 at Virginia
Sept. 15 Navy
Sept. 22 Temple
Sept. 29 at Illinois
Oct. 6 Northwestern
Oct. 13 Bye Week
Oct. 20 at Iowa
Oct. 27 Ohio State
Nov. 3 at Purdue
Nov. 10 at Nebraska
Nov. 17 Indiana
Nov. 24 Wisconsin

* Bill O’Brien certainly didn’t walk into the easiest non-conference schedule. Ohio, Virginia, Navy and Temple wouldn’t normally scare too many PSU teams but this isn’t your ordinary Nittany Lion team. Those four teams combined for 32 wins a season ago and the Owls came up four points short of a monumental upset of rival Penn State. If the Lions can emerge from this tough non-conference slate unblemished, fans in State College should be ecstatic.

* The first two weeks of the Big Ten schedule will teach fans a lot about the make-up of this Penn State team. A tough non-con slate previews a winnable start to the Big Ten season that features a road trip to Illinois and a home game against Northwestern. Penn State has the talent to start 6-0 but has big enough questions (on and off the field) to start 3-3 as well. Heading into the bye week at the halfway mark, PSU fans will know exactly where they stand.

* If Penn State wants to get to a bowl, it needs to get work done early in the year because the second half of the schedule features one “easy” game. Road trips to crossover opponents Nebraska and Iowa will be tough while home tests against the best two teams in the division, Ohio State and Wisconsin, won’t be any easier. A road trip to Purdue could swing this season from acceptable to worrisome or vice versa.

* Missing Legend’s Division favorites Michigan and Michigan State is one major positive.

Purdue 

Sept. 1 Eastern Kentucky
Sept. 8 at Notre Dame
Sept. 15 Eastern Michigan
Sept. 22 Bye Week
Sept. 27 Marshall
Oct. 6 Michigan
Oct. 13 Wisconsin
Oct. 20 at Ohio State
Oct. 27 at Minnesota
Nov. 3 Penn State
Nov. 10 at Iowa
Nov. 17 at Illinois
Nov. 24 Indiana

* The Boilers returned to the postseason for the first time since 2007 last fall, but will need to pull an upset or two in order to return in 2012. Three of the four non-conference games are winnable but a road win at Notre Dame might be asking too much.

* This means that Purdue must win at least three games in conference and its start to the Big Ten slate is downright impossible. Michigan and Wisconsin, the two teams likely picked to head to the conference championship game, visit West Lafayette in the first two weeks of Big Ten play before Purdue ventures into the Horseshoe the following weekend. An 0-3 start in conference seems to highly likely.

* Purdue has been picked as an early sleeper in the 2012 Big Ten title race. The Boilermakers will find out pretty quick how they stack up, especially with that brutal conference slate to start the year.

* The good news is the second half of the Purdue schedule offers some intrigue. Home games against Penn State and Indiana are certainly winnable with not-so-daunting road trips to Illinois and Minnesota mixed in. A tough road trip to Iowa is really the only time in the second half of the season that Purdue is a clear underdog. Three wins in those final five isn’t out of the question.

* Crossover opponents with the Legends Division: Michigan, at Minnesota and at Iowa

Wisconsin 

Sept. 1 Northern Iowa
Sept. 8 at Oregon State
Sept. 15 Utah State
Sept. 22 UTEP
Sept. 27 at Nebraska
Oct. 6 Illinois
Oct. 13 at Purdue
Oct. 20 Minnesota
Oct. 27 Michigan State
Nov. 3 Bye Week
Nov. 10 at Indiana
Nov. 17 Ohio State
Nov. 24 at Penn State

* With a relatively easy non-conference schedule, Wisconsin could head into its Big Ten opener without a loss. A trip to Oregon State to face a coach with his back against the wall could prove interesting for an offense that is missing all-everything quarterback Russell Wilson. But if the dairy-fed Big Red can get through the first four weeks unscathed, it will set up a monumental showdown with the corn-fed Big Red of Lincoln, Neb. Bret Bielema, and his entirely reworked coaching staff, will have its hands full when it heads to Memorial Stadium for the first time since 1973.

* The crossover opponents once again will not help Wisconsin return to the Big Ten title game in 2012. The Badgers will face Nebraska, Michigan State and arch-rival Minnesota. The Huskers and budding rival Michigan State will be picked to challenge the Wolverines in the Legends Division. Of course, that means Big Red gets a small break by not having to face their Big Ten Achilles Heel Michigan.

* The final two weeks of the regular season will likely determine if Wisconsin will be able to defend its Big Ten title. Ohio State visits in the penultimate weekend while a trip to Happy Valley wraps-up the 2012 slate. The good news for UW is that they should be “rested” heading into the final two games as the bye week and pseudo-bye week (Indiana) lead-up to the Buckeyes visiting Camp Randall.

* With the Leaders Division wide open due to Ohio State’s sanctions, the round robin between Penn State, Illinois, Wisconsin and Purdue could prove very interesting. The Badgers will play two of those games on the road at Purdue and Penn State. 

Related Content Links:

2012 Very Early Big Ten Predictions
Top Transfers to Watch in 2012

Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

Teaser:
<p> Athlon takes a look at some of the key games and interesting notes on tap for the 2012 Big Ten schedule.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 07:11
Path: /college-football/boise-state-broncos-2012-spring-preview
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

Boise State Broncos 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 12-1, 6-1 Mountain West

Spring practice: March 12-April 16

Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 1

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Joe Southwick, 23 of 30, 198 yds., 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: D.J. Harper, 115 car., 557 yds., 9 TDs
Receiving: Matt Miller, 62 rec., 679 yds., 9 TDs
Tackles: J.C. Percy, 46
Sacks: Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, 2
Interceptions: Jerrell Gavins, 3

Redshirts to watch: QB Jimmy Laughrea, K Jake Van Ginkel, DL Robert Ash, DB Eric Agbaroji, DE Sam Ukwuachu, DT Jeffery Worth, DB Darien Thompson, RB Jay Ajayi

Early Enrollees: LB Tyler Gray, DL Elliot Hoyte, DL Demarcus Lawrence, QB Nick Patti, TE Connor Peters, TE Hayden Plinke

JUCO Transfer to watch: DL Demarcus Lawrence, TE Connor Peters

2012 Schedule

Aug. 31 at Michigan State
Sept. 15 Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 22 BYU
Sept. 29 at New Mexico
Oct. 6 at Southern Miss
Oct. 13 Fresno State
Oct. 20 UNLV
Oct. 27 at Wyoming
Nov. 3 San Diego State
Nov. 10 at Hawaii
Nov. 17 Colorado State
Nov. 24 at Nevada

Offensive Strength: Even with Doug Martin departing to the NFL, the Broncos should have no issues running the ball in 2012. D.J. Harper has rushed for 1,642 yards and 24 scores in his career, but has struggled to stay healthy. The receiving corps should be one of the best in the Mountain West next year, thanks to the return of Matt Miller, Mitch Burroughs and Geraldo Boldewijn.

Offensive Weakness: How do you replace a quarterback that threw for 14,667 yards and 142 touchdowns in his career? That’s the question coach Chris Petersen and new coordinator Robert Prince must answer this spring. Kellen Moore was one of college football’s most productive quarterbacks over the last four years and will be difficult to replace.

Defensive Strength: The secondary had its issues last season, finishing 43rd nationally in pass defense and was a big reason why Boise State lost to TCU in mid-November. This group should be better in 2012, especially with the return of Jerrell Gavins and Jamar Taylor at cornerback. Both players were limited due to injuries last season, but will be expected to anchor the secondary in 2012.

Defensive Weakness: The Broncos have done a good job of reloading, but their depth will be put to the test in 2012. A handful of key contributors from last season’s defensive line are gone, including All-Mountain West performers Billy Winn, Tyrone Crawford and Shea McClellin. There’s some returning experience, but Boise State may find it difficult to finish 17th nationally in rush defense once again.

Spring Storylines Facing the Broncos

1. Once again, Boise State saw its coaching staff raided in the offseason. Although Chris Petersen was approached by a couple of BCS schools, he showed no interest in leaving Boise State. However, offensive coordinator Brent Pease left for Florida, defensive backs coach Marcel Yates departed for Texas A&M and special teams coach Jeff Choate left for Washington State. Peterson did a good job of filling the voids, bringing in former Oregon State star Jonathan Smith to coach quarterbacks, former player Andy Avalos to work with the defensive line and NFL assistant Jimmy Lake to coach the secondary. Although there’s turnover on the coaching staff, as long as Petersen sticks around at Boise State, the Broncos should be in one of the nation’s top 25 teams.

2. It’s never easy replacing a starting quarterback, especially one that was one of the most productive in college football. Kellen Moore departs after four terrific years as Boise State’s starting quarterback, throwing for 14,667 career yards and 142 scores. Moore also completed 69.8 percent of his passes and tossed only 28 picks. Four players will battle to fill the void under center this spring, with junior Joe Southwick as the early frontrunner. Southwick completed 23 of 30 throws for 198 yards and one score in limited action last year. Grant Hedrick is also in the mix, bringing excellent good mobility to the offense after rushing for 70 yards and one score on eight attempts last season. Redshirt freshman Jimmy Laughrea and true freshman Nick Patti will also get an opportunity to shine this spring. Patti is undersized (5-foot-11), but has the talent to start right away. Southwick is the favorite, but this will be one of college football’s top quarterback battles to watch this spring.

3. There’s plenty of weapons at receiver for the new quarterback, but the depth at running back could be an issue. D.J. Harper should be one of the top running backs in the Mountain West this year, but he has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. If Harper is injured again, there’s not a ton of experience. Drew Wright had 218 yards in a backup role last season, but the Broncos need freshmen Jay Ajayi, Devan Demas and Jack Fields to contribute carries in 2012.

4. As highlighted in the strengths and weaknesses section, Boise State has some issues to address on defense in spring practice. The Broncos return only one starter on this side of the ball and there’s not a ton of proven depth returning up front. The line loses five significant contributors, and will lean on tackles Mike Atkinson and Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe to anchor things up front. Tyler Horn will be charged with generating the pass rush from the outside, while junior college transfer Demarcus Lawrence also needs to make a significant contribution. The linebacking corps loses Aaron Tevis and Byron Hout, but senior J.C. Percy is back to lead this group. The secondary was a source of concern last year and must replace safeties George Iloka and Cedric Febis. However, cornerback could be a strength if Jamar Taylor, Jerrell Gavins and Ebenezer Makinde stay healthy.

Related Content Links

College Football's Top Spring Quarterback Battles for 2012
Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

Teaser:
<p> Boise State has a ton of personnel losses, but the Broncos are still expected to be among the top 25 teams in the nation for 2012.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 07:05
All taxonomy terms: ACC, North Carolina Tar Heels, News
Path: /news/how-will-ncaa-penalties-affect-north-carolina-2012
Body:

The verdict is in and the news is not good for North Carolina. A NCAA investigation regarding improper benefits and other violations under former coach Butch Davis has concluded, with the NCAA levying some significant penalties against the program. North Carolina was found to have committed multiple violations, including academic fraud, failure to monitor, ineligible participation of players and impermissible agent benefits.

As a result of the violations, the Tar Heels were slapped with a one-year postseason ban (2012), placed the program on three years probation and penalized the team with a reduction of 15 scholarships. In addition to being ineligible for a bowl game in 2012, if North Carolina wins the Coastal Division, it won’t be allowed to participate in the ACC Championship.

North Carolina will be the second team banned from postseason play next year, as Ohio State was already barred from competing in the Big Ten Championship or a bowl game. Miami and Oregon are still awaiting an announcement from the NCAA on investigations into its programs and both could be hit with a bowl ban for 2012.

Although losing 15 scholarships over three years is going to hurt the program, it’s not a significant blow (30 over three years) like USC received from the NCAA. The Tar Heels will have to be a little more selective in the recruiting process and depth could be an issue in certain spots, but overall, North Carolina shouldn’t suffer too much on the field due to the scholarship reductions.

The Tar Heels will also be forced to vacate wins from the 2008 and 2009 seasons, while former assistant coach John Blake has been hit with a three-year show-cause penalty. The investigation concluded Blake was paid by an agent for access to players on the North Carolina roster . The show-cause penalty will likely end any hope Blake has of returning to the collegiate coaching ranks. Former head coach Butch Davis was fired before the start of the 2011 season and will work as an assistant with new Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano. Davis was not hit with a show-cause penalty.

With this unknown finally removed from the program, North Carolina can move forward and turn the focus back to the field. But how will these sanctions and NCAA penalties affect this team in 2012?

Considering the Tar Heels were building some momentum with the hire of Larry Fedora as their new coach, along with the return of quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Giovani Bernard, it’s a huge blow not being able to compete in a bowl or the ACC title this season. North Carolina was going to be picked anywhere from second to fifth in the unpredictable Coastal, but was expected to be one of the ACC's bowl teams and contend for at least eight wins next year.

With no bowl or conference title to play for, it’s fair to wonder if the expectations should be lowered for North Carolina in 2012. A NCAA investigation hung around the Miami program last year, and the Hurricanes finished with a disappointing 6-6 record. The Tar Heels clearly know what’s ahead and the obstacles facing the program in 2012, 2013 and 2014. However, with some talented pieces returning on offense, it’s a setback not being able to compete for the conference title. With no bowl or conference title on the line, it's all about pride for the Tar Heels in 2012.

The real danger for North Carolina is not allowing the scholarship reductions and bowl ban put the program into a slide. However, with Fedora’s solid track record at Southern Miss, it’s hard to imagine the Tar Heels slipping too far in the Coastal and this team should be back in a bowl in 2013.

Considering none of the sanctions were on Fedora’s watch, the bowl ban and scholarship reductions should buy him more time. Knowing he would need some time to drive the program out of potential sanctions, Miami made a clear and long-term commitment to coach Al Golden at the end of 2011. North Carolina’s case isn’t as severe as the Hurricanes, but Fedora will need time to restock the 15 lost scholarships. After undergoing a lot of turmoil recently, the Tar Heels need to focus on giving Fedora whatever he needs to win and bring some stability to a program that is capable of being a contender in the ACC Coastal.

Related Content Links:

College Football's Top Spring Quarterback Battles
Top Transfers to Watch in 2012

Early Top 25 for 2012

College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

Teaser:
<p> How Will the NCAA Penalties Affect North Carolina in 2012?</p>
Post date: Monday, March 12, 2012 - 15:54
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-spring-quarterback-battles-watch
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The countdown to the 2012 college football season continues with a look at the top quarterback battles in the nation. Spring practice is already underway at many campuses and will continue for many teams into late April. Quarterback battles are one of the most popular topics when it comes to spring practice, but there's no guarantee they will be settled by the end of April. Expect many of the battles on this list to last well into the fall. 

The Biggest, Most Important Quarterback Battles to Watch in Spring Practice

Auburn
A year after claiming the national championship and watching Cam Newton hoist the Heisman Trophy, Auburn’s offense was stuck in neutral in 2011. The Tigers finished ninth in the SEC in passing offense and managed just 25.7 points a game. Barrett Trotter led the team with 1,184 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Clint Moseley threw for 800 yards and five scores. Kiehl Frazier threw for only 34 yards, but was a valuable contributor on the ground by rushing for 327 yards and three scores. Trotter decided not to return to the team for 2012, leaving Frazier, Moseley and true freshman Zeke Pike to battle for the job. In addition to breaking in a new quarterback, coordinator Gus Malzahn departed to become the head coach at Arkansas State. Coach Gene Chizik tapped Temple offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler to lead Auburn’s offense, which will likely be a little more conservative than the Tigers saw under Malzahn. Pike and Frazier have more upside, but how quickly will they develop as passers? Moseley is more of a caretaker, but may have to start until one of the young quarterbacks is ready. Don’t be surprised if Auburn starts three different passers in 2012.
Projected Winner: Frazier

Boise State
The Broncos have a plethora of holes to fill, but none bigger than finding a replacement for quarterback Kellen Moore. The general feeling is coach Chris Petersen and new offensive coordinator Robert Prince will find a way to keep Boise State’s offense among the best in the nation next year, but there may be a few growing pains. Four candidates will compete for the job this spring, with junior Joe Southwick and sophomore Grant Hedrick the early frontrunners. Redshirt freshman Jimmy Laughrea and true freshman Nick Patti will also get an opportunity to win the No. 1 spot. With a tough road test against Michigan State awaiting the Broncos in the first week of 2012, settling the quarterback battle is going to be crucial to Boise State’s chances at winning.
Projected Winner: Southwick

Florida
It’s a shock to see the lack of playmakers and offensive talent Florida has on the roster going into 2012. Considering the Gators had so much offensive success under former coaches Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, it’s almost hard to believe Florida finished 10th in the SEC in total offense last year. There wasn’t much that went right with the Gators’ offense last year and there’s a new coordinator taking over this season – Brent Pease from Boise State. Pease led a high-scoring offensive attack with the Broncos, but will have his work cut out for him in 2012. Jacoby Brissett made two starts last year and ended with 206 passing yards, two touchdowns and four picks. Jeff Driskel threw for 148 yards and brings more mobility to the offense. Although Brissett and Driskel were both highly-regarded recruits, neither did enough to lock up the job going into the spring. Whichever quarterback wins the job also needs the receiving corps, running backs and offensive line to play better in 2012.
Projected Winner: Brissett

Miami (Fla.)
There’s a lot of turnover on both sides of the ball for the Hurricanes in 2012, so it may be difficult to better last season’s 6-6 record. Jacory Harris was a lightning rod for criticism during his career, but actually turned in a solid senior year, throwing for 2,486 yards and 20 scores. The battle to replace Harris is already off to a slow start, as Stephen Morris suffered a back injury and will miss spring practice. With Morris sidelined, Memphis transfer Ryan Williams and true freshmen Preston Dewey and Gary Crow will compete for the top spot. Williams was the Tigers’ starting quarterback in 2010, throwing for 2,075 yards and 13 scores and grew up north of Miami in Pembroke Pines, Fla. Dewey and Crow lack experience, but enrolled early for spring practice. Although Morris won’t return to practice until the fall, he has to be the favorite to take the first snap for Miami this year.
Projected Winner: Morris

Notre Dame
For the Irish to get back into contention for a BCS game, settling the quarterback position is the top priority. Coach Brian Kelly did a good job of plugging in different quarterbacks at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, but has yet to find that same success with Notre Dame. Dayne Crist began 2011 as the starter, but was eventually benched in favor of Tommy Rees. Andrew Hendrix also received playing time last year, throwing for 249 yards and one touchdown, while adding 162 yards and a score on the ground. Rees finished with 2,871 yards and 20 touchdowns, but also tossed 14 picks. Crist decided to transfer to Kansas for his senior year, leaving Rees, Hendrix, redshirt freshman Everett Golson and true freshman Gunner Kiel to compete for the No. 1 spot this spring. Kiel ranked as the No. 24 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100, but has drawn mixed reviews from scouts and there’s no guarantee he will be ready to start this year. Although Rees may be limited in how far he can take Notre Dame’s offense, he may represent the safest choice. Golson and Hendrix provide a running dimension, but neither have much (or any) experience. Considering the Irish know what they have in Rees, the guess here is a different quarterback starts the season opener.
Projected Winner: Hendrix

Oklahoma State
A year after claiming their first BCS bowl victory, Oklahoma State has some large holes to fill on offense if it wants to claim the Big 12 title in 2012. Quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon have moved onto the NFL, which will force the Cowboys to rely a little more on running back Joseph Randle. Weeden didn’t miss a start over the last two years, which left little time for backup Clint Chelf to get onto the field. Chelf has been solid in limited action, completing 34 of 49 passes for 520 yards and five touchdowns. However, Chelf isn’t secure as the starter, as redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh and incoming freshman Wes Lunt will compete for the job this spring. Lunt was a four-star prospect by Rivals.com and could be Oklahoma State’s long-term answer to the quarterback position.
Projected Winner: Chelf

Oregon
Darron Thomas’ surprising decision to enter the NFL Draft leaves a vacancy at quarterback for the Ducks this spring. Although Thomas was a solid player for Oregon, the Ducks have done a good job of plugging in new starters under center and not missing a beat. Bryan Bennett is the frontrunner to replace Thomas, as he made one start last season and impressed during his limited action. Bennett threw for 369 yards and six scores, while adding 200 yards on the ground. Although Bennett is believed to have a sizeable lead on the field going into preseason workouts, he will be pushed for playing time by incoming freshmen Jake Rodrigues and Jeff Lockie, along with redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota and junior Dustin Haines. Mariota is biggest challenger for the starting nod, but look for Bennett to take the first snap for Oregon in 2012.
Projected Winner: Bennett

Stanford
Replacing Andrew Luck isn’t going to be an easy task for Stanford coach David Shaw. Vying to replace Luck this spring will be a handful of candidates, including sophomore Brett Nottingham, freshmen Evan Crower and Kevin Hogan and juniors Josh Nunes and Robbie Picazo. Nottingham completed 5 of 8 throws for 78 yards and a touchdown in a backup role last year, but has yet to record his first start. Nunes is expected to be Nottingham’s biggest challenger, but has only two career attempts. The Cardinal can lean on a solid rushing attack while the quarterbacks get acquainted to the starting role. However, there’s going to be a drop-off in production with Luck throwing passes in the NFL next year.
Projected Winner: Nottingham

Texas
Contending for the Big 12 title isn’t out of the question for the Longhorns in 2012. However, Texas has to settle the quarterback battle early and get the starter settled before Big 12 play arrives. David Ash took control of the No. 1 spot thanks to his performance in the Holiday Bowl against California. Ash ended last season with more interceptions (8) than touchdowns (4), but can add a different dimension to the offense with his rushing ability. If Ash struggles, the Longhorns will turn to Case McCoy or incoming freshman Connor Brewer. All reports out of Texas’ spring practices indicate Ash is off to a strong start and appears to be pacing the field to take the first snap in 2012.
Projected Winner: Ash

Texas A&M
Moving to the SEC is already a difficult task, but the Aggies have to do it with a new quarterback taking over in 2012. Ryan Tannehill finished a solid two-year run as Texas A&M’s starting quarterback by throwing for 3,744 yards and 29 touchdowns. There’s no clear-cut No. 1 passer going into fall practice, but the team has some intriguing options. Sophomore Jameill Showers worked as the No. 2 quarterback last year, completing four of five passes for 40 yards. Joining the mix this spring will be sophomore Matt Joeckel, redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel and true freshman Matt Davis. Manziel ranked as the No. 14 dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school by Rivals.com, while Davis was ranked as a four-star prospect. Davis enrolled early to participate in spring practice and should be a good fit for new coach Kevin Sumlin’s offense. Considering Sumlin and coordinator Kliff Kingsbury’s success at building a successful offense at Houston, the Aggies will eventually figure things out this season. The guess here is Showers wins the job, but will be pushed by Davis and Manziel throughout the year.
Projected Winner: Showers

UCLA
It’s been a struggle for UCLA’s offense to establish any consistency over the last couple of years. Will that change under new coordinator Noel Mazzone? Kevin Prince has battled injuries throughout his career, but is expected to begin spring practice as the favorite. Richard Brehaut threw for 948 yards and six scores last season and will likely be the No. 2 quarterback when spring drills open. The wildcard in the competition is Brett Hundley. The redshirt freshman ranked as one of the top 100 recruits coming out of high school by Rivals.com and brings a different dimension to the offense with his mobility. If Hundley is ready, he will quickly assume UCLA’s No. 1 spot. However, look for Prince to gain an early edge in spring practice and at least start the season opener.
Projected Winner: Prince

Washington State
It’s not crazy to think the winner of this quarterback battle could lead the Pac-12 in passing yards. And yes, that’s counting Matt Barkley at USC. New coach Mike Leach produced some of college football’s top offenses at Texas Tech and will look to rekindle the magic with the Cougars in 2012. Jeff Tuel’s 2011 campaign was hindered by injuries, but a glimpse at his 2010 numbers shows his potential – 2,780 yards and 18 scores. Connor Halliday played well in limited action last season, throwing for 960 yards and nine touchdowns, but a lacerated liver ended his season early. Whether it’s Tuel or Halliday getting the start for Washington State next year, this should be one of the most entertaining teams to watch in 2012.
Projected Winner: Tuel

Wisconsin
The Badgers dipped into the transfer ranks to find their starting quarterback last season, will we see them do it again? Russell Wilson was one of college football’s top quarterbacks last year, throwing for 3,175 yards and 33 touchdowns. With Wilson out of eligibility, Wisconsin has no clear No. 1 quarterback entering spring practice. Jon Budmayr has battled elbow problems the last two seasons and his status for 2012 is uncertain. Curt Phillips has not played since 2009 due to knee injuries and will be limited in spring practice. Incoming freshman Bart Houston recently had shoulder surgery and will be sidelined for the start of fall practice. Joel Stave and Joe Brennan are Wisconsin’s only healthy quarterbacks, but this position could get a boost this spring if Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien joins the team. O’Brien is expected to seriously consider Wisconsin as a destination, especially since he has a clear path to the starting job. If O’Brien doesn’t land in Madison, it’s a tossup as to who will be the starter.
Projected Winner: Brennan

The Next Tier

Arizona State – Todd Graham’s high-octane offense didn’t work out at Pittsburgh, but that style should fit in well at Arizona State. The decision of Brock Osweiler to leave early for the NFL Draft left a big void in the Sun Devils’ passing attack, leaving three inexperienced candidates to compete for the job this spring. Sophomores Mike Bercovici and Taylor Kelly, along with redshirt freshman Michael Eubank have combined to throw just seven attempts in their short careers, leaving Graham with a lot of inexperience under center. Eubank ranked as a four-star prospect by Rivals, but Bercovici was listed as the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart last year. With no clear-cut frontrunner, this battle could go deep into fall practice.

Cincinnati – Due to a leg injury against West Virginia, the Bearcats got a glimpse of life at quarterback after Zach Collaros. Munchie Legaux completed just 47.4 percent of his throws, while tossing five scores and four interceptions. Legaux added 185 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Jordan Luallen attempted only four passes, but showcased his rushing ability by chipping in 135 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Legaux and Luallen enter spring practice as the top options for coach Butch Jones, but don’t rule out senior Brendon Kay, redshirt freshman Patrick Coyne or incoming freshmen Trenton Norvell or Bennie Coney from making a run at the position. Legaux is the favorite, but he has to get better as a passer if Cincinnati wants to challenge for a Big East title.

Colorado – The battle to replace Tyler Hansen is already off to a strange start. Nick Hirschman completed 18 of 35 passes for 192 yards last season, but suffered a broken bone in his foot while walking that will keep him out of spring practice. Hirschman’s bad luck will give Texas transfer Connor Wood a clear path to the starting job. However, Hirschman will have a shot to reclaim the No. 1 spot in the fall for the Buffaloes.

Connecticut – Finding a consistent passing game has eluded Connecticut over the last few seasons. Coach Paul Pasqualoni took a few steps this offseason to get the Huskies out of the Big East cellar in passing yards, bringing in junior college recruit Chandler Whitmer and incoming freshman Casey Cochran. Both quarterbacks will have a chance to win the job this spring, as Johnny McEntee was unimpressive as the starter and Scott McCummings appears to be best suited for a change of pace role. This is a wide-open battle and may not be decided in spring ball.

Iowa State – The Cyclones open spring practice with two players neck-and-neck for the No. 1 spot. Steele Jantz got off to a good start last season, leading Iowa State to a 3-0 start with wins over Iowa and Connecticut. However, Jantz was injured in the win over the Huskies and never appeared to be 100 percent the rest of the way. Jared Barnett took over for Jantz and finished with 1,201 yards and six scores, while leading the Cyclones to an upset win over Oklahoma State. Both players are mobile, which adds an extra dimension to the Iowa State offense. Expect this battle to go down to the wire and it wouldn’t be surprising to see both players get a start in 2012.

Kentucky – After finishing 114th nationally in passing offense last season, the Wildcats have plenty of room to improve. Morgan Newton and Maxwell Smith played significant snaps in 2011, with neither gaining clear separation as the No. 1 passer. Newton threw for 793 yards and eight scores, but completed only 47.7 percent of his throws. Smith had a higher completion percentage (54.9), but threw for only four scores and tossed four picks. Although both quarterbacks have to be better, the Wildcats need more help from the receiving corps and running backs in 2012.

Mississippi State – With running back Vick Ballard and quarterback Chris Relf expiring their eligibility, there will be some new faces stepping into key roles for the Bulldogs next season. Relf was inconsistent as a passer, and Mississippi State ranked a disappointing 94th in passing offense last year. Junior Tyler Russell started four games last season and finished with a respectable statline – 1,034 yards and eight touchdowns. Russell will face competition from redshirt freshman Dak Prescott this spring, but Mississippi State could play both quarterbacks in 2012.

Ole Miss – There wasn’t much to get excited about when it came to the Rebels’ offense last year. Ole Miss ranked 11th in the SEC in passing, total and scoring offense and averaged just 129.6 rushing yards per game. Quarterback play was a major factor for the struggles, as three players (Randall Mackey, Barry Brunetti and Zack Stoudt) received meaningful playing time. Mackey finished with the most passing yards (1,112), but completed just 49.7 percent of his throws. Brunetti likely has the most upside, but all three candidates will be pushed for playing time by incoming junior college transfer Bo Wallace.

Purdue – There’s an old football cliché that says if you have two quarterbacks, you have none. What about three quarterbacks? That’s the dilemma facing Purdue coach Danny Hope this spring, as the Boilermakers return four quarterbacks with starting experience. Sean Robinson is expected to move to linebacker, leaving Rob Henry, Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush as the contenders this spring. Marve has struggled with knee injuries recently, while Henry missed all of last season with a torn ACL. TerBush started all 13 games last year and threw for 1,905 yards and 13 touchdowns. Although Marve should be closer to 100 percent, Henry and TerBush are the most likely candidates to start. Henry’s dual-threat ability would be an added dimension for a Purdue offense that has a chance to be improved in 2012. A two or three-quarterback system can’t be ruled out, but Henry figures to eventually wrestle away the No. 1 gig.

Rutgers – Even with the departure of coach Greg Schiano to the NFL, the Scarlet Knights figure to be picked near the top of the Big East in 2012. However, the difference between just contending and finishing at the top could boil down to quarterback play. Chas Dodd and Gary Nova shared snaps last year, but there’s very little separation going into the spring. Dodd finished last year with 1,574 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Nova threw for 1,553 yards and 11 scores. Nova has more upside, but Dodd has more experience. New coach Kyle Flood certainly has a tough task trying to sort out the quarterback situation this spring.

San Diego State – The Aztecs are coming off back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history. However, coach Rocky Long has some work to do if he wants to get San Diego State back in a bowl game in 2012, as quarterback Ryan Lindley and running back Ronnie Hillman have departed. Helping to soften the blow of Lindley’s departure was the transfer of former Oregon State passer Ryan Katz to San Diego State. Although Katz was benched last year in Corvallis, he should be a solid replacement for Lindley and will keep the Aztecs in contention for a spot among the top three in the Mountain West.

SMU – Kyle Padron was benched after a poor outing against Texas A&M in the season opener and never cracked the starting lineup the rest of the year. J.J. McDermott was adequate as SMU’s starter the rest of the year, throwing for 3,421 yards and 17 scores. McDermott finished his eligibility, while Padron decided to transfer to Eastern Washington, leaving Stephen Kaiser as the only quarterback with an attempt on the roster this spring. However, former Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert is expected to arrive at SMU this summer and barring a poor performance in the fall, will be the Mustangs No. 1 passer for the season opener.

Southern Miss – Austin Davis had a productive four-year career as Southern Miss’ starting quarterback and will be missed in 2012. There’s very little experience returning under center, as Arsenio Favor tossed three passes in backup duty last year. Redshirt freshman Ricky Lloyd will push Favor this spring, but true freshman Anthony Alford will throw his hat into the ring in the fall. Alford is the team’s most talented quarterback, but how quickly will he pickup the offense?

Tulsa – If the Golden Hurricane can replace G.J. Kinne, they should be one of the favorites to win Conference USA in 2012. Kalen Henderson backed up Kinne last year, but his numbers were abysmal – 8 of 29, 122 yards and four interceptions. In fairness to Henderson, a majority of his playing time came against Oklahoma State and that was his first extended action. Henderson should be better after a spring practice to work with the No. 1 unit on offense, but he will be pushed by Nebraska transfer Cody Green. In two seasons with the Cornhuskers, he threw for 657 yards and five touchdowns. Green also rushed for 254 yards and three scores in Lincoln. Look for Green to eventually emerge as Tulsa’s No. 1 quarterback for 2012.

UCF – After a solid freshman year, Jeff Godfrey was one of Conference USA’s biggest disappointments in 2011. Godfrey threw for just five touchdowns on 232 attempts and chose to transfer from the team at the end of the year. Blake Bortles played well in relief, throwing for 958 yards and six touchdowns. Bortles is the favorite to become UCF’s starting quarterback, but former Missouri signal-caller Tyler Gabbert will get into the mix.

Returning Starter, but….

Boston College – Chase Rettig holds the top spot, but is expected to get a push for playing time from Josh Bordner. Rettig completed 53.6 percent of his throws, tossed nine picks last year and topped only 200 passing yards twice last season. Bordner has only two career attempts, but is a good runner and his mobility would add a different dimension to the Boston College offense.

California Zach Maynard wasn’t awful last season (2,990 yards, 17 touchdowns), but was too inconsistent and struggled with his accuracy at times. The senior will open spring drills as the No. 1 passer, but coach Jeff Tedford will give redshirt freshman Austin Hinder, sophomore Allan Bridgford and incoming freshman Zach Kline every opportunity to win the job. Kline has generated the most buzz in Berkeley, as he ranked as the No. 40 overall recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100.

Georgia Tech – Tevin Washington had his moments, but also drew the ire of coach Paul Johnson last season and has to get better if he wants to hold onto the No. 1 spot. Washington led the team with 987 yards and 14 rushing scores, but completed only 49.3 percent of his throws. The Yellow Jackets don’t throw the ball a lot, but Washington needs to bump his completion percentage higher and lower his interceptions (8). Synjyn Days was solid in a relief role last year, rushing for 237 yards and four touchdowns on 48 attempts, while throwing for 198 yards. Redshirt freshman Vad Lee is an intriguing prospect and will also push for playing time this spring. Washington should finish spring as the No. 1 quarterback, but Johnson will have a quick hook to Days or Lee if he struggles this year.

Penn State – Rob Bolden (eight) owned an edge in starts over Matt McGloin (five) last year, but neither was particularly impressive. Bolden completed a miserable 39.3 percent of his throws and tossed seven picks to only two touchdowns. McGloin was better, throwing for 1,571 yards and completing 54.1 percent of his passes. Under new coach Bill O’Brien, the Nittany Lions would like to throw the ball more in 2012, but that’s going to require more efficient play from the quarterbacks. McGloin should win the job out of spring practice, but keep an eye on sophomore Paul Jones, who missed 2011 due to academic issues.

Pittsburgh – Tino Sunseri has drawn the ire of Pittsburgh fans over the last two years, but the senior still gives the Panthers their best chance to win in 2012. New coach Paul Chryst was one of college football’s top coordinators during his time at Wisconsin and should adapt the Pittsburgh offense to Sunseri’s strengths. Trey Anderson and Mark Myers will be Sunseri’s biggest competition in the spring, but neither was able to work their way into consistent playing time last year. Chryst will also take a look at two converted players – defensive back E.J. Banks and tight end Anthony Gonzalez – at quarterback this spring, but Sunseri should finish atop the depth chart going into fall practice.

Utah – A shoulder injury ended Jordan Wynn’s 2011 season just four games into the year. Wynn also had shoulder surgery at the end of 2010, so durability is certainly a concern for new coordinator Brian Johnson. The Utes should be USC’s biggest challenger in the Pac-12 South, but Wynn has to stay healthy and give Utah a consistent passing attack. If Wynn can’t stay healthy, look for the Utes to turn to senior Jon Hays or incoming freshman Travis Wilson (a three-star recruit by Rivals). 

Vanderbilt – Jordan Rodgers is clearly the Commodores’ No. 1 quarterback entering spring practice, but there’s a wildcard on the table that could open things up this summer. Danny O’Brien is transferring from Maryland and is eligible to play right away. Vanderbilt coach James Franklin tutored O’Brien with the Terrapins, but both sides are in a holding pattern until a tampering allegation against Vanderbilt is investigated. Rodgers will also face competition from Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels and redshirt freshman Josh Grady, but his biggest test could come from O’Brien if he comes to Nashville.

Virginia – The Cavaliers opened spring practice last season with four candidates vying for the starting job. Michael Rocco eventually emerged as the No. 1 passer, but tossed 12 interceptions to only 13 touchdowns. David Watford showed promise in his true freshman season, finishing with 346 yards and three touchdowns on 74 attempts. Watford has a lot of room to grow, but Rocco provided steady leadership in the starting role last year. Virginia needs Rocco to stretch the field and take better care of the ball in 2012, but he should be able to hold off a charge from Watford this spring.

Vacancy Available, but No Battle?

Baylor – Let’s go ahead and get the obvious out of the way: Robert Griffin will be missed. However, this Baylor team is well-equipped to survive Griffin’s departure and remain a factor in the Big 12. Senior Nick Florence has seven career starts and has thrown 290 attempts over the last three years. Barring a surprise performance by sophomore Bryce Petty this spring, Florence will be Baylor’s No. 1 quarterback entering the fall.

Michigan State – Even though Kirk Cousins earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last year, he might have been one of the conference’s most underrated players. Cousins threw for 3,316 yards and 25 touchdowns last year, and led the Spartans to back-to-back seasons of 11 victories. Andrew Maxwell has no starts and only 51 attempts in his two seasons on campus, but all signs point to him as the clear No. 1 quarterback.

Northwestern – Dan Persa’s injuries allowed Northwestern to build some depth at the quarterback position last year, with Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian receiving meaningful playing time. Colter served in a jack-of-all-trades role with the Wildcats last year, throwing for 673 yards and six scores, rushing for 654 yards and catching 43 passes for 466 yards. Siemian completed 16 of 26 throws for 256 yards and three scores last season. Colter is a better runner, while Siemian is regarded as a better passer. With two quality quarterbacks, both players could see significant snaps for Northwestern in 2012.

Related Content Links:

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

Teaser:
<p> Athlon continues its spring preview with a look at the top quarterback battles to watch.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 12, 2012 - 06:55
Path: /college-football/oklahoma-state-cowboys-2012-spring-preview
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

Oklahoma State Cowboys 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 12-1, 8-1 Big 12

Spring practice: March 12-April 21

Returning Starters: Offense – 3, Defense – 8

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Clint Chelf, 20 of 30, 307 yds., 3 TD, 0 INTs
Rushing: Joseph Randle, 208 car., 1,216 yds., 24 TDs
Receiving: Tracy Moore, 45 rec., 672 yds., 4 TDs
Tackles: Daytawion Lowe, 97
Sacks: Two players tied with 2
Interceptions: Two players tied with 5

Redshirts to watch: QB J.W. Walsh, CB Miketavius Jones, LB Kris Catlin, OL Devin Davis, WR Torrance Carr, WR David Glidden

Early Enrollees: TE Blake Jackson, DT Calvin Barnett, QB Wes Lunt, LB Jeremiah Tshimanga

JUCO Transfers to watch: DT Calvin Barnett, OL Chris Grisbhy, TE Blake Jackson

Transfer to watch: S Shamiel Gary (Wyoming)

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Savannah State
Sept. 8 at Arizona
Sept. 15 UL Lafayette
Sept. 29 Texas
Oct. 13 at Kansas
Oct. 20 Iowa State
Oct. 27 TCU
Nov. 3 at Kansas State
Nov. 10 West Virginia
Nov. 17 Texas Tech
Nov. 24 at Oklahoma
Dec. 1 at Baylor

Spring Storylines Facing the Cowboys

1. Coming off a 12-1 record and a Fiesta Bowl victory over Stanford, Oklahoma State has some work to do if it wants to win the Big 12 title in 2012. The Cowboys return 11 starters, but suffered some key losses on both sides of the ball. While Oklahoma State will certainly struggle to match last year’s win total, the program is on stable footing and has won at least nine games in each of the last four seasons. A drop off in victories is certainly expected considering the personnel losses from last season. However, don’t completely write off the Cowboys from finding a way to be a factor in the Big 12 race, especially with coach Mike Gundy recruiting well and some key pieces back in the mix for 2012.

2. All eyes in Stillwater this spring will be on the battle on to replace quarterback Brandon Weeden. The former baseball player had a terrific two-year run as Oklahoma State’s starting quarterback, throwing for 9,004 yards and 71 scores. Junior Clint Chelf is the early frontrunner to replace Weeden and has fared well in limited action, throwing for 520 yards and five scores on 34 completions. Although Chelf has the most experience, incoming freshman Wes Lunt – a four-star prospect by Rivals – and redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh will get every opportunity to win the job this spring. Luckily for the new quarterback, the Cowboys have a deep group of running backs that can help take the pressure off the passing attack. Joseph Randle returns to Stillwater after rushing for 1,216 yards and 24 scores last season, and will be expected to challenge for All-Big-12 and All-American honors.

3. Outside of the quarterback position, Oklahoma State has two other burning questions to answer on offense this spring. The Cowboys must replace two key receivers, including All-American Justin Blackmon. Michael Harrison was expected to be one of the main contributors to Oklahoma State’s receiving corps, but he left the program this spring. Tracy Moore, Josh Stewart and Isaiah Anderson are the early favorites to start in 2012, while junior college recruit Blake Jackson brings an interesting blend of size (6-foot-3, 238 pounds) and speed to the position. Outside of developing a pecking order at receiver, the Cowboys have to settle on a starting front five. Tackle Levy Adcock and center Grant Garner were two of the best in the Big 12 last year and will be missed. However, line coach Joe Wickline is one of the best in college football, and has some pieces to work with, including guard Lane Taylor and the return of Jonathan Rush from injury.

4. With eight starters back on defense, it’s not out of the question this group should be better in the big four statistical categories – scoring, pass, total and rush defense. The linebacking corps is rock solid with the return of Shaun Lewis, Alex Elkins and Caleb Lavey. The secondary will miss safety Markelle Martin, but Daytawion Lowe is back at free safety and transfer Shamiel Gary has two years of starting experience from Wyoming. Brodrick Brown is quietly one of the top cornerbacks in the nation and should contend for All-American honors. The biggest question on the defense is the line and production from the end spots. Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones combined for 12 sacks last year and will be missed off the edge. Nigel Nicholas has been moved from tackle to help with the depth at end, but the Cowboys need Ryan Robinson, Cooper Bassett and Tyler Johnson to emerge as solid contributors.

Related Content Links

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

2012 Very Early Big 12 Predictions

2012 Big 12 Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> With Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon no longer in Stillwater, the Cowboys will have a tough time repeating last year's win total.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 12, 2012 - 06:47
Path: /college-football/west-virginia-mountaineers-2012-spring-preview
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

West Virginia Mountaineers 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 10-3, 5-2 Big East

Spring practice: March 11-April 21

Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 6

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Geno Smith, 346 of 526, 4,385 yds., 31 TD, 7 INTs
Rushing: Dustin Garrison, 136 car., 742 yds., 6 TDs
Receiving: Tavon Austin, 101 rec., 1,186 yds., 8 TDs
Tackles: Darwin Cook, 85
Sacks: Terence Garvin, 3.5
Interceptions: Four players tied with 2

Redshirts to watch: DL Kyle Rose, LB Jared Barber, DB Terrell Chestnut, WR Dante Campbell, LB Isaiah Bruce

Early Enrollees: DL Imarjaye Albury, QB Ford Childress, S Karl Joseph, WR Jordan Thompson, S Sean Walters

JUCO Transfer to watch: OL Mark Glowinski

Transfer to watch: DL Derrick Bryant (UCLA)

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Marshall
Sept. 15 James Madison (Washington, D.C.)
Sept. 22 Maryland
Sept. 29 Baylor
Oct. 6 at Texas
Oct. 13 at Texas Tech
Oct. 20 Kansas State
Nov. 3 TCU
Nov. 10 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 17 Oklahoma
Nov. 24 at Iowa State
Dec. 1 Kansas

Offensive Strength: In the first year executing coach Dana Holgorsen’s spread attack, the Mountaineers averaged 346.9 passing yards per game last season. With another spring to pickup and tweak the pass-first attack, West Virginia should be even more comfortable with the offense in 2012. Quarterback Geno Smith should contend for All-American honors, while Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin form one of the top receiving duos in the nation.

Offensive Weakness: The offensive line was a source of criticism and frustration for the coaching staff last season, and the jury is still out on this group in 2012. Three starters return up front, but left tackle Don Barclay – a first-team All-Big East selection – and right tackle Tyler Rader are gone. Center Joe Madsen is a good building block for this group, and guard Josh Jenkins is back after missing all of last season with an injury. However, the line is still one of West Virginia’s biggest question marks going into 2012. Running back is also an issue, especially with Dustin Garrison recuperating from a torn ACL suffered in Orange Bowl practices.

Defensive Strength: Despite the loss of cornerback Keith Tandy and safety Eain Smith, West Virginia’s secondary is in relatively good shape. Pat Miller and Brodrick Jenkins will get the nod at cornerback, while Darwin Cook and Terence Garvin should be one of the Big 12’s top safety combinations.

Defensive Weakness: New co-defensive coordinators Keith Patterson and Joe DeForest have some rebuilding to do in the front seven. Ends Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin combined for 14.5 sacks last season and will be missed. Linebacker Najee Goode is another departed standout on defense, as he recorded 87 stops and picked up first-team All-Big East honors last year.

Spring Storylines Facing the Mountaineers

1. Goodbye Big East. Hello Big 12. Change is in the air in Morgantown this spring, as West Virginia has left the Big East in favor of the Big 12. The Mountaineers are somewhat of an odd geographic fit for the Big 12, but that could change with more expansion in the next few years. Regardless of geography, West Virginia should be a good addition to the Big 12 and will be in the mix to claim the league title in 2012. Change wasn't relegated just to the Mountaineers' conference, as defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel departed to Arizona, forcing the Mountaineers to bring in Joe DeForest from Oklahoma State and Keith Patterson from Arkansas State to share the co-defensive coordinator title. Holgorsen and DeForest have experience coaching in the Big 12, which will certainly come in handy as the Mountaineers adjust to life outside of the Big East.  

2. Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem for the Mountaineers in 2012. Quarterback Geno Smith should surpass last season’s yardage mark (4,385), while receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will both push for first-team All-Big 12 honors. Ivan McCartney had a strong sophomore year in 2011 and will build upon that success in 2012. However, the offense isn’t without concerns, especially on the line where two starters are gone. The offensive line was considered a weakness last season, but the return of guard Josh Jenkins from injury and the second year in Holgorsen’s scheme should be enough to expect some improvement from this group. While the offensive line won’t be an issue against most teams in the Big 12, the play of this unit will be an issue once Texas, Oklahoma and TCU come calling.

3. Outside of the offensive line, the biggest question mark on offense will be the rushing attack. Dustin Garrison had a solid freshman year, rushing for 742 yards and six touchdowns, but suffered a torn ACL in Orange Bowl practices. With Garrison’s status uncertain for preseason workouts, the Mountaineers need to figure out a contingency plan for the 2012 season. Shawne Alston ranked second on the team with 416 rushing yards last year and would figure to be the early frontrunner to replace Garrison. Sophomore Andrew Buie is also in the mix for playing time. The Mountaineers don’t need a 1,000-yard rusher to emerge, but they have to have someone who can help to take the pressure off quarterback Geno Smith. With Garrison sidelined indefinitely, it’s important for Alston and Buie to have a strong spring.

4. With a new defensive scheme and a change at coordinator, preseason workouts is an important time for the Mountaineers to find the right mix on defense for 2012. DeForest and Patterson have a tough rebuilding job up front, as ends Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller have finished their eligibility. The linebacking corps will miss Najee Goode, but there’s experience returning with Jewone Snow, Doug Rigg and Jared Barber back in teh mix. With the move to a 3-4 scheme, the linebackers will be a greater area of focus, especially in establishing a pass rush. The secondary ranked 35th nationally in pass defense last season, but that will be put to the test with better quarterbacks and receivers in the Big 12. With six starters returning, there’s plenty for Patterson and DeForest to work with. However, the Mountaineers need to quickly adjust to the new defensive scheme if they want to contend for the Big 12 title. 

Related Content Links:

Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012

College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat

2012 Very Early Big 12 Predictions

2012 Big 12 Schedule Analysis

Teaser:
<p> West Virginia is on the move from the Big East to the Big 12. Athlon previews what's in store for the Mountaineers as spring practice begins in Morgantown.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 9, 2012 - 07:17
All taxonomy terms: Temple Owls, News, Big East
Path: /college-football/temple-football-gets-redemption-whats-next-big-east-expansion
Body:

The Big East has arguably been college football’s most active conference with it comes to realignment, but it appears the final piece (at least for now) is in place. Temple will move its football program from the MAC to the 

Big East in time for the 2012 season. The Owls will bring the rest of their sports to the Big East in time for 2013-14. Temple’s exit fee from the MAC will be paid for by the Big East.

With the defection of West Virginia to the Big 12, the Big East was left with only seven football members for 2012. With most of the teams in the conference having trouble filling out their schedule, bringing in an eighth team for Big East play was the only logical option. Boise State was rumored as a candidate to join a year early, but the Broncos chose to stick around in the Mountain West for another season.

Considering the history between Temple and the Big East, it’s certainly strange to see the Owls helping to bail the conference out of a jam.

Temple joined the Big East for football in 1991, but never found success. The Owls won just overall eight games from 1991-96 and never managed more than four wins in a season during its original tenure in the Big East.

With the lackluster performance on the field and sluggish attendance, Temple was booted from the Big East and forced to play as an Independent in 2005-06 with disastrous results. The Owls won one game during those two seasons, but eventually found their footing with the hire of Al Golden as head coach and the move to the MAC.

While Temple never won a MAC title, the program has made significant progress from where it was in 2005. The Owls have won at least eight games in each of the last three seasons and posted two bowl appearances – 2009 EagleBank Bowl and the 2011 New Mexico Bowl.

Considering where Temple was in 2005 (0-11), the school deserves a ton of credit for working its way back into the Big East and becoming relevant on the national scene in football. Sure, the Big East isn’t going to threaten the other five BCS conferences in any preseason power ranking, but it’s an upgrade over the MAC. And with a boost in funding thanks to the Big East revenue, Temple isn’t going back to the days of finishing 0-11 or 1-10. The Owls are sitting in a good area for recruiting, and playing games in Lincoln Financial Field is much more appealing than Veterans Stadium.

How Will the Owls Fare in 2012?

Although the Owls are on the rise, it might be too much to ask for this team to contend for the Big East in 2012. Running back Bernard Pierce decided to bolt early for the NFL and the offense loses four key senior contributors on the offensive line. The defense should be solid, but must replace end Adrian Robinson. Coach Steve Addazio has done a good job recruiting, and while a conference title is probably out of reach, playing in a bowl game isn’t out of the question.

The Big East Does What It Needs To Do

While commissioner John Marinatto has taken his share of heat for the defections of West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, his expansion decisions have been the right ones for the future of the Big East. Although the conference would have been thrilled to land BYU or Air Force, gaining Boise State, Houston and UCF on the football side is a huge positive, while Temple and Memphis are two solid additions for hoops. The Tigers and Owls also have potential on the gridiron, and their improvement will be critical for the league’s overall standing in the next couple of seasons.

SMU and San Diego State have each had its struggles, but both appear to be back on the right path. The Mustangs have made three consecutive bowl appearances, while the Aztecs are coming off back-to-back bowl bids. Both teams reside in good media markets, and have the potential to grow should they continue to have success on the field.

Expansion was long overdue for the Big East, but this will be an intriguing conference when 2013 rolls around. Boise State has emerged as a national power and will anchor the Western Division. UCF and Houston have proven capable of finishing with 10 wins, but moving to the Big East is a step up in competition. The pieces are in place for both teams to do well in the new conference. And with 12 members, the Big East tentatively plans on having a conference championship game in New York City.

What’s Next For the Big East? More Expansion?

The addition of Temple certainly addresses a major hole in the Big East schedules for 2012, but the conference may not be done with expansion. Commissioner John Marinatto mentioned the Big East would like to get to 14 football members, creating two divisions of seven teams. Team No. 14 is likely to be located out west, which keeps the door open for Air Force or BYU to join.

But there’s another curveball that could be thrown Marinatto’s way. Louisville is believed to be the Big 12’s No. 1 expansion target and could be invited in the next couple of years. With the Cardinals on the rise once again in football, their departure would be a huge blow.

If Louisville leaves, the conference could look at bringing Villanova up to the FBS level. The Wildcats have been exploring the possibility of making the jump, and according to the press release announcing Temple’s move to the Big East, the conference is willing to waive the entry fee if they join within the next three years. The Big East is also offering some financial help to Villanova as it continues to explore moving its football program up to the FBS level.

If the Wildcats don’t work out, East Carolina would seem like a logical fit to become team No. 14.

Pittsburgh and Syracuse

Although Marinatto has pledged to hold Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the Big East’s 27-month exit agreement, there have been signs both teams will be allowed to leave for the ACC before the start of next season. Barring a complete change of heart, 2012 will be the Orange and Panthers last season in the Big East. With the conference bringing in six teams next season, losing Syracuse and Pittsburgh would give the Big East 12 football members.

Here’s a scorecard of the Big East’s expansion moves:

The Big East’s football members for 2012

Cincinnati
Connecticut
Louisville
Pittsburgh
Rutgers
South Florida
Syracuse
Temple

The Big East’s football members for 2013:

Boise State
Cincinnati
Connecticut
Houston
Louisville
Memphis
* Pittsburgh
Rutgers
San Diego State
SMU
South Florida
* Syracuse
Temple
UCF

Navy is expected to join the conference in time for the 2015 season.

* Syracuse and Pittsburgh are expected to leave for the ACC in time for the 2013 season.

Teaser:
<p> After being kicked out of the Big East in 2004, the Owls are back in the conference for the 2012 season.</p>
Post date: Thursday, March 8, 2012 - 06:18
Path: /college-football/alabama-crimson-tide-2012-spring-preview
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

Alabama Crimson Tide 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 12-1, 7-1 SEC

Spring practice: March 9-April 14

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 4

Returning Leaders:

Passing: AJ McCarron, 219 of 328, 2,634 yds., 16 TD, 5 INTs
Rushing: Eddie Lacy, 95 car., 674 yds., 7 TDs
Receiving: Kenny Bell, 17 rec., 255 yds., 2 TDs
Tackles: Nico Johnson, 47
Sacks: C.J. Mosley, 2
Interceptions: Dee Milliner, 3

Redshirts to watch: RB Dee Hart, WR Marvin Shinn, WR Bradley Sylve, RB Brent Calloway, TE Malcolm Faciane

Early Enrollees: LB Ryan Anderson, DB Deion Belue, WR Chris Black, WR Amari Cooper, DB Travell Dixon, LB Dillon Lee, DL Alphonse Taylor, RB T.J. Yeldon

JUCO Transfers to watch: DB Travell Dixon, DB Deion Belue

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Michigan (Arlington)
Sept. 8 Western Kentucky
Sept. 15 at Arkansas
Sept. 22 FAU
Sept. 29 Ole Miss
Oct. 13 at Missouri
Oct. 20 at Tennessee
Oct. 27 Mississippi State
Nov. 3 at LSU
Nov. 10 Texas A&M
Nov. 17 Western Carolina
Nov. 24 Auburn

Offensive Strength: AJ McCarron entered last season locked into a battle with Phillip Sims for the starting job, but clearly emerged early in the year as Alabama’s No. 1 quarterback and should be one of the SEC’s top passers in 2012. Although running back Trent Richardson could be one of the first 10 picks off the board in the NFL Draft, Alabama won’t miss much of a beat on the ground. Eddie Lacy rushed for 674 yards and seven scores last year, while Jalston Fowler chipped in 385 yards, and the running back corps will get a boost with the return of Dee Hart from a knee injury. Replacing center William Vlachos won’t be easy, but the line is in good shape with first-team All-SEC lineman Barrett Jones returning.

Offensive Weakness: Although there are some significant losses (Richardson, Vlachos and receiver Marquis Maze), Alabama shouldn’t slip too much in offensive production. The biggest question mark will be getting receivers Kenny Bell, DeAndrew White and a cast of talented freshmen acquainted with McCarron. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland has plenty of talent up front, but has to find the right mix. New coordinator Doug Nussmeier likely won't make many changes to the scheme, but there's always concern about transition. 

Defensive Strength: Only four starters are back from the best defense in college football last season, which means coordinator Kirby Smart has some work to do. However, there’s plenty of talent ready to step into key positions. The defensive line is in good shape with the return of ends Damion Square, Jesse Williams and Quinton Dial. Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley will anchor a young, but talented linebacking corps.

Defensive Weakness: Considering how successful the Crimson Tide was on defense last year, it’s going to be nearly impossible to repeat those statistics with seven starters gone. While the front seven should be solid, the secondary is going to miss safety Mark Barron and cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie. 

Spring Storylines Facing the Crimson Tide

1. Repeating as national champs is never an easy task. However, the mission for Alabama is even more difficult when you consider the personnel losses. The Crimson Tide lose four first-team All-SEC players and three that earned second-team honors. The good news? Alabama has recruited as well as any team in college football, with each of its last five hauls ranking in the top five of Athlon Sports’ top 50 signing classes. In addition to player losses, Alabama had to replace offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, who departed to become the head coach at Colorado State. There's no lack of talent in Tuscaloosa, but could the youth and inexperience be too much to overcome in 2012? The schedule isn’t overwhelmingly difficult, but two road trips – at Arkansas and at LSU – could make or break Alabama’s hopes of repeating.

2. With AJ McCarron ready to take the next step in his development at quarterback, Alabama’s receivers will be under the microscope this fall. Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks depart, while tight end Brad Smelley is also gone after catching 34 passes for 356 yards last season. Kenny Bell, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones are the top returning targets at receiver, but this year’s crop of incoming freshmen will provide competition in preseason workouts. Eddie Williams, Chris Black and Amari Cooper each ranked among the top 60 prospects of the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100. Highly-touted redshirt freshmen Marvin Shinn and Bradley Sylve will also figure into the mix. The 2012 group of Crimson Tide receivers might have more overall talent than the 2011 bunch, but there could be a few growing pains until they gain more experience.

3. Who will fill the shoes of running back Trent Richardson? The answer probably doesn’t rest with one player, but rather a committee approach. Eddie Lacy will miss spring practice due to an injury, but is expected to anchor Alabama’s rushing attack in 2012. Lacy may finish with the team lead in rushing yards, but Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler will contribute. Hart missed last season due to a knee injury, but will give the backfield a different element with his speed and elusiveness. True freshman T.J. Yeldon enrolled for spring practice and could also figure into the mix. Although Alabama will certainly miss Richardson, there’s plenty of talent and options to keep the rushing attack among the best in the SEC.

4. Odds are stacked against Alabama finishing as the nation’s best rush, pass, total and scoring defense. However, that doesn’t mean this defense will slip back to the pack in the SEC. While coordinator Kirby Smart has a lot of work to do this spring, the defense won’t be a weak link. The line is strong, thanks to the return of Jesse Williams, Quinton Dial and Damion Square. The biggest question up front will be finding an anchor in the middle, as Josh Chapman and Nick Gentry have both finished their eligibility. The linebacking corps loses three contributors, but there’s plenty to work with thanks to the return of Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley. Sophomores Trey DePriest, Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson are future stars and will figure prominently into the rotation.

5. While the front seven appears to be in good shape, the secondary will be under the spotlight early in 2012. Cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie and safety Mark Barron will be missed, especially with the Crimson Tide visiting Arkansas on Sept. 15. Dee Milliner has 17 career starts and is expected to anchor one of the open cornerback spots. The other side is up for grabs, but keep an eye on junior John Fulton and incoming junior college recruits Deion Belue and Travell Dixon. This unit will eventually figure things out, but an early season matchup against Arkansas will give the secondary an early baptism by fire. 

Related College Football Content

Athlon's Early Top 25 for 2012
Grading College Football's New Coaching Hires for 2012

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ollege Football Coaches on the Hot Seat: Spring Practice Edition
College Football's Top 10 Spring Storylines to Watch

2012 SEC Schedule Analysis
2012 Recruiting Class Rankings: No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide

Teaser:
<p> The defending national champions have some holes to fill, but expect Alabama to be back in the national title picture once again in 2012.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 - 07:10
Path: /college-football/2012-usc-trojans-spring-preview
Body:

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.

USC Trojans 2012 Spring Preview

2011 Record: 10-2, 7-2 Pac-12

Spring practice: March 6-April 14

Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 7

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Matt Barkley, 308 of 446, 3,528 yds., 39 TD, 7 INTs
Rushing: Curtis McNeal, 145 car., 1,005 yds., 6 TDs
Receiving: Robert Woods, 111 rec., 1,292 yds., 15 TDs
Tackles: Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey, 81
Sacks: Hayes Pullard and Wes Horton, 4
Interceptions: T.J. McDonald, 3

Redshirts to watch: DT Antwaun Woods, DE Charles Burks, WR Victor Blackwell, RB Javorious Allen, DE Greg Townsend, DT Christian Heyward, CB Ryan Henderson

Early Enrollees: LB Scott Starr, DE DeVante Wilson, DE Morgan Breslin, OT Chad Wheeler

JUCO Transfers to watch: DE Morgan Breslin, S Gerald Bowman

Transfers to watch: DB Josh Shaw – may not be eligible until 2013

2012 Schedule

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

Offensive Strength: Thanks to the return of quarterback Matt Barkley and two of the top receivers in college football, USC will have one of the top passing attacks in the nation. Running back Curtis McNeal also returns after rushing for 1,005 yards and six scores last season, while the offensive line is in good shape with four starters returning.

Offensive Weakness: With the Trojans dealing with scholarship reductions, depth is an issue on the offensive line and at running back. Even though four starters are back on the line, losing left tackle Matt Kalil to the NFL Draft was a huge blow for this group.

Defensive Strength: The Trojans showed improvement last year on defense and seven starters return for 2012. The linebacking corps is led by sophomores Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard and both are expected to challenge for first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2012. Cornerback Nickell Robey and safety T.J. McDonald anchor a secondary that ranked 102nd nationally in pass defense, but should be improved in 2012.

Defensive Weakness: It may seem like a tired cliché, but the success to any defense starts up front. Unfortunately for USC, three starters are gone, including first-team All-Pac-12 end Nick Perry and tackles Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris. The cupboard isn’t completely bare, but this unit will be a concern for coordinator Monte Kiffin. 

Spring Storylines Facing the Trojans

1. The postseason ban is over, and USC should begin 2012 as one of the top contenders for the national title. The Trojans are still dealing with scholarship reductions, but this year’s team is loaded for a run at the preseason No. 1 ranking. Coach Lane Kiffin’s biggest recruit wasn’t a freshman, but rather the return of quarterback Matt Barkley. Although Barkley was considered one of the top prospects for the 2012 NFL Draft, he decided to return for his senior year and will be among the preseason favorites to win the Heisman and first-team All-American honors. The Trojans also caught another break with the NFL Draft, as safety T.J. McDonald also decided to stay for his senior year. The news wasn’t all positive in relation to the roster, as left tackle Matt Kalil and defensive end Nick Perry decided to bolt for the NFL. Although there’s still the sting of scholarship reductions, Barkley’s return and the finish of the 2010 season have USC on the rise going into 2012.

2. Kalil’s departure leaves a mammoth hole on the left side of the line, but there is promising talent ready to step into action. Right tackle Kevin Graf started all 12 games last season and is the early favorite to fill Kalil’s old spot. Guard Aundrey Walker could figure into the mix, but he could fill Graf’s vacated right tackle position. The Trojans could receive immediate help from incoming freshmen Jordan Simmons (No. 47 on the Athlon Consensus 100), Zach Banner (No. 50) and Chad Wheeler on the line this fall. There’s no question Kalil will be missed, but USC has enough returning talent to keep the offensive line playing at a high level.

3. With Robert Woods and Marqise Lee returning next season, there’s no shortage of weapons for Matt Barkley. However, the Trojans could be even more dangerous on offense next year if two wildcards (George Farmer and redshirt freshman Victor Blackwell) step up at receiver. Farmer moved between running back and receiver last season, but has settled at receiver for 2012. With little depth behind running back Curtis McNeal, keep an eye on incoming freshman Nelson Agholor. He won’t arrive until the fall, but the freshman ranked as the No. 26 overall prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and could split snaps at receiver and running back.

4. Just like the offense, the focus on defense this spring will be the battle in the trenches. Three key contributors from last season are gone, leaving end Wes Horton as the team’s lone returning starter. Horton collected second-team All-Pac-12 honors last season, registering 22 stops and four sacks. Senior Devon Kennard moved back to defensive end from linebacker last season and picked up 29 tackles and two sacks. With another spring practice at end under his belt, expect Kennard to make an even bigger contribution to the line next year. Kennard and Holton is a solid combination at end, but there’s not much in the way of proven depth. Redshirt freshman Charles Burks, junior college transfer Morgan Breslin and incoming freshman Leonard Williams will figure into the mix this year. Depth at tackle seems to be a little better, but George Uko is the only proven commodity. Needless to say, the Trojans need big contributions at tackle from redshirt freshmen Antwaun Woods, Christian Heyward and Cody Temple. It’s not unrealistic to think the progress of the defensive line could be the difference between playing for the national title or the Rose Bowl.

Related Content

2012 Recruiting Rankings: No. 10 USC Trojans
Athlon's Early Top 25 for 2012

Athlon's Early Pac-12 Predictions for 2012
College Football's 10 Biggest Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat
College Football's Transfers to Watch for 2012

Teaser:
<p> Athlon previews USC's spring practice and some of the key questions facing the Trojans in 2012.&nbsp;</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - 05:53

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