Spring practice has long passed and we inch closer to the start of the 2012 college football season. In what has become an annual rite of passage at NFL’s Future, we rank the top 25 teams in all the land post-USA Today pre-season poll.
Much has occurred that may skew our rankings. The Honey Badger no longer roams the LSU secondary, USC adds a back, and the PAC 12 is still celebrating Andrew Luck’s exodus to the NFL.
There is no science to the poll, just an (not really) educated guess on how things will fare in 2012. Enough talking, here’s the poll.
1. USC Trojans
The Trojans bring a mess of starters back and add a potent Penn State RB in Silas Redd. This offense has a shot at being one of the tops in the history of college football. A 3,000 yard passer, (2) 1,000 yard receivers, and (2) 1,000 yard backs. Yeah, it’s going to be an explosive season in Troy. Road games against Stanford and Washington and home contests against Oregon and Notre Dame could be the chinks in the National Title armor for the Trojans.
2. LSU Tigers
Sure, they lost the Honey Badger but this team still runs out the top defense on paper in the country. Pass rushing dynamos Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery offer hope that the secondary won’t be tested often in 2012. The offense will ride on the arm of juco transfer Zach Mettenberger. Hey, he can’t be any worse than Jordan Jefferson. The Tigers schedule is promising and they should be in the hunt until the end.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide
The Tide will look to re-load on defense after losing Courtney Upshaw, Mark Barron, Dont’e Hightower, and Josh Chapman to the NFL. For some reason, I don’t think this will be a problem for Nick Saban. The offense lost a key cog in RB Trent Richardson but no worries, Eddie Lacy is waiting in the wings. AJ McCarron will work behind a monster offensive line in what should be explosive offense for Saban’s crew.
4. Oklahoma Sooners
Landry Jones embarks on his final season under Bob Stoops and looks for redemption after a so-so junior season. The offense won’t be an issue for OU and new DC Mike Stoops looks to add some much needed energy to a defense that struggled in 2011 despite having talented pieces. The home stretch of OU’s schedule (West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and TCU) could make or break their Big XII and possibly National Title hopes.
5. Georgia Bulldogs
Nine starters will be back on defense and the offense will be led by QB Aaron Murray. It is looking promising for the Bulldogs in 2012. They avoid SEC powers in Alabama, LSU, and Arkansas which bodes well for their run at the SEC Championship. With a very manageable schedule it’s not inconceivable that the Dogs could be in line for the National Title.
I could be the president of the Dana Holgerson fan club. Year two of the Holgerson regime at WVU could bring more fireworks than the first. They take a step up in competition as they move from the Big East to the Big 12. Geno Smith is primed for another fantastic season and possible Heisman run in Morgantown. With Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey back, this offense can score at will. The defense remains a major question mark as they move from a 3-3-5 to 3-4. If they can find the defensive personnel to slow up the likes of OU and Texas, their offense should keep them in games.
7. Wisconsin Badgers
The Badgers are making an art form of finding transfer quarterbacks to fill their need. Last season Russell Wilson led the Badgers to two Hail Mary’s away from a shot at the National Title. The 2012 version of Wilson comes in the form of Maryland QB Danny O’Brien. It should be comforting for O’Brien to turn and hand off to Montee Ball. The Badgers toughest test could come on the road against Nebraska but they get a break with Michigan off the schedule this season.
8. Florida State Seminoles
Will they finally live up to the expectations? Everyone in the country expected FSU to take a step forward in 2011 and it didn’t happen. On paper, they are as talented as any team in the country but the play on the field hasn’t matched the hype. A lot of the expectations rest squarely on EJ Manuel who has been hampered by injuries throughout his career. If he can stay healthy, look for big things from the offense. On defense, they should be lights out. We will hold off on top five potential for FSU until they show up on the field.
9. Oregon Ducks
The QB spot will be pivotal for Chip Kelly’s squad. Replacing Darron Thomas in this offense is no easy task but could be made easier with the like of Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas roaming the backfield. I chose not to give the Ducks as much love as others because of glaring holes on the defense. The secondary and linebackers will need to prove they can handle the explosive offenses in the PAC 12 before I jump aboard their bandwagon.
10. Michigan Wolverines
If not for a brutal schedule the Wolverines would be ranked much higher. They face Alabama in Arlington, Texas on September 1 and road contests against Nebraska and Ohio State loom for Brady Hoke. Hoke will be comforted by dual threat QB Denard Robinson. Robinson finishes out his UM career in 2012 and looks to prove he’s more of a passer than most think. The defense was much improved in 2011 under Greg Mattison but they will need to replace three-fourths of their starting defensive line.
The Razorbacks could be the spoiler in the SEC. They get Alabama and LSU at home which will be pivotal games for John L. Smith’s squad. Pulling the trigger for Arkansas will be Heisman contender Tyler Wilson. Wilson will be without stud 2011 receivers in Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, and Greg Childs but he doesn’t lack for firepower. The run game will be helped out with the return of Knile Davis. Clearly the offense won’t be the issue for interim coach John L. Smith. The defense was better in 2011 but will have to continue to make strides if they want to contend in the SEC.
12. South Carolina Gamecocks
Fresh off an 11-win 2011 season Steve Spurrier looks to be a contender in the SEC again. The fate of the Gamecocks will rest in the health or return to health of RB Marcus Lattimore. Spurrier has pledged that Lattimore will be healthy for week one which will be big for the offense. Connor Shaw took over at QB and played well as a youngster. He will need to progress to the next level for the Gamecocks to be contenders in 2012.
13. Clemson Tigers
Clemson was embarrassed in the Orange Bowl by Dana Holgerson and Co. They look for some redemption in 2012 on the backs of a very good offense. With Tajh Boyd, Andre Ellington, DeAndre Hopkins, and Sammy Watkins in the fold, the offense looks to be in good hands. The defense is young but talented with Brett Venables taking over for Kevin Steele. The key games for the Tigers will be on the road against FSU and a home matchup with Virginia Tech.
14. Ohio State Buckeyes
Urban Meyer comes to Columbus as the Buckeyes look to play spoiler in 2012. Making Meyer’s transition back to coaching easier will be sophomore QB Braxton Miller. Miller will lead the up-tempo, no-huddle attack with Carlos Hyde looking to be a breakout star in Columbus. The defense for the Buckeyes should be very good with John Simon and Johnathan Hankins anchoring this veteran group.
15. Stanford Cardinal
Replacing Andrew Luck is a near impossible task. Not making it any easier will be the losses of guard David DeCastro and tackle Jonathan Martin. No doubt that David Shaw has his work cut out for him but the talent is there. The offense will lean on RB Stepfan Taylor and the defense could be an area of strength for the Cardinal. A home contest with USC and at Oregon looms large for the Cardinal in their run to a PAC 12 Championship Title hopes.
16. Michigan State Spartans
17. TCU Horned Frogs
18. Virginia Tech Hokies
19. Texas Longhorns
20. Florida Gators
21. Kansas State Wildcats
22. Washington Huskies
23. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
24. Oklahoma State Cowboys
25. Notre Dame Fighting Irish