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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2013 PRESEASON TOP 25

#21

NATIONAL FORECAST

#21

Big Ten Legends PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Bo Pelini, 49-20 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Tim Beck | DEF. COORDINATOR: John Papuchis

OFFENSE

Optimism about the offense begins with quarterback Taylor Martinez, a fourth-year starter. He has been risk-reward throughout his career, however. Last season, for example, he set school records with 3,890 yards of total offense and 33 touchdowns passing and rushing. His passing yardage and TD passes were both the third-most in Husker history, and he was only the fourth Nebraska quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. On the negative side, he was turnover-prone, losing 8-of-16 fumbles and throwing 12 interceptions.

Ameer Abdullah was technically the No. 2 tailback but stepped up when the departed Rex Burkhead battled a knee injury, starting seven games and rushing for 1,137 yards and eight touchdowns. Imani Cross, the only other experienced I-back, is trying to prove that he’s more than a third-down back.

The top three receivers return: Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner. But Jake Long is the only experienced tight end, a position at which the Huskers have traditionally been solid.

The line again is built around first-team All-Big Ten and second-team All-America guard Spencer Long, an aggressive run-blocker, as well as three veteran tackles. 

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DEFENSE

Coach Bo Pelini is spending more time with the defense, his area of expertise, a change that began a year ago. In addition, the defensive staff has a year’s worth experience working with second-year coordinator John Papuchis. Line coach Rick Kaczenski and secondary coach Terry Joseph were new last season; linebackers coach Ross Els was new the year before.

There’s experience and depth in the secondary. Cornerbacks Ciante Evans, Andrew Green, Josh Mitchell and Stanley Jean-Baptiste all have been starters.

In contrast, the defensive line has only two players with significant experience — end Jason Ankrah and tackle Thad Randle, who battled injuries last season. The plan is to utilize several players up front, some of whom could play both inside and outside.

The starting linebackers are new, with Zaire Anderson, a former junior college transfer who started one game in 2012 before undergoing knee surgery, and David Santos leading the way. True freshman Courtney Love might make an immediate impact. 

Key Player

Taylor Martinez, QB – Has a Nebraska-record 39 starts at quarterback and ranks eighth all-time in rushing with 2,858 yards and 31 rushing TDs.

Ameer Abdullah, IB – Rushed for 1,137 yards and eight TDs, earning coaches’ second-team All-Big Ten honors.

Kenny Bell, WR – Second-team All-Big Ten pick caught 50 passes for 863 yards and eight touchdowns.

Schedule

SPECIALISTS

Kicking hasn’t been a concern under for Nebraska under Pelini, with Alex Henery for three seasons and then Brett Maher the last two seasons. Mauro Bondi backed up Maher two seasons ago then redshirted in 2012. Unlike Maher or Henery, Bondi was a scholarship recruit, with an impressive résumé out of high school. He has kicked only one extra point at Nebraska, however, so he’s an unknown quantity. Henery and Maher punted as well, and Bondi could follow them. But redshirt freshman walk-on Sam Foltz appears to have the edge there. The loss of long-snapper P.J. Mangieri also is significant. 

FINAL ANALYSIS

Entering his sixth season at Nebraska, Pelini has gotten the program back on track, winning at least nine games in each of his five seasons and playing for a conference title three times. But the Huskers have yet to win a conference championship, and they’ve lost their last three bowls.

The offense is championship caliber and is directed by a veteran quarterback. The main concern is the development of a line with two new starters. And the defense is inexperienced everywhere except at cornerback, and a question mark coming off a season in which it allowed a staggering 214 points and 2,380 yards in four losses.

The schedule sets up well, with eight home games and no Ohio State or Wisconsin in Big Ten interdivisional play. The Huskers could well be 8–0 going to Michigan in early November.

 

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2013 PRESEASON TOP 25

#25

NATIONAL FORECAST

#25

Pac-12 North PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Mike Riley, 81-67 (12 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Danny Langsdorf | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark Banker

OFFENSE

Coach Mike Riley plans to pick a starting quarterback — either Sean Mannion or Cody Vaz — the week before the first game. It’s going to be a difficult decision, but Riley believes he can’t make a bad choice because both possess the know-how and ability to run the offense and win games.

Mannion took over as the starter two games into his redshirt freshman season in 2011. He showed a ton of upside and was named a Freshman All-American after passing for 3,328 yards and 16 touchdowns. Mannion’s sophomore season began even better as the Beavers jumped out to a 4–0 record, but a minor knee injury that required surgery forced him out of two games and began the quarterback competition when Vaz won both of his starts.

The quarterback, whether it’s Mannion or Vaz, will have many targets in the receiving corps. Brandin Cooks is the big-play threat. He had 1,151 receiving yards and is elusive after the catch. Kevin Cummings and tight end Connor Hamlett started to emerge as reliable options at the end of last season.

Running back Storm Woods should improve in his second season as a starter. He nearly topped 1,000 yards despite a lingering bruised knee. He’s healthy now and showed improved speed during spring practice. He will have the luxury of running behind a veteran offensive line that returns four starters.

The Beavers typically move the ball with ease; it’s just a matter of scoring. 

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DEFENSE

The Beavers rebuilt the defensive line with junior college transfers. Siale Hautau and Edwin Delva transferred midyear to learn the tackle position in spring practice. They’ll take up blockers, which will allow aggressive defensive ends Scott Crichton, who had nine sacks, and Dylan Wynn to get after the quarterback. More junior college defensive linemen arrive in the fall. The Beavers plan to rotate up to eight players on the line.

Both starting outside linebackers return. Michael Doctor and D.J. Alexander are hard-hitting and quick. They made plays in space and covered backs out of the backfield. A middle linebacker needs to emerge, and sophomore Joel Skotte will be given a shot. If he doesn’t stick, Josh Williams is an option.

The secondary returns two safeties and a cornerback. Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman are back as safeties. Both like to support the run but also are effective in coverage. Rashaad Reynolds is the cornerback opponents avoid. He intercepted three passes and broke up 13 last season. Sean Martin and junior college transfer Steven Nelson are in competition for the other corner position. Both will play significantly now that the Beavers use nickel and dime packages on a regular basis.

Key Player

Brandin Cooks, WR - Gained 1,151 yards as the second receiver by being elusive and gaining yards after the catch.

Rashaad Reynolds, CB - Teams went after him, and he responded with three interceptions and 13 pass breakups.

Michael Doctor, LB - The athletic, hard-hitter led the team in tackles last year with 83. He intercepted a pass and broke up four others.

Schedule

SPECIALISTS

Kicker Trevor Romaine addressed the inconsistencies that plagued him as a freshman in 2011. He returned to hit 16-of-18 field goals. Punter Keith Kostol secured his position with an average of 41.9 yards on 59 attempts. Oregon State’s return game needs a boost. Jordan Poyer, the punt returner, is gone, and the Beavers’ kickoff return unit was the worst in the Pac-12 at 18.3 yards per return.

FINAL ANALYSIS

The Beavers started strong and reached the Alamo Bowl last season. One year removed from a 3–9 season, Oregon State finished in the top 25 for the first time since 2008. Riley went young two years ago, and most of those players are now upperclassmen.

Oregon and Stanford are the class the Pac-12, but Oregon State is near the top of the next tier. Contending for a league title will be tough — especially since the Beavers play in the North — but Oregon State has the talent and experience to flirt with the 10-win mark.

 

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The Debate

Washington or Oregon State: Who Will Finish Higher in the Pac-12 North?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2013 PRESEASON TOP 25

#24

NATIONAL FORECAST

#24

Big Ten Legends PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Pat Fitzgerald, 50-39 (7 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mick McCall | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Hankwitz

OFFENSE

After transitioning to a run-based attack in 2012, Northwestern could feature one of the Big Ten’s best offenses if its line comes together. The Wildcats return almost all of their top skill players, including senior running back Venric Mark, an All-Big Ten selection who racked up 1,366 rushing yards in 2012. Mark and quarterback Kain Colter spark a zone-read run game that at times is unstoppable, particularly in the red zone.

The Wildcats will continue using a two-quarterback system of Colter and junior Trevor Siemian that proved effective for much of 2012. Although Colter is a true dual-threat while Siemian boasts a big-time arm, both must show greater consistency with the high-percentage passes that fuel the spread offense. Northwestern once again looks extremely deep at receiver and tight end but needs more production from a group that had no player eclipse 35 receptions last fall.

The offense will hinge on a line that must replace three starters and had several key players out in spring practice. Center Brandon Vitabile is an excellent cornerstone, but Northwestern needs to fill out the other four spots and maintain the physical mentality that emerged in 2012.

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DEFENSE

The defense took a step forward last season and could take another as a new emphasis on speed in recruiting is paying off. Northwestern features playmakers at all three levels and saw its takeaways (29) and sacks (28) soar in 2012.

Senior end Tyler Scott anchors the defensive line after leading the team in sacks (nine), tackles for a loss (12.5) and forced fumbles (three) in 2012. He’ll provide the power, while Dean Lowry, Deonte Gibson and Ifeadi Odenigbo bring tremendous speed as edge-rushers. The Wildcats are thin at defensive tackle and need young players to emerge.

Northwestern returns two starters at linebacker in veteran Damien Proby in the middle and Chi Chi Ariguzo, who had a role in six turnovers last season and brings a ball-hawking mentality to either outside spot. Collin Ellis and Drew Smith both will see field time. 

No unit has benefited from the speed-based recruiting efforts more than the secondary, which finally boasts enough Big Ten-caliber players. Productive safety Ibraheim Campbell enters his third season as a starter, and dynamic cornerback Nick VanHoose also returns. Coach Pat Fitzgerald is excited about the depth at cornerback. Hard-hitting sophomore Traveon Henry could fill the starting safety spot opposite Campbell.

Key Player

Venric Mark, RB - Became Northwestern’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2006 and earned All-America honors as a punt returner.

Kain Colter, QB - Racked up 1,935 yards of total offense (894 rush, 872 pass, 169 receiving) and 20 touchdowns last season.

Tyler Scott, DE - Had breakout junior season, leading the Wildcats in sacks (nine), tackles for a loss (12.5) and forced fumbles (three).

Schedule

SPECIALISTS

A liability for years, Northwestern’s kicking game is suddenly a strength. The Wildcats return the Big Ten’s top kicker in Jeff Budzien, who made 19-of-20 field-goal attempts in 2012, and the league’s top return threat in Mark, who earned All-America honors as a punt returner after recording two touchdowns and averaging 18.7 yards per runback. Veteran punter Brandon Williams enters his fourth year as the starter.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Northwestern finally put its bowl bugaboo in the rear-view mirror, and with most of its core pieces back from a 10-win team, the next step is to compete for a Big Ten championship. Although Fitzgerald has elevated the program in seven years, he’s still looking for his first league title as a coach. The offense should be explosive if the line comes together in the preseason, as Mark provides the run threat Northwestern lacked for years. The defense boasts more speed, athleticism and playmakers like Scott, Ariguzo, VanHoose and Campbell. Special teams once again should be very strong.

“Now that we’ve set a benchmark for ourselves,” Siemian says, “we know that it’s unacceptable not to make it to the Big Ten championship or the Rose Bowl.”

 

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The Debate

How many Big Ten games will Northwestern win in 2013?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2013 PRESEASON TOP 25

#23

NATIONAL FORECAST

#23

Pac-12 South PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Todd Graham, 8-5 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Norvell | DEF. COORDINATOR: Paul Randolph, Chris Ball

OFFENSE

If Arizona State can find some wide receivers who can get open and catch the ball, its offense could be as explosive as any in the Pac-12. Quarterback Taylor Kelly doesn’t have the strongest arm in the conference, but he’s a superb leader, and he has a knack for being able to make big plays at the biggest moments. His ability to throw on the run and make plays with his feet has reminded some of former ASU great Jake Plummer.

The Sun Devils also return two terrific running backs in senior Marion Grice and sophomore D.J. Foster. Both players have breakaway speed, can run between the tackles and are terrific pass-catchers out of the backfield. As much as coach Todd Graham likes to run the ball, both Grice and Foster could surpass 1,000 yards rushing. Grice is the leading returning rusher with 679 yards and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. “I ask (Grice) every day after practice ‘Did you practice today like the Heisman Trophy winner?’ and he tells me yes or no,” Graham says. “He’s had quite a few practices (this spring) where he’s said yes, so I feel good about that.”

The offensive line should be solid, despite the loss of two starters, and tight end Chris Coyle is an effective weapon both down the field and on third downs. If just one of the five receivers Graham signed can contribute immediately — junior college transfer Jaelen Strong is the most likely candidate — the offense will be extremely difficult to stop.

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DEFENSE

The secondary is the concern here — it’s not overly talented or especially deep — but that may not matter given how good the front seven should be.

Tackle Will Sutton (13 sacks, 23.5 tackles for a loss) is arguably the best defensive lineman in the country, and he’s surrounded by a deep and particularly athletic front that benefits from the attacking style Graham employs. Linebacker Carl Bradford had 11.5 sacks last year, and it’s conceivable that he and Sutton could combine for 30 sacks this year.

Throw in nose tackle Jaxon Hood, a Freshman All-American in 2012, and ends Junior Onyeali and Davon Coleman, and it’s no wonder that Graham believes this could be one of the best defenses he’s ever had.

ASU must replace two starters in the secondary, but the pass coverage doesn’t have to be great given how little time opposing quarterbacks should have to throw the ball.

Key Player

Taylor Kelly, QB – Set a school record by completing 67.1 percent of his passes and accounted for more than 3,500 yards of total offense.

Will Sutton, DT – Consensus All-American in 2012 after racking up 23.5 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks, the fourth-highest total in school history.

Marion Grice, RB – Led the team with 679 rushing yards, had three TDs against Arizona and was named Offensive MVP of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Schedule

SPECIALISTS

Special teams often get overlooked by fans, but this is huge concern for Graham. The Sun Devils have to replace standout punter Josh Hubner, who averaged 47.1 yards per kick, but more important, they have to find a reliable placekicker. Neither Alex Garoutte nor Jon Mora was the final answer last year, and Graham was so concerned he added Zane Gonzalez as a late signee to his 2013 recruiting class.

FINAL ANALYSIS

The Sun Devils have all the ingredients to make a run at the Pac-12 South title and an appearance in the Rose Bowl. Their defense — led by the reigning Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year in Sutton — should be dominant. They return their quarterback, top two running backs and three starters on the O-line.

Do they have concerns? Sure. They need to find a couple of quality receivers, and they don’t have much depth in the secondary, particularly at cornerback. But there’s not a dominant team in the South, and the schedule is favorable: The Sun Devils don’t play Oregon, they get USC at home and two of their final three games are at Sun Devil Stadium. A nine-win season and date in the Pac-12 Championship Game are not beyond their reach.

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The Debate

Will Arizona State win the Pac-12 South in 2013?

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