Athlon previews the coming week of gridiron action in the Big Ten Conference.
It has certainly been a tumultuous offseason for the Big Ten. Jim Delany battled Mike Slive in playoff negotiations that completely restructed the way college football determines a national champion. Ohio State, now with Urban Meyer leading the way, and Michigan appear to be entering a golden age in the Buckeyes-Wolverines rivarly. Illinois has hired its own new head coach. And Penn State football will take the field for the first time since Joe Paterno's passing. Needless to say, the first weekend of Big Ten action will have no shortage of plotlines.
Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase could play major role in conference race
On Monday, teams around the nation will move from preseason camp mode and into game-week preparation.
We’re starting to see coaches name starting quarterbacks and settle on position battles.
Although questions are still out there before the season, some weigh more heavily than others. As the preseason winds down, we’re picking who we believe to be “pivotal players,” or in other words, key players who need to step up where their teams need them most.
Athlon Sports’ characteristics of a “pivotal player:”
South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney is primed for a monster 2012 season.
Winning the battle in the trenches is crucial to claiming college football's national championship. The SEC has claimed six consecutive national titles, so it should come as no surprise this conference has some of the top defensive linemen. South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney is in for a monster sophomore season, while LSU's Sam Montgomery will make a run at first-team All-American honors. The SEC is represented in the defensive tackles, as four of the top 10 reside from the conference.
Every college football season brings the next wave of All-Americans into the spotlight.
With college football's fall practice in full swing around the nation, it's really the first time names made famous on recruiting websites are showing up in actual practice reports. When it comes to picking which freshmen will make an impact in their first season on campus, it's really all about who can pick up the playbook the fastest and who fits a need. The Big Ten's most powerful program may have lost seven games last year, but Ohio State fans know exactly what a uber-freshman can do for a program.
Arkansas' Knile Davis is back after missing 2011 with an ankle injury.
Injuries are a big part of any college football season. 2011 was no different, as losing Knile Davis was a key setback to Arkansas' hopes of winning the SEC West last year, while Missouri's offensive line had to shuffle some players around after Elvis Fisher was lost for the year with a knee injury.
Although those players were missed in 2011, their return to the gridiron is an even bigger storyline for 2012.
It's not easy getting college football coaches to honestly comment on another coach, player or team. Most coaches don't want to give opposing teams billboard material, which is why there is a lot of coach speak during the year. In order to get an accurate assessment of teams heading into 2012, Athlon asked coaches in the Big Ten to talk anonymously about their opponents.
Wisconsin's Montee Ball should be in for another big season.
As usual, the Big Ten should produce plenty of elite defensive talent this season. Ohio State's John Simon and Michigan State's William Gholston should be two of the top defensive ends in college football, while Purdue's Kawann Short should be a household name by the end of the year. The offensive side of the ball isn't bad, but the conference lost several key offensive linemen and receivers.
Ohio State needs to find some weapons around QB Braxton Miller.
Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. However, plenty of unanswered questions remain around the nation for every team. Injuries, quarterback battles and players that need to step up to make a run at the conference title will all be under the spotlight over the next couple of weeks.
The Big Ten's 10 Biggest Storylines to Watch in Fall Practice
Max Bullough leads a deep Michigan State linebacking corps.
Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is still two months away, but it's never too early to project how the year might play out. Athlon will be taking a look at how each position stacks up in the BCS conferences and nationally until the start of the season.
Each unit ranking was evaluated based upon how it will perform in 2012 - not how the team played in 2011.