Predicting College Football's 20 Highest-Scoring Teams for 2012
Even though the best offense is supposedly a good defense, if offense is all you’ve got, well, that’s pretty good stuff too.
Indeed, what if the “best offense” really is the best offense, and what if scoring points yourself is better than stopping your opponent from ringing up the scoreboard?
Isn’t it better to give than to receive?
The following slideshow boldly predicts, and then ranks for your pleasure, the 20 highest-scoring college football teams for the 2012 season.
Each squad highlighted in this exclusive presentation returns a generous number of battle-tested offensive linemen and experienced players at the “skill” slots to make a point explosion seem almost inevitable.
It’s key to remember that this list doesn’t have a shred of defensive truth in it, but if any of these teams can stop other squads from scoring this season—watch out, they could win it all.
The returning starters and experience data included in this analysis are drawn from Phil Steele’s invaluable 2012 College Football Preview magazine.
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The Huskies scored 434 points last season, or 33.4 points per game, earning them a No. 25 national ranking in scoring offense for the 2011 campaign.
For 2012, Washington brings back QB Keith Price and five other offensive starters, including 61 percent of its yard earners from a year ago.
Four of the top five rushers return, and even though the top two receivers are gone, the No. 3 through No. 5 trio is back, giving Price a solid corps to work with.
What may throw the Huskies off this list by the end of the season is the fact that they play a riveting schedule that includes an early visit to LSU followed by a three-game midseason combination punch vs. Stanford (Sept. 27), at Oregon (Oct. 6) and vs. USC (Oct. 13).
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Flying somewhat off the national radar in the MAC, Ohio returns enough starters from its No. 24-ranked rushing offense and No. 43-ranked passing attack nationally from a year ago to give MAC foes something to worry about.
The Bobcats welcome back 63 percent of their yard-gainers from a year ago, and significantly, they return the No. 2 (QB Tyler Tettleton) and No. 3 backs in an offense that ran the ball very well.
Perhaps the most promising bit of news for Ohio University fans is that their offensive line shares 98 previous starts among them, making them one of the most battle-tested units in the land.
Another plus is a schedule that ranks among the easiest in the nation (with the exception of an intriguing opening visit to Penn State), meaning that the Bobcats should shoot way beyond their No. 41 national ranking in scoring offense from a year ago.
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Though the Orange Bowl performance vs. West Virginia was enough to make anyone scratch their head about Clemson’s defense moving forward, the Tigers offense is set to climb the charts again in 2012.
Clemson returns a phenomenal 94 percent of its yard earners from a year ago (a figure that ranks No. 2 nationally), including QB Tajh Boyd, the top three backs and four of the top five receivers.
The Tigers ranked No. 23 nationally in scoring offense last season. What holds them back from being higher up our list is an offensive line that is less experienced than others (43 shared starts).
17. Southern Miss
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With only four returning defensive starters and a new head coach in Ellis Johnson, the Golden Eagles may take a step back from their 12-win total last season, but they should still have the firepower to ring up the scoreboard.
Southern Miss averaged 36.9 points per game in 2011, giving it the No. 14 national rank in scoring offense, and though it bids farewell to QB Austin Davis, it brings back enough folks to make our list.
Key to what was more of a run-centric attack (the Golden Eagles ranked No. 20 in rushing offense vs. No. 34 in passing last season) is the return of the top four backs and then an O-line that shares 80 starts between them.
All in all, Southern Miss’ point-scoring resume isn’t as strong as others on our list, but it's got enough depth, talent and the type of schedule to continue at least a somewhat jolly score-fest.
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The independent Cougars were ranked No. 42 last season in scoring offense and flew almost completely under the radar to a 10-3 finish.
Look for BYU to move upwards in terms of point scoring in 2012 with the return of eight offensive starters, a number which includes QB Riley Nelson, the No. 2 and No. 3 receiving targets and the No. 2 and 3 rushers.
With 77 previous starts shared among the returning Cougar offensive linemen, a balanced attack and a defense that brings back seven from a unit that ranked No. 22 in scoring defense last season, BYU may well be more than just the “other” non-service academy independent program this season.
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The hype surrounding Michigan in 2012 is far more than the misguided concoction of an over-exuberant university SID. The Wolverines have actual stats to back up their high hopes.
Michigan ranked No. 26 in scoring offense last season and returns a whopping 82 percent of its yard-gainers this season, including the top three backs from a rushing attack that ranked No. 13 nationally.
This means that QB Denard Robinson is back in Ann Arbor (he was the Wolverines' No. 1 rusher last season), as are two of his top three receiving targets.
Regardless of whether or not Brady Hoke can continue the defensive revival at Michigan this season, the Wolverines are well situated to put some major points on the board.
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The Horny Frogs ranked a dazzling No. 9 nationally last season in scoring offense, and they have a returning statistical resume that reads like the dessert menu at Cheesecake Factory.
TCU returns the top three backs from the nation's No. 19-ranked rushing attack, the top three receivers from the No. 64-rated passing offense and junior QB Casey Pachall.
The only wrinkle in the Toads' point-scoring sheet set is an offensive line that shares a mere 28 starts betwixt them, meaning that if the boys in the trench don’t gel, all bets could be off.
Add in the fact that TCU suddenly plays a top-20 schedule (welcome to the Big 12), and Gary Patterson’s Frogs' offensive production may well be one of the most intriguing storylines this season.
13. Western Michigan
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It’s difficult enough for a team from the MAC to get some love, but when you’re Western Michigan and you play in a league that also is home to Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan, it’s hard to get people to notice you at all.
Case in point: Which team had the No. 18-ranked scoring offense and the No. 8-ranked passing attack in the FBS last season?
Well, that would be the Western Michigan Broncos, who went 7-6 last season, including a narrow loss to Purdue in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
Coming into 2012, the Broncos bring back QB Alex Carder but will have to hope that their No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6 receivers can take the place of the top three guys, who have moved on.
This is a bigger deal when the passing attack ranked No. 8 nationally, while the running game ranked No. 94.
The good news is all three of the top backs are back, and the offensive line is solid, meaning that if nothing else, WMU should be scoring with wild abandon again this season.
12. Kansas State
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Though it’s difficult to imagine K-State shocking the college football world as it did last season (it won 10 games and came in second in the Big 12 ahead of both Texas and Oklahoma), don’t be surprised if the Wildcats blow their No. 34 offensive scoring ranking from 2011 out of the water in 2012.
K-State returns a chart-topping 96 percent of its yard-earners from last year. It brings back its top three backs from a rushing attack that ranked No. 29 nationally, and it brings back QB Collin Klein (also the No. 1 rusher) and the top three receivers from the No. 108 (not so good) passing offense.
Despite a bit of inexperience at the offensive line (43 shared starts), with wild scoring to build on from last season, the Wildcats have one of the most complete resumes for a score fest in 2012.
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The normally high-flying Cougars don’t really have a strong enough statistical case to make this countdown, but their recent prolific scoring makes them impossible to leave out of the mix.
Yes, Houston returns a paltry 17 percent of its yard-earners from the 2011 unit that ranked No. 1 nationally in scoring, and among the dearly departed are the head coach (Kevin Sumlin took the Texas A&M job), the QB (Case Keenum), the top three receivers and all but two of the top four backs.
This makes putting the Cougars at No. 11 on this list seem ridiculous, but perhaps it would be more ludicrous to disregard them from a scoring standpoint.
Well, this is a team that has ranked in the top 13 of the nation in scoring every single year since 2008, and in two of those years, it held the No. 1 spot.
This is a team that is designed to score and recruits to score, and the kicker is that it returns enough of its offensive line (71 shared starts) and plays the type of schedule (maybe the easiest in the entire nation) to make it really difficult to think it won’t be in the top tier of point-gainers again in 2012.
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According to the straight-line numbers, the Ducks, like the Cougars, probably don’t belong on our illustrious score prediction list.
But we’re talking about a program that has, regardless of attrition and/or personnel turnover, finished in the top 10 in the nation in scoring every single year since 2008.
Yes, these boys don’t play in terms of end-zone visits.
Strictly by the numbers, the Ducks bring back a mere 37 percent of their yard-earners from their No. 3-ranked scoring offense in 2011.
Losses include the starting QB, the top back and two of the top three receivers.
On the flip side, back is a healthy portion of the O-line, the No. 2 and No. 3 backs, coach Chip Kelly, who has never failed to win the Pac-12 title in his tenure at Oregon, and a boatload of top-ranked recruits to fill the holes.
The Ducks are proof positive that though the numbers don’t lie, they don’t tell us everything.
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One of the many reasons prognosticators were so high on Arkansas going into 2012 before the Bobby Petrino debacle was a returning offensive unit that was nothing short of delicious.
But even a major, unexpected change in leadership doesn’t alter numbers that look oh so good, at least on paper.
The Hogs bring back 73 percent of their yard-earners (seven starters in all) from a offensive unit that ranked No. 15 in the nation in scoring last season (remember the schedule they played).
Coming back to campus are QB Tyler Wilson, the top three backs (including a hopefully healthy Knile Davis) and the No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 receivers, who look primed to take over where last year’s No. 13 nationally ranked passing corps left off.
Add in a decently experienced O-line (65 shared starts), and you’ve got all the makings of a scoring celebration despite their schedule and regardless of their home division.
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One of the really amazing things about Alabama’s 2011 team was that not only did it rank No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense, it also ranked No. 20 nationally in scoring offense.
It did it mainly on the ground, a point that can be backed up by the Tide’s No. 16 national ranking in rushing yards vs. a No. 69 mark in passing from a year ago.
Heading into the new season that lies temptingly ahead, Alabama returns only 57 percent of its yard-earners, but along for the ride are QB A.J. McCarron, two of the top three rushers and a young, inexperienced yet talented corps of receivers.
As great as all that sounds, the Tide’s offensive fortunes moving forward are even more beefed up by an offensive line that shares a healthy 95 starts betwixt them.
Add in the fact that Nick Saban’s recruiting prowess is likely to fill holes faster than they can come open, and there is no reason to expect an offensive slowdown in Tuscaloosa.
In fact, the yardage totals should increase regardless of whether the defense can be completely rebuilt to its high 2011 standard.
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Sticking with the SEC West, in at No. 7 is LSU, a team that, like Alabama, paired a relentless defense (No. 2 in scoring last season) with a run-dominated attack (the Tigers ranked No. 22 in rushing yards vs. No. 106 in passing) to win a bunch of ballgames.
Yes, LSU played defense as well as anyone last season, but it also managed to rank No. 17 nationally in point scoring.
Moving into 2012, the Tigers' numbers are even better than the Tide’s, which makes them a scary dance partner for teams who have LSU on their tango card.
LSU returns only 52 percent of its yard-earners from last season and has a new starting QB (maybe a good thing?), but other than that, it’s solid gold.
The statistical revue starts with a generous 104 shared starts on the O-line, continues with the top three backs being back (remember, this is a run-centric attack) and then is further bolstered by the return of two of the top three receivers.
LSU, like Alabama, ought to score more points in 2012 than it did in 2011, and if it can put a similar defensive package together, watch out, because then it’s good night Irene for everyone else.
And another SEC title holder with the crystal pigskin.
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A bit of a wild card for this high up on our list, the Ragin’ Cajuns are covertly primed for an offensive explosion of epic proportions.
ULL pulled a No. 32 ranking in scoring last season on its way to a 9-4 record and the first-ever bowl win in school history, and it brings everybody back on offense in 2012.
The returning retinue consists of nine starters, a number that includes QB Blaine Gauiter and the top two receivers from the No. 29-ranked pass offense from a year ago.
Also back are the top three rushers (which includes Gauiter as the No. 2 guy) and an offensive line that shares 73 starts.
Add in a schedule that Phil Steele says is No. 98 nationally in terms of difficulty, and you have to wonder how high the Ragin’ Cajuns can climb from a point standpoint.
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It’s no pipe dream or wishful thinking that the Trojans are garnering so much high praise and expectations coming into the 2012 season, and part of all the hoopla involves an offense that is primed to take off in a big way.
Indeed, USC managed a No. 16 national ranking in scoring a year ago, and it brings back 85 percent of last year’s yard-earners this season.
Back to give it their best college try are golden boy QB Matt Barkley, two of the top three backs from the No. 52 nationally ranked rushing attack and all three of the top receivers from the No. 15-ranked pass offense.
Yep, these boys are stacked to the gills.
The only real areas of alarm are a somewhat less experienced O-line (60 shared starts), which is actually an improvement from last season, and the anomaly that was the Trojans' No. 102 nationally ranked pass defense from last season.
Regardless of how its defensive backfield improves, USC is set to score some serious points in 2012, an explosion that will no doubt bolster its foray back into the land of title-dom.
4. Georgia Tech
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As my paternal grandmother used to advise me during my reckless youth, “Just because you run the option, it doesn’t mean you can’t score a bunch of points.”
As right as Grandma may have been in 2011, when Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech team ranked No. 21 in scoring offense, 2012 may make her look, once again, like a genius.
The Yellow Jackets “O” returns 66 percent of their yard-getters from 2011, including QB Tevin Washington, the top three backs from the No. 2-ranked rushing offense in the land (QB Washington was the No. 1 rusher) and their No. 2 receiver.
Back also is an experienced offensive line that touts 83 starts coming into 2012, making the Ramblin’ Wreck a legitimate threat in the ACC Coastal division.
Can Georgia Tech knock Virginia Tech off its perch?
Well, it's the only team that has managed to do so since the ACC split into divisions in 2005, and if nothing else, it should score enough points to get ‘er done.
3. Texas Tech
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It should be no surprise to see Texas Tech this high up on our list, as despite the upheaval over the last three seasons in Red Raiderland, Tech has still managed to pull top-25 rankings in scoring offense.
The Red Raiders were No. 22 in scoring last season, and though Tommy Tuberville’s scheme and personnel ought to begin to seep into the program in 2012, this is still a team that will be led (at least for another season) by guys who were recruited to score obnoxiously.
The forecast for prolific scoring in Lubbock is favorable for the current campaign, as Tech returns a whopping 87 percent of its yard-earners from a year ago, including QB Seth Doege.
Back also are the top three receivers from a year ago (the Red Raiders ranked No. 7 nationally in passing yards), as well as the top two backs from a rushing attack that earned a No. 87 ranking.
From an offensive line standpoint, Tech has a healthy but not over-indulgent 69 shared starts, meaning skill folks ought to be afforded the time and protection necessary for end-zone travel.
Regardless of whether or not Tuberville can finally deliver on his promise of a defensive revival at Texas Tech (it would help if he could keep everyone healthy), 2012 should be the year that Tech climbs back into the top 10 nationally in scoring.
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Really, it’s at least somewhat intriguing that Oklahoma is not garnering more national attention and good vibrations from the national media coming into the 2012 season.
The Sooners are flat-out stacked and really look just as capable of breaking the SEC’s iron grip on the national title, as are teams like USC, Florida State and Michigan.
From an offensive standpoint, Oklahoma could be scary good, as it returns 84 percent of the yard-earners this season from the unit that ranked No. 10 nationally in scoring a year ago.
The Sooners welcome back QB Landry Jones and two of the top three receivers from the No. 5-ranked passing attack from last season, as well as the top three backs from the No. 50-ranked rushing unit.
Add in an O-line that should be rock-solid with 102 shared starts, and you begin to see that these Sooners should be able to top the average of 39.5 points per game from a year ago.
Yes, if Stoops the Mike can shore up the defensive picture for Stoops the Bobby, then watch out SEC, because USC may be the least of your problems.
1. West Virginia
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Every stop on West Virginia’s second-year head coach Dana Holgorsen’s coaching tour has been treated to an offensive explosion of epic proportions.
While serving as the OC at Texas Tech from 2005 to 2007 under coach Mike Leach, the Red Raiders were consistently a top-10 scoring offense and ranked No. 7 nationally in Holgorsen’s final season in Lubbock.
Moving on to Houston, where Holgorsen was the OC in 2008 and 2009, the Cougars were ranked No. 10 nationally in scoring during his first season and then No. 1 in his final year.
At his last stop as an OC before landing the head job in Morgantown, Holgorsen took an Oklahoma State offense that had ranked No. 56 nationally in scoring in 2009 to a No. 3 mark in 2010.
Similarly, in his first year at West Virgina, he transformed the No. 78-ranked scoring offense from 2010 into a unit that ranked No. 13 in scoring last season in 2011.
For 2012, all the stars have aligned for the Mountaineers and Holgorsen for an absolute point-scoring detonation.
Yes friends, this is more than a mere flare-up warning…
West Virginia returns 92 percent of its yard-earners from a team that scored 37.6 points per game in 2011, a number that includes QB Geno Smith, all three of the top receivers and, you guessed it, all three of the top rushers.
The Mountaineers ranked No. 6 nationally last season in pass yards and were No. 92 in terms of rushing, meaning that an O-line that shares an eye-popping 105 starts could spell absolute disaster for Big 12 defenses.
So, can WVU play defense well enough to stay alive?
Well, we know that it’ll score a lot of points, which means if it can manage even a measure of defensive success, it may shock its new league, and our college football nation, to its core.