- Head Coach: Bo Pelini
- O-Coordinator: Tim Beck
- D-Coordinator: John Papuchis
- Offensive: Rex Burkhead (Running Back-Senior)
- Defensive: Cameron Meredith (Defensive End-Senior)
Overview: The Cornhuskers inaugural season in the Big 10 was a mixed one. Although they finished a respectable 5-3 in league (9-4 overall), they failed miserably in road matchups versus Wisconsin and Michigan (outscored 93-34 in those losses). Still, with 15 returning starters in 2012, the expectations are once again high in Lincoln.
The biggest question mark on offense no doubt lies on the passing arm of junior quarterback Taylor Martinez. Martinez and the Cornhuskers ranked near the bottom of the conference in passing yards per game last season (162.7-10th). The team surpassed the 200 yard passing mark only twice last season (Fresno St & Northwestern), and failed to complete at least 50% of their passing attempts on five separate occasions. Detractors will argue that the team simply prefers to engage in a physical running attack, as opposed to an aerial assault with Martinez. Still, the book appears to be out on Martinez. Unless he can show improvement in this area, look for opposing teams to stack the box on a regular basis. The Cornhuskers rushing yards per attempt were down nearly a full yard last season (2011-4.6 vs. 2010-5.4). This certainly coincides with Nebraska’s struggles to move the ball through the air.
The Cornhuskers physical run blocking scheme is led by senior guard Spencer Long. The team led the Big 10 conference last season in rushing attempts (611), and finished in the Top 3 in total yards (2,824-3rd), rushing touchdowns (31-2nd), and rushing yards per game (217.2-3rd). Senior Rex Burkhead is looking to improve upon a 2011 season that saw him earn first team All Big Ten honors (1,534 yards from scrimmage & 17TDs). A true workhorse at the running back position, Burkhead was one of only 12 players nationally to compile at least 280 rushing attempts in 2011.
The defense struggled to find any type of consistency last season. The Cornhuskers scoring defense plummeted all the way to 42nd nationally (23.4), a year after finishing in the Top 10 (17.4-9th). Things could prove challenging again this year, especially with the absence of Jared Crick and Lavonte David. Defense coordinator John Papuchis will need veteran leadership from players like Cameron Meredith (DL) and Will Compton (LB), if they expect to compete against some of the upper echelon offenses in the Big 10 this season.
Keep an Eye On: How Nebraska’s passing game improves during the season. High octane offenses like Michigan and Wisconsin look to beat you with a balanced attack. At some point, Martinez and the Cornhuskers are going to need to consistently produce in the passing game.
- Head Coach: Steve Sarkisian
- O-Coordinator: Eric Kiesau
- D-Coordinator: Justin Wilcox
- Offensive: Keith Price (Quarterback-Junior)
- Defensive: Josh Shirley (Defensive Line-Sophomore)
Overview: After posting a .500 mark during his first three years coaching the program (19-19), Steve Sarkisian is hoping to make a big splash in year four. The real question becomes whether or not the defense can improve in 2012. Since 2009 (Sarkisian’s first), the Huskies scoring defense has yet to improve (+9.2 PA during that time period). Still, with eight starters returning from an ultra-explosive offense, the Huskies should find themselves in just about every game this year.
Few players burst onto the scene in 2011 like Huskies quarterback Keith Price. A year after sitting behind Jake Locker, Price exceeded all expectations. Price completed over 65% (66.9) of his passes, threw for over 3,000 yards (3063), and tossed 33 touchdowns (to just 11 INTs). Price’s talent was on full display during the Washington’s Alamo Bowl loss to Baylor last December (67-56). In the loss, Price threw for 438 yards, and accounted for 7 total touchdowns (4 passing, 3 rushing). Sky is the limit for Price in 2012.
Offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau simply won’t replace the production that running back Chris Polk produced the last three seasons (graduated). So just how productive was Polk? From 2009-2011, he racked up 4,016 total yards from scrimmage (30 total TDs). With Polk gone, look for more of an emphasis on the passing game. That should translate into big numbers for sophomores Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE) and Kasen Williams (WR). As freshman last season, the two combined for 28% of the teams receptions (76) and 33% of its receiving touchdowns (12).
The defense was historically bad last season. The Huskies ranked 108th nationally in scoring defense (35.9 PA), and 106th in total defense (453.3 YPG). Make no mistake, Washington is going to have to outscore their opponents once again in 2012. They do have the luxury of returning 7 starters from a year ago, including sophomore John Shirley on the defensive line. Still, without a proven track record of stopping their opponents, expect shootouts early and often in 2012.
Keep an Eye On: The Huskies offensive production on the ground. Gone is Chris Polk and his 4,049 career rushing yards. Look for a possible running back by committee in 2012.
Keith Price’s Alamo Bowl Performance from last December
- Head Coach: Mike Gundy
- O-Coordinator: Todd Monken
- D-Coordinator: Glenn Spencer, Bill Young
- Offensive: Joseph Randle (Running Back-Junior)
- Defensive: Daytawion Lowe (Safety-Junior)
Overview: The Cowboys offense will begin its next chapter this season without longtime standouts Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. Very few defenses could withstand the offensive onslaught of Oklahoma State in 2011. Weeden and company ranked within the Top 5 nationally in scoring offense (48.7-2nd), passing offense (387.2-2nd), and total offense (549.8-3rd). The Cowboys offense scored 40 or more points on three separate occasions, 50 or more points on 3, 60 or more on 2, and 70 points once.
True freshman Wes Lunt will enter the season as the starting quarterback. It will be interesting to see how much Todd Monken dials back the offense for the inexperienced Lunt. The Cowboys were one of only 4 teams to attempt over 590 passes last season (Houston, Texas Tech, Hawaii), so you know what the team wants to accomplish with their offensive sets. Oklahoma State was ultra productive on 3rd down conversions, converting on close to 50% of them (48.9%-8th). Senior wide receiver Tracy Moore will likely garner most of the attention in the passing game, especially with the teams top two options from last year gone (Justin Blackmon & Josh Cooper).
The Cowboys return a deep and battle tested offensive line, led by guards Lane Taylor and Jonathan Rush. They will have the luxury of blocking for one of the most versatile running backs in the nation, in junior Joseph Randle. As a sophomore, Randle ranked 2nd in the Big 12 in rushing yards (1,216) and rushing touchdowns (24). He led all Big 12 rushers with 43 receptions out of the backfield. Junior Jeremy Smith (646 YDs & 9TDs) compliments a Cowboys offense that led the Big 12 in rushing yards per attempt in 2011 (5.39).
Although the defense certainly isn’t considered an elite unit, it does have eight starters returning from a year ago. The team would like to see improvement in stopping the run, as they allowed over 4.3 yards per rush in 2011 (compared to 3.48 the year before). The Cowboys return 4 of their top 5 tacklers from a year ago, in junior safety Daytawion Lowe (97-1st), senior linebacker Alex Elkins (90-2nd), junior linebacker Caleb Lavey (74-4th), and senior cornerback Brodrick Brown (68-5th).
Keep an Eye On: The return of former offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen (current West Virginia head coach) to Stillwater on November 10th. In what has the makings of a classic shootout, the Cowboys will look to spoil the return of Holgorsen and the Moutaineers. This game should have huge BCS implications for both teams.
- Head Coach: Frank Beamer
- O-Coordinator: Brian Stinespring
- D-Coordinator: Bud Foster
- Offensive: Logan Thomas (Quarterback-Junior)
- Defensive: James Gayle (Defensive Line-Junior)
Overview: Few programs have enjoyed the high level of success that head coach Frank Beamer and the Hokies have established the last handful of years. Since joining the ACC back in 2004, Virginia Tech has recorded six 1st place finishes (two 2nd places finishes) and played in 5 BCS Bowl games.
Junior starting quarterback Logan Thomas is one of the more physically imposing signal callers in the nation. Standing 6-6 and weighing 260 pounds, Thomas has the unique advantage of looking over the incoming pass rush and selecting the correct read. His size and athletically ability also enable him to break containment should the opposing pass rush close in. The Hokies 17 sacks allowed last season tied them for 24th fewest in the nation. Thomas was ultra productive in 2011, setting a school record for total yards in a season (3,482). The biggest question mark entering 2012 has less to do with Thomas, and more with the pieces around him. Virginia Tech lost substantial experience and talent at the running back (see below), wide receiver (Jarrety Boykin and Danny Coale graduated), and offensive line (four starters gone) positions. Thomas will likely be asked to do more with less in 2012.
With David Wilson departing for the NFL, offensive coordinator Mike O’Cain could be hard pressed to replace his production. Wilson’s 1,709 rushing yards in 2011 ranked 4th nationally, and his 122.0 yards per game ranked within the Top 10. Since 2008, the Hokies have ranked in the Top 3 in rushing offense in the ACC. However, with a depleted offensive line and an unproven running back, it could be difficult to duplicate this season. Still, the team feels comfortable with redshirt freshman Michael Holmes, redshirt junior Tony Gregory, and true freshman J.C. Coleman to potentially replace Wilson.
With ten returning starters on the defensive side of the ball, Virginia Tech figures to be one of the better units within the ACC. The unit is anchored by extreme talent and depth on the defensive line with juniors J.R. Collins and James Gayle. The duo combined for 95 tackles (22 for loss) and 13 sacks in 2011. Although the team lost standout defensive back Jayron Hosley to the NFL, they do return juniors Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum. Bud Foster’s defense ranked within the Top 10 nationally in scoring defense (17.6-7th) and total defense (304.6-10th) in 2011. With so many starters back this year, we anticipate those numbers improving.
Keep an Eye On: Virginia Tech’s road game versus Clemson on October 20th. The Tigers thoroughly dominated the Hokies last season, outscoring them 60-13 in their two contests (also outgained them by 192 yards on offense). Logan Thomas and the offense will need much more production if they hope to exact revenge from last season’s losses.
- Head Coach: David Shaw
- O-Coordinator: Pep Hamilton
- D-Coordinator: Derek Mason
- Offensive: Stepfan Taylor (Running Back-Senior)
- Defensive: Shayne Skov (Linebacker-Senior)
Overview: Quarterback Andrew Luck (along with former head coach Jim Harbaugh) helped resurrect the Stanford program during his tenure. Luck and the Cardinal finished with a combined record of 31-8 during his three years with the program (including back to back BCS Bowl games). Compare that with the Stanford’s 9-15 record the two years previous to Luck’s arrival, and it’s easy to see why the fan base is excited about Cardinal football again.
As we highlighted in our College Football Primer, head coach David Shaw is still undecided as to who will replace Luck at the quarterback spot come September 1st. Sophomore Brett Nottingham and junior Josh Nunes have both apparently had their moments during practice, yet neither has distanced himself throughout the competition. I would anticipate a decision by Shaw sometime in the coming weeks. With Luck at the helm the last two seasons, the Cardinal generated nearly 7,000 yards through the air (6,849), not to mention 69 passing scores. Unfortunately, whichever quarterback wins the job will likely have unfair expectations placed upon them to start the season.
Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton will likely lean on his physical running game to try and compensate for the loss production in the passing game. Three returning starters on the line (Schwartzstein-C, Yankey-LG, Fleming-RT), coupled with senior running back Stepfan Taylor, should do the trick. Taylor has produced for Stanford in a big way the last two seasons, producing 2,915 total yards from scrimmage, and 28 touchdowns. For running backs who had at least 240 rushing attempts last season (there were 26 of them), Taylor was one of only seven players to average at least 5.50 yards per attempt.
After the leading the Pac 12 in scoring defense in 2010 (17.4), the Cardinal saw a slight decrease in their production in 2011 (21.9-2nd). Still, the team ranked 1st within the conference in rushing defense (88.3), and 2nd in total defense (341.6), so the production wasn’t far off. Where the team really struggled was in pass coverage, surrendering over 50 yards more per game over their 2010 totals (253.2-2011 vs. 202.0-2010). Led by returning starter Terrence Brown, the team will need to sure up this defensive blemish in 2012. Senior linebacker Shayne Skov (missed 9 games last year due to injury) is expected to return to the starting lineup following is 1 game suspension (DUI) to start the season. Skov led the team in tackles back in 2010 (83).
Keep an Eye On: The offensive production with the new quarterback under center. Stanford ranked in the Top 10 nationally in scoring offense the last two season (over 40 points per game each season). Without Luck under center, the team might have to change their identity slightly.
Our Top 25 Rundown Continues Next Week with Teams 15-11
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