Deace’s 2012 College Football Preview
By Steve Deace
2012 College Football Crystal Ball
Predicting the top 25 things that will or won’t happen this season
1. There will be no undefeated teams in college football this season.
2. Since Knute Rockne, every Notre Dame coach that won a national championship won one by his third season in South Bend. Every Notre Dame coach that didn’t win a national championship by his third season never won one. Brian Kelly will finish this his third season without winning a national championship.
3. South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier (67) will announce his retirement at the end of the season. He will be succeeded by Southern Mississippi Coach Ellis Johnson.
4. Louisville Coach Charlie Strong, an Arkansas native, will be named the Razorbacks’ permanent head coach.
5. Virginia Tech will announce the 2013 season will be Frank Beamer’s last, and then he will turn the reigns over to his celebrated defensive coordinator Bud Foster in 2014.
6. New Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart will fire Coach Derek Dooley, and replace him with Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio. Dantonio will follow the lead of former Sparty Nick Saban, who bolted East Lansing for the SEC rather than remain in Michigan’s shadow. The Wolverines re-emergence under Brady Hoke will prompt Dantonio to follow in his footsteps.
7. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi will replace Dantonio at Michigan State.
8. ESPN will say goodbye to long-time College Gameday co-host Lee Corso and replace him with Mark May.
9. 9 of the 10 teams in the Big Ten eligible for the postseason will be bowl eligible.
10. 9 of the 10 teams in the Big 12 will be bowl eligible.
11. Despite not being eligible to win the Big Ten championship because of NCAA probation, Ohio State will finish with the best overall regular season record in the conference.
12. Oregon’s only two losses this season will come to USC.
13. USC will not go from NCAA probation the past two seasons to the BCS National Championship Game this season.
14. The Heisman Trophy finalists will be Matt Barkley (USC), Kenjon Barner (Oregon), Denard Robinson (Michigan), Landry Jones (Oklahoma), and Geno Smith (West Virginia).
15. USC’s Matt Barkley will become the 7th Trojan to win the Heisman Trophy.
16. Texas A&M will win more games under first year coach Kevin Sumlin in the SEC than the Aggies won last year under Mike Sherman in the Big 12.
17. Pittsburgh will win more games under first year coach Paul Chryst than it won last year under former Coach Todd Graham.
18. LSU will be the only repeat champion in the BCS conferences.
19. Alabama will not defend its national title, nor qualify for a BCS bowl.
20. The results of the top five non-conference games will be:
Alabama over Michigan…This game will be much closer than the experts think given how many new players the defending national champions are breaking in.
Clemson over South Carolina…Last year was a rarity in this intrastate rivalry with both teams ranked, and that should be duplicated this year.
Florida State over Florida…Gators could be looking to spoil a potential national title run for the Seminoles.
Michigan over Notre Dame…Since the series renewal in 1978, Notre Dame has averaged five losses per season in years it loses to Michigan, and only once has posted double-digit wins in a season that included a loss to the Wolverines.
Michigan State over Boise State…Take the experienced defense over the inexperienced offense every time in a matchup like this.
21. Oklahoma State, Stanford, and Kansas State will be ranked in the preseason top 25 but won’t finish there.
22. Texas A&M, Auburn, and Central Florida won’t be ranked in the preseason top 25 but will finish there.
23. The following first year coaches will lead their teams to bowl games this season: Paul Chryst (Pittsburgh), Tim DeRutyer (Fresno State), Ellis Johnson (Southern Mississippi), Mike Leach (Washington State), Tony Levine (Houston), Rich Rodriguez (Arizona), and John L. Smith (Arkansas).
24. Liquidate on these teams that will lose at least two more games than they lost last season: Arizona State, Baylor, Cincinnati, Houston, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Penn State, Southern Mississippi, TCU, and Temple.
25. Buy low and sell high on these teams that will win at least two more games than they won last season: Arizona, Army, Colorado State, Indiana, Louisville, Ohio State, Minnesota, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington State.
First Team All-American Offense
QB—Matt Barkley (USC)
RB—Kenjon Barber (Oregon)
RB—Montee Ball (Wisconsin)
WR—Robert Woods (USC)
WR—Sammy Watkins (Clemson)
TE—Phillip Lutzenkirchen (Auburn)
OL—Barrett Jones (Alabama)
OL—Ricky Wagner (Wisconsin)
OL—Alex Hurst (LSU)
OL—Jonathan Cooper (North Carolina)
OL—Chance Warmack (Alabama)
K—Dustin Hopkins (Florida State)
AP—De’Anthony Thomas (Oregon)
First Team All-American Defense
DL—Sam Montgomery (LSU)
DL—Brandon Jenkins (Florida State)
DL—Star Lotulelei (Utah)
DL—Kawann Short (Purdue)
LB—Manti Te’o (Notre Dame)
LB—Jarvis Jones (Georgia)
LB—A.J. Klein (Iowa State)
DB—Tyrann Mathieu (LSU)
DB—David Amerson (N.C. State)
DB—Johnathan Banks (Mississippi State)
DB—Robert Lester (Alabama)
P—Brad Wing (LSU)
Second Team All-American Offense
QB—Denard Robinson (Michigan)
RB—Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina)
RB—Ray Graham (Pittsburgh)
WR—Keenan Allen (California)
WR—Marquess Wilson (Washington State)
TE—Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame)
OL—D.J. Fluker (Alabama)
OL—Taylor Lewan (Michigan)
OL—Dalton Freeman (Clemson)
OL—Omoregie Uzzi (Georgia Tech)
OL—Khalid Holmes (USC)
K—Caleb Sturgis (Florida)
AP—Andre DeBose (Florida)
Second Team All-American Defense
DL—Jackson Jeffcoat (Texas)
DL—Alex Okafor (Texas)
DL—Corey Lemonier (Auburn)
DL—John Simon (Ohio State)
LB—Chris Borland (Wisconsin)
LB—Khaseem Greene (Rutgers)
LB—Denicos Allen (Michigan State)
DB—Nigel Malone (Kansas State)
DB—Johnny Adams (Michigan State)
DB—T.J. McDonald (USC)
DB—Eric Reid (LSU)
P—Ryan Allen (Louisiana Tech)
Third Team All-American Offense
QB—Geno Smith (West Virginia)
RB—Fitzgerald Toussaint (Michigan)
RB—Knile Davis (Arkansas)
WR—Marquise Lee (USC)
WR—Tavon Austin (West Virginia)
TE—Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington)
OL—Gabe Ikard (Oklahoma)
OL—Chris Faulk (LSU)
OL—Like Joeckel (Texas A&M)
OL—Larry Warford (Kentucky)
OL—Justin Pugh (Syracuse)
K—Quinn Sharp (Oklahoma State)
AP—Jamal Miles (Arizona State)
Third Team All-American Defense
DL—Barkevious Mingo (LSU)
DL—William Gholston (Michigan State)
DL—Joe Veliano (Maryland)
DL—Johnathan Hankins (Ohio State)
LB—Sean Porter (Texas A&M)
LB—Jonathan Brown (Illinois)
LB—Gerald Hodges (Penn State)
DB—E.J. Gaines (Missouri)
DB—John Boyett (Oregon)
DB—Tony Jefferson (Oklahoma)
DB—Merrill Noel (Wake Forest)
P—Tress Way (Oklahoma)
2012 Top 25
Each year I begin my rankings by giving each team’s talent a win range within two games. Teams with returning quality upperclassman quarterbacks are then given a bonus win. From there I factor in each team’s schedule, and the following rankings are my projection of what the final BCS standings will be on December 2nd.
THE GOOD—It’s possible as many as seven Tigers could be selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, which cements this is the most talented team in the nation. If football games are won up front, than LSU is in good shape because the combined power, athleticism, and depth on its offensive and defensive lines has no equal in college football.
THE BAD—You cannot hide your quarterback in college football, but for 13 weeks last season against a tough schedule LSU managed to do exactly that. However, the lack of a playmaking quarterback eventually caught up to them in the national title game. The tough road schedule will require new quarterback Zach Mettenberger to win a game. Can he do it?
THE BOTTOM LINE—With four road games against 2011 bowl teams the Tigers won’t finish undefeated, but will repeat as SEC champions, which will put them right back in the BCS National Championship.
THE GOOD—Three times during his tenure Coach Bob Stoops has been blessed with a senior quarterback who started the majority of the games during his final season. Stoops’ record during those three seasons is 36-4, including his lone national championship and another appearance in the BCS title game. Enter Landry Jones, who enters his senior season protected by what should be one of the best offensive lines of the Stoops’ era.
THE BAD—The defense played well below its talent last season, and now has some holes to fill. The Sooners are hoping the return of Mike Stoops as defensive coordinator will make up for those losses.
THE BOTTOM LINE—Stoops knows how to bounce back. Oklahoma has a .862 winning percentage in seasons following years they didn’t win the Big 12, and the Sooners will be favored in every one of their games this season.
THE GOOD—The Trojans are hungry coming off of a two-year exile from relevance due to NCAA probation, and return what could very well be the most feared passing attack in the country. Quarterback Matt Barkley could be the first pick in next year’s draft, and wideouts Robert Woods and Marquise Lee will also be first round picks one day. A watered down Pac-12 means a soft schedule as well.
THE BAD—All eyes are on former NFL defensive maestro Monte Kiffin to continue developing a defense that started three freshmen linebackers last season, and has been hit hard by the NCAA’s scholarship reductions.
THE BOTTOM LINE—It’s tough to go from probation to the national championship as many are predicting, but a return to the BCS should be the minimum goal for this team.
THE GOOD—They’re overshadowed by LSU and Alabama, but Georgia is also playing some of the best defense in the SEC. 10 starters are back on a unit that terrorized opposing quarterbacks a year ago. The Dawgs also have something LSU and Alabama don’t have—a proven playmaker at quarterback in Aaron Murray. Entering his third season as a starter, Murray has 65 touchdowns the past two seasons and is on pace to break all the school’s passing and total offense records.
THE BAD—Another offseason meant another series of off-field problems and suspensions. Georgia will be locked into a tight race in the SEC East, and could be without several key players in an early road test at Missouri. Star recruit Isaiah Crowell has been kicked off the team.
THE BOTTOM LINE—If Georgia can get focused all the ingredients are there: a top-notch defense, maybe the best quarterback in the SEC, and a friendly schedule with only three true road games and no LSU and Alabama.
THE GOOD—Despite the heavy personnel losses, the Crimson Tide are now recruiting at the level Miami, Fla. was in the 1980s, Florida State was in the 1990s, and USC was a decade ago. Which means their personnel losses are almost irrelevant, and they’re more capable of re-loading than any program in the country. And if you’re going to re-load, it’s best to do it with what could be the most talented offensive line in school history, if not anywhere in college football in recent memory. Three of the five starters could be first round draft picks.
THE BAD—Two years ago Alabama was coming off a national title facing similar roster turnover, and ended up losing three games and falling to the Capitol One Bowl. That team had Trent Richardson, Julio Jones, and Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. This team doesn’t have any proven offensive playmakers like that, and is transitioning under a new offensive coordinator as well.
THE BOTTOM LINE—The Crimson Tide will be favored to win another national title…in 2013. The schedule is too tough this season given the personnel losses.
THE GOOD—Despite all the off-field distractions the past two years, the Ducks are breathing rarified air. Coach Chip Kelly is 36-6 in his three seasons, including three BCS bowl appearances. Even with new starters at quarterback and running back it’s not inconceivable Oregon could be even better on offense this season. Kenjon Barber is due for a breakout year, and De’Anthony Thomas is one of the most talented athletes in the country. Redshirt freshman quarterback Marcs Mariota was the star of the spring.
THE BAD—Some tightening on defense is still needed. Oregon’s offense averaged 31 points per game in its two losses last season, and the defense surrendered 32 points per contest in the last five games of last season. It’s tough to win a national championship like that.
THE BOTTOM LINE—The Ducks have what amounts to a two-game season, and both games will likely be on the road at USC.
7. Florida State
THE GOOD—17 starters return from a team that didn’t have the breakthrough season many were anticipating in 2011, but still won 9 games. The Seminoles had the best run defense in the country last season, and returns five starters from last season’s front seven. Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes might be the top cornerback tandem in the country. Florida State should be favored in 11 of their 12 games this fall.
THE BAD—It’s time for some big name recruits to finally assert themselves on offense. The Seminoles are loaded with 4-and-5-star recruits at wide receiver and tailback, but none of them have distinguished themselves. Neither has quarterback E.J. Manuel, who has yet to show the consistency FSU needs to take the next step as a program.
THE BOTTOM LINE—It’s now or never for Florida State, who has been “next year’s team” for the past several years.
THE GOOD—It didn’t take long for Brady Hoke to right the ship in Ann Arbor, and he pulled it off despite the fact the passing game with the dynamic Denard Robinson didn’t click until the end of the season. The Wolverines return a 1,000-yard rushing duo, and the back seven on the most improved defense in the country returns intact. Look for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to turn it loose even more in year two under his tutelage, in order to compensate for a re-tooled defensive line.
THE BAD—The Wolverines might be playing the toughest schedule in the country. Remove Minnesota, and Michigan’s remaining away opponents were 47-22 last season (including a national championship). Only LSU beat more bowl teams last year, and the Wolverines have 10 teams that went to bowl games on their schedule this season.
THE BOTTOM LINE—The treacherous schedule means all the focus is on winning the program’s first Big Ten title since 2004. The national championship will have to wait.
9. Virginia Tech
THE GOOD—Normally a team replacing four fifth-year seniors on the offensive line wouldn’t be ranked so high, but there’s a lot to like about the Hokies. First is another soft schedule, which is becoming a tradition in Blacksburg, and one of the main reasons Virginia Tech is tied with Florida for the most wins in college football since 1995. Another one of those reasons is a traditionally strong defense. The Hokies led the ACC with 41 sacks last year, and every one of those players return. Then there’s quarterback Logan Thomas, who is considered a potential first round draft choice after passing for 19 touchdowns and rushing for 11 more in 2011.
THE BAD—David Wilson carried the offense when Thomas had some growing pains, and there is no one on the roster with any experience who can replicate his explosiveness. The running back depth chart goes redshirt freshman, true freshman, and true freshman.
THE BOTTOM LINE—Looking at the schedule, the Hokies probably have 10 wins just by showing up. If they can get the running game going, they could be a sleeper team for the national championship.
THE GOOD—It’s not often a school with a coach on a 10-month contract has high expectations, but the offseason firing of Bobby Petrino set up the Razorbacks to be one of the toughest teams to figure heading into 2012. Quarterback Tyler Wilson could be a top 10 pick in next April’s NFL draft, and he’s complemented by a deep stable of running backs. This could be the best offense in the SEC. Arkansas is coming off just its second 11-win season in school history, and first since 1977. Both of its losses were on the road to the top two teams in the country, and this season Alabama and LSU both come to Fayetteville.
THE BAD—The defense surrendered 28 points or more six times last season, and lost perhaps its best four players. John L. Smith’s teams at Michigan State weren’t exactly defensive juggernauts.
THE BOTTOM LINE—Until Bobby Petrino’s peccadilloes became publicized Arkansas was set up for a national title run. Now they’re one of the biggest question marks in the country heading into the season.
THE GOOD—Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz delivered the improvement expected when he arrived last season from Mississippi State, and the Longhorns ended up leading the Big 12 in total defense by almost 60 yards per game. Leading the way are bookend pass rushers Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat, who are each coveted by NFL scouts. Texas is going old school with young tailbacks Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, who were each ranked the top prep tailbacks in the country the past two years. They will run the ball behind an offensive line that returns four starters.
THE BAD—The Longhorns went from their first losing season under Mack Brown to eight wins a year ago, but they could’ve easily won 10 games and played in a BCS bowl with better quarterback play from David Ash or Case McCoy. Texas lost close games to Missouri and Kansas State because it only scored a combined 18 points in those two games. Ash was MVP of the Holiday Bowl, but finished the season with zero touchdown passes and six interceptions in the final five regular season games.
THE BOTTOM LINE—This is a schedule tailor-made for a national title run if the Longhorns had better quarterback play.
12. Michigan State
THE GOOD—Sparty is built on old school Big Ten football: defense and a power running game. Four starters return on the offensive line to pave the way for Le’Veon Bell, who had 13 touchdowns last season despite sharing time. Michigan State was ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense last season, and eight starters return. There are All-American candidates at defensive line (William Gholston), linebacker (Denicos Allen), and the secondary (Johnny Adams).
THE BAD—Michigan State is one of just seven teams in the country to win 11 games or more the past two seasons, but the quarterback who led the program’s resurgence is now in the NFL. Andrew Maxwell will take over, but he missed time in the spring due to injury. He’s got to get acclimated to a new receiving corps on the fly this fall.
THE BOTTOM LINE—The schedule gives Maxwell time to grow, and Michigan State could get off to a 7-0 start before consecutive road games at Michigan and Wisconsin.
13. South Carolina
THE GOOD—Expectations are high in Columbia coming off the first 11-win season in school history, and when you consider that was accomplished without the quarterback and running back the Gamecocks started the season with that’s even more impressive. Steve Spurrier abandoned the fun-and-gun for a more ground-oriented attack once mobile quarterback Conner Shaw emerged as the starter. Kenny Miles stepped in admirably for injured All-American Marcus Lattimore, and both return this fall. Defensive ends Devin Taylor and Jadevean Clowney could become the most unblockable pass rushing duo in the country.
THE BAD—Longtime defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, now the head coach at Southern Mississippi, will be missed. A secondary that was second nationally in pass defense must be totally rebuilt.
THE BOTTOM LINE—A five-week stretch of games against Georgia, LSU, Florida, Tennessee, and Arkansas means these Gamecocks could be better than last season’s edition, but not win as many games.
14. West Virginia
THE GOOD—Despite the geographic distance, the Mountaineers should fit in nicely with their new brethren in the Big 12. Like most Big 12 teams, they believe in out-scoring the opposition with a wide open offense to win. When we last saw West Virginia, it was putting up 70 points in the Orange Bowl, and every offensive player that scored in that game is back. Quarterback Geno Smith should put up video game numbers again this fall, and has a pair of 1,000-yard receiving targets.
THE BAD—Longtime defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, who coached above his talent-level most years, took off for Arizona to be with former West Virginia Coach Rich Rodriguez and that’s a big loss. As good as the offense is, West Virginia doesn’t really return a difference-maker on defense.
THE BOTTOM LINE—With some improvement on defense, the Mountaineers could be more than respectable in their first season in the Big 12.
THE GOOD—No team in college football is more loaded at the skill positions as years of highly-ranked recruiting classes is beginning to pay off. Tahj Boyd became the best Clemson quarterback since Woody Dantzler, and wide receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins can’t be covered man-to-man. Don’t sleep on tailback Andre Ellington, who quietly rushed for over 1,000 yards last season.
THE BAD—Despite winning its first ACC title since before Florida State entered the league in 1992, some of that old Clemson inconsistency reared its ugly head after a 9-1 start. The Tigers lost three of their last four games thanks to a leaky defense that finished 81st nationally in points allowed; the worst in Death Valley since 1975.
THE BOTTOM LINE—This looks like the exact same team the Tigers had last season, and that won’t be good enough to repeat as ACC champs.
THE GOOD—It’s all about the running game in Madison, where All-American Monte Ball and his dynamic backup James White both return. Ricky Wagner should lead a traditionally stout Wisconsin offensive line. Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien isn’t nearly the talent Russell Wilson was when he transferred in a year ago, but if he’s anything close to what he was two years ago at Maryland he’ll be more than capable. Wisconsin probably won’t average 40 points per game for the third straight season, but given its traditionally Charmin-soft schedule it doesn’t have to. Especially with Leaders Division rivals Ohio State on probation and Penn State cratering.
THE BAD—Several players on this team are overrated. Tight end Jacob Pedersen and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis are workmanlike Big Ten players who looked like All-Americans with Wilson throwing them the ball. Linebacker Chris Borland is the best the school has had in recent memory, but too much is made of fellow linebacker Mike Taylor’s 150 tackles. Leading a defense that was 60th in the nation in rush defense in tackles isn’t that big of a deal. For further proof consider the following. Against the five offenses with a pulse on its schedule last season, Wisconsin allowed 34.2 points per game. Against everyone else the Badgers only gave up 11 points per game.
THE BOTTOM LINE—There is not enough talent here to three-peat as Big Ten champs, but given the soft schedule and the state of the division they’re in it can’t be ruled out.
17. Texas A&M
THE GOOD—The perception is A&M lost a ton of talent from last season’s underachieving squad, but there are plenty of playmakers remaining for new Coach Kevin Sumlin. The 2011 Aggies were expected to struggle on defense without Von Miller, but ended up leading the nation with 51 sacks, and top pass rushers Sean Porter and Damontre Mason return. Texas A&M boasts two NFL prospects at tackle to anchor the offensive line, which should help former top recruit Christine Michael to have a breakthrough season now that he’s finally the man. Wide receivers Uzoma Nwachukwu and Ryan Swope combined for almost 1900 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.
THE BAD—With Ryan Tannehill off to the NFL, Sumlin must quickly develop one of three young quarterbacks to run his up-tempo offense against SEC defenses.
THE BOTTOM LINE—Mike Sherman couldn’t take A&M to the next level on gameday, but he left Sumlin a stocked cupboard of talented recruiting classes. Five of the Aggies’ six losses last season were by a combined 16 points, and two were in overtime. This is a program ripe for a culture change, and they picked the right coach for it.
THE GOOD—Only eight schools have won at least nine games the past four seasons, and the Huskers are one of them, so despite some glaring holes on the roster Bo Pelini’s squad deserves some preseason respect. Quarterback Taylor Martinez is always lethal running the option, and I-back Rex Burkhead carried the bulk of the load in rushing for over 1300 yards.
THE BAD—There are a lot of solid, yet unspectacular, type of players on the two-deep. Nebraska needs playmakers, as evidenced by the fact the Huskers were outscored 123-47 in their three Big Ten losses last season (all on the road).
THE BOTTOM LINE—The Huskers struggled on the road last season, and every one of their five road games this season are against 2011 bowl teams. It’s not out of the question Nebraska could go 0-5 in those games without an improved defense and Martinez developing a more effective passing game.
19. South Florida
THE GOOD—After a strong 4-0 start, the Bulls lost seven of their last eight games, but five of those losses were by three points or less. That should provide plenty of motivation for Coach Skip Holtz, who suddenly finds himself on the hot seat after missing a bowl game in 2011. Holtz has two things working for him: he’s in a very weak conference, and he’s the only coach in the conference with a playmaking senior quarterback in B.J. Daniels. Daniels will benefit from the return of top receiver Sterling Griffin, who was out for most of the losing streak with an injury, and fast Florida transfer Chris Dunkley. South Florida was 15th in the nation in rush defense last season, and returns the bulk of those players.
THE BAD—Despite the best recruiting base in the anemic Big East, the Bulls have struggled in conference play with a .321 winning percentage since 2008. Given the state of the conference, if they can’t improve upon that this season perhaps they never will.
THE BOTTOM LINE—Somebody has to win the Big East.
THE GOOD—Provided Ronald Powell successfully rehabs his spring knee injury by the start of the season, 10 starters are back on what was the No. 8 total defense in the country in 2011. Special teams is another strength for the Gators, where All-American returner Andre DuBose and All-American kicker Caleb Sturgis anchor the unit. This is a roster that is still littered with 4-and-5-star recruits.
THE BAD—Like Texas still trying to replace Colt McCoy, the Gators remained mired in the post-Tebow project. Some thought Jeff Driskell was the top prep quarterback in the country in the class of 2011, but he looked shell-shocked as a freshman. He’s now trying to fight off a challenge from fellow sophomore Jacoby Brissett in fall camp.
THE BOTTOM LINE—Will Muschamp looked like a rookie head coach last season while guiding the Gators to their worst regular season record since 1987. He has 18 starters back this fall, but only eight of them are seniors so Florida faithful may have to wait until 2013 to make national noise again.
THE GOOD—19 starters are back from a team that won 8 games, which wasn’t bad in a rebuilding year coming off the 2010 national championship. Despite the transfer of Michael Dyer, who might’ve been the most explosive running back at Auburn since Bo Jackson, the Tigers still have one of the deeper stables of runners around. There is a lot of excitement about new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who is hoping to do for Auburn what fellow former NFL defensive coordinator Todd Grantham did for long-time SEC rival Georgia last season.
THE BAD—New offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler has huge shoes to fill now that Gus Malzahn has moved on to be the head coach at Arkansas State. He has his hands full developing sophomore Kiehl Frazier to become the starting quarterback the Tigers never developed last season.
THE BOTTOM LINE—How young was Auburn last season? Of the 19 returning starters on the preseason depth chart, only six of them are seniors. This season is a bridge to next year, when the Tigers hope to compete for the national title again.
THE GOOD—It’s the dawn of a new era for the Horned Frogs, with a new stadium and a new conference home in the Big 12. Like many other teams in their new conference, TCU is loaded on offense with prolific quarterback Casey Pachall throwing to deep threat Josh Boyce, and handing the ball off to perhaps the best three-headed rushing attack in the nation.
THE BAD—After finishing first in the nation in total defense for three straight years, TCU “dipped” to 32nd a year ago. Only five starters from that unit return, and an offseason drug bust implicating several players could further impact the depth on that side of the ball. For instance, top linebacker Tanner Brock has already been kicked off the team.
THE BOTTOM LINE—Life in the Big 12 will lead to more money and more exposure for TCU, but it will also (at least in year one) lead to less wins.
23. Boise State
THE GOOD—The Broncos have been here before. The last three times they started the season with a rookie quarterback they’ve gone 33-2. Currently junior Joe Southwick is holding off a fierce challenge from true freshman Nick Patti, who was the star of spring football as an early enrollee. Whoever the new quarterback is will have three returning starters on the offensive line and tailback D.J. Harper to lean on. Harper averaged over five yards per rushing attempt as Doug Martin’s backup last season, while also scoring nine touchdowns. The schedule features tough non-conference road games at Michigan State and Southern Mississippi, but Boise State should dominate the Mountain West.
THE BAD—Only one starter returns on defense, but the unit does list six seniors as starters so there are plenty of players who have been waiting in the wings getting developed. Still, it’s doubtful they’ll be as good as the past two defenses have been.
THE BOTTOM LINE—Boise State might be the biggest losers in college football’s brave new playoff world, and while it won’t fade to black its Cinderella story could be nearing its end.
24. Central Florida
THE GOOD—This is another team that will enter 2012 with a chip on its shoulder. I like picking teams that lost a lot of close the games the year before, and Central Florida lost five games by a touchdown or less in 2011. Coach George O’Leary will rely on the running game, featuring former 1,000-yard rusher Brynn Harvey and Miami, Fla. transfer Storm Johnson. Sophomore quarterback Blake Bartles completed 68% of his passes last season with only three interceptions, and he should improve with Missouri transfer Tyler Gabbert pushing him for playing time. Seven starters return on an outstanding defense that finished in the top 25 nationally in scoring, rushing, passing, and total defense. Coaching transitions at Houston and Southern Mississippi could benefit the Knights in their quest to win Conference USA in their final season before jumping to the Big East.
THE BAD—When you lose as many close games as Central Florida did last season, you look at special teams, and sure enough the kicking game was a problem. So was the offensive line, which needs a big boost from Georgia Tech transfer Phil Smith.
THE BOTTOM LINE—The Conference USA champion has been ranked in the final AP Poll the past two years, and Central Florida should make it three in a row.
25. Notre Dame
THE GOOD—15 starters are back from Coach Brian Kelly’s second straight 8-win campaign, including three starters on the offensive line and shifty 1,000-yard rusher Cierre Wood. Tight end Tyler Eifert is an All-American candidate. Before the unexpected transfer of top recruit Aaron Lynch, Notre Dame might have had its best defensive front seven since the Lou Holtz era. Now it will have to settle for pretty good led by All-American linebacker Manti Te’o, who could be the next Brian Urlacher.
THE BAD—For all the talk of red zone turnovers that killed the Irish last season, the inconvenient truth is they just weren’t physically competitive in their final three losses to USC, Stanford, and Florida State. Michael Floyd, who at times in his career was their entire offense, is also gone and there was a steep drop off in talent after him last season. And did I mention the Irish have four quarterbacks? Which means right now they don’t have any quarterbacks.
THE BOTTOM LINE—The new playoff format can’t get here soon enough for Notre Dame, because 8-4 will be good enough for a major bowl game again when it does.
26. Tennessee…If Vols can stay healthy they should have one of the most potent passing games in the country.
27. N.C. State…The sleeper team in the ACC with a solid defense and a steady senior quarterback, but the schedule does the Wolfpack no favors.
28. Utah…The third best team in the Pac-12, for whatever that’s worth.
29. Kansas State…The schedule is tougher than a year ago, and Collin Klein won’t sneak up on anybody this time.
30. Missouri…It all comes down to the health of versatile and dangerous quarterback James Franklin, who is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
31. Stanford…Cardinal had its most prolific NFL draft class ever, and that attrition will show up in this year’s lesser win total.
32. Illinois…The Zooker left plenty of talent behind, now it’s up to Tim Beckman to cut out the mental mistakes and undisciplined play.
33. Baylor…Art Briles still has enough talent on hand to follow-up the school’s best season since 1986 with another bowl game.
34. Louisville…Teddy Bridgewater’s development at quarterback is the key to claiming the Big East’s automatic BCS bid.
35. Washington…Until the defense improves the Huskies will not be able to return to national prominence no matter how explosive the offense is.
36. Oklahoma State…A true freshman quarterback further exposing the nation’s 107th-ranked defense, and a tough schedule, means a steep drop off in Stillwater.
37. BYU…Road games against four 2011 bowl teams makes equaling last season’s surprising 10 wins difficult.
38. Rutgers…This might have been the team to finally put the Scarlet Knights over the top in the Big East had Greg Schiano stayed.
39. Arizona…Rich Rodriguez takes over and already has his perfect spread quarterback for a defense-optional league in Matt Scott.
40. Purdue…On paper this is the best Boilermaker team since the Drew Brees days, but the tough schedule may not reflect that.
1. Florida State
3. N.C. State
4. Wake Forest
6. Boston College
1. Virginia Tech
2. Georgia Tech
4. North Carolina
5. Miami, Fla.
ACC Championship—Florida State over Virginia Tech
QB—Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
RB—Andre Ellington, Clemson
RB—Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
WR—Sammy Watkins, Clemson
WR—DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
TE—Nick O’Leary, Florida State
OL—Dalton Freeman, Florida State
OL—Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
OL—Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech
OL—James Hurst, North Carolina
OL—Oday Aboushi, Virginia
K—Dustin Hopkins, Florida State
DL—Brandon Jenkins, Florida State
DL—Joe Vellano, Maryland
DL—James Gayle, Virginia Tech
DL—Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest
LB—Steve Greer, Virginia
LB—Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech
LB—Demetrius Hartsfield, Maryland
DB—David Amerson, N.C. State
DB—Earl Wolff, N.C. State
DB—Merrill Noel, Wake Forest
DB—Greg Reid, Florida State
P—Sean Poole, Georgia Tech
ACC Honor Roll
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR—Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR—Brandon Jenkins, Florida State
LINEMAN OF THE YEAR—Brandon Jenkins, Florida State
OFFENSIVE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR—Stefon Diggs, Maryland
DEFENSIVE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR—Travis Blanks, Clemson
COACH OF THE YEAR—Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
COACH MOST LIKELY TO BE FIRED—Dabo Swinney, Clemson
GAME OF THE YEAR—Florida State at Virginia Tech
CONFERENCE UPSET OF THE YEAR—Maryland over Georgia Tech
NON-CONFERENCE UPSET OF THE YEAR—Virginia over Penn State
BEST NON-CONFERENCE WIN—Clemson over South Carolina
BUY LOW—Wake Forest
SELL HIGH—Miami, Fla.
1. South Florida
All-Big East Offense
QB—B.J. Daniels, South Florida
RB—Ray Graham, Pittsburgh
RB—Lynn McCombs, Connecticut
WR—Alec Lemon, Syracuse
WR—Sterling Griffin, South Florida
TE—Ryan Griffin, Connecticut
OL—Justin Pugh, Syracuse
OL—Mario Benavides, Louisville
OL—R.J. Dill, Rutgers
OL—Ryan Turnley, Pittsburgh
OL—Kaleb Johnson, Rutgers
K—Maikon Bonani, South Florida
All-Big East Defense
DL—Trevardo Williams, Connecticut
DL—Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
DL—Ryne Giddins, South Florida
DL—Scott Vallone, Rutgers
LB—Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
LB—Marquise Spruill, Syracuse
LB—DeDe Lattimore, South Florida
DB—Adrian Bushell, Louisville
DB—Drew Frey, Cincinnati
DB—Hakeem Smith, Louisville
DB—Jarred Holly, Pittsburgh
P—Pat O’Donnell, Cincinnati
Big East Honor Roll
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR—B.J. Daniels, South Florida
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR—Trevardo Williams, Connecticut
LINEMAN OF THE YEAR—Trevardo Williams, Connecticut
OFFENSIVE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR—Chandler Whitmer, Connecticut
DEFENSIVE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR—Tevin Mims, South Florida
COACH OF THE YEAR—Skip Holtz, South Florida
COACH MOST LIKELY TO BE FIRED—Doug Marrone, Syracuse
GAME OF THE YEAR—South Florida at Louisville
CONFERENCE UPSET OF THE YEAR—Cincinnati over South Florida
NON-CONFERENCE UPSET OF THE YEAR—Syracuse over Northwestern
BEST NON-CONFERENCE WIN—Louisville over North Carolina
BUY LOW—South Florida
3. West Virginia
5. Kansas State
7. Oklahoma State
8. Iowa State
9. Texas Tech
All-Big 12 Offense
QB—Geno Smith, West Virginia
RB—Dominique Whaley, Oklahoma
RB—Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
WR—Tavon Austin, West Virginia
WR—Kenny Stills, Oklahoma
WR—Josh Boyce, TCU
OL—Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
OL—LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech
OL—Cyril Richardson, Baylor
OL—Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
OL—Tyler Evans, Oklahoma
K—Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
All-Big 12 Defense
DL—Alex Okafor, Texas
DL—Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
DL—Stansly Maponga, TCU
LB—A.J. Klein, Iowa State
LB—Jake Knott, Iowa State
LB—Arthur Brown, Kansas State
LB—Sam Hall, Baylor
DB—Nigel Malone, Kansas State
DB—Broderick Brown, Oklahoma State
DB—Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
DB—Quandre Diggs, Texas
P—Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
Big 12 Honor Roll
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR—Geno Smith, West Virginia
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR—Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
LINEMAN OF THE YEAR—Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
OFFENSIVE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR—Will Latu, Oklahoma
DEFENSIVE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR—Will Smith, Texas Tech
COACH OF THE YEAR—Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
COACH MOST LIKELY TO BE FIRED—Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech
GAME OF THE YEAR—Oklahoma vs. Texas
CONFERENCE UPSET OF THE YEAR—West Virginia over Oklahoma
NON-CONFERENCE UPSET OF THE YEAR—Iowa State over Iowa
BEST NON-CONFERENCE WIN—Oklahoma over Notre Dame
SELL HIGH—Oklahoma State
1. Ohio State (ineligible for Big Ten title)
5. Penn State
2. Michigan State
Big Ten Championship—Michigan over Wisconsin
All-Big Ten Offense
QB—Denard Robinson, Michigan
RB—Montee Ball, Wisconsin
RB—Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan
WR—Roy Roundtree, Michigan
WR—Keenan Davis, Iowa
TE—Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State
OL—Taylor Lewan, Michigan
OL—Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin
OL—James Ferentz, Iowa
OL—Spencer Long, Nebraska
OL—Andrew Norwell, Ohio State
K—Brett Maher, Nebraska
All-Big Ten Defense
DL—Kawann Short, Purdue
DL—Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
DL—William Gholston, Michigan State
DL—John Simon, Ohio State
LB—Chris Borland, Wisconsin
LB—Jonathan Brown, Illinois
LB—Denicos Allen, Michigan State
DB—Johnny Adams, Michigan State
DB—Jordan Kovacs, Michigan
DB—Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State
DB—Ricardo Allen, Purdue
P—Brett Maher, Nebraska
Big Ten Honor Roll
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR—Denard Robinson, Michigan
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR—Kawann Short, Purdue
LINEMAN OF THE YEAR—Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin
OFFENSIVE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR—Greg Garmon, Iowa
DEFENSIVE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR—Mohammed Seisay, Nebraska
COACH OF THE YEAR—Jerry Kill, Minnesota
COACH MOST LIKELY TO BE FIRED—Danny Hope, Purdue
GAME OF THE YEAR—Michigan State at Michigan
CONFERENCE UPSET OF THE YEAR—Indiana over Iowa
NON-CONFERENCE UPSET OF THE YEAR—Illinois over Arizona State
BEST NON-CONFERENCE WIN—Michigan over Notre Dame
5. Washington State
6. Oregon State
6. Arizona State
Pac-12 Championship—USC over Oregon
QB—Matt Barkley, USC
RB—Kenjon Barber, Oregon
RB—John White, Utah
WR—Robert Woods, USC
WR—Keenan Allen, California
WR—Marquise Wilson, Washington State
OL—Khaled Holmes, USC
OL—David Bakhtiari, Colorado
OL—Sam Brenner, Utah
OL—Jake Fisher, Oregon
OL—David Yankey, Stanford
K—Andre Heidari, USC
DL—Dion Jordan, Oregon
DL—Star Lotulelei, Utah
DL—Travis Long, Washington State
DL—Wes Horton, USC
LB—Chase Thomas, Stanford
LB—Dion Bailey, USC
LB—Shayne Skov, Stanford
DB—John Boyett, Oregon
DB—T.J. McDonald, USC
DB—Nickell Robey, USC
DB—Jordan Poyer, Oregon State
P—Jackson Rice, Oregon
Pac-12 Honor Roll
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR—Matt Barkley, USC
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR—Star Lotulelei, Utah
LINEMAN OF THE YEAR—Star Lotulelei, Utah
OFFENSIVE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR—Michael Eubank, Arizona State
DEFENSIVE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR—Arik Armstead, Oregon
COACH OF THE YEAR—Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
COACH MOST LIKELY TO BE FIRED—Mike Riley, Oregon State
GAME OF THE YEAR—Oregon at USC
CONFERENCE UPSET OF THE YEAR—Arizona over USC
NON-CONFERENCE UPSET OF THE YEAR—Arizona over Oklahoma State
BEST NON-CONFERENCE WIN—UCLA over Nebraska
BUY LOW—Arizona & Washington State
2. South Carolina
4. Texas A&M
6. Mississippi State
SEC Championship—LSU over Georgia
QB—Tyler Bray, Tennessee
RB—Knile Davis, Arkansas
RB—Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
WR—Da’Rick Rogers, Tennessee
WR—Justin Hunter, Tennessee
TE—Phillip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn
OL—Barrett Jones, Alabama
OL—D.J. Fluker, Alabama
OL—Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
OL—Chance Warmack, Alabama
OL—Alex Hurst, LSU
K—Dustin Hopkins, Florida State
DL—Sam Montgomery, LSU
DL—Corey Lemonier, Auburn
DL—Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
DL—Barkevious Mingo, LSU
LB—Jarvis Jones, Georgia
LB—Sean Porter, Texas A&M
LB—Jon Bostic, Florida
DB—Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
DB—Johnathan Banks, Mississippi State
DB—Eric Reid, LSU
DB—Mark Lester, Alabama
P—Steven Clark, Auburn
SEC Honor Roll
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR—Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR—Jarvis Jones, Georgia
LINEMAN OF THE YEAR—Barrett Jones, Alabama
OFFENSIVE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR—Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
DEFENSIVE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR—Deion Belue, Alabama
COACH OF THE YEAR—Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
COACH MOST LIKELY TO BE FIRED—Derek Dooley, Tennessee
GAME OF THE YEAR—Alabama at LSU
CONFERENCE UPSET OF THE YEAR—Texas A&M over LSU
NON-CONFERENCE UPSET OF THE YEAR—Vanderbilt over Northwestern
BEST NON-CONFERENCE WIN—Alabama over Michigan
BUY LOW—Texas A&M
SELL HIGH—South Carolina
2012 Bowl Projections
BCS National Championship
Oklahoma vs. LSU
USC vs. Michigan
South Florida vs. Florida State
Oregon vs. Texas
Michigan State vs. Georgia
Capitol One Bowl
Wisconsin vs. Arkansas
Nebraska vs. Florida
Auburn vs. Iowa
Alabama vs. West Virginia
Virginia Tech vs. South Carolina
Stanford vs. TCU
Illinois vs. Iowa State
Champs Sports Bowl
Notre Dame vs. Clemson
Kansas State vs. UCLA
Meineke Car Care Bowl
Minnesota vs. Baylor
N.C. State vs. Washington
Music City Bowl
Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee
Ticket City Bowl
Purdue vs. Southern Mississippi
Central Florida vs. Texas A&M
Boise State vs. Arizona
BYU vs. Nevada
Louisville vs. Virginia
Oklahoma State vs. Rutgers
Fight Hunger Bowl
Navy vs. California
Armed Forces Bowl
Air Force vs. Houston
Little Caesar’s Bowl
Minnesota vs. Miami, Ohio
BBVA Compass Bowl
Pittsburgh vs. Missouri
Wake Forest vs. Mississippi State
New Mexico Bowl
Washington State vs. Wyoming
Beef O’Brady’s Bowl
SMU vs. Cincinnati
East Carolina vs. Utah State
Idaho Potato Bowl
Louisiana Tech vs. Ohio
R+L Carriers Bowl
Tulsa vs. Florida International
Northern Illinois vs. Arkansas State
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