Fear not, your Saturdays shall be whole once again. That's right, the college football Season is finally upon us. The usual suspects sit atop the polls, with SEC stalwarts Alabama and LSU possessing championship dreams once again. The Tide will face stiff competition right out of the gate in a battle with Denard Robinson and the Michigan Wolverines. Meanwhile, fantasy owners are salivating at the projected production of Matt Barkley and standout wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. And don't forget about gunslingers Landry Jones of Oklahoma, Aaron Murray of Georgia and Geno Smith of West Virginia, all with Heisman hopes of their own.
So fire up the grill, put on the face paint and let's dive into the first edition of the College Football Barometer.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon – Mariota beat out sophomore Bryan Bennett for the starting quarterback job, vaulting him up fantasy rankings in the process. The Ducks' high-powered, fast-paced offense should yield big numbers for the 6-foot-4 freshman, who will have a bevy of weapons at his disposal. The playmakers at the skill positions, particularly Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, should make Mariota look stellar right from the start.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee – Much was expected from Patterson even before the suspension of Da'Rick Rogers. Now, with Rogers gone, the junior college transfer will start opposite Justin Hunter and be called upon to fill much of the void. He'll certainly have some big shoes to fill; Rogers hauled in 67 passes for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011. Still, Patterson is about as athletic as they come at 6-4, 225, and has been turning heads since stepping onto the Tennessee campus. With Tyler Bray expected to throw the ball early and often, Patterson could be in line for a huge outburst in 2012.
Raymond Sanders, RB, Kentucky – Sanders battled knee and ankle injuries in 2011, but appears healthy entering this season. Although a mere 5-8, Sanders is a dynamic playmaker who should be in line for the bulk of the carries at the outset of the season. This is due to a knee injury suffered by projected starter Josh Clemons, as well as the appearance of fellow running back CoShik Williams in a walking boot last week during practice. The Wildcats play Kent State and Western Kentucky in two of their first three games, giving Sanders ample opportunity to show off his skills.
Josh Harper, WR, Fresno State – The top two receivers from 2011's squad are gone, with Jalen Saunders transferring to Oklahoma and Devon Wylie in the NFL. That leaves Harper, an electrifying underclassmen who averaged 14.2 yards per catch as a freshman last season. With 497 yards receiving and five scores, Harper is the leading returning wideout for the Bulldogs. Furthermore, Fresno State's quarterback Derek Carr, the younger brother of NFL quarterback David Carr, was named Preseason Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year. As a result, Harper should be the chief beneficiary of the high-octane, fast-paced offensive onslaught.
Jacoby Brissett/Jeff Driskel, QB, Florida – Coach Will Muschamp said the battle for the starting quarterback job at Florida will continue into the first game of the season. A nightmare scenario for fantasy owners, neither Brissett nor Driskel has distinguished himself throughout camp. In 2011, Brissett completed 46.2 percent of his passes for 206 yards, two touchdowns four interceptions. Meanwhile, Driskel completed 47.1 percent of his throws for 148 yards and two interceptions in limited action. The Gators are also missing talent due to the departures of Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, which will put further pressure on the quarterbacks. Although Mike Gillislee appears poised to assume the rushing load, Florida's wideouts are unproven, and the young quarterbacks could be thrown to the lions early on as a result. One quarterback will emerge, but at this juncture, it's anyone's guess as to who that will be.
T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama – As if the Tide needed another stud running back, Yeldon might just fit the bill. A breakout performer during spring practice, the freshman is a shifty runner with receiving skills. The Tide was extremely successful in employing the dual-back system with Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy. Although Lacy is the featured back and the powerful Jalston Fowler will be in the mix as well, there should be plenty of touches to go around for the Tide, particularly in some early season games against Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic. If Lacy continues to battle injuries, Yeldon's role would obviously increase as well.
Cameron Marshall, RB, Arizona State – The No. 1 rusher for the Sun Devils last season, Marshall was recently shut down for a week with an undisclosed injury, leaving the ASU backfield battered and bruised. Fellow tailbacks Deantre Lewis and James Morrison have been dealing with injuries of their own, but Marshall's absence would certainly be felt the most. The senior back took 230 carries for 1,050 yards and an eye-popping 18 touchdowns in 2011. With the Sun Devils facing Northern Arizona in the season opener, they might choose to be careful with Marshall and save him for tougher opponents down the road.
Ryan Griffin, TE, Connecticut – In a curious move, Griffin was listed behind John Delahunt on the recently released depth chart for the Huskies. Griffin was one of the nation's more productive tight ends last season, hauling in 33 passes for 499 yards and three touchdowns despite spotty quarterback play. Kashif Moore and Isiah Moore have both graduated, leaving even more targets available in the UConn offense. Named to the Preseason Mackey Award Watch List, it's hard to believe Griffin won't end up back in the fold for the Huskies as a top target in the offense. Monitor the situation.
Bobby Swigert, WR, Boston College – The leading receiver for B.C. in 2011, Swigert tweaked his left knee in practice and will miss several weeks. The 6-1 junior caught 44 passes for 470 yards and three touchdowns in 2011. Although more of a possession receiver, Swigert was considered the most reliable wide out for the Eagles. In his stead, Alex Amidon and Colin Larmond must pick up the slack.
Cierre Wood, RB, Notre Dame – Wood was suspended for Notre Dame's first two games for violating team rules, a huge blow for the Irish and fantasy owners alike. The starting running back was a force in 2011, rushing 217 times for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns. Theo Riddick and George Atkinson will see increased touches as a result, but the Irish ground game might not be the same, as Wood averaged 5.1 yards per carry last season.
Orleans Darkwa, RB, Tulane – Darkwa parlayed a successful freshman campaign with an equally impressive sophomore season. In 2011, he rushed for 924 yards and 13 touchdowns for the Green Wave. Darkwa also proved a capable receiver, hauling in 37 passes for 305 yards. However, Darkwa suffered a high-ankle sprain in mid-August, and there is no timetable for his return. As the recovery from high-ankle sprains can be slow, Darkwa likely won't be available for the beginning of the season.
Joe Southwick, QB, Boise State – Call this one a gut feeling, but Southwick could have a difficult time replacing Kellen Moore. The junior has served as the primary backup for Moore the last two seasons, and as such has only played sparingly. For his career, Southwick is 40-of-54 for 400 yards with the Broncos. He'll be thrown right into the fire in the season opener against a potent Michigan State defense and will have to stave off Grant Hedrick and Jimmy Laughrea should he struggle, assuming Nick Patti is indeed redshirted. All in all, the Boise State contingent could be in for a rude awakening after four glorious years with Kellen Moore under center.
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