2012 CFN Preseason Rankings - No. 31 to 40

Posted Aug 20, 2012

2012 CFN Preseason Rankings - No. 31 to 40 - Fringe Conference Contenders

Preview 2012 - Rankings

Fringe Contenders - No. 31 to 40

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2012 CFN Preseason Rankings  
Preview 2012 | 1 to 5 | 6 to 10 | 11 to 20 | 21 to 30 | 31 to 40 | 41 to 50
51 to 60 | 61 to 70 | 71 to 80 | 81 to 90 | 91 to 100 | 101 to 110 | 111 to 124 
 - CFN Preseason Rankings 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007  

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There's one very important distinction in the CFN preseason rankings: these are based on how good the teams are going into the season and NOT how they're going to finish. Some teams have easier schedules than others, some get tougher road games and some will need a little bit of time to jell, meaning they might be better than their final record indicates. Going into the year, these are how good the teams appear to be from No. 1 through 124.

40. Auburn Preview
Relative Strengths: Running Back, Defensive Line
Relative Weaknesses: Quarterback, Linebacker

What to watch for on offense: No more Malzahn. It's not nearly as devastating as Cam Newton taking off early for the NFL, but the Auburn attack takes a hit with the loss of offensive coordinator extraordinaire Gus Malzahn to the Arkansas State head coaching job, and with star running back Michael Dyer tagging along for the ride after a slew of issues. New coordinator Scot Loeffler isn't going to change the world, but the hope will be to get more passing production from the quarterbacks and more of the rushing workload to come from the running backs. The line will be one of the best in the SEC in the near future with nine underclassmen among the projected two-deep depth chart, but it's an experienced unit. Loeffler will likely involve tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen more and will try to spread around the passes a bit, while the running backs should work in a committee to blast away in more pro-style looks.

What to watch for on defense: Health. New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has some work to do, but first and foremost he needs everyone to stay healthy. The 2011 defense wasn't a killer by SEC standards, but it didn't fall completely off the map after undergoing a major personnel overhaul and with injury after injury destroying the depth and rotation at several spots. There's enough talent to field a starting 11 that could be good enough to hang around with all the mediocre SEC attacks, but all the big bodies on the defensive interior have to be healthy and start to produce more against the stronger running teams, and the linebacking corps needs to come up with solid options to work around Daren Bates.

39. UCLA Preview
Relative Strengths: Running Back, Linebacker
Relative Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Quarterback

What to watch for on offense: Mission accomplished. The Bruins waited patiently for the return from a two-year church mission of LT Xavier Su'a-Filo, who's back and ready to pick up where he left off. When last seen in pads in 2009, the then-rookie was laying the foundation for a brilliant career in the Pac-12. He has great technique and athleticism, the cornerstones of a top-flight pass protector. While he won't throw a pass over the next three years, his presence will greatly aid a program that has struggled for years in the trenches, and is installing a more passer-friendly attack.

What to watch for on defense: The super sophs. UCLA boasts a trio of sophomores, one at each level of the D, that it feels will someday represent the program on the All-Pac-12 Team. NT Brandon Willis exploded out of the gates in his first year since transferring from North Carolina, beating out veterans to win the job. LB Eric Kendricks is an emerging star on the inside. And FS Tevin McDonald looks as if he'll someday join father Tim and brother T.J. in the fraternity of family members to continue playing in the NFL.

38. Louisville Preview
Relative Strengths: Defensive Line, Quarterback
Relative Weaknesses: Running Back, Offensive Line

What to watch for on offense: The battle at running back. The passing attack is going to be better. The ground game? We'll see. The Cards desperately want to run the ball with more success than in 2011, when they ranked 93rd nationally, but first need to decide on a go-to guy. Coordinator Shawn Watson does not favor a committee approach, yet four backs, Dominique Brown, Jeremy Wright, Senorise Perry and Corvin Lamb, were listed as co-starters at the end of spring drills. The coach is hoping that someone will rise up and take control of the job this summer.

What to watch for on defense: A turnaround from the pass defense. After stumbling in 2011, the Cardinals defensive backfield is prepared to stiffen this fall. There's a nice blend of all-star veterans, S Hakeem Smith and CB Adrian Bushell, and future stars, such as S Calvin Pryor and CB Andrew Johnson, to believe that this could be a surprisingly stingy unit in 2012. The coaches are cautiously optimistic, which also means that the defensive backs will benefit from getting their undivided attention throughout the summer.

37 . Illinois Preview
Relative Strengths: Defensive Line, Linebacker
Relative Weaknesses: Receiver, Special Teams

What to watch for on offense: The skill spots. The line will be fine with a little bit of time and tweaking, but the offense that went bye-bye over the second half of last season has to find some semblance of explosion and must come up with an identity early on. There are plenty of question marks at the skill positions for an attack that was so dreadful at times. Nathan Scheelhaase is a tremendous all-around playmaker, but he doesn't have the passing arm of backup Reilly O'Toole. The receiving corps has to find a No. 1 receiver after A.J. Jenkins left, and the backfield needs Josh Ferguson's great offseason to translate into a productive year. There will be lots and lots of reworking of the depth chart and the lineup, and as Beckman showed at Toledo, he's not afraid to get creative.

What to watch for on defense: The Whitney Mercilus-less pass rush. The Illini lost the nation's top sacker when Mercilus left early for the NFL, but no one seems to be that worried. Michael Buchanan was supposed to be the breakout star that Mercilus became, but he had a strong year in his own right at one end. Akeem Spence deserves to be penciled in for all-conference defensive tackle honors right now, and there's speed and quickness at the other two spots and among the backups. The linebackers can fly into the backfield, too.

36. South Florida Preview
Relative Strengths: Linebacker, Defensive Back
Relative Weaknesses: Running Back, Offensive Line

What to watch for on offense: The wide receivers to drag QB B.J. Daniels to a new level of efficiency. While Daniels is not a stellar passing quarterback, his numbers might suggest otherwise this fall. Not only does he enter his fourth season in the program, but he'll have access to his best collection of hands since winning the job in 2011. The Bulls are loaded with speed, quickness and athleticism in the form of Andre Davis, Sterling Griffin and Victor Marc. Plus, rookie D'Vario Montgomery and touted Florida transfer Chris Dunkley should become more dangerous as the season unfolds. Daniels finally has the weapons to hurt defenses through the air; now he has to go out and fully maximize their big-play potential.

What to watch for on defense: New coordinator Chris Cosh will keep things simple. Cosh has inherited a lot of talent in Tampa … and he knows it. He'll run a 4-3 base, and essentially get out of the way so that his players can, well, make plays. The coach wants his Bulls to be aggressive, smart and fast to the ball. In other words, just do what they've been doing for the last five years or so. Cosh won't have to coach up this group, which returns a ton of starters, and doesn't expect to have more than one underclassman in the starting lineup on opening day.

35. NC State Preview
Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Defensive Back
Relative Weaknesses: Linebacker, Receiver

What to look for on offense: The maturation of the receivers. In Glennon, the Pack houses one of the dozen or so best quarterbacks in the nation, but you might not know it if he doesn't get cooperation from the wide receivers. The program lost three of its better sets of hands from 2011, leaving senior Tobais Palmer as the new leading man of the group. While he has a lot of potential as a go-to threat, he'll also need help from the rest of the supporting cast. Tight end Mario Carter and wide receivers Quintin Payton and Bryan Underwood all have the requisite ability to make plays … it's time for all three to go out and prove it.

What to look for on defense: The Pack to get run on more than a broken-armed catcher. NC State is facing an imperfect storm on defense. The defensive tackles are unproven sophomores. The linebackers have been gutted to the studs. And since the secondary is terrific, opponents will be content to play smash-mouth football. The Wolfpack will know what's coming, yet still might not stand a chance. Since the corners can hold up in man-coverage, look for the safeties, Earl Wolff and Brandan Bishop, to spend as much time as possible near the line of scrimmage.

34. Boise State Preview
Relative Strengths: Offensive Line, Defensive Line
Relative Weaknesses: Running Back, Linebacker

What to watch for on offense: The backfield. The line might look like the land of misfit blockers, but it's a veteran crew that should be solid. The receiving corps that had to undergo such an overhaul last season looks terrific and potentially dominant. Now it's up to the backfield to replace Kellen Moore and Doug Martin and keep on moving. Joe Southwick is the most likely option to fill Moore's immense shoes, but he fits the Boise State quarterback mold and should be almost as effective. D.J. Harper is a talented veteran back, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy and there isn't another Martin waiting in the wings. The passing game will work and the overall production will be there, but Moore and Martin really were special talents.

What to watch for on defense: The pass rush. Boise State doesn't really live on a big pass rush. Its defense makes plays in the backfield, but for the most part it hold firm against the run, relies on a productive secondary, and then gets off the field to let the offense put the game away. However, even with Shea McClellin gone the Broncos should be able to improve at getting to the quarterback if JUCO transfer Demarcus Lawrence plays up to his hype and potential and if Samuel Ukwuachu can turn his athleticism into production. The tackles are quick enough to do their job on the inside, and the back seven will be terrific. All that's missing is a sure-thing pass rusher to make the promising D another plus.

33. Nebraska Preview
Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back
Relative Weaknesses: Receiver, Defensive Line

What to watch for on offense: More from the passing game. Taylor Martinez was a good all-around playmaker in high school, but he's a runner who makes the offense shine when he's making things happen on the move. However, this offseason he spent time working hard on his mechanics – primarily getting the footwork right – to start adding more of a passing element to his game. He'll never be a pro quarterback and he'll never throw for 4,000 yards in a season as a Husker, but he should be able to do a bit more to boost up the nation's 104th ranked passing game. The receiving corps is there with the loaded tight end duo of Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed and speedy wideout Kenny Bell leading a veteran group of pass catchers. All Martinez has to do is start hitting on around 65% of his throws and complete more third down throws. He can do that.

What to watch for on defense: Will there be a pass rush? In 2009, Nebraska finished second in the nation in sacks, averaging over three per game and coming up with 44 on the year. Getting behind the line against wasn't a problem, either, but it helped to have Ndamukong Suh collapsing things from the inside. Partly because of the team's aggressiveness up front, the D finished first in the nation in points allowed and seventh in total defense. In 2010 the Huskers struggled up front, finishing last in the Big 12 in tackles for loss coming up with just 60 tackles for loss. Last year, the pass rush was even worse with even few hits on the quarterback while finishing dead last once again the Big Ten in tackles for loss. The defense won't be more aggressive this season, but it needs Cameron Meredith and Baker Steinkuhler up front to start making more big plays.

32. Kansas State Preview
Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Linebacker
Relative Weaknesses: Receiver, Offensive Line

What to watch for on offense: A passing game? It's not like Kansas State ignored the pass – Collin Klein certainly had his moments – but the preferred mode of transportation was the ground attack. Klein and running back John Hubert will once again barrel away behind a strong offensive line, but there was more of an emphasis on the passing attack this offseason with Klein bombing away in the spring game. With the healthy return of Tyler Lockett and six of the top pass catchers returning, the O could be more balanced.

What to watch for on defense: The play of the back seven. The defense was hardly a rock last season, but the potential is there for this to be the best D in a long, long time if all the experience and athleticism turns into production. Arthur Brown is one of the nation's best linebackers, and he's surrounded by a good group of veterans who can all move. Nigel Malone and Allen Chapman are tough, physical corners who'll take a few lumps if the pass rush isn't any better, but they'll make more than their share of big plays. Ty Zimmerman is a terrific safety and there's depth and experience across the board. The back seven will clean up plenty of messes, but it would be nice if the line could do a little bit more.

31. Georgia Tech Preview
Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back
Relative Weaknesses: Wide Receiver, Defensive Back

What to look for on offense: Tevin to start, but Synjyn and Vad to play. Just because Tevin Washington is the clear-cut starter behind center does not mean that young backups Synjyn Days and Vad Lee will hold a clipboard all year. The staff is looking to add new wrinkles to the playbook, including ways to best exploit the physical running ability of Days and the strong arm of Lee. While the triple-option remains the staple, an injection of some option and pistol looks cannot be discounted in 2012.

What to look for on defense: Improvement from the secondary. Georgia Tech houses way too much experience and raw physical ability to start 2012 the way it finished 2011. A lot of potential exists on the last line of defense, especially if the front seven can find a way to pressure the pocket on a more consistent basis. The corners go three-deep with quality cover guys, Rod Sweeting, Louis Young and Jemea Thomas. The safeties have an anchor in Isaiah Johnson and a gifted underclassman, Fred Holton, returning from a season-ruining injury. The late-season numbers tell a very story of just how good the pass defense can be in the fall.