As we get close to kickoff of the 2012 football season, all of the talk has moved to the dismissal of Tyrann Mathieu from the LSU football program. More importantly, most experts are talking about how this will damper the Tiger’s chances of making another BCS Title Game run. Most fans across the south have become accustomed to seeing a Southeastern Conference team raise the BCS Trophy high at the end of the year. In fact, they have done that for six consecutive years. This year, I’ve thought long and hard about a few teams who have the ability to defeat the SEC and hoist a BCS crystal ball for the first time since 2005, when the Vince Young led Texas Longhorns defeated the USC Trojans.
5. Florida State Seminoles: The Noles return 15 starters off a 2011 squad that finished up 9-4. E.J. Manuel returns for his senior season and looks to improve on his 13-4 record as a starter. Five of his top receivers return to give Manuel some nice targets as he enters his second full season as a starter.
Strengths: The defensive line should be one of college footballs elite in 2012. Seven starters return off a defense that finished ranked fourth nationally in total defense. Defensive ends Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner combined for 78 tackles, 23 of those for loss and also had 23 sacks in 2011.
Weakness: The offensive line was downright awful in 2011. Last year’s unit was inexperienced and often injured, which led to one of the worst rushing attacks in the country.
4. Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers must replace quarterback Russell Wilson and will do so once again with a transfer. Danny O’Brien comes to Madison from Maryland and will be looking to lead the Badgers to back-to-back Rose Bowls.
Strengths: The offensive line returns three starters in what historically is always a strength for Badger football. Monte Ball will once again team up with James White to form one of the best backfields in college football.
Weakness: O’Brien was solid in 2010 as a freshman at Maryland, as he was the ACC Rookie of the Year. The key for Wisconsin will be to see if he can return to his freshman form. Behind O’Brien, it’s slim picking as freshman walk-on Joel Stave will likely be O’Brien’s backup.
3. Oklahoma Sooners: Every year I keep thinking the Sooners are going to return to prominence and make another run at a BCS Title. Unfortunately, I’ve been let down for 11 straight years, as the Sooners last title was in 2000. Bob Stoops will return 17 starters in 2012, in what should be a nice race for the Big 12 crown between his Sooners, Texas, Oklahoma State and Big 12 newcomers TCU and West Virginia.
Strengths: Quarterback Landry Jones returns for his senior season and must shake off a late season slide in 2011. The defense returns seven starters, including three of four in the secondary.
Weakness: Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds return at the wide receiver position, but behind those two, the depth is very inexperienced. The loss of Ryan Broyles was very noticeable as receivers dropped 36 passes over the final six regular season games of 2011. Newcomers Courtney Gardner and Trey Metoyer must be ready to go, come September 1 at UTEP, as Reynolds will most likely be serving a multiple game suspension.
2. USC Trojans: Lane Kiffin‘s squad is the sexy pick to unseat the SEC and their six year BCS Title run. The Trojans return 19 starters and add Penn State transfer Silas Redd to a team that finished 10-2 in 2011.
Strengths: Quarterback Matt Barkley returns to take aim at a Heisman Trophy. Barkley threw for 3,528 yards and 39 touchdowns in 2011. That touchdown number was a Pac-12 record. He returns his top two targets in wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.
Weakness: The Trojans should be strong on defense as the entire back seven returns. A point of concern for defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, will be a defensive line that lacks depth. Only one starter returns from last seasons squad and the injury in fall camp to defensive end Devon Kennard, will only compound the depth issue.
1. Oregon Ducks: Coach Chip Kelly has at his disposal some of the best playmakers in the country. It’s no secret why he has averaged nearly 50 points and over 500 yards per game the past two season. Kenjon Barner will now be the man at running back, as he steps out of the shadow of LaMichael James, who moved on to the San Francisco 49ers.
Strengths: Speed, speed, speed is the word that comes to mind when you think of the Oregon Ducks. 2012 should be no different as playmakers Kenjon Barner, DeAnthony Thomas and Josh Huff all return in what should be another electric year in Eugene. This 2012 defensive unit should be the best Coach Kelly has put on the field in his three years on the job. Seven starters return from 2011 and the linebacking corp should be one of the tops in the country.
Weakness: The quarterback position will be a two man race between Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota. Both have talent but are inexperienced. This battle should go deep into fall camp and possibly all the way up to kickoff versus Arkansas State on September 1.