The start of the college football season is a little more than a month away and to get your football motor going, here are some storylines/questions that I will be keeping my eye on as the season unfolds:
Which Cardinal Quarterback will Fill the Shoes of Andrew Luck?
Stanford head coach David Shaw has given very little indication of who will be his starting quarterback come September 1st versus the vaunted San Jose State Spartans. Sophomore Brett Nottingham and junior Josh Nunes are the likely replacements for the former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck. Although Luck was no doubt an intricate part of the Cardinal’s success the last three seasons, let’s not forget that this offense is predicated off the running game. Since 2009, Stanford is one of only six teams that have averaged at least 5.0 yards per rushing attempt (Alabama, TCU, Georgia Tech, Oregon, Nevada). Shaw will likely dial back the passing attack even more with Nottingham and Nunes behind center, and in return unleash senior running back Stepfan Taylor, who has produced nearly 2,500 yards on the ground (2,467 to be exact) and 25 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons. Even though the Cardinal lost standout players on the O-Line to the draft (DeCastro & Martin), they still project to be strong this season with three returning starters (Schwartzstein-C, Yankey-LG, Fleming-RT).
The Return of Dana Holgorsen to the Big 12 Conference
You would be hard pressed to find a better offensive mind in all of college football than West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen. During his last 5 years of calling plays at Texas Tech (2007-OC), Houston (2008-09-OC), Oklahoma State (2010-OC), and West Virginia (2011-Head Coach), Holgorsen’s offenses have averaged over 42 points per game. His patented spread offenses have accumulated an average of 5380 passing yards per season during that same time period. The 2012 season marks the Mountaineers shift from the Big East conference to the Big 12 conference. However, with Holgersen’s high flying attack and the return of seven starters on the offensive side of the ball, including seniors Geno Smith (QB), Tavon Austin (WR), and junior Stedman Bailey (WR), it’s the rest of the Big 12 conference that needs to take notice (not vice versa). When we last saw the Mountaineers potent offense it was in the Discover Orange Bowl where the team scored seven of their nine touchdowns in under 2:30 minutes on their way to a 70-33 victory over Clemson. I’ll be watching to see if Holgorsen’s potent offense continues to have success in the Big 12 and how many wins can the Mountaineers accumulate during their first year in the conference.
Expectations are high in Morgantown following the Mountaineers Orange Bowl Performance
Can the Seminoles Offense Pick up their Defense?
Head coach Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles enter the 2012 season possessing one of the best defensive units in the nation (last season, they ranked fourth nationally in scoring defense 15.1). They return nine starters on defense (including standout defensive lineman Brandon Jenkins), the Seminoles could contend nationally, that is if their offense can improve. Even though the Seminoles scoring offense ranked near the top of the ACC last season (30.6-3rd), it was a bit deceiving. Florida State’s offense sputtered in losses to Oklahoma and Virginia last season. In those losses, the Seminoles only mustered an average of 316 yards of total offense (13 points in each contest). As a matter of fact, their 369.2 yards of total offense was 77th ranked in the nation. A lot of Florida State’s offensive struggles were a direct result of their poor offensive line play, which contributed to rushing attack averaging only 3.34 yard per carry…good enough for a 105th ranking. Their loss to Oklahoma last season (September 17th) exemplified just how inadequate Florida State’s ground game was in 2012 as they were only able to muster 27 rushing yards on 26 attempts. If the Seminoles are going to contend for an ACC title in 2012, they will need to sure up their rushing attack. If not, look for similar struggles this season.
Can Head Coach Brian Kelly and Notre Dame Survive a Brutal Schedule?
I’ll be honest with you, the Fighting Irish have a seven week stretch during the upcoming season (Sept. 15th-Nov. 3rd) where I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost every game. You are talking about consecutive games versus Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma, and Pitt. That doesn’t even take into consideration their season finale versus USC. Thus, to say that the Fighting Irish have a challenging road ahead of them in 2012, would be a drastic understatement. The biggest question for head coach Brian Kelly is whether or not his offense can cut down on the turnovers, as Notre Dame was notorious for “shooting themselves in the foot” last season with inopportune turnovers. They turned the ball over a total of 29 times, and their -15 turnover margin was the second worst output in the nation (only SMU was worse out of 120 teams). It all starts up front with junior quarterback Tommy Rees. If he can cut down on the amount of turnovers that hampered him last season (19 in all), the Fighting Irish will stand a much better chance against some of the nation’s elite programs. If not, look for the heat to be turned up on Brian Kelly.
The Most Dynamic Player in the Nation Resides out in Eugene
Although he likely won’t generate as much preseason Heisman buzz as his fellow Pac 12 counterpart Matt Barkley (USC), the Ducks De’Anthony Thomas (sophomore-RB) could end up as a surprise winner come December. Simply put, there isn’t a more electrifying player in all the country than Thomas. So just how dynamic was Thomas during his freshman season with the Ducks? Consider this, every time he touched the ball (rushing, receiving, punt returns, kickoff returns) he averaged 17.1 yards combined and Thomas’ 18 total touchdowns were tied for 12th in the nation. His game changing ability was on full display during the Ducks Rose Bowl victory versus Wisconsin on January 1st (45-38 win). Thomas compiled 314 total yards and two touchdowns on just 11 touches. With standout running back LaMichael James gone to the NFL, look for Thomas to be called upon even more in 2012.
De’Anthony Thomas had quite the Freshman campaign in 2011
Are the Bulldogs the Class of the SEC?
There was stretch last season where the Georgia Bulldogs were as impressive as any team in the nation. Following their September 10th loss at the hands of South Carolina, Georgia won 10 games in a row (including seven straight conference games). Much of that success can be attributed toward defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Grantham improved the Bulldogs total defense to the tune of 5th nationally (23rd the year before), allowing just under 280 total yards per game (277.2). With nine returning starters on the defensive of the ball (including safeties Bacarri Rambo, Shawn Williams and OLB Jarvis Jones), look for the Bulldogs to improve upon their stellar defensive campaign of 2011. Combine the defense with one of the premier gunslingers in the nation, junior quarterback Aaron Murray who threw for 35 touchdowns in 2011, and Georgia seems poised for big thing in 2012. Additionally, the Bulldogs have the luxury of not facing LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas during the regular season.
The Big 10 is up for Grabs in 2012
The Badgers, Wolverines, Cornhuskers, Spartans, and Buckeyes all have at least 12 returning starters in 2012. Each of those teams (with the exception of the Buckeyes-NCAA sanctions) hope to be playing in the Big 10 Championship Game come December. Michigan State and Wisconsin will look to replace the void left at the quarterback position with Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson being drafted into the NFL. The Badgers appear to be in better position, with Danny O’Brien transferring from Maryland. Still, offensive coordinator Paul Chryst’s decision to leave the program for the Pitt head coaching job, could stunt the offense. The Wolverines will look to improve upon their surprising 10 win season (including BCS win) under Brady Hoke and return the most dynamic player in the conference, in senior quarterback Denard Robinson. If Robinson can continue to develop within Al Borges Pro-Style offense, Michigan should be tough (though they need to cut down on turnovers). Rex Burkhead (RB-Senior) and Taylor Martinez (QB-Senior) accounted for over 75% of the Cornhuskers rushing yards and touchdowns in 2011 (2,231 & 24 rushing scores). However, Martinez will need to become more effiicient in the passing game (162.7 PYG-10th in Big 10) if he expects to take his team to the next level.
Keep an eye out over the upcoming weeks for more looks at the upcoming 2012 College Football season.
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