The 2011 college football season ended this week, which means it’s already time for an early look at the 2012 campaign.
Here’s an early look at a preseason top 25:
The defense was a disaster in the Alamo Bowl, and new coordinator Justin Wilcox, who arrives from Tennessee, better hit the ground running. The good news is that the offense should be potent, even without TB Chris Polk.
The Utes had an up-and-down season in their first go-round in the Pac-12. If they can adequately replace both starting tackles, the offense should be OK.
Cardinals have a shot to finish between 20th and 25th if QB Teddy Bridgewater makes the improvement expected of a sophomore.
The defense should be the best in the Big East next season.
22. Kansas State
QB Collin Klein is the key returnee. While he must develop as a passer, his rushing ability opens up all sorts of possibilities. K-State was one of the nation’s biggest surprises this season. The Wildcats shouldn’t surprise anyone next season.
21. Virginia Tech
QB Logan Thomas will be the only returnee of note on offense, but there will be no such concerns on defense, which could be the best in the ACC next fall.
While Stanford isn’t going to make a third straight BCS appearance, the Cardinal certainly is good enough to win nine games, even without QB Andrew Luck and a pair of stellar offensive linemen.
Rebuilding their psyche after their epic Orange Bowl beatdown might take all spring. Then again, when Sammy Watkins, Andre Ellington, DeAndre Hopkins and Tajh Boyd are on hand, the offense should be just fine. The line must replace three starters, and that always is a scary proposition. The defensive line also has to be rebuilt, but the back seven looks good, especially if some young linebackers become playmakers.
18. Ohio State
The defense should be devastating. QB Braxton Miller looks to be a perfect fit for the spread offense, but Urban Meyer must
find and/or develop some playmakers this spring.
The Huskers seemed to lack toughness at times, and that likely will be a focal point during spring ball. QB Taylor Martinez and TB Rex Burkhead are nice pieces to build around offensively.
16. Oklahoma State
The loss of the Brandon Weeden-Justin Blackmon pass-catch combo is big. But there is skill-position talent on offense, most notably at tailback with Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith.
The biggest concern is the secondary, where three starters have to be replaced. The move to the Big 12 means TCU will be playing against more high-powered passing attacks, so spring ball is huge in terms of rebuilding the secondary.
TB Montee Ball’s return is big, but QB Russell Wilson will be missed. Even with the loss of three starters, the line will be big and physical. Defensively, there is need for overall improvement, especially in the front four.
13. Michigan State
There are some questions on offense, as there will be a new QB and a drastically revamped receiving corps. But the line has the potential to be one of the best in the Big Ten. Defense is where the team should shine.
The biggest issues are settling on a QB and ramping up the passing attack. The offensive line actually could be a strength, and the front four on defense could be nasty, as well.
11. West Virginia
WVU had some head-scratching bumps in the Big East, and next season could be a tough ride because of the move to the Big 12. But there is a lot of talent on offense, and QB Geno Smith should be extremely comfortable in his second season in coach Dana Holgorsen’s attack.
10. Florida State
On paper, the Seminoles look primed to regain their spot among the national elite. But they looked good heading into the 2011
season, too, and lost four times. The defense should be one of the best in the nation. The offense must become more consistent.
A young receiving corps made big strides, and the passing attack, with Aaron Murray at the controls, should be excellent. But the offensive line, which struggled at times, is a gigantic question mark. The front seven on defense should be nasty, though the secondary could be iffy if some juniors turn pro.
The offense again should be potent. QB Denard Robinson has one more year, and TB Fitzgerald Toussaint was a dependable option. Refining the passing attack will be important during spring practice. So will rebuilding the defensive line.
7. South Carolina
For the first time since he has been at USC, coach Steve Spurrier should go into the offseason confident he has a quarterback who understands what he wants — and can get it done.
Connor Shaw’s running ability should add an extra element to Spurrier’s playbook. The back seven on defense will have some holes, but the front four will be solid; the same goes for the offensive line. TB Marcus Lattimore will be back, too.
QB Tyler Wilson returns for his second season as the starter, but he will be working with a revamped receiving corps. The return of TB Knile Davis from an ankle injury will be big, and the offensive line should be a strength. Chances are the defense will be at least as good as it was this season.
The Sooners went into 2011 as the preseason No. 1, but ended up losing three times. They won’t be as highly hyped this offseason. QB Landry Jones’ return is big, and the rushing attack should be fine. A go-to receiver has to emerge. The defense should be better across the board.
Chip Kelly’s offense should continue to churn out the yards even without RB LaMichael James. In QB Darron Thomas, TB Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas, who seemingly can play anywhere, Kelly has three playmakers. The defense as a whole should be better than it was this season.
Some underclassmen will turn pro early, but QB A.J. McCarron showed Monday night that he is a nice building block for the offense. He should be protected by a strong line. Depth at tailback must be developed. The front seven on defense should be stout, but depth in the secondary could be a question, depending on who turns pro.
2. Southern Cal
A lack of depth certainly will be a factor, but as long as there aren’t a huge number of injuries, the Trojans should be fine. QB Matt Barkley’s decision to return makes Southern Cal a legitimate threat to win the national title. The Trojans have the nation’s top receiving duo in Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. This offense should average at least 45 points per game. If the defense is rebuilt to certain specs, this team will win the national title.
LSU must use its embarrassing performance in the title game as a sort of offseason fuel. Line play is going to be a strength, especially on defense. Depth at tailback is tremendous. Upgrading the passing attack has to be the No. 1 priority this spring, and Zach Mettenberger — a junior college transfer who began his career at Georgia — should be the quarterback. The linebackers, as a whole, should be better than they were this season.
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