College Football Teams on the Rise in 2012
Farewell 2011, hello 2012.
Now that the college football season is over with, we can look forward to pundits filling up airtime on ESPN with bold predictions for the next season.
Many claim to know who will win the national championship, who will win each conference—even sometimes the range a team will finish in.
This is not one of those articles.
It rather is one that identifies teams who lacked the exposure in 2011 who will come out and compete at the elite level in 2012. I have to put this disclaimer out there.
Now let's get started.
1. Arkansas Razorbacks
The Hogs played at a torrid pace in 2011 and will only get better in 2012.
Tyler Wilson had an amazing season, and looks to be the pre-eminent quarterback in the SEC in 2012. The return of running back Knile Davis gives the Hogs an explosive offense that will be a nightmare for any SEC defensive coordinator.
Arkansas loses Joe Adams and Jarius Wright this year, but they still have Cobi Hamilton and Chris Gragg returning.
The secondary is also hurt with the loss of Tramain Thomas. Alonzo Highsmith returns and looks to establish himself as one of the best linebackers in the SEC.
Don't be surprised if you see the Hogs in the 2012 SEC Championship game.
Key Returning Players: Tyler Wilson, Knile Davis, Chris Gragg, Cobi Hamilton and Alonzo Highsmith.
2. USC Trojans
Two words: Matt Barkley.
The Heisman candidate returns to USC next season and looks to make up for their two-year bowl game ban. Barkley had a big season in 2011 and looks to have an even bigger one, if possible, in 2012.
It helps to have Robert Woods and Curtis McNeal returning. Marqise Lee will join Woods to form one the best receiving duos in college football.
The Trojans will undoubtedly miss Nick Perry on defense (though Hayes Pullard should be a nice replacement), and Barkley will be sore over the departure of left tackle Matt Kalil.
Despite the loss of personnel to the 2012 draft, look for USC to be a dominant force in the Pac-12.
Key Returning Players: Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee, Hayes Pullard and Curtis McNeal.
3. Michigan Wolverines
Yes, Michigan is always overrated in preseason polls. People at times suffer from delusions of grandeur when it comes to the Wolverines, but in 2012 these delusions might be real.
On offense they return Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint.
On defense, rising stars such as Jake Ryan, Jordan Kovacs and Desmond Morgan give defensive coordinator Greg Mattison a lot to play with in 2012. The loss of All-American David Molk will hurt the Wolverines on offense, as will Mike Martin's departure.
However, the Wolverines defense under Brady Hoke compared to the horrid Rich-Rod era has been night and day—and it will only improve.
I personally think that Denard has hit the ceiling as a passer, but his legs (like always) will give them the offensive spark they need.
An early test will come in the 2012 season opener versus Alabama. The Wolverines must try to resolve their habit of losing to Michigan State as of late. If they can overcome these obstacles (and that is a tall order), then the sky is the limit.
Key Returning Players: Denard Robinson, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan.
4. Michigan State Spartans
In the past, the Michigan State Spartans have had issues with high expectations.
In 2010 they marched into the Capital One Bowl with a share of the Big Ten title and an 11-win season only to bring shame to themselves.
The past is the past, however.
In 2011 they went down to the wire versus Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game and defeated a very good Georgia Bulldogs team in a dramatic and exciting Outback Bowl. It appears that the Spartans are finally ready to compete with the best.
The returning defense is one of the scariest in the nation.
Denicos Allen, William Gholston, Marcus Rush, Isaiah Lewis and a whole host of others return in 2012. If you think that they are only dominant against Big Ten teams, then you should ask Aaron Murray at Georgia whether this is true or not.
The loss of Kirk Cousins, B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin stalls the offense. All-American defensive tackle Jerel Worthy also departs this year, and he will be missed.
The Spartans look to Andrew Maxwell, who has been groomed the last three years, to replace Cousins. Le'Veon Bell returns after an outstanding sophomore campaign, and Larry Caper looks to get more carries after the departure of Edwin Baker.
The Spartans have the talent—we shall see if they have the focus. Given their recent bowl-game victory, I think they do.
Key Returning Players: Denicos Allen, Isaiah Lewis, William Gholston, Marcus Rush and Le'Veon Bell.
5. Georgia Bulldogs
The Georgia Bulldogs finished the 2011 season in impressive fashion.
They recovered from a bad first few games to march all the way to the SEC Championship game where they lost to a great LSU team.
While they stumbled in the Outback Bowl against an outstanding and experienced MSU team, they can only get better in 2012.
Aaron Murray returns and looks to challenge Tyler Wilson in the contest of the best quarterback in the SEC. Tavarres King looks to become one of the best receivers in the SEC, and Isaiah Crowell is aching to have a great sophomore campaign.
Bacarri Rambo, Branden Smith, Sanders Commings and Cornelius Washington will power a great defense.
Orson Charles departing for the draft will hurt the Bulldogs in 2012, and their schedule is relatively favorable to them. The 'Dawgs have the talent, and hopefully they won't stumble like they have in the past.
Key Returning Players: Aaron Murray, Bacarri Rambo, Cornelius Washington, Tavarres King and Isaiah Crowell.