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NCAA Power 15 – 2013 Preseason

I’m back! Last year got pretty busy for me but hopefully this season will be a little better in me keeping up with what is going on in the football world. College football season is just a shade under 3 weeks away which means the NFL is now under a month away before opening kickoff between the Broncos & Ravens to open up the 2013 NFL Season! Let’s kick off a new football season with the preseason Power 15 for the collegians! Remember this is a power poll. You won’t find a few of these teams in the top-15 in preseason polls, but I was looking at overall team prowess when looking at these teams. As you’ll see, just because a team might be better, it doesn’t necessarily translate into a better season record which is what the pollsters look at. Let’s kick this season off!

#1 Back to back national championships. Three championships in 4  years. A 5-year run where the Tide are 61-7! Now a chance to win 3 titles in a row and 4 of the last 5? What Nick Saban has done at Alabama is absolutely stunning and I think the Tide have a chance to go down as the greatest dynasty in college football history, led by arguably the greatest head coach in college football history! Oddly enough Alabama’s one weakness this year could be along the trenches. The O-Line returns just 2 starters but 4 of the 5 projected starters are upperclassmen so I wouldn’t worry too much there. The defensive line loses 2 starters, but the back 8 returns 7 starters including every member of the LB unit! The Tide legitimately have 12 starters who could be 1st Team All SEC and 6 starters who could be 1st Team All-Americans! Their talent is unrivaled. QB AJ McCarron & RB TJ Yeldon are legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates, leading an offense that scored 39PPG last year! Alabama’s season will hinge on how they do early on. They open up in Atlanta against Virginia Tech before heading into a bye week. After the bye week Alabama will travel to College Station to take on Texas A&M, the lone team to beat the Tide last year. Saban has had all year to prepare for the Hokies. He gets two weeks for Johnny Manziel. If Alabama wins both they’ll cruise to 12-0 barring an unthinkable upset.
#2 A lot of people won’t have the Seminoles this high, but there is no denying the amount of talent HC Jimbo Fisher has accumulated down in Tallahassee. The talent isn’t unlike that of Alabama where the Noles have 11 starters who could easily be 1st Team All ACC, but just 3 starters who could wind up being 1st Team All-Americans. It might be hard to think Florida State is ranked this high despite welcoming in a new starting QB considering EJ Manuel, last year’s starter, was a 1st round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills and should be the only QB taken in the 2013 NFL Draft to start day one. Redshirt freshman Jameis Winston will take over for Manuel. While Winston isn’t as big as Manuel at 6’4/220lbs, he’s still plenty big with massive dual threat capabilities. He is arguably the best high school QB in the 2012 class and this will be his 2nd year in the system. He’ll have plenty of help offensive. The O-Line returns 4 starters while RB Devonte Freeman and WR Rashad Greene should be the most prolific skill players. Defense is the other area of question as FSU lost 7 starters from a unit that allowed just 14.7PPG in 2012. The D-Line lost all 4 starters but keep an eye on DEs Giorgio Newberry (6’6/273lbs) & Mario Edwards (6’3/282lbs). Those bookends are huge & extremely talented. The LB corps is huge and the secondary returns 3 of 4 starters. With no Virginia Tech on the schedule, FSU is a road win against Clemson from running the table. The talent is so ridiculous that FSU merits the #2 spot.
#3 The Bulldogs were THIS close to playing for (and winning) a national championship. Georgia’s lone loss heading into the SEC championship game was against South Carolina while Alabama lost to Texas A&M. In the best game of 2012, Alabama held on to beat Georgia 32-28. The Bulldogs settled for the Capital One bowl where they beat Nebraska 45-31. They finished 12-2 and ranked 5th, but 4 points essentially kept Georgia from winning their first national championship since 1980. Georgia comes back this year with their eyes on finishing. Offensively, Georgia is going to be almost impossible to stop. QB Aaron Murray is one of the best QBs in the game and he’ll have an easy time throwing passes given how DOMINANT Georgia will be with their RB tandem of Todd Gurley & Keith Marshall, both of whom could be considered top-5 RBs in college football. The O-Line returns intact with 4 upperclassmen! UGA scored 38PPG last season. Forty plus is not out of the question. The problem with Georgia is much the same as with Florida State. The Bulldogs took on major losses on defense. Only 2 of the front-7 return while only 2 of the back-8 return. Talent is never an issue in Athens and even if the Dawgs give up 25PPG defensively, the offense should more than hold its own. Georgia will be made or broken early as their first two games include a road opening against Clemson followed by a home conference opener against South Carolina. Georgia could easily start the season 0-2!
#4 This is the season HC Mack Brown has been building towards since Colt McCoy and company walked off the field back in 2010 when Texas lost to Alabama 37-21 in the BCS Championship game. With McCoy leaving there was some problems at the QB position along with some injuries, but QB David Ash stepped up last season to solidify the position, starting 12 games and passing for 2,699 yards & 19TD while completing 67.3% of his passes! Just a junior, Ash could have two more years in Austin and could go down as one of the top-3 passers in UT history. Texas will never lack for talent, but the 2013 version of the Longhorns has a tremendous amount of returning talent that has seen their fair share of football. The entire O-Line returns along with RB Jonathan Gray who rushed for 701 (4.7ypc) last year as a true freshman. Texas scored 35.7PPG in 2012 and that number looks to skyrocket in 2013. Defensively the Longhorns bring back 9 starters. The defense last season did give up 29.2PPG so there is room to improve significantly but if the Texas defenders can live up to their prodigious potential & stay healthy, Texas should have no problems. The Longhorns have 9 players who could be 1st Team All-Big XII and 1 player (DE Jackson Jeffcoat) who could be an All-American. They play at TCU and the Oklahoma game in Dallas but Texas looks poised to head back to a BCS game after a 3-year absence.
#5 Most people will have the Buckeyes at #2 behind Alabama with a few brave souls willing to put them at #3. It’s hard to argue. Ohio State is coming off a perfect 12-0 season under HC Urban Meyer with a returning QB in Braxton Miller who is the odds on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. Ohio State has 12 starters who could easily be 1st Team All-Big 10 and 3 starters who could be 1st Team All-Americans. Nine starters return from an offense that scored 37.2PPG in 2012 including 4 of the 5 O-Linemen. So why do I have them ranked 5th instead of 2nd/3rd? For a couple of reasons. Ohio State isn’t unlike Georgia or Florida St. in that they have tremendous experience coming back on offense yet very little experience coming back on defense. Ohio St. returns just 4 starters from a defense that allowed 23PPG. The entire D-Line is gone along with 6 of the front-7. Ohio State should be outstanding in their secondary with 3 starters returning from the 4, but keep in mind that Ohio State was +3 in TO margin and 6-0 in games decided by 7 points or less. I get what Urban Meyer & Ohio St. is doing. The Big 10 is still down and their OOC schedule is a joke. Last year they had road games against Wisconsin & Michigan State. This year they play at Michigan but that’s it. A 12-0/13-0 Ohio St. squad will be hard to keep out of the national championship, but if they go 13-0, who would they have beaten?
#6 Probably too low here for the Ducks but there has to be some let down after losing HC Chip Kelly to the Philadelphia Eagles. Kelly spent 4 years in Eugene amassing a 46-7 record including 4 BCS Bowls, 2 Rose Bowls and a BCS Championship game appearance. Kelly won the 2011 Rose Bowl, but came up short against the Cam Newton led Auburn Tigers in the 2010 BCS Championship game by a 22-19 margin. The OC for all 4 of Kelly’s years was Mark Helfrich who takes over for Kelly. Talent certainly isn’t an issue for the Ducks. They have 8 starters who could be 1st Team All-Pac 12 & 3 who could be 1st Team All-Americans. Offensively the Ducks return key pieces to an offense that scored 49.6PPG! That isn’t a typo! Oregon scored 50 points a game in 2012! QB Marcus Mariota & RB De’Anthony Thomas are Heisman candidates. Defensively the Ducks do lose DE Dion Jordan (#3 overall to the Miami Dolphins) but return 7 starters. Oregon should be HUGE upfront led by bookend DEs Arik Armstead (6’8/280lbs) & Taylor Hart (6’6/290lbs)! The entire secondary returns which could mean Oregon’s best defense since 2010 when the Ducks allowed just 18.7PPG. Like Georgia, Oregon was a victim of a close loss. The 17-14 OT loss to Stanford was PAINFUL. It cost Oregon not only a chance at a BCS National Championship but kept them from winning the Pac 12 North. Oregon settled for a 35-17 thrashing of Kansas St. in the Fiesta Bowl. They too have unfinished business.
#7 Many will say this is ENTIRELY too high for a Notre Dame team who clearly showed it had a ways to go after being HAMMERED by Alabama 42-14 in the BCS National Championship game. That might be true, but the Irish did finish the season ranked #1 at 12-0. They finished 12-1 and ranked #4. There was definitely some luck of the Irish involved as ND had a controversial win over Stanford and needed 3OT to beat a woeful Pittsburgh team. Still, ND racked up wins over Stanford, Oklahoma, USC, BYU, Michigan, Miami-FL & Michigan State. It’s not the SEC West, but it isn’t bad either. The Irish will return much of what they had last season except QB Everett Golson. Most in Irish Nation don’t have a lot of confidence in Tommy Rees playing QB, but Rees should have an excellent O-Line to protect him and if Greg Bryant, George Atkinson & Amir Carlisle can stay healthy, ND will run the ball exceedingly well which should open up the passing game. Like last year, ND will mostly rely on a defense that allowed just 12.8PPG, second to Alabama. NT Louis Nix & DE Stephon Tuitt are physical freaks and should be 1st Team All-Americans. Seven of the back-8 return and of course another year under HC Brian Kelly means another year of the team being more talented. ND was +8 in TO margin and 5-0 in close games last year. They could regress a bit. The schedule is tough with Michigan, Michigan St., Stanford, Arizona St., USC, Oklahoma & BYU on the slate but only Michigan & Stanford are road games. If ND’s defense can play like they did in 2012, the Irish will once again be in play for a BCS bowl.
#8 In Walt Harris’ last season at Stanford, the Cardinal blazed a trail to a 1-11 record back in 2006. Jim Harbaugh took over in 2007 and Stanford improved to 4-8. In Harbaugh’s last season (2010), the Cardinal went 12-1, beat Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl 40-12 and ranked 4th in the nation. Harbaugh took off for the NFL, but OC David Shaw & QB Andrew Luck stuck around. In 2011-2012, Stanford went 23-4 including 2 BCS bowls, a Rose Bowl championship and a top-7 ranking in both seasons. Stanford is a machine now under Shaw and that shouldn’t change anytime soon with his ability to recruit top shelf talent. QB Kevin Hogan isn’t Andrew Luck and we knew there would be some drop off after the Luck era ended. Stanford only averaged 27.9PPG a year ago which was still good enough for 12 wins, but significantly down from the 43.2PPG Stanford posted in Luck’s final year. This season Hogan gets his 2nd go around with a veteran offensive line. Stanford should be better. The real strength of the Cardinal will be their defense. With 8 starters returning led by LB Skayne Skov, this could be Stanford’s best defense in recent memory. Five of the front-7 return with 7 starting defenders having the possibility of being 1st Team All-Pac 12! Five of those starters could be 1st Team All-Americans! Needless to say Stanford could find itself with the best defense in the nation by season’s end. Stanford gets Oregon, Notre Dame & Washington at home but draw USC on the road. The season could be special.
#9 Nobody is going to have Washington this high, but if we are doing a preseason power poll without games being played, Washington deserves this. The reason why Washington won’t ever be ranked in the top-10 is likely to do with schedule. They open up at home against Boise State. They play at Stanford, Arizona St. & Oregon State. They draw Oregon at home but get both Arizona & UCLA out of the Pac 12 South. They don’t have to play USC. That’s a tough set up. Why do they deserve to be here? The offense brings back 10 starters! UW was down offensively last season when they averaged 24.0PPG but QB Keith Price was WELL OFF his 2011 pace. If Price, a senior, gets back to form, Washington will be fine. Price isn’t without outstanding players around him. RB Bishop Sankey ran for 1,439 (5.0ypc) yards last season. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (6’6/270lbs) & WR Kasen Williams (6’2/216lbs) combined for 146 catches, 1,728yds & 13TD! Both are 1st Team All-Pac 12 candidates. Four of the 5 O-Linemen return. The defense returns 8 starters from a unit that allowed 24.2PPG, the best under HC Steve Sarkisian. Six of the front-7 return. DE Andrew Hudson, DT Danny Shelton, LB Travis Feeney, & LB John Timu where honorable mention all conference last season. LB Shaq Thompson was a 1st team freshman All-American. In the secondary SS Sean Parker was an honorable mention all conference player. The talent is ridiculous & Washington is ready to breakthrough under Sarkisian. If UW can handle Boise St. then they should at worst be 10-2. A win over Stanford and/or Oregon could make this a year to remember!
#10 USC is still digging out from underneath the Reggie Bush/Pete Carroll era so to speak but talent will never be a problem with the Trojans. The Trojans have 9 starters who could be 1st Team All-Pac 12 & WR Marqise Lee is widely considered to be the most dynamic WR in college football. Last season USC scored 32.1PPG & they could get better this season. USC returns 4 O-Linemen and a host of skill players, but the big question will be who replaces Matt Barkley under center. Max Wittek, Max Browne & Cody Kessler could all make an argument, but when you have 3 quarterbacks you essentially have no quarterbacks & don’t forget that Matt Barkley leaves USC as the Trojans all time leading passer! USC is arguably the most storied football team in college history meaning the laundry list of great QBs isn’t exactly short. USC will need the QB to step up & ensure the offense runs to potential. Defensively, USC isn’t at the height of the Pete Carroll led defenses but they return 7 starters and the talent is downright ridiculous. The schedule sets up well for USC. Their only tough road games come against Notre Dame & Arizona State. Maybe Oregon State? They avoid Oregon & get Stanford at home. USC could easily be 10-0 when they host Stanford. A win there pushes the Trojans to a likely 12-0 finish. This year will be interesting I think in the Sarkisian/Kiffin dynamic. I think deep down USC fans wish Sarkisian was coaching up USC instead of Washington and I wonder if the Huskies actually take a leap forward ahead of USC leaving USC AD Pat Haden a difficult decision on what to do with Kiffin exactly.
#11 The job Hugh Freeze did in Oxford last season can’t be underestimated. In 2010 Houston Nutt left the Rebels with a 2-10 record. Ole Miss did bring some players back but nobody expected the jump Ole Miss made especially in the extremely difficult SEC West. The only other FBS HC experience Freeze had was in 2011 when he took Arkansas State to a 10-3 record and their 2nd bowl in school history! Ole Miss went after the Mississippi native and Freeze took a 2-10 Rebels team and improved them to 7-6 including a bowl win over Pittsburgh! Freeze’s forte is offense & he didn’t take long to improve the Ole Miss offense. In 2011, the Rebels averaged 16.1PPG. In their first season with Freeze, that number almost doubled to 31.5PPG! Ole Miss won the Egg Bowl and got solid wins over Arkansas & Auburn. They came just 3 points shy of upending Texas A&M! This year should be even better. Ole Miss brings in top-5 recruiting class to go along with massive experience. The offense returns 9 starters including QB Bo Wallace who could be a darkhorse Heisman candidate. WR Donte Moncrief also returns. Defensively the Rebels bring back 10 starters from a unit that allowed 27.6PPG. That doesn’t sound great but it was a 5PPG improvement from 2011. Another 5PPG improvement drops that down to 22PPG and if Ole Miss averages 35PPG then they’ll win a lot of football games. Ole Miss does have early road games against Alabama & Texas but draw Missouri & Vanderbilt out of the SEC East! Texas A&M sort of came out of nowhere last year and Ole Miss could do the same.
#12 It seems like we are here every year with Clemson. Last season the Tigers went 11-2 which amazingly enough was their best record since 1981 when the Tigers went 12-0 & won the national championship! Still the season was somewhat another one in a line of “what could have beens”. Clemson led Florida St. at halftime but faded in the 2nd half. The Tigers were a 3-point favorite to beat South Carolina at home in the season finale but lost 27-17. Instead of 12-0, Clemson was 10-2. They did beat LSU in a thrilling Chick-fil-A bowl to end the season 11-2, but that was only good enough for 11th in the final polls. Clemson again will find themselves with opportunities this season. They open at home against Georgia which is a brutal way to start the season but their toughest road conference game is probably against Maryland! They get both Florida St. & Georgia Tech at home while avoiding Miami-FL, Virginia Tech & North Carolina! They do end the season on the road against South Carolina, but if Clemson can win their home opener there is no reason why they shouldn’t be 12-0 heading into the ACC Championship game if they hold serve at home. QB Tajh Boyd returns & is a Heisman candidate. WR Sammy Watkins is explosive & Clemson has 4 of 5 O-Linemen returning. Clemson has 7 returning starters on defense & while the secondary could be shaky, this looks to be HC Dabo Swinney’s best team. What will really be interesting is that if Clemson does run the table they’ll have an incredible case. They’ll have 2 SEC wins along with wins over Florida St. & Georgia Tech. Throw in the Coastal Division winner and it’s a convincing case. Let’s see how they do with all the right pieces.
#13 Texas A&M lost a lot of players from last year’s 11-2 squad that beat Alabama, destroyed Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, finished 11-2 and ranked 5th in the nation, but if QB Johnny Manziel was acting a lot more like Peyton Manning and a lot less like Mark Sanchez, I’m guessing I’d have the Aggies a lot higher than 13th. Despite returning just 6 starters on offense, A&M has a great offensive minded HC in Kevin Sumlin and the Heisman Trophy winner in Manziel who accounted for 5100+ yards last season! A&M picked up the top rated WR out of high school in Ricky Seals-Jones (6’5/225lbs) & return WR Mike Evans (6’5/225lbs) who led the team in receiving. RB Brandon Williams is a significant upgrade and the O-Line returns 3 starters! Defensively the Aggies could be challenged a bit with 5 returning starters but the secondary should be OK & there is talent. Texas A&M also drew a tremendous schedule. They play Alabama early on Week 3 but get them at home. They draw Missouri & Vanderbilt out of the SEC East! Their toughest road game is against LSU on November 23rd. If A&M can somehow find a way to beat Alabama twice in as many year, they should be 10-0 when they show up in Death Valley. A lot will depend upon Johnny Manziel. If he can put the distractions behind him, then Texas A&M could definitely take the next step this season given their schedule. We all know Johnny Football is gone after this season, but the question remains whether or not he’ll go out on top or on bottom. Texas A&M has always been a sleeping giant & it’s nice they are relevant. I hope they stay that way.
#14 If you are talking Mike Gundy & Oklahoma St. then you are definitely talking offense. Oklahoma St. over the past two seasons has averaged about 47PPG which is simply ridiculous! They’ll return 8 starters this year including QB duo Clint Chelf and JW Walsh. They return 7 of their top 9 receivers and I wonder if the Cowboys will see much dropoff by going from Joseph Randle at RB to Jeremy Smith/Desmond Roland. I don’t think there is any doubt Oklahoma St. will score points but how well they defend them will determine quite a bit. OSU returns 7 starters from a unit that allowed 28.2PPG! Oddly enough, there is talent everywhere in the defense. DT Calvin Barnett, LB Shaun Lewis & S Daytawion Lowe gives the Cowboys a player at every level who is likely to be 1st Team All-Big 12! The Cowboys have 5 other players on defense that could flirt with being a 1st Team all conference defender. Nobody sticks out as an All-American but all 3 individual defensive units are nice and OSU should be able to easily improve upon the 28.2PPG they allowed which makes for a dangerous team. With teams like Oklahoma St. or Clemson there is always this idea that a time has to open that breaks just right for them to win a national championship. Oklahoma St. thought that was 2011 but a 37-31 loss to Iowa St. was jaw dropping! This year could be the same. The toughest game OSU has in their first 9 is a home game against TCU. They get Oklahoma at home which means the November 16th date in Austin could determine not only a Big XII championship but a 12-0 season. Don’t forget about Iowa State on October 26th!
#15 Maybe too high, but again we are talking about a power ranking with no games played. From the outside looking in I see a TCU team that returns a healthy QB Casey Pachall. Pachall in 2011 completed 67% of his passes for 2,921 yards while throwing 25TD to just 7INT. Pachall can run with the ball and he’s huge at 6’5/226lbs. Last season in limited time Pachall completed 66% of his passes with a TD:INT ratio of 10 to 1! He brings a different dynamic to the team and remember that 2011 TCU squad went 11-2, ranked 14th. Those 2 losses were by a combined 9 points so 11-2 could have easily been 13-0! Pachall just brings something different. I also am very fond of Gary Patterson as a HC & what he can do with defenses. In their first go around in the Big XII, the Horned Frogs allowed an uncharacteristic 22.6PPG. The Big XII is a lot more offensively prolific than the Mountain West so some of that is to be expected, but the Horned Frogs bring back 9 starters on defense with 8 of them having 1st Team All Conference potential! DE Devonte Fields was just a freshman last season but was Big XII Defensive Player-of-the-Year! Fields could be a 1st Team All-American this season which would give TCU a decisive edge in the pass rush! TCU brings back their entire secondary and 6 of their back 7 as well! The only problem TCU is going to face is the same problem Washington has. Their schedule is nasty. They get road games against Oklahoma & Oklahoma State. They get Texas at home but a week after their road date with Oklahoma St.! They also open the season against LSU! I’m really excited to see what Pachall & this defense can do in 2013!

August 10, 2013 - Posted by | Alabama, Clemson, Florida St., Georgia, Mississippi, Notre Dame, Ohio St, Oklahoma St., Oregon, Power 15, Stanford, TCU, Texas, Texas AM, USC, Washington

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