Preview 2012 - The 40 Key Questions No. 11-20
Posted Aug 10, 2012

Richard Cirminiello answers the key questions or more in the 40 Key Questions of 2012.

Preview 2012

Key Questions - No. 11 to 20

By Richard Cirminiello & Pete Fiutak

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The 40 Key Questions of 2012 

No. 1 to 10 | No. 21 to 30 | No. 31 to 40

20. How far will Stanford slide?

Rich: In 2010, Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart graduated. Prior to 2011, influential head coach Jim Harbaugh took the San Francisco 49ers head job. And now, the Cardinal must replace one of its best all-time players, QB Andrew Luck. Has Stanford taken too many hits to still be considered a Pac-12 contender? Everything hinges on the play of Luck's successor, Brett Nottingham or Josh Nunes.
All August long, CFN and will get you ready for the season with these great features. But that's not all. Check CFN's 2012 preview page for even more coverage.
Aug. 1: Top coaches on the hot seat
Aug. 3: Meet the new coaches
Aug. 6: Teams that might surprise us
Aug. 8: Teams that might disappoint us
Aug. 10: Teams that could ruin your season
Aug. 13: Biggest unanswered questions
Aug. 15: Great programs heading nowhere
Aug. 17: Unknown programs on the rise
Aug. 20: Top Heisman Trophy candidates
Aug. 22: Best games of the regular season
Aug. 24: Toughest stadiums to play in
Aug. 27: Teams most likely to play in BCS
Aug. 29: Title game match-ups we'd love

Fiu: There will be a big drop from going 11-2, but it will bounce back over the next few years once the good recent recruiting classes kick in. Oregon is the class of the North by far, and this year appears to be when Cal makes a run again. The Cardinal will lose to USC, at Notre Dame, at Cal, at Oregon, and might drop a game at Washington or at UCLA.

19. What's the ceiling for West Virginia in the Big 12?

Rich: The Mountaineers chose a great time to make a step up in weight class. The coach, who has familiarity with the Big 12, is now in his second year, and the Geno Smith-led passing attack will rank among the best in the country. The D is a little iffy, but that rarely stops a school from competing in this league.

Fiu: Third in the Big 12. This will be the type of maddening team that will beat an Oklahoma one week or blow away a Kansas State, and then fail to show up against Iowa State or Baylor. Remember, it took a late field goal to beat South Florida just to get to the Orange Bowl, and the last four games of the Big East season were all decided by a grand total of ten points. The Mountaineers just won't be consistent enough to win the Big 12 title.

18. Is Auburn done rebuilding?

Rich: Not quite, but the Tigers are much farther along than in 2011, when the two-deep was dotted with young kids. The big unknown—again—revolves around the identity of the quarterback, a position that vexed last year's team. New coordinator Scot Loeffler must decide between sophomore Kiehl Frazier and junior Clint Moseley.

Fiu: No, but it'll be a lot better. The defense is going to make the biggest leap forward with nine starters returning, but the big problem is that Cam Newton was a truly transcendent performer and he really is proving to be irreplaceable. The Tigers won't beat LSU or Alabama, but they get Arkansas, Texas A&M and Georgia at home. 2011 was supposed to be a massive rebuilding year, but there needs to be a bit of a step forward this season before shining in 2014.

17. Who wins the Heisman?

Rich: All discussions begin and end with USC QB Matt Barkley—for now. Barkley is the prototype for a Heisman contender, but he'll have plenty of company. Lurking in the rear view mirror of No. 7 will be Michigan QB Denard Robinson, Wisconsin RB Montee Ball, West Virginia QB Geno Smith, Oklahoma QB Landry Jones, Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson and South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore—for now.

Oklahoma QB Landry Jones is on the shortlist of Heisman contenders.

Fiu: I'll take the field. Remember, you would've been laughed at least year at this time if you suggested that Robert Griffin III was going to win the prize. No one had ever really heard of Cam Newton before he became CAM NEWTON. The Heisman winner will probably come from out of nowhere. Also remember, Kellen Moore didn't get a Heisman invite last year and Denard Robinson has never gotten the call; it's hard to be a Heisman finalist. But if I'm pressed for three names, I'll go with Robinson - if he looks good against Bama in the opener - Matt Barkley, and my No. 1 choice, Landry Jones.

16. Can the Florida offense locate a pulse?

Rich: Last year's attack in Gainesville was historically hideous, ranking 105th nationally. Enter the program's third offensive coordinator in the last three years, Brent Pease. The Gators will feature many more looks and formations, but nothing will matter if they can't get better play from quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel. What's so tantalizing for Florida is that the D might be championship caliber in 2012.

Fiu: It can't be any worse. With ten starters returning to a loaded defense, 20 points might be enough for an offense that has the speed and has the talent, but needs a steady quarterback and better play from the line. There's way too much skill to average just 329 yards per game.

15. Will Georgia be able to run the ball?

Rich: The Dawgs have been whacked with a double-whammy this offseason. Not only is the O-line in transition, but top back Isaiah Crowell was dismissed after being arrested on weapons charges. Georgia can score on Aaron Murray's arm alone, but will need more balance to win the East and get through the SEC title game. The veteran backs are bruisers Ken Malcome and Richard Samuel, with Keith Marshall as the incoming blue-chipper.

Fiu: Yes, at times, but it won't want to. The offense will revolve around Aaron Murray and the passing game that should make more things happen down the field, while the defense will keep the team in games and should finish in the top ten. The Dawgs were able to play for the SEC title last season despite averaging just 164 rushing yards per game and having a few problems with a leaky line. All will be fine as long as Murray is upright.

14. Can Ohio State keep its focus without the lure of the postseason?

Rich: The Buckeyes were tailor-made for a Big Ten championship run before NCAA sanctions nullified that pursuit. Instead, Urban Meyer will use his first season in Columbus to learn the personnel, install his system and put down the ground floor of a return to prominence. No player's development will mean more to the future of Ohio State football than that of sophomore QB Braxton Miller.
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Fiu: Without question. Urban Meyer is going to have the team jacked up to play the role of spoiler. I asked Meyer about possibly using 2011 USC as an example of how a team with supposedly nothing to play for can handle a season, and while he wasn't going to go that far, he's going to use the Every Week Is Our Bowl Game attitude and the players appear to be buying in.

13. Can John L. Smith maximize the talent he inherited at Arkansas?

Rich: Phew. Big year for John L. Big year for the Hogs. Arkansas enters this season with enough talent and momentum to capture the SEC, and even compete for a spot in the BCS championship. Smith represented a smooth transition in Fayetteville, but how much does the program lose by no longer having Bobby Petrino calling the shots on the sidelines?

Fiu: Nope. It's not necessarily going to be Smith's fault, but Petrino really was/is a superior college football head coach and his loss will be just enough of a difference to cost the Hogs. Remember, the bar is set at winning the SEC title, and while Arkansas will certainly be a top ten team, even going 10-2 will be a disappointment for a program with national title aspirations. There's absolutely no margin for error in the SEC West, and it's going to take a major upset to beat both Alabama and LSU, even at home, and dealing with Texas A&M, South Carolina, Auburn and Mississippi State will be tough.

12. Who quarterbacks Oregon in 2012?

Rich: When Darron Thomas shockingly left school with eligibility remaining, it opened the door for sophomore Bryan Bennett and redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota to partake in one of the most anticipated battles of the summer. Both are capable of excelling in an offense designed to maximize the athleticism of the quarterbacks.
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Fiu: It might not matter. Oregon is so fast and so loaded at running back that the offense will keep on rolling no matter who wins the starting quarterback job. However, Thomas was an underappreciated star who did what he could against Auburn in the 2011 BCS championship and in last year's opener against LSU. Chip Kelly has made the program a machine that should roll easily to the North title.

11. Has Florida State finally arrived?

Rich: The Seminoles were supposed to ascend back to the ACC throne in 2011. It didn't happen. They'll be looking for a do-over with a team that's loaded with returning starters on both sides of the ball. Success could hinge on the maturation of an O-line that was extremely young last fall, and really needs to do a better job of protecting EJ Manuel.

Fiu: Can we go back to the Heisman question? In my Watch Out For The Heisman Winner To Come From Out Of Nowhere category, FSU QB E.J. Manuel is my deep sleeper. He has all the tools and all the potential to come up with a huge season for a Seminole offense that still has to prove it can run the ball and still needs the O line to block someone. If he plays like I think he might, and with nine starters returning to a brick wall of a defense that won't give up a thing, and Florida State should "arrive" with an ACC championship.

The 40 Key Questions of 2012 

No. 1 to 10 | No. 11 to 20 | No. 21 to 30 | No. 31 to 40