With the excitement of the 2012 college football season building, HSH has compiled what we think is going to be the top #25 come August. We looked at a certain number of items when evaluating a team for the upcoming season. One of the biggest items is whether a team is returning a starting QB. Second, the amount of returning productive RB’s or WR’s. Third, the number of overall returning starters on both the defense and offensive. Fourth, where does the Defense rank in terms of sacks, tackles for loss, yards given up per game, etc.
If a team returns starters on offense but loses a majority of its defensive players, it is still evaluated higher than a team who loses skill position players on offense.Another factor that is heavily weighted is the performance of the team in the bowl game. After-all this is the evaluation we have of the team in the off-season. A team coming off a bowl win is evaluated highly regardless of their upcoming season. If you can convince us here at HSH that a team should be in a different position, give us your reason why and HSH will change it. Not only will we change it, we will use your reason why.
#25 Auburn University, The Tigers took an expected step back in 2011 and played plenty of players that were not ready to compete for titles. With a win over Virginia at the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, the Tigers moved into their off-season with some momentum. The Tigers return 16 starters on O/D, six of which are seniors, and should be a team to watch in the SEC West. Tight-end, Lutzenkirchen, will likely be much more involved under the leadership of a new offensive coordinator. The Tigers are in dire need of a much better passing game because there will be no margin for error in the SEC West this year. A first week match up vs. Clemson and the SEC opener at Mississippi St. will set the tone for the 2012 Tigers season.
#24 Notre Dame has arguably the hardest schedule outside any team in the SEC. The Irish will play Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma Sooners and USC. The ND receivers need work and after seeing standout TE Tyler Eifert play in person; there is no doubt in my mind he will be the best tight end in college football. The defense should be sub-par against the run with Manti Te’o returning to lead the front seven. With this schedule don’t look for ND to remain ranked through out the season.
#23 Kansas State, QB Collin Klein returns for a 2012 season and will be one of the top QB’s in the country. Klein’s running ability opens up the offense as the defense has to keep a defender stationary. The Wildcats lost five starters on defense, and three on offense, but should be able to fill these holes. K-State was one of the nation’s biggest surprises last season; the Wildcats shouldn’t surprise anyone this season. HSH isn’t completely sold on Kansas State, yet look for them to compete in the Big 12.
#22 Boise State University lost 4-year starting QB in Kellen Moore and RB Doug Martin. Kellen won 50 games setting a NCAA-record. The Broncos only return 7 starters. Peterson and crew also lost Offensive Coordinator Brent Pease to the Florida Gators. Even with all of this, the Broncos will still be at the top of their class in the MWC, and should put together another year with double-digit wins. Head coach Chris Petersen and the Broncos are 73-6 since his arrival six years ago. Boise State are the favorite to win the Mountain West.
#21 Welcome to the Big 12 Mountaineers.The Mountaineers return 14 starters including QB Geno Smith who will be more comfortable in his 2nd-year of Dana Holgorsen’s offense. Geno will still be able to throw to Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. The only problem with this is, now you have to go through Texas and Oklahoma just to get a BCS bid.The Mountaineers are coming off a dominating 70-33 Orange bowl victory over Clemson University.
#20 South Carolina, the Gamecocks will have QB Connor Shaw coupled with the best RB in the country, Marcus Lattimore. The RB who’s coming off season ending knee surgery will keep this team a title contender all year, if he plays at 100% and stays there. SC had a top 5 pass defense last year and returns 3 of 4 starters at DB. Sophomore Jadeveon Clowney is as good as advertised with 8 sacks and 5 forced fumbles his freshman year. Losing superstar WR Alshon Jeffrey to the NFL, while not a surprise, is a significant blow when you look at the lack of depth at WR. Sophomore Ace Sanders was 2nd on the team in receptions last year and the Ol’ Ball Coach will need him to step up if the Gamecocks want to mirror the success they had last year after going 11-2. Their first game of the year is the first televised game of the year on Thursday Night Football at Vanderbilt.
#19 Oklahoma State University has lost their starting QB Brandon Weeden and WR Justin Blackmon to the NFL. This scenario is nothing new to head coach Mike Gundy. Coach was in this position two years ago; losing QB Zac Robinson and WR Dez Bryant to the NFL. They also have RB Joseph Randle who was named to the watch list for the 2012 Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. Expect a high-powered offense from the Cowboys, they are slowly becoming one of the more consistent programs in the country.
#18 Stanford University head coach David Shaw has his program in reload mode instead rebuild mode after losing QB sensation Andrew Luck. It will be highly doubtful for the Cardinals to duplicate the 23 wins they have had in the last two seasons. However, their defense is solid and OLB Chase Thomas was named to the Walter Camp Player of the Year watch list. To add to the excitement of the Cardinals season, RB Barry Sanders Jr. is looking to make his debut.
#17 U of Florida have had two less than sub-par seasons; finishing 8-5 and 7-6 in 2010-11. This isn’t accepted well in Gainesville, FL. With the Gators restocked on defense and having arguably the second best defensive line in the country, 2nd-year head coach Will Muschamp is looking for the Gators to make their run towards a SEC Championship. U of Florida return 10 starters from a defense that allowed just 299.5 ypg last year. In order for the offense to be successful the Gators have to see QB production from Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel.
#16 Nebraska Cornhuskers having played a full season in the Big Ten will know their conference opponents better this year. Nebraska returns both QB Taylor Martinez and RB Rex Burkhead along with seven starters on defense. Senior Linebacker Rex Burkhead was named to two watch list’s, the Walter Camp Player-of-the-Year award and the Doak Walker Award.
#15 Ohio State University, along with the rest of college football are waiting to see what 1st year head coach Urban Meyer and his spread offense will be able to accomplish.The Buckeyes aren’t eligible to go to a bowl game or be ranked in the coaches’ poll like USC the past two years, but are able to be ranked in the AP poll. The Buckeyes return QB Braxton Miller, who led the Buckeyes in rushing last year and fit’s Meyer’s spread offense perfect.
#14 Virginia Tech Hokies lost RB David Wilson early to the NFL Draft this year, but QB Logan Thomas returns in his second year as the starting QB. VT has won at least 10 games in eight straight seasons. The Hokies always seem to fall short of making a run at the BCS National Championship but are looking to end this streak. VT returns 9 starters on defense including linebacker Bruce Taylor. The Hokies are preseason favorites in the ACC Coastal Division but face two of the top teams from the Atlantic Division, Florida State and Clemson.
#13 Arkansas, with the unseen coaching change doesn’t seem to have the same momentum coming into this season, they do however have a top #10 offense. The Razorbacks also return 13 starters returning coupled with QB Tyler Wilson and Goliath RB Knile Davis. RB Knile Davis who was out all of last season with an ankle injury. Last season the Razorbacks lost two games to the top 2 teams in the country both LSU and Alabama (both on the road). This year the Razorbacks will have home-field advantage against Alabama and LSU.
#12 Clemson, Coach Dabo Swinney has a plethora of talent to use on the offensive side of the ball. Junior QB Tajh Boyd will lead the attack and hopes to improve on his impressive numbers from last year. The star of the Clemson Tigers is sophomore WR Sammy Watkins, who just so happens to be a SWFL native. Look for Watkins to make appearances on Heisman ballots this fall. He’s the conference’s pick for preseason player of the year with very good reason. DeAndre Hopkins, the Tigers other staring wide out is no slouch either. He had almost 1,000 yards receiving to go with 5 TDs last year and compliments Watkins nicely. The Tigers’ soft spot is the defense, and the D line in particular. Only one person on the line had any sacks at all last year, and he only had two. Clemson is a young team that surpassed everyone’s expectations last year, and building on that should be easy. Their first game of the year is a big one, playing against Auburn in ESPN’s first Saturday night game.
#11 Wisconsin-The Badgers lost their dynamic QB in Russell Wilson but keep in mind they also went to the Rose Bowl the prior year with Scott Tolzien at QB. The return of RB Montee Ball gives the Badgers an All-American piece to build around on offense. This year’s Heisman candidate RB Montee Ball returns after scoring 39 TD’s in 2011 and Wisconsin has won at least nine games in 5 of Bielema’s first six seasons as HC.
#10 Michigan State, the Spartans had a great 33-30 triple overtime win over Georgia in the 2012 Outback Bowl. With the loss of QB Kirk Cousins to the Redskins, the Junior classman, Andrew Maxwell, looks to fill some big shoes. The new season looks to be promising with Dantonio at the helm and 8 of the Big Ten’s top-ranked defensive starters returning. The Spartans biggest test will be on its offense, with only 5 returning starters and three wide receivers being replaced. The Spartans have won 14 straight games at Spartan Stadium, the longest winning-streak since Coach Clarence “Biggie” Munn (1950-1953).First game on August 31st vs. Boise St.
#9 Texas Longhorns are in the same boat as Florida. The Longhorns have had two sub-par seasons, but look poised to improve on last season record of 8-5. Texas will also have Junior WR Mike Davis who has been named to the watch list honoring the nation’s outstanding wide receiver.The Longhorns will also have one of the top defenses in the country. None of this will matter unless they name David Ash or Case McCoy starting QB, either way the Longhorns will need better production from both.
#8 Michigan, they should be looked at as a serious BCS National Championship and Rose Bowl contender for 2012. HSH-well some of us here- are big on dual threat quarterback Denard Robinson. Shoelaces is back and should be on every preseason Heisman list. Junior tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint along with Robinson gives the offense a nice one-two punch in the running game. Coach Hoke surprised many with the 11-2 record his team compiled in just his first season at Michigan, but he brought in a top 25 recruiting class in 2011 and hauled in a top 10 class for this 2012 season ranked at seven according to Yahoo Rivals. The Wolverines have an experienced defense returning that finished in the top 10 for points allowed per game last season. They recruited well in 2012 to plug into the defensive line such as five star defensive tackle Ondre Pipkins. An opening game win against #4 Alabama could propel Michigan to an undefeated season and Denard Robinson to a Heisman.
#7 Oregon, speed, speed and more speed. The Ducks have turned into a college football powerhouse in the Pac-12. The Ducks lost All-time leading rusher LaMichael James to the NFL. No need to worry, coach Kelly has sophomore running back and kick returner De’Anthony Thomas. De’Anthony has blazing speed which can be used in multiple positions exhibited by his nearly 1,000 kick off returns yards, 1,200 receiving/rushing yards, and 18 total touchdowns with two on kickoff return. Bryan Bennett will be the front runner to replace Darron Thomas as starter in 2012, but keep in mind QB Marcus Mariota lit up the field with his arm and feet in the Oregon Spring game in which he completed 18 of 26 passes for 202 yards, rushed five times for 99 yards and three total touchdowns with two rushing. .But the Ducks might have to beat the Trojans twice in 2012 to win the conference, first at USC on Nov. 3 and again in the Pac-12 championship game. Oregon plays a soft non-conference schedule (home games against Arkansas State, Fresno State and FCS foe Tennessee Tech), and five of its first six games will be played at Autzen Stadium.
#6 Georgia, the Bulldogs had one of the most heartbreaking losses in all of college football in their last game of the season with a triple overtime loss to Michigan State. Coach Mark Richt, who is on the hot seat seemingly every year, will most certainly turn to that game for motivation coming in to this season. Senior QB Aaron Murray threw for 35 TDs last year and was an all SEC selection. Loosing their leading rusher, and SEC Freshman of the year Isiah Crowell due in part to an arrest on gun charges, certainly won’t help their offense. Georgia will always have talent flowing in, so that shouldn’t be too much of a concern. The Dawgs strength is their defense. Losing only two starters from one of the country’s top defenses will give teams fits. After losing their first two games last year, this team bounced back all the way to the SEC championship game with a 10 game winning streak. The Dawgs have an easy schedule working in their favor, they don’t play LSU or Alabama. Look for another appearance in theSEC championship game.
#5 Oklahoma, the Sooners are national title contenders this year, mainly because of the arm of senior QB Landry Jones, who will be a preseason Heisman candidate to watch. After starting the season ranked #1, the Sooners finished a disappointing 10-3. Since they’re returning most of their starters on both sides of the ball, this team is dangerous. The Offensive Line gave up only 9 sacks all year on 558 total passing attempts and is returning four starters. The WR corps will have to step up with Ryan Broyles gone to the NFL. Oklahoma is returning its two top rushers, though they only rushed for 1,200 yards combined, and their leading rusher from last year, Dominique Whaley, was just given medical clearance to play football this season. The Sooners play a tough schedule, and will need to show up on the road in order to make it to the championship game. Their first game is at UTEP.
#4 Florida State looks primed to regain their spot among the national elite. The Seminoles are creeping closer and closer to being that team. The Seminoles return 17 total starters. Last season was supposed to put the Seminoles back on a national power level, but FSU decided 9-4 would do. Injuries were a big reason 2011 was a let down for Nole Nation. On offense is veteran and senior QB E.J. Manuel who is poised at making a run at the NC with both his feet and arm. Manuel has thrown over 121 consecutive passes without an interception in his last five games with an 65.3% passing percentage. On defense If the Noles can stay healthy, they should field the number one defense in the country with nine starters returning coupled with play-makers and depth everywhere including sackmaster’s Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner Jr.
#3 Alabama, the defending BCS National Champions have a shot for number one, but uncertainty on defense coupled with the loss of running back Trent Richardson drops them to third spot. Not to worry, the Tide have RB Dee Hart who will be explosive The uncertainty on defense is because six players on defense were drafted; with such a heavy loss, the new talent will have to learn quickly. The defense does return veteran safety Robert Lester. The Tide return QB A.J. McCarron for his second season and have a stout offensive line led by one of the top linemen in the nation in Barrett Jones.
#2 USC, will have one of the countries best QB’s under center this year; Matt Barkley. To accompany Barkley is wide receiver Robert Woods coupled with a veteran offensive line.The QB and the Trojans will challenge the Ducks for Pac-12 supremacy. With a break or two, an undefeated regular season isn’t out of the possibility for the Trojans. The depth on the defensive line is extremely skinny and may hurt them in the long run. The rest of the defense is stacked with players like free safety T.J. McDonald who is an All-American. McDonald has six interceptions and 156 tackles over the past two seasons. In front of McDonald are sophomore linebacker’s Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard.
#1 LSU, the Tigers were atrocious against ‘Bama. Once again, Les Miles in 2012 will have one of the most talented and most athletic roster in the country. LSU will most likely be the AP number one to begin the 2012 season. The losses of quarterback duo Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee should not hurt them at all and the addition of Georgia transfer Zach Mettenberger is a definite upgrade at the quarterback position. Most of the highly rated offensive line and running back Spencer Ware are back for 2012 as well as the defense is still being stacked. Last season’s Heisman finalist cornerback Tyrann Mathieu aka the Honey Badger is also returns this season. He’ll be the best player in the nation, and that’s always a great thing to have. The defense lost cornerback Morris Claiborne and defensive tackle Michael Brockers to the NFL.
This article was written in collaboration by Nickolas Hinton, Nate Postma and Mike Millis.