Receiving Grades: Which Teams Will Improve?

Receiving Grades: Which Teams Will Improve?

Will these top BCS teams be up or down in passing offense? It usually depends on who is throwing and catching the ball. Here are the top BCS teams with a subjective analysis on their potential passing offenses using receivers projected for 2012's rosters. Your team may have great receivers but other factors can and will diminish their effectiveness.

Cincinnati: The Beacats only return four starters. One of the units that is somewhat intact is the receiving corps — Anthony McClung and Kenbrell Thompkins are back, though their numbers last year have room for improvement. Running back Isaiah Pead is gone and the offense will have to break in not only a new quarterback but three new linemen — this sets up perfectly for a lot of screens, play-actions and dump/outlet passes which probably won't rack up a lot of yards.

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Louisville: Teddy Bridgewater is the best quarterback in the Big East. Last year he threw for over 2,100 yards as a true freshman but his touchdown-interception ratio of 14-12 needed improvement. Bridgewater went 19-of-21 for 257 yards and three touchdowns in the Cardinals' spring game, so things look better. Running back Senorise Perry has a lot of speed and should keep the defense honest while Bridgewater hits receivers DeVante Parker, Eli Rogers and Michaelee Harris. The passing attack was ranked No. 74 last year — that number will improve.

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Notre Dame: In the past two years, the Fighting Irish have lost two outstanding receivers in Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. The good news is that Tyler Eifert has decided to return for another year and that's a big boost for the Irish — he broke the school's reception and receiving-yard records for a tight end. Because the quarterback situation isn't settled yet, I'm going with a status quo projection — it all depends on how well the not-named-yet starting quarterback performs in 12 very challenging games this year.

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USC: Robert Woods and Marqise Lee are arguably the best dynamic duo in the country, and having quarterback Matt Barkley airing it out to them certainly helped their numbers last year. With Barkley now a Heisman frontrunner, expect more pass and reception records to be broken. Tight ends Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble will also be used extensively while the defensive backs focus on Woods and Lee. Telfer had an exceptional 2011 with 26 total receptions, a school record for a freshman tight end.

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Oregon: The Ducks are well-known for their spread offense, but it is more of a run-spread offense. With DeAnthony Thomas as a legit running back/receiver threat, I expect the Ducks' numbers in passing and receiving to go up — last year they only ranked 68th in passing offense. Receiver Josh Huff has some unresolved legal problems that may cost him some playing time, but Chip Kelly's offense has a lot of weapons to increase the passing game numbers including 6-5, 225-pound tight end Colt Lyerla.

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Stanford: To put it bluntly, the passing offense will be noticeably throttled down since quarterback Andrew Luck — the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft — is no longer the anointed one. Running back Stepfan Taylor should be the focus of an intense rushing attack as the Cardinal get their new quarterback settled under center. Stanford has some great tight ends in Levine Toilolo (343 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Zach Ertz (346 yards, 4 touchdowns), and while their size (6-6, 6-8 respectively) should make them easy targets for a green quarterback, the passing game will be tempered compared to last year's.

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Wisconsin: Offensive coordinator Matt Canada is a run-heavy type of coach. Quarterback Russell Wilson is gone but Montee Ball and James White are in the backfield, so it should be fairly obvious what the offense's emphasis will be — running the ball. Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien will arrive soon, but if he gets hurt, the Badgers are in trouble. The current quarterbacks performed poorly during spring practice. Starting receiver Jared Abbrederis missed significant practice time nursing a foot injury back to health but did play in the spring game. Tight end Mannaseh Garner should share some of the duties with Jacob Pedersen.

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Penn State: The Nittany Lions have the same problem as Wisconsin in terms of quarterback options. The quarterback competition hasn't yielded any clear-cut starters although Matt McGloin looks like the favorite right now. But there's a bright side here in that Penn State was ranked No. 112 in passing productivity in 2011, so surely there's room for improvement, right? Right, but only if the running game gets going under Silas Redd, a Derek Moye-like receiver emerges and the receivers adjust to the new offense.

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Michigan: Quarterback Denard Robinson is exciting to watch but sometimes that excitement stems from his mind-boggling decisions while under duress. He has a fantastic running back in Fitzgerald Toussaint who will see more carries, so perhaps Robinson won't feel like the whole game rests on his shoulders. While the passing numbers should be more efficient — especially the TD-INT ratio — if Toussaint picks up where he left off late in 2011, the receivers will be less busy this season.

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Michigan State: Let's see now ... quarterback Kirk Cousins is gone as well as receivers B.J. Cunningham (school's career leading receiver), Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol. Oh, and All-Big Ten tight end Brian Linthicum. While the passing game is decimated there is some good news: Former Tennessee receiver DeAnthony Arnett was granted a hardship waiver from the NCAA and can play this season instead of having to sit out one year after transferring from one FBS school to another.

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LSU: The Tigers' quarterback situation has been a crap shoot for awhile and this year Georgia transfer Zach Mettenberger has his shot to turn the tide, no pun intended. Still, I don't see their passing game getting better simply because they are so loaded at running back. Their backfield situation is oozing with potential and with almost the entire O-line intact, this looks like a power-running game type of year. Receiver Russell Shepard returns — in 2011 he had 14 receptions, 190 yards and 4 touchdowns.

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Alabama: The running game is a well-oiled machine in Tuscaloosa, so why would anyone want to mess with success? Quarterback A.J. McCarron returns after passing for 2,634 yards, 16 touchdowns and 5 interceptions — not flashy but certainly makes NFL scouts drool and Nick Saban happy. The Tide lost a lot of stars on the defense and one has to think they may be forced to play hurry-up-catch-up football. If that's the case then McCarron will have to air it out. He's got plenty of receivers including two true freshmen in Amari Cooper and Cyrus Jones, but I'm still sold on the running game limiting the passing game numbers.

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South Carolina: This one was tough. If Marcus Lattimore is 100 percent healthy, then the defense will stack the box to try and contain him. But it also will open up the passing game for quarterback Connor Shaw. The Gamecocks could be the best rushing team in the country if all the stars align, but Spurrier's luck makes me pause. Last year receiver Alshon Jeffery (762 yards, eight touchdowns) wasn't utilized as often as he should have been, and now he's off to the NFL. Why think anything will change this year without Jeffery?

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Georgia: Aaron Murray and Co. is back, and this time head coach Mark Richt won't have a choice but to pass more often. I simply don't have a lot of faith in the running game. Some key O-linemen departed and this may put the Bulldogs in a lot of third-and-long situations. Tight end Orson Charles is gone but my goodness, the receiving corps is young and loaded — Malcolm Mitchell had a great freshman year with 665 yards and four touchdowns. With so much depth and a veteran quarterback behind center, the receivers will be busy.

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Oklahoma State: Quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon, two of the most important pieces of the Cowboys' passing game, have departed. This would normally cause distress for most head coaches but Mike Gundy is like a boy scout; always prepared. I love receiver Charlie Moore as the new go-to-guy and both Tracy Moore and Josh Stewart should also be big contributors. The problem is that they won't have Weeden throwing to them and thus, they won't come close to last year's gaudy 5,034 yards.

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Kansas State: Collin Klein did an admirable job as quarterback last year. He was basically the entire offense, rushing for over 1,100 yards and passing for over 1,900. Klein had various injuries all year but he still played. This year the Cats will have to hand the ball off a lot more if they want him as their 2012 field general. Not one Kansas State receiver was ranked in the top 100 receivers last year and the Cats' leading returner, Chris Harper, averaged around 42 receiving yards per game.

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West Virginia: This is very simple — the Mountaineers return stud quarterback Geno Smith and are now in the Big 12 conference where not one team was in the top 40 in passing defense rankings last year. Now, let's throw receiver Tavon Austin — he had 101 receptions, 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns last season — into the equation. Any, um, questions?

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Clemson: Receiver Sammy Watkins had an incredible freshman campaign with 1,219 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns, but he also has some off-the-field issues to deal with that may result in a suspension. DeAndre Hopkins reeled in 71 catches for 961 yards, Jaron Brown had 406 yards and Martavis Bryant had 221 yards — the list goes on and on. But will this impressive receiving corps surpass last year's numbers? With major holes on the O-line, there may be some pass protection issues that will cause Boyd to take off running. It's a toss-up, so we'll call it slightly up.

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Virginia Tech: Virginia Tech has three offensive starters returning this year. The good news is quarterback Logan Thomas is back but the bad news is running back David Wilson is not. Time to take stock here: The Hokies have some capable receivers in D.J. Coles, Marcus Davis and Dyrell Roberts as well as Corey Fuller, but how good will the pass protection be with only center Andrew Miller anchoring the O-line? Head coach Frank Beamer always exceeds expectations, but this is an offense in transition, albeit under a veteran quarterback.

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