Fall practice is under way everywhere, and that means the 2012 season has started.
While we're still a bit more than three weeks from the first game, the final three weeks of waiting will seem like about two or three days compared to the past seven months.
These rankings take into account what the players have accomplished, how we think the players will do this season and sheer talent. But production does trump potential.
Here are the defensive line rankings. Next up: Linebackers.
Likely starters: Es Nate Fakahafua and Joe Kruger and Ts Dave Kruger and Star Lotulelei
The buzz: Last season, the Utes' front four had an excellent season as Utah led the Pac-12 in scoring defense and also finished in the top three in the conference in total defense and rush defense. The star is Lotulelei, who is the nation's best defensive lineman. At times, he simply is unblockable. He is incredibly strong, yet also has a quick first step and the ability to be a disruptive pass rusher. He should go in the top five of the 2013 NFL draft. The Kruger brothers are solid complementary players. Dave will be a four-year starter. Coaches like Fakahafua's pass-rush ability.
Likely starters: Es Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor and Ts Desmond Jackson and Brandon Moore
The buzz: Texas led the Big 12 and was sixth nationally in rush defense; it also led the league and was 11th nationally in total defense. Coordinator Manny Diaz will have the services of what might be the best end duo in the nation in Jeffcoat and Okafor. They combined for 14.5 sacks, 29 tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hurries last season. Both starting tackles are new. Jackson, a sophomore, looks ready for a breakout season. Moore is a junior college transfer who began his career at Alabama. Chris Whaley, who began his Texas career at tailback, should be an important backup at tackle.
Likely starters: Es Dion Jordan and Tony Washington and Ts Taylor Hart and Wade Keliipiki
The buzz: Washington will be the only new starter. Jordan, who arrived on campus as a tight end, is coming off a 7.5-sack season and should get into double-digits this season. Hart and Keliipiki are a formidable duo in the middle, and there is excellent depth at tackle with senior Isaac Remington and junior Ricky Heimuli. Keep an eye on freshman E Arik Armstead, a four-star recruit who enrolled early and went through spring practice. He has great athleticism and could end up beating out Washington.
7. South Carolina
Likely starters: Es Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor and Ts Byron Jerideau and Kelcy Quarles
The buzz: There's an excellent duo at end in Clowney and Taylor. Clowney was the No. 1 player nationally in the 2011 recruiting class and he had eight sacks last season basically on athleticism alone. As he learns the nuances of the position – oh, my. Taylor is a senior who will be a four-year starter; he has good pass-rush skills and has worked to become solid against the run. Quarles, a sophomore, is a rising star at tackle. Depth at tackle could be a problem, though.
6. Michigan State
Likely starters: Es William Gholston and Marcus Rush and Ts Tyler Hoover and Anthony Rashad White
The buzz: Gholston, a junior, is an athletic marvel; he can be a pass-rushing terror and finally appears to have developed some consistency. He had 16 tackles for loss last season. Rush is undersized (6-2/250) but relentless and productive (12 tackles for loss). Both starting tackles are new, but both are seniors. White is a 330-pounder who started four times last season and is a good run-stuffer. Hoover is a former end who will have big-time pass-rush skills for a tackle. Sophomore James Kittredge, who sat out last season after transferring from Vanderbilt, could beat out Hoover.
5. Virginia Tech
Likely starters: Es J.R. Collins and James Gayle and Ts Antoine Hopkins and Derrick Hopkins
The buzz: Virginia Tech was 10th in total defense and seventh in scoring defense last season, and coordinator Bud Foster has a loaded front four because every key performer is back. Gayle and Collins combined for 13 sacks and 23 tackles for loss. The Hopkins brothers are solid in the middle. Antoine is returning from a knee injury that cost him nine games last season; at the time, the brothers were starting next to each other. Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall offer more-than-able support at tackle.
Likely starters: Es Ed Stinson and Damion Square and T Jesse Williams
The buzz: There aren't any potential All-Americans in this group, but there are a lot of good players who fit the 3-4 scheme. Square and Williams, an Australian who started at end last season after transferring from junior college, are returning starters. Square is excellent against the run. Williams is strong (a 600-pound bench press) and should be a better fit at nose tackle than he was at end. Stinson, a fourth-year junior, arrived at Alabama as a linebacker but has added almost 60 pounds and will play at 285 this fall. Senior Quinton Dial could beat out Stinson. Good things also are expected from sophomore NT Brandon Ivory.
3. Florida State
Likely starters: Es Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner and Ts Everett Dawkins and Timmy Jernigan
The buzz: The end duo of Jenkins and Werner should be one of the top four or five nationally. Jenkins is a big-time pass rusher who has improved against the run. Werner is a native of Germany who burst on the scene in a big way last fall. There is tremendous depth and experience at tackle. Jernigan, a sophomore, is a star on the rise. FSU goes six-deep at tackle, and that doesn't include former starter Jacobbi McDaniel, a senior who could end up redshirting because of a leg injury suffered last season.
2. Ohio State
Likely starters: Es John Simon and Nathan Williams and Ts Garrett Goebel and Johnathan Hankins
The buzz: Simon and Hankins have All-America potential. Simon played a lot at tackle last season and finished with seven sacks, 16 tackles for loss, three pass breakups and 53 tackles. While he is on the small size (6-2/260), he has an unreal motor and seemingly always finds a way to muck things up. Hankins is a physical force who is at his best clogging the middle; he made 67 tackles last fall. Goebel returns for his second season as a starter. Williams, a good pass rusher, is coming off a knee injury that limited him to one game last season. Ohio State signed two five-star ends, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, and Spence has looked good in practice.
Likely starters: Es Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery and Ts Anthony Johnson and Bennie Logan
The buzz: This team is loaded with linemen, and as good as this group will be, it would've been even better had T Michael Brockers (a first-round pick by St. Louis) not turned pro early. The Mingo-Montgomery duo is excellent and could be the best in the nation; they combined for 17 sacks last season. Seniors Chancey Aghayere and Lavar Edwards are the top backups, and they have 15 career starts between them. Logan should be a force in the middle. Johnson is a former five-star recruit nicknamed “The Freak” for his athletic ability. Senior Josh Downs has played extensively in his career on some stout defenses – and he is LSU's fifth tackle.
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