2012 Preseason College Football: Ranking All 124 Teams
Running down the best and worst teams in college football
By: Rich McVey | 7/13/12, 6:20 AM EDT
No. 124 UTSA Roadrunners1 of 125
Former BCS national championship-winning Miami (Fla.) coach Larry Coker helped lead UTSA to a 4–6 mark in its first year while playing as an FCS Independent. The Roadrunners don’t count as an FBS opponent until 2013—when they are expected to join Conference USA after a one-year stop in the WAC—and won’t be a full-fledged FBS member or eligible for a bowl until 2014. Last season, UTSA played tough at eventual FCS national runner-up Sam Houston State before losing 22–7, and beat FCS member Georgia State 17–14 in overtime. Start-up programs traditionally face a tough road, but UTSA is making some steady progress. Still, it’s a stretch to believe they'll be any kind of a threat in the WAC in their first (and only) season in the league.
Read the full 2012 UTSA Roadrunners Team Preview.
No. 123 South Alabama Jaguars2 of 125
After going undefeated in its first two seasons of football, South Alabama went 6–4 last year against a more difficult schedule that included its first games against FBS opponents (losses at NC State and Kent State). South Alabama won’t be eligible for the Sun Belt championship or the postseason until 2013, but the Jaguars will play a full league schedule. They open the season Aug. 30 against recent start-up program Texas-San Antonio, coached by former Miami (Fla.) boss Larry Coker. Joey Jones has built a solid foundation since being hired in February 2008. The Jaguars have a veteran team, with 47 returning lettermen and 13 returning starters, but their first season against a full Sun Belt schedule will be tough. A last-place finish is likely.
Read the full 2012 South Alabama Jaguars Team Preview.
No. 122 UMass Minutemen3 of 125
Under the hyper-energetic Charley Molnar, the Minutemen are taking a unique approach to their transition to the FBS. They aren’t scheduling any FCS opponents, and every nonconference game they will play over the next few years is against a BCS conference opponent. On top of that, the Minutemen will play home games in Gillette Stadium, hoping that the allure of playing in an NFL stadium will counter the fact that “home” games will be almost 100 miles from campus. UMass won’t be eligible for a MAC championship or a bowl appearance until 2013 as it completes its transition, but just being competitive figures to be challenge enough in 2012.
Read the full 2012 UMass Minutemen Team Preview
No. 121 Texas State Bobcats4 of 125
After a 5–2 start last season under coach Dennis Franchione — in his first year in his second stint at the school — the Bobcats stumbled down the stretch to finish 6–6 as an FCS independent. Texas State now takes another step forward in 2012, joining the WAC for one season before moving on to the more stable Sun Belt Conference in ’13. The schedule will certainly be more challenging this season for the Bobcats, who will play only one FCS opponent — local rival Stephen F. Austin — after facing nine FCS foes and one Division II school last year. This season’s first two weeks include a Sept. 1 opener at Houston and Sept. 8 home game against Texas Tech. Texas State has been preparing for its move to the FBS ranks and expanded the seating capacity of Bobcat Stadium from 16,000 to 30,000 in the offseason. Franchione took New Mexico, TCU, Alabama and Texas A&M to bowl games before arriving in San Marcos. The Bobcats may eventually find similar success, but there will likely be some growing pains in the short term.
Read the full 2012 Texas State Bobcats Team Preview
No. 120 Florida Atlantic Owls5 of 125
Howard Schnellenberger will be long revered in Boca Raton, as he is in Coral Gables, for what he did to establish a program. Yet, while he built what would become a perennial power on the field at the University of Miami, his legacy at FAU will be the field itself. The product on it has slipped over the past five years, and now it’s up to Carl Pelini, who has only been a head coach at the high school level, to reverse the direction. He replaced all but one assistant, and he has tossed out the old schemes on offense and defense. “We have come a long way,” Pelini says. “We still have a long way to go, though.” That will be evident this season, especially in visits to Alabama and Georgia. Some Sun Belt progress would be sufficient.
Read the full 2012 FAU Owls Team Preview
No. 119 Akron Zips6 of 125
Akron is headed for its seventh consecutive losing season. The 1–11 marks in 2010 and ’11 under Rob Ianello represented the worst two seasons for the Zips since they joined college football’s top division in 1987. That’s a big hole to climb out of, and even the presence of the much-ballyhooed Terry Bowden will not change the fortunes that quickly. The offense has some potential playmakers, but they will get a chance to produce only if the line develops. Chuck Amato must perform some magic on defense for the unit to be successful. Bowden seems to be a good fit for the job, but Zips fans must be patient.
Read the full 2012 Akron Zips Team Preview
No. 118 Idaho Vandals7 of 125
After a pair of disappointing seasons, the pressure is on Idaho to return to a bowl game for the first time since 2009. A watered-down WAC should help, as the Vandals drop Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii from their schedule and add FBS newbies UT-San Antonio and Texas State. Still, with only five home games and two games at BCS conference schools, the schedule isn’t exactly easy. Idaho will need its offense to improve significantly and for its defense and special teams to carry the load until the offense starts clicking. If things do fall into place, the Vandals could contend for a top-four finish in the WAC.
Read the full 2012 Idaho Vandals Team Preview
No. 117 New Mexico Lobos8 of 125
Bob Davie, who last coached at Notre Dame in 2001, knows what is in front of him. He is taking over a team that ranked 120th in scoring offense and 119th in scoring defense and has had 34 of the 67 players signed in the last three years leave the program. “This is a complete rebuilding job,” Davie says. “No one is going to argue that point. I’m comfortable with that. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity.” Discipline and attention to detail have been the themes since he took over, two areas that were apparently non-existent in the disastrous Mike Locksley era. The Lobos are lacking in personnel to make any sort of an immediate jump, but it is imperative for Davie to make some progress in the statistical rankings and in the win-loss record. He needs to be able to sell his next recruiting class on the hope that the program is headed in the right direction.
Read the full 2012 New Mexico Lobos Team Preview
No. 116 New Mexico State Aggies9 of 125
The Aggies took a big step forward a season ago. They were a much more competitive team and could have won more than four games with a few breaks. It’s critical that NMSU continues to move forward under coach DeWayne Walker, who’s entering his fourth year at the school. If the Aggies improve as much this year as they did last year, bowl-eligibility isn’t out of the question thanks to a much kinder schedule in a new-look WAC that no longer includes Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada.
Read the full 2012 New Mexico State Aggies Team Preview
No. 115 Memphis Tigers10 of 125
A former quarterback at Oklahoma and Murray State, Justin Fuente faces the challenging task of resurrecting a program that went to five bowls in six seasons under Tommy West but has won only five total games in the past three years. Fuente also has the added responsibility of bulking up a team that joins the Big East in 2013. Fuente understands that he has taken command of a program in disrepair. The number of scholarship players is low, and depth is practically non-existent. But the first-year coach brings an innovative offensive mind and has put together a solid staff that includes former North Texas head coach Darrell Dickey as offensive coordinator. Fuente also will be helped by a forgiving schedule that makes winning four games a realistic goal.
Read the full 2012 Memphis Tigers Team Preview
No. 114 MIDDLE TENNESSEE BLUE RAIDERS11 of 125
Middle Tennessee played in three bowl games in five years under Rick Stockstill before plummeting to last season’s 2–10 record, the program’s worst mark in more than 30 years. The extent of the letdown suggested that there were more issues with chemistry and character than talent. To turn the tide, Stockstill made some staff changes, implemented a new offseason weight program and put positions up for grabs more than in previous seasons. Stockstill hopes lessons of last season have been learned. “We had a sense of entitlement, and that can never happen again,” Stockstill says. “We flushed away 2011, but we can never ever forget it. That was gut-wrenching, and we never want to go through that again.” Aside from all the mind games, Middle Tennessee must correct its horrendous turnover margin of the last two seasons to return to past success. The Blue Raiders will play only five home games, but they can build some much-needed confidence with a soft early schedule against McNeese State, Florida Atlantic and at Memphis. A 3–0 start is not out of the question before the competition stiffens.
Read the full 2012 MTSU Blue Raiders Team Preview
No. 113 TULANE GREEN WAVE12 of 125
No. What would be a successful season for a Tulane program stuck in neutral since playing in the 2002 Hawaii Bowl? The honest answer would be a one- or two-game improvement over 2011, when the Green Wave went 2–11 and lost their final 10 games. New coach Curtis Johnson has some experienced players in key areas, and the change at the top has created some excitement on the Tulane campus, something that’s been missing for a while. But he’s also a first-year head coach, and anything more than a small step forward would be a pleasant surprise.
Read the full 2012 Tulane Green Wave Team Preview
No. 112 UNLV REBELS13 of 125
Bobby Hauck hasn’t taken any shortcuts in trying to build UNLV’s football program, sticking almost exclusively to high school recruiting. That has meant taking a lot of lumps with a young squad in back-to-back two-win seasons. Expectations around Glitter Gulch are for a run at bowl eligibility in Year 3. That, however, could be asking for too much too soon. The Rebels will be better, but they could be another year away from returning to the postseason.
Read the full 2012 UNLV Rebels Team Preview
No. 111 BUFFALO BULLS14 of 125
A 5–19 record over the last two years is not what the Buffalo faithful expected after hiring Jeff Quinn away from Cincinnati three years ago. The program’s biggest adjustment has been on offense, where players haven’t fully taken to Quinn’s pass-heavy spread. While Branden Oliver is one of the MAC’s premier tailbacks, Quinn is breaking in another quarterback, a position where results so far have been a mixture of wild inconsistency and occasional doses of promise. Defensively, Khalil Mack could emerge as the conference’s best player, and there’s enough talent to keep Buffalo competitive until the offense grows. Nevertheless, this is a critical year for Quinn. Warde Manuel, the man who hired Quinn, is now the athletic director at Connecticut, and new AD (Danny White) probably won’t be enamored with five wins over two seasons. It doesn’t help that the schedule is more challenging than it was last season.
Read the full 2012 Buffalo Bulls Team Preview
No. 110 CENTRAL MICHIGAN CHIPPEWAS15 of 125
CMU has put together one of the better home schedules in MAC history for the 2012 season, with seven home games — a rarity in the mid-major world. It features Navy, rival Western Michigan and, most notably, Michigan State. “Just because you’re playing them at home, you’re still playing them,” Dan Enos says, laughing, at the prospect of facing the Spartans. It’s the sort of home slate that’ll put butts in seats and put eyes on Enos’ program, which probably needs a .500 season to take the heat off of the third-year coach. That, however, isn’t likely to happen. The MAC West is loaded, with Western Michigan, Toledo and Northern Illinois at the top and improving Ball State and Eastern Michigan not far behind. It will be a struggle for the Chips to escape the cellar.
Read the full 2012 Central Michigan Chippewas Team Preview
No. 109 TROY TROJANS16 of 125
A lot of Trojan faithful want to either forget 2011 or cast it aside as an anomaly. Troy won at least eight games in the five seasons before last year’s collapse, and with a skilled offense and an influx of new talent on defense, there’s little doubt the Trojans should be improved in 2012. Improvement, however, might not be enough to make a big jump in the Sun Belt standings. The league is better than ever, with Arkansas State, FIU and UL Lafayette expected to contend for the conference title. A realistic goal for Troy, in the short term, should be to beat out the likes of UL Monroe, Western Kentucky and North Texas for fourth place.
Read the full 2012 Troy Trojans Team Preview
No. 108 HAWAII WARRIORS17 of 125
At his introductory press conference, broadcast live statewide, Norm Chow declared he had come home to “chase championships.” But given the difficulty of the move up to the Mountain West, a nonconference schedule that sends Hawaii on the road to USC and BYU in the first month and the amount of retooling necessary to install a new offense, Chow has his work cut out for him. Just getting to a break-even mark on its 12-game schedule, which would assure an invitation to the Hawaii Bowl, would be quite an accomplishment in Chow’s inaugural season.
Read the full 2012 Hawaii Warriors Team Preview
No. 107 RICE OWLS18 of 125
If you believe David Bailiff, the Owls are coming on. Well, they had better be improving, because following up 2008’s 10-win season and Texas Bowl triumph with a 10–26 record over the next three campaigns has made even the most patient Rice fans a little antsy. The offense must become more proficient, especially through the air. Taylor McHargue will benefit from last year’s experience, but if the line doesn’t perform, he could be a target. The defense must get tougher up front, or teams will again gash Rice on the ground and have plenty of time to attack through the air.
Read the full 2012 Rice Owls Team Preview
No. 106 UAB BLAZERS19 of 125
UAB received a scare in the spring when Garrick McGee was rumored to be returning to Arkansas to replace his mentor Bobby Petrino. That didn’t happen, and the Blazers surge forward with an excitement level from the fan base that hasn’t been seen in Birmingham since the year after UAB played in the 2004 Hawaii Bowl. Playing with a quick tempo will be an emphasis for the Blazers. McGee and offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm have installed an offensive system that should produce a lot of points. But will UAB be able to stop anybody? The Blazers seem to have taken a step forward on the defensive side, but it will be hard for defensive coordinator Reggie Johnson to completely turn things around in one year.
Read the full 2012 UAB Blazers Team Preview
No. 105 UTEP MINERS20 of 125
UTEP’s unspoken formula — to win three nonconference games and cobble together three more victories to get to bowl eligibility — is rendered just about impossible by a slate that includes Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Ole Miss. On the bright side, the five wins a year ago were more than many predicted in a complete rebuilding season, and 2012 could see the fruits of that in the final year of the 66-year-old Mike Price’s contract. The offense returns most of the key pieces, and the defense seems poised to make another incremental improvement, but the Miners will have to overachieve to put themselves in position to become bowl-eligible.
Read the full 2012 UTEP Miners Team Preview
No. 104 NORTH TEXAS MEAN GREEN21 of 125
Dan McCarney has plenty of believers, and for good reason. A 5–7 record in a new stadium last season brought optimism. But now the Mean Green must try to be a dominant running team without a proven running back, and they must slow down opposing passing attacks without their best pass-rusher and all four starters in the secondary. Road games at LSU, Kansas State and Houston offer little breathing room. McCarney’s plan appears to be on track, but it will take baby steps, and he knows it. “Thirty scholarship players were out the door last year, so we have depth issues, and we’re still 11 under the 85 scholarship limit,” McCarney says. “But that’s why I’m here, to fix a lot of the problems at North Texas. But we believe in our plan.”
Read the full 2012 North Texas Mean Green Team Preview
No. 103 EASTERN MICHIGAN EAGLES22 of 125
Last year’s six wins represented the most the program has posted in a single season since 1995. Ron English has seemingly moved past many of the distractions that hindered his team early in his tenure, making it possible for him to focus solely on on-the-field matters. Despite the relative success last year, EMU struggled down the stretch, losing three of its four games in November. All three losses were by six points or less, and all were defined by the missed opportunities that come with the kind of inconsistency English harps on. “As a team right now, we do not consistently do what we’re coached to do,” says English, the MAC’s reigning Coach of the Year. “So that’s going to be the biggest emphasis.” The schedule won’t be as friendly in 2012. There are two road games against Big Ten foes (Purdue, Michigan State) in September, and the Eagles have to play both Toledo and Western Michigan, two of the top teams in the MAC’s West Division. Eastern Michigan might be a better team in 2012 but not win as many games.
Read the full 2012 Eastern Michigan Eagles Team Preview
No. 102 Ball State Cardinals23 of 125
Pete Lembo admits that his team might have overachieved last year, but he thinks they deserved it after buying in so readily to their new coaches. With virtually the same coaching staff in place for the second year in a row — a first for Ball State’s veterans — the arrow should keep pointing upward as long as the intangibles remain in place. “We won five close games,” Lembo says. “We scored on seven or eight two-minute drives. We were the least-penalized team in the conference. There were a lot of good signs, but we know we’re not out of the woods yet.”
Read the full 2012 Ball State Cardinals Team Preview
No. 101 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers24 of 125
Third-year coach Willie Taggart received a four-year contract extension after guiding WKU to the best turnaround in Sun Belt history. Yet, the sting remains of being snubbed for a bowl invitation despite posting a 7–5 record that included a 7–1 mark in the Sun Belt. Taggart has used that snub to motivate his team in the offseason. The Hilltoppers can no longer sneak up on the rest of the league. Last season proved that WKU is now a program that can compete in the improving Sun Belt. Contending with Bobby Rainey no longer around will be tough, but the Hilltoppers should still be one of the better teams in the league.
Read the full 2012 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Team Preview
No. 100 Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks25 of 125
Hampered by cuts to scholarships and practice time due to previous academic penalties, ULM struggled to get over the hump in Todd Berry’s first two seasons. Now with those penalties in the past, the Warhawks hope to contend. There’s plenty of youth on the roster, but now ULM has a full allotment of scholarships. That should help with depth, but the Warhawks still might be another year away from their first bowl trip. “We had high expectations last season, but we couldn’t overcome injuries,” Berry says. “We still need to be healthy, but we have a deeper team now, and we have a chip on our shoulder because of some close games we lost last year. We had to bite the bullet with scholarships in the past, but we’ve got the team we want now.” Early momentum will be hard to come by with trips to Arkansas and Auburn to start the season and only one home game in the first five weeks.
Read the full 2012 Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks Team Preview
No. 99 Miami (Ohio) RedHawks26 of 125
Don Treadwell, the former Michigan State offensive coordinator who briefly served as the Spartans’ head coach when Mark Dantonio had a heart attack, is counting on a large group of seniors not only to lend experience on the field, but also to school the younger RedHawks in the Miami tradition, of which he is very fond. It won’t make a difference if Miami can’t put together some type of sustained rushing attack that would give Zac Dysert some much-needed space and limit the number of minutes the defense has to spend on the field. The RedHawks defense will face enough punishment in their opener at Ohio State in what will be Urban Meyer’s ballyhooed debut as the Buckeyes’ coach. Visits to Boise State and Cincinnati won’t be helpful going into the meat of Miami’s MAC schedule.
Read the full 2012 Miami (Ohio) RedHawks Team Preview
No. 98 San Jose State Spartans27 of 125
Mike MacIntyre signed a well-deserved contract extension through 2017 after leading the Spartans to a respectable 5–7 finish, a four-win improvement over 2010 that included road wins at Colorado State and Fresno State and a home win over Navy. The Spartans lost three other games by a field goal or less. With a solid nucleus returning that includes four starters who earned all-conference recognition a year ago and a much more favorable schedule in the revamped WAC, look for the Spartans to make a strong run at bowl-eligibility this year.
Read the full 2012 San Jose State Spartans Team Preview
No. 97 Kent State Golden Flashes28 of 125
Kent State has had three consecutive 5–7 seasons, but the 2012 edition of the Golden Flashes could be the team to break through and record the school’s first winning record since 2001. Darrell Hazell is a coach on the rise and has brought a winning mentality with him from Ohio State. The offense should be improved, thanks in large part to the running attack that will feature both Trayion Durham and Dri Archer. And an improved ground game will no doubt help Keith and/or Fisher be more productive throwing the ball down the field. The defense, led by Roosevelt Nix, will once again be stout. Ohio is the team to beat in the MAC East, but Kent State is in that next tier of teams that could put some pressure on the Bobcats. A winning league record is a reasonable goal.
Read the full 2012 Kent State Golden Flashes Team Preview
No. 96 Army Black Knights29 of 125
Keeping Trent Steelman healthy is of paramount importance, but Rich Ellerson has placed much emphasis on finding the right parts for the defensive line and improving the play on special teams. “If we stay healthy, then physically we will be more competitive because we have matured with guys getting older and stronger,” says the coach. “It will be all for naught, however, if we don’t have other fundamental issues resolved.” If those things are resolved, the Black Knights could be back in the bowl picture, especially with a schedule that features seven games at Michie Stadium.
Read the full 2012 Army Black Knights Team Preview
No. 95 San Diego State Aztecs30 of 125
San Diego State has failed to win a conference title in its 13 seasons in the Mountain West and won’t be expected to do so this fall in its final campaign before moving to the Big East. The goal this season is to play in a bowl game for the third straight year, something that has never happened during the program’s 43 seasons in the Division I ranks. For that to occur, Ryan Katz will have to play well at quarterback, Adam Muema must emerge as threat at tailback, and the defense will have find some able replacements in some key spots.
Read the full 2012 San Diego State Aztecs Team Preview
No. 94 Bowling Green Falcons31 of 125
Dave Clawson’s first season at Bowling Green, in 2009, produced a 7–6 record and a spot in the Humanitarian Bowl. Since then, however, the Falcons are 7–17. “We’ve played a lot of young guys the past couple of seasons, and they gained some very valuable experience,” Clawson says. “Now that they have been through it and seen what playing at game speed at the college level is all about, we expect good things from them. Assuming that quarterback Matt Schilz remains healthy, the offense should have little trouble putting points on the board. If the defense, which brings back nine starters, can simply pull its weight, then the Falcons should be in position to battle Ohio for supremacy in the MAC East.
Read the full 2012 Bowling Green Falcons Team Preview
No. 93 SMU Mustanges32 of 125
June Jones says he is happy with the progress of the program, which has been to three straight bowl games. As for this season, he says a fourth straight bowl is the goal, though he admits that early in the season, “we’ll be a rebuilding team, but I think we’ll rebuild pretty fast because we’re going to be pretty good on defense.” Jones has yet to put up the pinball offensive numbers he did at Hawaii, though his teams have set several SMU passing records in his tenure. To him, it boils down to the quarterback, and that is an unknown entering the season. “Until you get one of those quarterbacks that can shoot the lights out, you’ll float around in the top 20 or 25 in passing,” Jones says. “When you get one of those quarterbacks like Case Keenum, (Houston) went from No. 30 to No. 1. We’ve had good production out of the quarterbacks, but we haven’t had a great one yet.” SMU fans are hoping Garrett Gilbert is the first.
Read the full 2012 SMU Mustangs Team Preview
No. 92 Air Force Falcons33 of 125
Connor Dietz leads an offense that returns only three starters. He must remain healthy, which is a large question considering his reckless style, and he must be more generous. In past seasons, Dietz has been too eager to call his own number on the option. The bigger question is defense. The Falcons averaged 34.9 points in 2011, but their defense — which struggled mightily against the run — doomed them to disappointment. Jamil Cooks and Brian Lindsay must reach their considerable potential if the Falcons hope to record a winning record.
Read the full 2012 Air Force Falcons Team Preview
No. 91 Colorado State Rams34 of 125
Talk about a leap of faith: Jim McElwain is leaving a program that has won two of the past three national championships for one that produced three consecutive 3–9 seasons under Steve Fairchild. McElwain’s No. 1 goal during the spring was to change the culture and instill an attitude of commitment and accountability. Some players, including some projected starters, departed, but those who stayed bought in and swear by McElwain’s leadership. “Coach Mac brings a lot of passion and excitement,” Nwoke says. “We want to do great things next year, but it’s on us do the work over the summer to get there. Nobody wants to be 3–9 ever again.” The good news is the Rams have a schedule that should be friendly to improvement — perhaps even the first .500 finish since 2008. But with a largely untested quarterback and a defense facing numerous questions, it’s clear that McElwain’s first season will be filled with lots of uncertainty.
Read the full 2012 Colorado State Rams Team Preview
No. 90 Utah State Aggies35 of 125
As Gary Andersen prepares for his fourth season at the USU helm, he is pleased with the work ethic of his team. The goal is a WAC title, which is not out of the question with the departure of Nevada, Hawaii and Fresno State to the Mountain West. While two stud running backs are gone, this team still should be able to run the ball. Plus, with two experienced quarterbacks, the offense should be able to score points and keep fans excited. The Aggies had some problems early last season closing out games in heartbreaking losses at Auburn and BYU and a home defeat against Colorado State. However, USU reeled off five straight wins to make the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Winning eight games this year should not be a stretch.
Read the full 2012 Utah State Aggies Team Preview
No. 89 Indiana Hoosiers36 of 125
Tom Crean needed four seasons to turn the Indiana basketball team around, so it’s unrealistic to expect miracles from Kevin Wilson in Year 2. His most important decision will be at quarterback. Although Tre Roberson provided thrills and some long plays, he’s not a perfect fit for the pro-style passing game that Wilson and new offensive coordinator Seth Littrell prefer. They’ll be tempted to go with Cameron Coffman or Nathan Sudfeld. But Indiana allowed nearly 43 points per game while going winless in the Big Ten. Unless the Hoosiers start to hold their own on either line of scrimmage, major improvement will have to wait another season.
Read the full 2012 Indiana Hoosiers Team Preview
No. 88 Wyoming Cowboys37 of 125
In Dave Christensen’s first three seasons, the goals focused mostly on earning a trip to the postseason. The Cowboys accomplished their mission twice, and now — with Christensen receiving the program’s largest contract ever — the expectation level has increased. “I think we’re getting closer now, and where our focus has to be is playing for a conference championship,” he says. Brett Smith could be the top quarterback in the conference, and an experienced, hungry defense could be in for a special year. With TCU moving to the Big 12 and Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore having graduated, the Cowboys could be surprise contenders in the Mountain West.
Read the full 2012 Wyoming Cowboys Team Preview
No. 87 Fresno State Bulldogs38 of 125
For 15 years, Pat Hill and his Fu Manchu moustache were synonymous with Fresno State. But last year’s 4–9 mark, on top of years of dwindling attendance, forced AD Thomas Boeh’s hand. Thus the Bulldogs begin their first season in the Mountain West Conference with a clean slate. With Derek Carr and Robbie Rouse, the Bulldogs boast two of the elite offensive players in the league. This should be a good offense, provided the players get comfortable with the new system. Based on a rough spring practice, it’s not down pat yet. The defense, too, should be improved, based on Tim DeRuyter’s track record. Boise State is clearly the class of the MWC. Fresno State is among a group of teams seeking to be the best of the rest.
Read the full 2012 Fresno State Bulldogs Team Preview
No. 86 Boston College Eagles39 of 125
Boston College coach Frank Spaziani won’t be collecting his mail on Chestnut Hill if the Eagles experience a repeat of last season, when BC endured its first losing campaign since 1998. Sitting out the postseason after a run of 12 straight bowl appearances was especially galling to the boosters, alumni and student body, who were clamoring in unison for the guillotine. They may get their wish after the 2012 season.
Read the full 2012 Boston College Eagles Team Preview
No. 85 Northern Illinois Huskies40 of 125
Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren didn’t need a spring practice to notice the difference between last year’s offense-dominated team and the 2012 edition. “This team is really a flip of last year’s team,” he says. The Huskies return only three starters from an offense that scored 40 points or more in nine games. Jordan Lynch’s progress hinges on the development and chemistry of a revamped offensive line and unproven group of running backs. The defense allowed 30.3 points and 415.2 yards per game last year but should help the offense during an early transition period. The defense is filled with enough talent and depth to carry the team, but it must force turnovers at a higher rate than the last few years. A favorable schedule that includes four of the first five games at home (including the season-opener against Iowa at Soldier Field) and does not include any of the contenders in the MAC East should help the Huskies’ quest for a third straight trip to the MAC title game.
Read the full 2012 Northern Illinois Huskies Team Preview
No. 84 Colorado Buffaloes41 of 125
Colorado will be one of the youngest teams in the nation with a new quarterback and nearly all of its toughest games on the road. It’s difficult to expect Buffalo fans to have any more patience after six straight losing seasons, but the program is at least a year away from being more competitive with the rest of the Pac-12 and reaching the postseason.
Read the full 2012 Colorado Buffaloes Team Preview
No. 83 Marshall Thundering Herd42 of 125
Marshall did not make a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2 under Doc Holliday, but finishing 6–6 after a 5–7 mark the year before meant a bowl berth, and when the Herd won the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, tangible progress was felt. Marshall has a chance to continue that upward trend if the offensive line can allow the team’s talented skill players to thrive, particularly Aaron Dobson. Defensively, Marshall is deeper and better prepared for some of the difficult offenses it will face. Another bowl berth for the Herd in 2012 would not be a surprise, but a C-USA championship still looks to be at least a few years down the road.
Read the full 2012 Marshall Thundering Herd Team Preview
No. 82 Southern Miss Golden Eagles43 of 125
Southern Miss is coming off a school-record 12-win season, a league title, a bowl win and top-20 year-end national ranking. New coach Ellis Johnson won’t be expected to repeat that magical run, especially with Nebraska, Boise State and Louisville on the non-conference schedule. Johnson will be breaking in a new starting quarterback and playing without his leading rusher. Also, the defense must replace several key pieces. Southern Miss still has talent — more than most teams in the league. But the Golden Eagles figure to take a small step back in 2012.
Read the full 2012 Southern Miss Golden Eagles Team Preview
No. 81 Kansas Jayhawks44 of 125
There’s no question the Jayhawks are in better shape entering 2012 than they were during the past two seasons, but better shape does not necessarily mean good shape. As long as quarterback Crist stays healthy, the offense should put points on the board, which is vital in the Big 12. The question that will loom all season is whether the defense can make enough stops to allow that offense to compete. The addition of defensive coordinator Dave Campo, a former NFL head coach, helps, and the KU defense appears to be more disciplined and organized. But unless it can find a way to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, winning conference games could remain a struggle.
Read the full 2012 Kansas Jayhawks Team Preview
No. 80 Duke Blue Devils45 of 125
Despite its 3–9 record in 2011, Duke was actually very close to earning its first bowl berth since 1994. Time and again, the Blue Devils failed to seize opportunities in close games. A missed chip-shot field goal, a blown coverage, a botched fourth-down conversion … a play here and a play there, and who knows? “We’re that close,” David Cutcliffe said in the spring. “We’ve come to the edge over and over and over again.” But getting to the edge is one thing. Getting past it — and on to bowl eligibility — is something else entirely. Even though Cutcliffe is an optimist, he knows that the next step for his football program is, in reality, a giant leap.
Read the full 2012 Duke Blue Devils Team Preview
No. 79 Toledo Rockets46 of 125
The 32-year-old Matt Campbell, the youngest head coach in the FBS, inherits a talented and experienced team from his boss Tim Beckman, who moved on to Illinois. Campbell was the players’ choice to direct the program, and he led the Rockets to a 42–41 win over Air Force in the Military Bowl. Campbell, previously the Rockets’ offensive coordinator, knows his team is capable of scoring points. After all, Toledo averaged more than 50 points over the final six games of the ’11 season. He would like to see the defense improve so the offense doesn’t have to carry the load. “Offensively, defensively, and special teams — we are one,” he says. “I think when you get to that point, you’ve got a chance to be pretty good.” The coach is right — Toledo should be good. Good enough to challenge Western Michigan and Northern Illinois for the MAC West title.
Read the full 2012 Toledo Rockets Team Preview
No. 78 East Carolina Pirates47 of 125
Here’s a twist to put a smile on the Jolly Roger — it’s the defense that will decide how far East Carolina goes. Most of the big stat defenders are back, and they’re in the second year of a system that obviously suits them. The offense, rather than out-gunning opponents and dominating C-USA, will try not to muck it up this time around. The first step is coach Ruffin McNeill settling on a quarterback who can keep turnovers at a minimum and maximize a pretty good receiving corps. Improved special teams play will augment the emphasis on defense, and limiting penalties is another key. East Carolina’s passionate fan base is counting on a return to the bowl circuit after missing out last year despite a fast finish. Bowl-bound the previous five seasons, the proud Pirates may see someone walking the plank if they fail again.
Read the full 2012 East Carolina Pirates Team Preview
No. 77 Western Michigan Broncos48 of 125
There was perhaps no team in college football that produced such statistical extremes in 2011. It was all very entertaining but only modestly effective. The Broncos returned to the postseason with a Little Caesars Pizza Bowl loss to Purdue but came up well short again of a league title. It’s been written before in the Bill Cubit era, but this season WMU has a strong chance to change that. The Broncos have a quarterback who’s done everything but win big, experience in the trenches and six home games (rare for this program), including visits from West Division rivals Northern Illinois and Toledo.
Read the full 2012 Western Michigan Broncos Team Preview
No. 76 Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns49 of 125
Cajun football has never been in better shape or attracted more support, but Mark Hudspeth knows how close the storybook 2011 season came to being another break-even proposition. Six of the Cajuns’ games were decided on the final minutes, and UL Lafayette pulled out wins in five of those six. Three of those five came on the road, though, and a perfect 5–0 home record last year bodes well in a season in which three major players in the Sun Belt title race — Arkansas State, FIU and Western Kentucky — all come to Cajun Field. Replacing tight end Ladarius Green’s talents won’t be easy, but the Cajuns are loaded offensively and on special teams, and that might be enough to cover for a revamped and inexperienced defense.
Read the full 2012 Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns Team Preview
No. 75 Kentucky Wildcats50 of 125
Kentucky saw its streak of five consecutive bowl games snapped last season with a 5–7 record. Even if the Cats are better this fall, a tougher schedule that includes road games at Louisville, Florida, Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee means that any improvement might not show up in the record. Season-ticket sales and attendance dipped last season, and only 4,500 fans showed up for the Spring Game. Joker Phillips’ message: “Just wait and see. Don’t give up on this football team. We’ll battle. We’ll fight. We’ll scratch. We’ll claw. Just don’t give up on this football team.”
Read the full 2012 Kentucky Wildcats Team Preview
No. 74 Tulsa Golden Hurricane51 of 125
Tulsa finished with eight wins in Bill Blankenship’s first season, and expectations will remain high for a program that has advanced to bowl games in seven of the past nine seasons. Success will depend on Cody Green’s ability to manage the offense behind a line that is seasoned but a bit unproven. The running backs will provide Green the ability to get comfortable, but the wide receivers must make an impact. Defensively, the Golden Hurricane should be even better than last year, when they were a pleasant surprise.
Read the full 2012 Tulsa Golden Hurricane Team Preview
No. 73 Temple Owls52 of 125
Temple never got over the hump in the MAC. But the conference provided a lifeline, allowing the Owls to become relevant. And now they’re back in the Big East after a seven-year absence. So, how much better could life on North Broad Street really be? “These kids, they all want to play at the BCS level,” Steve Addazio says. “They understand the challenges. They came here hoping this would happen one day, and it has. Things are coming together.” Given that they never made it to a MAC Championship Game, it might not happen right away. Yet there’s no reason to believe the Owls can’t at least be competitive almost from the start.
Read the full 2012 Temple Owls Team Preview
No. 72 Maryland Terrapins53 of 125
Randy Edsall spent the offseason trying to wash away memories of one of the worst first seasons of any college coach in recent memory. His decision to replace both coordinators was met with applause from a frustrated fan base. He brought a familiar face back to College Park in offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, who installed a pro-style offense and helped Edsall haul in a sterling recruiting class. And Maryland attempted to recast Edsall’s image amid the steady stream of negative media. Now comes the hardest part: winning. Edsall likely will need to lean on promising freshman playmakers to navigate a daunting schedule and win back the fan base during a critical second season.
Read the full 2012 Maryland Terrapins Team Preview
No. 71 Ole Miss Rebels54 of 125
Talent is thin, depth is a concern, and academic issues leave a number of unknowns heading into the fall. Hugh Freeze has taken a strong disciplinary stance and has praised his players for their attitude and effort. With a nonconference schedule that includes Texas and an SEC slate that includes, well, the SEC, this is not the season to expect a return to a bowl game. The Rebels need to find a way to win nonconference games against Central Arkansas, Tulane and UTEP, then focus on being competitive in the league and picking off a game, perhaps two, to end a 14-game SEC losing streak. Those are realistic goals.
Read the full 2012 Ole Miss Rebels Team Preview
No. 70 Houston Cougars55 of 125
Expecting Houston to repeat — or even approach — its 2011 win total (a school-record 13) is asking a lot considering all the talent and leadership that graduated. The Cougars can still be a good team, however, and it is easy to draw comparisons to the 2008 team, which won eight games. Like that team, the 2012 Cougars will have a new head coach (Tony Levine), a mostly new coaching staff, a sophomore quarterback (David Piland) and a batch of unproven receivers. The advantage this year’s team has is an experienced defense and special teams unit. Regardless of the new parts, the goals remain the same. “Our goal will continue to be to win the championship,” Levine says. “Win our side of Conference USA and not only play in, but win, the Conference USA Championship Game.”
Read the full 2012 Houston Cougars Team Preview
No. 69 Connecticut Huskies56 of 125
Connecticut’s enthusiasm from the Fiesta Bowl appearance following the 2010 season quickly tapered off after the blowout loss to Oklahoma, the unexpected departure of coach Randy Edsall to Maryland and, finally, the 5–7 season in 2011. With all that behind him, coach Paul Pasqualoni will try to prove the Huskies are moving back in the right direction. With an injection of transfers to the offense to go with a strong running game and a solid defense, Pasqualoni may have the pieces to return to the postseason.
Read the full 2012 Connecticut Huskies Team Preview
No. 68 FIU Golden Panthers57 of 125
Some were surprised that Mario Cristobal stuck around. They shouldn’t have been. The fiery coach, who was born and raised in Miami before starting for the University of Miami, has built something special and seemingly stable in his backyard. Expectations soared after FIU started 3–0 in 2011, with wins against Louisville on the road and UCF at home. And while FIU couldn’t sustain its play, especially after T.Y. Hilton’s injuries, it enters 2012 poised to exceed the past two seasons’ accomplishments. The schedule is forgiving, the speedy Florida-based talent keeps coming, and the defense has a chance to be dominating.
Read the full 2012 FIU Golden Panthers Team Preview
No. 67 Syracuse Orange58 of 125
The momentum gained from winning eight games and winning a bowl in 2010 didn’t carry over to last season. Now, Doug Marrone, entering his fourth season, is faced with a difficult nonconference schedule that includes games against national title contender USC, Missouri, Minnesota and Northwestern. The coach says he’d rather face a tough lineup, even though his team has issues on both sides of the ball. “The challenge is getting the talent level up to the schedule,” Marrone says. “When you look at our history, we’ve done this before. It almost forces you to become better — right out of the gate.” More offensive production would be a good first step.
Read the full 2012 Syracuse Orange Team Preview
No. 66 UCF Knights59 of 125
The Knights firmly believe they underachieved last season and should have earned a bowl invitation. UCF wants to make sure it ends its final season in Conference USA on the right note before jumping to the Big East. “We didn’t finish last year like how we wanted to,” says Jordan Rae, who will be in his third season as the Knights’ starting center. “Leaving the conference this year, we want to leave with a bang. We want to make a statement. We’re definitely going for a conference title.” If the defense and offensive line improve, UCF has the potential to make some noise in Conference USA.
Read the full 2012 UCF Knights Team Preview
No. 65 Navy Midshipmen60 of 125
Navy established a program record of appearing in eight straight bowl games by not beating itself and doing all the little things right. Last season, the Midshipmen hurt themselves with costly mistakes, untimely turnovers and poor special teams. There is always a small margin of error for a service academy program, and the Mids, who routinely find themselves in close games, need to get back to playing mistake-free football.
Read the full 2012 Navy Midshipmen Team Preview
No. 64 Arkansas State Red Wolves61 of 125
Hugh Freeze moved on to Ole Miss after leading the Red Wolves to their best season in a quarter-century. ASU moved on with Gus Malzahn, a former Broyles Award winner who stunned observers when he returned to his home state to take over in Jonesboro. Malzahn, who signed what most consider the Sun Belt’s top recruiting class, has built on the enthusiasm generated by last year’s 10–3 record. The former Auburn offensive coordinator has talked about building the “Boise State of the South” and encouraged ASU fans to make plans for another bowl trip this year. With Ryan Aplin running Malzahn’s offense, the Red Wolves shouldn’t have trouble scoring. They may give up plenty of points, too, especially in September games at Oregon and Nebraska, but their firepower makes them a threat to repeat in the Sun Belt.
Read the full 2012 Arkansas State Red Wolves Team Preview
No. 63 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs62 of 125
After years of coming close, the Bulldogs broke through and won the WAC championship — their first since 2001 — with a 6–1 mark in league play. Anything less than a repeat, in a watered-down league that no longer includes Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada, would be a major disappointment. There are also some opportunities early in the season for the Bulldogs to make a splash nationally with a schedule that includes a game vs. Texas A&M in Shreveport and road trips to Houston, Illinois and Virginia.
Read the full 2012 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs Team Preview
No. 62 Minnesota Golden Gophers63 of 125
The enduring image of Jerry Kill’s first season at Minnesota is of him rolling on the ground during a game, in the throes of an epileptic seizure. It was a frightening episode, but Kill is tough and adaptable. “We’ve put that in the past,” Kill says. “I’m doing what I have to do to get healthy.” Not a bad way to describe his program. The Gophers aren’t healthy yet, not even close. Kill spent his first season installing his system and changing the culture, but boosting the talent level takes far longer. The Gophers have barely a dozen scholarship seniors, and virtually no meaningful experience at playmaking positions. This is a team built for 2015, so the benchmarks this fall are modest: Win their “guarantee” games for a change, shock an occasional Big Ten opponent and perhaps sneak into a bowl game.
Read the full 2012 Minnesota Golden Gophers Team Preview
No. 61 Oregon State Beavers64 of 125
Mike Riley’s 12th season in Corvallis isn’t make or break, but his seat definitely gets warm if Oregon State follows disappointing 5–7 and 3–9 campaigns with another clunker. If the Beavers finish above .500 and get back to a bowl game, much will be forgiven. Riley says that if the young players thrown to the wolves last season have grown up and become bigger and stronger (he raved about OSU’s offseason work ethic), “then we’re going to have a good team.” How good? It depends on the offense being balanced, the offensive line blocking somebody, and the defense stopping the run. That’s a lot of what-ifs, but given the athletes on the roster and Riley’s body of work in Corvallis, no one will be surprised if the Beavers surprise.
Read the full 2012 Oregon State Beavers Team Preview
No. 60 Iowa State Cyclones65 of 125
Much of the focus this season will be on the quarterback position, as it should be — after all, at this point it appears that the starting spot could be decided by the flip of a coin. It’s always come down to trust with coach Paul Rhoads, and who can protect the ball while still being able to produce enough points to stay competitive in the loaded Big 12. The offense has potential, and the defense over the years has made up for its limited number of difference-makers with great schemes and timely stops in the red zone. As usual, expectations outside the program won’t be high. But as usual, Rhoads’ team will find a way to overachieve and knock off one (or more) of the league’s powers.Read the full Iowa State Cyclones 2012 Team Preview
No. 59 Ohio Bobcats66 of 125
Ohio won a bowl game for the first time in school history last season, beating Utah State 24–23 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. It also produced 10 wins for the first time in 43 years. But the Bobcats failed to bring home their first MAC title since 1968 as they squandered a 20–0 halftime lead to Northern Illinois. That gives this experienced and talented Ohio squad plenty of motivation to bring home its third MAC East title in four seasons.Read the full Ohio Bobcats 2012 Team Preview
No. 58 Texas Tech Red Raiders67 of 125
Texas Tech missed a bowl game in 2011 for the first time in 12 seasons, which is putting some pressure on third-year coach Tommy Tuberville. Tech must make a bowl game in 2012 to meet Red Raider fans’ minimum standards. Fortunately, there are several weapons in the offensive cupboard, and the coaches did their best to revamp the defense with a new coordinator, a new scheme and some new players from the junior college ranks. The Raiders might cut it close, but they should make it to a bowl game this year.Read the full Texas Tech Red Raiders 2012 Team Preview
No. 57 Wake Forest Demon Deacons68 of 125
Jim Grobe stopped a two-year slide with a bowl bid last year, and he’s brought in four new assistants over two years to rejuvenate the program. His emphasis on recruiting speed shows across the field, but the Deacons’ season will likely be decided by whether they can control the line of scrimmage. Across both lines, Grobe might start at least five players with no game experience. On defense, a lockdown secondary could free up blitzing options. On offense, Tanner Price’s savvy will have to make up for what could be some chaotic situations up front. The good news is that the Deacons will field their most talented team in recent years, boasting several players on each side of the ball with All-ACC potential. Grobe has to figure out how to overcome the team’s inexperience and lack of depth.Read the full Wake Forest Demon Deacons 2012 Team Preview
No. 56 Cincinnati Bearcats69 of 125
Cincinnati is riddled with question marks, especially on offense. If the Bearcats are going to continue their recent success in the Big East, a lot of things will have to break right, beginning with the development of Munchie Legaux at quarterback. With no star players, Cincinnati will look to distribute the ball more equally on offense. Defensively, ends Walter Stewart and Dan Giordano must have productive years. The best thing the Bearcats have going for them is a less-than-demanding schedule that includes two home games against FCS opponents (Delaware State and Fordham). With West Virginia gone to the Big 12 and replaced by Temple, the league’s toughest foe year-in and year-out is no longer around. This soft slate will give Cincinnati’s newcomers ample opportunity to grow into their new roles. “The expectations and standards for us never change,” says Cincinnati coach Butch Jones. “Do we have a lot of new faces? Yes. But that adds to the level of excitement.”Read the full Cincinnati Bearcats 2012 Team Preview
No. 55 Arizona State Sun Devils70 of 125
This is clearly a transitional year for Todd Graham and the Sun Devils. ASU lost a ton of talent on both sides of the ball; it has to break in a new, inexperienced quarterback, and there will be an adjustment period as the players get used to the new coaching staff and its schemes. The schedule isn’t as favorable as it was last year, either. ASU ends the year with three road games in four weeks. A .500 record would be a successful first season for Graham.Read the full Arizona State Sun Devils 2012 Team Preview
No. 54 Nevada Wolf Pack71 of 125
Nevada is taking a step up in competition by joining the Mountain West Conference. But before the Wolf Pack even get to conference play, they will have to navigate a non-conference schedule that includes a road game against California and a home game against South Florida. On the plus side, the Mountain West no longer has TCU, and two of the league’s better teams, Wyoming and Boise State, travel to Reno. If Nevada can jell, it has a chance to compete for a league title and should be in line for an eighth consecutive bowl appearance.Read the full Nevada Wolf Pack 2012 Team Preview
No. 53 Purdue Boilermakers72 of 125
Danny Hope never needs a reason to be optimistic. Purdue’s fourth-year coach always has a positive spin on the state of Boilermaker football. But heading into 2012, there seems to be some basis for such an attitude. The Boilermakers are brimming with confidence after reaching their first bowl game since 2007. With proven experience at quarterback for the first time in Hope’s tenure and a defense littered with potential all-league talent, a second straight winning season is a realistic goal.Read the full Purdue Boilermakers 2012 Team Preview
No. 52 Illinois Fighting Illini73 of 125
Early in his tenure, Tim Beckman handed out orange bracelets to the players and staff. “One” was written in large letters along with “12-01-12.” That’s the date of the Big Ten title game at Indianapolis. “If you don’t have that goal, why do you play?” Beckman says. If Illinois is ever going to break through in the Leaders Division, this would be the year. Ohio State is ineligible for the title. Wisconsin lost starting quarterback Russell Wilson and three-fifths of its powerhouse offensive line. And Penn State continues to try to recover from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.Read the full Illinois Fighting Illini 2012 Team Preview
No. 51 Washington State Cougars74 of 125
With Mike Leach, the Cougars could return to their first bowl game since 2003 when they beat Vince Young and Texas in the Holiday Bowl. Given an abundance of talent at the skill positions, WSU should be in a number of shootouts. The success of the season hinges on the protection that Tuel gets from his offensive line, which was hit by injuries in the spring. The switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense will be key as well, particularly at linebacker, where the Cougs need several players to step up after Leach dismissed two projected starting linebackers — C.J. Mizell and Sekope Kaufusi — for off-field transgressions. Based on Leach’s record at Texas Tech, an eight-win season is not out of the question, though a six-win season would be acceptable for the bowl-deprived Cougs.Read the full Washington State Cougars 2012 Team Preview
No. 50 Iowa Hawkeyes75 of 125
There is without question a new attitude with all the coaching changes and with Iowa coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons. But what hasn’t changed much is the personnel, and that’s why Iowa could be headed for another season like a year ago. James Vandenberg might be the best pocket passer in the Big Ten, but he struggled on the road last season. The schedule is favorable, but that was also the case last season, and Iowa still failed to contend in the Legends Division.Read the full Iowa Hawkeyes 2012 Team Preview
No. 49 Northwestern Wildcats76 of 125
Northwestern has reached a team-record four consecutive bowl games but also has seen its win total drop in each of the past three seasons. Has the team lost momentum? Pat Fitzgerald doesn’t believe so, but he’ll need a young and potentially more talented roster to grow up in a hurry this fall. The offense has had a nice run of success and a potential superstar in Kain Colter at quarterback. But Northwestern must rectify its issues at running back and see its strong recruiting at offensive line start paying off. The defense has been a major liability for the past year-and-a-half, and if young players don’t make strides and start making plays, it could be a rough season.Read the full 2012 Northwestern Wildcats Team Preview
No. 48 Miami Hurricanes77 of 125
With huge personnel losses to overcome and a very youthful roster, the Hurricanes appear to be in rebuilding mode. There’s good young talent and more coming in from a top-10 recruiting class, but it’s going to take time to develop. The schedule includes nonconference games with Notre Dame, Kansas State and South Florida. The Hurricanes will likely also have to deal with the distraction of imminent NCAA sanctions. Matching last season’s 6–6 record won’t be easy.Read the full 2012 Miami Hurricanes Team Preview
No. 47 Mississippi State Bulldogs78 of 125
Dan Mullen has the best depth and most overall talent he’s had during his tenure in Starkville. The offense, with a true pocket passer under center and more playmakers at wide receiver, should be more balanced, and the defense figures to be stout once again. But life in the SEC West can be very difficult. The Bulldogs are 0–12 vs. division rivals not named Ole Miss during Mullen’s three seasons. There’s a chance that MSU might be much improved without seeing much progress — if any — in the win column.Read the full 2012 Mississippi State Bulldogs Team Preview
No. 46 Rutgers Scarlet Knights79 of 125
On paper, Rutgers has the look of a contender, though the uncertainty over all the newness (new coach, eight new assistants) casts some uncertainty over the Knights’ hopes. This was a team pointed for a big season in 2012 by former coach Greg Schiano. He’s gone, but the expectations are not. How ironic would be it be if Flood won the league in his first year after Schiano failed to do so in 11 seasons?Read the full 2012 Rutgers Scarlet Knights Team Preview
No. 45 Pittsburgh Panthers80 of 125
One word: stability. That is what the Pittsburgh program covets. It has been a tumultuous year-and-a-half, with the firing of Dave Wannstedt, the hiring and firing of Michael Haywood after 16 days due to a domestic violence charge, the one-year tenure of Todd Graham, who bolted for Arizona State, and now the Paul Chryst era. Unlike the smooth-talking Graham, Chryst is more of a blue-collar Pittsburgh-style guy. He has done a solid job of restoring faith among the fan base, but his biggest challenge will be re-focusing a group of players who have witnessed a revolving door of coaches. Pittsburgh, in its final year in the Big East before moving to the ACC, could compete for a league title, but Panthers fans would probably take stability over winning in Chryst’s first year as a head coach.
Read the full Pittsburgh Panthers 2012 Team Preview
No. 44 Penn State Nittany Lions81 of 125
When Penn State hired Bill O’Brien away from the New England Patriots’ staff, it gave him free rein to change what he felt needed to be changed in order to reinvigorate a program that had fallen into decline in the waning years of the Joe Paterno era. O’Brien has taken that mandate seriously, retaining only two members of the previous coaching staff, revamping the strength program and installing a new offensive system. Players have responded enthusiastically, but it’s probably unrealistic to expect those changes to bear immediate fruit.
Read the full Penn State Nittany Lions 2012 Team Preview
No. 43 Arizona Wildcats82 of 125
Although Arizona has little depth, its front-line players are skilled and experienced. If quarterback Matt Scott remains healthy, this is a team that projects to be productive offensively and play in a bowl game. Coach Rich Rodriguez said that the Wildcats were out of shape and not strong enough to compete in the Pac-12 when he evaluated the returning players. He changed that with a boot camp-type of offseason. The potential for trouble is in the linebacking crew and in the thin secondary. Eight home games will help.
Read the full Arizona Wildcats 2012 Team Preview
No. 42 UCLA Bruins83 of 125
Ultimately, the talent level is not going to be the concern for the Bruins, who recruited well under Rick Neuheisel and had a top-10 class in 2012. Rather, concentration, toughness and discipline will be the deciding factors. Can Jim Mora bring them? UCLA went a long way to find out.
Read the full UCLA Bruins 2012 Team Preview
No. 41 Vanderbilt Commodores84 of 125
There was nothing fluky about Vanderbilt’s improvement from two wins in 2010 to six wins in the first year of the James Franklin era. The Commodores ranked seventh in the SEC in total offense and sixth in total defense, and four of their six league losses came by six points or less. There was no smoke. There were no mirrors. But the big question: Can they do it again? Can the Commodores maintain this momentum and go to a bowl for the second straight season (for the first time in school history)? The talent is there, especially on offense, where the Commodores feature a veteran quarterback, an All-SEC running back and nice collection of wide receivers. The big key will be on defense, where some key players — and outstanding leaders — must be replaced.
Read the full Vanderbilt Commodores 2012 Team Preview
No. 40 Baylor85 of 125
While coach Art Briles is “eager to sustain” and build on the momentum of back-to-back bowl berths, at least a small drop-off is expected after losing many of the most dynamic offensive players in school history. The schedule is also demanding with eight bowl teams and 2011 FCS runner-up Sam Houston State. Contending for a Big 12 championship might be the goal, but a berth in another bowl game seems much more realistic.
Read the full Baylor Bears 2012 Team Preview
No. 39 BYU Cougars86 of 125
The 2011 football season was very different for the Cougars, even though their record looked familiar. BYU’s first year of independence resulted in its fifth 10-win season in six years, even without the incentive of a conference championship. BYU hopes quarterback Riley Nelson’s presence will make the offense more efficient from the start, while an experienced defense tries to continue its high level of play. The schedule is more daunting, with road games against Utah, Boise State, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech, so matching last season’s win total will be difficult.
Read the full BYU Cougars 2012 Team Preview
No. 38 Cal Golden Bears87 of 125
This is a big season for Cal. The Bears are moving back into their renovated stadium after playing last year’s home games at AT&T Park in San Francisco. There is excitement around the program because of the improved facilities. The question is whether the team itself is worthy of the same excitement. Cal will need at least one other receiver to produce alongside Keenan Allen and get continued improvement from quarterback Zach Maynard. Meanwhile, a handful of players on defense who are being called upon to take on greater roles will need to emerge. The Bears have been around the .500 mark in each of the past three seasons, and this team doesn’t look much different than those.
Read the full California Golden Bears 2012 Team Preview
No. 37 Tennessee Volunteers88 of 125
Tennessee has a strong passing game, but establishing the run is paramount to keeping defenses honest and protecting quarterback Tyler Bray. The defense aims for more impact plays, but that often comes at the risk of surrendering big plays. A more forgiving schedule — Alabama and LSU are replaced by Missouri and Mississippi State — makes eight wins a realistic goal.
Read the full Tennessee Volunteers 2012 Team Preview
No. 36 Virginia Cavaliers89 of 125
Mike London was a deserving pick for ACC Coach of the Year last season, keeping the surprising Cavaliers in Coastal Division title contention until the final weekend. Building on that momentum will require another stellar coaching job, with several gaps to fill on both sides of the ball and a more difficult nonconference schedule. London has made all the right moves so far, recruiting well and reviving interest in the program. The general trend is up, but the Cavaliers could level off for a year before really surging.
Read the full Virginia Cavaliers 2012 Team Preview
No. 35 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets90 of 125
A year ago, most predicted six or seven wins from a young team. The Yellow Jackets responded with eight, and it could have easily been 10. This season, nine wins and a strong shot at the ACC title are not unreasonable goals. The Jackets have experience and the sour taste of losses to rivals Virginia Tech and Georgia, as well as a seventh consecutive bowl loss, to drive them. If quarterback Tevin Washington and running back David Sims, in particular, can raise their level of play, and the defensive line delivers, there’s no reason they won’t be in the mix in the ACC.
Read the full Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 2012 Team Preview
No. 34 South Florida Bulls91 of 125
Heading into its eighth Big East football season, South Florida remains on the clock. The Bulls haven’t seriously contended for a conference championship. For a change, no one is picking South Florida to win the Big East. Maybe the prognosticators don’t want to get fooled again by the Bulls. They have constantly teased throughout non-conference success, such as last season’s win at Notre Dame and a 4–0 start, only to fall flat during the Big East slate. South Florida’s progress will be predicated on quarterback B.J. Daniels’ consistency, better third down production and defensive improvement, particularly in the fourth quarter. In other words, all the elements that generally help to win games (or lose them).
Read the full South Florida Bulls 2012 Team Preview
No. 33 Utah Utes92 of 125
Utah came within a missed field goal of forcing overtime with a chance of advancing to the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game. As it was, they finished with a losing record (4–5) in conference play in their first season in the Pac-12 but remained in the South race only because USC was ineligible for postseason play. “We had a good start,” says coach Kyle Whittingham, “but we have to continue to do everything better.” Utah’s defense matched up well with most Pac-12 offenses and returns mostly intact. If the offense improves as much as expected, the Utes should rank among the conference’s top teams.
Read the full Utah Utes 2012 Team Preview
No. 32 Texas A&M Aggies93 of 125
The Aggies simply do not appear to have enough depth to be a serious contender for the SEC West title in 2012, but there is enough talent in place for A&M to be highly competitive on a week-to-week basis. A&M’s up-tempo offensive pace — along with its tremendous offensive line — will give opponents plenty of headaches. But the defense may cause some self-inflicted wounds. Expect the Aggies to win anywhere from six to eight games.
Read the full Texas A&M Aggies 2012 Team Preview
No. 31 Missouri Tigers94 of 125
While Missouri has made major strides during Gary Pinkel’s 11 years as coach, the Tigers never quite reached elite status in the Big 12. Coming off an 8–5 season and following a controversial move to the SEC, Missouri will now attempt to crack the top of the country’s most elite football conference — beginning with a Week 2 home meeting against reigning SEC East champion Georgia. The Tigers return 10 starters, plus two others who started in 2010, but the soundness of quarterback James Franklin’s surgically repaired right shoulder will figure prominently in Missouri’s hopes.
Read the full Missouri Tigers 2012 Team Preview
No. 30 Auburn Tigers95 of 125
Armed with three consecutive top-10 recruiting classes, Auburn hopes to show that 2010 wasn’t an aberration but the start of a run of sustained excellence. The schedule is more favorable this season, but many of the questions that Auburn hoped to resolve during last year’s “rebuilding” remain unanswered. Frazier threw sparingly (and often to opponents) in 2011. Michael Dyer has moved on. The offensive line will be a bit deeper but just as young and inexperienced. Two new coordinators are trying to put their imprint on the team. The talent is there for the Tigers to push their way back into the nation’s top tier, but Auburn is probably a year away from becoming a legitimate threat in the SEC West.
Read the full Auburn Tigers 2012 Team Preview
No. 29 North Carolina Tar Heels96 of 125
The Tar Heels aren’t going to a bowl game, regardless of how many games they win, thanks to NCAA sanctions stemming from Butch Davis’ tenure as head coach. But they want to make a positive impression in Larry Fedora’s first season at the helm. They have an offense with the potential to put up big point totals, but the question is whether their defense can keep opponents from scoring even more. The combination should make for an exciting season.
Read the full North Carolina Tar Heels 2012 Team Preview
No. 28 NC State Wolfpack97 of 125
In 120 years of football, only one NC State team has posted a double-digit win total — Philip Rivers led the Pack to 11 wins in ’02 — but given the returning talent and the relatively soft schedule, winning 10 games is a realistic goal. Coach Tom O’Brien is not prone to hyperbole, high praise or predictions, but the NC State coach likes what he sees in his team, which has combined to win 17 games the past two seasons. “The whole key, once again, is staying healthy,” O’Brien says. “As long as we stay healthy, I think we have a chance to be a pretty good football team.”
Read the full NC State Wolfpack 2012 Team Preview
No. 27 Kansas State Wildcats98 of 125
Improving on a 10-win season that ended with a trip to the Cotton Bowl won’t be easy — but don’t bet against Kansas State, which makes a habit of defying the odds. The Wildcats should be improved on offense, provided Collin Klein has improved as a passer and the offensive line comes together. The secondary is the big concern on defense. Nigel Malone is solid at one cornerback spot, but the Cats ranked 103rd in the nation in pass defense. That has to improve if K-State wants to be a serious threat in the Big 12.
Read the full Kansas State Wildcats 2012 Team Preview
No. 26 Florida Gators99 of 125
At schools like Florida, baby steps draw winces. In the microwave world of college football, the slow cooker is unacceptable. But Will Muschamp knows that transforming the Florida football team from what it was to what it needs to be isn’t going to happen overnight. “It’s coming,” he says. “We’re getting there. I like the guys we have. I like the team we have a lot better than the one we had last year. We’re getting better.” Just getting better, however, won’t be good enough to get these Gators to Atlanta to play in the SEC title game.
Read the full Florida Gators 2012 Team Preview
No. 25 Washington Huskies100 of 125
With three seasons behind him, Steve Sarkisian has brought Washington back to respectability, splitting 38 games. Now people are asking him this: When will the Huskies play fierce defense again and become more than just a break-even team?
Four new defensive coaches, including former Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, have been charged with upgrading a maddeningly porous unit, no easy feat. Widespread staff changes were required following a 67–56 loss to Baylor and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III at the Alamo Bowl. Once more, the Huskies, who have plenty of offensive weapons, will have to outscore their opponents in order to be successful.
Read the full Washington Huskies 2012 Team Preview
No. 24 Boise State Broncos101 of 125
The Broncos have finished in the top 11 of the AP top 25 for four straight years, and coach Chris Petersen insists that this will be a “reload,” not a “rebuild.” He’ll need strong play from his new quarterback and reconfigured defensive line, and some luck with injuries at a few key positions (tailback, linebacker, defensive tackle). He also will need a large but rather anonymous senior class to lead this team through a daunting road schedule that includes trips to Michigan State, Southern Miss, Hawaii and Nevada. At the least, the Broncos hope to capitalize on their second and last chance to win a Mountain West title before moving to the Big East in 2013.
Read the full Boise State Broncos 2012 Team Preview
No. 23 Louisville Cardinals102 of 125
It’s not outrageous to project 10 victories for this team, considering the way quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and his young receivers finished last season. Louisville’s two most difficult non-league games will be played at home (Kentucky, North Carolina). Plus, Temple has replaced West Virginia in the Big East.
Charlie Strong expects his team to be one of the favorites in the diminished Big East and started downplaying expectations during the spring by reminding everyone that many publications picked Louisville to finish eighth last season. With so many key pieces returning and a solid recruiting class, expectations are raging.
Unless there is a string of injuries, expect this team to win the Big East, play in a BCS game and make Strong one of the nation’s hottest coaching candidates.
Read the full Louisville Cardinals 2012 Team Preview
No. 22 TCU Horned Frogs103 of 125
Even with depth issues on the line, TCU’s offense is talented and deep enough at the skill positions to compete with most teams in their inaugural Big 12 season. The defense should be improved from last year’s 11–2, Poinsettia Bowl-winning team.
The real test for the Frogs will be overcoming the week-to-week pounding against bigger, faster players than they’ve routinely faced in the Mountain West. Sure, TCU’s top-line players can hang with most of their peers in their new league, but can the second- and third-team guys hold that level of play if needed in a pinch? Or worse still, for a long stretch of the season?
Read the full TCU Horned Frogs 2012 Preview
No. 21 Stanford Cardinal104 of 125
Stanford will be hard-pressed to reach a BCS bowl game for the third straight year, but don’t expect the Cardinal to completely fall out of the national picture simply because Andrew Luck is gone. Stanford has recruited well in recent years and still has extensive talent in the program.
If the new quarterback and receivers can provide enough punch to complement Stepfan Taylor and the running game, the offense still has potential. And the defense, which showed marked improvement in 2011 despite not having Shayne Skov for most of the season, looks sound again. The schedule is tricky, though, with road games at Oregon, Notre Dame and Washington and a home game vs. national title contender USC.
No. 20 Notre Dame Fighting Irish105 of 125
If Brian Kelly can get his quarterback situation settled, the Irish have enough talent to match their victory total from the last two seasons, even against a schedule that includes three 11-win opponents (Michigan, Stanford and Michigan State) and a pair of 10-win squads (USC and Oklahoma).
Although this isn’t necessarily a crossroads season for Kelly since Notre Dame seems committed to his renovation project, the 2012 campaign will go a long way toward determining how good the Irish can be in 2013-14. There are too many holes/question marks to look at this season as anything but a transitional year under Kelly. Find a consistent quarterback and show improvement, and regardless of the record, Kelly should approach a combined 20 victories in 2013-14. Fall flat and continue to struggle protecting the football and the regime could be in jeopardy.
Read the full Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2012 Preview
No. 19 Oklahoma State Cowboys106 of 125
Quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon will be missed. And Wes Lunt faces sure ups and downs as a freshman starter at the game’s premier position.
Still, playmakers remain and the overall program has never been in better shape to handle a rebuilding year. The schedule is forgiving, too, with a soft opening and three Big 12 contenders — Texas, West Virginia and TCU — all due in Stillwater.
If the defense is indeed better, the Cowboys could contend again.
Read the full Oklahoma State Cowboys 2012 Preview
No. 18 Michigan State Spartans107 of 125
If quarterback Andrew Maxwell proves to be as good as the coaches expect, the Spartans have a strong shot to achieve double-digit victories for a third straight year. A terrific defense and a strong running attack should take pressure off Maxwell, but establishing a rapport with the new receivers will be a key. Back-to-back road games at Michigan and Wisconsin in October will test the Spartans’ championship mettle.
Read the full Michigan State Spartans 2012 Preview
No. 17 Wisconsin Badgers108 of 125
Wisconsin defeated Michigan State in the inaugural Big Ten title game last season to secure its second consecutive league title. The return of running back Montee Ball, the addition of quarterback Danny O’Brien and the fact that Leaders Division rival Ohio State is ineligible for postseason play make UW the favorite return to Indianapolis. If the defensive issues can be addressed and the overall drop-off at punter and kicker isn’t significant, UW could return to the Rose Bowl for the third consecutive season.
Read the full Wisconsin Badgers 2012 Preview
No. 16 Virginia Tech Hokies109 of 125
For all that Frank Beamer has accomplished in his 25 seasons at Virginia Tech — 209 victories, 19 straight bowl appearances, eight straight 10-win seasons, seven league titles in the Big East and ACC — his postseason struggles remain a glaring black mark on an otherwise sterling résumé. Last season’s deflating 23–20 overtime loss to Michigan in the Sugar Bowl, a game in which the Hokies outgained the Wolverines two-to-one, was the latest example. It dropped Tech to 1–5 in BCS bowls.
Still, the Hokies will be in contention in the ACC again with a Beamer formula that has worked for years: a known quantity at quarterback in Logan Thomas and a shutdown defense. Georgia Tech will challenge in the Coastal Division, and Clemson and Florida State will likely enter as the favorites to win the conference title; but Virginia Tech has proven it can overcome such odds before, winning four ACC titles in eight years. It’s in the high-profile non-conference and bowl games that many fans would like to start seeing more Ws.
Read the full Virginia Tech Hokies 2012 Preview
No. 15 Clemson Tigers110 of 125
The questions up front on both sides of the ball create concern, but there’s a lot of talent in this program right now. The trip to Tallahassee will be a bear, but otherwise the schedule is manageable. This team is capable of repeating as ACC champs if it avoids injuries in the wrong places.
Read the full Clemson Tigers 2012 Preview
No. 14 Nebraska Cornhuskers111 of 125
Nebraska is among only eight FBS schools that have won at least nine games each of the past four seasons, Bo Pelini’s tenure as coach. The Huskers hadn’t had four consecutive nine-win seasons since the school’s NCAA-record streak of 33 from 1969-2001. Even so, Pelini had to defend his program late last season against charges that it was “stuck in neutral.”
Nebraska’s first season in the Big Ten required some adjustment, of course, particularly in dealing with the league’s physicality. The Huskers will benefit from the experience. But they will need to get better on both sides of the ball if they’re going to be title contenders in their second season in the conference.
Read the full Nebraska Cornhuskers 2012 Preview
No. 13 Arkansas Razorbacks112 of 125
Just when it seemed Arkansas was on the brink of challenging the upper crust of college football, Bobby Petrino took a fateful Sunday evening spin on his Harley on April 1. When the smoke cleared, John L. Smith, the 63-year-old former Petrino assistant who had left the staff in December to take the head coaching job at his alma mater, Weber State, landed a 10-month contract to lead the Hogs.
The Razorbacks believe they have the talent in place to build on their 21–5 record the last two seasons. Now the question is how well Arkansas can sustain without its demanding former head coach at the helm.
Arkansas believes its defense will stop the run better, which should help in the marquee games and give the Hogs’ offense more opportunities. Petrino’s greatest asset, his playcalling based on tremendous split-second recall of defensive schemes and tendencies, will be missed. But having the Alabama and LSU games at home gives the Hogs a chance at the brass ring.
Read the full Arkansas Razorbacks 2012 Preview
No. 12 West Virginia Mountaineers113 of 125
There’s some concern whether WVU’s success in the Big East can translate to the Big 12. But the blowout of Clemson in the Orange Bowl has the Mountaineers walking tall, especially on the offensive side.
Geno Smith should be one of the nation’s finest quarterbacks. He has the size at 6'3", 214 pounds, the arm strength, intelligence and, perhaps most important, a cool demeanor. Tavon Austin has speed to burn at receiver.
Defensively, there’s concern after coach Dana Holgorsen scrapped the 3-3-5 odd stack scheme that’s been a staple of Mountaineer football.
The spotlight will burn brightly on both the offensive and defensive lines. Holgorsen, however, should help the transition after spending most of his career in and around the Big 12.
Read the full West Virginia Mountaineers 2012 Preview
No. 11 Texas Longhorns114 of 125
Coach Mack Brown says he believes Texas will win a national title in “the next two to three years.” Texas nearly won 10 games in 2011 with inconsistent quarterback play. If that position improves the way coaches hope and UT can find a field goal kicker, the Longhorns could be back in the mix for a Big 12 title this season, because the defense could be championship-caliber.
Read the full Texas Longhorns 2012 Preview
No. 10 South Carolina Gamecocks115 of 125
This is truly a golden age for the Gamecocks, who are 20–7 over the past two years — a long-awaited reward for fans who endured years of average-to-awful seasons. Last season, they went 11–2 and set a school record for wins.
Steve Spurrier returns enough talent for 2012 that South Carolina should once again be in the mix to win the Southeastern Conference’s East Division. The Gamecocks went 6–2 in the league last year, but losses to West Division opponents Auburn and Arkansas kept them from playing in their second straight SEC Championship Game.
Read the full South Carolina Gamecocks 2012 Preview
No. 9 Florida State Seminoles116 of 125
Coach Jimbo Fisher has placed much of the blame for Florida State’s disappointing 9–4 finish in 2011 on the slew of injuries that knocked out several offensive linemen and skill players for the season and even sidelined quarterback EJ Manuel for parts of three games.
With a deeper and more talented roster, the Seminoles should be able to better deal with another streak of bad luck. And if the offensive line is merely serviceable, FSU’s defense should be good enough to carry the Seminoles back to the ACC Championship Game.
Read the full Florida State Seminoles 2012 Preview
No. 8 Georgia Bulldogs117 of 125
Georgia has some major questions — the offensive line and the secondary — but is still the favorite to repeat as SEC East champions. It has a relatively easy schedule — no LSU, Alabama or Arkansas — and it has quarterback Aaron Murray, linebacker Jarvis Jones and plenty of other talent.
The key for the Bulldogs will be getting through their Week 2 clash at Missouri without their suspended defensive backs, and then the Oct. 6 visit to South Carolina. Conceivably the Bulldogs could still win the division if they lose both of those, but winning one or both of them would be a step in the right direction.
Murray’s health is also vital, as is the progress of the tailbacks.
The Bulldogs should succeed or fail based on their offense, because it’s hard to envision the defense being anything but stout.
Everything seems to set up for Georgia to get back to the SEC Championship Game — and this time the result could be closer.
Read the full Georgia Bulldogs 2012 Preview
No. 7 Michigan Wolverines118 of 125
There’s a lot to like about the Wolverines. They’ve got two potential Heisman Trophy candidates in quarterback Denard Robinson and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and depth in their defensive backfield for the first time in ages. Their biggest obstacle in 2012 might be a murderous schedule, one that includes a neutral-site opener against defending national champ Alabama and road trips to South Bend, Lincoln and Columbus.
Read the full Michigan Wolverines 2012 Preview
No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes119 of 125
NCAA sanctions will prevent the Buckeyes from playing in the Big Ten Championship Game or going to a bowl, but it’s clear that coach Urban Meyer wants to lay the groundwork for Ohio State’s quick return to prominence. And he’s got the manpower and schedule (eight home games) to make it happen. It should be an interesting ride that will build to a climactic finish when Michigan pays a visit on Nov. 24.
Read the full Ohio State Buckeyes 2012 Preview
No. 5 Oklahoma Sooners120 of 125
Quarterback Landry Jones’ return immediately installed the Sooners as the Big 12 favorite, with that piece of the puzzle all that was missing from an explosive offense. Now, can the defense play its part? Mike Stoops has simplified things in an attempt to free players to react and attack. With Jones and Co. ready to produce, the defense doesn’t have to be dominant, just dependable. “I think we’re going to be a very complete defense,” Stoops says.
If the two units come together, the Sooners will contend in the Big 12 and beyond.
Read the full Oklahoma Sooners 2012 Preview
No. 4 Oregon Ducks121 of 125
The Ducks dodged a bullet in January when coach Chip Kelly turned down the chance to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and returned to Oregon, keeping his entire staff intact for a fourth straight season, the longest streak in the nation. “I concluded that I have some unfinished business to complete at the University of Oregon,” Kelly said in announcing his return.
With a deep, talented defense on hand, all the Ducks need to do to contend for a fourth straight conference title is play their reliably prolific brand of offense. The questions at quarterback and receiver must be answered, but Kelly’s offenses have thrived despite personnel movement in the past, and an easy September schedule should help the offense find its footing.
Read the full Oregon Ducks 2012 Preview
No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide122 of 125
Two years ago, Alabama returned only nine starters from its 2009 national championship team and went 10–3. This time 12 starters are gone, but coach Nick Saban believes he has a “completely different” team than 2010, one that carries a better attitude coming off a national title.
Saban stockpiles too much talent for a huge drop-off. Still, the odds are against Alabama joining Nebraska, whose 1994 and ’95 teams are the only ones in the past 56 years to repeat as consensus national champion.
No. 2 LSU Tigers123 of 125
LSU is well-stocked at every position on the field, though a lack of experience at linebacker and the loss of Rueben Randle at wide receiver are concerns. The staff believes Zach Mettenberger will upgrade the quarterback position and allow the offense to be more balanced.
There are several potential landmines, but the Tigers are good enough to beat every team on their schedule. Another SEC title and a return trip to the BCS National Championship Game are the expectations in Baton Rouge.
Read the full LSU Tigers 2012 Preview
No. 1 USC Trojans124 of 125
Lane Kiffin made a strong impression in his second season, directing a team that wasn’t allowed to play in a postseason game to a 10–2 record that included a stunning upset over Rose Bowl-bound Oregon in Eugene. Now he’ll try to take the Trojans to the next lofty level, and if quarterback Matt Barkley and receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, in particular, stay healthy, it is difficult to imagine many teams outscoring this group.
Defensively, the Trojans won’t be overpowering, but they’re quick and resourceful enough to create plenty of opportunities for the offense. And don’t forget John Baxter’s outstanding special teams. They blocked seven kicks a year ago, and their kicking and return units should be among the nation’s best.
The schedule is favorable, and after a two-year bowl ban, the players certainly are hungry enough. This is a team that expects to play in the BCS National Championship Game come January.
Read the full USC Trojans 2012 Preview
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