Michigan State defensive end William Gholston (Matthew Mitchell, MSU Athletic Communications)

                                        Projected Order of Finish

Leaders Division                                                           Legends Division

1. Wisconsin Badgers                                               1. Michigan Wolverines

2. Ohio State Buckeyes                                             2. Nebraska Cornhuskers

3. Purdue Boilermakers                                            3. Michigan State Spartans

4. Penn State Nittany Lions                                      4. Iowa Hawkeyes

5. Illinois Fighting Illini                                               5. Northwestern Wildcats

6. Indiana Hoosiers                                                   6. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Conference Champion: Michigan Wolverines

Offensive Player of the Year: Quarterback Denard Robinson – Michigan

     No player in the Big 10 demands more attention from a defense than Robinson, who ran and threw for a combined 3,349 yards and 36 touchdowns a season ago. Despite his flaws, “Shoelace” has true game-changing ability that can be unleashed on every single play.

Defensive Player of the Year: Defensive End William Gholston – Michigan State

     This 6’7 275 pound monster is the best player on a Spartan defense that could be the Big 10’s best in 2012/2013. The junior had 67 tackles and 5 sacks last season.

Surprise Team: Purdue Boilermakers

     The Boilers return a ton of skill position talent on offense including wide receivers O.J. Ross and Antavian Edison, and running backs Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers. Seven starters, including All-Conference tackle Kawann Short, return on a defense that should be much improved.

Best Game: Ohio State at Wisconsin – November 17th

     Both teams should still be in the running for the Leaders Division title by the time November 17th rolls around. Wisconsin will be out for revenge after a last second loss in Columbus last year.

     Honorable Mentions: Michigan State at Michigan – October 20th

     Nebraska at Michigan State – November 3rd

     Michigan at Ohio State – November 24th

Advertisements

2012 Review: Last season, Ohio State ushered in a new era for their revered football program due to a myriad of offseason controversy. The infamous “Tattoo-Gate” scandal combined with other various suspensions left the Buckeyes without their head coach, starting quarterback, and a number of other key contributors. Interim coach Luke Fickell and his depleted squad scratch and clawed their way to bowl eligibility, finishing the regular season at 6-6. Despite a 24-17 Gator Bowl loss to Florida, the Buckeyes enter 2012/2013 with heightened expectations thanks to new head coach Urban Meyer, rising sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller, and an impressive recruiting class.

Sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

Offense: Urban Meyer arrives in Columbus with plans to employ his high-powered spread offense that had been so successful during his tenure at Florida. Dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller (1,159 passing yards, 715 rushing yards) could not be a more perfect fit for this system. Thrown to the wolves a season ago as a true freshman, Miller showed incredible poise and command in the pocket, and should only improve with another year of seasoning. Junior Carlos Hyde and freshman Bri’onte Dunn will get the majority of backfield carries, while speedy senior Jordan Hall should get touches at running back and receiver. Fullback Zach Boren is one of the best blockers for his position in the country. Two returning starters, tackle Jack Mewhort and tight end Jake Stoneburner, were recently removed from scholarship after offseason arrests. Assuming these players do not return in the fall, the Buckeyes will be left with only one returning starter on the offensive line and a young, inexperienced receiving corps.

Cornerback Travis Howard (7) (Jamie Sabau, Getty Images)

Defense: Nine starters are back for co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers. Senior John Simon (7 sacks) and junior Johnathan Hankins, potential All-Americans, anchor what is sure to be on the nation’s best defensive lines. A trio of talented freshmen, Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington, and Tommy Schutt, should allow the Buckeyes to go 3-deep at every line position. The linebacking corps, although young, should be much faster than a year ago. Seniors Storm Klein and Etienne Sabino are steady tacklers while sophomores Curtis Grant and Ryan Shazier are primed for breakout seasons. The secondary returns five players with starting experience, including lockdown corners Travis Howard and Bradley Roby. Juniors C.J. Barnett (75 tackles) and Christian Bryant (70 tackles) give OSU two ballhawking safeties.

Impact Newcomer: Last year’s starting running back Dan Herron has since departed, leaving an opening in the backfield alongside junior Carlos Hyde. Bri’onte Dunn, a freshman from Canton, Ohio enrolled at Ohio State in January and should be well acquainted with Urban Meyer’s offense after going through spring practice with the Buckeyes. The 6’2 215 four star recruit could sneak into a backup role and should get around 20-30 touches this fall.

Wide receiver Devin Smith (Jeremy Wadsworth, The Blade)

X Factor: A major goal of Urban Meyer’s first season in Columbus will be to improve a passing attack that ranked last in the Big Ten and 115th nationally at 127 yards-per-game. While Braxton Miller should be a much better passer this fall, the amount of experienced talent surrounding him still appears limited following the graduation of receiver DeVier Posey and the dismissal of tight end Jake Stoneburner. To make matters worse, depth along the offensive line looks very thin. Ohio State needs a big year from receivers Corey Brown, Devin Smith, Chris Fields, and Mike Thomas if they plan to see any improvement in the passing game.

2012 Ohio State Buckeyes Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time/TV Tickets
Saturday
09/01/12
RedHawks Miami (OH) RedHawks 
Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH
12:00 p.m. ET
BTN & BTN2Go
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
09/08/12
Knights UCF Knights 
Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH
12:00 p.m. ET
ESPN2
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
09/15/12
Golden Bears California Golden Bears 
Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH
12:00 p.m. ET
ABC
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
09/22/12
Blazers UAB Blazers 
Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
09/29/12
Spartans at Michigan State Spartans 
Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
10/06/12
Cornhuskers Nebraska Cornhuskers (HC)
Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH
8:00 p.m. ET
ABC/ESPN/2 TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
10/13/12
Hoosiers at Indiana Hoosiers 
Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, IN
8:00 p.m. ET
BTN & BTN2Go
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
10/20/12
Boilermakers Purdue Boilermakers 
Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
10/27/12
Nittany Lions at Penn State Nittany Lions 
Beaver Stadium, University Park, PA
6:00 p.m. ET
ESPN or ESPN2
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
11/03/12
Fighting Illini Illinois Fighting Illini 
Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
11/10/12
Open Date
Saturday
11/17/12
Badgers at Wisconsin Badgers 
Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, WI
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
11/24/12
Wolverines Michigan Wolverines 
Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH
12:00 p.m. ET
ABC
Buy
Tickets

Schedule Outlook: The Buckeyes open up with four home non-conference games before rattling off six Big Ten games in consecutive weeks. Following a bye, OSU travels to Madison to take on the Badgers before facing Michigan in Columbus on November 24th to end the year. NCAA sanctions will hold Ohio State out of postseason play for this season, but Urban Meyer will certainly find other ways to motivate his young squad. The defense should be better in 2012/2013 and will allow Ohio State to stay in games they may not deserve to win. If the offense, led by Miller, can make strides in the passing game, a nine win season does not appear to be a pipe dream. A conference slate that includes road trips to East Lansing, State College, and Madison will be tough to overcome, though, and that is why Ohio State currently lies just outside Gridiron Digest’s Preseason Top 25 Poll.

Grayson High School defensive end Robert Nkemdiche (Andrew McMurtrie, Gwinnett Daily Post)

Robert Nkemdiche, the best high school football player in the country according to Rivals, ESPN, and Scout, verbally committed to Clemson just minutes ago after meeting with head coach Dabo Swinney. Rumors of Nkemdiche’s impending commitment have been swirling all day after the prospect’s high school teammate, cornerback David Kamara, pledged to the Tigers yesterday.

Alabama was long believed to be the front-runner for Nkemdiche’s services, followed by LSU, Georgia, Ole Miss, and finally, Clemson. It cannot be understated how big of a coup this is for the Tigers; despite Swinney’s flaws as a coach, the man is one heck of a recruiter. Nkemdiche cannot sign with Clemson until February, and it remains to be seen if his commitment will hold for the next eight months. Recruits often suffer a “visit high” by quickly committing to a school after taking a campus visit only to back off their pledge soon after; I would not count out Alabama or Georgia for Nkemdiche just yet.

Nkemdiche, 6’5 265 pounds, is a consensus 5 star prospect and the top defensive end recruit nationally. Robert attends Grayson High School in Loganville, Georgia. Highlights can be found here.

Quarterback Landry Jones led the Sooners to a quick 6-0 start in 2011/2012 (Ronald Martinez, Getty Images)

2012 Review: The Sooners began last season with a bevy of expectations. Quarterback Landry Jones and wide receiver Ryan Broyles were billed as one of the top offensive duos in the country, and a defense laden with savvy veterans was deemed good enough to justify a preseason #1 ranking for OU. For the first six games of the year, this enormous hype seemed warranted as Oklahoma charged to a 6-0 start, outscoring their opponents 272-95. Things began to fall apart for Oklahoma in week 8 during a 41-38 home loss to Texas Tech. The potent Sooner offense was exposed for being entirely one-dimensional, and the Oklahoma secondary, which was expected to be a team strength, was surrendering far too many yards. Two weeks later, Broyles tore his ACL, and OU’s national title hopes seemed to be shredded along with it. Oklahoma still managed to finish a respectable 10-3, and a horde of talent returns on both sides of the ball in 2012/2013.

Sooner wideout Kenny Stills (Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman)

Offense: Quarterback Landry Jones already holds the record for career passing yards at Oklahoma, and should rewrite the entire OU record books in 2012/2013 barring any major injury. Once dubbed as a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate, Jones should be one the Big-12’s top signal-callers despite a disappointing end to last season. His backup, Blake Bell, is a powerful runner who excels in goal line situations. The Sooners had a four-man running back rotation last season, led by former walk-on Dominique Whaley. Whaley, a junior, will be competing for carries with fellow juniors Brennan Clay and Roy Finch, along with sophomore Brandon Williams. Five offensive linemen with starting experience are back, including All-Big 12 performers Gabe Ikard and Tyler Evans. This group only allowed 9 sacks a season ago and should be a team strength once again. Receiver Kenny Stills, who caught 61 passes for 849 yards last year, is now the clear-cut number one target for Jones following the graduation of Ryan Broyles. The remainder of the receiving corps is entirely unknown, as projected starters Jaz Reynolds and Kameel Jackson were recently dismissed from the team.

Tom Wort highlights an imposing group of Sooner linebackers (Wesley Hitt, Getty Images)

Defense: Former Arizona head coach Mike Stoops is the new defensive coordinator at OU following the defection of Brent Venables to Clemson. He’ll have seven returning starters to work with from a defense that allowed 383 yards per game; good for 62nd in the country. Three former All Big-12 performers must be replaced, them being defensive ends Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis and linebacker Travis Lewis. The linebacking corps should be just fine, as Tom Wort (71 tackles, 3.5 sacks), Corey Nelson (59 tackles, 5.5 sacks), and Tony Jefferson (74 tackles, 4.5 sacks) spearhead a talented unit. Three starters return in the secondary, led by senior corner Demontre Hurst, but significant improvement must be made. The Sooners were 83rd in the country in pass defense a year ago, giving up 244 yards per game. Four seniors are lined up to start along the defensive line, led by tackles Casey Walker and Jamarkus McFarland. Former 5-star end R.J. Washington should have a productive year after a 5 sack 2011/2012 campaign.

Trey Metoyer could have a big year at receiver for OU (rivals.com)

Impact Newcomers: As part of Oklahoma’s 2012 recruiting class, Coach Bob Stoops signed five wide receivers rated with at least four stars. Seeing as only one receiver with starting experience returns for the Sooners, the opportunity is available for one or more incoming pass-catchers to make an impact for OU. Junior college transfers Trey Metoyer and Courtney Gardner will be counted on heavily in 2012/2013. Both have the necessary size (6’2 and 6’3) and speed (4.5 and 4.4 forties) to compete right away in the Big 12.

X Factor: The play of the young Oklahoma wide receivers will determine how successful OU is in 2012/2013. Former Sooners Jaz Reynolds and Kameel Jackson were the projected second and third receivers for Landry Jones until about a month ago, when both were suspended indefinitely by Coach Stoops. The two have since been removed from scholarship, leaving the door wide open for the five incoming Sooner receivers. The good news is that Metoyer simply dominated spring camp and has been praised by the coaches ever since he arrived in Norman.

2012 Oklahoma Sooners Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time/TV Tickets
Saturday
09/01/12
Miners at UTEP Miners
Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, TX
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
09/08/12
Rattlers Florida A&M Rattlers
Gaylord Family OK Mem. Stadium, Norman, OK
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
09/15/12
Open Date
Saturday
09/22/12
Wildcats Kansas State Wildcats 
Gaylord Family OK Mem. Stadium, Norman, OK
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
09/29/12
Open Date
Saturday
10/06/12
Red Raiders at Texas Tech Red Raiders 
Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock, TX
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
10/13/12
Longhorns Texas Longhorns
Cotton Bowl, Dallas, TX
Time TBA
ABC
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
10/20/12
Jayhawks Kansas Jayhawks 
Gaylord Family OK Mem. Stadium, Norman, OK
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
10/27/12
Fighting Irish Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Gaylord Family OK Mem. Stadium, Norman, OK
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
11/03/12
Cyclones at Iowa State Cyclones 
Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
11/10/12
Bears Baylor Bears 
Gaylord Family OK Mem. Stadium, Norman, OK
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
11/17/12
Mountaineers at West Virginia Mountaineers 
Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, WV
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
11/24/12
Cowboys Oklahoma State Cowboys 
Gaylord Family OK Mem. Stadium, Norman, OK
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
12/01/12
Horned Frogs at TCU Horned Frogs 
Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, TX
TBA Buy
Tickets

Schedule Outlook: The season begins with two walk-throughs before the Sooners face off with conference rival Kansas State in Norman. OU then travels to Texas Tech for a tough road game before meeting Texas in Dallas for the Red River Rivalry. Few teams will have a more challenging four game stretch to end the season than Oklahoma, as they play Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and TCU in consecutive weeks. Although I’m nowhere near as confident about the Sooners as I was a few weeks ago, I still see Bob Stoops’ squad as a 9 or 10 win team. There are still major question marks at running back, receiver, and in the secondary, but there’s simply too much talent at quarterback, offensive line, and in the defensive front seven for Oklahoma to lose more than 2 or 3 games. If OU can get by Kansas State on September 22nd, the schedule sets up nicely for a potential Big 12 title run.

Another disappointing season in Knoxville could spell doom for coach Derek Dooley (photo credit: al.com)

Dear Dave Hart  (AD at the University of Tennessee),

I write to you today as a fan of college football. More so, however, I am writing to you as an optimistic person; somebody who believes in honesty, integrity, and justice. As you must know, your head football coach, Derek Dooley, is one of the most scrutinized coaches in the country. Few men enter 2012/2013 with more pressure from the national and local media to succeed. Tennessee football is about excellence, and the 22 players that Coach Dooley has placed on the field during his tenure have certainly been far from excellent. Despite the numerous poor performances that the orange-clad UT fans have witnessed at Neyland Stadium during the past two seasons, I believe Coach Dooley has made significant progress in rebuilding this historic Volunteer football program and that he deserves to keep his job. The purpose of this letter is to convince you of this idea that I accept wholeheartedly to be the truth.

When Derek Dooley became head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers in 2010, he inherited one of the worst rosters in the Southeastern Conference. The firing of former coach Phillip Fulmer followed by the subsequent hiring of Lane Kiffin caused many Vol players to transfer and numerous Tennessee recruits to sign elsewhere. When Kiffin left Knoxville to accept the head coaching job at USC one year later, this attrition only worsened. Dooley was left with a roster made up of way too few scholarship players and way too many walk-ons. At this point, it was clear that Tennessee had a multi-year rebuilding job ahead of them.

Nothing illuminates Coach Dooley’s attrition problem more than what happened to Lane Kiffin’s 2009 recruiting class; the Tennessee Vol seniors in 2012/2013. The class consisted of 22 players, 11 of whom were ranked with at least 4 stars by Rivals.com. This highly-regarded collection of talent was expected to return Tennessee football to national prominence. Then, everything went wrong. Kiffin departed for Southern Cal, and over the course of three years, 13 of the 22 players who originally signed with the Vols left the team, including top ranked players Bryce Brown and Janzen Jackson. A mere 40% of the original class remains on scholarship, and only one player from the entire class of 2009 is expected to start for the Vols next season, that being defensive end Marlon Walls.

Receiver Da’Rick Rogers is one of the reasons Tennessee football has a bright future (Times Free Press)

In addition to roster erosion, Tennessee also has had terrible luck with injuries under Coach Dooley. Following a surprising 6-win 2010 campaign, the Vols entered 2011 with cautious signs of hope. Some impressive young players were expected to make significant strides last season such as quarterback Tyler Bray, and wide receivers Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter. Rogers’ emerged as one of the top performers in the SEC, when he snagged 67 passes for 1,040 yards and 9 touchdowns. The same cannot be said for Bray and Hunter, though. Hunter tore his ACL in the third game of the season, while Bray broke his thumb two games later against Georgia and was nowhere near 100% for the rest of the year. Without two of of its top players, the Vol offense sputtered, and a promising 3-1 start ended as a disappointing 5-7 finish. All three players are now healthy as we head into the 2012/2013 season.

The Southeastern Conference is no safe place for teams lacking top talent and quality depth; just ask Kentucky. For reasons out of Coach Derek Dooley’s control, talent and depth have been severely deficient in Knoxville over the past few seasons, and it’s unfair to blame Dooley for the lack of wins during his tenure. With each recruiting class, the outlook on Tennessee football only gets brighter, and it’s no stretch to say that the Vols could be competing for SEC championships within the next three years. So, Mr. Hart, I petition that you respect the contract of your head football coach Derek Dooley and allow him to rebuild Tennessee football into what it deserves to be: a winner.

Sincerely,

Griffin Hanekamp

Editor & Author – Gridiron Digest

USC Commit Su’a Cravens (espn.com)

The nation’s #1 safety and #8 overall player, Su’a Cravens, committed to USC and coach Lane Kiffin on Wednesday. The 5-star prospect chose the Trojans over UCLA, Michigan, Nebraska, and Ohio State; USC was long believed to be the front runner for his services. Cravens hails from Murrieta, California and attends Vista Murrieta High School. The soon-to-be senior has the speed of a safety but the frame of an outside linebacker. Cravens stands 6’1, weighs 205 pounds, and runs the forty yard dash in 4.5 seconds. Cravens’ impressive size and athleticism make him a candidate for early playing time in coordinator Monte Kiffin’s defense.  Cravens committed to USC in the form of a handwritten letter, which stated:

“When I was growing up, USC was a dominant force in college football. I have great memories of those teams. When the sanctions came down, I felt bad for the players and the program.

“Although I had many college choices, I was not going to turn my back on USC. I want to be a part of another great USC run and I believe the players and staff that are there now are perfect for such a run.

“With the talented recruits that are headed there, along with the top notch education, SC was an offer I could not refuse. It will be an honor and a challenge to play for one of the most stories college football programs in the country. A program that has produced so many great players.”

Cravens becomes the 8th member of USC’s 2013 recruiting class, which had previously been ranked 11th in the country. (The Trojans will definitely rise with the addition of Cravens) The class now consists of three 5-star prospects and five 4-star prospects, giving USC an average star ranking of 4.29, the highest of any class in the country.

 

Highlight film on Su’a Cravens can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjTBtu0c0TI

Fort Wayne linebacker Jaylon Smith (photo credit: rivals.com)

Jaylon Smith, the #1 rated outside linebacker and #4 player overall according to Rivals.com committed to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Coach Brian Kelly last night. Smith becomes the 13th member of ND’s 2013 recruiting class, which is currently ranked as the 9th best in the country per Rivals. The 5-star prospect had offers from such programs as Alabama, Florida, Florida State, and Oklahoma, but Smith ultimately chose the Irish over USC and Ohio State. Jaylon stands 6’3, weighs 220 pounds, and maintains a 2.9 GPA at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Early playing time and proximity to home were major factors in Smith’s recruitment as he is quoted saying:

Honestly, it was really just so close to home. It’s about an hour and 40 minutes away. Every athlete wants to stay close to their mother. That really played a big part. And just opportunity. I really don’t have any fear of any athlete. I think I can play wherever I chose to … I believe they have three starting linebackers leaving my incoming year. So it’s just a great opportunity just to get this over with.

Jaylon’s Smith’s commitment is an important one for Notre Dame for two reasons. First, Smith fills a major position of need for the Irish, as two starting linebackers, including All-American Manti Te’o, and one quality backup graduate after this season. Secondly, Smith is the second 5-star in-state recruit to commit to the Irish in the past two years, joining current ND quarterback Gunner Kiel. The state of Indiana does not typically produce a surplus of top notch FBS prospects, so, when these players do come around, Notre Dame needs to lock them up.

Highlight film on Jaylon Smith can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4T_9a7X6ZE

Although there were many, the most impressive characteristics I saw on Smith’s film were his great instincts, body control, and elusiveness. The Irish commit also plays with a very low pad level, which effectively helps him shed blocks at linebacker and avoid would-be tacklers at running back; he plays both positions for Bishop Luers.