It’s that time TSHQ nation. The time where we begin looking at the CFB offseason and what better way to prepare for 2012-2013 than to look at the top 25 teams heading into next season. Some CFB “experts” like to post their top 25 immediately following the national title game, as if that somehow proves something. They come up with some catchy nickname like “The Far Too Early Top 25″ or “The Wow I’m So Smart I Can Predict The Top 25 Before I Know Who is Coming Out Top 25.” That’s cool and all. I’m not impressed. You know what I’d rather do? Wait till I know who is gone from school, what schools pulled in for recruiting classes and then base my judgement on whether a team is top 25 or not by what they are, not what they might be. “Woopdie-doo Bryan, what’s the fun in that? What do you know anyways?” You know what I knew last year? Arkansas was a top 10 team even without Ryan Mallet (placed them 8th). You know who didn’t know that? A LOT of writers didn’t know that. Being the first to post your top 25 doesn’t mean much if it’s wrong. Now I won’t pretend to be perfect. I had some terrible picks. I had some great picks outside of Arkansas. These things are never flawless. But if I’m going to be wrong, I’ll be wrong with info I can say I relied on instead of the guessing game. But enough self-promotion, there’s enough of that all the time on here….
To make it clear, this top 25 (as all top 25′s should be) is based on the teams I believe are the 25 best in America. I don’t care what their records may be. Season predictions will come in August. If a team is likely to lose 2-3 games in league play, I’m not ranking them lower than a team who may lose only once if I think the 2-3 loss team is better. This was broken down into 3 parts concluding now with part 3, the #1-8 teams in College Football heading into 2012. Don’t agree? Let me know why. Want to tell me I’m brilliant? I’ll welcome that too. I had two guys who stood out most noticeably last season in my offseason previews. One guy was an Iowa fan who took exception to my projections for his Hawkeyes who I projected at 4th or 3rd in their division with about 7-8 wins. I hit Iowa on the head last year. The other was a BYU fan who thought at worst they were 10-2 with 11-1 potential. I said 9-3 preseason and then he persuaded me to go with 10-2 come predictions time and well, the Cougars went 9-3. Bastard…
Here you go, my personal, potentially different on purpose, bound to look good and bad at various points, top 25 for the 2012-2013 College Football Season…..Teams: #1-8
Writer’s Note: ***Returning starters are based on PhilSteele.com. I’ve scoured the internet for hours and the consensus from many I’ve asked is to use his numbers. If you’re a fan and feel the numbers are wrong, take it up with him. I’ve seen 1000 different numbers for each team.
8. Georgia Bulldogs
2011 Record: 10-4 (Lost to Michigan St. in Outback Bowl)
Returning Starters: 6 offense, 9 defense
Key Games: 9/8 at Missouri, 10/6 at South Carolina, 10/27 vs. Florida (WLOCP)
Synopsis: We’ve been down this road before with the Bulldogs. We’ve seen this story write itself many times. The Bulldogs have quite a bit of talent coming back from a team that went to the SEC Championship game and if football games were only one half would have been able to call themselves SEC champs. They played a very good Michigan State team in the Outback Bowl and let the game slip away after repeated opportunities to win the game in regulation and overtime. Still, for a team who supposedly had their coach with one foot out the door after a week 2 loss to South Carolina, the Bulldogs rebounded and went into the SEC title game 10-2 on the season. In 2012 the Bulldogs enter the SEC East as the clear favorites to repeat. Offensively this team will need to find a way to protect the QB but if they can get that solved in the offseason, they’ll be a tough matchup for most opponents. Cody Glenn, Ben Jones and Justin Anderson leave the offensive line from 2011 with questions on the depth chart of who will step in and fill those voids. Aaron Murray, a talented junior QB that was all-conference last year has the majority of his weapons back this season with Orson Charles being the one key loss off his backfield and receiving group. Isaiah Crowell is expected back for his sophomore season but the embattled RB who was the prized recruit of Georgia’s class a year ago has had his issues with Coach Richt and will see plenty of competition from incoming recruits Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Marshall is listed as high as the #1 RB in this class by some recruiting services while Gurley is considered a high character, hard working back. If Crowell is back and these two freshman can be close to what they are projected to be, the UGA run game could become the major factor it was a few years ago with Knowshon Moreno and co. If not, Murray has a talented group of receivers back led by Tavarres King and Malcolm Mitchell. All in all, UGA has 3 of their 4 top pass catchers back from last season and give Murray plenty of choices with the ball both down field and over the middle. Defensively the Bulldogs return 9 members of a stout defense that ranked 5th in the nation overall last year, including top 10 nationally against both the pass and run. As was discussed in the intro, this team has few weaknesses to point to. All-American JR LB Jarvis Jones is back for likely his last season and will spearhead a Bulldogs defense that allowed 20+ points only twice in their last 10 games after going 0-2 to start the year. An experienced group with a ton of seniors in place, they could potentially even be better than last year. The most amazing thing about Georgia in 2012 is their schedule may even be softer than the one on 2011 they rode to a division title. There’s no Boise St. caliber opponent in non-league play and they once again avoid the 3 heavyweights in the SEC West in cross-division play. The biggest challenge will be their road trip to South Carolina in a game that could very well play a key in deciding the division champ at year’s end. Still, with the talent in place and the roster coming back, this team has an outside shot at running it up to the SEC title game. Anything less than 10-2 on the regular season schedule would be a drastic underachievement.
7. Ohio St. Buckeyes
2011 Record: 6-7 (Lost Gator Bowl to Florida)
Returning Starters: 7 offense, 9 defense
Key Games: 10/6 vs Nebraska, 11/17 at Wisconsin, 11/24 vs Michigan
Synopsis: I’m not as isolated on this team as I thought I might be. There’s actually others I’ve seen who have put Ohio St. in their top 10 and I won’t lie I’m a little disappointed. After the Arkansas play last season that I was killed for preseason, only to watch it come to fruition, I was hoping to repeat that in 2012 with the Buckeyes. I’ll be honest, this is an Urban Meyer ranking. Make no mistake about that. If Luke Fickell was still coaching this team I’d have them about 10-12 spots lower. I buy Urban Meyer stock and in this instance I’m pushing all my chips into the middle of the table on a man who has won at his prior stops and has won BIG. If not for that whole little thing we in the collegiate sports world call violations, the Buckeyes would likely be a popular pick to get back to the Rose Bowl in 2012, at the very least a contender to do so. However, the Buckeyes made their own bed and for this season at least just get to play spoiler to those teams trying to get there themselves. Urban Meyer was not left with an empty cabinet when he took the Ohio St. job. In fact there’s quite a bit for him to toy with. First for starters, contrary to what we’ve done this entire poll, we’ll talk defense first and point simply to 9 starters back from the 19th ranked defense in the country that was probably even better than their numbers suggested if not for the intolerable situations they were put into at times last year because of anemic offensive play. All-American DE John Simon and all-conference safety C.J Barnett are the most recognizable names back for Ohio St. but the defense as a whole is loaded and deep. Add in 9 of the Buckeyes 16 recruits that rank as 4 or 5 star players will be defensive players and it’s easy to see Urban is starting to load up a unit that has routinely been elite in the country. Add in they added two Catholic Memorial Knights, CB Armani Reeves and LB Camren Williams and Urban clearly has his mind in the right place (shoutout to the former HS of myself, Gus Elvin and Coley Michalik). Offensively OSU did lose playmakers Boom Herron and DeVier Posey but have a strong group of starters returning, most notably Urban’s new pet project, sophomore QB Braxton Miller. Miller was pretty poor a year ago as a passer and it will be interesting to see how Urban handles that given he had a similar situation with Tim Tebow down at Florida. The guess here is Braxton Miller could become a breakout player nationally next year and the Buckeyes will become more of a dangerous offense as a whole with Urban Meyer’s attack. As mentioned before, the schedule is relatively irrelevant with the sanctions against OSU but looking at games they could play spoiler, Wisconsin likely becomes the favorite to win the division and with the Buckeyes traveling to Madison, a home win by Wisconsin there would go a long way towards improving those chances. In the Legends division, Ohio St. plays Michigan, Michigan St and Nebraska, the 3 teams most likely to compete for that division title so how those 3 games play out could be a key in that race as well. The Buckeyes will look nothing like the 6-7 team from a year ago and are predicted to be one of the most improved teams in the nation in 2012. The only question is will they improve enough to justify this preseason top 10 ranking.
6. Oklahoma Sooners
2011 Record: 10-3 (Beat Iowa in Insight Bowl)
Returning Starters: 8 offense, 7 defense
Key Games: 11/17 at West Virginia, 11/24 vs Oklahoma St., 12/1 at TCU
Synopsis: The best thing that might have happened to Oklahoma in 2011 was Landry Jones’ free fall once Ryan Broyles went down with a season-ending ACL injury. Their dynamic QB who some felt could be a key to their run at a title last year was all but certain to leave for the NFL after his Junior year, but a poor last 4-5 games made him reconsider and now he’s back in Norman for his senior campaign where he’ll try to redeem a 2011 season that had the wheels come off which they couldn’t recover from. As is the case most years in Oklahoma, the Sooners will have an abundance of talent at the skill positions for Jones to work with. RB Dominique Whaley was likely looking at a 1000 yard season when he broke his ankle at Kansas St. in late October, hurting the Sooners run game that used him more and more as the season was going on. Roy Finch will remain in the backup role while goal line specialist Blake Bell will probably continue to replace Jones in goal line packages with his efficiency inside the 10 last year. In the passing game Ryan Broyles was a big loss to the Sooners last year and he’ll be sorely missed this season. While it is hard to imagine any WR will step up to fill his shoes as one of the nation’s top WRs, that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of talent at the WR position. Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds are both back and each had solid sophomore campaigns for Oklahoma. James Hanna leaves the TE position bare. One of the more impressive stats from last season that showcases the excitement surrounding this 2012 offense is an elite offensive line that returns 4 starters who allowed only 9 sacks on a team that threw the ball 558 times last year. If Jones’ cleans up his erratic play from last year, the Sooners have to feel good about their chances to again be among the top offenses in all of college football. While the Sooners do return 7 starters on defense, the immediate concern has to be the loss of both Brent Venables and Willie Martinez. The defensive coordinator and secondary coaches respectively last year each moved on with Venables taking the same position at Clemson while Martinez goes to Auburn to coach the d-backs there. The Sooners were prone to big plays against them last year, never more evident than the Baylor and Oklahoma State games where they were torched. Travis Lewis and Frank Alexander will be the two names Sooners fans miss the most in the fall of 2012, but there’s enough experience back this year to suspect they’ll improve off a very mediocre defense in 2011. For the Sooners, the 2012 season will be about starting fast. While the Big 12 poses a challenge almost every week next year with a deep, balanced league, the Sooners have a extremely difficult back-end of the schedule that sees them play West Virginia, Oklahoma St and TCU to end the year. They’re among the top contenders for the Big 12 title and at this point I’d say they’re the favorite, but failure to get through the manageable part of their schedule unbeaten could spell doom for them in 2012 before their chance to win the Big 12 even starts.
5. Arkansas Razorbacks
2011 Record: 11-2 (Beat Kansas St. in Cotton Bowl)
Returning Starters: 7 offense, 6 defense
Key Games: 9/15 vs. Alabama, 11/10 at South Carolina, 11/24 vs. LSU
Synopsis: Tiger Woods had many mistresses during his time married. For me, there’s just one. While I wouldn’t want my Clemson Tigers to be offended, I’ve long had a crush on the Arkansas Razorbacks and it continues to grow each year they make me look good. The secret that everyone should know by now that I mentioned last year as a big reason for ranking Arkansas top 10 when so many had them in the teens is that Bobby Petrino’s system is built for success year after year as long as he has a QB. In case you weren’t aware, Tyler Wilson is a damn good QB when he’s not playing Alabama or LSU and it’s because of those two teams that Arkansas isn’t higher on this poll. Most will immediately point to the loss of Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Jarius Wright and while all 3 were dynamic playmakers for Petrino’s offense (for my money the best WR core in the country last year) I have little doubt that they’ll just reload. Cobi Hamilton will step into the lead role while new players such as Marquel Wade and Julian Horton who got a little time last year will step in and provide an impact. TE Chris Gragg is back, coming off a a junior season where he caught 41 passes. The Razorbacks passing attack will be fine. Tyler Wilson will make these wide receivers better simply with his big arm and down field prowess. On the flip side, should the passing game falter a bit, it never hurts to bring back an All-SEC caliber back like Knile Davis who returns from missing all of the 2011 season. Davis who rushed for over 1300 yards and 13 TDs in 2010 will take over the primary RB role in an offense that was already returning all-conference RB Dennis Johnson and versatile pass-catching back Ronnie Wingo. If Davis is back at 100%, the Razorbacks have a chance to be an even better offense than the one that was very strong in 2011. Defensively the Hogs will rely on an experienced defense that although only returns 6 starters is expected to start 10 juniors or seniors and seemed to get better as the season progressed last year. The Razorbacks will have to be better against the run in 2011, a part of their defense that hurt them last year, ranking only 69th. In a division with Alabama and LSU, an inability to stop the run could mean a loss before the game even begins. The defense will define this team. They won in 2011 by simply being too explosive offensively for most teams. The odds they can duplicate that again in 2012 are slim. The defense has to be better…period. The Hogs have a tough, tough schedule in 2012. Alabama comes to town in Week 3 for a monster SEC West game. After a game with Rutgers they’ll be on the road for two weeks at Auburn and Texas A&M. In mid-November they have back to back road games at South Carolina and Mississippi St. While the Bulldogs are probably in a rebuilding year, StarkVegas is rarely a cakewalk for road teams. Finally they finish the year at home vs LSU who may very well be the best team in America. It’s tough for the Hogs. It’s not often you could be the 3rd best team possibly in America and not even be top 2 in your division, but such was the case last year and appears to be a possibility again in 2012.For what it’s worth, the line is drawn behind Arkansas on the elite teams for CFB in 2012. I think Arkansas is the last team welcome to the table when we talk about the best teams in America next year.
4. USC Trojans
2011 Record: 10-2 (Bowl Ineligible)
Returning Starters: 8 offense, 7 defense
Key Games: 9/22 at Stanford, 11/3 vs. Oregon, 11/24 vs Notre Dame
Synopsis: Everyone and their mother is proclaiming the Trojans as the team to beat in the PAC-12 but I’m not buying it. USC is extremely talented offensively so I can see why some are in love with this group. I think people are a little optimistic on a defense that was very mediocre a year ago and dreadful against the pass. We’ll see how their first year off postseason ban factors into their run at a conference title. While the roster looks good now, what happens if the injury bug hits? Do they have the depth to sustain that? When talking about USC in 2012, the conversation starts and ends with their prolific passing game. Matt Barkley surprised nearly everyone when he elected to come back to USC for his senior year for what he termed “unfinished business.” The AP All-American a year ago was ranked as the 2nd-best QB in the draft and a probable top 10 pick if he came out but elected to go the Andrew Luck route and Trojans fans are happy he did. Joining him on offense will be the dynamic WR duo of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. Woods needs no introduction as one of the top WRs in the nation and quite possibly the favorite for the Biletnikoff award in 2012. Lee was phenomenal as a freshman hauling 73 passes for over 1100 yards and 11 scores. If the duo get any better in 2012, they’ll be tough to match as a 1-2 punch for WRs. While the loss of Matt Kalil off their offensive line can’t be overlooked, USC does return 4 offensive linemen from last year’s team led by all-conference center Khaled Holmes. In a league that was soft on defense in 2011, USC could put up some crooked numbers next year if teams can’t generate pressure on Barkley. Defensively is where I differ from most with this team. While they do return 7 defensive starters including 4 all-conference performers, they didn’t show last year they could stop any great offenses. Standford and Oregon both scored big on them as did Arizona and Arizona State. Washington would be the closest thing to an elite offense that they had success against. When you consider the strength of their defense last year, the defensive line, loses 3 starters, I’m not seeing the rosy red expectations others see. Their secondary was flat out bad last year. Returning starters is always nice and something I use quite a bit to judge a team by but if you’re returning starters from a bad unit, that isn’t always a positive. USC will win a lot of football games next year and would be favored against the majority of college football. But this team has a few flaws that make me very hesitant and skeptical to say they can win a national title like some suggest. With road trips to Stanford, Washington where they’ve struggled in recent years and an improved Utah team, don’t rule out an upset in any of those games. Add in likely having to beat Oregon twice to run the table and I’d be very surprised if USC is sitting at 13-0 on December 1st.
3. Oregon Ducks
2011 Record: 12-2 (Beat Wisconsin in Rose Bowl)
Returning Starters: 5 offense, 6 defense
Key Games: 10/6 vs. Washington, 11/3 at USC, 11/17 vs Stanford
Synopsis: The defending PAC-12 champs (and PAC-10 champs each of the 2 years prior) look to make it four in a row in 2012 despite the offensive weapons that they’ve seen depart for the NFL. After winning the Rose Bowl, it looked as if the Ducks were in for a miserable offseason after LaMichael James announced he was skipping his senior season to go to the NFL and Darron Thomas shocked everyone by declaring a year early himself. Suddenly rumors began popping up that Chip Kelly was departing to take the Tampa Bay Buccaneers job in the NFL and masses of Ducks fans wept at the thought of their fun, high-octane offense leaving altogether. Fortunately Chip Kelly wasn’t going anywhere and because of that Ducks fans can sleep at night knowing they’ll be a major player in not only the PAC-12 but the national championship race in 2012. LaMichael James leaves with an opportunity to become the career NCAA rushing leader had he come back, going for over 1800 yards and 18 scores in an injury shortened 2011 season. Darron Thomas’ early departure means the Ducks will have to replace 33 TDs and 2700 yards passing. Not to be overlooked with those two key cogs departing is the loss of TE David Paulson who had been a safety valve for the Ducks the last couple seasons and was a key component of their red zone offense. Now comes the part that may raise some eyebrows and get a few snickers for my opinion. These losses aren’t major. I firmly believe the Ducks offense will move on from these departures with little more than a blink of the eye. Kenjon Barner was nearly a 1000 yard back last season averaging over 6 ypc with 11 scores. When he filled in for an injured James, all he managed to do was run for 286 yards on 41 carries with 3 scores in 2 games including 171 yards against Arizona St. who hadn’t quite entered their free fall just yet. At QB will be Bryan Bennett who like Barner filled in just fine for Darron Thomas when Thomas was hurt. Frankly, I don’t think the Oregon QB position is nearly as important as some may expect. While his reads must be correct in the option offense, generally they are making high percentage throws or running the ball themselves. Bennett simply needs to avoid turning the ball over and like we saw a seamlessly flawless transition from Masoli to Thomas, I think you’ll see the same from Thomas to Bennett. This far into the Oregon preview and we haven’t even mentioned the return of the dynamic De’Anthony Thomas who pretty much does it all. He can take handoffs, catch passes and return kicks, all the while being a threat to score just about every time he touches the ball. He came on as a freshman and dominated the PAC-12. By the end of the Rose Bowl, even casual CFB fans across America knew his name. By the end of 2012, he’ll be a household name in all living rooms. Oregon went from the national championship in 2010 to having to replace all levels of their defense in 2011. Most figured they’d struggle at points without some of their departed leaders but once again they brushed off graduations to pump out another 11 win season. The Ducks bring more back to the fold defensively in 2012 than in 2011 and will have experience back on each level of the defense. For the Ducks in 2012 it is very simple. The OOC is so soft it would make the Florida Gators blush. Home vs Stanford and at USC. Circle those two games. There’s a good chance as mentioned earlier that they could see the Trojans twice. Honestly, if that’s the case, we may be looking at a de-facto semi-final in the PAC-12 title game.
2. LSU Tigers
2011 Record: 13-1 (Lost BCS title game to Alabama)
Returning Starters: 7 offense, 5 defense
Key Games: 10/13 vs South Carolina, 11/3 vs Alabama, 11/24 at Arkansas
Synopsis: The story of LSU’s 2011 season coming in was the QB controversy and as things have a funny way of playing out, the last thing surrounding this team at year’s end was a QB controversy and whether Les Miles should have gone to Jarrett Lee in the BCS NCG when Jefferson was struggling vs Alabama. The general consensus surrounding this 2012 LSU football team is it may be even better than the 2011 edition that before the BCS title game some were asking if they could go down as an all-time great team. The depth LSU possessed last season defensively, specifically on the defensive line has some confident they’ll shake off the losses and respond once again with a dominant defense in 2012. 6 starters depart from the defense including CB Morris Claiborne who is projected as a top 5 pick in the upcoming NFL draft and DT Michael Brockers who is also expected to go inside the top 10 in most projections. Stefoin Francois and Ryan Baker both graduate from the linebackers which was probably the least recognized unit last season to no fault of their own. Still, as many have pointed out, these graduations don’t spell doom for the LSU defense. Most notably of the 5 returning defensive starters is the man known simply as “Honey Badger”, Tyrann Mathieu who was a Heisman finalist a year ago and made waves as much with his mouth and on-field demeanor as he did his nickname. With all-conference safety Eric Reid back as well, there will be few if any secondaries in America that can match the Tigers in 2012. Along with their dominant defense is one of the best special team duos in all of America. Drew Alleman returns for his senior season as kicker where he was all-conference in 2011 and perhaps the world’s most celebrated punter, twitter sensation Brad Wing, a sophomore who was an AP all-american last season is back to try and duplicate a ridiculous freshman season and perhaps get into the end zone before celebrating. Offensively is where people questioned LSU in 2011 (which proved to be rather foolish given the big numbers they put up against most non-Alabama teams) and that is where the questions will lie in 2012 as well. Gone are the days of debating over Lee and Jefferson as the starter and the Mettenberger era begins. The Georgia transfer is considered much more of a passing QB than either Lee or Jefferson proved to be an is expected to take some pressure off the LSU ground game which will be deep and talented again in 2012. Spencer Ware returns as an all-conference back from 2011 and Michael Ford still sits behind him providing an experienced back who actually led the team in rushing last season. Not to be forgotten is sophomore Kenny Hilliard who came on strong down the stretch as a tough red zone back. 4 offensive linemen back bodes well for an LSU offense that will once again rely on the run to set everything else up. As is the norm for LSU, the schedule has a number of challenges on it in 2012 that could prevent a return to the title game. They open the SEC on the road vs Auburn and Florida before returning home for their first league home game vs a tough South Carolina team. Following that is a trip out to College Station to play SEC West newcomer Texas A&M before their bye week. Alabama and Arkansas make up two of their final 4 games before a potential SEC title game. It’s the world teams live in in the SEC West. LSU will have its work cut out for itself if they plan on duplicating 2011.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
2011 Record: 12-1 (Beat LSU in BCS title game)
Returning Starters: 7 offense, 4 defense
Key Games: 9/1 vs Michigan, 9/15 at Arkansas, 11/3 at LSU
Synopsis: The team who finished the 2011 season on top enters 2012 on top of my poll and no, it’s not simply because they won the 2011 title. Alabama runs into the same problems LSU has and that is a mass exodus of talent off a defense that put together one of the finest performances a defense has ever put together in the national championship game in 2011. Gone from the defense are most notably Courtney Upshaw, Mark Barron, Dont’a Hightower and Dre Kirkpatrick. While each unit of the defense has some parts to replace the biggest reason I’m fine with it is because Nick Saban reloads every year and I have little doubt Alabama won’t once again put an elite defense on the field in 2012. There’s a reason National Signing Day, initialed NSD is sometimes joked to mean Nick Saban Day. Generally Nick Saban knows what he wants and he gets what he wants as evident by the #1 recruiting class in America in 2012. With 17 4/5 star recruits in the class, 10 defensive players and 2 more athletes, it’s not hard to expect more brilliancy from the Crimson Tide defense in 2012. Nick Saban in my opinion is the best coach in college football and I worry less about the loss of talent with him than I do with any other coach. However to make matters a little easier, I feel very good about the Alabama offense returning in 2012. A.J McCarron was considered a weak link heading into the BCS title game, a QB who couldn’t handle the pressure and would make a big mistake. In fact, in a game where the defenses were both considered equally dominant, a lot of prognosticators who went with LSU did so because of McCarron specifically. While his numbers didn’t do a ton to garner praise, anyone who watched the full game saw the calm manner in which he moved the ball, especially through the air. Still, to stay true to their strengths the Alabama run game turns to Ed Lacy who was buried in the shadow of Heisman finalist Trent Richardson. Like Richardson emerged from the shadow of Mark Ingram when Ingram went on to the NFL, I expect Lacy to become an elite RB in the SEC and be a big key to the Crimson Tide offense next year. With 4 offensive linemen back, all juniors or seniors, from a team that was 15th in the nation in rushing last year and ran the ball well against LSU both times, the Tide are set up to control the ground game again in 2012. The biggest area of concern for Alabama will be at wide receiver and tight end. The Tide lose their top 4 pass catchers from a year ago and won’t return a single player who had 20 or more catches. Though their offense isn’t predicated on passing the ball much, there were certain situations last year where the passing game was key, mainly in the BCS title game and they’ll need someone to step up to provide that insurance. Many are pointing to the Michigan game at the beginning of the year as the first key game for Alabama and due to missing UGA and South Carolina in league play I’d list it 3rd, but I’ll be honest….I think Alabama blows them out. You give Nick Saban 7 months to prepare for a one-dimensional running QB and I think it will be ugly. Which leads to the two games each of the SEC West heavyweights have circled, against each other. Alabama has to travel to both LSU and Arkansas in 2012 which makes their national championship prospects tougher to support. One is do-able. Both may be asking a lot.
Predictions will come in late August on the brink of the season beginning, but you want an early pick I’m leaning on? SEC West winner vs. PAC-12 champ. I drew a line after those Top 5 teams and I firmly believe you’ll likely see two of those 5 in the title game.
That’s it. The top 25 teams in America heading into 2012. Like I said, any comments or opinions are welcome. As the offseason goes on I’ll continue to provide a preview looking ahead. Check back in a few weeks or so as I’ll look at 10 teams who should be on the rise coming off their 2011 season.