The 2012 college football season is literally weeks away. There will be tons of stories, new key players and records that may fall. Here is a sampling of what to look for on the gridiron.
USC senior quarterback Matt Barkley threw for 39 touchdowns with only seven of his passes going to the wrong colored jersey. He completed 69.1 percent of his attempts. He currently sits at 9,035 passing yards for his career, 80 touchdowns and 33 interceptions.
Although Barkley is approaching Trojan records, there are a pair of former Heisman winners that are sitting in the top two spots in passing stats. Carson Palmer is 2,783 yards ahead of Barkley while Matt Leinart leads him by 1,658 yards. Both marks are obviously within Barkley's reach.
Barkley is also 19 touchdown passes behind Matt Leinart's school record of 99 for his career. That record that should fall.
Speaking of school passing records, Georgia junior quarterback Aaron Murray has accounted for 65 total touchdowns, 59 through the air plus six on the ground. He needs 13 more to overtake former Bulldogs standout David Greene.
With the success that New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has enjoyed since switching careers from the hardwood to the gridiron, others have looked more closely at the same option. Western Michigan senior tight end Flenard Whitfield (6'7-230) averaged 11.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game for the Broncos round-ball squad. He is trying his hand this fall as a big target for senior quarterback Alex Carder who had 3,873 yards passing with 31 touchdowns last season.
Staying on the top of tight ends, the Notre Dame Fightin' Irish have produced 10 who were named All American during their days in South Bend:
- Leon Hart (1949)
- Monty Stickles (958-59)
- Jim Kelly (1962-63)
- Tony Hunter (1982)
- Derek Brown (1991)
- Dave Casper (1973)
- Ken McAfee (1977)
- Mark Bavaro (1984)
- Irv Smith (1992)
- John Carlson (2006)
Junior Tyler Eifert (6'6-251) could complete his days as a Golden Domer as the most prolific at his position in school history, which is saying a lot. Currently, Eifert, who set a school standard with 63 grabs in 2011, has 90 career receptions for 1,155 yards. He trails Ken McAfee's school tight end record by 38 catches and also is 742 yards shy of tying Tony Hunter's Notre Dame tight end record for career yardage. Unfortunately, the uncertainty at quarterback for the Irish may play a major role in Eifert's efforts to eclipse those marks.
NOTES: Head coach Dennis Franchione returns to Texas State, entering his second season at the helm after having coached the Bobcats 1990-91 when they were known as SW Texas State. He posted a 6-6 record last year in San Marcos.
Sean Porter, a senior outside linebacker at Texas A&M, returns with 9.5 sacks in tow from last season. The Aggie defense had the nation's best 51 sacks in 2011 but only four starters on the unit return for this fall.
The Tennessee Vols only recorded four wins over SEC foes the last two seasons, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky in 2010 and Vandy again last season. For a program with such history, more is expected immediately from UT head coach Derek Dooley.
Air Force had 4,092 yards on the ground in 2011 with 46 of the runs accounting for 20 yards or more. Georgia Tech, another triple option team, out rushed the Falcons with 4,114 yards.
Be on the lookout for quarterback Patrick Towles, a 2012 signee and Kentucky's Mr. Football in 2011. The Kentucky Wildcat signee led Highlands High School to a 38-1 overall mark, including three state titles while tossing for 7,429 career yards and 73 touchdowns. The 6-foot-5, 232 pounder added 1,718 yards on the ground with 38 more scores.
A few other newcomers to watch include Texas A&M's 2012 Blue Chip freshman running back Trey Williams. A Spring,Texas product out of Andy DeKaney High, Williams (5'8-178, 4.31 forty) accounted for 8.110 career rushing yards and 86 touchdowns. His explosive skills are reminiscent of former West Virginia scat back Noel Devine. Williams has the same size and acceleration. Williams could be the Aggies secret home run threat this fall.
Much is expected of James Gillum (5'11-204), the former Pearl River High School (La.) star who ran for 2,300 yards the previous two seasons at Miss.issippi Gulf Coast (JUCO). He is penciled in as the starting running back for the rebuilding Minnesota Gophers.
The crown jewel of the Pitt Panthers 2012 signing class is running back Rushel Shell (5'11-215), a 5-star recruit who had 9,078 career yards while setting a national prep record of 39 consecutive 100-yard performances, breaking the record set of 38 straight set by Billy Sims (1978). The Aliquippa, Pennsylvania native also had 25 games of 200-yards or more during his career. Shell had 110 career prep touchdowns.
Texas Longhorns boast a new arrival, 2012 freshman Jonathan Gray, who compiled 205 career touchdowns and 10,908 yards while at Aledo High School.
When Wake Forest junior quarterback Tanner Price takes the field September 1 against Liberty, he will attempt to prolong his record of 173 consecutive attempts without an interception. Price had 3,017 yards, 20 touchdowns and six interceptions while completing 59 percent of his tosses in 2011.
BYU junior wide receiver Cody Hoffman (6'4-208) is quickly ascending up the all-time receiving charts in Cougar history. He had 61-943 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2011. He is being hailed as the next Austin Collie, a BYU product who has shined when healthy for the Indianapolis Colts.
Oklahoma State's opportunistic defense forced 44 turnovers last fall and could be even better. Eight starters return.
Southern Miss returned a whopping eight interceptions for touchdowns last season. Junior CB Deron Wilson led the team with four picks.
North Carolina State was tops among college football teams with 27 total interceptions.
Darrion Thomas (6'2-225), sophomore defensive end from Missouri, is the son of the late Derrick Thomas, former Kansas City Chiefs All Pro and Alabama All-American. The younger Thomas is a third team left end.
Zac Stacy (5'9-208), a senior from Vanderbilt, had 1,193 rushing yards in 2011. Thus far he has totaled 2,002 yards and 20 touchdowns in his college career and needs 631 yards to overtake Frank Mordica (1976-79) to become the all-time rusher for the Commodores. With six more scores, Stacy will unseat Dean Davidson as the school's leading all-time touchdown producer.
Pierce Burton (6'7-290), a transfer offensive tackle from City College of San Francisco, is a 2012 signee with Ole Miss. Burton is a veteran sailboat racer with the Richmond Yacht Club.
Eight players left the Kentucky football program this past spring including six from the defense. The 'Cats return six starters on defense and just three on offense.
New Florida arrival, 2012 signee LaTroy Pittman (6'0-195), was a top 50 ranked receiver in the '12 class, yet he was flying under the radar. He considered Notre Dame, Michigan, Florida State, Miami and South Florida before choosing the Gators. He had a solid spring and, despite a crowded wide receiver corps with a few upperclassmen, Pittman should be ticketed for some playing time as a true freshman in the fall.
Iowa senior quarterback James Vandenburg also has somewhat flown under the radar among college passers. He led the 7-6 Hawkeyes with 3,027 yards, 25 touchdowns and just seven picks.
Wyoming and Texas Tech defenses surrendered over 3,000 yards rushing each to their opponents for the '11 campaign. Florida Atlantic (1-11 last season) was a bit grounded on offense in 2011, having not recorded a single play (run or pass) over 50 yards. The 5-7 Kentucky Wildcats only scored 22 total touchdowns in all of 2011.
The 6-6 Miami of Ohio Redhawks only collected 886 yards rushing in '11. 68 individual NCAA rushers rushed for more. The Redhawks also surrendered 47 quarterback sacks.
Tulane surrendered 37 rushing touchdowns in 2011, third highest in that category nationally. The Green Wave also gave up 735 total yards to Houston in a 73-17 shellacking last fall. It goes without saying that new head coach Curtis Johnson has focused a great deal of attention on the defensive side of the ball with his co-defensive coordinators, Jon Sumrall and Lionel Washington.
On the flip side, the very "special" teams of the Hawaii Warriors only allowed four punts to be returned all of last season out of 57 opportunities.
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