The race for the Big East title should be as fierce and competitive as always. Rutgers and Cincinnati both have solid defenses and are tough to beat, but both also have unproven quarterbacks in Chas Dodd for the Scarlet Knights and Munchie Legaux for the Bearcats, respectively. For South Florida, quarterback BJ Daniels seems like he has been in Tampa forever, but still makes too many mistakes in the clutch for the Bulls to take the Big East. The Pittsburgh Panthers, meanwhile, are very talented, but I just cannot see them winning the conference, either. My pick to win the Big East is the Lousville Cardinals. 3rd year head coach Charlie Strong is 14-12 in his two seasons at Louisville and sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed 64.5% of his passes as a true freshman last year. It would not surprise me to see the Cardinals win 10 games and make it to the Orange Bowl in January.
Boise State is still hanging around in the Mountain West Conference and they will still be the odds on favorite to win it in 2012 once again. New quarterback Joe Southwick is very green, but it shouldn’t take him too long to get the hang of Chris Petersen’s system. No one in the top half of the conference should be taken lightly this year with consistently solid teams such as Nevada and San Diego State challenging for the title as well. 4th year coach Dave Christensen and the Wyoming Cowboys will be one to watch as well. All-purpose, dual-threat quarterback Brett Smith should be one of the best players in the Mountain West this year and will make the Cowboys a contender. The backfield tandem of Derek Carr and Robbie Rouse at Fresno State should make their offense shine as the Bulldogs may also surprise some people with upsets throughout the year. Finally, Air Force, with head coach Troy Calhoun cannot be counted out of the picture either with his 41-24 record in five years at the school.
The Mid-American conference consistently shows off some of the most potent offenses in all of college football and this year should be no different. Quarterbacks like Alex Carder (Western Michigan), Tyler Tettleton (Ohio), Zac Dysert (Miami, OH), Alex Gillett (Eastern Michigan) and Jordan Lynch (Northern Illinois) are littered throughout the conference and should be providing a ton of excitement all year long. Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit is 47-39 in his eight years in Kalamazoo and the Broncos should have continued success in 2012. In the middle of the conference Eastern Michigan and Kent State are very much improved, combining for 11 wins last year after the two programs combined for just 7 wins in 2010. Traditional powers Miami of Ohio and Toledo, however, will not be quite as strong this year after losing some talent on both sides of the ball. Northern Illinois and Ohio will be considered the favorites in the West and East divisions, respectively and both offenses should be stellar this year. Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton (son of former major leaguer Mickey Tettleton) is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in all of the country after amassing 3,927 yards last year (both passing and running) to go along with 38 touchdowns. The Bobcat program’s turnaround has been seen under the watchful eye of head coach Frank Solich, who has won 27 games over the past three seasons. The other possible top-25 MAC team will be Northern Illinois as Redshirt junior quarterback Jordan Lynch will try to take over where do-everything Huskies quarterback Chandler Harnish left off last year. The Huskies averaged 38.3 points per game last season – good for 12th in the country.
The Western Athletic Conference is down to just seven teams this year and the story will lie with the top three teams in the conference: Louisiana Tech, Utah State and San Jose State. Each team has some of the most talented offensive skill players in the conference with De’Leon Eskridge (former Minnesota running back) and Noel Grigsby (886 yards receiving) trying to make things happen for the SJSU Spartans, all-purpose running back Kerwyn Williams (542 rushing yards, 6.69 yards per carry average) leading the Aggies of Utah State and Quinton Patton (1,202 receiving yards, 11 TD) leading the conference favorites Louisiana Tech as one of the best receivers in the nation. All have the chance to lead their teams to the WAC title in 2012 so while the conference may be short on members, it is definitely not short on talent.
Over the past couple of years, Conference USA has become one of the strongest overall conferences outside of the “Big Six”. Teams like SMU and UCF have seen a resurgence under head coaches June Jones and George O’Leary, respectively while Tulsa seems to keep winning no matter who the head coach is. New Golden Hurricane head coach Bill Blankenship took over last year after Todd Graham’s abrupt departure to Pittsburgh. Offense is not the only story in the conference either as three of the conferences teams finished in last year’s top 30 in the nation in total defense (UCF, SMU and Southern Mississippi). UCF and Southern Mississippi will be the favorites in the East division with both returning top notch defensive units. It does still remain to be seen how Southern Miss will handle the arrival of first-year head coach Ellis Johnson after Larry Fedora left for UNC in the offseason. In the West, two traditional powerhouse programs, Houston and Tulsa will once again display dynamic offensive capabilities. Former Nebraska Husker quarterback Cody Green will do his best to replace well-rounded playmaker GJ Kinne at Tulsa and also has a ton of talent to work with in multiple all-purpose players such as Trey Watts, Ja’Terian Douglas and Willie Carter. In Houston, David Piland takes over quarterbacking duties from record-setting QB Case Keenum. The good news is that Piland already knows the offense very well, throwing for 2,641 yards and 24 TDs in 2010 when Keenum was sidelined with an injury. Senior running back Zach Line and SMU will not be left out of this race easily either. The Mustangs have a solid defense (allowed just 118 yards per game rushing in 2011) and Line has been one of the nation’s best running backs over the past two years, rushing for 2,718 yards and 27 TD in that span. Other teams like Marshall, UAB and East Carolina will maintain the competitive balance in the conference, but will struggle to make a bowl game.
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