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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25

#35

NATIONAL FORECAST

#35

American Athletic PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Tommy Tuberville, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Eddie Gran | DEF. COORDINATOR: Art Kaufman

OFFENSE

Brendon Kay was virtually unknown to University of Cincinnati football fans at this time last year. Today, Kay is the incumbent starter at quarterback. UC went 4–1 last year after Kay took over for Munchie Legaux, who was 6–2 as starter but was benched because of accuracy issues. Legaux (52.2 percent passing) and Kay (63.0 percent) both return for their final seasons, with Kay gaining a sixth year of eligibility via a medical hardship waiver.

UC must replace tailback George Winn, who rushed for 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns in his senior year. Returnees Ralph David Abernathy IV and Tion Green and junior college transfers Rodriguez Moore and Hosey Williams will all get looks, with new coach Tommy Tuberville waiting to see who steps up.

The best news is that all five offensive line starters return, led by first-team All-Big East selections Eric Lefeld (left tackle) and Austen Bujnoch (left guard).

At receiver, Anthony McClung (34 catches, 539 yards, two TDs) is the top returnee. The passing game lacked flair in 2012, ranking 54th nationally. The top target was tight end Travis Kelce, who had 45 catches in his final season. Tuberville coached the nation’s No. 2 passing offense last year at Texas Tech, but he prefers a 50-50 balance of run/pass.



DEFENSE

The Bearcats rather quietly posted the program’s best defensive scoring average since 1995. UC allowed 18.5 points per game, which ranked No. 14 nationally.

The Bearcats return six defensive starters and several others part-time starters. Middle linebacker Greg Blair was first team All-Big East and averaged 10.6 tackles per game. Outside linebacker Nick Temple and tackle Jordan Stepp are among other productive returnees.

Keep an eye on Florida State transfer Jeff Luc, rated as the nation’s No. 1 inside linebacker out of high school. Luc will play outside linebacker. He is a high-energy player.

Senior defensive backs Deven Drane and Arryn Chenault will anchor the secondary. Drane is the son of former Buffalo Bills safety Dwight Drane. Chenault is the nephew of Paul Hogue, who helped lead UC to consecutive NCAA basketball championships in 1961 and ’62.

UC will use a 4-3 front, which also was its base defense last year. Tuberville says UC will play a gap control defense, with speed favored over size, especially on the edges.

SPECIALISTS

The Bearcats’ special teams took a hit when punter Pat O’Donnell opted to transfer to Miami (Fla.) for his final season of eligibility. Tony Miliano, who hit 17-of-22 field goals in 2012, enters his third year as the placekicker. Abernathy has a strong 25.8-yard career average as kickoff returner, highlighted by a 90-yard return for a TD against Vanderbilt in the 2011 Liberty Bowl.

FINAL ANALYSIS

The 58-year-old Tuberville seems energized by his move to Cincinnati. Tuberville went 20–17 at Texas Tech and was never truly embraced by the fans, but Cincinnati boosters are thrilled to have him. UC never has had a coach with anything resembling Tuberville’s national pedigree, which includes an 85–40 record at Auburn from 1999-2008.

There is a solid core of returnees, but the unknown is how much impact to expect from several transfers. Moore (all-purpose back) and Luc (linebacker), at one point or another, were rated No. 1 nationally at their positions by various recruiting services.

The Bearcats had 10-win seasons in both 2011 and 2012 under Butch Jones, who parlayed his success into the Tennessee job. With a relatively kind schedule, Cincinnati fans could see another season of double-digit wins. 




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25

#34

NATIONAL FORECAST

#34

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Paul Johnson, 41-26 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Paul Johnson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Ted Roof

OFFENSE

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson is starting his sixth season, but he’ll be working with just his third starting quarterback. Joshua Nesbitt and Tevin Washington had their strengths as option quarterbacks, but Vad Lee should offer a new dynamic to the Yellow Jackets’ spread-option scheme. Lee is a much better passer than his predecessors but also has the speed to outrun defenses. Johnson studied video of the San Francisco 49ers’ read-option scheme in hopes of putting Lee and backup Justin Thomas in a Pistol formation to utilize their run-pass talents.

“As far as getting playmakers the ball and getting to the outside, getting to the edge, I think it’s an advantage,” Lee says. “It’s kind of a twist for any defense because everyone’s used to seeing us in the standard spread formation.”

Lee will play behind an offensive line that brings back 94 career starts among six players, a group that did its typical strong work in producing the No. 4 rushing offense in the FBS.

Georgia Tech is remarkably green at wide receiver — Darren Waller is the leading returning wideout with eight catches — which may hinder the development of the passing game. But the running game should again be stout with B-back (fullback) David Sims and A-back (slotback) Robert Godhigh both returning.

Points typically haven’t been a problem for Georgia Tech in Johnson’s tenure. If Lee lives up the hype, the Jackets will be difficult to stop.



DEFENSE

To go forward, the Yellow Jackets had to go backward. Johnson fired defensive coordinator Al Groh midway through last season after they had surrendered 40-plus points in three consecutive games for the first time in school history. Johnson hired alumnus Ted Roof, formerly at Penn State and the leader of the Yellow Jackets’ famed “Black Watch” defense of the 1980s. Roof has returned Georgia Tech from Groh’s 3-4 to the 4-3 and will be tasked with improving a unit that hasn’t ranked in the top 25 in the country in total defense since 2008.

With eight starters back, Roof has plenty of talent at his disposal. Jeremiah Attaochu, who is making the move from outside linebacker to end, and cornerbacks Jemea Thomas and Louis Young look like future NFL Draft picks. Linebacker Jabari Hunt-Days is a star on the rise.

There will no doubt be some growing pains with the transition to the new scheme, but Johnson is confident he has the right coordinator in place to run his defense.

SPECIALISTS

Returner Jamal Golden was the only player in the nation last year to finish in the top 10 in both kickoff and punt return average. He also became the first Yellow Jacket to return a kickoff for a touchdown since 1998. And he did it twice. Harrison Butker, an incoming freshman, is the favorite to take over as the placekicker, an area in which the Jackets have struggled the last two years.

FINAL ANALYSIS

With 16 returning starters and a team loaded with seniors, the 2013 Yellow Jackets could be Johnson’s best team since the 2009 Orange Bowl squad. Much depends on how consistent Lee can be, and if Georgia Tech can handle a tough schedule in which it will play four Coastal Division opponents in a row, including Virginia Tech on five days’ rest. The Jackets will need to find a way to handle division rivals Miami and Virginia Tech as well. While there have been a number of close calls, Johnson is a combined 2–8 against the Canes and Hokies. Georgia Tech is hardly a favorite, but it has the ingredients to win the division and play for the ACC title.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25

#33

NATIONAL FORECAST

#33

SEC West PREDICTION

#4

HEAD COACH: Hugh Freeze, 7-6 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Matt Luke, Dan Werner | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jason Jones, Dave Wommack

OFFENSE

Eight starters return from a unit that made big gains in the first season of the up-tempo spread of new coach Hugh Freeze. The Rebels’ highest statistical ranking in 2011 was No. 83 in rushing offense. They were a top-50 squad in every category in 2012, including No. 47 in scoring at 31.5 points per game.

Quarterback Bo Wallace — a first-year junior college transfer a year ago — passed for 2,994 yards and 22 touchdowns and was the team’s second-leading rusher with 390 yards and a team-high eight rushing touchdowns. Another spring to develop chemistry with receivers might have helped him reduce his 17 interceptions, but offseason shoulder surgery prevented that. Ole Miss is confident he’ll be full-go in August.

Running back Jeff Scott thrived as well, rushing for 846 yards and six scores. He was also very active in the passing game. Sophomores Jaylen Walton and I’Tavius Mathers played well in the bowl game when Scott was injured. And they may not be the best young backs on the roster. Freshman Mark Dodson, an early enrollee from Memphis, was impressive in the spring.

Wide receiver Donte Moncrief had 10 touchdown catches and is one of three returning regulars, along with Ja-Mes Logan and Vince Sanders. Freshman Laquon Treadwell, the nation’s top recruit at the position, should figure into the rotation as well.

Starting tackles Emmanuel McCray and Pierce Burton are back. It’s possible one could move inside if incoming freshman Laremy Tunsil, another of the Rebels’ elite recruits, works his way onto the field.



DEFENSE

Defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, the nation’s No. 1 recruit, should help provide a pass rush off the edge. But a lesser-known signee, junior college transfer Lavon Hooks, arrives at tackle, a position of greater need.

Denzel Nkemdiche, Robert’s brother, was the Rebels’ top defensive playmaker last year and is back to man one of the two linebacker spots Ole Miss’ 4-2-5 scheme. Senior Mike Marry is a big hitter, albeit a step slower than Nkemdiche. The wild card at linebacker is D.T. Shackelford, a former rising star who tore up his knee in the spring of 2011. He’s back, but his return to form is far from a sure thing.

Nick Brassell was a two-way player on a bad Ole Miss team as a freshman in 2011. Grades forced him to leave school and play at a junior college in 2012. If he is eligible this fall, it will be a big lift to the secondary. Freeze has already identified Brassell as an “NFL corner.” Senior Charles Sawyer and athletic junior Senquez Golson bring experience to the secondary.

SPECIALISTS

Placekicker Andrew Ritter and punter Tyler Campbell, who led the nation as a sophomore in 2010 with a 46.4-yard average, both redshirted last year as fourth-year seniors. Ritter served as the kickoff specialist in his first three seasons but has yet to attempt a field goal or extra point. The Rebels struggled at times covering kicks, and it was costly — they gave up an 89-yard punt return touchdown in a six-point loss at LSU. The signing class could add depth on special teams and require regular starters to play less.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Wallace can be a star if he cuts down on his interceptions. The Rebels need him to do that to be successful on the road early — they play at Vanderbilt, Texas, Alabama and Auburn — so that they’re not forced to climb uphill in the standings in a late string of home games.

Ole Miss exceeded expectations last year largely because it stayed relatively healthy. A similar dose of good fortune would be helpful again. The starters are talented, but the Rebels do not have quality depth across the board.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2013 PRESEASON TOP 25

#8

NATIONAL FORECAST

#8

SEC West PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Kevin Sumlin, 11-2 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Clarence McKinney, Jake Spavital | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark Snyder, Marcel Yates

OFFENSE

Led by the return of quarterback Johnny Manziel, the first freshman in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy, the Aggies offense could be even better than the 2012 unit that became the first in SEC history to surpass 7,000 yards in a season.

With a firm grasp of coach Kevin Sumlin’s offense, added strength and even more poise in the pocket, the ultra-confident Manziel believes he will be a better quarterback as a sophomore. However, Manziel's status for the season opener is uncertain. The sophomore is under NCAA investigation due to allegations of accepting money in exchange for autographs. If Manziel has to miss any action, junior Matt Joeckel or redshirt freshman Matt Davis would battle to start at quarterback.

The Aggies have more weapons at their disposal this year, including a bevy of talented running backs like returners Ben Malena and Trey Williams, along with a pair of tremendously talented transfers, Brandon Williams from Oklahoma and Tra Carson from Oregon.

A&M will undoubtedly miss Ryan Swope, who departed as the school’s career leader in receptions and receiving yards. But Swope’s records won’t last long if 6'5" sophomore Mike Evans continues to build on his sensational debut. The physically imposing Evans, who finished last season with 82 catches for 1,105 yards, is a matchup nightmare for most defensive backs. Juniors Malcome Kennedy and LeKendrick Williams and senior Derel Walker all had impressive moments last season and could all play key roles in 2013. But they will be pressed for playing time by an extremely impressive array of newcomers like Ricky Seals-Jones and Ja’Quay Williams.

The offensive line could be among the best in school history even though Luke Joeckel left for the NFL Draft. Future pro prospects like tackle Jake Matthews, tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, center Mike Matthews and guards Jarvis Harrison and Germain Ifedi form a great front.

Follow the top 25 on Twitter @AthlonSports and join the debate at #Athlon25.



DEFENSE

Losing Damontre Moore and Spencer Nealy will hurt the defensive front, but if nose guard Kirby Ennis (knee) and end Julien Obioha (back) can return at full strength — as anticipated — the line could again be an area where the Aggies exceed expectations.

Linebacker is another area of concern, as the Aggies must replace Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter. Fortunately, A&M returns one of its defensive anchors from last year in Steven Jenkins, who finished third on the team in 2012 with 79 tackles from his weak-side position. A&M needs a big season from junior college transfer outside linebacker Tommy Sanders, as well as hard-hitting Donnie Baggs in the middle of the 4-3 alignment.

A&M finished 12th out of 14 SEC schools last year in passing defense, but the Aggies should be dramatically improved this season. The trio of Howard Matthews, Toney Hurd and Floyd Raven form a solid combination at the safety positions, while De’Vante Harris and Deshazor Everett are outstanding cover cornerbacks.

Key Player

Johnny Manziel, QB - Dynamic quarterback will be missed if he has to sit out any action from NCAA investigation. 

Mike Evans, WR – Third in the SEC as a redshirt freshman in receptions per game with 6.3, including some remarkably clutch catches.

Jake Matthews, LT – Passed up opportunity to be selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft to return for senior season and play with his younger brother, Mike.

Steven Jenkins, LB – Big-play specialist is the most experienced returner among the defensive front seven.

Deshazor Everett, CB – Produced 56 tackles, broke up seven passes and intercepted two, including one to help secure the victory over No. 1 Alabama.

Schedule

SPECIALISTS

A&M needs a better year from placekicker Taylor Bertolet, who has a strong leg but was not dependable on field goal attempts beyond 29 yards. While Bertolet was 8-of-9 from 29 yards or less, he was only 2-of-9 from 30 to 49 yards. Drew Kaser appears to be a solid replacement for Ryan Epperson at punter, while the Aggies have some big-play potential with return specialists such as Trey Williams and Brandon Williams on kickoffs and Harris and Sabian Holmes on punts.

FINAL ANALYSIS

After leading A&M to an historic 11-win season last year and the school’s first top-five finish since 1956, Sumlin is aiming even higher in 2013. He fully realizes that the Aggies must replace numerous key starters from a year ago and manage unprecedented expectations as one of the SEC West’s new powers. But Sumlin and the Aggies have set their sights on a national title. That may be a tall task with an extremely inexperienced defense, along with the uncertainty facing Manziel's status. Even if Manziel is forced to miss a few games, Texas A&M will be a factor in the SEC title picture.

 

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25

#30

NATIONAL FORECAST

#30

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Frank Beamer , 216-104-2 (26 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Scot Loeffler | DEF. COORDINATOR: Bud Foster

OFFENSE

After a 7–6 record, Virginia Tech’s worst in 20 years, coach Frank Beamer finally made radical changes on the offensive side of the ball, hiring Scot Loeffler as coordinator, Jeff Grimes as line coach and Aaron Moorehead as receivers coach. The goal was to inject new life into an offense whose production traditionally has lagged behind the defense.

Getting quarterback Logan Thomas back for his senior season helps. Although he struggled as a junior, throwing for 2,976 yards and 18 touchdowns but also 16 interceptions, Thomas remains the Hokies’ best offensive weapon. Loeffler, who has worked with six future NFL quarterbacks as a coach — including Tom Brady as a graduate assistant at Michigan — was hard at work during the spring fixing Thomas’ faulty mechanics.

The rest of the offense has question marks. The line, which struggled to open holes for the running game, has to replace two tackles, although senior center Andrew Miller returns to solidify the interior. J.C. Coleman led the running backs last year with 492 yards, hardly the featured back Tech enjoyed for years. Expect redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds, who has drawn some Kevin Jones comparisons, to vie for carries.

After losing its top three receivers from last year, Tech will lean heavily in the passing game on senior D.J. Coles, who is coming off a lost season because of a knee injury.



DEFENSE

Bud Foster’s crew appeared to turn a corner in the second half of last season, playing like the unit many expected at the start of the year. There should be some carryover, with the defense returning nine starters.

Two-time second-team All-ACC defensive end James Gayle and the tackle duo of Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy headline a deep defensive line that came into its own late in the year. The Hokies had 27 sacks in the final seven games, an average of 3.86 per game.

Jack Tyler, who had a team-high 119 tackles, returns at linebacker, joined by senior Tariq Edwards, an emerging player at the end of 2011 who missed significant time in 2012 with a knee/leg injury.

It’s the secondary that has the biggest question mark. All-ACC cornerback Antone Exum tore an ACL playing pickup basketball in January, an injury that puts his return anywhere from the beginning of August to mid-October. With cornerback Kyle Fuller and safeties Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett returning as starters, there’s plenty of experience on the back end, but Tech will need to plan to be without Exum. Sophomores Donovan Riley and Donaldven Manning got the majority of spring reps in his place, although 5-star cornerback signee Kendall Fuller (Kyle’s brother) and fellow incoming freshman Brandon Facyson could compete for playing time.

SPECIALISTS

The Hokies have some talent here if they can avoid the gaffes that have plagued them in recent years. Kicker Cody Journell made 80 percent of his field goals last year, including three game-winners. Sophomore punter A.J. Hughes (40.6-yard average) brought some relief to Tech’s long-standing punting problems. Demitri Knowles and Jarrett are threats in the return game.

FINAL ANALYSIS

Virginia Tech made changes to its staff in hopes that the shuffling gets the offense closer to the decades-long success of Foster’s defense. The reality is that with completely new offensive tackles, a revamped receiving corps and question marks at running back, it might be more of the same until the new coaches can get a few recruiting classes under their belts.

Virginia Tech still has Thomas and a defense that returns nine starters from a group that finished 18th nationally last year. An ACC title isn’t out of the question.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25

#29

NATIONAL FORECAST

#29

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Al Golden, 13-11 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: James Coley | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark D’Onofrio

OFFENSE

Stephen Morris finished his junior season as one of the hottest quarterbacks in college football. In his final four games, Morris completed 60 percent of his passes and threw for 11 touchdowns without an interception. Equipped with a big arm and great feet, Morris is also durable, tough and now has the experience and playmakers around him to thrive.

Tailback Duke Johnson didn’t even start on a full-time basis as a freshman, but he’s one of the best players in the ACC. After breaking Clinton Portis’ school freshman rushing record, Johnson will see his workload increase substantially. Johnson has amazing vision, quickness and speed, and his versatility as a runner and receiver makes him a defensive nightmare.

There’s no shortage of solid pass-catching options on the roster. Back are Phillip Dorsett and Rashawn Scott, the team’s leading receivers last season. Dorsett isn’t very big, but he’s plenty dangerous. Scott and Allen Hurns give the offense a pair of big receivers who can go up and catch the ball. The tight end position has been a black hole on offense recently, but Clive Walford finished last season by catching a combined seven passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns against USF and Duke.

All five starters return on the offensive line. When right tackle Seantrel Henderson is focused, he can be dominant. He’s big enough to swallow defensive ends and light enough on his feet not to get beat on speed rushes. 



DEFENSE

Miami’s defense was awful last season, allowing school records in virtually every important statistical category. Much of the blame goes to a defensive line that couldn’t rush the passer or stop the run. Despite leading the team with four sacks, end Anthony Chickillo endured a sophomore slump. Shayon Green, playing the end opposite Chickillo, is solid against the run but didn’t have a single sack despite starting every game. When Curtis Porter is healthy — which isn’t often — he might be the team’s best defensive tackle.

Denzel Perryman is a ferocious hitter who has started games at middle and outside linebacker. Perryman isn’t particularly big, but he’s relentless and delivers blows that separate runners from the ball and their senses. Raphael Kirby was the starter at middle linebacker in spring practice and did nothing to make coaches think he can’t do the job. Disciplinary issues ended the Miami careers of starting linebackers Gionni Paul and Eddie Johnson.

Ladarius Gunter is a big cornerback with the ability to play the run and pass equally well. Tracy Howard, Miami’s top recruit in 2012, has yet to make an impact and is playing behind Antonio Crawford at the other corner spot. The safety positions will be manned by a pair of ball-hawking, athletic sophomores — Deon Bush and Rayshawn Jenkins. 

SPECIALISTS

Matt Goudis is regarded as a better kicker than punter, but he had a chance to fill both vacancies until post-graduate Cincinnati transfer Pat O’Donnell arrived on campus. Johnson was one of the nation’s top kickoff returners and, despite an increased workload on offense, will not see his special teams chores reduced.

FINAL ANALYSIS

It’s been a decade since Miami last won 10 games in a season, and the lack of success has gradually eroded expectations. But things could be on the upswing in Coral Gables despite a never-ending NCAA investigation that has dogged Al Golden in his two-plus seasons as coach. With eight starters returning for a potentially explosive offense, four starters back on a rebuilding defense and a manageable schedule, the Hurricanes are a legitimate contender for a Coastal Division title and their first trip to the ACC title game.




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