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Too Early Top-25? Let’s Break It Down!

Mark Schlabach over at ESPN has posted a Way-Too-Early Top-25. As you can see from my sidebar, I have now posted my pre-season Power 15 so let’s go over the two. One thing to think about in doing this is I’m guessing what might be the top-15 teams based on how well I believe the teams will do during the 2012 season. Let’s take a look at Schlabach’s top-25!

#1 – LSU: No arguments from me here. I have LSU starting at #3, but so far my predictions have them going a perfect 12-0 during the regular season. The reason why I have LSU at #3 is that I also have USC going a perfect 12-0 during the regular season and I think you could make an argument that no team was playing better than the Trojans by season’s end in 2011. Bring back the best starting QB in college football right now and you have something brewing in Troy. I also have Alabama at #2. Frankly I like the fact that QB AJ McCarron comes back and I don’t think Alabama loses much at RB with Eddie Lacy & Jalston Fowler taking over. LSU gets better now that Jordan Jefferson is gone, but we still don’t know how Mettenberger will work out. Throw in the mad hatter and I like LSU a lot better at #3.

#2 – USC: Again no arguments. I have USC at #1, but I’m splitting hairs. WR Robert Woods might be the most unstoppable force in college football in 2012. Barkley is the leading man for the Heisman. They virtually return all of their offensive linemen and all of their starting secondary players. The Trojans have been down the last couple of seasons, but that stops in 2012. If they run up a 13-0 record, it’ll be impossible to prevent them from competing for the national championships.

#3 – ALABAMA: The top-3 should be a consensus in one manifestation or another, which means USC will play the eventual SEC West champion in the BCS Championship. I certainly understand the LSU sentiment, but it’s Nick Saban for crying out loud. The defense will once again be scary good and even if the Tide lose most of their skill position players, Fowler & Lacy will combine with the 4 returning starting offensive linemen to make games extremely short. Teams simply can’t score on Alabama and they won’t be on the field much either to get the opportunity to do so.

#4 – OREGON: I have the Ducks at #9. I get the Oregon sentiment. They are 24-3 in their last 2 seasons with a Rose Bowl victory and a trip to the BCS Championship game where they almost walked away with a national title. The loss of LaMichael James doesn’t really bother me because of the presence of DeAnthony Thomas & Kenjon Barner, but the QB situation isn’t completely settled between Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota. The schedule sets up well for the Ducks and I don’t think they lose a game until they had to the Coliseum. I thought Darron Thomas did a great job in Eugene and for the QB situation to not drop off a lick demeans his abilities under center. Oregon drops off a hair! They have to!

#5 – GEORGIA: I have the Bulldogs at #7 so Schlabach and I pretty close. It seems like we say this every year with either South Carolina or Georgia, but if it doesn’t happen for UGA this season then when? The schedule sets up perfectly as they avoid both LSU & Alabama out of the West. Their toughest games are on the road against Auburn and South Carolina. They return 7 starters on offense including QB Aaron Murray, RB Isaiah Crowell and their top-3 receivers. Georgia also returns 9 starters on a defense that ranked #5 nationally in total defense. The reason I have Georgia at #7 is because Mark Richt & Co. always manage to find a way to drop a game or two. On paper Georgia belongs with LSU, USC & Alabama in the discussion for the best team in the nation!

#6 – OKLAHOMA: I have the Sooners at #6 overall too! Oklahoma was thought to have a date with Alabama for a national title last season when injuries got in the way, but all isn’t lost as Oklahoma is set to make another legitimate run in 2012. The offense ranked 5th in total offense in 2012 and returns pretty much everyone outside of WR Ryan Broyles. Defensively the Sooners need to get better, but Mark Stoops rejoins his brother’s staff as the DC and I’d expect Oklahoma to perform better if only because they return 8 starters and the talent is incredible. Having to face TCU & West Virginia now isn’t going to be easy, but you have to think Landry Jones feels like there is some unfinished business he has one final year of college to take care of.

#7 – FLORIDA ST.: I had the Seminoles at #4 partly because I think they run the table in the ACC and get to 12-0. Florida St.’s defense might show us a little bit of what Alabama’s defense in 2011 did. The Noles return 9 starters to a defense that ranked #2 in rush defense, #4 in total defense and #4 in scoring defense. FSU gets Clemson at home, but does have to travel to Virginia Tech. However, FSU will enjoy two weeks of prep time due to a bye while the Hokies will be coming off a road trip to Miami-FL! Offensively Florida St. gets QB EJ Manuel back who is 100% healthy along with 6 other starters. Manuel is an instant Heisman candidate and should be a front runner if FSU runs the table.

#8 – WEST VIRGINIA: Dana Holgorsen is just getting warmed up. The 70-33 annihilation of Clemson in the Orange Bowl was just a prelude to what the Mountaineers can accomplish! I WVU at #5 meaning I have them winning the Big XII in their first year. West Virginia’s offense is incredible and they return 8 starters including QB Geno Smith & WR Stedman Bailey. In fact, WVU retains practically all of their skill position players who will now be in their 2nd year of Holgorsen’s offensive system! WVU was 13th in scoring offense last year just learning. They have to be considered a top-5 offense now. West Virginia has to play Texas on the road, but gets Oklahoma at home.

#9 – MICHIGAN: I have the Wolverines at #8 so again Schlabach & I are pretty close. Like West Virginia, Michigan did exceptionally well under a first year head coach finishing the season at 11-2 and are looking to build on that. However, Michigan is also a little like Florida St. in that they return 8 starters to a defense that ranked 6th nationally in scoring defense. Scoring won’t be a problem in Ann Arbor as Denard Robinson returns as QB along with 7 other offensive starters. The real trick will be seeing how well the defense plays after losing 3 of their 4 starters on the D-Line. If Michigan can get by Alabama in it’s opener, the Wolverines could easily be looking at 12-0.

#10 – SOUTH CAROLINA: I have the Gamecocks at #10 and pretty much everything I said about Georgia holds true for South Carolina. The Stephen Garcia experiment is finally over and Connor Shaw looks like a QB who can excel in Steve Spurrier’s tough love environment. Having RB Marcus Lattimore & WR Ace Sanders won’t hurt either. I’m really excited to see how SC copes on defense now that former DC Ellis Johnson is gone. You could always count on SC having a dynamite defense year in and year out, but will they have the same tenacity under a new DC? DE Jadeveon Clowney is going to try and ensure that post-Johnson success now that he’s in his 2nd year in Columbia.

#11 – MICHIGAN ST.: I didn’t have the Spartans cracking my top-15 and I might be sleeping on them a bit. Then again I think Kirk Cousins mattered quite a bit to Michigan St.’s success the last two seasons and replacing him won’t be as easy as plugging a new guy in. I think Russell Wilson was the exception and not the rule when he replaced Scott Tolzien. Look at what happened in Iowa when Ricky Stanzi graduated. Michigan St. is going to be extremely strong on both sides of the line of scrimmage, but they lost a ton of skill players and their QB. Putting the Spartans at #11 implies they are going to win 10-11 games and I’m not sure they can after posting back-to-back 11 win seasons.

#12 – STANFORD: A lot like Michigan St. The Caridinal are basically reloading rather than rebuilding, but it’s insane to think this is a Pac 12 team that is headed for a 10-2 season without Andrew Luck. Stanford went 11-2 last season and you mean they are only going to drop a game when they lost potentially the best college QB since Peyton Manning and 3 other 1st round draft picks? That’s nuts. I love the job Jim Harbaugh did and David Shaw is doing, but Stanford gets road games against Washington, Notre Dame & Oregon while also playing USC at home. An 8-4 team shouldn’t be knocking on the top-10.

#13 – ARKANSAS: The Hogs have a team that could compete for a national championship. The talent & experience are there, but the problem is the turmoil surrounding the Bobby Petrino scandal. John L. Smith is just a coach who is going to hold down the fort until Arkansas hires a football coach of the future which to me means uncertainty. The schedule sets up nice for the Hogs as they get both LSU & Alabama at home, but do go on the road to South Carolina & Auburn. Smith had a hard time at Michigan St. How is he going to fare in the SEC West when that conference might be better than it has ever been?

#14 – TEXAS CHRISTIAN: I had a hard time with TCU to be honest. They lost a lot of starters (only 5 return on offense & 5 on defense), but they get back QB Casey Pachall and RB Ed Wesley. Gary Patterson is always going to have a good defense, but the schedule doesn’t suit TCU extremely well and I don’t think they’ll have the horses to beat West Virginia & Oklahoma. A road trip to Austin could mean 3 losses with road trips to SMU, Baylor & Oklahoma State unaccounted for. Unlike WVU, TCU isn’t a finished product and the Big XII isn’t exactly easy. I think the Frogs will suffer through some growing pains before becoming major players.

#15 – WISCONSIN: I don’t think Danny O’Brien is going to be the second coming of Russell Wilson even if Montee Ball is back running the football down defenses’ throats! Keep in mind that Wisconsin lost a ton of players and has only 4 starters returning on offense & 6 on defense. They were +16 in TO margin last year and OC Paul Chryst is now the HC at Pittsburgh. I think losing Nick Toon is a big deal as well. The Badgers had a great run under Scott Tolzien & Russell Wilson from 2009-2011, but it’s OK to go back to 8-9 wins which is where I think the Badgers wind up. Top-15 is too high with what they’ve lost.

#16 – CLEMSON: No arguments from me here. I have Clemson winning 8-10 games this season, but somehow the Tigers always seem to let 1 or 2 slip away. They return 7 starters on both sides of the football and look really good even if they don’t project to beat Florida St.. If Clemson takes care of business at home then they could be looking at a road date in Tallahassee as their only stumbling block to a 12-0 season. Recent history says they find a way to jack it all up which is why I didn’t have them in my Power-15, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if they finished in the top-5 or top-7.

#17 – OHIO ST.: I have Ohio St. at #13. The Buckeyes aren’t eligible for a bowl game or any of the rankings except the AP, but that also allows them to play with absolutely no pressure. QB Braxton Miller is the type of QB who will thrive under HC Urban Meyer and I think Meyer’s offensive system can really play up to the inefficiency of the Big 10. Big 10 apologists will always say the spread has run in the conference because Purdue & Northwestern run it, but it has never been ran with the kind of elite level athletes Meyer will have in Columbus. Ohio St. returns 7 starters on offense. They are going to score. They return 9 starters on a defense that ranked 19th in total defense in 2011. If the Buckeyes take care of business at home, they are road wins against Michigan St. and Wisconsin from running the table. DO NOT SLEEP ON OHIO STATE!

#18 – KANSAS ST.: Another team I couldn’t quite figure. K-State returns 7 starters on both sides of the football from a 10-3 team. However, the red flags are abundant for the boys from Manhattan. Last season K-State was +12 in turnover margin and had a record of 8-1 in close games! K-State’s best care record was 11-2, but their worst case would have been a disastrous 2-11! Regression isn’t a kind mistress and she could very well come calling in 2012. What makes that likely is the schedule the Wildcats will have to endure. Road games against Oklahoma, West Virginia, TCU & Baylor look like losses. A road trip to Ames won’t be easy. That leaves them with home games against Texas, Oklahoma St., Texas Tech & Miami-FL. Ouch!

#19 – TEXAS: I have the Longhorns at #15 so Schlabach is underselling Texas and probably for good reason. Mack Brown needed to shake things up a bit and he has. I don’t see how he keeps sputtering given his track record and the 2012 season gives him a perfect opportunity to get Texas back among the nation’s elite. The Longhorns return 10 starters on offense and if QB David Ash steps up, then Texas should have no problems offensively especially with their stable of runners. The defense returns 7 starters from a unit that ranked #11 in total defense. The schedule also helps Texas out with home games against West Virginia, Baylor & TCU. The non-conference slate is easy and with Oklahoma St. regressing a bit this season, the Longhorns could make the Red River Rivalry even more interesting and meaningful this season.

#20 – FLORIDA: I don’t have the Gators in my power-15, but they’d be in my top-25 for sure. The schedule sets up well for them with a potential 11-0 start heading into their season finale on the road against Florida State! They’d have to beat LSU & Georgia to get their, but LSU is coming to Gainesville while the Georgia game is always in the state of Florida. The Gators return 10 starters on a defense that ranked 8th a year ago in total defense. If Florida can get any kind of consistently good play from their QB, they’ll make a run for the SEC East title.

#21 – WASHINGTON: I love what Washington could accomplish this season. HC Steve Sarkisian is doing amazing things in Seattle and this year his offense will return 7 starters including QB Keith Price which means even more fireworks are in store. Defensively the Huskies need to get a lot better as they ranked 108th in scoring defense a year ago! That’s HORRIBLE, but UW returns 7 starters on defense and the schedule sets up well for 9 and potentially 10 wins depending how lucky they get. The Pac 12 North is Oregon’s to lose, but I think Washington is the main contender and not Stanford.

#22 – OKLAHOMA ST.: Mike Gundy is doing great things in Stillwater, but this isn’t a top-25 team. They lost way too much and while there is some thought that it doesn’t much matter who plays offense in Gundy’s system, it might actually matter in 2012. The defense is woeful and the Big XII isn’t getting easier as Oklahoma & Texas are going to reestablish themselves in 2012. Throw in TCU & West Virginia and Oklahoma St. might at best be the 5th best team in the conference. Keep in mind too that Oklahoma St. was +21 in turnover margin in 2011! It won’t be that high again!

#23 – VIRGINIA TECH: I must be really high on the Hokies because I have Va Tech at #12 in my rankings. The Hokies lose a lot on offense from a year ago but do bring back QB Logan Thomas who some are hyping up as a Heisman candidate. If that is true then Virginia Tech is going to have a very good year. What really has defined Virginia Tech through the year of their success has been their defense under DC Bud Foster. This year the Hokies bring back 9 starters from a defense that ranked #7 in scoring defense & #10 in total defense in 2011. Virginia Tech is going to be brutally hard to score on this season which makes them a lot like Florida St. They get FSU at home & Clemson on the road. The other 10 games are gravy and a 10-2 Virginia Tech team with upside to win 11 or 12 belongs in the top-15.

#24 – NEBRASKA: I have the Cornhuskers at #14. Maybe I’m too high on Nebraska but this is a 9-4 team that returns 7 starters on both sides of the ball including QB Taylor Martinez. We know Martinez basically can’t hit the broad side of a barn with his arm, but he’s electric in open space. Nebraska’s defense continues to improve and they have a schedule that could garner double digit victories. I don’t worry so much about losing a guy like Jared Crick either since he didn’t play all that much last season. At some point Bo Pelini has to make a move because winning 9 games a season isn’t enough in Lincoln.

#25 – GEORGIA TECH: No worries here. I think the Jackets might even been a bit too low here at #25 as I had them on the cusp of making my power-15. Obviously this is a system attack when you look at HC Paul Johnson triple option spread offense. What really matters for Georgia Tech this season is that the defense returns 7 starters and the schedule sets up for them to make a run at Virginia Tech. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship game against Florida St. where anything can happen with a quirky offense.

WHO MADE MY POWER-15 BUT NOT THE WAY TOO EARLY TOP-25???

NR-UTAH: I have Utah at #11 yet Schlabach didn’t mention them in his top-25. Utah returns 9 starters on offense & 7 on defense from a team that went 8-5 last season. What’s more impressive is that Utah’s “worst” case record was 6-7 which is actually pretty darn good. They had a top-20 defense according to scoring defense so Utah really shouldn’t have any weaknesses coming into the 2012 season. The reality is that I don’t think Utah will be able to stay on the field with USC, but their schedule sets up well with avoiding both Oregon & Stanford. The toughest road game they have is against Washington, but they get USC at home. The schedule works out well for them to at least get to 10 wins and potentially 11 if they can get by the Huskies. An 11-1 Utah team would certainly crack the top-15 I’d think.

Mark Schlabach & I agree on who the top-10 teams in America are! We differ a bit on the #11 through #15, but I think this gives us a pretty good base to decipher what the big storylines in college football might be this fall! Is it September yet!?

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May 20, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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