Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2012 season.
Mike London was a deserving pick for ACC Coach of the Year last season, keeping the surprising Cavaliers in Coastal Division title contention until the final weekend. Building on that momentum will require another stellar coaching job, with several gaps to fill on both sides of the ball and a more difficult nonconference schedule. London has made all the right moves so far, recruiting well and reviving interest in the program. The general trend is up, but the Cavaliers could level off for a year before really surging.
Read the full Virginia Cavaliers 2012 Team Preview
Tennessee has a strong passing game, but establishing the run is paramount to keeping defenses honest and protecting quarterback Tyler Bray. The defense aims for more impact plays, but that often comes at the risk of surrendering big plays. A more forgiving schedule — Alabama and LSU are replaced by Missouri and Mississippi State — makes eight wins a realistic goal.
Read the full Tennessee Volunteers 2012 Team Preview
This is a big season for Cal. The Bears are moving back into their renovated stadium after playing last year’s home games at AT&T Park in San Francisco. There is excitement around the program because of the improved facilities. The question is whether the team itself is worthy of the same excitement. Cal will need at least one other receiver to produce alongside Keenan Allen and get continued improvement from quarterback Zach Maynard. Meanwhile, a handful of players on defense who are being called upon to take on greater roles will need to emerge. The Bears have been around the .500 mark in each of the past three seasons, and this team doesn’t look much different than those.
Read the full California Golden Bears 2012 Team Preview
The 2011 football season was very different for the Cougars, even though their record looked familiar. BYU’s first year of independence resulted in its fifth 10-win season in six years, even without the incentive of a conference championship. BYU hopes quarterback Riley Nelson’s presence will make the offense more efficient from the start, while an experienced defense tries to continue its high level of play. The schedule is more daunting, with road games against Utah, Boise State, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech, so matching last season’s win total will be difficult.
Read the full BYU Cougars 2012 Team Preview
While coach Art Briles is “eager to sustain” and build on the momentum of back-to-back bowl berths, at least a small drop-off is expected after losing many of the most dynamic offensive players in school history. The schedule is also demanding with eight bowl teams and 2011 FCS runner-up Sam Houston State. Contending for a Big 12 championship might be the goal, but a berth in another bowl game seems much more realistic.
Read the full Baylor Bears 2012 Team Preview
There was nothing fluky about Vanderbilt’s improvement from two wins in 2010 to six wins in the first year of the James Franklin era. The Commodores ranked seventh in the SEC in total offense and sixth in total defense, and four of their six league losses came by six points or less. There was no smoke. There were no mirrors. But the big question: Can they do it again? Can the Commodores maintain this momentum and go to a bowl for the second straight season (for the first time in school history)? The talent is there, especially on offense, where the Commodores feature a veteran quarterback, an All-SEC running back and nice collection of wide receivers. The big key will be on defense, where some key players — and outstanding leaders — must be replaced.
Read the full Vanderbilt Commodores 2012 Team Preview
Ultimately, the talent level is not going to be the concern for the Bruins, who recruited well under Rick Neuheisel and had a top-10 class in 2012. Rather, concentration, toughness and discipline will be the deciding factors. Can Jim Mora bring them? UCLA went a long way to find out.
Read the full UCLA Bruins 2012 Team Preview
Although Arizona has little depth, its front-line players are skilled and experienced. If quarterback Matt Scott remains healthy, this is a team that projects to be productive offensively and play in a bowl game. Coach Rich Rodriguez said that the Wildcats were out of shape and not strong enough to compete in the Pac-12 when he evaluated the returning players. He changed that with a boot camp-type of offseason. The potential for trouble is in the linebacking crew and in the thin secondary. Eight home games will help.
Read the full Arizona Wildcats 2012 Team Preview
44. Penn State
When Penn State hired Bill O’Brien away from the New England Patriots’ staff, it gave him free rein to change what he felt needed to be changed in order to reinvigorate a program that had fallen into decline in the waning years of the Joe Paterno era. O’Brien has taken that mandate seriously, retaining only two members of the previous coaching staff, revamping the strength program and installing a new offensive system. Players have responded enthusiastically, but it’s probably unrealistic to expect those changes to bear immediate fruit.
Read the full Penn State Nittany Lions 2012 Team Preview
One word: stability. That is what the Pittsburgh program covets. It has been a tumultuous year-and-a-half, with the firing of Dave Wannstedt, the hiring and firing of Michael Haywood after 16 days due to a domestic violence charge, the one-year tenure of Todd Graham, who bolted for Arizona State, and now the Paul Chryst era. Unlike the smooth-talking Graham, Chryst is more of a blue-collar Pittsburgh-style guy. He has done a solid job of restoring faith among the fan base, but his biggest challenge will be re-focusing a group of players who have witnessed a revolving door of coaches. Pittsburgh, in its final year in the Big East before moving to the ACC, could compete for a league title, but Panthers fans would probably take stability over winning in Chryst’s first year as a head coach.
Read the full Pittsburgh Panthers 2012 Team Preview
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