2012 CFN Preseason Rankings - No. 21 to 30

Posted Aug 20, 2012

2012 CFN Preseason Rankings - No. 21 to 30 - Potential Stars

Preview 2012 - Rankings

Potential Stars - No. 21 to 30

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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.

30. Tennessee Preview
Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Receiver
Relative Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Defensive Line

What to watch for on offense: The offensive line. Tyler Bray has the potential to be a first round NFL draft pick with a little more seasoning. The combination of Justin Hunter, Da'Rick Rogers and newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson is as impressive a trio of receivers as any in college football. The running backs all have enough speed and talent to potentially put up big numbers with a little bit of help, and that assistance has to come from a line that didn't generate enough of a push for the ground game. There will be plenty of playing around with the lineup to find the right fit, and while pass protection isn't a problem, getting physical is an issue. The Vols failed to run for 200 yards in any game and was stuffed for -21 yards by Georgia and inexplicably came up with just 61 yards against Kentucky.

What to watch for on defense: The pass rush. Opponents attempted a mere 307 passes, but the 16 sacks were still way too few. The Vols are athletic across the board and have speed in the back seven, but there aren't any sure-thing superstar pass rushers along the line. The secondary didn't suffer – few teams on the slate knew how to throw a forward pass – but there weren't enough big plays or picks made. The defense has to be more disruptive and even more active, especially against the better teams, and that starts by getting something going behind the line.

29. California Preview
Relative Strengths: Running Back, Defensive Line
Relative Weaknesses: Quarterback, Linebacker

What to watch for on offense: The young receivers. Cal is home to one of the country's most dangerous targets, Keenan Allen, a sure-fire All-American candidate. However, after the junior, the corps gets very young, very fast. Current Cincinnati Bengal Marvin Jones is no longer eligible, making it a little less risky for opponents to double Allen. His cousin, redshirt freshman Maurice Harris, exited spring as the starter on the opposite side. However, a wave of incoming freshmen, especially Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler, are going to get a chance to pay immediate dividends for a passing game that needs them.

What to watch for on defense: The super-sophs. Out with the old, and in with the new. Cal's recent recruiting prowess is about to go on full display with the unveiling of a swath of second-year players on the two-deep. DE Mustafa Jalil, linebackers Nick Forbes, David Wilkerson, Chris McCain and Cecil Whiteside, CB Stefan McClure and S Avery Sebastian are busting at the seams with potential. That upside is about to meld with opportunity, affording the Bear cubs a larger spotlight and far more reps than were available in 2011.

28. BYU Preview
Relative Strengths: Linebacker, Receiver
Relative Weaknesses: Running Back, Defensive Back

What to watch for on offense: The receiving corps. Michael Alisa is a promising big back who'll pound away on a tough and talented line, but the Cougars will go as far as the receivers can carry the load. Cody Hoffman is a big, tall, physical No. 1 target with dangerous deep speed, while running mates Ross Apo and J.D. Falslev should come up with huge seasons if the quarterback play is solid. With one-time super-recruit Jake Heaps transferring to Kansas, Riley Nelson has to prove he can bomb away a bit more while also showing he can stay healthy. He has the receivers to make the stats shine.

What to watch for on defense: Even more aggressiveness from the linebacking corps. There was an interesting trickle-down effect last season that ended up flatlining for a defense that held its own. There wasn't much of a pass rush when Kyle Van Noy wasn't getting the job done, and that meant the secondary had to work its tail off and that meant there weren't enough picks and other big plays. The Cougars can't sit back and wait to be picked apart by Washington State, Boise State, Utah and Hawaii, and they're going to have to figure out how to generate more pressure into the backfield.

27. Utah Preview
Relative Strengths: Defensive Line, Running Back
Relative Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Linebacker

What to watch for on offense: Tackling the tackle issue. The Utes have to keep oft-injured QB Jordan Wynn healthy this fall. Doing so will require him to be well-protected by a new set of bookends at offensive tackle. With the graduations of Tony Bergstom and John Cullen, all-stars in NFL camps, Utah was been left to audition a bunch of lightly-experienced players in the spring, like Percy Taumoelau and Daniel Nielson. The situation becomes a lot more interesting in the summer, when hulking junior-college transfer Carlos Lozano and Marc Pouvave enter the race for playing time.

What to watch for on defense: The development of the young linebackers. Junior Trevor Reilly is just fine at Stud. After him, though, the Utes get very young, very fast. In fact, at Rover and middle, there are no upperclassmen within sight. Still, the staff likes the athleticism and potential of the group it has competing for playing time. Jacoby Hale, LT Filiaga, V.J. Fehoko and Jared Norris have a few things in common. They're not very big, they move extremely well and they've got great motors. In other words, vintage Utah linebackers.

26. Notre Dame Preview
Relative Strengths: Offensive Line, Linebacker
Relative Weaknesses: Defensive Back, Special Teams

What to watch for on offense: The backfield. The running game never got enough credit for being effective last year, with Jonas Gray averaging 6.9 yards per pop with 12 scores and Cierre Wood rumbling for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Gray is done, but Wood should be in line for another 1,000-yard season. Receiver Theo Reddick and kickoff returner extraordinaire, George Atkinson III, will be in the rotation to help provide more flash. Of course, the big story all season long will be the quarterback situation with four good young players all battling for the gig. Even when a No. 1 guy is named, that won't settle the issue with the other three options good enough to step in and produce if needed.

What to watch for on defense: Where's the pass rush going to come from? Aaron Lynch came up with 5.5 sacks last season and Manti Te'o made five. The rest of the defense nickel-and-dimed its way up 14.5 more sacks, but it would be nice if one of the linemen could replace what Lynch provided. Kapron Lewis-Moore is a nice all-around defensive lineman, but he's not necessarily a pure pass rusher. Stephon Tuitt could be main man on one end, and tweener linebacker Ishaq Williams could blossom into a superstar, but they haven't done it yet. The defense that couldn't come up with enough big plays needs to be active enough to force the game changers.

25. Mississippi State Preview
Relative Strengths: Defensive Back, Quarterback
Relative Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Defensive Line

What to watch for on offense: The passing game. It's not like MSU didn't throw the ball at all last year, and compared to the rest of the SEC the passing attack was just fine despite finishing 94th in the nation. The offense had a decent balance averaging 182 passing yards per game and 175 on the ground, but it would be a huge, huge help if Tyler Russell could crank things up to around 225 passing yards per game with more big plays. MSU didn't strength the field nearly enough averaging a pedestrian 11.9 yards per pop. The 19 touchdown passes weren't bad, but 15 of them came in the seven wins with four being thrown in the six losses. The receiving corps gets everyone of note back and should be far better at opening things up for the running game.

What to watch for on defense: A killer secondary. Whether the great stats came from playing against a slew of awful passing games or if they came from talent in the defensive backfield, the bottom line was a great season from a loaded secondary that should be even better. Johnthan Banks should be in the NFL as we speak – the star corner would've been a top 50 overall pick – while Darius Slaw and Corey Broomfield are terrific veterans in the rotation. Safety Nickoe Whitley is one of the league's premier hitters, but he's coming off an Achilles heel injury and still needs time. On the plus side, Dee Arrington might be the team's most talented safety and there's decent depth across the board to fill in the gaps. Throw in a decent pass rush, and it'll be a shock if MSU doesn't finish in the top 20 in pass defense.

24. TCU Preview
Relative Strengths: Running Back, Receiver
Relative Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Linebacker

What to watch for on offense: The passing game should explode. It was good when it had to be last season, but it only finished 63rd in the nation averaging 232 yards per game. Part of the reason was that Casey Pachall didn't have to chuck it all over the yard against Portland State, Wyoming and Colorado State when the running game was going crazy, but he mounted a big comeback in the loss to Baylor and was brilliant in the win over Boise State. He has the size, the arm and the receiving corps to do a lot more in a league that will once again be known for its shootouts. Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson are a good 1-2 combination, and Brandon Carter, Cam White and LaDarius Brown will put up huge numbers, too.

What to watch for on defense: The back seven. Part of the foundation of the great TCU defenses in recent history has been tone-setting leaders at linebacker. Tank Carder is done, while Tanner Brock is out of the mix as part of the off-the-field issues and now he's off to UTEP. The linebackers are expected to be fine in time, but the pressure is of Deryck Gildon and Kenny Cain to be great against the run. The problem, though, is a secondary that needs to be far stronger at corner and needing more plays from the safety. The pass defense is a major concern.

23. North Carolina Preview
Relative Strengths: Running Back, Offensive Line
Relative Weaknesses: Receiver, Defensive Back

What to watch for on offense: Plays. Lots and lots of plays. Fedora's version of the spread offense calls for a rapid pace and no huddles, all designed to wear out and confuse opposing defenses. Whereas the Tar Heels averaged 60 plays in 2011, they'll be shooting for closer to 80 snaps this fall. Proper conditioning will be a major, as will the players' grasp on their playbook and assignments. With so little time between snaps, it's imperative that all 11 players know exactly where they belong, or else execution is going to be spotty in the early parts of the season.

What to watch for on defense: The maturation of the secondary. Pass defense will once again be Carolina's sorest spot on defense. The Heels will be using a fifth defensive back this fall, Gene Robinson, who'll roam the field from his newly-minted Ram position. They'll also be leaning heavily on sophomore Tim Scott and juniors Tre Boston and Jabari Price, who are on the verge of peaking in their development. After allowing 47 touchdown passes over the past two seasons, the program is looking to reduce that number down to the teens in 2012.

22. Stanford Preview
Relative Strengths: Running Back, Linebacker
Relative Weaknesses: Receiver, Defensive Line

What to watch for on offense: (Much) more of the same. The Cardinal has thrived with a pro-style attack that prefers to leverage its bigger bodies. With a new and inexperienced quarterback in the fold, why stop now? Stanford will be content to run the ball right up the gut with Stepfan Taylor, while using the backs and tight ends liberally in the passing game. The combination of Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz is arguably the best tight end tandem in America, a big and physical duo that'll be the quarterback's best friend. Oh, and don't lose sight of Ryan Hewitt, the converted tight end who plays fullback, but is really an H-back in the passing game.

What to watch for on defense: The front seven to dominate. Few programs outside of the SEC can boast a line-linebacker combo that's deeper or more talented than the one at Stanford. Up front, the Cardinal is big and scrappy, led by DE Ben Gardner. It's at the second level where the program is really special. With the return from injury of ILB Shayne Skov, who joins OLB Chase Thomas, the team has a pair of All-America candidates at linebacker to go along with a gaggle of future stars, like Jarek Lancaster, Trent Murphy, James Vaughters and A.J. Tarpley. The defensive backfield will rarely be forced to defend the run in the fall, allowing it to focus on the pass.

21. Florida Preview
Relative Strengths: Defensive Back, Defensive Line
Relative Weaknesses: Running Back, Receiver

What to watch for on offense: The quarterback situation. Two coaching staffs had a pro-style quarterback in John Brantley and each had no earthly clue how to get the passing attack moving, and that included Charlie Weis. While Brantley might have been a disappointment as a player, he was a superstar recruit who was never developed properly and wasn't given any help. Now the Gators have another elite of the elite quarterback prospect in Jeff Driskel, with the size and upside to be another Tim Tebow but with NFL skills, and he hasn't been able to show anything over a true freshman season and another offseason to show he's ready to take that next step up. Meanwhile, Jacoby Brissett - a nice recruit a few years ago, but not Driskel – is doing everything possible to keep the Driskel era from taking off. Florida appears to have everything on the right track to improve on offense, but Job One for Muschamp and new offensive coordinator Brent Pease this offseason will be to make a call between the quarterbacks and stick with it through thick and thin.

What to watch for on defense: Boom. All of the focus this year will be on the offense, but it won't have to explode with this defense about to emerge as something truly special. The D never got enough credit for doing what it could last season with no help from the O, but now there are several fantastic players appearing to be on the verge of taking their games to a whole other level. Sharrif Floyd is a dream of an NFL 3-4 tackle, while Omar Hunter could end up sitting in the middle of someone's line on Sundays if he puts together a big season. Jelani Jenkins will be a top 50 pick the second he's ready to come out, but Jonathan Bostic might be the more productive college linebacker. The secondary is loaded, the pass rush should be fine even with Ronald Powell out injured with a torn ACL, and there's depth across the board.