With fall camps under way across the country, the college football season is almost upon us. With the coming of the season comes the inevitable college football top 25 poll and pre-season rankings of every school before anyone has seen anybody take a single snap. The coaches poll came out last week and there were few surprises (though Texas Tech getting a vote was a little mysterious). Most notable are the top 10 teams, which will have an inside track to the BCS bowls at the end of the season. The coaches’ top 10 is full of high profile schools, top programs, elite talent…but no Big East schools (but that might be redundant).
While making the preseason top 10 is a great accomplishment, it is still a long ways away from getting you anything in the regular season or beyond. And while every team is certainly deserving of the votes they received, no team is perfect. So now we break down those little things that could trip up each and every team and turn a top 10 ranking in the preseason into a coaching search come New Years.
1. LSU Tigers
The Bayou Tigers are the defending SEC Champions and National Championship runner-up of 2011. They went undefeated in the regular season on the strength of their defense and running game before falling in the BCS title game. So why won’t they repeat that success? For the same reason they weren’t able to seal the deal last season: quarterback play. Zach Mettenberger is being touted as the next big quarterback in the SEC, but if he was so good, why did he sit behind a pair of duds last year? The Tigers also add Penn State transfer Rob Bolden…who was a pretty big disappointment at State College.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
The Tide brought the crystal ball back to Alabama for the third straight year, winning their second national title in the last three seasons under Nick Saban. They put a legendarily stout defense on the field week in and week out that stifled opposing teams and allowed Bama’s running game to pound teams into submission. This year? Well, most of that stifling defense will now be playing on Sundays, so Saban needs to find some new contributors quickly. The inexperience could cost them, especially if a pair of junior college transfers in Travell Dixon and Deon Belue don’t pan out in the secondary.
3. USC Trojans
The Trojans are finally off of their NCAA-imposed postseason ban and are poised to make a run at a national title. Matt Barkley returns for another year and is the pre-season Heisman favorite and the rest of the offense is stacked with talent. So why won’t it happen? Well, despite being out from under the postseason ban, the Trojans are still stuck under reduced scholarships, which has significantly affected their depth, particularly on defense. Injuries over the summer, most notably to Devon Kennard, have pushed the defensive line depth paper thin. Can the Trojans’ limited bodies withstand a full season? Any more injuries, and the Trojans might be testing out 10-man defensive alignments.
4. Oklahoma Sooners
The Sooners return quarterback Landry Jones for his senior season, where he’s poised to rewrite the OU record books. Bob Stoops obviously knows how to call an offensive gameplan and the offensive line returns four out of five starters from last season when they allowed just nine sacks. So why won’t the Sooners be getting near the crystal ball? Well, nobody’s really sure who Jones is going to throw to. The Sooners have had receivers go down with injury, get kicked off the team, transfer in, get reinstated, and just about everything else that could jostle a depth chart. Is there going to be any chemistry in the passing game? And if so, will Jones be able to tell his guys and the defense apart this year?
5. Oregon Ducks
The Ducks had one of the most explosive offenses in the country last season and finally broke through in a “big game” by beating Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. They have a pair of Heisman contenders in the backfield in Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas who look poised to keep the fast times rolling. So what will clip the Ducks’ wings this year? They have no idea who will play quarterback. Sophomore Bryan Bennett filled in admirably last season against Colorado but Marcus Mariota turned heads during the spring game. While both have shown flashes, neither has separated themselves or shown they have what it takes to handle this high-speed offense during a full season. Chip Kelly is in no rush to pick one, and could even use both (*shudder*), and everyone knows how seamlessly those two-QB systems work.
6. Georgia Bulldogs
The Bulldogs had the third best defense in the SEC last season (behind only mega-defenses LSU and Alabama) and return all but two starters. Their senior leadership should provide Mark Richt with a stifling defense, and the offense gets back Aaron Murray at quarterback, who set a Bulldog record for touchdown passes in a season in 2011, along with every single one of his receivers returning. The backfield is even deep enough to absorb the dismissal of Isaiah Crowell (since plenty of backs got experience filling in for him last year during suspensions). So what’s going to take the bite out of UGA? Well, the offensive line is missing three of its five starters from last season and will need to find someone to play center and both tackles. Without some good bookends, Murray will have a hard time replicating his 2011 success from the flat of his back.
7. Florida State Seminoles
The Seminoles are poised to return to their place of national prominence once again with a stout defense that will return nine starters this season and an offense led by the passing of quarterback EJ Manuel and one of the deepest receiving corps in the ACC. So why do we have reservations about the Noles? Well, the offensive line was a revolving-door mess in 2011 with players being shuffled in and out trying to find some combination that would work. They didn’t find one and FSU allowed over three sacks per game while ranking 104th in rushing. Their only hope is that the youth they sent out there last season comes in this year a little bit more seasoned and can solidify the front five, giving the Noles some kind of running game and keeping Manuel on his feet. If not…well, the PapaJohns.com Bowl is always nice, I guess.
Denard Robinson is one of the elite playmakers in all of college football and he leads the Wolverines as their most dangerous weapon. He may not be the most accurate, but his feet more than make up for it and will likely earn him a spot a the Heisman ceremony this winter. The defense sports excellent depth in the secondary for a Michigan squad that turned things around in 2011 after a disastrous run under Rich Rodriguez. So what will keep Ann Arbor from singing “Hail to the Victors” all the way to No. 1? Well, a big part of that defensive turnaround last season was the defensive line…which is largely gone now. The Wolverines lose three starters off their defensive front and don’t have any stars ready to step up. Brady Hoke is also going to to struggle finding additional playmakers on his offense, as Michigan currently has zero receivers that have proven to be game-changers. Nice athletes, sure, but nobody that defensive coordinators are going to be afraid of. Can you say “eight men on the line to tackle Shoelace”?
9. South Carolina Gamecocks
The Gamecocks find themselves in the top 10 in the least likely way a Steve Spurrier team could be; on the strength of their running game. Marcus Lattimore is a former National Freshman of the Year who saw his sophomore season cut short in 2011 by injuries. He should be back to full strength this year and ready to pick back up as one of the elite running backs in the country. The issue with South Carolina? The rest of the offense. Quarterback Connor Shaw struggled last season when thrust into the starting spot and looked uncomfortable for the most part. He picked it up at the end of the year and turned in some impressive performances, but was that a sign of maturation or an aberration? He’ll need to prove it’s the former without the help of an elite wide receiver and while the Gamecocks are trying out some new offensive linemen.
10. Arkansas Razorbacks
Arkansas was arguably the third best team in the country last season. Unfortunately for them, they just so happened to also be the third best team in their division (Thanks LSU and Bama). The Razorbacks will have the talents of quarterback Tyler Wilson once again this season after the talented hurler passed up an opportunity to enter the NFL draft. He’ll helm an offense that will also boast a lot of talent in the backfield with Knile Davis returning after missing all of last season with a leg injury to join the duo of Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo who combined for over 1,000 yards last season. So why are the Hogs cooked in 2012? They lost a lot of receivers from last year. Their top three wideouts, to be specific. They’ll need some young talent and new transfers to step in and contribute quickly. Plus, they still play in the SEC West (thanks LSU and Bama).
So there you have it. Each of the top ten teams have some fatal flaw that could take them down this season. Of course, the great teams find a way to overcome their deficiencies and the ones on this list who can do that will the be the ones who have a shot at hoisting the BCS trophy come January.
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