College football is 100 days away, so I figured why not put together a little Top 25. Here it is.
1) LSU Tigers
The Tigers finished 13-1 and reached the BCS National Championship Game with Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee playing quarterback in 2011. Now they have a JUCO transfer, Brett Mettenberger, who will give the Tiger a balanced offense. The Tigers might be balanced enough on offense to win a national title in 2012. The Tigers might be balanced enough on offense to win a national title in 2012. With both tailbacks coming back, the Tigers figure to have a run-first, maybe pass sometimes offense. As always, Les Miles is putting together a top notch defense that will continue to stifle opposing offenses. LSU’s schedule might be easier this coming season, too. Nonconference games against North Texas, Washington, Idaho and FCS foe Towson don’t seem nearly as difficult as last season’s non-SEC slate.
2) USC Trojans
With 19 starters coming back from a 10-2 team in 2011, including star quarterback Matt Barkley, USC seems armed to return to national prominence. Barkley made the surprise return after being predicted as a top-5 NFL draft pick. He brings a lot to the table as a player and as a leader on the team. But the Trojans’ schedule seems much more difficult than LSU’s this coming season. The one sport that actually makes the Pac-12 relevant is football and that could cause the Trojans a few problems. The Trojans play Pac-12 road games at Stanford on Sept. 15 and at Washington on Oct. 13, along with a Nov. 3 home game against Oregon and Nov. 24 home finale against Notre Dame. The Trojans biggest downfall may be their defensive line, but if they can piece that together, they may be able to contend for a title.
3) Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama comes into this season trying to defend its National Title. I think for the players, coaches and fans, they may want it to go a bit smoother this year. After winning a BCS title in 2009, the Crimson Tide finished 10-3 in 2010. Alabama will have to rebuild their championship defense ue to the losses of star linebackers Dont’a Hightower Courtney Upshaw and All-America safety Mark Barron. Quarterback AJ McCarron said the Tide plan to open up their offense with a downfield passing game this coming season, but it’s hard to imagine them not running the ball after all the success they have found with it in their history. Especially behind what might be one of the best offensive lines in school history.
4) Oregon Ducks
The Ducks are entering the season without star running back, LaMichael James, for the first time in for years. But the scary thing is, they might be an even faster offense in 2012. Oregon places De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner in the backfield this year. Both of them can bring experience and some serious speed. The only missing piece in their backfield is at the QB position, as Head Coach Chip Kelly is looking to find the perfect fit to run his fast-paced offense. Oregon’s defense must replace two starting linebackers and two defensive backs. The Ducks play five of their first six games at home and their nonconference schedule is much easier with home games against Arkansas State, Fresno State and FCS-foe Tennessee Tech. Road games at Southern Cal and California and a home game against Stanford might loom large in November.
5) Georgia Bulldogs
With an SEC schedule that doesn’t include games against Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi State or Texas A&M, Georgia might have the most manageable road to the SEC championship game. The Dawgs have been lucky enough to stay away from the best teams in the SEC, which will help them in the long run, but it could hurt them at the same time. With nine starters coming back on defense, Georgia looks to be talented and stingy as any defense in the entire country. QB Aaron Murray needs to get rid of his turnover problem if the Bulldogs want to succeed. And the offense needs to play up to its capability and show off the talent that it has.
6) Oklahoma Sooners
Boomer Sooner looks to QB Landry Jones to lead a high-powered offense. The only question will be is if Jones will be able to do it without All-American reciever, Ryan Broyles, who is Oklahmoa’s most prolific reciever in school history. OU coach Bob Stoops hired his brother, former Arizona coach Mike Stoops, as his new defensive coordinator. Mike Stoops should help stabilize the Sooners’ secondary, which struggled in the pass-happy Big 12 last season. OU’s final three games — at Big 12 newcomer West Virginia on Nov. 17, home against Oklahoma State in the Nov. 24 Bedlam game and at Big 12 newcomer TCU on Dec. 1 — will probably determine whether it will be a BCS title contender in 2012.
7) Florida State Seminoles
Florida State has struggled as of late but they have had their reasons: Injuries. The Seminoles were ravaged by injuries on the offensive line last season, and quarterback EJ Manuel was hampered by shoulder and leg injuries. FSU has torched the recruiting trail these past few years, and finally it is beginning to show on the field. FSU has perhaps the country’s deepest receiver corps, but FSU’s running game remains a concern after tailbacks Chris Thompson, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. missed most of the spring. FSU plays two FCS foes (Murray State and Savannah State) because West Virginia canceled a scheduled game after moving to the Big 12. The Seminoles also play their first four games at home and only three contests outside of Florida.
8) West Virginia Mountaineers
West Virginia will take a step up in competition after moving from the depleted Big East to the Big 12 this coming season. But coach Dana Holgerson’s high-powered offense could flourish in the Big 12, where defense sometimes seems to be an afterthought. West Virginia has always thrived in a spread em’ out, toss the skin around type of offense, and the Big 12 is a perfect place for it. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel left for Arizona, and new co-coordinators Keith Patterson and Joe DeForest spent the spring replacing a 3-3-5 scheme with a more traditional 3-4 defense.
9) Michigan Wolverines
In coach Brady Hoke’s first season, the Wolverines finished 11-2, defeated rival Ohio State for the first time since 2003 and knocked off Virginia Tech 23-20 in the Sugar Bowl. Yet, Hoke didn’t get what he wanted the most, a Big Ten championship. With quarterback Denard Robinson and 13 other starters coming back, Michigan looks like the team to beat in the Big Ten in 2012. Michigan’s defense needs to replace a lot of positions on the defensive line, but they will come back strong behind Defensive Coordinator, Greg Mattison. Michigan opens the season against defending BCS national champion Alabama in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 1 and plays Big Ten road games at Nebraska on Oct. 27 and at Ohio State on Nov. 24.
10) South Carolina Gamecocks
Over the past two seasons, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier guided the Gamecocks to their first SEC East title in 2010 and first 11-win season in 2011. The next big question is, Will they be able to win the SEC in 2012?” I just don’t know if the Gamecocks are strong enough to battle with the likes of LSU or Alabama, but that doesn’t mean they can give them a run for their money. RB Marcus Lattimore may be the only reason the ‘Cocks have a chance. Spurrier said Lattimore will be ready for the start of the regular season, after nursing a torn ACL. South Carolina has to replace star defensive end Melvin Ingram and cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and C.C. Whitlock, who led a strong defense throughout 2011.
11) Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans might have lost as much star power as any team in the country after the 2011 season. Quarterback Kirk Cousins and most of his receiver corps are gone, along with tailback Edwin Baker and All-America defensive tackle Jerel Worthy. But MSU coach Mark Dantonio has built a solid program that is capable of reloading. Michigan State has risen up through the rankings throughout the past years and they will continue to rise this year. MSU opens the season against Boise State at home on Aug. 31 and also plays a nonconference game against Notre Dame at home on Sept. 15. The Spartans play Big Ten road games at Michigan on Oct. 20 and at Wisconsin on Oct. 27.
12) Stanford Cardinal
A lot of people expected Stanford to fall a few rungs after coach Jim Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers after the 2010 season. But first-year coach David Shaw guided the Cardinal to an 11-2 record and a spot in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl last season. Now the Cardinal have to survive without All-America quarterback Andrew Luck and many other star players. Luck was the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, and guard David DeCastro, tight end Coby Fleener and tackle Jonathan Martin were selected in the first two rounds. Stanford will look to be a run-oriented club throughout the year, trying to get new QB Brett Nottingham comfortable. Stanford plays USC at home on Sept. 15 and at Oregon on Nov. 17.
13) Arkansas Razorbacks
Can Arkansas survive in the SEC West without coach Bobby Petrino? Whether you liked Petrino or not, it’s hard to argue he wasn’t one of the best offensive playcallers in the country. The Razorbacks bring back a lor of players who will be a part of a very prominent offense. Signal-Caller, Tyler Wilson returns and so does tailback Knile Davis, who is coming back from an ankle injury that caused him to miss all of the 2011 season. Wilson, who threw for 3,638 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. The Razorbacks defense returns after struggling for a few years, before putting it together last year. The Razorbacks play Alabama and LSU, the only teams to beat them last season, at home this year.
14) TCU Horned Frogs
TCU heads into the Big 12 with a lot of momentum this year. Other than the four players arrested as part of a campus-wide drug sting. QB Casey Pachall broke school single-season records for completions (228), completion percentage (66.5) and passing yards (2,921) in his first season as a starter. Three TCU running backs ran for more than 700 yards last season and three of its top four receivers are coming back. Their defense went through some pains at the beginning of their season but they were able to put it together towards the end of the year. The Horned Frogs face a difficult five-game stretch to close the season: Oklahoma State (road), West Virginia (road), Kansas State (home), Texas (road) and Oklahoma (home).
15) Wisconsin Badgers
There will be plenty of new faces at Wisconsin this coming season, from new coaches to another transfer quarterback. That transfer is former Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien, who threw 29 touchdowns for the Terrapins the past two seasons. O’Brien replaces Russell Wilson, who spent one season at Wisconsin after transferring there from NC State. Joining O’Brien in the backfield is star RB Montee Ball, who is back after forgoing the NFL Draft. The Badgers hogs looks to be just as good as usual, paving the way for the Badgers potent ground game. The Badgers play at Nebraska and Penn State during Big Ten play, but don’t play Michigan or Iowa from the Legends Division.
16) Clemson Tigers
Clemson goes into 2012 working on their offensive game and becoming more consistent throughout the year. Clemson had moments where they looked to be one of the best offenses in the nation, but then some weeks they were non-existent. Quarterback Tajh Boyd is back, along with tailback Andre Ellington and receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins. Watkins is one of the top recievers in the country, but went through a few legal problems a month or two ago. The Tigers play at Florida State on Sept. 22 and play Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech at home in October.
17) Ohio State Buckeyes
New Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer was a big hit during spring practice when he announced his team would run a no-huddle, fast-paced offense. Meyer plans for the Buckeyes to play even faster than his teams did at Florida. The offense is going to look a tad bit different than usual in the Horseshoe. They are used to the pro-style, pound the ball type of offense, which may be the exact opposite of Urban Meyer’s offensive style. The Buckeyes defense returns 9 starters, including All-America candidate John Simon on the defensive line. OSU plays at Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin during Big Ten play.
18) Kansas State Wildcats
Can the Wildcats find some help for quarterback Collin Klein? Klein seemed to do everything for Kansas State’s offense last season, leading the team with 1,141 rushing yards with 27 touchdowns and 1,918 passing yards with 13 touchdowns. But Klein carried the ball a whopping 317 times in 2011, some 100 carries more than tailback John Hubert. Defensively, the ‘Cats need a lot of work. They allowed 28 points per a game, which will not help them in the pass happy, offensively loaded Big 12. The Wildcats’ road schedule during Big 12 play is arduous, with games at Oklahoma, Iowa State, West Virginia, TCU and Baylor.
19) Texas Longhorns
Is Texas finally headed back to national prominence? The Longhorns fixed their problems on defense last season, as first-year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz guided one of the most-improved units in the country. As a Texas fan, it has been hard for me to see the Longhorns fall so hard. The offense has been their biggest hole and they are still digging out of it. Quarterbacks Case McCoy and David Ash are still competing for the starting job, a battle that will probably stretch far into preseason camp. Tailbacks Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown need to stay health for the offense to click. The Longhorns got a break from the Big 12 schedule-makers, as many of their really difficult conference games (West Virginia, Baylor and TCU) will be played at home.
20) Florida Gators
A 7-6 finish wasn’t what coach Will Muschamp, or Florida fans, had in mind when he replaced Urban Meyer as the Gators’ coach. But Muschamp didn’t know how big of a mess he inherited from Meyer, either. Florida might not be too far away from contending for another SEC East championship. The Gators have a defensive minded coach in Muschamp, who has helped the Gators stay strong on that side of the ball. Florida’s schedule is much more manageable, with Alabama and Arkansas dropping off and LSU playing at the Swamp.
21) Washington Huskies
About the only defense that looked worse than Washington’s during bowl season was Clemson’s. The Huskies were ripped for 777 yards, including 482 rushing, in a 67-56 loss to Baylor in the Valero Alamo Bowl. The Huskies bring back quarterback Keith Price, who threw for 3,063 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. But they’ll have to replace tailback Chris Polk, who ran for 1,488 yards and 12 touchdowns. Perhaps no team faces a more difficult start to the season; UW plays LSU (road), Stanford (home), Oregon (road) and USC (home) in its first six games.
22) Oklahoma State Cowboys
Cowboys coach Mike Gundy is rolling the dice as he tries to rebuild his team following the best two-year stretch in school history. In a bit of a surprise, Gundy chose 18-year-old freshman Wes Lunt as his team’s starting quarterback after spring practice. Lunt, who enrolled at OSU in January, led Rochester (Ill.) High School to two state championships. Lunt comes in having to replace one of the best QB’s to ever play at OSU, Old-Man Brandon Weeden. Weeden lead the Pokes to a 23-3 record the past two seasons and their first Big 12 championship last year. The Pokes also must replace receivers Justin Blackmon, who was arguably the best reciever in college football. OSU’s defense, which forced an FBS-high 44 turnovers last season, will have to play well to help Lunt get comfortable early in the season.
23) Virginia Tech Hokies
If there is one thing we can seemingly count on every college football season, it’s Virginia Tech winning 10 games. The Hokies have won at least 10 games in each of the past eight seasons, the longest such streak in the country. The one thing I truly love about the Hokies is Beamer Ball. I love the wayBeamer coaches Tech. He uses his own style, placing a major importance on special teams and defense. VT has some rebuilding to do on the offensive side of the ball though. The Hokies must replace star tailback David Wilson, as well as top receivers Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin and four starting offensive linemen. At least quarterback Logan Thomas is back after throwing for 3,013 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season. The Hokies will be very good on defense, but their offense figures to be a work in progress.
24) Nebraska Cornhuskers
Is this the season Nebraska finally makes its move under coach Bo Pelini? The Cornhuskers played for a Big 12 title in each of the past two seasons in the conference, and then went 9-4 in their first season in the Big Ten last season. But the Cornhuskers lost four games in each of Pelini’s first four seasons and they haven’t won a conference championship since 1999. The Big Ten is arguably the toughest conference other than the SEC and for the Huskers to compete for a title they will need some players to step up big. QB Taylor Martinez is going to have to be better. He completed only 56.2 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions last season. Tailback Rex Burkhead is one of the most effective runners in the country, but Martinez has to produce some sort of passing game to keep defenses honest. Nebraska’s defense also lost a star player at each level: tackle Jared Crick, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.
25) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Coach Paul Johnson’s triple-option spread offense has caused problems for many defenses that have faced the Yellow Jackets. As long as they can keep their offense steady, they should be successful. The Yellow Jackets bring back a couple of solid running backs, and Johnson believes offensive line might be the best he has had at Georgia Tech. If the Yellow Jackets can find a strong defensive tackle, they should be better running their 3-4 scheme. The Jackets get a break because they don’t play Florida State or NC State during the regular season, but three of their most difficult games (Virginia Tech, Clemson and Georgia) will be played on the road.