The 2012 NCAA Football season kicks off on Thursday, August 30th and we will quickly have important games with National Title implications on our television sets. Before the season starts, here is sportsmasher.com’s preseason Top-25, and please check out the rest of our 2012 season preview, which has links at the bottom of this post. Although I picked the University of Georgia Bulldogs to win the BCS Title, they do not sit atop my preseason rankings, which are listed below:
1 ) Alabama Crimson Tide – I am a firm believer that the defending national champions should be at the top of the power rankings early unless someone dethrones them, or they have such significant losses that they will struggle to overcome. Nick Saban does not rebuild, he reloads, and although Alabama has a lot of defensive players and an offensive superstar (Trent Richardson) to replace they will create new household names in 2012. I expect the offense to be better with a more mature A.J. McCarron at quarterback, the one-two punch of Eddie Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon in the backfield and a very talented offensive line. You know Nick Saban will have the tide ready to play defense.
2 ) USC Trojans – The Trojans have the most talented offense in the country, lead by Heisman Trophy favorite quarterback Matt Barkley and his talented wide receivers including sophomore Marquise Lee and junior Robert Woods. USC also returns a lot of on the defensive side of the ball, however total organizational depth is a weakness, which could come back to bite them in the case of injuries. Still, I expect the Trojans to face off against whoever wins the SEC title in the National Championship game, they will be fun to watch in 2012.
3 ) Georgia Bulldogs – My pick to win the 2012 BCS Title, the Bulldogs return almost all of their key players from a very good 2011 team, which came on late following a disappointing loss to Boise State in their season opener. Important returning players include experienced starting quarterback Aaron Murray, ferocious pass rusher Jarvis Jones, linebacker Alec Ogletree, two defensive tackles that weigh over 350lbs (John Jenkins & Kwame Geathers) and safety Baccari Rambo. This Georgia team is also lucky enough to have a fairly easy schedule for the SEC, with their toughest game being at South Carolina until the SEC title game. Georgia has to deal with some early suspensions, but their opening games are ones they should still win, and they will only get more dangerous once they reach full strength.
4 ) LSU Tigers – The Bayou Bengals lost several impact players on defense including CB Morris Claiborne, DT Michael Brockers (NFL Draft) and DB Tyrann Mathieu (dismissed), however much like their SEC rivals the Alabama Crimson Tide LSU does not rebuild, they reload. The returnees are lead by two of the best defensive ends in the country, Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo and hard hitting safety Eric Reid. The offense will feature a new quarterback in Georgia transfer Zach Mettenberger, who is being hailed as the best passer that Les Miles has had in years, and the tailback combo of Spencer Ware and Michael Ford. As expected, the winner of the Alabama versus LSU showdown on November 3rd will have a good shot at playing in the national title game.
5 ) Oregon Ducks – The fastest team in the country will be breaking in a redshirt freshman quarterback in 2012, Marcus Mariota, but he will have plenty of help. Returning to Oregon are dual big play threats Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas, who are capable of taking any play to pay dirt, and will make things easy for Mariota. Oregon will also feature a better defense than in recent years in 2012, lead by safety Josh Boyett and defensive end Dion Jordan. Keep an eye on freshman defensive end Arik Armstead, nicknamed “Man-Child” he is a talent who stands 6’8 and weighs 291lbs.
6 ) Oklahoma Sooners – After an incredible sophomore campaign in 2010 Sooners quarterback Landry Jones struggled in 2011, and some major questions arose regarding his place among the nation’s elite. I think that Jones will have a bounce back season for a slightly underrated Oklahoma team on the national scene, with weapons including wide receivers Kenny Stills and Allen Robinson (Penn State transfer) and running back Dominique Whaley. The defense is lead by linebacker Tom Wort and safety Tony Jefferson, who might be the best defensive back in the country.
7 ) Wisconsin Badgers – The Badgers have another typical Badgers team, which will do a lot of typical Wisconsin football things, this usually equals a big number in the win column. They are, as always, highlighted by a mammoth offensive line which will open huge holes for Heisman candidate tailback Montee Ball. Although he will never be the player that graduated quarterback Russell Wilson was at Wisconsin, I like Maryalnd transfer and former ACC Rookie-of-the-Year Danny O’Brien and think that he will do a nice job under center. The defense is solid, lead by linebackers Chris Borland and Mike Taylor and defensive tackle Beau Allen.
8 ) South Carolina Gamecocks Opposing quarterbacks will not have a lot of time to make decisions while facing South Carolina, the former top recruit in the country Jaedeveon Clowney and opposing end Devin Taylor will bring pressure on ever snap. The Gamecocks’s offense is lead by running back Marcus Lattimore, arguably the best player in college football in 2011, until a knee injury prematurely ended his season. Lattimore is back, as is quarterback Connor Shaw, and I expect this team to be in competition with Georgia as the representative from the SEC East in the conference championship game.
9 ) Michigan State Spartans – Despite losing Kirk Cousins, the winnings quarterback in Michigan State history, the Spartans should be an excellent team this season. New starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell as impressed, but the focus of the offense will be bruising tailback Le’Veon Bell, who will be a household name before long. The Spartans strong suit will be a very tough and battle tested defense, lead by defensive end William Gholston, linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, and cornerbacks Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard. If the Spartans can get by an early test (Friday, August 31st) against Boise State, it will be by relying heavily on their running game and defense.
10 ) Kansas State Wildcats – I cannot understand why the Kansas State Wildcats are being discounted by so many college football experts, sure they won some tight ones and caught a few breaks last season, but they were also a very good team. Head coach Bill Snyder gets his quarterback Collin Klein back, a player that accounted for 3,059 yards and 40 touchdowns in 2011, and is a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate. The defense is lead by instinctive linebacker Arthur Brown, a former Miami transfer, who has been compared to a young Ray Lewis. No coach will admit it, but there is not a team in the country that looks forward to playing Kansas State.
11 ) Florida State Seminoles – I should rank Florida State higher when I say what I am about to say, I think there is a reasonable chance that Florida State goes undefeated in the regular season, they have an incredibly easy schedule in 2012. The Seminoles return 17 starters from a season ago, and their hardest games are home for Clemson and Florida and at Virginia Tech, they do not play anyone ranked inside the preseason top ten. The team will be lead by athletic quarterback E.J Manuel (another Heisman Trophy dark horse if he stays healthy), defensive ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner (one of my favorite players in the country) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
12 ) Arkansas Razorbacks – It seems as though many experts are discounting the Razorbacks as SEC contenders in 2012, because of the dismissal of head coach Bobby Petrino, following a motorcycle accident with his mistress on board. However I think this will still be a very good team, lead by senior quarterback Tyler Wilson, who will undoubtedly be one of the best in the country. The Razorbacks also get back injury prone but ultra-talented tailback Knile Davis, who missed 2011 with another injury, at the start of last season I had him ranked ahead of Trent Richardson as the top running back in the country. The Razorbacks also return several players on defense and a strong offensive line, however they lack playmakers at wide receiver after Cobi Hamilton, and will need multiple players to step up here if they are going to be successful.
13 ) West Virginia Mountaineers – With a live arm and quick release, quarterback Geno Smith is one of the best in the country, and wide receiver Tavon Austin will be one of the most explosive in the country at his position. The Mountaineers should have no problem putting points on the board, however they are going through a defensive overhaul, and I am not sure that this thin unit is ready to stop anyone. I expect West Virginia to be in a lot of exciting, high scoring shootouts this season, however I cannot rank them any higher until their defense shows me they can end drives. Joining a better conference (Big 12) will not help.
14 ) TCU Horned Frogs – TCU joins the Big 12 conference with a talented quarterback, Casey Pachall, who gained a lot of experience last season and should be ready to handle the national stage. Despite running back Ed Wesley leaving the program, the Horned Frogs still have a duo of talented backs in Waymon James and B.J. Cantalon and also return explosive defensive end Stansly Maponga and linebacker Kenny Cain. A well balanced attack and a sturdy defense should help TCU succeed in their first year in the Big 12.
15 ) Virginia Tech Hokies – This will be a breakout season for Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas, a big (6’6 252lbs) and strong armed quarterback who accounted for 30 total touchdowns in 2011, and will become a household name in 2012. Another player who is ready to burst onto the national scene is senior wide receiver Marcus Davis (6’4 228lbs) who will be Virginia Tech’s go-to-guy in the Red Zone. My concerns around the Hokies start in the trenches, where the offensive line will be breaking in four new starters, and they need to replace the ACC Offensive Player of the Year running back David Wilson. The defense should be impressive, a deep and talented defensive line should give quarterbacks nightmares, and sophomore Kyle Fuller should develop into an excellent cornerback.
16 ) Stanford Cardinal – The Cardnial lost some player named Andrew Luck, ever heard of him? Obviously it will be difficult to replace the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning, however Stanford returns a talented core of players, especially at linebacker lead by Shayne Skov, Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy. Also returning is running back Stepfan Taylor, who will be the focus of the Cardinal offense, and they break in new starting quarterback Josh Nunes. This will be an underrated bunch, who will win by running the football and playing tough defense, instead of the arm of Andrew Luck.
17 ) Michigan Wolverines – Head coach Brady Hoke has the Wolverines headed in the right direction, however I am not as high on them as many others, despite the fact that Heisman Candidate quarterback Denard Robinson returns for his senior season. Michigan is very strong in spots, including offensive tackle, a position where I think junior Taylor Lewan is the best in the country. The defense will be better as well, lead by defensive end Crag Roh and the safety tandem of Jordan Kovacs and Thomas Gordon. Michigan fans can get excited, they will be an fun team to watch in the final season of the Denard Robinson era, however I think they are still a year away from the full program depth that will see them return to greatness.
18 ) Clemson Tigers – Wide receiver Sammy Watkins is one of the most talented players in the country, however he will be suspended for the first two games of the regular season, due to an offseason arrest. While Watkins sits out Clemson will still be explosive on offense, lead by underrated quarterback Tajh Boyd and running back Andre Ellington, and they should score enough points to tread water until the return of their superstar wideout. The Tigers really struggled on defense last season, and lost a lot of talent from that struggling defense, they will need their young players to step up on that side of the ball if they hope to contend in the ACC.
19 ) Texas Longhorns – Another team that I like more than the national consensus, because I think that the Longhorns will have their best defense in years lead by bookend pass rushers Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat. Also returning are talented safety Kenny Vaccaro and cornerbacks Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom, and we know a great pass rush and skilled secondary can be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. On offense, Texas will try to run the ball with the running back tandem of Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown, but do not be surprised if five star freshman running back Jonathan Gray ends up as the lead back. The Longhorns season will come down to quarterback David Ash, can the sophomore make the necessary plays under pressure to make this team a contender?
20 ) Boise State Broncos – Despite losing a ton of talent to the NFL with the name Kellen Moore, who is the winningest quarterback in college football history at the top of the list, I believe that head coach Chris Peterson will field a good team in what should be a “rebuilding year.” The Broncos still have a lot of talent, lead by running back D.J. Harper, wide receiver Matt Miller, and a pair of talented cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins. Junior quarterback Joe Southwick will be the Broncos starting quarterback when they take on a talented Michigan State defense on Friday night, and while I think that Boise State will lose some games and will not finish the season in typical “we deserve to play in the title game” fashion, I expect the next generation of stars to emerge in 2012.
21 ) Nebraska Cornhuskers – We know what the Cornhuskers are going to do in 2012, and that is run the football with the gifted returning combination of quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead. I expect this to be a strong Nebraska team, they only lost a few key players from last year’s squad, and seem to have a nice mix of experienced talent at several key positions. The major question I have with Nebraska is will quarterback Taylor Martinez, who has battled injuries in the past, be able to stay healthy for a full season. If the answer is yes, the Cornhuskers should contend for the Big 12 title, with the preparation problems they cause due to their style of play and talent level on defense.
22 ) North Carolina State Wolfpack – It feels like many experts are sleeping on what will be a very good NC State team to me, they are lead by quarterback Mike Glennon (6’6 230lbs), who is a name that America will shortly be familiar with. Glennon quietly threw for over 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns as a junior in 2011 and in my opinion is the most underrated quarterback in the country, he could be the next Matt Ryan (he is of course coached by Tom O’Brien who coached Ryan at Boston College). Also returning to the Wolfpack is one of the top defensive players in the country, cornerback David Amerson, who lead the country with 13 interceptions in 2011. The team is also loaded with experienced depth in the trenches, where most of the key players on the offensive and defensive lines return, look out for this senior lead bunch, they will make headlines this season.
23 ) Auburn Tigers – Although this young Auburn team may not be ready to compete with Alabama, LSU and Georgia for the SEC crown, they are a gritty group who will not go down without a fight. The tigers return star tailback Onterio McCalebb, who will have to carry the load on offense, now that his former tandem back Michael Dyer has left the program. On defense, the tigers are highlighted by speed rushing end Corey Lemonier, who is one of the most explosive edge rushers in the country. At quarterback the Tigers will break in sophomore Kiehl Frazier, who played in wildcat packages last season, but may eventually remind Auburn faithful of Cam Newton. The 6’2 230lbs Frazier throws the ball 75 yards and runs a 4.65 40 yard dash, and expectations are high for his future in the SEC.
24 ) Notre Dame Fighting Irish – The Irish should be better in 2012, and I continue to believe that head coach Brian Kelly has the team headed in the right direction, and they will soon return to national prominence. Notre Dame is lead by senior linebacker Manti Te’o, one of the most instinctive players in the game, he is a sure tackler the leader of the Irish defense. The defense should be solid in the front seven, however the secondary is green, and has a lot of question marks. Watch sophomore defensive end Stephon Tuitt, the 6’6 303lbs monster looks to be the next Justin Tuck in South Bend, if he can stay healthy. The offense will be lead by star tailback Cierre Wood, and while I expect the Irish to struggle at times, I think they will show overall improvement as another Brian Kelly recruiting class is a step in the right direction.
25 ) Ohio State Buckeyes – The team is not bowl-eligible in their first season under legendary head coach Urban Meyer, however Meyer inherits a pretty loaded team, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The defensive line is this team’s strength, where tackle Jonathan Hankins and end John Simon are monsters at the college level and future NFL first round picks. As a whole the Ohio State defense is deep and talented, and they should cause a lot of problems for the opposition in 2012. Meyer wishes he could say the same for his offense, which lacks both talent and depth, although dual threat quarterback Braxton Miller should greatly improve with Meyer at the helm. It will not be long before Meyer has the Buckeyes again on top as national title contenders, it will just take some work on the recruiting front.
JUST MISSED THE CUT: Mississippi State Bulldogs (my sleeper, excellent defensively), Louisville Cardinals, Washington Huskies, Florida Gators, Georgia Tech Yellow jackets, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Texas A&M Aggies, Cincinnati Bearcats, Baylor Bears, Utah Utes, South Florida Bulls, Missouri Tigers
FULL 2012 NCAA Football Preview: