Wisconsin had lost to Michigan by a combined 176-0 in the previous four meetings, but the Badgers shocked the top-ranked Wolverines 21-14 in the 1981 season-opener. Led by Anthony Carter and Butch Woolfork, Michigan carried a nine-game winning streak into the new season, but Jess Cole threw for two touchdowns and Wisconsin limited Carter to just one catch as the Badgers pulled off the upset.
With a 31-yard scamper against Iowa, Ron Dayne became college football's all-time leading rusher, eclipsing the mark set by Texas running back Ricky Williams in 1998. Dayne's run came during a 41-3 rout of Iowa that clinched Wisconsin's second straight trip to the Rose Bowl. Dayne, who still holds the record, went on to win the Heisman Trophy, then ran for 200 yards in a 17-9 Rose Bowl win over Stanford.
Wisconsin jumped all over No. 1 Ohio State and recorded an impressive 31-18 victory before a delirious Saturday night crowd at Camp Randall Stadium. John Clay ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns and David Gilreath ran the opening kickoff back 97 yards for a score. Wisconsin's lead dropped from 21-0 to 21-18, but the Badgers bullied their way to the game's final 10 points before a sea of red-clad fans stormed the field.
An underdog Wisconsin team, called 'the worst team to ever play in the Rose Bowl' by CBS analyst Craig James, outscored high-scoring UCLA 38-31 thanks to a remarkable day from running back Ron Dayne. The burly back scored four touchdowns and ran for 246 yards and Jamar Fletcher returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown to give Wisconsin an 11-1 record and No. 6 final ranking.
Wisconsin capped its first winning season since 1984 with its first Rose Bowl win. The Badgers beat UCLA 21-16 thanks to Brent Moss' 158 yards and two touchdowns and quarterback Darrell Bevell's unlikely 21-yard scramble for a touchdown. Coach Barry Alvarez completed his turnaround from 1-10 in his first year to Rose Bowl champions in his fourth.
Athlon looks at the 10 greatest players since 1967.
Brown is certainly best known for his MVP performance in Super Bowl XXX in which he intercepted two passes to help Dallas win its – and his – third Championship. He was the first cornerback to ever win the Super Bowl MVP trophy, but he was also a standout in another part of the Metroplex — Ft. Worth, Texas. Brown was drafted in the 12th round of the 1991 NFL Draft by the Cowboys.
The Sweeny, Texas, native played in 50 games, starting the final 39 consecutive, in his storied Frogs career. He finished his career with 228 tackles, 25.0 tackles for a loss, 9.0 sacks, four interceptions and 19 pass breakups. Carder was named to the All-Mountain West team as a sophomore before landing on six All-American teams as a junior. In 2010, Carder helped lead what is arguably the best team in school history as TCU beat Wisconsin in its only BCS bowl victory in program history in the Rose Bowl. The linebacker was named game MVP and earned Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year honors. In 2011, he earned his second Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year award and landed on his second All-American team in as many years. TCU never won fewer than 11 games during his tenure and he ended his career on a team that went 47-5.
The second-most famous Schobel to suit up for TCU, Bo set the single-season sack record with 17.0 QB sacks in 2003. His 120 yards lost on tackles that same year were second-best in school history as well. Despite missing an entire season with a torn ACL, he posted 28.5 career sacks, putting him third all-time in TCU history. Schobel was selected in the fourth round of the 2004 NFL Draft by the Titans. He earned a Super Bowl ring with the Colts as a back-up in 2006.
Davis left school as TCU’s most productive running back — a status that lasted nearly two decades (see No. 1 on this list). He finished his career with a then-school record 2,904 yards and 24 rushing touchdowns. His junior season of 1,611 yards and 16 TDs earned him consensus All-America honors, a 5th-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting and the single-season rushing record for any Frog — a mark that also lasted nearly two decades. His career numbers would have been dramatically better had he not been suspended for all but one game during his senior season, leaving Frogs fans to wonder what could have been after the 24-carry, 152-yard season debut. Davis was selected in the 2nd round of the 1986 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers.
The three-time all-conference performer is TCU’s all-time leading receiver with 2,739 yards in his four-year career. He also caught at least 21 passes in every season, finishing with 162 career receptions — good for second-best in school history. His 10 TD catches in 1977 are a single-season school record, and his 17 career scoring catches are tied for the top mark in Frogs history (Cory Rodgers). The Houston Oilers selected Renfro with in the fourth round of the 1978 draft. He played 10 years in the NFL for both the Oilers and the Cowboys.
Until Andy Dalton arrived, Knake pretty much owned the TCU passing record book as a three-year starter under center. He set the single-season record with 2,624 yards in 1994 as well as the single-season TD record with 24. His 49 career TD passes and 7,370 yards were both school records when Knake left school. Single-season and career pass attempts and completions records were also set by Knake during his time at TCU. The gritty quarterback led the Frogs back to a bowl game for the first time in a decade (1994 Independence Bowl, where they lost to Virginia).
The older cousin of Bo Schobel, Aaron set a school record for sacks in a single season when he registered 10.0 in 1999. Although two other players on this list have since broken that mark, his 31.0 career sacks remain a TCU career record for sacks. Schobel is also the career leader in yards lost by tackling with 315 yards lost. He earned WAC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2000. After dominating offensive lines for four seasons in Ft. Worth, Schobel was selected in the 2nd round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. From 2003 to 2008, he went on to start 116 straight games and made two trips to the Pro Bowl.
Hughes capped one of the most dominating careers in school history in 2009, when he became only the second Frog to earn two-time consensus first-team All-America honors. Hughes’ 15.0 sacks in 2008 led the nation and were good for second all-time in school history. He followed that year up with 11.5 sacks, helping lead TCU to a 12-0 record and the school’s first BCS Bowl berth. Hughes won the Lott and Hendricks Award as a senior, finishing second all-time with 28.5 career sacks. He also owns the No. 2 and No. 3 best single-season sack marks. The Colts selected Hughes in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft with the 30th overall pick.
The red-headed signal caller has left an indelible mark on the TCU program, producing the best four-year run of success in school history. The two-time Mountain West Conference Player of the Year was 42-7 as the starter — including two BCS Bowl berths and a Rose Bowl championship. The win over Wisconsin last winter saw Dalton win his third bowl game MVP trophy (Texas Bowl, Poinsettia Bowl) after a 247-yard performance against the stout UW defense. As expected, Dalton completely rewrote the TCU passing record book as a senior. He set the single-season TD mark with 27 in 2010 as well as the single-season accuracy record at 66.1% completion percentage. His 61.7% career completion mark is also a school record. He became the all-time leader in total offense for not only TCU history but MWC history as well (11,925 yards). His 10,314 passing yards and 71 passing TDs are both school records. His 22 rushing touchdowns are actually good for seventh all-time in Ft. Worth. He finished with 1,611 rushing yards as well.
LT was an unheralded recruit when he arrived at TCU in 1997 from Waco’s University High. After two solid seasons — 538 yards and six TDs as a freshman, 717 yards and eight TDs as a sophomore — Tomlinson exploded onto the national scene. His 269 yards against Arkansas State and 300 yards against San Jose State merely set the stage for his NCAA record-breaking 406 yards against UTEP. He carried the ball 43 times and set a school record with six touchdowns against the Miners. His 1,850 yards led the nation in rushing in 1999, but Tomlinson upped the ante as a senior when he posted the Frogs’ first 2,000-yard season. His 2,158 yards were not only a school and conference record, but also led the nation in rushing and placed as the fourth-best rushing season in NCAA history (at the time). He owns every major rushing record at TCU, while his 5,263 yards rank sixth all-time in NCAA history. As a senior, Tomlinson was a Heisman finalist and claimed the Doak Walker Award as the best running back in the nation. He finished his TCU career with 907 carries — at a 5.8 yards per attempt clip — and 54 rushing TDs. As the fifth overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft by the Chargers, LT went on to become arguably the greatest NFL running back to ever play the game.
HEAD COACH: Bo Pelini, 49-20 (5 years) |
OFF. COORDINATOR: Tim Beck |
DEF. COORDINATOR: John Papuchis
Optimism about the offense begins with quarterback Taylor Martinez, a fourth-year starter. He has been risk-reward throughout his career, however. Last season, for example, he set school records with 3,890 yards of total offense and 33 touchdowns passing and rushing. His passing yardage and TD passes were both the third-most in Husker history, and he was only the fourth Nebraska quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. On the negative side, he was turnover-prone, losing 8-of-16 fumbles and throwing 12 interceptions.
Ameer Abdullah was technically the No. 2 tailback but stepped up when the departed Rex Burkhead battled a knee injury, starting seven games and rushing for 1,137 yards and eight touchdowns. Imani Cross, the only other experienced I-back, is trying to prove that he’s more than a third down back.
The top three receivers return: Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner. But Jake Long is the only experienced tight end, a position at which the Huskers have traditionally been solid.
The line again is built around first-team All-Big Ten and second-team All-America guard Spencer Long, an aggressive run-blocker, as well as three veteran tackles.
Coach Bo Pelini is spending more time with the defense, his area of expertise, a change that began a year ago. In addition, the defensive staff has a year’s worth experience working with second-year coordinator John Papuchis. Line coach Rick Kaczenski and secondary coach Terry Joseph were new last season; linebackers coach Ross Els was new the year before.
There’s experience and depth in the secondary. Cornerbacks Ciante Evans, Andrew Green, Josh Mitchell and Stanley Jean-Baptiste all have been starters.
In contrast, the defensive line has only two players with significant experience — end Jason Ankrah and tackle Thad Randle, who battled injuries last season. The plan is to utilize several players up front, some of whom could play both inside and outside.
The starting linebackers are new, with Zaire Anderson, a former junior college transfer who started one game in 2012 before undergoing knee surgery, and David Santos leading the way. True freshman Courtney Love might make an immediate impact.
" alt="" />
Taylor Martinez, QB – Has a Nebraska-record 39 starts at quarterback and ranks eighth all-time in rushing with 2,858 yards and 31 rushing TDs.
Ameer Abdullah, IB – Rushed for 1,137 yards and eight TDs, earning coaches’ second-team All-Big Ten honors.
Kenny Bell, WR – Second-team All-Big Ten pick caught 50 passes for 863 yards and eight touchdowns.
Nebraska hasn’t been concerned with kicking under Pelini, with Alex Henery for three seasons and then Brett Maher the last two seasons. Mauro Bondi backed up Maher two seasons ago then redshirted in 2012. Unlike Maher or Henery, Bondi was a scholarship recruit, with an impressive résumé out of high school. He has kicked only one extra point at Nebraska, however, so he’s an unknown quantity. Henery and Maher punted as well, and Bondi could follow them. But redshirt freshman walk-on Sam Foltz appears to have the edge there. The loss of long-snapper P.J. Mangieri also is significant.
Five seasons into his tenure, Pelini has gotten the program back on track, winning at least nine games in each of those seasons and playing for a conference title three times. But the Huskers have yet to win a championship, and they’ve lost their last three bowls.
The offense is championship caliber and is directed by a veteran quarterback. The main concern is the development of a line with two new starters. But the defense is inexperienced everywhere except at cornerback, and a question mark coming off a season in which it allowed a staggering 214 points and 2,380 yards in four losses.
The schedule sets up well, with eight home games and no Ohio State or Wisconsin in Big Ten interdivisional play. The Huskers could well be 8–0 going to Michigan in early November.
This elite defensive end is one of very few people to win a championship on every level of play. In fact, Wistrom landed three National Championships while in Lincoln – 1994, 1995, 1997. The Huskers went 49-2 in Wistrom’s tenure in college, and the talented end was one of very few freshman to contribute on the ’94 title team. The two-time consensus All-American was the fourth Lombardi Award winner in school history after his stellar ’97 season. He posted 51 tackles, 8.5 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss that year. Wistrom earned Defensive Player of the Year honors in the Big 12 when he posted 75 tackles, 9.5 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss in 1996. Overall, Wistrom holds the school record for tackles for a loss with 58.5 and ranks second all-time with 26.5 sacks. He was selected with the sixth overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams and was inducted into the NCAA Hall of Fame in 2009.
College or pro, Shields is one of the greatest blockers in the history of the game. The list of awards and acclaim is long and distinguished. Shields helped the Huskers lead the nation in rushing in three of his four seasons as a starter. He is one of 16 Huskers to have their numbers retired. He was a three-time all-conference performer. But his best season was his final year in Lincoln, when Shields won the prestigious Outland Trophy as the best lineman in the nation. He was a consensus All-American that season and a Lombardi semifinalist as well. Shields fell to the third round, where the Kansas City Chiefs selected the 12-time Pro Bowler.
Crouch was yo-yoed in and out of the lineup during his first year and nearly left the team after his second season in Lincoln. But in week three of the 1999 season, Crouch took over for good and led the Huskers to a Big 12 championship and a 12-1 record. In 2000, he led the Huskers to a 10-2 mark, setting the stage for a massive 2001 campaign. In only the first game of the season, Crouch passed Tommie Frazier as the school’s all-time total offense leader. Records then began to fall weekly. He became the Big 12’s all-time leading rushing quarterback against Rice. The next week against Mizzou, his 95-yard TD run was the longest in school history. The following week against Iowa State, Crouch broke the record for TDs by a quarterback. After becoming only the fourth player in D-1 history with 3,000 yards rushing and passing, Crouch ran his most famous play, Black 41 Flash Reverse Pass. As both QB and WR, Crouch likely won the Heisman Trophy by catching a 63-yard TD pass against the Sooners. He set school records for wins by a QB (35–7), led the team to an 11–1 record and a berth in the national title game. He claimed the 2001 Heisman, Davey O’Brien and Walter Camp awards.
As one of the school’s most electric players, Rodgers has the honor of being the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner. “The Jet” was a stellar return specialist, receiver and running back totaling 5,586 all-purpose yards, a number that still stands as a career Nebraska record. His 1,983 yards in 1971 were a single-season record until he broke his own mark with 2,011 yards the following year (since broken). Rodgers has been described as the greatest returner in college football history, as his seven career punt return TDs stood as a record for decades. Rodgers also set Nebraska school records for receptions with 143 and yards with 2,479. He played on two National Championship teams (1970, 1971) as NU posted a 32-2-2 mark during his tenure. Despite being drafted in the first round of the 1973 NFL Draft by the Chargers, Rodgers instead signed a contract with the Montreal Alouettes. Rodgers was inducted into the NCAA Hall of Fame in 2000. As a side note, Rodgers is the only player to be convicted of a felony prior to receiving the Heisman Trophy.
After playing alongside arguably the best center to ever play (Dave Rimington), Steinkuhler won the school's third consecutive Outland Trophy as the nation’s top lineman in 1983, after Rimington had claimed the award in 1981 and 1982. Steinkuhler also claimed the Lombardi Award for Nebraska for the second year in a row. Nebraska is the only team that has had consecutive winners of both the Outland and Lombardi awards. Steinkuhler is one of 16 players to have their Nebraska number retired and is the player who made the “Fumblerooski” famous when he picked up Turner Gill’s intentional fumble in the 1984 Orange Bowl and rumbled 19 yards for a touchdown. The Houston Oilers selected the big ugly with the second overall pick in the 1984 NFL Draft.
The list of accolades for Rimington is astounding. He was a two-time consensus All-American (1981, 1982). He won Big-8 Player of the Year in 1981 — the only time an offensive lineman earned such honors. He claimed back-to-back Outland Trophies as the nation’s top lineman — and is the award's only two-time winner. He claimed the Lombardi Award in 1982 as well and finished fifth in the Heisman voting. He is one of 16 Huskers to have his jersey retired and was inducted into the NCAA Hall of Fame in 1997. Rimington was such a dominant force at center that now the award given to the nation’s top center each year carries his name. The stellar hog molly was drafted with the 25th pick in the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
“The greatest defensive player I ever saw,” is how former NU coach Bob Devaney described Glover. In 1972, Glover won the program’s first Lombardi Award and the school’s second ever Outland Trophy. He was the first player in school history to win both awards. As a two-time consensus All-American, Glover led the Big Red defense to back-to-back National Championships in 1970 and 1971, leading the team in tackles in with 92 stops in '71. The following year Glover landed Big 8 Defensive Player of the Year honors and finished third in the Heisman voting (teammate Johnny Rodgers won the Heisman that year). He had his number retired by the Huskers and was inducted into the NCAA Hall of Fame in 1995. He was drafted in the third round of the 1973 NFL Draft by the New York Giants.
Suh was arguably the most dominant defensive lineman of the last twenty seasons in all of college football; there are fewer awards that he didn't win than those he earned. He earned freshman all-league honors as a redshirt freshman. As a junior, Suh became the first defensive tackle to lead the team in tackles (76) since 1973. He also led the team in tackles for a loss (19.0), posted 7.5 sacks and returned two INTs for touchdowns. He also caught a TD while moonlighting as a fullback. In 2009, Suh made 85 stops, 12 sacks, 24 tackles for a loss, three blocked kicks and one very huge interception against Mizzou. Suh dominated awards night that season, earning the Nagurski Trophy for top defensive player in the nation, the Outland Trophy for best interior lineman, the Lombardi for the top lineman or linebacker and Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player. The unanimous All-American was a Heisman finalist in 2009, finishing fourth. Suh was taken with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions and took home NFL Rookie of the Year honors.
In just three seasons, the two-time All-American became Nebraska’s all-time leading rusher with 4,780 yards. As a junior, he set the Big Red single-season rushing record with 1,689 yards while leading the Huskers to a second straight outright Big 8 championship. As a senior, Rozier posted mind-boggling numbers with 2,486 all-purpose yards, 2,148 rushing yards, 29 total TDs and 174 total points — all of which are still Nebraska single-season records. He became the school’s second Heisman Trophy winner that season leading the Huskers into the 1984 Orange Bowl against Miami for the national title. The 31-30 loss was marked by a Rozier ankle injury that kept the Heisman winner out of the fourth quarter after 138 yards at halftime. Rozier also won the Maxwell Award and the Walter Camp Player of the Year award in 1983. He was selected in the first round of both the NFL and USFL Drafts in 1984 and was inducted into the NCAA Hall of Fame in 2006.
Despite not joining Eric Crouch in winning the prestigious Heisman Trophy, Frazier is easily the greatest quarterback to ever play for Nebraska — a program with a long list of elite quarterbacks. Frazier posted a 33-3 record as a starter and won back-to-back National Championships in 1994 and 1995. It would have been three straight championships had NU managed to convert a last-second field goal in the 1994 Orange Bowl. Despite blood clots in his leg in 1994, Frazier brought the Huskers back to the title game and claimed his second straight bowl MVP award and, this time, claimed his first national title game. These first two years under center merely set the stage for the 1995 campaign, in which Frazier led what many consider the best football team in NCAA history back to its third straight title game. The greatest run in college football history — Frazier’s seven broken tackle, 75-yard TD run against Florida — capped a 62–24 romp over the vaunted Gators and gave Big Red its second straight title. Frazier was once again took home the MVP, making him the only player in history to win three MVPs in national championship games. He finished second in the Heisman balloting that season but won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and was a consensus All-American.
Down seven points with 1:02 left and with its national title hopes waning, Nebraska drove to the Missouri 12-yard line. On the last play of regulation, Scott Frost tossed a pass into the end zone that glanced first off the hands and then off the feet of Shelvin Wiggins. As the ball floated toward the turf, Matt Davison caught it, forcing overtime. The Cornhuskers prevailed, 45-38, and went on to claim a share of the national crown.
Tom Osborne had lost his first five games in a row to Oklahoma, and many in Lincoln were wondering whether he had been the right choice to succeed Bob Devaney when the top-ranked Sooners came to Lincoln to face the fourth-rated Cornhuskers. But Nebraska forced nine fumbles and recovered six en route to a stirring, 17-14 win fueled by the nasty Black Shirts defense and 113 yards rushing and a touchdown from Rick Berns.
After having lost the last seven bowl games they played against teams from Florida, number-one Nebraska took on third-rated Miami in the Orange Bowl and secured coach Tom Osborne’s first national title with a 24-17 win. The Cornhuskers spotted Miami a 17-7 lead but stormed back and clinched the win when fullback Cory Schlessinger rumbled 14 yards for a touchdown.
Number two Oklahoma invaded Lincoln for “The Game of theCentury” with the top-ranked Cornhuskers, and the contest lived up to its name. Johnny Rodgers’ 72-yard punt return opened the scoring, but Jeff Kinney’s two-yard run with 1:38 left was the decisive play in a 35-31 Nebraska triumph.
HEAD COACH: Mike Riley, 81-67 (12 years) |
OFF. COORDINATOR: Danny Langsdorf |
DEF. COORDINATOR: Mark Banker
Coach Mike Riley plans to pick a starting quarterback — either Sean Mannion or Cody Vaz — the week before the first game. It’s going to be a difficult decision, but Riley believes he can’t make a bad choice because both possess the know-how and ability to run the offense and win games.
Mannion took over as the starter two games into his redshirt freshman season in 2011. He showed a ton of upside and was named a Freshman All-American after passing for 3,328 yards and 16 touchdowns. Mannion’s sophomore season began even better as the Beavers jumped out to a 4–0 record, but a minor knee injury that required surgery forced him out of two games and began the quarterback competition when Vaz won both of his starts.
The quarterback, whether it’s Mannion or Vaz, will have many targets in the receiving corps. Brandin Cooks is the big-play threat. He had 1,151 receiving yards and is elusive after the catch. Kevin Cummings and tight end Connor Hamlett started to emerge as reliable options at the end of last season.
Running back Storm Woods should improve in his second season as a starter. He nearly topped 1,000 yards despite a lingering bruised knee. He’s healthy now and showed improved speed during spring practice. He will have the luxury of running behind a veteran offensive line that returns four starters.
The Beavers typically move the ball with ease; it’s just a matter of scoring.
The Beavers rebuilt the defensive line with junior college transfers. Siale Hautau and Edwin Delva transferred midyear to learn the tackle position in spring practice. They’ll take up blockers, which will allow aggressive defensive ends Scott Crichton, who had nine sacks, and Dylan Wynn to get after the quarterback. More junior college defensive linemen arrive in the fall. The Beavers plan to rotate up to eight players on the line.
Both starting outside linebackers return. Michael Doctor and D.J. Alexander are hard-hitting and quick. They made plays in space and covered backs out of the backfield. A middle linebacker needs to emerge, and sophomore Joel Skotte will be given a shot. If he doesn’t stick, Josh Williams is an option.
The secondary returns two safeties and a cornerback. Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman are back as safeties. Both like to support the run but also are effective in coverage. Rashaad Reynolds is the cornerback opponents avoid. He intercepted three passes and broke up 13 last season. Sean Martin and junior college transfer Steven Nelson are in competition for the other corner position. Both will play significantly now that the Beavers use nickel and dime packages on a regular basis.
" alt="" />
Brandin Cooks, WR - Gained 1,151 yards as the second receiver by being elusive and gaining yards after the catch.
Rashaad Reynolds, CB - Teams went after him, and he responded with three interceptions and 13 pass breakups.
Michael Doctor, LB - The athletic, hard-hitter led the team in tackles last year with 83. He intercepted a pass and broke up four others.
Kicker Trevor Romaine addressed the inconsistencies that plagued him as a freshman in 2011. He returned to hit 16-of-18 field goals. Punter Keith Kostol secured his position with an average of 41.9 yards on 59 attempts. Oregon State’s return game needs a boost. Jordan Poyer, the punt returner, is gone, and the Beavers’ kickoff return unit was the worst in the Pac-12 at 18.3 yards per return.
The Beavers started strong and reached the Alamo Bowl last season. One year removed from a 3–9 season, Oregon State finished in the top 25 for the first time since 2008. Riley went young two years ago, and most of those players are now upperclassmen.
Oregon and Stanford are the class the Pac-12, but Oregon State is near the top of the next tier. Contending for a league title will be tough — especially since the Beavers play in the North — but Oregon State has the talent and experience to flirt with the 10-win mark.
HEAD COACH: Pat Fitzgerald, 50-39 (7 years) |
OFF. COORDINATOR: Mick McCall |
DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Hankwitz
After transitioning to a run-based attack in 2012, Northwestern could feature one of the Big Ten’s best offenses if its line comes together. The Wildcats return almost all of their top skill players, including senior running back Venric Mark, an All-Big Ten selection who racked up 1,366 rushing yards in 2012. Mark and quarterback Kain Colter spark a zone-read run game that at times is unstoppable, particularly in the red zone.
The Wildcats will continue using a two-quarterback system of Colter and junior Trevor Siemian that proved effective for much of 2012. Although Colter is a true dual-threat while Siemian boasts a big-time arm, both must show greater consistency with the high-percentage passes that fuel the spread offense. Northwestern once again looks extremely deep at receiver and tight end but needs more production from a group that had no player eclipse 35 receptions last fall.
The offense will hinge on a line that must replace three starters and had several key players out in spring practice. Center Brandon Vitabile is an excellent cornerstone, but Northwestern needs to fill out the other four spots and maintain the physical mentality that emerged in 2012.
The defense took a step forward last season and could take another as a new emphasis on speed in recruiting is paying off. Northwestern features playmakers at all three levels and saw its takeaways (29) and sacks (28) soar in 2012.
Senior end Tyler Scott anchors the defensive line after leading the team in sacks (nine), tackles for a loss (12.5) and forced fumbles (three) in 2012. He’ll provide the power, while Dean Lowry, Deonte Gibson and Ifeadi Odenigbo bring tremendous speed as edge-rushers. The Wildcats are thin at defensive tackle and need young players to emerge.
Northwestern returns two starters at linebacker in veteran Damien Proby in the middle and Chi Chi Ariguzo, who had a role in six turnovers last season and brings a ball-hawking mentality to either outside spot. Collin Ellis and Drew Smith both will see field time.
No unit has benefited from the speed-based recruiting efforts more than the secondary, which finally boasts enough Big Ten-caliber players. Productive safety Ibraheim Campbell enters his third season as a starter, and dynamic cornerback Nick VanHoose also returns. Coach Pat Fitzgerald is excited about the depth at cornerback. Hard-hitting sophomore Traveon Henry could fill the starting safety spot opposite Campbell.
" alt="" />
Venric Mark, RB - Became Northwestern’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2006 and earned All-America honors as a punt returner.
Kain Colter, QB - Racked up 1,935 yards of total offense (894 rush, 872 pass, 169 receiving) and 20 touchdowns last season.
Tyler Scott, DE - Had breakout junior season, leading the Wildcats in sacks (nine), tackles for a loss (12.5) and forced fumbles (three).
A liability for years, Northwestern’s kicking game is suddenly a strength. The Wildcats return the Big Ten’s top kicker in Jeff Budzien, who made 19-of-20 field-goal attempts in 2012, and the league’s top return threat in Mark, who earned All-America honors as a punt returner after recording two touchdowns and averaging 18.7 yards per runback. Veteran punter Brandon Williams enters his fourth year as the starter.
Northwestern finally put its bowl bugaboo in the rear-view mirror, and with most of its core pieces back from a 10-win team, the next step is to compete for a Big Ten championship. Although Fitzgerald has elevated the program in seven years, he’s still looking for his first league title as a coach. The offense should be explosive if the line comes together in the preseason, as Mark provides the run threat Northwestern lacked for years. The defense boasts more speed, athleticism and playmakers like Scott, Ariguzo, VanHoose and Campbell. Special teams once again should be very strong.
“Now that we’ve set a benchmark for ourselves,” Siemian says, “we know that it’s unacceptable not to make it to the Big Ten championship or the Rose Bowl.”
HEAD COACH: Todd Graham, 8-5 (1 year) |
OFF. COORDINATOR: Mike Norvell |
DEF. COORDINATOR: Paul Randolph, Chris Ball
If Arizona State can find some wide receivers who can get open and catch the ball, its offense could be as explosive as any in the Pac-12. Quarterback Taylor Kelly doesn’t have the strongest arm in the conference, but he’s a superb leader, and he has a knack for being able to make big plays at the biggest moments. His ability to throw on the run and make plays with his feet has reminded some of former ASU great Jake Plummer.
The Sun Devils also return two terrific running backs in senior Marion Grice and sophomore D.J. Foster. Both players have breakaway speed, can run between the tackles and are terrific pass-catchers out of the backfield. As much as coach Todd Graham likes to run the ball, both Grice and Foster could surpass 1,000 yards rushing. Grice is the leading returning rusher with 679 yards and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. “I ask (Grice) every day after practice ‘Did you practice today like the Heisman Trophy winner?’ and he tells me yes or no,” Graham says. “He’s had quite a few practices (this spring) where he’s said yes, so I feel good about that.”
The offensive line should be solid, despite the loss of two starters, and tight end Chris Coyle is an effective weapon both down the field and on third downs. If just one of the five receivers Graham signed can contribute immediately — junior college transfer Jaelen Strong is the most likely candidate — the offense will be extremely difficult to stop.
The secondary is the concern here — it’s not overly talented or especially deep — but that may not matter given how good the front seven should be.
Tackle Will Sutton (13 sacks, 23.5 tackles for a loss) is arguably the best defensive lineman in the country, and he’s surrounded by a deep and particularly athletic front that benefits from the attacking style Graham employs. Linebacker Carl Bradford had 11.5 sacks last year, and it’s conceivable that he and Sutton could combine for 30 sacks this year.
Throw in nose tackle Jaxon Hood, a Freshman All-American in 2012, and ends Junior Onyeali and Davon Coleman, and it’s no wonder that Graham believes this could be one of the best defenses he’s ever had.
ASU must replace two starters in the secondary, but the pass coverage doesn’t have to be great given how little time opposing quarterbacks should have to throw the ball.
" alt="" />
Taylor Kelly, QB – Set a school record by completing 67.1 percent of his passes and accounted for more than 3,500 yards of total offense.
Will Sutton, DT – Consensus All-American in 2012 after racking up 23.5 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks, the fourth-highest total in school history.
Marion Grice, RB – Led the team with 679 rushing yards, had three TDs against Arizona and was named Offensive MVP of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
Special teams often get overlooked by fans, but this is huge concern for Graham. The Sun Devils have to replace standout punter Josh Hubner, who averaged 47.1 yards per kick, but more important, they have to find a reliable placekicker. Neither Alex Garoutte nor Jon Mora was the final answer last year, and Graham was so concerned he added Zane Gonzalez as a late signee to his 2013 recruiting class.
The Sun Devils have all the ingredients to make a run at the Pac-12 South title and an appearance in the Rose Bowl. Their defense — led by the reigning Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year in Sutton — should be dominant. They return their quarterback, top two running backs and three starters on the O-line.
Do they have concerns? Sure. They need to find a couple of quality receivers, and they don’t have much depth in the secondary, particularly at cornerback. But there’s not a dominant team in the South, and the schedule is favorable: The Sun Devils don’t play Oregon, they get USC at home and two of their final three games are at Sun Devil Stadium. A nine-win season and date in the Pac-12 Championship Game are not beyond their reach.