Only care about Oklahoma? Here is what Stephanie Kuzydym had to say about the Sooners ranking in The Sporting News.
This team is too good—and has too much motivation from last season—not to reach the national title game again. These Tigers are more talented than the team that won the 2007 national title, and if quarterback Zach Mettenberger can play smart and limit turnovers, no one will beat them.
We admit we’re putting a lot of faith in Mettenberger, who remains unproven. Still, even with his inexperience, the Tigers have to be better off with him than the Jarrett Lee-Jordan Jefferson duo. And if they’re not, LSU still has the best playmaker in the game in Tyrann Mathieu, a preseason All-American in defensive end Sam Montgomery, a terrific receiver in Odell Beckham and one of the nation’s best in free safety Eric Reid.
Matt Barkley and All-American safety T.J. McDonald both stayed at USC rather than leave early for NFL riches, and now they have a very real shot at playing for it all. Considering how well USC played last season, when the Trojans weren’t even eligible for postseason play, Barkley and McDonald just might find it was worth it.
Coach Lane Kiffin is knocking on the door of a BCS national championship in only his third year. It’s a remarkable feat, especially considering the ramifications of NCAA sanctions the program is dealing with. But who can complain when you have receivers like Robert Woods and Marqise Lee? Defensive end Devon Kennard is likely done for the season after a weight room injury, and there are depth problems. But if USC can hold onto its core group of players, this could be a special season.
The way coach Nick Saban has things rolling in Tuscaloosa, it’s hard to pick against Alabama in any season. The reality is the Tide and LSU are probably the two best teams in the nation again. But don’t expect Alabama to get another BCS break like last year if (when?) it loses Nov. 3 at LSU.
Quarterback A.J. McCarron has the comfort of standing behind the best lineman in the country, Barrett Jones. And running back Eddie Lacy, though no Trent Richardson, is a special talent. The Tide defense lost a ton of talent and leadership and will have to see a number of people show their full worth this fall. There has never been a repeat national champion in the BCS era, but if there’s a team capable, this is it.
Last season was supposed to be the Sooners’ return to national glory, and they look just as good on paper and absolutely should win the Big 12 this season. Both sides of the ball are loaded with playmakers.
Let’s start with receiver Trey Metoyer, who after a year at a military prep school, could wind up being the most dynamic receiver in the league. Certainly, Bob Stoops and company are touting him as a major force and a prime target for quarterback Landry Jones. Running back Dominique Whaley broke his ankle last year, but is returning. The offensive line is experienced and while there were some key losses on defense, the secondary could be the strength of the unit. Nowhere does that mean more than in the pass-happy Big 12.
Anything short of an ACC championship and/or another BCS bowl would be a disappointment in Blacksburg. Those aren’t a given, obviously, but the talent is there and the expectations are always high for Frank Beamer’s squad. This year is no different.
Logan Thomas is described by some as the next Cam Newton. He’s certainly a striking physical specimen at 6-6 and 262 pounds. But, without NFL draft pick David Wilson at running back and hardly any starting experience back on offense, Thomas could look only average. The defense doesn’t have nearly as many holes.
When K-State week comes up on the schedule, you’d better be prepared to bring the full force of your ability. There should no longer be any doubt the Wildcats will pick off any opponent that takes them lightly.
Not that anyone will do that this season. Bill Snyder’s team excelled in 2011 and won’t be overlooked. Quarterback Collin Klein has lost the element of surprise, so he’ll need to be even better. A Heisman candidate, Klein has one of the swiftest receivers out there in Tyler Lockett and is surrounded by players who were with him a year ago. Linebacker Arthur Brown was the Big 12’s defensive newcomer of the year last season.
The talent is assembled, and the excuses are gone. Florida State is 19-9 in Jimbo Fisher’s first two seasons, and anything short of a double-digit-win season will be a disappointment.
If the Seminoles don’t get it done this year, it will take a miracle to believe in them again. Quarterback E.J. Manuel was injured early last season and never fully recovered. He has to immediately begin playing up to expectations. Defensive end Brandon Jenkins came back for a senior year that should see him become a force, while junior Xavier Rhodes should be a lockdown cornerback in the ACC.
With games at Notre Dame, at Nebraska and at Ohio State in addition to the neutral-site debut vs. (yikes) Alabama, the Wolverines could play better football in 2012 without matching, let alone exceeding, last season’s total of 11 wins. If they can find their way to the top of the Legends Division and reach their first league title game, coach Brady Hoke will be a rock star—and quarterback Denard Robinson could grab himself a Heisman.
The biggest question marks are on defense, where the Wolverines lost three starting defensive linemen. There has been a lot of shuffling to find good fits and more toughness up the middle. Middle linebacker Kenny Demens, who had 94 tackles last season, is the most valuable player on that side of the ball.
This is Steve Spurrier’s best team at South Carolina—and he still doesn’t have a legitimate throwing threat at quarterback. Think about that, and realize that this team isn’t that far away from winning the SEC. If Connor Shaw can improve as a thrower and find more accuracy, who knows what could happen in a winner-take-all SEC championship game?
Running back Marcus Lattimore sustained a torn in ACL last season. If he’s healthy, the Gamecocks’ chances of taking the SEC East improve dramatically. Shaw will also need someone to replace receiver Alshon Jeffery. With Melvin Ingram gone, this should also be the breakout year for end Jadeveon Clowney, a 6-6, 256-pound sophomore. His bookend? That’s Devin Taylor, who stands 6-8.
Best defense in the league? Check. Best running game? Should be. Better quarterback play? Maybe. Tougher? Mack Brown says yes, for sure. Big 12 champs? Look, the Longhorns have a real shot. But they might be another year from being ready to take down Oklahoma.
Defensive end Alex Okafor could be the best in the nation and if fellow end Jackson Jeffcoat is healthy, this could be a terrific tandem. This secondary, returning all four players, is as good as it gets. But it all comes back to offense and projected starter David Ash, or Case McCoy, will have to lead with authority and productivity.
If any other team lost the school’s all-time leading rusher (LaMichael James) and its all-time leader in touchdown passes (Darron Thomas), there would be major concerns. That’s not the case at Oregon. The Ducks do have to find a quarterback and get some receivers to grow up, but they are still talented enough to challenge for the Pac-12 and national titles.
After all, they do still have De’Anthony Thomas, an explosive player who can break away for big gains as a receiver or out of the backfield. Running back Kenjon Barner would already be a star on any other team. The linebacker corps, led by Michael Clay, is talented. Incoming true freshman Arik Armstead, at 6-8 and 297 pounds, should make an immediate impact.
The Badgers have been league leaders in time of possession three years in a row. With Montee Ball running and a better-than-average Big Ten defense, the time of possession should be a major positive again. All transfer quarterback Danny O’Brien, assuming he’s the guy, has to do is make good decisions in the passing game and a return trip to the league title game is a great bet.
That’s especially true if the defense gets everything out of linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland, who finished first and second in tackles in the Big Ten last season. The return of David Gilbert and cornerback Devin Smith from injuries will help tremendously, too.
Mark Dantonio has established himself as a premier coach—and, despite all the hubbub around the team from Ann Arbor, as the best coach in the state. Maybe we’re underrating the Spartans, but how would that be any different from what they’re used to? This program has come a long way.
But, how far can the Spartans go this year without veteran QB Kirk Cousins? New starter Andrew Maxwell will need to answer that question, but he doesn’t have to do it on his own. Running back Le’Veon Bell is probably second-best in the Big Ten behind Montee Ball. The defense, led by end William Gholston, should be one of the best in the country.
There’s a lot to like about the Bulldogs. They just need to put it together for a whole season—the back-to-back losses that began and ended their 2011 campaign made the 10 wins they racked up insignificant. But that’s easier said than done in the SEC.
Priority No. 1 is establishing some consistency at the tailback position. Isaiah Crowell has been dismissed from the team. That leaves another true freshman, five-star recruit Keith Marshall, in charge of ensuring a productive ground game. On defense, Georgia is loaded with linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree, free safety Bacarri Rambo and cornerback Sanders Commings.
With a little bit better defense and more focus on limiting turnovers, the Tigers should approach double-digit wins again this year. They play a brutal nonconference schedule that includes games against Auburn and South Carolina, which is why they’re ranked behind Florida State in SN’s top 25, but they’ll win the Atlantic Division based on a better ACC record.
Expect to see improved play from quarterback Tajh Boyd and while Sammy Watkins is still the go-to player for the Tigers, coach Dabo Swinney has raved about the emergence of receiver DeAndre Hopkins and the steady work of running back Andre Ellington. The defense gets the new stamp of coordinator Brent Venables, who came over from Oklahoma to replace Kevin Steele.
Fifteen starters return from an 8-5 team that lost to Florida State, 18-14, in the Champs Sports Bowl. If Brian Kelly can find a steady hand under center, a playmaking receiver to replace the production of first-round NFL draft pick Michael Floyd (6-6 senior tight end/wideout Tyler Eifert is the best candidate) and successfully fill some key holes in the secondary and offensive line, this will easily be his best team in South Bend.
But the schedule is a killer. Reaching eight wins again is likely—but it won’t come easy. “When you take into consideration that Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz both won national titles in their third seasons, this is a big year for Kelly,” former Irish running back Allen Pinkett says.
A first-place finish in the Legends Division clearly wouldn’t surprise quarterback Taylor Martinez, but it would surprise the heck out of us. Bo Pelini’s teams have lost four games in each of his four seasons. That seems about right once again.
But if you believe Martinez and Pelini, things will be different this time around. For starters, the Huskers have had a spin around the Big Ten now. Secondly, Martinez, entering his junior year, has made big strides. Running back Rex Burkhead is back, as are all of last year’s starting receivers.
Arkansas players have said all the right things since Bobby Petrino’s disastrous fall. They’re talking about playing for one another and for a championship and setting up the next head coach to be successful. This team can’t lose early, or that offseason confidence will be severely shaken.
Tyler Wilson will try his best to hold things together. Wilson could have bolted for the NFL, but stayed behind and now has to not let the Razorbacks squander talent. Knile Davis returns from a severe ankle injury and will challenge Marcus Lattimore for first-team all-SEC honors.
In Steve Sarkisian’s fourth season, the Huskies could take a significant step toward competing for a Pac-12 title. They’ve always been able to put points on the board, but now the defense could start carrying its weight, too. The tough schedule and scheme/coaching transition likely mean they won’t take the final step this season, though.
Quarterback Keith Price completed a school-record 66.9 percent of his passes last season and played toe-to-toe with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III in the Alamo Bowl. But Washington gave up 67 points in that game. In comes new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, whom the Huskies hope marks another step in the program’s progression.
The Utes nearly advanced to the Pac-12’s inaugural championship game last season, their first in the league, thanks to USC’s ineligibility and a weak division. The path won’t be nearly as easy this time, but the Utes should still be better because they’ll be at least as good on defense and even better on offense.
Senior defensive tackle Star Lotulelei will be a first-round NFL draft pick. Quarterback Jordan Wynn injured his shoulder last season and missed the final nine games. His health is paramount to this team. Running back John White IV led the Pac-12 with 316 carries last season and averaged 116.8 yards per game.
If the passing game develops with the newbies and the defense improves for third-year coordinator Al Groh, the Yellow Jackets could definitely push Virginia Tech in the Coastal Division. The schedule is a bit odd, with ACC contests in three of the first four games. If nothing else, the Yellow Jackets will know pretty quickly where they stand.
Coach Paul Johnson is encouraged by the improvement of individual players, including quarterback Tevin Washington. Right guard Omoregie Uzzi is likely to be an early-round draft selection.
What would constitute a successful debut for Urban Meyer? Eight wins? Ten? Probably this boils down to a feel thing: Given that the Buckeyes’ season will end in November, how strong they look down the stretch, regardless of their record, will determine our judgments.
Meyer and QB Braxton Miller appear to be a perfect match, but Meyer has emphasized he needs explosive playmakers right now. Running back Jordan Hall suffered a foot injury and may be slow to come back. That means somebody—tight end Jake Stoneburner—has to generate some offense.
After a 4-8 record in his first season, coach Butch Jones appears to have the program back on track. Cincinnati lost four players to the NFL Draft (tight end Adrien Robinson was the fourth Bearcat selected, going in the fourth round) and its leader in Zach Collaros, but the schedule isn’t daunting—Virginia Tech is the only significant nonconference foe—so 10 wins isn’t out of the question if Munchie Legaux and/or one of the running backs can provide reliable offense.
John Jancek takes over the defensive coordinator duties after sharing them with Tim Banks, now at Illinois, last year. With defensive tackle Derek Wolfe gone, Jancek will turn to sixth-year senior strong safety Drew Frey, a first-team all-conference selection last year, to lead this unit.
It’s not that hard to envision West Virginia having the sort of breakout season in 2012 that Oklahoma State had in 2011. The offense could lead the league in scoring. Can the Mountaineers avoid the sort of inexplicable stumble like the one last year at Syracuse, where they lost by 26?
Coach Dana Holgorsen, the former offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, doesn’t enter the Big 12 fray blindly. That can only help. Quarterback Geno Smith is a legitimate talent who will at last get the exposure he deserves, along with speedy receiver Stedman Bailey.
The defense got zero help from the offense much of last season and wore down late in games. If either Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel takes command and the Gators finally score some points, they could win as many as nine or 10 games. They will be able to hang with almost anyone in the SEC on defense.
This year’s team under second-year coach Will Muschamp has more depth than the 2011 bunch, but success rests on the ability to Brissett and Driskel to improve dramatically, and bring the rest of the offense along with them.