One Thing to Fear About Every College Football Team

Dan VastaSenior Writer IIIJune 17, 2012

One Thing to Fear About Every College Football Team

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    The season is nearly upon us as we close in under 74 days until we gets things underway, but many are excited for millions of reasons.

    The pageantry of the game is like nothing else, but many of us have fears of certain All-American players as well as unstoppable schemes in the game.

    Hell, there are even a few coaches out there that are fearful because of their absurd track records. We are always taught to play with no fear, but certainly every team has a few things

    So, here are your things to fear among every single FBS college football team heading into the 2012 season.

UTSA: Larry Coker

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    Any coach regardless of age that has won a BCS title that is still coaching will always remain a factor in college football.

    Larry Coker just took over this program last season (4-6) as it was the inaugural season for the Texas San-Antonio Roadrunners. 

Texas State: Dennis Franchione

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    This experienced head coach has seen it all as he enters his fourth season (second in this tenure) with Texas State and his 27th overall.

    Franchione had a tenure with these Bobcats in 1990-1991, so he is not new to this program as he will look to improve this program in the immediate future.

New Mexico State: Walton Taumoepeau

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    This junior college transfer is a big (6’3”, 300-pounds), explosive defensive tackle that is capable of becoming one of the few dominant lineman in the WAC.

Idaho: Ryan Bass

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    The former Arizona State Sun Devil saw some time in the backfield one season ago with the Vandals, but it looks as if this is finally his time to shine.

    Bass was considered one of the most talented backs coming out of high school not too long ago, so don’t be shocked if he leads the conference in rushing.

San Jose State: Linebackers

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    Keith Smith led the team in tackles (104) by a wide margin (26), but this junior also ended up making the Second Team All-WAC.

    Throw in talented linebacker Vince Buhagiar, and the Spartans have arguably the best duo at linebacker in the conference. 

Utah State: Chuckie Keeton

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    Most would argue the luck factor is something to fear since there were six games that the Aggies lost by single digits last season.

    However, quarterback Chuckie Keeton has a solid arm that is primed to give the Aggies another opportunity to appear in a bowl game and to avoid another season of close losses.

Louisiana Tech: Pitch and Catch

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    Look for quarterback Colby Cameron to go bonkers in the WAC with Quinton Patton hauling in all of the vital passes.

    The competition is much easier (most would argue) with a watered down WAC, albeit Virginia, Illinois and Texas A&M are on the non-conference slate.

    Still, these Bulldogs were impressive against TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl before losing, but the deadly duo at quarterback and receiver should help make them one of the best (and most feared) non-BCS squads in the country.

Massachusetts: Uncertainty

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    While the Minutemen may not be the most talented team in the MAC, the fact of the matter is that the rest of the MAC has not seen this squad perform either.

    There are some question marks as for the last 47 years, we have seen this program play at McGuirik Alumni Stadium and they must now travel to Gillete Stadium (home of the New England Patriots), for all of their 2012 home games.

    While that may not be the best of news (MAC teams have not seem them either), there has to be excitement and pure joy running around now knowing that they are part of the FBS and the MAC.

Akron: Terry Bowden

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    Terry Bowen is entering his first season as the Zips coach and any son of one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport has to be talked about (and feared).

    Bowden is 140-62-2 thus far in his career as he has seen success with Auburn (’93-’98) and North Alabama (’09-‘11).

Buffalo: Branden Oliver

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    There are not many players to fear on Jeff Quinn’s squad, but this First Team All-MAC selection is not a bad option.

    Branden Oliver toted it 306 times for 1,395 yards and 13 TDs, which surely strikes fear into most MAC defenses that struggle to stop the run. 

Kent State: Roosevelt Nix

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    Becoming the first ever freshman to win the MAC Defensive Player of the Year award back in 2009 was a remarkable achievement for Roosevelt Nix, but some expected him to become a superstar in the MAC.

    His numbers were not horrid last season as he did tally 12.5 tackle for losses and 4.5 sacks, but improved numbers is a must for a squad that needs to appear in their first bowl since the  ’72 Tangerine.

Bowling Green: Dwayne Woods

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    A Second Team All-MAC linebacker one season ago, Dwayne Woods looks to make a Falcons defense among the best in the conference with a total 10 starters returning.

    Woods registered 111 tackles, 12 tackle for losses and 2 sacks in his junior season.

Miami Ohio: Zac Dysert and Nick Harwell

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    Another tremendous MAC signal-caller makes this conference a bit underrated in terms of pure passers.

    Titus Davis of the Chips may be perceived as the most explosive and best overall receiver, but I could make the same argument for Nick Harwell.

    Harwell has been far more productive as he is coming off 97 receptions, 1,425 yards and 7 TDs.

    This deadly duo is the best in the MAC heading into the season, especially since the numbers back it up (they should only improve).

Ohio: Tyler Tettleton

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    The Bobcats have a solid offensive line, but the Houdini acts that Tyler Tettleton was able to pull off last season were nothing short of a miracle.

    Frank Solich is entering his eighth season in Athens, but it is his star, loyal players like Tettleton that has helped him achieve so much success.


Ball State: Offensive Line

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    There are four lineman returning from a Ball State squad that finished 6-6, but having the best offensive line in the MAC (arguably save Ohio) should open the entire offense up.

    Pete Lembo did a nice job in his first season and many fans in Muncie are hoping they can slowly improve and get back to a few bowl games.


Eastern Michigan: Ron English

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    After going just 2-22 after two seasons, Ron English put together a nice 6-6 campaign for the Eagles.

    Now with 14 starters returning, many believe this will be the first time since 1987 in which we see the program go bowling (though the schedule is not easy).

Central Michigan: Titus Davis

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    This kid was a star high school receiver for current Illinois backup quarterback Riley O’Toole (Wheaton Warrenville-South, IL), but he is showing the nation why he can do it all with the Chippewas.

    The sophomore put on a clinic one season ago with his tremendous speed, route running and athletic ability.

    This freshman actually only had 40 receptions, but 8 of them went for touchdowns and he totaled for 751 yards as well.

    Dan Enos may just have the best receiver in the conference, and he will be around for another three full seasons in Mount Pleasant.

Toledo: Bernard Reedy

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    This Rocket receiver burst onto the scene last year since most opposing defenses keyed on Eric Page.

    Reedy hauled in just 40 passes (as opposed to the 125 by Page), but 9 went for TDs and he did end up with a ridiculous 19 yards per catch to go along with his 758 yards.

    Look for much improved numbers as the new go-to-guy in the Rockets offense.

Northern Illinois: Constant Success

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    Fearing success is obvious because these Huskies just know how to win year after year regardless of which coaches are around.

    They have appeared in four straight bowls and will be looking for their third straight double-digit season, this time with Dave Doeren in charge (looking for second straight great season).

Western Michigan: Alex Carder

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    Posting the fifth most total offensive yards per game from one season ago, Alex Carder averaged 345 yards per game.

    Although he will be losing his All-American target in Jordan White, Carder will be threading the needle with one of the most complete offenses in the MAC. Plus, Carder is looking to end the program’s streak of zero bowl victories.

Navy: Ken Niumatalolo

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    Heading into last season, the Midshipmen head coach had appeared in three straight bowls and it looked as if he was primed to become one of the finest coaches in America.

    Although he is still a respected and successful coach, the Navy man in charge has not quite earned enough recognition in my book. This intimidating yet more so passionate coach will do everything in his power to put the Midshipmen back into bowl contention (went 5-7 last year).


Army: Triple Option

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    “The Man of Steel” leads the triple option for the Black Knights, but Trent Steelman isn’t the only capable of taking it to the house.

    Despite totaling for over 1,000 yards of offense in a 3-9 season (and his 15 TDs), slotback Raymond Maple is ready to burst onto the national scene.

    At 6’1”, 218-pounds, this physical specimen has breakaway speed and a solid base to break tackles at will.

BYU: Kyle Van Noy

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    I have talked about Cody Hoffman a whole lot during this offseason (6 TDs in two career bowl games is remarkable), but the true feared superstar is linebacker Kyle Van Noy.

    This animal (6’3, 235-pounds) had 10 quarterback hurries, 8 tackles for loss and 7 sacks in his sophomore season.

    There is no telling what he is capable of in his second season as a full-time starter because the long wingspan of Van Noy allows him to harass and obliterate defenders at the point of attack.

Notre Dame: Manti Te’o

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    Michael Floyd was arguably their most feared and accomplished/talent player one season ago, but he could have done so much more if the passing game lived up to all of the hype.

    One player that did not disappoint was Third Team All-American linebacker Manti Te’o.

    The Irish defense was 30th in total defense (344 YPG), 47th in rush defense (138 YPG) and 24th in scoring defense (20.69 PPG).

    Te’o is the fiercest linebacker in the country. Standing large and in charge at 6’2”, 255-pounds, he is capable of taking over a game with his tremendous instincts and nose for the ball.

Tulane: Trent Mackey

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    Coming off a season in which you were fourth in the country for total tackles (145), most C-USA should be aware of your talents.

    Maybe fear isn’t the best of words, but this linebacker can strike plenty of it with his bone-crushing hits and his 4.5 sacks and 9.5 tackle for losses makes him a strong candidate to become a three-time First Team All-C-USA defender.

Rice: Sam McGuffie

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    The former Michigan Wolverine was sensational in his freshman campaign, but he has been a bit of a disappointment due to several nagging injuries.

    Playing some slot at receiver, McGuffie is capable of scoring anywhere on the field. This is his final season as a collegiate player for the Rice Owls and his electric speed is still something to fear since he can take it to the house at any given moment (10 career TDs).

UTEP: Mike Edwards

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    This Miner receiver was a junior college transfer a season ago and yet he still jumped right in and led the team in receptions (50), yards (657), and touchdowns (3).

    The numbers should only improve with quarterback Nick Lamaison returning for his senior season.

SMU: Margus Hunt

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    Many should fear the new starting quarterback in Garrett Gilbert (TX transfer) or perhaps stud playmakers such as Zach Line and Darius Johnson.

    Still, those three do not dish out nearly the same punishment that 6’8”, 295-pound defensive end Margus Hunt will.

    The beast of a lineman can get off the edge in a hurry and he is terror.

    Simply unblockable more times than not, Hunt peaked towards the end of last season which should make him one of the most feared players in the country.

Tulsa: Secondary

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    The Golden Hurricanes have a pair of backs in Trey Watts and Ja’Terian Douglas that could both top 1,000 yards rushing and they have a solid h-back in Willie Carter.

    However, they have three defensive backs that very well could appear in the conference postseason awards.

    John Flanders, Marco Nelson and Dexter McCoil are three studs that should improve a pass defense that ranked 117th in the country. 

Houston: Deontay Greenberry

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    Becoming the school’s first ever five-star recruit is great news for a program on the rise.

    However, a team that becomes so close to appear in the BCS (from a year ago) that loses nearly all of their stars usually becomes a bust the following season.

    That does not look like the case for Houston thanks to a few talented players on both sides of the ball, but this future star receiver (6’3”, 187) should light up C-USA right out of the gates.

Memphis: Jacob Karam

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    The former Texas Tech Red Raider quarterback only played games in Lubbock and that is why most are unaware of just exactly who he is.

    In time he could make the Tigers a viable threat to appear in a bowl game although winning three games in the last two seasons will make life a bi challenging in 2012.

UAB: Garrick McGee

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    The Blazers at the moment do not have a bunch of superstars on the roster, but head coach Garrick McGee should strike some fear since he is an up-and-coming coach that will likely put the Blazers back on the map sooner than later.

Marshall: Aaron Dobson

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    There should be nothing worse than to fear a guy that can single handily (pun intended) take over a game due to his freakish athletic skills.

    Aaron Dobson made the grab of the season and his numbers will only improve in 2012. That is fearful news knowing he had 12 grabs last year, so expect a few more dazzling plays.

East Carolina: Receivers

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    The Pirates always have solid playmakers on offense, and the receivers should be able to stretch the field.

    Justin Hardy was a Second Team Freshman All-American last season, which will allow the others to become more consistent threats.

Southern Miss: Defensive Line

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    Jamie Collins and Khyri Thornton are two top-notch talents in C-USA for Southern Miss, and we know any non-BCS teams that can play some defense will go a decent ways.

Central Florida: Transfers

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    Fear the incoming transfers that are finally eligible to player after sitting out a season in the FBS (Gabbert CC).

    Tyler Gabbert is the brother of NFL quarterback and former Mizzou star Blaine Gabbert whereas future star running back Storm Johnson was thought of by many as quite the electric playmaker.

New Mexico: Receivers

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    The Lobos have gone 1-11 for three consecutive seasons and have since brought over Bob Davie to change the atmosphere in Albuquerque.

    Despite throwing for only 7 TDs a season ago, they have solid options stretching the field. Ty Kirk, Lamaar Thomas and tight end Lucas Reed are a tremendous trio when looking at the rest of this roster.

UNLV: Defensive Line

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    The Rebels ranked just 99th against the run last season, but with their top two defensive tackles returning there is hope for some solid improvement.

Hawai’i: Wide Receivers/Norm Chow

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    We can always count on the Warriors wideouts to draw separation regardless of their quarterback and head coach.

    Although things will not be as dandy as they were with June Jones and Colt Brennan, Norm Chow and David Graves aren't too shabby of a duo.

    Billy Ray Stutzmann and Jeremiah Ostrowski were second and third options last season, but they should not have too many struggles at stretching the field with Chow drawing up the plays.

Colorado State: Chris Nwoke

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    The Colorado State Rams are looking for improved numbers on offense, but having the 87th allows this team to pretty much be guaranteed to improve.

    Chris Nwoke ran for over 1,100 yards and even reached paydirt 9 times. 

Wyoming: Brett Smith

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    The freshman had a sensational season totaling for 30 TDs while throwing just 11 INTs, but the Cowboys look like they are headed in the right direction with Dave Christensen calling the shots and developing this signal-caller into an even bigger stud.

San Diego State: Receivers

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    The Aztecs were originally going to be desperate at both quarterback and receiver, but thanks to a few Pac-12 schools they will be just fine.

    Ryan Katz (Oregon State) should allow the receivers to only improve from a season ago, but thanks to Brice Butler (USC) transferring over (don’t forget stud tight end Gavin Escobar), these group of starters should help the Aztecs challenge for another bowl bid.

Air Force: Offensive Line

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    We can always count on the Falcons running game to be good regardless of who is starting in the backfield.

    Asher Clark and Tim Jefferson meant so much to this team, but they may not be missed as much as most would assume with Troy Calhoun always getting the most out of his players. 

Fresno State: Backfield

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    Robbie Rouse and Derek Carr arguably give the Bulldogs the best QB-RB combination in the entire country. The talent, experience and production is all there, which should give this team a shot to return to the postseason after notching only four wins.

Nevada: Offensive Line

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    The Wolf Pack will attempt to run it down the throats of everybody on their schedule, including California and South Florida in the first two games.

    Chris Barker and Jeff Nady are both legit lineman that will open up plenty of room for quarterback Cody Fajardo and redshirt freshman running back Tony Knight (NC State transfer).

Boise State: Secondary and Chris Petersen

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    This secondary was often the problem and weakness of the defense, but this capable group will soon turn into the strength of the defense.

    Many will give the edge to the defensive line (and it is debatable), but the pure athletes makes this Broncos defense a solid defense once again.

    Jamar Taylor, Jerrell Gavins and Lee Hightower have the capability to become All-Mountain West performers next season and while that goes along with having a solid pass rush, these three can cover anybody on their schedule. 

    Even if the secondary does quite live up the expectations that I have billed them at, Chris Petersen will likely find a way to still win double digit games.

    Arguably the best coach in the game not named Nick Saban, coach Pete has gone an absurd 73-6 through two seasons. He has proven countless times that it does not matter who returns and who leaves, this guy has a knack for winning better than any coach in arguably sports.

Oregon State: Sure Tacklers

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    The Beavers and Mike Riley had another forgettable season, this time going 3-9 as they went winless in the non-conference slate.

    One thing Riley should be able to count on is his top two tacklers that could line up and play for just about any Pac-12 team.

    Anthony Watkins at safety led his team in tackles (85) last season whereas star linebacker Michael Doctor was second on the team (78).

     

Colorado: Linebackers

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    Ralphie and the Buffaloes are not looked upon as any sort of challengers in the Pac-12 South with jut 9 starters returning from a 3-10 campaign.

    However, Jon Embree can lean heavily on his solid trio of linebackers.

    Jon Major is the best of the bunch, and they are big bodies that are active in both the running and passing games. Don’t be shocked to see Colorado come much closer to a bowl berth by potentially doubling their win total.            

Arizona: Offensive Line

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    The Wildcats feature one of the best lines in the Pac-12 thanks to all five starters returning from a season in which they finished at just 4-8.

    There should be improvements made despite losing their star quarterback, running back and receiver. Kyle Quinn at center is the best of the bunch and he is looking forward to Rich Rodriguez’ spread offense that should fit right in with the Pac-12 in dear time.

UCLA: Joseph Fauria

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    Arguably the most athletic tight end in the country, Joseph Fauria will give Jim Mora a consistent and reliable threat in both the passing and running games.

    Kevin Prince at quarterback has struggled mightily to stay healthy, but assuming he finally can then there is a great opportunity for the Bruins to play the dark horse card in the Pac-12 South.                           

Arizona State: Cameron Marshall

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    Jamal Miles can really do it all for the Sun Devils at wide receiver, but Cameron Marshall is easily their most talented and most important player.

    The guy is a beast at 5’11”, 223-pounds and should give Todd Graham to achieve moderate success in year one.        

California: Skill Players

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    The defense could be underrated this season if the youth takes it up a notch.

    However, quarterback Zach Maynard, running back Isi Sofele and wide receiver Keenan Allen will likely keep the Golden Bears within reach of a bowl game again. 

Washington State: Mike Leach

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    Not only do some feel that Mike Leach is a scary guy off the field, he certainly scares me to death as a coach on the field.

    The guy has had a knack for torching opposing defensive backs and it is not like he has ever landed the highly touted recruits before.

    Jeff Tuel is back at quarterback, and if he can remain healthy then star receiver Marquess Wilson will have a shot to give these Cougars a postseason berth.          

Stanford: Linebackers

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    The line play will once again be great for the Cardinal, but linebackers Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas are two of the finest in the country.

    Throw in Trent Murphy and Jarek Lancaster, and the Cardinal collectively have the best corp of linebackers in the Pac-12.

Washington: Pass and Catch

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    Keith Price is one of the best passers in the Pac-12 after Matt Barkley, and it sure helps to have one of the best tight ends in the country.

    Austin Seferian-Jenkins is the name to remember, but receivers James Johnson and Kasen Williams are not too shabby either.                  

Utah: Big Beef

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    These Utes have solid line play on both sides of the ball, but they arguably have one of the most underrated defensive lines in the country.

    Thanks to my choice for the top nose tackle in the game (Star Lotulelei), the Utes front four is ferocious.

    The two Kruger’s (Dave & Joe) will be forces to be reckoned with this season and thanks to a soft schedule, the Utes season essentially may come down to their Thursday date with the likely top ranked Trojans (10/4).       

Oregon: Track Freaks

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    De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner are beyond track stars. Their better is just better than your better, and speed absolutely kills.

    It is tough to tackle guys that can glide past you in their sleep.

    The Big Ten champion Wisconsin Badgers found out just how difficult it is to contain them. But it is not as if the Ducks only have two stars on their roster.

    Dion Jordan is a gifted athlete at defensive end, John Boyett back at safety is a star and there are so many other defensive players that can light your team up (Kiko Alonso, Terrance Mitchell).                       

USC: Offensive Superstars

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    Matt Barkley is considered by most as the best player on the planet, and his two superstar receivers are essentially unstoppable.

    Robert Woods and Marqise Lee might just be the best two wideouts in the country, but many forget the season that Randall Telfer had at tight end for a freshman last year.

    Throw in another tight end with Xavier Grimble and George Farmer, and this USC offense might be the most feared unit in the entire country.  

Indiana: Adam Replogle

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    This Hoosiers defensive tackle will look to not only anchor the Hoosiers defensive line, but the entire defensive side of the ball.

    His four sacks led the team last season, but those numbers may duplicate with seven returnees back on defense.

Minnesota: Special Teams Unit

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    The Golden Gophers have won three games or fewer in three of the last five seasons, but this season all may change thanks to their special teams.

    Troy Stoudermire (former WR) put together a solid season at both corner and kick returner (Big Ten’s career yardage returner).

    Despite only getting eight opportunities to bring a kick back last season (injuries derailed him), the chances of him bringing a few nearly back to the house are strong.

    Throw in both kicker Jordan Wettstein and punter Dan Orseke, and this unit could rank among the best in the entire conference.

Northwestern: Offensive Line

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    The Wildcats always get a lack of respect because they never haul in huge recruits, but three lineman return in 2012 and they should help the offense achieve solid success.

    Brandon Vitabile, Brian Mulroe and Patrick Ward are all capable of garnering some postseason attention in at least the Big Ten Honorable Mention list.

    Kain Colter is a fine quarterback, but most of the credit he will earn next season should be shared upon his lineman since they hold the keys to another successful postseason trip (hopefully end that draught of over half a century).

Illinois: Nathan Scheelhaase

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    The Illini quarterback is one of the few experiences signal-callers in the entire conference.

    Michigan State and Wisconsin (Danny O’Brien hardly played last year) are two of the favorites in the conference, but that could be their undoing.

    Illinois can rely on Nathan Scheelhaase (and Riley O’Toole) to shred opposing defenses with his duel-threat talents, and even without A.J. Jenkins the offensive numbers should improve with Tim Beckman in charge. 

Penn State: Linebackers

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    The Nittany Lions have a tremendous running back in Silas Redd, but it is their linebacker that should strike fear into your own offense.

    Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Glenn Carson form one of the best trio of linebackers not only in the Big Ten but also in the country, if they can remain healthy.                 

Purdue: Kawann Short

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    The Boilermakers have a fairly soft schedule in the Big Ten (no MSU or Neb), but they have some solid players to go along with those favorable matchups.

    A six or seven win season can be realistic thanks to one of the best defensive tackles in the country. Kawann Short can dominate and take over games, and he might have to if the Boilermakers seriously expect to become Big Ten threats after last season’s solid 7-6 campaign.           

Iowa: Pitch and Catch

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    Keenan Davis is one of the best receivers in the Big Ten, but many are unaware of just how special quarterback James Vandenberg is.

    This might just be the most consistent and productive duo in the Big Ten in terms of quarterbacks and receivers. Throw in the fact that Iowa should be favored in eight or nine of their games, and they may have a puncher's shot at appearing in a New Year's Day bowl.

Michigan: Denard Robinson

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    Entering his final season in Ann Arbor, Denard Robinson has more important things then to knock off his in-state rivals for the first time in his career.

    He finally defeated Ohio State for the first time last season and Brady Hoke did a tremendous job to bring his illustrious program back among the best in the Big Ten.

    Robinson has been a large part (defense would say otherwise) thanks to his electric moves out of the pocket.

    Still working on his accuracy as a passer, “Shoelace” can make you jump out of your seat with as much excitement as any player in the country.

Wisconsin: Power Game

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    The power running game of the Badgers has essentially been unstoppable in the last two years, and Montee Ball may not even be the biggest reason why (even that sounds absurd).

    Sure, his 39 total TDs is a new FBS record and the guy is simply remarkable, but Wisconsin’s offensive line has collectively wrecked every team in sight.     

Nebraska: Dynamic Running Game

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    Taylor Martinez is much maligned these days due to his unorthodox throwing style, but he is a fine runner that has an All-American runner in his back pocket.

    Rex Burkhead is arguably the best north-south runner in the country (save Marcus Lattimore, Montee Ball), and his will to carry this offense was apparent as the season wore down.

    Burkhead can catch the ball well out of the backfield, and with the help from Martinez we should expect much greater things ahead for the Huskers.   

Michigan State: Star Defenders

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    This team is loaded with some of their own studs and William Gholston will be getting his groove on coming off that edge.

    Marcus Rush is another solid edge rusher, but Denicos Allen, Max Bullough and Chris Norman form quite the trio of stud linbeackers.

    Do not forget Johnny Adams, Isaiah Lewis and Darqueze Dennard because they too are magnificent defensive backs in the secondary that should garner some individual postseason awards.

Ohio State: Defensive Line

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    The Buckeyes have a great defense overall (top five arguably, top ten for sure heading into the season), but it all is built around their tremendous front wall on defense.

    John Simon and Johnathan Hankins are two All Big-Ten performers that will be expected to dabble in a bit of everything this season.

    Throw in Nathan Williams and Garrett Goebel, and you are looking at arguably the best line in the Big Ten with four significantly experienced players back in Columbus.   


Temple: Backfield

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    The Temple Owls move to the Big East will certainly challenge them right away, but they can lean on their backfield to most of the work.

    Matt Brown is a little waterbug (5’5”, 165-pound), but he can flat out scoot and he sure is fun to watch.

    Quarterback Chris Coyer will be a junior and the strides he made towards the end of the season as the starter makes you believe he should not struggle despite the increase in competition. 

Connecticut: Lyle McCombs

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    The Huskies will feature a solid defensive line, but one of the most explosive runners in the Big East (and country) will likely have his way once again.

    Lyle McCombs broke the 1,000 yard barrier and should have no problem doing such once again.                

Syracuse: Ryan Nassib

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    Bringing back your senior leader at quarterback is always positive and he also happens to be arguably your top player on the squad.

    The Orange do not have many stars heading into the season, but Nassib could make wide receiver Alec Lemon a First Team All-Big East selection.

    Plus, the hope is that the defense as a group improves to give Nassib and the offense see more possessions.

Rutgers: Linebackers

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    Bringing back the co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year is a plus (Khaseem Greene) and Steve Beauharnais is an elite Big East defensive player as well.

    These two should keep Rutgers in most of their games since the defense will be among the best in the conference.       

Pittsburgh: Ray Graham

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    Most Big East teams will struggle to keep up with the Panthers because they simply do not have Ray Graham.

    This beast of a back (tore ACL) was injured in the eighth game of the season, but should be back better than before entering his senior season.

Louisville: Teddy Bridgewater

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    The Cardinals have a solid offense, but that is only because Teddy Bridgewater makes their offense so good.

    The kid can get flushed out of the pocket and makes throws on the run with ease, but his touch and accuracy should only improve in the immediate future.

    A Big East Player of the Year candidate, the ‘Ville have a serious shot at winning the conference.                                

South Florida: Defensive Speed

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    The Bulls have been known for their killer speed in the past, but this season should be one of their fastest teams yet.

    They have Chris Dunley (UF transfer) alongside Sterling Griffin on offense, but it is the defense that gives this team a chance to win the Big East.

    Julius Forte, Cory Grissom, Ryne Giddins, Sam Barrington, DeDe Lattimore, Jon Lejiste and Kayvon Webster could strike a ton of fear into quite a few Big East opponents in 2012.                

Cincinnati: Secondary

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    The Bearcats are losing quite a few studs up front to the NFL Draft, but their secondary should make up for most of what is lost.

    Drew Frey and Cameron Cheatham are two of the more experienced and talented players out back, but this defensive group overall won’t drop much (if at all).         

Kansas: Backfield

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    The Jayhawks have one of their more talented backfields in quite some time thanks to Dayne Crist and Jake Heaps (transfer, BYU that must sit out one year).

    Plus, running back James Sims is a talented back that will help KU out in the present and future.        

Iowa State: Linebackers

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    The Cyclone linebackers are among the best in the Big 12 and they feature two stars that could arguably line up for any BCS squad in America.

    A.J. Klein and Jake Knott are two beasts you would not want to mess with, as they can wrap you up with such ease.

Baylor: Receivers

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    Robert Griffin III and his Heisman talents will be gone, but plenty of explosive playmakers out wide are still with the program.

    Tevin Reese, Lanear Sampson and Terrance Williams are all talented studs that could play for anybody in the nation and I will argue the trio makes up for one of the five best group of receivers in the country.

Texas Tech: Receivers

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    Similar to Georgia Tech and their ability to run the rock, Tech achieves the same success with their ability to throw the ball.

    Seth Doege is just an average QB dare I say in comparison to the Big 12 passers because it is arguably the best conference in America for such a position.

    Still, Doege is more than capable of taking over the conference thanks to a solid cast of receivers that will rank among the best in the Big 12 (Akex Torres, Eric Ward, Darrin Moore).

Kansas State: Collin Klein

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    This guy is the heart and soul of the team and he just set the FBS record for most rushing TDs for a QB in a single season (27).

    There is nothing he could not do last year (save complete more passes to his receivers though that isn't jut on him) and his leadership ability led them to double digit victories.

    Collin Klein better build a better rapport with his receivers and hope they can stretch the field or else the Wildcats will go from BCS dark horse contenders to Big 12 pretenders.

    Still, most teams' last year knew they just had stop Klein and even knowing such an obvious fact, they could not slow the stud down. 

Oklahoma State: Back Seven

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    The Cowboys defense is vastly underrated despite leading the country in takeaways from one season ago (44 turnovers gained).

    Bill Young is the defensive coordinator if you even were aware, but the stars are aligned for Mike Gundy’s team to have another successful campaign despite the losses of their offensive stars.

    Shaun Lewis, Claeb Lavey and Alex Elkins form a legit group of linebackers, but the secondary is exceptional as well.

    Brodick Brown and Justin Gilbert are near lockdown corners that will give some teams real issues (TCU, TX, OU), which will only help the Cowboys remain a consistent top 25 threat of a team in 2012.         

TCU: Receivers

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    The Horned Frogs have arguably the most underrated pair of receivers in the country since there are so many other more popular squads out there that garner more attention.

    Josh Boyce leads the way, and he is a physical presence that is tough to slow down despite the TCU star standing at just 6’0”, 203-pounds.

    Huge mitts are vital for a receiver and his awareness is sensational to follow since he is always a step ahead.

    Skye Dawson, LaDarius Brown and Brandon Carter are solid and capable stars that will help out Casey Pachall as well.                      

Oklahoma: Landry Jones

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    Personally, Bob Stoops and his brother Mike will always care just because the way they recruit and then coach on Saturday's has been a joy (or a terror for the opposition) to cover.

    However, many are not fearing Landry Jones with the way he performed in the final three regular season games (0 TDs), and this is a mistake since this Sooner will likely breakthrough in 2012.

    Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks have been removed of their scholarships, so life may be difficult some would think. And yet with guys like Kenny Stills and Trey Metoyer, the weapons remain legit enough to give Jones plenty of opportunities to shoot off some fireworks.                           

West Virginia: Passing Offense

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    Who on earth is going to slow down this lethal passing attack that Dana Holgorsen has at his disposal?

    Geno Smith is one of the best passers in the country, but that is because of the weapons he is surrounded with. An accurate thrower, Tavon Austin is taking over as the Percy Harvin of the country.

    An all-purpose machine, Austin and his magical 4 TD performance in the Orange Bowl has beefed up the expectations for this squad heading into the Big 12.

    Ivan McCartney and Stedman Bailey (who still is considered by many as the main target) are two other receivers that can stretch the field as well as any compliment receivers as well (they could star on many FBS teams).

    Throw in senior J.D. Woods and a youngster in Deontay McManus, and this offense could prove to be the most unstoppable, productive unit in the country.      

Texas: Defense

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    Having a top five defense in the country heading into the season certainly is not a bad thing, but the youngsters on this team might be sensational.

    Alex Okafor, Jackson Jeffcoat, Jordan Hicks, Quandre Diggs and Kenny Vaccaro are five of the best players in the Big 12.

    Those five may lead them to a Big 12 title, but guys like Ashton Dorsey, Steve Edmond, Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips (among others) will likely make names for themselves as well. 

    This defensive group should be great to follow, whether your a die-hard Longhorns fan or not. 

Duke: Conner Vernon

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    This Duke star receiver is just 34 catches shy of setting a new ACC record of career receptions (Aaron Kelly, Clemson in ’05-’08).

    Conner Vernon has solid hands and runs routes exceptionally well since he is seemingly always in the right place at the right time. If there is one guy to count on for the Blue Devils, Vernon is just that.              

Boston College: Linebacker

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    Losing Luke Kuechly is a devastating loss for the Eagles this season since they are coming off a tough 4-8 season, but BC has a few performers who will fill in as admirably as possible.

    I mean, losing the top linebacker in America for arguably the last two season will be tough to overcome, but BC always seems to reload with the best of them at linebacker.

    Kevin Pierre-Louis is a junior that could play for arguably any team in the ACC and the aggressive and physical style of BC’s linebackers will likely always remain among their biggest strength.           

Maryland: Defensive Line

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    After defeating the Hurricanes on Labor Day night, the Terps ended up coming away with just one more victory. Some argue because every unit on the field was bad, including the coaching.

    This season, A.J. Francis and Joe Vellano bring the beef as they anchor a solid front four for the Terps. If Randy Edsall appears in a bowl game, many believe it will be thanks to these two horses up close and personal.

Wake Forest: Corners

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    The Demon Deacons have a nice pair of corners in their secondary thanks to the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year in Merrill “Bud” Noel.

    Noel is a stud at just 5’10”, 180-pounds and his tremendous speed and ball skills (21 pass deflections) allows him to achieve so much success.

    Throw in senior Kenny Okoro (6’0, 190-pounds) and many ACC teams will find it difficult to thread the needle.                

Virginia: Running Backs

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    Arguably the best duo of backs in the entire ACC, Kevin Parks and Perry Jones will carry the Wahoos offense without a star-studded group of receivers.  

    Parks is a solid north-south runner (5’8, 195-pounds) and Perry Jones is the star that has flashes of a complete back.

    His ability to catch it out of the backfield (48 receptions) should allow Mike London’s offense to avoid a major slump in 2012.  

Miami FL: Safety

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    The Hurricanes have one of the finest duos of hard-hitting safeties in the country, and both guys can cover a ton of ground as well.

    Ray-Ray Armstrong is a tremendous athlete (6’4”, 215-pounds) and he is ready to put together a sensational senior season (hasn't quite lived up to most of the hype).

    Vaughn Telemaque is another senior that is ready to put together a productive season and many point to the fact that these two defensive backs work off each other since they are surrounded by some talented, young players.                           

Georgia Tech: Running Game

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    What a shocker!

    The Yellow Jackets running game will be impressive once again thanks to Tevin Washington controlling everything.

    David Sims (698 yards, 7 TD), Orwin Smith (11 TD, 10.1 AVG) and Washington (986 yards, 14 TD) will be a deadly trio.     

North Carolina: Running Game

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    As a freshman last season, Giovani Bernard could not be stopped running behind a solid offensive line. That solid line will rank among the top lines in the country this season thanks to guards Travis Bond and Jonathan Cooper, and tackle James Hurst (among the best in the nation).

    Those three 300+ pound lineman (Bond is 6’7”, 345-pounds!) will open up a boatload of holes for the entire UNC backfield and quarterback Bryn Renner should develop as one of the more improved passers in the country.

    UNC will be a dark horse specifically thanks to their tremendous offensive line.

North Carolina State: David Amerson

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    The best defensive back in the country from a statistical standpoint in college football  last season was David Amerson.

    Not only did he set the ACC record for the most interceptions in its conference’s history (13, Dre Bly had 11 in ’96), but he also recorded the most pick since 1968!

Clemson: Sammy Watkins

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    Forget about a position or a group of players because Sammy Watkins just became the third freshman to be named All-American (Adrian Peterson, Hershel Walker).

    Watkins is arguably the most explosive player in the country and as a true freshman he hauled in 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 TD. The kid is a young freak that has no answer into stopping, you can only hope to contain him from going bonkers on your secondary.         

Virginia Tech: Coaching

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    Logan Thomas is a stud quarterback that does not get enough respect, but the biggest fear of the Hokies is their coaching staff.

    Outside of SEC country (and perhaps Boise or TX), they have the best coaching staff in America. Statistically speaking and with a ton of experience in their favor, the Hokies are always outcoaching the opposition.

    Frank Beamer has won ten or more games in eight consecutive seasons and he is the active leader in wins among FBS coaches (19 straight bowls).

    Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has been the best during the BCS era as he is the lone coach to be a four-time finalist (Broyles Award in 2006).

    Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring is now entering his 20th season in Blacksburg (OC since 2000).    

Florida State: Defense

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    Phil Steele has Florida State’s defense as the best in the entire country and while some may call bogus, their speed and athleticism is beyond absurd.

    Their defensive line is arguably the best on the planet and their two edge rushers can absolutely harass and terrorize opposing quarterbacks.

    Throw in two cover corners in Xavhier Rhodes and Greg Reid alongside a tremendous safety in Lamarcus Joyner, and you start to wonder how on earth you can move the ball against them?

Florida International: Defense

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    Mario Cristobal has given his Panthers the most talented defense in the Sun Belt. Tourek Williams is a beast of a sophomore that could line up for many BCS teams.

    The list does not end there as Winston Fraser, Isame Faciane, Jonathan Cyprience and Sam Miller can pack the wood.

Troy: Eric Thomas

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    This Trojan receiver hauled in 67 passes for 875 yards and 9 TDs last season and many are looking for improved numbers with Corey Robinson likely to take back over at quarterback. 

Middle Tennessee: Defensive Line

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    Returning your entire starting defensive line from a season ago is great news on account they were 114th against the run last season.

    Throw in the fact that they were only 86th in sacks recorded (19), and this squad could use all the help they could get.

North Texas: Offense Experience

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    North Texas has not had a whole lot of success as of late, but they are coming off a 5-7 season with Dan McCartney as their new head coach.

    Throw in the fact of 9 starters returning on offense and this team could improve albeit it will be tough with a brutal non-conference slate (Houston, LSU, Kansas State).

Louisiana-Lafayette: Spread Offense

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    Thanks to Mark Hudspeth as their head coach, this spread offense has become nearly unstoppable.

    Blaine Gautier and Javone Lawson might just be the best non-BCS duo in America and some fans are still completely unaware of who these two are.

    Lawson went bonkers down the stretch of the season after a slow start, as he hauled in 63 passes for 1,092 yards and 8 TDs. Gautier had only 6 INTs to go along with his 23 TDs. 

South Alabama: Continued Success

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    The Jaguars are currently 23-4 as a program through three seasons of existence and that has to be fearful despite who they have played in the past.

    When your squad currently has the best winning percentage among any team (.8519), things are not too shabby.

    Now the competition will get tougher although many believe Joey Jones is the right guy to continue the great success he has already seen.

Florida Atlantic: Overdue

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    Maybe it is exactly fearful to think of a squad that is overdue, but the Owls are just that.

    Florida Atlantic came off a tough 1-11 season, but with 15 starters returning they cannot but help to improve in 2012.

    Throw in the fact that Carl Pelini is now the head coach, just maybe FAU is due to snap out of their funk. 

Arkansas State: Guz Malzahn

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    Bringing one of the smartest offensive minds in the country over to the Sun Belt should almost be unfair.

    Throw in the fact that senior Ryan Aplin is back for the Red Wolves, and there will be plenty to fear in the immediate future.

Louisiana-Monroe: Offense Experience

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    The Warhawks have 8 starters returning from a tough 4-8 season, albeit they did have to play Florida State, TCU and Iowa in the non-conference.

    This experience that is returning should help this squad get back into contention of the Sun Belt.

Western Kentucky: Willie Taggart

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    Willie Taggart has already done a tremendous job and yet most people are unaware of who exactly the guy is.

    Well, after going 2-0 in 2010, he turned around the Hilltoppers into a 7-5 program that was jobbed from the postseason. Many should fear the guy because he has the program on the rise.

Kentucky: Larry Warford

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    One of the best offensive guards in the country, Larry Warford has started 35 games for the Wildcats. A first team All-SEC by seemingly every single publication, Warford is arguably the lone elite player on this squad.    

Ole Miss: Receivers

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    It goes without saying that the Rebels need their quarterback to remain productive because the receivers they have rank among the best in the SEC (at worst middle of the pack).

    They remain underrated at this point in time since nobody is essentially receiving any sort of preseason hype.

    Ja-Mes Logan and Donte Moncrief will need to develop as young receivers after Nickolas Brassell decided to transfer after being declared ineligible (grades). Most are unaware of the young Rebel wideouts, but they have the talent to upset a team down the road.        


Mississippi State: Receivers

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    The Bulldogs return all of their top targets that were stretching the field a season ago for quarterback Chris Relf.

    Now Tyler Russell is taking over which will certainly be a challenge with Auburn on the docket (second game of season), but the schedule is actually quite comforting in the early going (that doesn’t make sense for SEC).

    Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark and Chris Smith hauled in 90 receptions for 9 TDs and over 1,000 yards.

    Plus, with that favorable schedule (and emergence of Joe Morrow, rFr) we should expect improved numbers despite the loss of Relf.

Vanderbilt: Skill Players

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    Zac Stacy and Jordan Matthews are solid playmakers on the offensive side of the ball for the Commodores, and many teams should start to fear this program.

    James Franklin will take a backseat to nobody and the talent he is bringing in will eventually result into a bowl victory and a few more SEC victories (and upsets too). 

Texas A&M: Offensive Line

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    Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews are two of the best pair of tackles in the entire country (Jones & Fluker), which should allow Christine Michael to achieve solid success even against the SEC defenses.

    Texas A&M will be a fun team to watch with Kevin Sumlin in charge, but this offensive line will need to carry this team at certain times during the year.    

Missouri: James Franklin

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    A healthy James Franklin (shoulder) should allow Mizzou’s offense to be tough to defend.

    Clearly the top SEC defenses will be licking their chops a bit if Henry Josey cannot participate at any point during the season (even if he plays).

    Still, hauling in the top recruit in the country fires any team up and Dorial Green-Beckham alongside T.J. Moe will draw some double coverage. Franklin can throw on the run, but he is feared due to his ability to create  when everything falls apart in the pocket.

Florida: Defensive Line

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    The talent on this defense for the Gators will allow them to compete for an SEC East crown. 

    Ronald Powell should be back healthy (ACL) at some point during the season, but guys like Dominique Easley, Omar Hunter, Shariff Floyd and Lerentee McCray will make this one of the most talented defensive lines in the country.   

    The offense may not make many opposing defenses fearful, but their own defense sure as hell can keep you up late at night with nightmares of your quarterback getting tracked down from behind.

South Carolina: Marcus Lattimore

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    I have stated several times this offseason about the magnificent duo of Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor off the edge, but the Gamecocks will live and die by their superstar running back Marcus Lattimore.

    This hard-nosed back is a bulldozer loaded with so many other talents. He hauls in passes like Warrick Dunn and can even line up in the slot if need be.

    Bringing a physical presence to the game with him will make SEC opponents stack the line of scrimmage with as many as nine men on some (even typical) plays.

Auburn: Loaded Defensive Line

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    These Auburn Tigers are finally loaded once again on defense with 9 starters returning from what was overall a disappointing 2011 bunch.

    The talent is there and they started to show it off as the season wore down. Corey Lemonier is a dominant defensive end, but there are several other lineman that will be contributing.

    Gabe Wright, Jeffrey Whitaker, Kenneth Carter, Nosa Eguae and Dee Ford are just a few of the names that will be wreaking havoc on the opposition. This front four is as talented and deep as any in the entire country (easily top ten).             

Tennessee: Tyler Bray

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    Tyler Bray has been feared by nobody in the SEC for the last few seasons because the kid cannot either stay healthy or be given the chance to start for a full season. 

    He does have a cannon for an arm (also my breakthrough player in SEC) and he a pair of receivers that are capable of snagging darts in the dark.

    Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter can track down passes with ease thanks to their large frames, solid speed and tremendous athleticism.

    Bray is still a season away from becoming a true star in the SEC, but many feel this could be the year where he puts it all together.

Arkansas: One, Two, Three Heisman Hopefuls!?

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    Tyler Wilson is the best pure passer in the country not named Matt Barkley, and running back Knile Davis seems poised to return to his 2010 form where he ripped off over 1,300 yards and 13 TDs.

    Cobi Hamilton spread out wide will be all over the field dazzling and hauling in major reception after reception. The Razorbacks offense will be fun to watch, and their three Heisman candidates on offense will make you keep a close eye on them.                 

Georgia: Defense

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    This defense is absolutely loaded for the Bulldogs despite many haters still believing this squad is overrated.

    I wish I could be called overrated with players such as Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, Bacarri Rambo and John Jenkins just to name a few.

    The speed is relentless and they flexed their muscles down the stretch of last year's regular season.

    The key is for these 'Dawgs is to make sure when the eventual suspensions are over with for a few players, that the coaching staff handles everything with such ease.

    The talent is at an all-time high for Mark Richt, but there is never an easy path in the SEC regardless of the teams on the schedule. Luckily, the defense could take CMR (coach Mark Richt) all the way to the promise land.

LSU: Defense

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    Defense, defense and more defense ultimately decides BCS titles. Just look at the last six BCS champions and all of them have been from the SEC.

    Some were not even expected to win their own division before the season started, but it turns out the SEC has more than a few defensive freaks to harass opposing offenses.

    LSU has plenty of them and there truly may not be a better defense in America heading into a much anticipated 2012 season.                

Alabama: Offensive Line and Nick Saban

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    Is it a good thing to possess the top offensive line and most feared coach in college football?

    The Tide have three road blockers that can shutdown any elite defensive line (we will see when they play LSU 12/3), but those top three lineman might all become All-SEC performers (All-American even too).

    Barrett Jones is the reigning Outland Trophy winner, but Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker are as good as it gets for their positions as well.              

    Saban’s defense will once again be elite, but it will be the dominant offensive line that will likely give them an edge in nearly every game.

    Lastly, it should go without saying that Nick Saban owns the landscape of college football (and is the most fearful person in sports arguably) with his ability to outcoach, outrecruit and just flat out beat you in anything he chooses to.  

    Follow Dan Vasta on Twitter.