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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25

#3

NATIONAL FORECAST

#3

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Mark Helfrich, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Scott Frost | DEF. COORDINATOR: Nick Aliotti

OFFENSE

New head coach Mark Helfrich’s transition will be eased by the presence of two potential Heisman Trophy candidates in sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota and junior running back De’Anthony Thomas.

Mariota, who combines laid-back Hawaiian cool with textbook dual-threat abilities, set school records for completion percentage (68.5) and total touchdowns (38) in his first season as the starter.

Used as a complement to LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner the last two years, Thomas will get a shot as the primary back in 2013, though the Ducks will limit his carries to protect the 176-pound jitterbug. Sophomore Byron Marshall and 5-star recruit Thomas Tyner will also be involved in the running game.

There are enough veteran targets on hand in receivers Josh Huff, Keanon Lowe and Bralon Addison, plus tight end Colt Lyerla, that speculation around Eugene is that the Ducks will throw more often this fall, after being predominantly a running team under Chip Kelly.

The offensive line features a trio of all-conference candidates in center Hroniss Grasu, left tackle Tyler Johnstone and right tackle Jake Fisher, but the guards will be relatively new faces. Senior Mana Greig started two games last fall before a knee injury ended his season, and junior Hamani Stevens is a big body who could provide the physical presence the Ducks need to prove they’re not just a finesse offense.

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DEFENSE

The Ducks return six of their top seven defensive linemen and their entire two-deep in the defensive backfield, including All-America candidate Ifo Ekpre-Olomu at cornerback.

The question mark is at inside linebacker, where Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso have graduated, and juniors Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick sat out spring practices. Junior college transfer Joe Walker and converted outside linebacker Tyson Coleman could be factors there.

Oregon also needs to replace top NFL Draft pick Dion Jordan, but his shoulder injury late in 2012 provided a chance for backup Tony Washington to earn the confidence of his coaches and teammates. On the other side, the Ducks are waiting for senior Boseko Lokombo to blossom into a consistent impact player, after flashes of greatness the last three seasons.

Key Player

Marcus Mariota, QB – Had 11 TDs and four INTs in his first five games, then 21 TDs and two picks in the final eight.

De’Anthony Thomas, RB – Ducks need to limit his exposure, and hope his explosiveness makes for quick drives without a lot of carries.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB – Turnover machine in 2012 could face less work in 2013 now that opponents have seen what he can do.

Schedule

SPECIALISTS

The Ducks could have two new kickers, with heralded freshman Matt Wogan set to challenge inconsistent placekicker Alejandro Maldonado, and Dylan Ausherman replacing punter Jackson Rice. Ausherman is a junior college transfer who redshirted last fall. Thomas is a threat in the return game — he scored a touchdown on the opening kickoff of the Fiesta Bowl — but he struggled with his decision-making as a punt returner last fall. Addison is a more sure-handed option on punt returns.

FINAL ANALYSIS

The Ducks enter their most intriguing season since Kelly took over in 2009, with the Helfrich era kicking off and the Ducks looking to regain their throne after failing to win a fourth consecutive conference championship in 2012. They “settled” for their second straight BCS bowl victory, over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl, but the departure of Kelly to the NFL a few weeks later made 2013 a potentially historic transition year for the program.

The promotion of Helfrich was intended to maintain momentum, and he managed to keep the bulk of the coaching staff and the recruiting class together. But in six years with the Ducks, Kelly grew to become one of the most respected football minds in the country, and a hiccup or two in his absence wouldn’t be surprising, particularly against Stanford, the only team to beat Kelly twice in his four years as head coach.

 

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25

#48

NATIONAL FORECAST

#48

SEC East PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Gary Pinkel, 90-61 (12 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Josh Henson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dave Steckel

OFFENSE

If he can hold off redshirt freshman Maty Mauk, senior James Franklin will enter his third season as the Tigers’ starting quarterback. Franklin suffered through an injury-plagued junior year, prompting coach Gary Pinkel to open up the position to competition in the spring. Mauk appeared capable of leading the offense, and the two-time Gatorade Ohio Player of the Year could end up winning the job if Franklin doesn’t return to form.

The return of tailback Henry Josey could also offer a boost. Josey missed all of last season after shredding his left knee in the 10th game of the 2011 season in which he rushed for 1,168 yards. If Josey isn’t ready to carry the load, Russell Hansbrough might be after playing nine games as a true freshman. Marcus Murphy averaged 5.5 yards per carry in a reserve role in 2012.

Missouri’s receiving corps is loaded with experience, but also with unfulfilled potential. Seniors Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington are closing in on 1,000 yards for their careers, and heralded high school recruit Dorial Green-Beckham could be on the cusp of a breakout season after leading the team with five touchdown receptions as a true freshman.

Four starters return on the line from a unit that was hit hard by injuries last season. Evan Boehm started all 12 games as a true freshman and is moving from guard to center this season in an effort to rectify snapping issues that plagued the Tigers in ’12. 



DEFENSE

It’s hard to imagine a unit that ranked 10th in the SEC getting much better now that All-SEC lineman Sheldon Richardson left early for the NFL. A good amount of playing experience returns on the line and in the secondary, but the experience wasn’t all that great for a defense that accumulated only 21 sacks, seven interceptions and allowed an average of 5.5 yards on each snap.

Entering his second season as a starter, junior end Kony Ealy needs to emerge as a disruptive force. Four players return with starting experience from a secondary that allowed 44 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Cornerback E.J. Gaines is the best of a mediocre bunch. In two years as a starter, he’s broken up 27 passes but has only three interceptions.

Middle linebacker Andrew Wilson will be looking to lead the team in tackles for a third consecutive year, but his 23 career starts represent the bulk of the Tigers’ linebacker experience.

SPECIALISTS

Murphy is back after scoring four touchdowns on returns, including three on punts. Andrew Baggett is the incumbent at kicker, but he did miss four extra points in his first year on the job. The punting position was wide open during spring drills, with a couple of walk-ons vying to replace Trey Barrow’s steady two-year production.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Missouri’s first year in the SEC was rife with change, and it wasn’t for the better as the Tigers suffered their first losing season since 2004. The changes continued in the offseason with the abrupt resignation of offensive coordinator David Yost, a longtime Pinkel assistant. Former offensive line coach Josh Henson is now in charge of a Missouri attack that found life in the SEC to be more physical — and low scoring — than the Big 12. 

As Pinkel enters his 13th year at Missouri, faith in the Tigers boss could be floundering. The Tigers haven’t suffered back-to-back losing seasons since Pinkel’s first two years in Columbia, but their transition to the SEC was hardly smooth. After a clear step back in 2012, Missouri needs to move forward in 2013 or be left in the dust by their new conference foes.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25

#44

NATIONAL FORECAST

#44

MAC West PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Rod Carey, 0-1 (First Year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Bob Cole | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jay Niemann

OFFENSE

Northern Illinois opened the 2012 campaign with question marks at quarterback, offensive line and running back. Jordan Lynch had thrown for under 200 career yards and had to deal with five new offensive line starters and no proven running back.

All Lynch did was set a new FBS single-season rushing record for a quarterback with 1,815 yards, pass for 3,138 yards with 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions, and compile a whopping 4,953 total yards en route to finishing seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Lynch returns for his senior season with motivation to prove that his 2012 numbers weren’t a fluke and to silence his critics after a frustrating Orange Bowl performance against Florida State. Lynch worked on his footwork, not getting too amped up for big games and expanding his knowledge of the playbook.

The offensive line was the most overlooked aspect of NIU’s success last year. The entire line returns, with left tackle Tyler Loos expected to be healthy for the opener at Iowa after missing the last three games with a broken tibia.

Besides Lynch, the Huskies don’t have an explosive runner on the roster. Senior tailback Akeem Daniels showed promise with a strong showing late last season. Lynch must identify another set of wide receivers after losing his best weapons — dynamic Martel Moore and dependable Perez Ashford. Tommylee Lewis and Da’Ron Brown both have potential to emerge into go-to receivers. 



DEFENSE

The heart of a defense that got lost in the shuffle last season behind the highlight-reel offense is mostly gone. The senior-laden group did the dirty work and allowed a scant 19.9 points per game. Eight starters must be replaced, with three of the top four sack leaders departed.

The front seven is filled with potential but is young and has very little game experience. Defensive end George Rainey and tackle Ken Bishop are expected to pick up the production and leadership.

Junior Jamaal Bass will get an opportunity to fulfill his vast potential at linebacker with the loss of Tyrone Clark and Victor Jacques. Jimmie Ward, a first-team All-MAC safety in 2012, anchors what should be a solid secondary. Cornerbacks Sean Evans and Marlon Moore both showed promise last year.

SPECIALISTS

Senior Mathew Sims is a clutch kicker who might get an opportunity to showcase his leg more this season. The punting job is wide open, but there are several capable candidates. Lewis is an electric kick returner capable of changing the momentum of a game.

FINAL ANALYSIS

New coach Rod Carey inherits a program with a fan base thirsting to follow in the footsteps of BCS crashers Boise State and TCU. Expectations have reached unreal levels at Northern Illinois after three straight seasons with at least 11 wins, five consecutive bowl appearances — including last year’s Orange Bowl — and two MAC championships in a row. The 2012 season was a perfect combination of a favorable schedule, weakened conference and some key late developments — most beyond NIU’s control — that allowed the Huskies to elbow their way into a BCS bowl.

The offense faces a new set of questions in 2013. Opponents won’t be caught off guard after spending the offseason game-planning to stop Lynch. The success of the season might hinge on NIU finding playmakers to take pressure off of their record-setting quarterback. There’s also the question about Carey’s ability to handle the transition from assistant coach to CEO at what is now a high-pressured job.

The pieces are in place for a third straight MAC title, but it won’t be as easy as many NIU fans envision.




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