Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2012 season.
There’s no question the Jayhawks are in better shape entering 2012 than they were during the past two seasons, but better shape does not necessarily mean good shape. As long as quarterback Crist stays healthy, the offense should put points on the board, which is vital in the Big 12. The question that will loom all season is whether the defense can make enough stops to allow that offense to compete. The addition of defensive coordinator Dave Campo, a former NFL head coach, helps, and the KU defense appears to be more disciplined and organized. But unless it can find a way to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, winning conference games could remain a struggle.
Read the full 2012 Kansas Jayhawks Team Preview
82. Southern Miss
Southern Miss is coming off a school-record 12-win season, a league title, a bowl win and top-20 year-end national ranking. New coach Ellis Johnson won’t be expected to repeat that magical run, especially with Nebraska, Boise State and Louisville on the non-conference schedule. Johnson will be breaking in a new starting quarterback and playing without his leading rusher. Also, the defense must replace several key pieces. Southern Miss still has talent — more than most teams in the league. But the Golden Eagles figure to take a small step back in 2012.
Read the full 2012 Southern Miss Golden Eagles Team Preview
Marshall did not make a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2 under Doc Holliday, but finishing 6–6 after a 5–7 mark the year before meant a bowl berth, and when the Herd won the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, tangible progress was felt. Marshall has a chance to continue that upward trend if the offensive line can allow the team’s talented skill players to thrive, particularly Aaron Dobson. Defensively, Marshall is deeper and better prepared for some of the difficult offenses it will face. Another bowl berth for the Herd in 2012 would not be a surprise, but a C-USA championship still looks to be at least a few years down the road.
Read the full 2012 Marshall Thundering Herd Team Preview
Colorado will be one of the youngest teams in the nation with a new quarterback and nearly all of its toughest games on the road. It’s difficult to expect Buffalo fans to have any more patience after six straight losing seasons, but the program is at least a year away from being more competitive with the rest of the Pac-12 and reaching the postseason.
Read the full 2012 Colorado Buffaloes Team Preview
85. Northern Illinois
Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren didn’t need a spring practice to notice the difference between last year’s offense-dominated team and the 2012 edition. “This team is really a flip of last year’s team,” he says. The Huskies return only three starters from an offense that scored 40 points or more in nine games. Jordan Lynch’s progress hinges on the development and chemistry of a revamped offensive line and unproven group of running backs. The defense allowed 30.3 points and 415.2 yards per game last year but should help the offense during an early transition period. The defense is filled with enough talent and depth to carry the team, but it must force turnovers at a higher rate than the last few years. A favorable schedule that includes four of the first five games at home (including the season-opener against Iowa at Soldier Field) and does not include any of the contenders in the MAC East should help the Huskies’ quest for a third straight trip to the MAC title game.
Read the full 2012 Northern Illinois Huskies Team Preview
86. Boston College
Boston College coach Frank Spaziani won’t be collecting his mail on Chestnut Hill if the Eagles experience a repeat of last season, when BC endured its first losing campaign since 1998. Sitting out the postseason after a run of 12 straight bowl appearances was especially galling to the boosters, alumni and student body, who were clamoring in unison for the guillotine. They may get their wish after the 2012 season.
Read the full 2012 Boston College Eagles Team Preview
87. Fresno State
For 15 years, Pat Hill and his Fu Manchu moustache were synonymous with Fresno State. But last year’s 4–9 mark, on top of years of dwindling attendance, forced AD Thomas Boeh’s hand. Thus the Bulldogs begin their first season in the Mountain West Conference with a clean slate. With Derek Carr and Robbie Rouse, the Bulldogs boast two of the elite offensive players in the league. This should be a good offense, provided the players get comfortable with the new system. Based on a rough spring practice, it’s not down pat yet. The defense, too, should be improved, based on Tim DeRuyter’s track record. Boise State is clearly the class of the MWC. Fresno State is among a group of teams seeking to be the best of the rest.
Read the full 2012 Fresno State Bulldogs Team Preview
In Dave Christensen’s first three seasons, the goals focused mostly on earning a trip to the postseason. The Cowboys accomplished their mission twice, and now — with Christensen receiving the program’s largest contract ever — the expectation level has increased. “I think we’re getting closer now, and where our focus has to be is playing for a conference championship,” he says. Brett Smith could be the top quarterback in the conference, and an experienced, hungry defense could be in for a special year. With TCU moving to the Big 12 and Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore having graduated, the Cowboys could be surprise contenders in the Mountain West.
Read the full 2012 Wyoming Cowboys Team Preview
Tom Crean needed four seasons to turn the Indiana basketball team around, so it’s unrealistic to expect miracles from Kevin Wilson in Year 2. His most important decision will be at quarterback. Although Tre Roberson provided thrills and some long plays, he’s not a perfect fit for the pro-style passing game that Wilson and new offensive coordinator Seth Littrell prefer. They’ll be tempted to go with Cameron Coffman or Nathan Sudfeld. But Indiana allowed nearly 43 points per game while going winless in the Big Ten. Unless the Hoosiers start to hold their own on either line of scrimmage, major improvement will have to wait another season.
Read the full 2012 Indiana Hoosiers Team Preview
90. Utah State
As Gary Andersen prepares for his fourth season at the USU helm, he is pleased with the work ethic of his team. The goal is a WAC title, which is not out of the question with the departure of Nevada, Hawaii and Fresno State to the Mountain West. While two stud running backs are gone, this team still should be able to run the ball. Plus, with two experienced quarterbacks, the offense should be able to score points and keep fans excited. The Aggies had some problems early last season closing out games in heartbreaking losses at Auburn and BYU and a home defeat against Colorado State. However, USU reeled off five straight wins to make the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Winning eight games this year should not be a stretch.
Read the full 2012 Utah State Aggies Team Preview
91. Colorado State
Talk about a leap of faith: Jim McElwain is leaving a program that has won two of the past three national championships for one that produced three consecutive 3–9 seasons under Steve Fairchild. McElwain’s No. 1 goal during the spring was to change the culture and instill an attitude of commitment and accountability. Some players, including some projected starters, departed, but those who stayed bought in and swear by McElwain’s leadership. “Coach Mac brings a lot of passion and excitement,” Nwoke says. “We want to do great things next year, but it’s on us do the work over the summer to get there. Nobody wants to be 3–9 ever again.” The good news is the Rams have a schedule that should be friendly to improvement — perhaps even the first .500 finish since 2008. But with a largely untested quarterback and a defense facing numerous questions, it’s clear that McElwain’s first season will be filled with lots of uncertainty.
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92. Air Force
Connor Dietz leads an offense that returns only three starters. He must remain healthy, which is a large question considering his reckless style, and he must be more generous. In past seasons, Dietz has been too eager to call his own number on the option. The bigger question is defense. The Falcons averaged 34.9 points in 2011, but their defense — which struggled mightily against the run — doomed them to disappointment. Jamil Cooks and Brian Lindsay must reach their considerable potential if the Falcons hope to record a winning record.
Read the full 2012 Air Force Falcons Team Preview
June Jones says he is happy with the progress of the program, which has been to three straight bowl games. As for this season, he says a fourth straight bowl is the goal, though he admits that early in the season, “we’ll be a rebuilding team, but I think we’ll rebuild pretty fast because we’re going to be pretty good on defense.” Jones has yet to put up the pinball offensive numbers he did at Hawaii, though his teams have set several SMU passing records in his tenure. To him, it boils down to the quarterback, and that is an unknown entering the season. “Until you get one of those quarterbacks that can shoot the lights out, you’ll float around in the top 20 or 25 in passing,” Jones says. “When you get one of those quarterbacks like Case Keenum, (Houston) went from No. 30 to No. 1. We’ve had good production out of the quarterbacks, but we haven’t had a great one yet.” SMU fans are hoping Garrett Gilbert is the first.
Read the full 2012 SMU Mustangs Team Preview
94. Bowling Green
Dave Clawson’s first season at Bowling Green, in 2009, produced a 7–6 record and a spot in the Humanitarian Bowl. Since then, however, the Falcons are 7–17. “We’ve played a lot of young guys the past couple of seasons, and they gained some very valuable experience,” Clawson says. “Now that they have been through it and seen what playing at game speed at the college level is all about, we expect good things from them. Assuming that quarterback Matt Schilz remains healthy, the offense should have little trouble putting points on the board. If the defense, which brings back nine starters, can simply pull its weight, then the Falcons should be in position to battle Ohio for supremacy in the MAC East.
Read the full 2012 Bowling Green Falcons Team Preview
95. San Diego State
San Diego State has failed to win a conference title in its 13 seasons in the Mountain West and won’t be expected to do so this fall in its final campaign before moving to the Big East. The goal this season is to play in a bowl game for the third straight year, something that has never happened during the program’s 43 seasons in the Division I ranks. For that to occur, Ryan Katz will have to play well at quarterback, Adam Muema must emerge as threat at tailback, and the defense will have find some able replacements in some key spots.
Read the full 2012 San Diego State Aztecs Team Preview
Keeping Trent Steelman healthy is of paramount importance, but Rich Ellerson has placed much emphasis on finding the right parts for the defensive line and improving the play on special teams. “If we stay healthy, then physically we will be more competitive because we have matured with guys getting older and stronger,” says the coach. “It will be all for naught, however, if we don’t have other fundamental issues resolved.” If those things are resolved, the Black Knights could be back in the bowl picture, especially with a schedule that features seven games at Michie Stadium.
Read the full 2012 Army Black Knights Team Preview
97. Kent State
Kent State has had three consecutive 5–7 seasons, but the 2012 edition of the Golden Flashes could be the team to break through and record the school’s first winning record since 2001. Darrell Hazell is a coach on the rise and has brought a winning mentality with him from Ohio State. The offense should be improved, thanks in large part to the running attack that will feature both Trayion Durham and Dri Archer. And an improved ground game will no doubt help Keith and/or Fisher be more productive throwing the ball down the field. The defense, led by Roosevelt Nix, will once again be stout. Ohio is the team to beat in the MAC East, but Kent State is in that next tier of teams that could put some pressure on the Bobcats. A winning league record is a reasonable goal.
Read the full 2012 Kent State Golden Flashes Team Preview
98. San Jose State
Mike MacIntyre signed a well-deserved contract extension through 2017 after leading the Spartans to a respectable 5–7 finish, a four-win improvement over 2010 that included road wins at Colorado State and Fresno State and a home win over Navy. The Spartans lost three other games by a field goal or less. With a solid nucleus returning that includes four starters who earned all-conference recognition a year ago and a much more favorable schedule in the revamped WAC, look for the Spartans to make a strong run at bowl-eligibility this year.
Read the full 2012 San Jose State Spartans Team Preview
99. Miami (Ohio)
Don Treadwell, the former Michigan State offensive coordinator who briefly served as the Spartans’ head coach when Mark Dantonio had a heart attack, is counting on a large group of seniors not only to lend experience on the field, but also to school the younger RedHawks in the Miami tradition, of which he is very fond. It won’t make a difference if Miami can’t put together some type of sustained rushing attack that would give Zac Dysert some much-needed space and limit the number of minutes the defense has to spend on the field. The RedHawks defense will face enough punishment in their opener at Ohio State in what will be Urban Meyer’s ballyhooed debut as the Buckeyes’ coach. Visits to Boise State and Cincinnati won’t be helpful going into the meat of Miami’s MAC schedule.
Read the full 2012 Miami (Ohio) RedHawks Team Preview
Hampered by cuts to scholarships and practice time due to previous academic penalties, ULM struggled to get over the hump in Todd Berry’s first two seasons. Now with those penalties in the past, the Warhawks hope to contend. There’s plenty of youth on the roster, but now ULM has a full allotment of scholarships. That should help with depth, but the Warhawks still might be another year away from their first bowl trip. “We had high expectations last season, but we couldn’t overcome injuries,” Berry says. “We still need to be healthy, but we have a deeper team now, and we have a chip on our shoulder because of some close games we lost last year. We had to bite the bullet with scholarships in the past, but we’ve got the team we want now.” Early momentum will be hard to come by with trips to Arkansas and Auburn to start the season and only one home game in the first five weeks.
Read the full 2012 Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks Team Preview
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