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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25

#125

NATIONAL FORECAST

#125

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#8

HEAD COACH: Trent Miles, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jeff Jagodzinski | DEF. COORDINATOR: Jesse Minter

OFFENSE

The challenges are many for new coach Trent Miles and offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski — a former head coach at Boston College — as they take over an offense that averaged just 17.4 points per game against a Colonial Athletic Association schedule. Much experience does return, and the coaches hope a change in philosophy will increase production. There will be more of a two-back, under-center approach that will feature underneath passes and a grind-it-out mentality.

At quarterback, Ben McLane returns after starting nine games as a redshirt freshman. McLane completed just over 50 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and is regarded as a game manager who makes solid decisions with the ball.

Junior college transfer Gerald Howse is in line to be the top running back, with senior Travis Evans spelling him.

The offense’s top player is wideout Albert Wilson, who caught 48 passes for 947 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012. The new staff will try to get the ball in Wilson’s hands as much as possible.

The starting offensive line returns, led by 6'8", 290-pound NFL prospect tackle Ulrick John. The group surrendered 28 sacks last season, but the hope is that a more experienced unit and shorter passing game will reduce that number.



DEFENSE

There is reason for optimism on the defensive side of the ball. Five starters return, and the hope is that Georgia State will be formidable against the run. Defensive linemen Theo Agnew and Terrance Woodard were second and third, respectively, on the Panthers in tackles a year ago, and they are being joined by a pair of talented newcomers. Kentucky transfer Nermin Delic is eligible after sitting out and should start right away, and junior college transfer George Rogers looked like one of the top defensive linemen in spring ball.

New defensive coordinator Jesse Minter, whose unit allowed just 14.3 points per game at Indiana State last season, is switching to a 3-4 alignment. The new scheme means a position change for John Kelly, who moves from end to outside linebacker. Top tackler Joseph Peterson is back at inside linebacker and is joined by Robert Ferguson, giving the front seven some solid experience.

Defending the pass could be an issue early, as Kail Singleton and Arington Jordan move into starting roles at the safety spots. Corners Jamal Ransby and Brent McClendon return, but they were part of a unit that surrendered 26 passing touchdowns and came up with just 10 interceptions.

SPECIALISTS

Kicker Wil Lutz won the starting job during the season and should be dependable, especially from inside 40. Lutz was 4-of-7 as a freshman, hitting all three from inside the 40. Punter Matt Hubbard also returns after averaging a solid 43.1 yards, with 21 kicks going over 50 yards last season. Wilson is a dangerous return man, handling both kickoff and punt return duties. The speedster averaged 25.9 yards per kick return and took one back 100 yards for a score.

FINAL ANALYSIS

There is no question that Miles faces an uphill climb in Year 1 with the move from FCS to FBS and the Sun Belt Conference. Georgia State struggled to compete in the CAA last season, finishing 1–7 and losing six of those games by at least 20 points.

But Miles is no stranger to rebuilds. Indiana State was the worst FCS program in the nation when he was hired in 2008, with a 1–32 record in the three seasons prior to his arrival. He struggled early, but went 19–14 (13–11 in the Missouri Valley) in his final three seasons. The guy clearly knows how to coach.




COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25

#114

NATIONAL FORECAST

#114

MAC East PREDICTION

#6

HEAD COACH: Terry Bowden, 1-11 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: A.J. Milwee | DEF. COORDINATOR: Chuck Amato

OFFENSE

The Zips, who are trying to avoid their fourth consecutive 1–11 season, have had transient quarterbacks recently who have been one-year wonders or one-year blunders. It’s been one-and-done, to steal a phrase from the college basketball world. The master plan is for sophomore Kyle Pohl to take over, grow into the job and be a three-year starter. But that plan may have changed this offseason, as Nick Hirschman transferred in from Colorado and is eligible to play this season. Pohl played sparingly in 2012 behind transfer Dalton Williams, who was solid in his only season of eligibility in 2012. But second-year coach Terry Bowden is high on Pohl’s ability and potential to be a cornerstone for years to come, not just in 2013.

Pohl certainty will have some experienced performers surrounding him. Junior tailback Jawon Chisholm has rushed for 1,914 yards in his first two seasons, leading the team in both 2011 and ’12. The receiving corps, a definite area of strength, may not have a superstar, but there is depth. Keith Sconiers, L.T. Smith, Dee Frieson and Jerrod Dillard lead the way, but some younger players will be pushing for time.

The line was considered above average in 2012, but it lost two key seniors. Center Travis Switzer, guard Dylan Brumbaugh and tackle Jarrod Pughsley are the most experienced returnees. Junior college transfer Cedric Brittnum (6'6", 330) provides bulk to a unit lacking overall size.



DEFENSE

The defense has been an area of disappointment for the Zips for years, and only a vast improvement in 2013 can prevent another disaster. The good news is that seven defensive starters return. The bad news is that the Zips ranked 99th nationally in total defense (450.0 ypg) and  tied for 104th in scoring defense (35.7 ppg) with those players.

Both starting defensive tackles — Nico Caponi and Cody Grice —are back as part of a front seven that often was pushed around in 2012. A major plus may be end Albert Presley, who was having a solid 2012 before a fractured fibula shelved him for the final five games. The Zips are hopeful he will be 100 percent by the fall.

The only returning starting linebacker is Justin March, who had 62 tackles from the outside last season. Junior college transfer Jon Shelby is a big addition. The Zips are hoping that former Washington State linebacker C.J. Mizell will fill a major need, but he must meet NCAA eligibility requirements first, and that is in question.

The secondary is much like the receiving corps — no eye-catching standout but strength in numbers. Malachi Freeman, Johnny Robinson and Anthony Holmes lead the way, but others are close behind. 

SPECIALISTS

This was a major area of concern headed into last season, but placekicker Robert Stein (9-of-12 on field goals) and punter Zach Paul (40.9-yard average) won jobs and were steady all year. The Zips were last in the country in kickoff returns and 80th in punt returns, so a major upgrade is needed.

FINAL ANALYSIS

The second year of the Bowden Era likely will produce the program’s eighth consecutive losing record. Road games at Michigan and UCF can dim anyone’s lights, and the MAC crossover games are against Northern Illinois, Toledo and Ball State — which could be the best three teams in the West.

The offense was exciting last season in a move to the spread and likely will be a fun to watch again. Pohl must follow Williams’ example  — get the ball to his playmakers while limiting turnovers. Chisholm needs to approach (or surpass) the 1,000-yard mark, and it would be nice if one or two receivers separated themselves from the pack. The defense is generally undersized and may only be better if some of the returnees improve drastically or are pushed aside by newcomers.




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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