Another offseason of controversy and sordidness has past and college football is ready to kickoff the season. The NCAA would love to have football back in the headlines again, after dealing with the scandal at Penn State. Personally I think Penn State should have received the death penalty, but that’s another story. This is strictly football talk here.
The Associated Press and USA Today have released their preseason polls. I will do one myself. Granted it is somewhat similar to both polls, as it is very difficult to judge these teams at this point in time. But predictions are fun and I’m always willing to look foolish, so here goes my Top 25 for the 2012 NCAA football season.
The defending National Champions are the team to beat yet again. Sure they have question marks. Can Trent Richardson be replaced in the backfield? Can the defence overcome the loss of 9 starters? Can AJ McCarron elevate his game at the quarterback position? One thing is certain. Nick Saban is arguably the best coach in the nation and one of the best recruiters as well. Alabama have one of, if not the best freshman classes in all of college football. If the freshman can handle the pressure of playing in Tuscaloosa, Alabama will be at the top of the polls at seasons’ end. They do have a difficult start, opening against Michigan at Cowboys Stadium Plus a trip to Death Valley in November is never fun. It won’t be easy, but I do have the Crimson Tide rolling to a second straight National Title.
The Trojans are no longer on probation, and they are hungry for a National Championship. The one clear-cut advantage USC has over everyone else is quarterback Matt Barkley. The senior from Newport Beach, California is the favourite to win the Heisman trophy, and is expected to be the top pick in next year’s NFL draft. Barkley is the player to watch in college football this season. The big question surrounding the Trojans is, can Lane Kiffin handle the pressure of high expectations? Kiffin has always run away when things got hot under the collar. He does have the schedule to his advantage as USC will welcome their top rivals, Oregon to the Coliseum on November 3, and Notre Dame will make the trek to Los Angeles on November 24. USC will be tough to beat and expect the Trojans to be in the hunt all season long.
The Bayou Bengals came oh so close to running the table last season. However, a dreadful performance in the National Championship game against bitter rivals Alabama, have the Tigers licking their wounds. LSU did lose some talent. Cornerback Morris Claiborne is now in the NFL. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson is trying his luck in the CFL. And LSU fans are thankful for that. LSU is hoping Stephen Rivers is the answer to their quarterback woes. The most controversial moment in the offseason was the expulsion of Tyrann Mathieu. The freshman defensive back had a sensational season in 2011, both as a DB and a kick returner. Mathieu violated the drug policy and Les Miles decided to expel him from the roster. If LSU can’t replace the big play ability of Mathieu, they will be in tough to win the National Championship.
The Sooners always seem to be in the thick of the title picture, but they always seem to come up short. Coach Bob Stoops is anxious to win a National Championship, but his Sooners have to get over the hurdle of the regular season. Oklahoma has lost too many games they are supposed to win over the last 10 years. Quarterback Landry Jones returns for his senior season, and he is hoping to remain healthy, after an injury plagued 2011 season. The Sooners should win a weakened Big 12, but a National Title might be too much to ask.
The Ducks will be contenders in the PAC 12 yet again, but with quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James no longer in university, the Ducks will need to have its young stars to lead the program. Sophomore quarterback Bryan Bennett will be counted on to lead the Oregon offence. Senior running back Kenjon Barner will get his chance to shine in the attack. The defence is underrated and could surprise teams this season. Everyone at Oregon has November 3 circled on their calendars, as Oregon travels to USC on that day. If Oregon can escape with a victory, they should win the PAC 12.
We’ll find out how good Michigan really is right away. A huge first test against Alabama at Cowboys Stadium, will go a long way in showing what the Wolverines have to offer this season. Michigan was thrilled when quarterback Denard Robinson returned for his senior season. Robinson led Michigan in both passing and running in 2011. Michigan should win the Big 10, and end up in the Rose Bowl on January 2.
The ‘Dawgs’ went through another offseason of upheaval. Freshman running Isaiah Crowell was dismissed from the team, after being arrested for weapon charges. Ken Malcome is expected to replace Crowell, but will he be as effective remains to be seen. Crowell’s absence puts more pressure on quarterback Aaron Murray. The junior from Tampa, Murray will need to elevate his game if Georgia are to return to Atlanta for the SEC title game. Georgia does have a schedule advantage, as they avoid both LSU and Alabama. However trips to South Carolina and Auburn will be tricky. Georgia are a wildcard in the SEC.
8. South Carolina
Coach Steve Spurrier fully expects his Gamecocks will reach the SEC title game in December. He may be right. The SEC Eastern Division isn’t that strong, and the other main contender, Georgia will have to travel to Columbia on October 6. Junior quarterback Connor Shaw is vital to South Carolina’s offence. His passer rating of 148.3 was tops in the SEC and he will need to put up similar numbers for the Gamecocks to win the SEC East. South Carolina will be fun to watch, but a trip to Atlanta is in question.
9. Florida State
The Seminoles have one goal in mind. Win the ACC. Florida State were expected to win the conference last season, but losses to Clemson, Wake Forest and Virginia put a black mark on last season. Quarterback EJ Manuel returns for his senior season and is looking to lead Florida State to a conference title. Florida State also landed one of the top recruits in the country, snagging cornerback Ronald Darby. Darby is expected to be an impact player for the Seminoles. If Florida State can handle the pressure of being the favourites, they should win the ACC.
10. West Virginia
The Mountaineers move to the Big 12 this season and could contend for the conference title. After winning the Big East title last season, West Virginia are hoping that the tougher Big 12 schedule can push them up to National Championship contenders. Senior quarterback Geno Smith is looking to pad his resume before entering the NFL draft next year. West Virginia will realize though, that the schedule will be much more difficult in the Big 12. Trips to Texas and Oklahoma State will be tricky, while a home date with Oklahoma is no sure thing either. West Virginia will be strong, but not strong enough to win the conference.
The Razorbacks always seem to be in the mix. Yet they just can’t win the big one. Arkansas has come close to winning the SEC, but either LSU or Alabama continually gets in their way. This season, both the Tigers and Crimson Tide will make the trek to Fayetteville and those two games will determine whether Arkansas are contenders or pretenders. Quarterback Tyler Wilson returns for his senior season and his hoping this year is the charm. However if Arkansas wants to win the SEC, their defence must improve. In their losses to LSU and Alabama, the Razorbacks gave up 79 points in those two games. If Arkansas could avoid their two nemesis, they could win the National Championship. Alas it just isn’t meant to be.
The Badgers are hoping to repeat as Big 10 champions, but they will have to do it without quarterback Russell Wilson, who is battling for the starting job, with the Seattle Seahawks. The offence will revolve around senior running back Montee Ball. That’s not a bad thing for Wisconsin. Ball had an outstanding season in 2011, rushing for 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns. The big question in Madison is the defence which was shaky last season. With an improving Michigan ready to take charge, Wisconsin are in a fight to win a trip to Pasadena on January 2.
Last year’s ACC champions, Clemson won the conference, despite having a horrific defence. The Tigers surrendered 70 points in their Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia, a game that still gives head coach Dabo Swinney nightmares. Junior quarterback Tajh Boyd had a terrific season in 2011, throwing for 3,828 yards and 33 touchdowns. Clemson can score points. But can they stop anybody? They hope top recruit Robert Nkemdiche can solidify the defence. The freshman defensive end is labelled a can’t miss prospect, and Clemson was thrilled to sign him, beating out schools such as LSU, Alabama and Oregon. Nkemdiche has a bright future, but Clemson don’t have enough on defence, to win the ACC.
14. Michigan State
The Spartans were within an eyelash, of winning the Big 10 title last season. They may take a step back in 2012. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has graduated, and the schedule is murderous. Michigan State opens their campaign at home against a tricky Boise State side that has always something to prove. Trips to Michigan and Wisconsin will test the Spartans, while home games against Ohio State, Notre Dame and Nebraska won’t be easy. This will be a test of character for Michigan State, and a conference title is unlikely for the men in green.
The Longhorns are trying to crawl back into contention in the Big 12. There is significant pressure on head coach Mack Brown to lead the Longhorns to the glory days of the mid 2000s. The number one question amongst Texas fans is who will be their starting quarterback. Chase McCoy and David Ash are battling for the number one job in Austin. Brown announced that Ash will be his starting quarterback. Ash has to step up and show his coach and teammates that he can do the job. Brown has to remain confident in Ash to keep his team together. Time will tell if Brown made the right decision.
16. Virginia Tech
You can always count on Frank Beamer’s squads to have great defences and great special teams. The Hokies should be great in both those areas, but do have concerns on offence. Running back David Wilson is now plying his trade with the New York Giants and Virginia Tech will miss his 1,627 yards on the ground. Beamer hasn’t decided on who will replace him, as 4 freshman are battling for the starting job. Virginia Tech will be in the hunt for the ACC title, but a lack of offence will hurt the Hokies in 2012.
The Horned Frogs finally join the Big 12 after years of playing in non-BCS conferences that gave them little competition. This season, TCU will have to prove themselves against much tougher competition. However, they will have to deal with some controversy first. Quarterback Casey Pachall avoided suspension from coach Gary Patterson for past drug use, but this distraction will be with TCU all season long. Especially if TCU struggles in the Big 12. Trips to Oklahoma State and Texas, plus a home date with Oklahoma will be mighty sturdy tests for TCU. They are a good team, but not good enough to win the conference.
The Cornhuskers debut season in the Big 10 wasn’t a complete failure. But it wasn’t a complete success either. The Cornhuskers were a respectable 9-4 in 2011 but that isn’t good enough in Lincoln. The success with Nebraska lies with quarterback Taylor Martinez, who did well against weaker opposition, but struggled against the big boys of the conference. The famed Blackshirts defence will have to be much better than last year as well. Not sold on the Huskers.
19. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys came oh so close to a shot at the National Championship. A heartbreaking loss to Iowa State in their second last game of the season ruined the dreams of many in Stillwater. However, the Cowboys will have a new look to them in 2012. Gone are quarterback Brandon Weeden and superstar receiver Justin Blackmon, both are in the NFL. Oklahoma State will go with freshman Wes Lunt behind centre, in hopes that he will develop into a star very quickly. A decent recruiting class may give the Cowboys a shot at a title in a couple of years. For now, they are a decent team with potential.
The Cardinal rode the coattails of Andrew Luck for the last couple of seasons. Luck is now with the Indianapolis Colts and Stanford will need to change their thinking. Josh Nunes will take over as the starting quarterback for the Cardinal and the one advantage he does have is that he knows the system. Running back Stepfan Taylor will be asked to carry more of the offensive load for Stanford this season. The other challenge will be the defence will have to be better this season. Stanford are good, but not good enough to supplant USC and Oregon in the PAC 12.
21. Kansas State
The Wildcats got off to a fantastic start in 2011, winning their first 7 games. They did fade down the stretch but still posted a solid 10-3 season. As always, the offence is the strength in Manhattan. Quarterback Collin Klein is a dual threat in both passing and running. Klein led the team in rushing 1,099 yards on the ground. Klein is a big, mobile quarterback who is very difficult to bring down. The defence will need some work even though linebacker Arthur Brown has potential to be in the NFL next season. Kansas State will be a contender, but won’t win the Big 12.
22. Ohio State
Urban Meyer takes over the reigns in Columbus, and will be dealing with a team under probation. Ohio State is ineligible for postseason play, thanks to violations made by former coach Jim Tressel. Meyer didn’t have the resource he had at Florida to recruit the best talent, but he will get the most out of what he has. Give Ohio State a couple of years and they will be contenders for the National Championship. For now, expect them to hover around the Top 25, playing spoiler along the way.
The Gators are hoping to improve in Will Muschamp’s second season. Muschamp is known as a defensive guru, but it took some time for Florida to get used to his system. The Gators do have an outside shot at the SEC East, as teams such as South Carolina and LSU will have to make the trip to the Swamp. Florida isn’t ready for a National Title run, but improvements are a good possibility.
24. Boise State
Until this school decides it wants to be a major player, and join a major conference such as the Big 12 or PAC 12, Boise State will always be on the outside looking in. The Broncos will have a new starting quarterback as Kellen Moore is trying out for the Detroit Lions this season. Joe Southwick as been given the keys to the offence, but can he steer them in the right direction. A tough opening game against Michigan State in East Lansing will go a long way in determining the fate of Boise State.
25. Notre Dame
The venerable Fighting Irish have been struggling to keep up with the powers of college football. While the Irish are a solid team, who should win 8-9 games this season, Notre Dame aren’t feared by anyone and don’t have what it takes to challenge the big boys like Alabama, LSU and USC. No game is bigger for Notre Dame than on November 24, when they make the cross-country trip to the LA Coliseum to face their bitter rivals, the Trojans. Notre Dame is hoping to be in contention for a National Title by then, but don’t count on it.
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