#25 California Golden Bears
- Head Coach: Jeff Tedford
- O-Coordinator: Jim Michalczik
- D-Coordinator: Clancy Pendergast
- Offensive: Keenan Allen (Wide Receiver-Junior)
- Defensive: Josh Hill (Safety-Senior)
Overview: With a total of 12 returning starters, Jeff Tedford and the Golden Bears are looking to improve upon their recent run of mediocrity within the Pac 12. The team is coming off two consecutive disappointing seasons, with a combined record under .500 (12-13). The time is now for Tedford to re-establish the Golden Bears as a viable threat within the Pac 12 conference.
Cal returns experience and depth at the offensive skill positions, with their leading passer (Zach Maynard), rusher (Isi Sofele), and receiver (Keenan Allen) all set to return. This will need to translate into more production, as the team has failed to place within the upper half of the Pac 12 in scoring offense the last two seasons (8th-2011 & 6th-2010). Senior quarterback Zach Maynard showed a better grasp of the offense during the tail end of the season last year. After throwing 10 interceptions in his first eight games, Maynard tossed just two in the Bears final five games (compared to 5 passing touchdowns). In junior receiver Keenan Allen, Maynard will have the luxury of the throwing to one of the premier receiving threats within the entire conference. Last year Allen ranked in the Top 10 nationally in receptions (98-9th), receiving yards (1343-9th), and receiving yards per game (103.3-10th).
Although the offensive line could have early growing pains (three returning starters moving to potential new spots), they are expected to be a strong unit as the season progresses. Seniors Dominic Galas, Brian Schwenke, and Matt Summers-Gavin are all expected to play an integral part in the continued development of Zach Maynard. The line will also be blocking for one of the most dynamic rushers within the conference in senior running back Isi Sofele. Only Oregon’s LaMichael James (150.4), Washington’s Chris Polk (114.4), and Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor (102.3) averaged more rushing per game (within the Pac 12) than Sofele’s 101.6.
Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast returns six starters on the defensive side of the ball. The Golden Bears have led the Pac 12 in total defense in each of the last two seasons (332.9-2011 & 318.9-2010). Pendergast will need to find a way to replace the production of last season’s Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks (drafted by Philadelphia Eagles). The team appears strong in the defensive backfield, with the return of standout safety Josh Hill. The senior safety ranked 5th on the team in total tackles just a year ago (48). The rest of the defensive backfield is rounded out with experience, in Alex Logan (Junior), Marc Anthony (Senior), and Steve Williams (Junior).
Keep an Eye On: Back to back roads games early in the season (Sept 15th @ Sept 22nd) versus Ohio State and USC. If the team can walk out of Columbus with a win, look for their confidence to build leading up to their matchup with USC.
#24 Boise State Broncos
- Head Coach: Chris Petersen
- O-Coordinator: Robert Prince
- D-Coordinator: Pete Kwiatkowski
- Offensive: D.J. Harper (Running Back-Senior)
- Defensive: Jamar Taylor (Defensive Back-Senior)
Overview: It’s never easy to replace the face of the program, but that’s exactly the task Chris Petersen and the Broncos are faced with in 2012. Quarterback Kellen Moore was not just a four year starting quarterback for the Broncos, he was also one of the most recognizable players in all of college football. And for good reason, Moore compiled an astonishing 50-3 record (most career wins for a college quarterback) during his tenure with the program.
It would appear the junior quarterback Joe Southwick will be given the keys the Bronco Kingdom. The expectations are always high in Boise, so Southwick will likely need to produce immediately. The offense has excelled the last five seasons, averaging 42.3 points per game over that timeframe. Last season, the Broncos were just one of seven teams to convert over 50% of their 3rd down conversions (51.1%-6th). It will be interesting to see if Southwick can duplicate the gaudy passing numbers the Broncos established just a year ago. The team led the Mountain West Conference in passing yards per game (309.4), and led the entire nation with an incredible completion percentage of 73.8%. In a nutshell, Southwick has huge shoes to fill in 2012.
If it wasn’t bad enough losing Moore, the Broncos also lost their leading rusher and receiver from a year ago. Doug Martin (RB) and Tyler Shoemaker (WR) accounted for 2,548 yards of total offense last season, not to mention 35 total touchdowns. Although losing both players definitely hurts, it isn’t as damaging as you may think. Senior running back D.J. Harper (granted 6th year of eligibility from NCAA) has shown flashes of brilliance when he has been able to stay on the field. Harper has averaged 5.8 yards per carry during his career with the Broncos. Wide receivers Matt Miller (sophomore), Mitch Burroughs (senior), and Kirby Moore (junior) should pick up the slack left by the absence of Shoemaker. The trio accounted for nearly 40% (133-37%) of the team’s receptions in 2011.
Defensively, the Broncos could be hard pressed to duplicate their success of years past. That is due in large part to the absence of standout players on the defensive line. The program lost their entire defensive front with Shea McClellin, Tyrone Crawford, Billy Winn, Chase Baker, and Jarrell Root all moving on to the NFL. The biggest question mark for defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski is whether or not unproven and un-experienced players can fill their respective roles on the defensive line. Since 2007, opposing teams are averaging just 3.45 rushing yards per attempt versus the Broncos. The team does have the luxury of returning two senior cornerbacks in Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins.
Keep an Eye On: The Broncos opening week test versus Michigan State in East Lansing (Aug 31st). The team has thrived in previous early season marquee matchups the last four seasons. Teams like Oregon, Virginia Tech, and Georgia can attest to that.
#23 Ohio State Buckeyes
- Head Coach: Urban Meyer
- O-Coordinator: Tom Herman; Ed Warinner
- D-Coordinator: Luke Fickell; Everett Withers
- Offensive: Braxton Miller (Quarterback-Sophomore)
- Defensive: John Simon (Defensive Line-Senior)
Overview: Following their first losing season since 1988, the Buckeyes decided to shake things up and hire former Utah and Florida head coach Urban Meyer. Although many anticipated a drop off following the scandal that ultimately led to the dismissal of then head coach Jim Tressel, few could’ve predicted such a major decline in production on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball in 2011. The Buckeyes averaged two full touchdowns less per game in 2011 over their 2010 averages (38.8-2010 vs. 24.5-2011). To add injury to insult, the defense surrendered nearly a touchdown more last season versus 2010 (14.3-2010 vs. 21.0-2011).
There is no mystery surrounding what Urban Meyer wants to implement with the Buckeyes offense in 2012. His patented spread offense calls for speed, speed, and more speed. The real question becomes whether or not Meyer has the pieces in place in year one at the program. The one position that Meyer likely won’t have to worry about is at quarterback. Sophomore Braxton Miller appears to be an ideal fit for what Meyer likes to do on offense. During his freshman campaign, Miller rushed for at least 80 yards on six separate occasions. If Miller can improve upon his accuracy (54.1% in 2011) this season, he could turn heads across the country. He is no doubt a special talent.
Last season’s interim head coach Luke Fickell decided to stay on as defensive coordinator. The decision was likely an easy one considering the defense has eight starters returning from a year ago. The defensive line should be the anchor of this unit with senior John Simon leading the way. Simon tied for 7th in the Big 10 in tackles for loss (16.0). Simon brings valuable experience to the unit, as he has yet to miss a game during his Buckeye career (39 games played). Junior defensive tackle Jonathan Hawkins will team up with Simon to give the Buckeyes a potent defensive line. Hawkins compiled 67 tackles (11 for loss) in 2011. Sophomore Ryan Shazier (56 tackles, 36 solo) is the sole bright within a linebacker unit that needs to be more productive this season.
Keep an Eye On: The focus of this Buckeyes team throughout the season. NCAA sanctions will keep them from playing in a conference championship or bowl game in 2012. Can Meyer motivate this squad to overachieve in year one? Time will tell.
#22 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
- Head Coach: Brian Kelly
- O-Coordinator: Chuck Martin
- D-Coordinator: Bob Diaco; Kerry Cooks
- Offensive: Cierre Wood (Running Back-Senior)
- Defensive: Manti Te’o (Linebacker-Senior)
Overview: The Brian Kelly experiment hasn’t translated into the immediate success that the Fighting Irish faithful had anticipated with his hiring back in December of 2009. After two consecutive 8-5 seasons, year three with Kelly at the helm could be instrumental toward the future of the football program.
The Fighting Irish enter their September 1st matchup versus Navy (to be played in Dublin, Ireland) with question marks at the quarterback position. Sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees has already been suspended for the game for his off the field altercations back in May. Thus, junior Andrew Hendrix, sophomore Everett Golson, and freshman Gunner Kiel will likely continue to battle through camp to secure the position. With a good performance in the season opener, Hendrix, Golson, and Kiel all have an opportunity to win the job long term. The Irish will need to improve upon their 118th ranked turnover margin from a year ago. The team wasn’t much better in Red Zone conversions in 2011, converting on just 77% of their opportunities (88th nationally). Although the Irish lost standout wide receiver Michael Floyd to the NFL, they do have arguably the premier tight end in the country in Tyler Eifert returning for his senior campaign (63 Rec. 803 Yards, 5 TDs-2011)
With seven returning starters on the offensive side of the ball, the team returns stability at some of the key positions on the field. Offensive line appears to be a strength with Mike Golic, Jr. (senior), Zack Martin (senior), Christian Lombard (junior), Chris Watt (junior), and Braxston Cave (senior) all rounding out the experienced group. The O-line’s 17 sacks allowed were tied for 24th fewest in the nation. Protecting the quarterback could prove that more important this season, especially given the uncertainty at the position. The offensive production on the ground improved immensely in 2011, as the team improved their rushing scores by 14 (25-2011 vs. 11-2010), their yards per carry (4.82-2011 vs. 3.98-2010), and their total rushing yards (2085-2011 vs. 1646-2010). Much of last season’s success can be attributed to senior running back Cierre Wood, who accounted for over 50% of the team’s production on the ground (1,102 yards & 9TDs). Senior Theo Riddick is a versatile threat on the ground, as well as receiving out of the backfield.
There is no denying the improvement that the defense has demonstrated since Kelly took over in 2010. The Fighting Irish scoring defense has improved from 63rd nationally (25.9 PA) the year before Kelly took over (2009), to 23rd and 24th respectively the last two seasons (20.7 PA-2011 & 20.2-2010). Although the team lost standout defensive end Aaron Lynch to transfer (USF), the defense still returns 6 starters from a year ago. The unit is spearheaded by linebacker Manti Te’o, who led the team with 128 tackles just a year ago. There is no reason to believe that this defense can’t continue to improve upon their success of recent years.
Keep an Eye On: The development at the quarterback position, and Notre Dame’s absolutely brutal schedule. Listen, the team’s 8-5 record was a bit deceiving in 2011. Had they protected the ball better, the results would’ve have been different. Still, there is no sugar coating the schedule. Games versus Michigan State, Michigan, Stanford, Oklahoma, and USC could prove troublesome for the progression of year three of the Brian Kelly era.
#21 NC State Wolfpack
- Head Coach: Tom O’Brien
- O-Coordinator: Dana Bible
- D-Coordinator: Mike Archer
- Offensive: Mike Glennon (Quarterback-Senior)
- Defensive: David Amerson (Cornerback-Junior)
Overview: Following a 34-0 drubbing at the hands of Florida State last October, Tom O’Brien’s Wolfpack stood at .500 (4-4) and looked anything but a quality team. However, sometimes the best things come to those who wait, and that seemed to apply perfectly with this team in 2011. Following the loss to the Seminoles, the Wolfpack won four of their last five games (including their second consecutive bowl win) to finish a respectable 8-5. Quarterback Mike Glennon caught fire during that stretch, throwing for 1207 yards and 12 touchdowns (to just 4 INTs). As a result of their strong finish, much optimism surrounds this team entering the 2012 season.
Glennon and the Wolfpack will look to improve upon their 4th ranked scoring offense (28.2-ACC) from a year ago. The strength of the offense was on full display during their season finale against Maryland back on November 26th. Trailing 41-14 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Wolf Pack appeared to be in jeopardy of not qualifying for bowl eligibility. However, an incredible 35 point swing propelled the team to an amazing 56-41 victory. Over the final 23 minutes of the game, the offense would compile an impressive 265 yards of total offense (5 offensive TDs). The Wolfpack will definitely need to improve upon a rushing offense that ranked 109th in the nation in yards per game (104.8) and 115th in rushing yards per attempt (3.04).
The strength of the defense will no doubt be fueled by the return of four starters in the defensive secondary. Led by junior cornerback David Amerson (13 INTs in 2011), the Wolfpack led the nation with 27 interceptions a year ago. Only Oklahoma State (44) had more takeaways nationally than the Wolfpack’s 39. Seniors C.J. Wilson (Cornerback), Brandan Bishop (Safety), and Earl Wolf (Safety) round out one of the most experienced units within the conference.
Keep an Eye On: The October 6th home game versus Florida State. The Seminoles defense stymied them last year, holding them to just 166 yards of total offense (178 yards below their season average). The Wolfpack averaged 18 points more at home last season (36.6-Home vs. 18.3-Road), as opposed to on the road. The friendly confines of Carter-Finley Stadium could prove huge in this pivotal ACC showdown.
The Wolfpacks Incredible Comeback Versus Maryland Last Season
Check Back Next Week for Teams 20-16 in our Rundown
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