With spring practices taking place on campuses across the country, FBS teams continue to prepare for the 2012 campaign.
Today, let's take a look at five teams that could be primed to bounce back after disappointing seasons in 2011.
Oklahoma: The Sooners endured three losses and were shut out of a New Year's Day/BCS bowl game in 2011. After finishing 10-3 overall and 6-3 in Big 12 play, head coach Bob Stoops knew he needed to change things up, especially after his defense underachieved. So he brought in his brother, former Arizona head coach Mike Stoops, who is returning to Norman to run the defense once again with Brent Venables choosing to move onto Clemson. Before he coached the Wildcats, Stoops served as DC of the Sooners and helped lead the team to the 2000 national championship. His priority now is improving a secondary that was torched in 2011. He also needs to find replacements for top defensive ends Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis. Meanwhile, quarterback Landry Jones returns, but he’ll need to lean on some younger receivers like Trey Metoyer with standout Ryan Broyles gone. When Broyles was sidelined last fall, Jones looked lost. But OU should once again have a productive offense, so its defense holds the key to a successful 2012.
ICONIf quarterback EJ Manuel gets help from the run game, the 'Noles will be dangerous.
Florida State: The Seminoles were a popular darkhorse pick to make a run for the national title last year, but Jimbo Fisher's squad suffered a three-game losing streak that began with its close home loss to Oklahoma. After finishing 9-4 overall and 5-3 in ACC play, can 2012 be the year that the 'Noles make that long-expected jump? The hope is that nine returning starters on defense will help out veteran quarterback EJ Manuel. Another top recruiting class will only make the defense under Mark Stoops stronger, but the ‘Noles need to find some semblance of a running game, consistently protect their QB and have some playmakers emerge. Rashad Greene should be even better as a sophomore after catching 7 touchdowns and nearly 600 yards receiving, and running back Devonta Freeman went on to become the team's leading rusher in his first season, reaching the end zone 8 times. But the team will need other players to help out, so keep an eye on redshirt freshman receiver Kelvin Benjamin and early enrollee running back Mario Pender. If the O-Line plays like it did in the second half of its bowl win over Notre Dame, FSU should be in good shape.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes stumbled to a 6-7 overall mark and 3-5 in Big Ten play last season as Luke Fickell navigated the program through a rough transition year. But former Florida head coach Urban Meyer has arrived with two national titles to his credit, so the Buckeyes are in good hands. While OSU is ineligible for the postseason in 2012, the program has been revived. And all eyes will be on the coach who burned out and suffered health issues in Gainesville. On the field, though, he has the prototypical quarterback for his spread offense in dual-threat Braxton Miller, and Meyer’s coming off of a recruiting cycle that featured SEC-type defensive linemen — exactly the type of situation to excite co-defensive coordinators Fickell and Everett Withers. Buckeye fans may not have a postseason on the horizon, but this can be a fun year watching playmakers grow in the offense — players such as receivers Devin Smith, Corey Brown and Verlon Reed, as well as running backs Jordan Hall, Carlos Hyde, Rod Smith and incoming freshman Bri’onte Dunn. The defense will always be solid in Columbus, so grasping Meyer's offense is the top priority.
Tennessee: The Volunteers failed to make the postseason in Derek Dooley's second year on the job, stumbling to a 1-7 mark in the SEC and 5-7 overall a year after going to the Music City Bowl. It's safe to say that Dooley is entering a make-or-break third campaign in Knoxville, especially following unrest on the coaching staff and player personnel issues this offseason. New defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri must be able to bring a little Alabama flair with him while keeping the unit playing at the high level it did under former coordinator Justin Wilcox. Quarterback Tyler Bray has the weapons at receiver, although the Da'Rick Rogers issue is a concern. But the team ranked 116th nationally in rushing while recording just 11 touchdowns on the ground in 2011, and that's the biggest concern for this team. Marlin Lane and Rajion Neal, as well as Devrin Young and Tom Smith, will need to provide some semblance of a rushing attack if the Vols want to return to the postseason.
Texas Tech: The Red Raiders missed the postseason in 2011, finishing 5-7 overall and 2-7 in Big 12 play under head coach Tommy Tuberville, who took Texas Tech bowling in his 8-win debut season in Lubbock in 2010. After shocking the nation and beating Oklahoma on the road last October, Tuberville's squad tanked by closing the season on a five-game skid. Once again the team has a new defensive coordinator, as Art Kaufman became the team’s fourth DC in as many seasons. He’s installing a 4-3, and it’s important that this unit complements the offense at least a little bit if the Red Raiders want to return to the postseason. The good news is that Tech has more returning starters than any team in the Big 12. But will yet another philosophical change on defense be enough? Tuberville needs to get this team bowling consistently, because Mike Leach did that every year during his tenure with the Red Raiders.
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