It’s never too early for a preseason top 25, right? Most people think preseason polls are bad for college football. Hell, I think they need to make more of them.
But there’s no way around not making Alabama the preseason favorite for 2013 because of the playmakers and experience that returns on both sides of the ball.
Let’s give this a shot.
Alabama just made history, winning their third national championship in four years, and they only lose three juniors in DJ Fluker, Dee Milliner and Eddie Lacy to the NFL Draft. With Nick Saban at the helm, the Tide returns AJ McCarron, TJ Yeldon, and Amari Cooper but do lose three on the offensive line, including Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack. The defense loses impact players Jesse Williams and Damion Square up front, but the linebacking corps and the secondary will be strong again. Can the Tide make it four out of the last five next season?
With Chip Kelly, QB Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas returning to Oregon, we know the offense will light up the scoreboard and be in the national championship talks again. The defense does lose three of a very talented front seven, but when the offense scores 50 per game, it doesn’t really matter. And road trips to Stanford and Washington are the only two questionable matchups heading into ‘13. If Oregon can get by the Cardinal, they should sit nicely for a national championship bid.
3. Texas A&M
Arguably the hottest football team down the stretch to close 2012 was the Aggies, and they return a slew of offensive playmakers including Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. The offensive line will be strong yet again, and Manziel has some very good playmakers around him. But the biggest question will be on defense, as the Aggies lose three on the defensive line, two linebackers and two in the secondary. Kevin Sumlin and Manziel will have to score just as many points as they did in ‘12 because the defense will not be as good. The good news is they certainly can.
To all of us in SEC country, Stanford is one of those boring teams that usually bring its game against better offensive teams. We get bored with their play, but that’s how the rest of the country looks at the SEC. Stanford is built a lot like Notre Dame, but they’re better offensively. The Pac-12 North will be top heavy, with Oregon and Stanford having the national championship square in their sights. The Cardinal returns QB Kevin Hogan and a strong defense for ‘13. Watch out for Barry Sanders, Jr. toting the rock for the Cardinal next year as well.
The biggest recruit Mark Richt landed this offseason was Aaron Murray. Murray returns to an offense that loses one starter in receiver Tavarres King. The offense will be so explosive again. Running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall should have fantastic seasons, and receivers Michael Bennett and Malcolm Mitchell will put up some big numbers. It’s true – the defense will look totally different next year, but collectively they have a shot to be a better overall defense than this season. Jarvis Jones is gone, but watch out for Jordan Jenkins exploding as a sophomore. The good news is that this team can score at will, but the bad news they may have to with so many star defenders gone.
6. South Carolina
South Carolina returns in ‘13 with back-to-back 11-win seasons on the resume, and Steve Spurrier is really building a program. He has two quarterbacks in Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson, and the best defensive player in the country to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. Many will bring up the fact that there won’t be a notable running back on the roster, but I’ll remind you that the Gamecocks are 9-1 without Marcus Lattimore. They’ll find a running game, and we know Spurrier will have a passing game. But the Gamecocks’ biggest obstacle will be replacing the six seniors on defense.
7. Ohio State
Ohio State is the early favorite to win the Big Ten and reach the national championship with an undefeated record, but that doesn’t mean they’re the second, third or even the fifth best team in the country. Braxton Miller is a great player, but that’s all the Buckeyes have. He could be Johnny Manziel good, but he doesn’t have the type of players around him like Manziel. Both Georgia and South Carolina should start out ahead of the Buckeyes, and even Urban Meyer will tell you the chasm between his undefeated Buckeyes and a two-loss team like South Carolina this past year. Urban’s a great coach and recruiter, and the Buckeyes will look good against poor competition.
Clemson returns yet again a national championship-caliber roster with a suspect head coach. Tajh Boyd will be as good as any quarterback in the country, and he’ll connect with Sammy Watkins to put up some monster numbers again. However, the Tigers lose running back Andre Ellington and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, along with replacing three starters in the secondary. Dabo Swinney will once again be the reason the Tigers are sub-par.
Mr. Teddy Bridgewater announced his Heisman campaign against Florida in the Sugar Bowl, and the Cardinals return virtually their entire starting lineup minus four starters once again, with an 11-win season on the resume. Bridgewater will have playmakers such as Eli Rogers, DeVante Parker and Damian Copeland to get the rock to in space. However, if the Cardinals are serious about competing for a national championship, the defense has to take a step forward in ‘13.
Will Muschamp and his staff did a great job in ’12 in turning this club around from 7-6 to 11-2 and vying for a national championship, but now it gets even harder because he and his team will have to learn to live with building success and momentum. The biggest weakness is the offense, and the one player who must make a big jump is quarterback Jeff Driskel. The Gators must identify playmakers on the outside, and the offensive line must do a better job of pass protecting. The defense loses six starters, but we know Muschamp will field a stout product under his keen watch. Florida is one of the biggest unknowns in the preseason top 25. They return four- and five-star players at every position, but they have to make a big jump on offense to make a run at an SEC Championship.
11. Notre Dame
Some will say the Irish didn’t belong in the national championship, and they certainly proved their point against Bama. Losing starters such as Manti Te’o, Tyler Eifert, Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood will be big to overcome. Quarterback Everett Golson will grow during the offseason, but how much will he grow? There’s enough talent on offense, but they must make a bigger splash than this season.
12. Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State should be favored in the Big 12 to start the season. They put up offensive numbers despite having no elite names in college football. And three different quarterbacks actually started games for the Pokes. The core of the offense and defense remain in tact, despite losing running back Joseph Randle to the NFL. OSU is a team to look out for outside of the top ten as having a shot to make some BCS Championship noise.
13. Florida State
Florida State will go head-to-head with Clemson for the ACC title again, but they won’t win it in 2013. The Noles lose EJ Manuel and talented defensive players in Bjoern Werner, Xavier Rhodes, Brandon Jenkins, Vince Williams and Tank Carradine. FSU has a strong crop of young talented players, but success will hinge around the quarterback battle between Clint Trickett and Jameis Winston.
LSU just suffered a mass NFL exodus unlike any other team has seen. Ten underclassmen declared for the draft, with three on offense, six on defense and one on special teams. That’s too much talent lost to be a top ten club heading into 2013. And the offense must get better – particularly quarterback Zach Mettenberger. The LSU offense must take a step forward in order to help compensate for the loss on defense. Sophomore running back Jeremy Hill does return to lead the rushing attack, though.
Gary Patterson did his best coaching job in ‘12 with a young and inexperienced team. The Horned Frogs lost their starting quarterback Casey Pachall due to off-the-field concerns, and Patterson still produced seven wins and the top statistical defense in the Big 12. Ten of 11 starters return on defense, too, and if the offense can put up any kind of numbers, they will compete for the Big 12 Championship.
Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU are the big three in the Big 12, no matter who you rank first, second or third. But Landry Jones is now gone, and there are too many concerns on defense for a team that gave up over 190 yards rushing per game. The Sooners will be good once again, but key games against the Cowboys, Longhorns and Horned Frogs will decide the best team.
17. Boise State
Chris Petersen is a boss, and he’s absolutely a top five coach in the country. It’s amazing what he does with lesser-rated stars. Could you imagine what he would do at a school where he could actually recruit? Boise isn’t going to the Big East, and they’ll be a BCS-buster once again. Let’s face it – it doesn’t matter who they have to replace or who is on the roster. The Broncos are going to be good once again. They took a ‘step back’ in ‘12, but they still won 11 games. Their two losses were by a combined six points.
18. Oregon State
The Beavers were a surprise team in 2012, and Mike Riley did a fantastic job turning his club around from 3-9 to 9-4 in a season. But how will they handle success? Even though the team started strong at 6-0, they did lose four of the last seven. The defense was second in the Pac-12, but they will have to decide on who the starting quarterback is between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz.
Texas’ talent cupboard remains full once again in ‘13, but can they finally put it all together? My bet is that they don’t, but you can’t simply discount them. The running game is elite, and the defense only loses two starters. Yes, they were horrible in ‘12, but you have to figure they’ll get much better in ‘13. The Big 12 could be there for the Horns’ taking.
Jim Mora had a great first year, leading his team to the Pac-12 Championship Game against Stanford. Quarterback Brett Hundley is back after a great freshman season, and the Bruins should have one of the best linebacking corps for ‘13. However, replacing running back Johnathan Franklin will certainly be no easy task.
Michigan is a team that could surprise people in 2013. With Denard Robinson finally out of the picture, the Wolverines might actually be better without him, and offensive coordinator Al Borges won’t have to worry about getting the ball to Robinson anymore. Devin Gardner will be fine, and Greg Mattison will put a good defensive product on the field.
Bret Bielema’s former squad is now coached by Gary Anderson from Utah State. Wisconsin has been to four straight Rose Bowls, but star running back Montee Ball won’t be walking through that tunnel anymore. Returning quarterback Joel Stave will be a boost to an offense that needs to get better through the air. The defensive front seven, though, will be a staple for Anderson and the Badgers.
Pat Fitzgerald overachieved in ’12, winning 10 games and ending a 63-year bowl drought. Quarterback Kain Colter is a playmaker and a weapon for the Wildcats, but the offensive line does lose three starters. But the defense only has to replace four starters, and the Wildcats should overachieve once again in ‘13. Ten wins will be hard to top, though.
Taylor Martinez thinks the Big Ten is more talented than the SEC. As you can see by this ranking and every other ranking, Ohio State is the only team ready to make noise on the national scene. But the good news is the Huskers only have to compete with Michigan and Northwestern in the Legends Division. Martinez returns, along with running back Ameer Abdullah and receiver Kenny Bell, and the offense will put up points once again.
Yeah – I ranked Vandy. The Commodores are coming off of their first nine-win season for the first time since 1915. They finished the season in the top 25 for the first time since 1948. James Franklin is making history and building a program, after reaching back-to-back bowl games in his first two seasons. And the Dores return a strong cast of playmakers on both sides of the ball. Once they finally beat a top 25 team, everyone will call them legit.
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