- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 26, 2012

OUR TOP 25

1. Southern California

Upside: Matt Barkley is back and has unfinished business after the Trojans’ two-year bowl ban

Downside: Scholarship reductions leave Lane Kiffin’s team vulnerable to injury and attrition

2. Alabama

Upside: Nick Saban’s juggernaut could simply plug-and-play its way back to national title game

Downside: Depleted defense can’t possibly match last year’s eye-popping numbers

3. Oklahoma

Upside: With a year left, Landry Jones (12,379 yards) is already the Sooners’ career passing leader

Downside: Holes in defense need to be fixed to survive unforgiving Big 12 attacks

4. Louisiana State

Upside: The Mad Hatter has a fine cast of characters back from a 13-1 run to chase a national title

Downside: QB is a question — again — and a Honey Badger-less defense is just a tick less scary

5. Oregon

Upside: Chip Kelly is still around, and Andrew Luck is not at Stanford; a Pac-12 North repeat is likely

Downside: Ducks’ credentials will probably remain a bit questionable until showdown with USC

6. Georgia

Upside: The defense is outstanding, and should have the Bulldogs in the conference title hunt

Downside: At first sign of trouble, Mark Richt will lose control, per the Internet meme du jour

7. South Carolina

Upside: Gamecocks possess the elite defensive line needed to contend for an SEC title

Downside: Couldn’t have gotten much unluckier than drawing LSU and Arkansas from SEC West

8. Wisconsin

Upside: Ex-Terp QB Danny O’Brien has a giant line and strong tailback (Ball) to work with

Downside: Badgers could feel the loss of roughly half of the starters from a Big Ten champion

9. Florida State

Upside: At some point, talent wins out; Jimbo Fisher’s collected plenty of it, especially on defense

Downside: Are Seminoles ready to return to nation’s elite? Random losses last year make you wonder

10. Michigan

Upside: Denard Robinson. As if this needs to be explained more thoroughly

Downside: Wolverines face Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State away from Ann Arbor

11. Arkansas

Upside: Tailback Knile Davis returns from injury, and QB Tyler Wilson is among SEC’s best

Downside: Bobby Petrino might be an unpleasant person, but John L. Smith is a downgrade on the sideline

12. Ohio State

Upside: Urban Meyer is magic … or at least he will be by Year Two (see 2004 Utah, 2006 Florida)

Downside: The Buckeyes were still 6-7 a year ago, so Meyer has some work to do

13. West Virginia

Upside: Geno Smith and the Mountaineers’ pinball offense will be right at home in the Big 12

Downside: Trouble is, the Big 12 will test that defense in ways the Big East never dreamed

14. Oklahoma State

Upside: Even if the offense steps back minus Weeden and Blackmon, it’s still going to be exceptional

Downside: There’s just no way the Cowboys sustain their stellar plus-21 turnover margin from 2011

15. Clemson

Upside: No one in the ACC possesses skill position talent like comparable to the Tigers

Downside: Clemsonliness always looms; Tigers last both started and ended a season ranked in 2000

16. Texas

Upside: Even during recent struggles, the defense has remained a reliable bedrock for the Longhorns

Downside: If QB play isn’t better, an 0-3 start in the Big 12 is a distinct possibility in Austin

17. Nebraska

Upside: The Cornhuskers have four losses in four straight years; the Callahan years are behind them

Downside: The Cornhuskers have four losses in four straight years; the Osborne years are not ahead

18. Boise State

Upside: There’s always a chance at an unbeaten season if the Broncos can get past their opener

Downside: One loss means Boise’s almost certainly headed to a minor bowl at season’s end

19. Michigan State

Upside: Things are rolling in East Lansing after consecutive 11-win seasons under Dantonio

Downside: Replacing steady QB Kirk Cousins and his phalanx of receivers will be a chore

20. Virginia Tech

Upside: One of the nation’s most known quantities should have one of its best defenses in years

Downside: Logan Thomas is great, but who will protect him? Or catch his passes? Or take his handoffs?

21. Notre Dame

Upside: Manti Te’o anchors a defense that can keep non-Denard Robinson foes in check

Downside: Can Tommy Rees and the offense consistently provide what the Irish need in big games?

22. Texas Christian

Upside: Horned Frogs dazzle in Big 12 debut and make a run at Oklahoma and Texas at year’s end

Downside: Upgraded schedule could wear down TCU and prompt a clear-cut regression

23. Louisville

Upside: Only the Strong survive this run through the Big East; Cardinals first BCS bid since ‘06 is possible

Downside: If your returning starters on the line can’t put life into a less-than-stellar offense, nothing will

24. Stanford

Upside: The foundation is strong in Palo Alto, and the Cardinal could post another 10-win season

Downside: Stanford could be out of Luck in more ways than one and slide back to Pac-12 pack

25. Florida

Upside: If Gators get hot in October, a surge to surprise SEC East championship is a possibility

Downside: Muschamp still needs more talent, and another seven-win season could unfold

26. North Carolina: Tar Heels hope hiring of Fedora puts a cap on ugliness of Butch Davis years

27. Kansas State: Collin Klein set major college record for most rushing TDs by a QB (27) last year

28. Georgia Tech: Fades a mild concern; Jackets are 8-11 after Nov. 1 under Paul Johnson (26-8 before)

29. Auburn: Tigers strong compared to the rest of the country, second-tier in the SEC West

30. Utah: Utes should be older and wiser on offense after 8-5 Pac-12 debut

31. Brigham Young: Independent Cougars could return to 10-win ranks this season

32. N.C. State: Wolfpack looks rock-solid nearly everywhere; TOB-ing of program is complete

33. Central Florida: Tenor of Golden Knights’ Conference USA swansong could hinge on bowl ban appeal

34. Pittsburgh: Best news about Big East farewell? Can only be sent to Compass Bowl one more time

35. South Florida: Pretty sure all involved (including Skip Holtz) would like a mulligan on 1-7 finish

36. Missouri: Welcome to your new home, Tigers; SEC play begins with Georgia, South Carolina

37. Iowa: The Ferentz running back curse aside, expect the Hawkeyes to be a bit above average again

38. Texas A&M: Poor timing for Aggies, who are adjusting to new coaches AND the SEC

39. Washington: Beware a leaky Husky D,, which yielded 51.4 ppg in five meetings with ranked foes

40. Tennessee: Patience with Dooley would surely run out with another losing season

41. Baylor: Post-RG3 era won’t be easy, but Briles has substantially upgraded Bears’ talent base

42. Rutgers: Ex-Maryland offensive lineman R.J. Dill wraps up his career with the Scarlet Knights

43. Northwestern: Schedule sets up for strong start, rough finish in Evanston

44. Mississippi State: Tamer expectations await this edition of the Bulldogs

45. California: The Golden Bears’ big names are back on offense after a ho-hum 7-6 season

46. UCLA: Will be curious to see how – and if – the Jim Mora Jr. Experiment works

47. Arizona State: Pigskin mercenary Todd Graham replaces pigskin mercenary Dennis Erickson in desert

48. Cincinnati: If offense doesn’t slide back with Collaros and Pead, Big East contention is possible

49. Louisiana Tech: WR Quinton Patton hauled in 1,202 yards, 11 touchdowns last season

50. Purdue: Boilermakers have clawed back to role as filler for Big Ten’s mid-tier bowl tie-ins

51. Texas Tech: Got to wonder if Tuberville will feel some heat if Red Raiders miss a bowl again

52. Virginia: Going to be difficult for Cavaliers to match last year’s eight-win season

53. Houston: The offensive system is still place post-Sumlin, so plenty of points are sure to follow

54. Iowa State: Rhoads has maximized in his first three years; look for more of the same in ‘12

55. Tulsa: Predictable Golden Hurricane look like a good pick for an eight-win season

56. Penn State: It’s anyone’s guess how good the Nits will be … or how many people will care

57. Washington State: Aargh! Here be the new home to football’s favorite buccaneer, Capt. Leach

58. Connecticut: Foundation didn’t stand the test of time with 5-7 regression in Pasqualoni’s first year

59. Ohio: Bobcats look like they’ll be the class of the MAC; 10 more wins are possible

60. Navy: Mids’ lousy luck should turn this year, but they still need to find a kicker

61. Miami: Hurricanes are inexperienced, and the NCAA hammer looms; look out below

62. Southern Methodist: June Jones didn’t take the Arizona State gig — good news for the Mustang

63. Vanderbilt: Commodores seeking first back-to-back bowl bids in school history.

64. Oregon State: Beavers need to fix bad rushing defense, even worse rushing offense

65. Wake Forest: Demon Deacons should again contend for bowl bid under sideline magician Grobe

66. Southern Mississippi: Eagles probably head back to 7-5 or 8-4 territory this season

67. Northern Illinois: Despite losses, Huskies among the favorites in top-heavy MAC West

68. Illinois: Zook’s gone, but Fighting Illini should again hover right around .500

69. Syracuse: With offense chronically stuck on red, Orange’s upside is limited

70. Florida International: Stout defense makes Golden Panthers favorites in the Sun Belt

71. Toledo: Rockets lose a ton of skill position stars, but functional two-QB system back intact

72. Nevada: Wolf Pack brings potent Pistol offense to reconfigured Mountain West

73. Duke: Backloaded schedule means postseason drought likely to reach 18 years for Blue Devils

74. Arkansas State: Dual threat QB Ryan Aplin an interesting element for Gus Malzahn to inherit

75. Western Michigan: Veteran QB Alex Carder makes Broncos an intriguing MAC contender

76. Mississippi: Turnaround artist Hugh Freeze has a long-term project in the Rebels

77. Fresno State: Bulldogs a contender for second in initial foray into Mountain West

78. Arizona: Rich Rodriguez was an inspired hire, but history suggests not to expect much in Year One

79. Minnesota: Golden Gophers are better, but still buried at bottom of B1G’s Legends Division

80. Air Force: Early schedule (minus trip to Michigan) should allow fledgling Falcons to grow

81. Temple: Owls lose a ton, making first year back in Big East especially daunting

82. East Carolina: Not league title material, but Pirates should bounce back to bowl bid

83. Utah State: Aggies must rebuild potent ground game but should contend for WAC crown

84. Boston College: Eagles’ win total has decreased four consecutive seasons

85. Maryland: It’s on freshman QBs Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe to lead Terps’ climb from 2-10

86. San Diego State: Aztecs probably won’t win eight games again, but a big slide is unlikely

87. Bowling Green: Friendly conference schedule makes Falcons a MAC East sleeper

88. Kentucky: Opener at Louisville a crucial bellwether for offense-starved Wildcats

89. Wyoming: Cowboys harbor realistic hopes of first back-to-back winning seasons since late ‘90s

90. Colorado: Youthful Buffaloes likely to take lumps in second run through the Big 12

91. Kansas: Even with Weis’ “decided schematic advantage,” 4-8 is the Jayhawks’ likely ceiling

92. San Jose State: Spartans’ improvement no fluke; they’re a possible WAC contender

93. UL Monroe: Could this be the RedHawks’ first winning season since 1993? It’s possible

94. Marshall: Thundering Herd will be challenged to match 2011’s fine work in close games

95. Indiana: Maybe desperate but definitely in need, Hoosiers’ D infused with JUCO transfers

96. UL Lafayette: Look for plenty of shootouts; Ragin’ Cajuns have strong offense, pedestrian defense

97. Hawaii: At 66, Norm Chow’s head coaching debut might not be worth the wait

98. Army: Lots of toss-up games await the Black Knights, who head to Military Bowl with six wins

99. Kent State: Golden Flashes need vast offensive improvement to get past five-win plateau

100. Colorado State: Rams in transition after three consecutive 3-9 seasons

101. Miami (Ohio): Unpredictable RedHawks have gone from 1-11 to 10-4 to 4-8; what’s next?

102. Troy: Veteran Blakeney’s never endured consecutive losing seasons; Trojans were 3-9 in ‘11

103. Western Kentucky: Hilltoppers have lost 14 consecutive nonconference games

104. Ball State: Defensively deficient Cardinals likely to slide back under .500

105. North Texas: Mean Green tasked with rebuilding a bad defense in final Sun Belt season

106. Idaho: If Vandals can find an effective QB, they could sniff a bowl game – but it’s a big if

107. Rice: Chronically defenseless Owls will need a step forward on offense to contend for bowl bid

108. Eastern Michigan: Revamped defensive line could mean a step back for Eagles

109. Texas-El Paso: A sixth straight losing season probably brings an end to Mike Price’s tenure

110. Tulane: New Orleans native Curtis Johnson brings recruiting boost to moribund Green Wave

111. Middle Tennessee: Friendly opening stretch gives hope for improvement on 10-loss season

112. UAB: Blazers reboot scuffling program with hire of former Arkansas assistant Garrick McGee

113. New Mexico State: Soon-to-be-homeless Aggies could push into dying WAC’s middle tier

114. UNLV: Rebels could be in line for seventh two-win season in the last nine years

115. Central Michigan: Chippewas have managed a pair of 3-9 seasons under Dan Enos

116. Buffalo: Workhorse Branden Oliver (1,395 yards in 2011) might be MAC’s top tailback

117. Memphis: Tigers’ final season in Conference USA unlikely to yield more than three wins

118. New Mexico: After decade-long exile in TV booth, Bob Davie takes over disaster in Albuquerque

119. Akron: New coach Terry Bowden inherits program with two wins in last two seasons

120. Texas State: Stop the newsletter presses! Dennis Franchione is back in major college football

121. Florida Atlantic: Carl Pelini (Bo’s brother) inherits one of nation’s worst offensive teams

122. South Alabama: Jaguars latest team to move up from former I-AA to join the Sun Belt

123. Massachusetts: Minutemen join the MAC and will play home games hour-plus from Amherst

124. Texas-San Antonio: Larry Coker-coached second-year program making one-year pit stop in WAC

 

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