College Football 2012: 50 Things We're Already Excited to See in Spring Ball

Dan Vasta@CI_StatsGuruSenior Writer IIIJanuary 25, 2012

College Football 2012: 50 Things We're Already Excited to See in Spring Ball

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    College football has been in the offseason for a few weeks now, and with National Signing Day right around the corner, things are heating up by the minute.

    However, once next week comes to an end, there will not be anything to truly look forward to. That is until April when spring football is underway.

    There are hundreds of things that we cannot wait for, but here is your list of 50 things that we should already be ecstatic for before April rolls along. 

Nick Saban

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    Nick Saban now has three BCS National Championships and is officially on top of the world.

    At the age of 60, Saban’s Tide are 55-12 (46-6 in the last four years) since his tenure started in 2007. His 32-8 record in the SEC is beyond respectable as the legacy continues to grow.

    Four straight top-10 finishes is impressive, but that number may double if he continues to develop stars on defense.

    There should be no doubting the Crimson Tide coach, but we should be excited to see him since he is pretty much the king of this sport right now.

Alabama’s Defense

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    Alabama had the top-ranked total defense, scoring defense, rush defense, pass efficiency defense and top pass defense. Several superstar defenders will be gone, but the Crimson Tide will just reload.

    It starts in Cowboys Stadium against Michigan next season, as a season-opening victory could propel them back to one of the premier defenses in the country.  

Life After Trent Richardson

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    How will Alabama look without Trent Richardson? Dee Hart is coming off a torn ACL and Eddie Lacy looked great in a backup role.

    Plus, Barrett Jones is returning, which will only help the running room out more. Throw in D.J. Fluker, Chance Warmack and Anthony Steen, and you have yourself arguably one of the best lines in the SEC and perhaps the nation.

    Maybe life after “The Freak” won’t be so tough after all. 

Urban Meyer

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    Urban Meyer is back in his home state, but it will be interesting since his Buckeyes will not be eligible to play in the Big Ten Championship or any sort of bowl.

    Some will throw out the USC comparisons since they were ranked fifth in the AP Poll when the year finished. Still, even with eight home games it will be tougher since the Big Ten does not have too many easy outs.

Penn State Post-Paterno

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    Some players and fans want Beaver Stadium to just be known as Paterno Stadium (or field) for everything he did for the Nittany Lions program.

    However, with Bill O’Brien taking over the program now, some uncertainty still remains. Can they still get the top-notch recruits, and can they win nine-plus games every season?

    A brand-new coaching staff will take some time, but I just want to see something really odd (among many other words) next season: life after Joe Pa. 

Les Miles and LSU’s Offense

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    Les Miles was taken to the woodshed by parts of the media for not letting anybody but Jordan Jefferson throw the ball, so what is next for this offense?

    LSU’s offense was mediocre at best, ranking 86th in the nation, averaging 355 yards per game last season. It cannot get any worse, so we should be excited to see some improvement.

    Those poor 2011 numbers had better change with Zach Mettenberger as the signal-caller, or else the Bayou Bengals will struggle to finish second in the SEC West.

Honey Badger

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    Tyrann Mathieu took the nation by surprise in 2011 as the best defensive player in the country, but he had one of his worst and least impactful games in the BCS National Championship.

    Without Morris Claiborne, he will be asked to do perhaps a bit more, although guys like Tharold Simon and Eric Reid will take some of the pressure off.

    Still, can Mathieu bring back a handful of punts on top of a few defensive touchdowns again? Time will tell if the “Honey Badger” was a flash in the pan or is indeed a legend in the college game.

Georgia’s Loaded Team

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    Is Georgia really loaded with talent, or will they be overrated in 2012?

    Most are expecting a top-10 preseason squad, and Aaron Murray is expected to become a near All-American next season.

    If he is ever going to become a superstar in the SEC, the spring will let us know how far he has come.

    Plus, guys like Jarvis Jones and Bacarri Rambo should anchor one of the fastest defenses in the country. The pieces are there, and it is just a matter of time before the 'Dawgs break through and get back to the BCS (two BCS appearances in Mark Richt's tenure).

How Bryan Bennett Looks

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    Darron Thomas unexpectedly left for the NFL despite possibly not even getting drafted. Bryan Bennett came in and performed admirably when Thomas was dinged up in the middle of the season.

    With Chip Kelly returning, the Ducks offense won’t falter too much.

    In fact, some argue that with De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner back, it will only improve despite the loss of LaMichael James, Thomas and Lavasier Tuinei.  

FSU Finally Back as National Contenders

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    Is this the season the Seminoles are officially back?

    They were supposedly back last season, but a few injuries at key positions led to another rather disappointing season at 9-4.

    Maybe nine wins is pretty darn good for most schools, but not when you're ranked in the top five in August. The expectations will likely be lowered by the pollsters a tad (top 10), but they won’t be lowered in Tallahassee.

    Everybody is back on defense and if the offense improves any bit, this team could be 12 or 13 wins good.

Less Conference Expansion Talk

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    Spring football will enable the nation to shut up and watch some pigskin.

    This means zero talk about conference expansion (unless, of course, you're talking in a positive form) and more about which teams are actually playing in their current, respected conferences.

    Instead of talking about where this team should be in 2014 or so forth, how about talking about what they will do in the immediate future and in the present? With spring games, all of that should take care of itself.

Notre Dame’s Quarterback Quandary

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    Wow, the amount of quarterbacks at Notre Dame could be a boatload amount. If Gunner Kiel does indeed sign on the dotted line, then we can throw his name with Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson.

    Who is the right fit? Which signal-caller can avoid the atrocious amount of mistakes in the red zone?

    Well, hopefully we can get some sort of a clue by spring ball, which should be really exciting with every guy getting a shot.

Montee Ball

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    Mr. Ball did not deserve nearly enough credit or hype for what he accomplished during the 2011 season.

    Maybe it was because his Badgers only went 11-3, but Ball still totaled for 39 touchdowns (tied for the most ever, Barry Sanders, ‘88).

    If this guy isn’t a First Team All-American, then maybe those voters should just turn in their media cards. The guy may run behind a top-five offensive line every season, but he could ball hard for every team in America.

Charlie Strong and Teddy Bridgewater

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    Teddy Bridgewater looks like the real deal, and his future is bright, thanks to Louisville head coach Charlie Strong.

    Depending on what West Virginia does, the ‘Vills could be the heavy favorites to represent the Big East in the BCS.

Sammy Watkins

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    The best wide receiver in the country (sorry, Robert Woods) will be just a sophomore next season, and he already has All-American status and Heisman expectations put on him.

    Watkins may not be able to play defense, but the perception is that he will carry this team to a BCS berth.

    Is he that good where when he improves his Tigers will as well, or will the spring give us the same ol' Clemson football team?

    Springtime will bring us some answers and a ton of excitement in Death Valley.

Matt Barkley

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    Passing up on the NFL has given Matt Barkley a ton of support and fans. If he can put the Trojans on his back, then there may not be a thing Barkley does not accomplish next season.

    It starts with spring ball in 2012 since the majority of the nation will be watching closely. 

USC’s Run for Supremacy

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    This USC squad looks like the second-best team on paper in most “experts” eyes, so they are the odds-on favorite to dethrone the SEC.

    It starts with the defense if you want to even dream about knocking off the best conference in America, and the Trojans' back seven should be as good as any team in the nation.

    Plus, their offense is considered the best by many, and it is just a  matter of time before the Trojans return to national prominence. 

Next Non-AQ BCS Buster

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    Which little school is ready to compete with the big boys at the dinner table?

    Houston came close this past season since Boise State and TCU both fell short.

    However, some things have changed for next season. With TCU in the Big 12, they are no longer a non-AQ squad.

    The Broncos, however, get Michigan State on the road in the opener, and another season-opening victory over a highly ranked team (especially without Kellen Moore or their defensive line) would practically put Chris Petersen’s squad back on the map before they head off to the Big East.

Life After John Brantley

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    John Brantley had a disappointing career at Florida, so the Gators would like to know who is the next to step in?  

    Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel would be first in line, though Brissett saw a ton of reps and two starts when Brantley was injured this past season.

    The bottom line is that the Gators are improving, though the play of their quarterback could propel them to perhaps a near double-digit season.

Geno Smith’s High-Octane Offense

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    Geno Smith and the Mountaineers offense hung 70 points (though a fumble-recovery TD and turnovers played vital role) in the Orange Bowl, and some are expecting a top-10 preseason outlook.

    Dana Holgorsen is a genius offensive mind, so can the Mountaineers perhaps become dark horse contenders for the BCS title?

    The defense will have its say, and the spring will give us an inkling on just how dangerous they become. Either the Big 12 or Big East and a non-conference game vs. FSU won’t be easy.

Casey Pachall Ready for the Big 12

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    TCU is headed to the Big 12, and everybody would like to know what the expectations should be.

    Oklahoma and Texas are the premier programs, so finishing behind them should be a reachable and expected goal.

    But TCU fans want that BCS berth, so they will likely need to knock off one of those squads to have any chance.

    The best chance for TCU will be if quarterback Casey Pachall turns the corner in terms of becoming that next level star. Come spring time, we will know a lot about his development with a ton of talented backs and receivers.

Texas Longhorns Offensive Improvements

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    The Longhorns offense had better improve as well, but at least they have a ton of fast receivers and backs to lead the way.

    It really depends on how much David Ash (or Case McCoy) can improve in the offseason, but the team is full of youthful talent, so the stock is rising regardless.

Landry Jones’ Return Gives Sooners Promise

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    Is Oklahoma worthy of a top-five preseason ranking?

    That is likely where they will be headed, and some do not like Landry Jones as a superstar and Heisman-caliber quarterback.

    When he lost Ryan Broyles, he played like he was nearly in high school, but anybody would have struggled after losing such a reliable leader.

    Now, Jones is expected to become such. and he will need to be ready come springtime.

Life After Blackmon or Weeden

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    Justin Blackmon at wide receiver is gone, and so is quarterback Brandon Weeden.

    However, Mike Gundy is still calling the plays and has always had a knack for winning close games. Do not expect another BCS title-contending season, but the Cowboys should still be a factor in the Big 12. 

Missouri’s Passing Game

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    James Franklin has a plethora of options in the running game, but he also needs to build a rapport in the SEC on top of improving his overall passing game.

    If Franklin can become All-SEC, his Tigers will be legitimate threats in the conference, but if he struggles then they will likely be hovering at or around .500.

Life After David Wilson

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    Virginia Tech always has running backs leave early for the NFL draft, but they also have guys waiting in the wings.

    Daniel Dyer, a former walk-on, would be the main guy to replace Wilson. The Hokies have had studs in the past miss no beat at all, and the hope is that Frank Beamer gets a ton of production from this future star as well.

Miami Hurricanes Being Under the Radar

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    The Canes are finally under the radar, and it looks as if it should be for the best. However, losing their best player and weapon in Lamar Miller will not help matters.

    Plus, they have Notre Dame and Kansas State in the non-conference slate, which may cost them an eight or nine-win season. Does being looked as a non-factor favor the Canes next season? Time will tell.

Hot Seat Discussion

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    This is the time to look at which coaches may be in deep trouble. Nearly the entire Pac-12 was fired this past season, so what coaches are next?

Baylor Remaining Relevant

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    Robert Griffin III is gone, so will Nick Florence be able to handle the pressure in Waco?

    The defense really is the key because if they get better, they may just stay as a top-25 team.

    Jarred Salubi and Lache Seastrunk will be studs in the backfield, and let us not forget that Tevin Reese, Lanear Sampson and Terrance Williams are all back too. 

Tyler Bray’s Improvement

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    Tennessee and Derek Dooley are on the scorching hot seat, and Tyler Bray’s health may determine how far this team goes in 2012.

    He needs more healthy offensive linemen, and the defense needs to regain its swagger. If not, the Volunteers may fall short of the postseason again.

Auburn’s Pool of Youth

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    Kiehl Frazier is expected to take over as the quarterback, and if he can spread the wealth at receiver and running back, Auburn will be a threat in the West.

    They will upset a few teams, and whether that is LSU or Arkansas may depend if the defense improves as much as “War Eagle” faithful hope for with their 11 starters returning. 

Tyler Wilson Becoming an All-American

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    How much can Arkansas improve? They made a BCS bowl two seasons ago and finished in the top five this past season.

    So, are they going to stay the same (third best, shy of BCS) or finally become a national contender? They were abused by LSU and Alabama, and they had best avoid those beatdowns in 2012 if they expect respect.

    They played great in the 2011 spring game, and another well-played spring game in 2012 should lead towards a successful season. 

Health of Knile Davis

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    The performance (assuming he plays) of Knile Davis is something to look for since he was one of the top backs in the country two seasons ago. If he can return healthy, the Razorbacks will be one of the best offenses in both the SEC and the country.

Arizona and Rich Rodriguez

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    Can Arizona become relevant in the Pac-12 next season? Juron Criner and Nick Foles are gone, and the Wildcats need some much-improved players on both sides of the ball. A fresh start with a new coaching staff led by Rich Rodriguez hopefully can get the 'Cats back on track come spring 2012.

Norm Chow’s First Head Coaching Job

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    After coaching for the past four decades, Norm Chow is finally a head coach after coaching legends such as Steve Young, Philip Rivers, Jim McMahon, Ty Detmer and Matt Leinart.

    Hawaii needs to put the Warriors back on the map since they have gone AWOL for the past few seasons. 

Mike Leach and Wazzu

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    Mike Leach can make a difference with the Cougars since they have enough talent to make an immediate impact as a Pac-12 dark horse.

    Marquess Wilson is an All-American type of receiver that could see over a hundred passes thrown his way, which should open up the rest of the Wazzu offense.

    In time, Leach can get this program back on the map (bowl eligible every year) since he turned Texas Tech into a respectable program before he left.

Bob Davie and Yes, New Mexico

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    Bob Davie wanted a challenge, and he will get exactly that with the Lobos, who have won just three games in the last three seasons!

Tim Beckman Using Two QB System, Again

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    Nathan Scheelhaase and Riley O’Toole are expected to be in competition for the starting gig once again, and it will be just one of the hundreds of battle positions to look for in 2012.

    The spring always gives us great competition, but the Illini may very well use a twoquarterback system since the offense has been far too inconsistent.

Iowa’s New Playmakers

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    Marvin McNutt is gone in Iowa City, and Marcus Coker was granted his release from the program.

    James Vandenberg will have more of a leadership role, but I would look for a few other guys to come out of nowhere during spring ball. If tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz is one of those future stars, maybe the Hawkeyes could become threats in the Big Ten as well.

Life After Russell Wilson

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    The killer duo of Montee Ball and Russell Wilson will no longer be intact, but whoever comes in to replace Wilson (Jon Budmayr or Joe Brennan) will not have a ton of weight on his shoulders.

    Montee Ball is arguably the best back in the country, and Jacob Pedersen and Jared Abbrederis are capable of being playmakers to stretch the field.

    Still, they went 11-3 with Houdini known as Mr. Wilson, so it will certainly be intriguing to see what is going on in Madison come springtime. 

Michigan’s Denard Robinson

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    “Shoelace” is one of the most electrifying players in America, but he still has naysayers and critics who doubt that he can win games when he has to come from behind.

    He put a masterful performance together against Notre Dame last year, but he has Alabama in the opener. That may be the most highly-anticpated ball game of the season and  will likely decide his Heisman chances as well. Also, how much more or less will we see Devin Gardner?

    There will be a ton of excitement in Ann Arbor when the spring rolls along, especially since a preseason top-10 ranking could be on the way.

Life After Kirk Cousins

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    The Spartans were a bit upset (to say the least) they were passed up by Michigan in the Sugar Bowl, but they will have to once again prove they are the better team.

    Having beaten Michigan four straight seasons gives them property of the state per se, but they will have to do so without Kirk Cousins.

    Known as their leader, he has been inconsistent in the big games but he won more than he lost in the previous two seasons. Will Andrew Maxwell be able to do the same thing in 2012?

    The spring practices and scrimmage will bring a bunch of excitement and answer a lot of the exciting anticipation as they prepare for Boise State on Aug. 31.

Huskers Finally Ready to Win the Big Ten

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    Nebraska has to be thinking about finally win a conference title after two brutal losses to Oklahoma and Texas in 2009 and 2010.

    They came up a bit short in their first season with the Big Ten, but they have the most returning players (approximately 122 total players returning per Sporting News Recruiting, December 2011).

    If Taylor Martinez wins the starting gig at quarterback and improves as a passer along with building a rapport with his young receivers, the sky is the limit for this team. 

Kansas State’s Chances of Avoiding a Letdown Season

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    Bill Snyder should avoid having a letdown with his Wildcats, especially since Collin Klein is a tremendous leader.

    However, the schedule is not all that easy with Miami in the non-conference on top of facing off against improved Oklahoma and Texas squads. Though they return nearly everybody, they will face their fair share of issues since they will have the bullseye on their back.

Aggies Move to the SEC Without Ryan Tannehill

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    Ryan Tannehill’s seemingly 10-year career with the Aggies is now over, and Jameill Showers looks to be the next one in line to start in College Station.

    However, they are now in the SEC which means everybody must elevate their game or else a postseason trip becomes extremely difficult.  

Life After Kevin Sumlin and Case Keenum

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    The Cougars may not be the same team after losing a pair of their leaders on and off the field, but Tony Levine will put them in a position to succeed.

    Conference USA is also not a terrible place to play, where you can lose several stars and still be relevant. The question becomes as to whether or not they have any chance at remaining relevant on the national landscape.

    Spring ball will bring a different sense of excitement since most will be counting this squad out.

Marcus Lattimore

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    Arguably the finest running back in the nation heading into the 2012 season (save Mr. Ball), Marcus Lattimore is coming off a gruesome knee injury where he missed half the season.

    However, Lattimore should be back to 100 percent, and the Gamecocks will need him. Seeing the star stud tailback line up in the backfield during April practice should be one of the top stories in college football.

    He was a Heisman frontrunner in September and early October, so the hype and excitement will soon begin since he is worth it and then some.

Life After Kellen Moore

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    Boise State will be without Kellen Moore (all-time winningest QB in FBS history with 50 wins) for the first time in seemingly a decade, but the Broncos will be just fine.

    Chris Petersen has developed quarterbacks with ease, though it will not be the same without No. 11 out there threading the needle.

    Joe Southwick and Grant Hedrick will compete for the starting role, but they return D.J. Harper and a plethora of talent at receiver, so things will be easier than most think.

Life After Andrew Luck

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    Stanford may have seen the last of its BCS national title dreams with Andrew Luck finally moving on to the NFL, but the Cardinal will still be respectable.

    Brett Nottingham and Robbie Picazo are a few of the guys competing for the starting gig, but star running back Stepfan Taylor and playmakers Zach Ertz, Ty Montgomery and Levine Toilolo will all return as well.

    Throw in a defense that has Ben Gardner, Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov (injury) all returning, and you may still have an eight or nine-win team.

Spring Is in the Air and Football Is Right Around the Corner

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    Once the spring gets here, the weather will be great, and college football will be even better.

    ESPN will seemingly have hundreds of spring games every weekend when April rolls along, but the great part is not just knowing that there will be another season.

    Being able to watch live football for the first time in a few months always bring smiles across the nation.

    College football is what we love, and when the time comes, we can all rejoice.