- Head Coach: Mark Dantonio
- O-Coordinator: Dan Roushar
- D-Coordinator: Pat Narduzzi
- Offensive: Le’Veon Bell (Running Back-Junior)
- Defensive: William Gholston (Defensive End-Junior)
Overview: Continued success has a way of building expectations (fair or unfair) within a program. After consecutive 11 win seasons, head coach Mark Dantonio and the Spartans find themselves among the nation’s elite programs heading into 2012. Although the team will need to make due without longtime quarterback Kirk Cousins, as well as a handful of receivers, they still have 9 starters returning from a defensive unit the ranked near the top of the Big 10 last season. Will it be enough to propel them to the top of the Legends Division this season?
The departure of Cousins continues a reoccurring theme within the college football landscape this season. Similar to the Stanford and Boise State’s of the world, the Spartans will look to continue their success without their productive signal caller behind center. Few quarterbacks were as efficient as Cousins in 2011. In his final seven regular season games last season, he connected on over 64% of his pass attempts and threw 16 passing scores to just three interceptions. Junior Andrew Maxwell will try to duplicate what Cousins accomplished the last couple of seasons within offensive coordinator Dan Roushar’s offense. Perhaps Maxwell’s biggest strength this season will be the Spartans experienced and proven offensive line. The team returns four starters from a year ago, led by guard Chris McDonald. This offensive line unit’s 17 sacks allowed last season was tied for 24th fewest in the nation.
With senior receivers B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin, Keith Nicol, and Brian Linthicum (TE) gone, the Spartans lose over 70% of the their receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns from a year ago. The loss of Cunningham and Martin will especially hurt, as the two had the propensity of generating big plays when the team needed them the most. The two combined for over 14 yards per reception last season, making them one of the most lethal receiving duos in the entire conference. With Cousins gone and the receiving core depleted, look for the Spartans passing game to take a step back in 2012.
The defense will no doubt fuel the team in 2012. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has playmakers at just about every position on the field. The defensive line will be led by junior All-American candidate Will Gholston (70 tackles, 5 sacks last season). The linebackers are led by juniors Max Bullough and Denicos Allen (172 combined tackles, 14.5 sacks). The defensive back field is rounded out with Johnny Adams (senior) and Darqueze Dennard (junior). Although the team did lose defensive tackle Jerel Worthy to the draft, they will be looking to improve upon stuffing the run in 2012. The team limited their opponents to just 2.8 yards per attempt last season, good for seventh in the nation. Michigan State led the Big Ten conference in total defense (277.4) and rushing defense (100.5) just a year ago.
Keep an Eye On: How the team compensates for the loss of production on offense. Four of the team’s 11 wins were decided by 7 points or less last season. Even the smallest decline in offensive production could sway some of those wins into losses this season.
- Head Coach: Gary Patterson
- O-Coordinator: Jarrett Anderson, Rusty Burns
- D-Coordinator: Dick Bumpas
- Offensive: Casey Pachall (Quarterback-Junior)
- Defensive: Kenny Cain (Linebacker-Senior)
Overview: Some things just feel like they belong, and the Horned Frogs moving into the Big 12 conference is one such thing. Head coach Gary Patterson and the program enters the Big 12 with an impressive resume, especially their last four years. The team has generated 47 wins during that period, and has proven they can compete on a national stage with the nation’s elite. With big time weapons returning on the offensive side of the ball, the team expects to make a smooth transition into their new conference.
Junior quarterback Casey Pachall picked up right where Andy Dalton left the program last season. The talented signal caller from Brownwood, Texas, was responsible for multiple come from behind wins in 2011, including a thrilling 36-35 victory versus Boise State. In that game, Pachall threw for 473 yards and five touchdowns to ignite the Horned Frogs victory. The junior quarterback also guided the team to one of the most efficient passing offenses in the nation. Their 66% completion percentage ranked within the Top 20 nationally (17). Although the team loses three starting offensive lineman from a year ago (Robert Deck, Jeff Olson, Kyle Dooley), they do return seniors Blaize Foltz (RG) and James Fry (C).
The Horned Frogs have always boasted a stellar running game, and 2011 was no different. For the third consecutive season, the team surpassed at least 2,700 yards on the ground (2,712), as well as averaging over 5.0 yards per attempt (5.10). With Waymon James and Matthew Tucker set to return this season, 2012 should be more of the same. The tandem combined for nearly 60% of the teams rushing output last season (1577-58.2%). Their production enabled the program to finish within the Top 20 in rushing offense for the fourth consecutive season. Couple the rushing attack with the return of standout receiving threat Josh Boyce (61 Rec, 998 Yds, 9 TDs), and the Horned Frogs expect to be firing on all cylinders come September 8th.
The team’s lack of defensive production in 2011 was a little bit disconcerting. After allowing around 12 points per game the previous three seasons (12.03), the team’s scoring defense took a step backward in 2011. Dick Bumpas’ unit saw their scoring defense increase by nearly 10 points per game (21.5-2011 vs. 12.0-2010). The unit surrendered over 1,500 yards more (1,546 to be exact) to their opponents last season, not to mention 11 additional touchdowns. Without question, this unit signals the biggest question mark for the team in 2012. Although they do return depth on the defensive line with Stansly Maponga (junior), Ross Forrest (senior), David Johnson (sophomore), the defensive backfield is completely decimated (four starters gone). Leading tackler Kenny Cain (LB) will need to pick up the slack with the departure of Tank Carder (NFL).
Keep an Eye On: The final two weeks of the Horned Frogs schedule, as they matchup with Texas (road) and Oklahoma (home) in consecutive weeks. We fully expect them to compete for a conference title during their inaugural year; this stretch could determine just that.
- Head Coach: Brett Bielema
- O-Coordinator: Matt Canada
- D-Coordinator: Chris Ash
- Offensive: Montee Ball (Running Back-Senior)
- Defensive: Chris Borland (Linebacker_Junior)
Overview: There is no getting around the departures of two of the Badgers most important pieces in 2011. From a player standpoint, Russell Wilson transformed how the quarterback position is perceived at the program. His playmaking ability was a rare treat for Badger fans who, quite frankly, were unaccustomed to that before he stepped on the campus. From a personnel standpoint, offensive coordinator Paul Chryst transformed Wisconsin’s offense into one of the most potent scoring attacks in the nation. Since 2008, the Badgers scoring offense increased every year under Chryst, with an impressive +16.6 points per game increase over that timeframe (2008-27.5 vs. 2011-44.1). With both individuals out of the picture in 2012 (Wilson to the NFL, Chryst took head coaching job at Pitt), Wisconsin can only hope others step up to fill the void.
Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien is expected to be the starting quarterback for the Badgers this season. After enjoying a successful freshman season for the Terrapins in 2010 (2,438 YDs, 22 TDs, 57% Comp.), O’Brien struggled mightily last season to pick up new head coach Rand Edsall’s zone read/spread offense. O’Brien should transition nicely with the Badgers, although fans should reserve their expectation on him (especially a year removed from having Wilson). Bottom line, O’Brien doesn’t possess the unique qualities that Wilson had, and that will undoubtedly surface at some point this season (probably sooner rather than later).
Luckily for head coach Brett Bielema, he has one of the most potent rushing attacks in the nation to lean on. Led by Heisman candidate Montee Ball, the Badgers were just one of 11 teams nationally to average at least 235 yards per game on the ground last season. Ball generated one of the most impressive single season rushing efforts in recent memory by racking up 1,923 yards on the ground to go along with 33 touchdowns. The team’s 5.42 yards per carry was eighth best nationally, as was their 3,298 yards on the ground. Their 48 rushing scores led the nation in 2011. The offensive line is led by returning starters Ricky Wagner (LT-Senior) and Travis Frederick (C-Junior). Very few teams within the Big 10 conference have been able to compete against the team’s ultra-physical running game the last handful of seasons and Wisconsin has led the conference in rushing three out of the last four seasons.
The Badgers scoring defense has improved each of the last four seasons and we anticipate much of the same in 2012. Although the Badgers have very little returning experience on the defensive line, they do get back junior Ethan Hemer (34 tackles-2011). The departures of Aaron Henry (safety) and Antonio Fenelus (cornerback) could prove troublesome for a unit that limited their opponents to just 163.6 yards per game last season (4th nationally).
Keep an Eye On: The Badgers October 27th home game versus Michigan State. Their two matchups last season were decided by a total of 9 points. Wisconsin could very well be undefeated (just like last year) heading into this pivotal conference showdown.
Can the Badgers Montee Ball Duplicate is 2011 Success?
- Head Coach: John L. Smith
- O-Coordinator: Paul Petrino
- D-Coordinator: Paul Haynes
- Offensive: Tyler Wilson (Quarterback-Senior)
- Defensive: Alonzo Highsmith (Linebacker-Senior)
Overview: Head coach Bobby Petrino’s indiscretions during the offseason leave the Razorbacks football program in doubt heading into 2012. The Razorbacks were fully expected to improve upon their stellar season from just a year ago, but uncertainty clouds the program with Petrino out of the picture. Even with 13 returning starters, interim head coach John L. Smith could find it challenging to repeat last season’s success.
Senior quarterback Tyler Wilson was extremely efficient during his first year of running the offense. His 3.638 yards passing, 24 touchdowns (to only 6 INTs), and 63% completion percentage were good enough earn him first team All-SEC team honors. Wilson threw for over 300 yards on 6 separate occasions last year. Although he lost his top two receiving threats from a year ago (Jarius Wright & Joe Adams), Wilson is fully expected to build off of his stellar campaign of 2011.
After missing the entire 2011 season with a broken ankle, junior running back Knile Davis is expected to produce much like he did in 2010. Davis is a homerun threat every time he touches the ball, evident by his 6.48 yard per carry in 2010. The Razorbacks are hoping he can stay healthy, as various injuries have sidelined him during his tenure at the program. The team has ranked 9th in the conference in rushing in consecutive seasons, so they are hoping Davis can propel them to the upper echelon within the SEC.
The Razorbacks scoring defense has improved every year since 2008. With six returning starters from a year ago, as well as a defensive minded coach now running the program, that improvement should continue in 2012. New defensive coordinator Haynes will be directing a unit that surrendered only 12 passing touchdowns last season (7th fewest in the nation). Senior linebacker Alonzo Smith figures to improve upon his 80 tackles from a year ago (3rd on the team).
Keep an Eye On: The identity of the program under John L. Smith. Bobby Petrino was an offensive minded coach that generated results during his brief term with the program. Smith, who is definitely more defensive minded, will likely look to change the identity of the program in year one.
- Head Coach: Dabo Swinney
- O-Coordinator: Chad Morris
- D-Coordinator: Brent Venables
- Offensive: Sammy Watkins (Wide Receiver: Sophomore)
- Defensive: Jonathan Williard (Linebacker-Senior)
Overview: Head coach Dabo Swinney and the Tigers were one of the better stories of 2011. A year removed from just 6 wins, the program reeled off 8 straights wins to start the season last year in route to their first 10 win season since 1990 (10-4). With 14 returning starters in 2012, Clemson has their eyes set on repeating as ACC champs, and returning to a BCS Bowl game.
The Tigers return extreme talent at the skill positions on the offensive side of the ball. Junior quarterback Tahj Boyd earned All ACC honors last year by leading Clemson to the second ranked scoring offense in the conference (33.6). His 273.4 passing yards per game, as well as his 33 touchdowns led the ACC. Boyd has the luxury of throwing the ball to one of the best receiving options in the game in sophomore Sammy Watkins (83 RECs 1225 YDs 12 TDs. Watkins speed and quick acceleration off the line make him an impossible cover for opposing defensive backs. Due to off the field issues, Watkins will not suit up for Clemson’s opening week matchup versus Auburn.
The Tigers running game could be hard pressed to duplicate their success from a year ago. This has more to do with question marks on the offensive line, as opposed to senior running back Andre Ellington. The team generated a respectable 158.5 yards per game (5th-ACC) last season, with Ellington himself generating 90.6 of those yards. Still, Clemson’s 4.19 yards per carry were only good for 55th in the nation. With a changeover on the offensive line, that number might not improve.
For those of you who watched the Tigers absolutely embarrassing defensive performance in last season’s Orange Bowl (West Virginia scored at will), you knew that big changes were likely coming. And come they did, in the form of Oklahoma Sooners defensive coordinator Brent Venables. Venables inherits a scoring defense that ranked 81st in the country last season (29.3), not to mention an abysmal 71st in total defense (394.4) The Tigers do have the luxury of returning 7 starters on defense, including three seniors in the defensive backfield (Rashard Hall, Xavier Brewer, Jonathan Meeks). Having said that, there is no question that Venables has his work cut out for him with this unit.
Keep an Eye On: The home opener versus Auburn on September 1st (to be played in Atlanta). The absence of Sammy Watkins could prove challenging for an offense that needs his production.
Check Back Next Week for the Conclusion of our Top 25 Rundown (10-1)
And in case you missed…
Copyright © sports-glutton.com, 2010-2012. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from sports-glutton.com is strictly prohibited.