College Football Power Rankings: All 120 Teams for 2012
The 2011-2012 bowl season is not finished yet, but it is never too early to break down the 2012 college football season. There is nothing more exciting to talk about once the BCS National Championship comes to a conclusion.
The SEC has dominated the landscape of college football, but many believe that can all change in 2012.
There were boatloads of teams who shocked us throughout the entire season and I power rank a few under-the-radar teams a bit higher than you may have expected.
So, without further ado here are your power rankings for the 2012 college football season.
Note: There are technically 124 teams, so you can throw UMASS, Southern Alabama, Texas San-Antonio and Texas State where you please. Also, I rank these based on not just projected preseason rankings in August, but there is a mixed bag as I also rank the following projections on how high (or how much I like these teams) they will rank once the season ends. Hence the term power rankings :--)
No. 120: Florida Atlantic Owls (1-11)
Quick Take: Losing Howard Schnellenberger may not be difficult to overcome. Bo Pelini’s brother Carl should be able to change the culture.
However, Georgia and Alabama on the road could set this team back a bit. Ranking 119th in total offense and averaging less than 13 points a game is surely not something that can be fixed overnight.
No. 119: Idaho Vandals (2-10)
Quick Take: Robb Akey has now put together three seasons (out of five) of double-digit defeats. The Vandals' non-conference slate is abysmal as they must travel to Provo, Chapel Hill and Baton Rouge.
Akey could be in a world of trouble if he cannot find a way to at least go .500 in the WAC.
No. 118: UNLV Rebels (2-10)
Quick Take: Bobby Hauck had so much success at FCS school Montana, but is just 4-21 after two seasons (team lost its final five game to close out season). The non-conference hopefully helps them in the long run since they may come up empty with Louisiana Tech, Utah State, Minnesota and Washington State all waiting in line in 2012.
No. 117: Tulane Green Wave (2-11)
Quick Take: Previously with the Saints as their wide receivers coach, Curtis Johnson will attempt to turn around a team that lost double-digit games for a second time in the past five years.
Several starters return on both sides of the ball, but the schedule will do any favors. A road trip to Oxford against Ole Miss should be interesting and Conference USA is improving by the minute.
They also must host Rutgers, which means there is not much room for error in 2012 if the Green Wave expects an improvement.
No. 116: Akron Zips (1-11)
Quick Take: The Zips have over a dozen starters back, but that is the only good news. They were 116th in scoring defense and have a tough non-conference slate next season.
A home date against UCF won’t be impossible, but traveling to Neyland Stadium may cause nightmares and/or a tough 2012 season.
No. 115: Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (2-10)
Quick Take: There was enough talent on this team in the preseason for experts to pick them fourth in the Sun Belt (Phil Steele), but they underachieved by having consecutive losing seasons.
A dozen starters are expected back, but that won’t be enough when they go on the road to face Georgia Tech and Mississippi State.
No. 114 : New Mexico State Aggies (4-9)
Quick Take: The Aggies head coach DeWayne Walker is on the hot seat and his Aggies do not look like they have a bright future. They were blown out in nearly every defeat and they ended the season losing six of their final seven games.
No. 113: Buffalo Bulls (3-9)
Quick Take: The Bulls' Jeff Quinn can become a successful coach, but his team does not look the part. They open the season against what will be a highly-ranked Georgia Bulldogs squad, and they must then take on Connecticut and Pittsburgh within a month.
That could spell doom right out of the gates!
No. 112: ULM Warhawks (4-8)
Quick Take: The Warhawks were pummeled by TCU, Iowa and Florida State and the experts still thought they would have some success in the Sun Belt.
That theory was thrown out the door when they started out 1-4 with a loss to Arkansas State. Then they lost four of their final six games and despite the close losses (three games by total of nine points) the future does not look as bright as it once did (Arkansas, Auburn, Baylor on 2012 schedule).
No. 111: UAB Blazers (3-9)
Quick Take: Not since 2004 have the Blazers gone bowling and the program has a new man in charge with Garrick McGee. South Carolina and Ohio State may give some early headaches, which may not set the mood well for the 2012 season.
No. 110: Central Michigan Chippewas (3-9)
Quick Take: Consecutive 3-9 seasons to start off the Dan Enos regime has not been pleasant news (lost six of final seven). Also, throw in a brutal non-conference slate for 2012 that includes Navy, Michigan State and Iowa and you very well could have another disappointing season.
No. 109: New Mexico Lobos (1-11)
Quick Take: Bob Davie will have his hands full in Albuquerque, though he has the majority of his offense back.
Good thing, too, because they ranked dead last in the country (120th) at 12.0 points per game. Throw in home date with an improved Texas Tech squad and a brutal trip to Austin against the Longhorns and the Lobos may not improve upon their record.
No. 108: Memphis Tigers (2-10)
Quick Take: The only true and legit NFL star on this team (Dontari Poe) declared a year early, as expected. If the Tigers were only 106th in scoring defense (35 PPG) with the big hoss, what should we expect without him?
No. 107: Kansas Jayhawks (2-10)
Quick Take: Charlie Weis should some solid success in the near future with Dayne Crist eligible immediately and Jake Heaps available in 2013.
Still, the schedule in the Big 12 is brutal and the victories may not come often.
No. 106: Troy Trojans (3-9)
Quick Take: Larry Blakeney will be coaching in his 22nd season next year for the Trojans and he is looking to avoid a major drop-off.
In fact, the Trojans (under Blakeney) have not come off a season losing more games than they will in 2012. They were picked to win the Sun Belt by a few publications (Phil Steele) and yet they finished seventh place. Tennessee, Navy and Mississippi State could bring some major problems.
No. 105: Kent State Golden Flashes (5-7)
Quick Take: The Flashes came close to the .500 benchmark, but they lose some seniors and have a tougher schedule (Kentucky, Rutgers, Army).
No. 104 : Miami (OH) Redhawks (4-8)
Quick Take: If they can miraculously survive the non-conference slate, then maybe they come close to reaching a bowl bid. However, Boise State, Ohio State, Missouri and Cincinnati could all be grueling losses.
No.103: UTEP Miners (5-7)
Quick Take: The defense loses a ton of players and the Miners have not been consistent enough to garner the national attention that their fanbase wants.
No. 102: North Texas Mean Green (5-7)
Quick Take: They need some more consistency since they had a chance to get to .500 this past season, but LSU and Kansas State may prevent this team from playing in its first bowl since 2001.
No. 101: Colorado State Rams (3-9)
Quick Take: Though they had four close losses during the season, a nine-loss year is nothing to go home happy about. Steve Fairchild was let go and now Jim McElwain (former Tide OC, will coach against LSU) will attempt to turn around the program that has gone 3-9 for three seasons in a row.
No. 100: Indiana Hoosiers (1-11)
Quick Take: Most thought Kevin Wilson could have a done bit more in his first season, but some thought they would be looking great if they could have landed hot-shot recruit Gunner Kiel (LSU-bound).
Instead, the Hoosiers are searching for answers on both sides of the ball that finished outside the top 100 in both scoring offense and defense.
Luckily, the first three games are winnable to start the 2012 season (Indiana St, at UMass, Ball State).
No. 99: Kentucky Wildcats (5-7)
Quick Take: Right now we may be looking the most vulnerable SEC squad for 2012. The defense loses it entire linebacking corps and the offense will not be able to become among the best in the SEC.
No. 98: Oregon State Beavers (3-9)
Quick Take: Mike Riley better put his magic cap on, because his Beavers have had three losing seasons in a row. The Pac-12 is going to be more balanced and tougher on the average weekend, which spells trouble once again.
No. 97: Ole Miss Rebels (2-10)
Quick Take: Houston Nutt is donezo in Oxford, and Hugh Freeze enters year one of his tenure. The schedule will be brutal like always in the SEC.
The biggest question is, how much can they improve in one year under a different coaching staff?
Everybody in the SEC is as good as it gets and Mississippi State, Auburn, Vanderbilt, LSU, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Georgia will all be tough outs. Vanderbilt is improving and even that game may end up being a loss.
No. 96: San Jose State Spartans (5-7)
Quick Take: Losing your starting signal-caller and a bunch of seniors on defense does not usually lead to success the following season.
And although Texas San-Antonio and Texas State move to the WAC next season, the Spartans may see even less success.
No. 95: Rice Owls (4-8)
Quick Take: The Owls have not been able to get over the hump yet, but they do return the majority of their offensive playmakers. I would not bank on a bowl appearance, but the schedule sets this team up nicely to appear in their bowl since 1961.
No. 94: Fresno State Bulldogs (4-9)
Quick Take: A bunch of talent returns, but Pat Hill is officially gone in the Silicon Valley and it just feels odd. Tim DeRuyter is now the man in charge. He will lean heavily on Derek Carr and Robbie Rouse to get back to bowl contention.
No. 93: Duke Blue Devils (3-9)
Quick Take: David Cutcliffe needs to appear in a bowl bid or at least come away with a respectable 2012 season. They need to find a way to knock off the likes of Virginia, North Carolina or Georgia Tech. If not, Durham will be in store for another disappointing season.
No. 92: Boston College Eagles (4-8)
Quick Take: Frank Spaziani is on the hot seat and the schedule is extremely daunting. If you thought the previous year went poorly, wait until 2012 gets underway.
Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Miami FL, Georgia Tech and NC State could be all losses, which means they better not lose a non-conference if they expect to reach a bowl game.
No. 91: ECU Pirates (5-7)
Quick Take: The loss of Dominique Davis could make next season very challenging because South Carolina, North Carolina and the rest of Conference USA should only improve.
No. 90: Eastern Michigan Eagles (6-6)
Quick Take: Ron English had only won two total games in his first two seasons and yet he found a way to win six this past season.
The schedule is tough and it will be difficult to compete with the likes of Michigan State and Purdue in what may decide their bowl fates if they cannot start to slowly dominate the MAC.
No. 89: FIU Golden Panthers (8-5)
Quick Take: Mario Cristobal has been rumored to a few schools, but will likely be back in Miami. T.Y. Hilton is gone and they need to find some new playmakers for an offense that struggled severely to move the ball in their bowl game against Marshall.
No. 88: Hawaii Warriors (6-7)
Quick Take: In Norm Chow we trust!
Bryant Moniz is gone, however, and the offense really tooks a step or two backwards. They may not go bowling with USC and BYU on the schedule, but the Mountain West schedule is a bit tougher than WAC games.
No. 87: Ball State Cardinals (6-6)
Quick Take: The Cardinals improved right off the bat in Pete Lembo’s first season and although I think this team could easily make a bowl game, the schedule in the non-conference is a bit too much. Clemson will be as good as it gets next season and USF and even Indiana (road) will not be walks in the park.
No. 86: Connecticut Huskies (5-7)
Quick Take: D.J. Shoemate and Lyle McCombs will carry the bulk of the load, but they may not have enough ammo to get by Maryland and NC State next season before the Big East slate starts.
No. 85: Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-9)
Quick Take: Jerry Kill has the majority of his team coming back (99 players expected) and the schedule starts out nicely early on. If the offense can just find a few more or develop some playmakers, this team will challenge for a bowl game next season.
No. 84: Bowling Green Falcons (5-7)
Quick Take: This team lost a bunch of close games this past season and the survey says they should be bowling in 2012. The non-conference schedule is an albatross with Florida and Virginia Tech (both roadies) waiting.
Still, this team has some solid talent and could be in the middle of the pack in the MAC for the 2012 season.
No. 83: Syracuse Orange (5-7)
Quick Take: Cuse had a tough year this past season and that may not change if they cannot take care of business out of conference.
They open up at home against Northwestern, who defeated Boston College on the road to start off 2011. If the Cats do it again, Cuse may not have the season they are looking for.
No. 82: Western Michigan Broncos (7-6)
Quick Take: Jordan White is leaving and it will be a big loss since he led the country in nearly every receiving category outside of touchdowns. Alex Carder does return and that should be good enough to made the Broncos a bowl contender.
No. 81: Navy Midshipmen (5-7)
Quick Take: Despite the losses of Kriss Proctor and Alexander Teich, Navy has a solid schedule and will always be able to run the ball under Ken Niumatalolo.
No. 80: Arizona Wildcats (4-8)
Quick Take: Rich Rod will put Arizona back into Pac-12 relevancy, but it may take a few years. The loss of Nick Foles will make the defense step it up a few more notches, which is not something the ‘Cats have been successful at.
No. 79: Air Force Falcons (7-6)
Quick Take: Tim Jefferson and Asher Clark are the heart and soul of this Falcons team. I look for a slight drop-off in 2012.
No. 78: San Diego State Aztecs (8-5)
Quick Take: The likely return of Ronnie Hillman will keep them in a bowl game most likely, but do not expect them to improve from 2011 after losing a few defensive players and most importantly their start quarterback Ryan Lindley.
No. 77: UCF Knights (5-7)
Quick Take: The Knights were fairly disappointing last season because of the lofty expectations. I am not expecting a double-digit season in 2012, but I would be shocked if they cannot get back to a bowl.
No. 76: Maryland Terrapins (2-10)
Quick Take: There is no way Randy Edsall can have this bad of a season again, right? The Terps do not have a tough non-conference slate, though West Virginia will likely be a loss.
This team can play close to .500 ball in the ACC and they should be much closer to appearing in a bowl in 2012.
No. 75: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (7-5)
Quick Take: Willie Taggart went 7-5 and was left out of the postseason despite having a sensational runner in Bobby Rainey. I look for them to surprise some folks and finally get that first ever bowl bid.
No. 74: Utah State Aggies (7-6)
Quick Take: This squad was unable to finish games off and it does not help when you lose your top playmakers in the backfield (Turbin declared and Michael Smith was a senior).
No. 73: Army Black Knights (3-9)
Quick Take: Trent Steelman and Raymond Maples should be exciting to watch next season due to so many starters returning. So, look for Rich Ellerson’s squad to get back into a bowl game next season thanks to a schedule that includes five MAC schools and just two BCS schools (WF, Rutgers).
No. 72: Marshall Thundering Herd (7-6)
Quick Take: Their offense was not explosive in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl, but with a young team they should only improve.
Don’t look for a whole lot of improve since West Virginia and Purdue are on the schedule, but they should hang tough in C-USA.
No. 71: Wyoming Cowboys (8-5)
Quick Take: Brett Smith should avoid a sophomore slump, and the Cowboys have to be looking solid coming an eight-win season. Remember, they were irrelevant the previous season at 3-9 and Dave Christensen has this team in the right direction.
No. 70: Northern Illinois Huskies (10-3, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: The loss of Chandler Harnish will be really tough to overcome since he was head-and-shoulders their best offensive option. Opening with Iowa at Soldier Field will not be easy to overcome, but they should still be relevant in the MAC.
No. 69: Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Quick Take: Tanner Price should bolster an offense that returns the majority of its starters. The schedule will be tough again with Notre Dame, Florida State, NC State and Virginia on the road. Clemson visits Winston-Salem, but there are winnable games that could put them back into a bowl game.
No. 68: Colorado Buffaloes (6-6)
Quick Take: Colorado took their lumps as some had expected, but the schedule opens up nicely. Colorado State, Sacramento State and Fresno State should not be too difficult to start out. If they can come out flawless, they may just sneak into a bowl game.
No. 67: Nevada Wolf Pack (7-6)
Quick Take: The Pack have a favorable schedule in the Mountain West next season and Chris Ault should be continue to find ways to move the ball with the talented Cody Fajardo at quarterback.
No. 66: Purdue Boilermakers (7-6)
Quick Take: Rob Henry should be back from a season-ending injury from last offseason and the offensive explosion was taken up a few notches this season. Ralph Bolden is yet another player who was lost for the season, albeit it was in their final game of the year.
Look for Purdue to once again go bowling.
No. 65: Washington State Cougars (4-8)
Quick Take: Mike Leach will certainly get this team back to the postseason and he has a tremendous option in Marquess Wilson. There is a solid shot they go bowling in year one with a schedule that features an easy non-conference outside of a trip to Provo.
No. 64: USF Bulls (5-7)
Quick Take: How many times will we be fooled by Skip Holtz and the Bulls? BJ Daniels has the talent, but every season seems to fold under adversity. A bowl game is likely, but don’t fall for them as a ranked team until it actually occurs (big if).
No. 63: SMU Mustangs (7-5)
Quick Take: June Jones has the majority of his offense coming back, which will give us good matchups when they play Baylor, Texas A&M and TCU.
No. 62: Arkansas State Red Wolves (10-2, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Gus Malzahn takes over a solid program and Ryan Aplin returning for his senior season eases any pain there is with a new coaching staff.
No. 61: Tennessee Volunteers (5-7)
Quick Take: The Vols better knock off NC State in the opener (Georgia Dome) or else the season could be disastrous. Derek Dooley’s seat will be scorching hot if they fail to make another bowl game.
The offense needs Tyler Bray and if he can stay healthy, they should have a solid shot. Still, line play has been bad and the hope is that it cannot get any worse.
No. 60: Northwestern Wildcats (6-6, Pre Bowl)
Quick Fact: Dan Persa will be gone, but Kain Colter has a chance to shine right away. He has been a triple threat (runner, thrower, receivers) and the ‘Cats have some solid recruits coming to town, which should boost their depth and enable Pat Fitzgerald to once again go bowling (four straight bowls).
No. 59: Louisiana- Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (9-4)
Quick Take: Javone Lawson showed to the nation along with his teammates that they are indeed talented. The Sun Belt is still looking to improve a bit more, and the Cajuns are one of the upper-echelon teams.
No. 58: UCLA Bruins (6-6, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: A ton of starters return and the Oregon Ducks are not on the schedule. Jim Mora Jr. has some talent on this squad and they should be playing in a solid mid-tier bowl game in year one.
No. 57: Texas Tech Red Raiders (5-7)
Quick Take: Look for good ol' Tommy and Seth Doege to air it out even more, except this time they will have more consistent success.
No. 56: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (8-4, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Gary Nova may not be missing his top target in Mr. Sanu (assuming he does not enter NFL Draft) and star tight end D.C. Jefferson would provide plenty of yards for the 100th-rated total offense in America.
No. 55: Vanderbilt Commodores (6-6 Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: This team is arguably more talented than the teams around them on this list, but the gauntlet of a schedule (actually it is arguably easiest among SEC teams in 2012) will prevent James Franklin from winning the SEC East next season.
The Commodores are not expected to appear in bowl games and they likely will be appearing in consecutive bowls.
No. 54: Temple Owls (9-4)
Quick Take: Bernard Pierce will likely enter the NFL Draft, but Matt Brown could give the Owls a shot to challenge for the MAC Title.
No. 53: Illinois Fighting Illini (6-6)
Quick Take: Tim Beckham should give the Illini more consistency, which is exactly what they need. It should not be possible to start out 6-0 and then fall apart, so hopefully they can finish strong with a new coaching staff.
No. 52: North Carolina Tar Heels (7-6)
Quick Take: The Heels will now be led by Larry Fedora and the hope is that they will be a bit more motivated than they were in the Independence Bowl.
Many future NFL players were not looking forward to play in Shreveport, La. Bryn Renner does return and though I do not foresee a ton of success under Fedora in year one, I would look for another trip to the postseason.
No. 51: Iowa State Cyclones (6-6, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Paul Rhodes' contract should enable more confidence for a program that has been accustomed to playing in bowl games every season. A tough, running mentality is something that should keep Iowa State at or above the .500 benchmark in 2012.
No. 50: Texas A&M Aggies (6-6)
Quick Take: Ryan Tannehill will be gone and that could cause problems in the new, improved and even deeper SEC. The Aggies (toughest SEC slate arguably) need to get a home win against the Gators or else the SEC could lay a beatdown in its first season with A&M.
No. 49: Utah Utes (7-5, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: The Utes were expected to make a splash right away, but the Pac-12 got the best of them. The offense returns nearly intact and thank goodness, because they were ranked 110th in total offense.
No. 48: Tulsa Golden Hurricanes (8-4, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: The loss of your star quarterback is never great for your program, but Bill Blankenship has decent enough depth to get back at a bowl game.
No. 47: Cal Bears (7-6)
Quick Take: The defense loses a ton of its stars, so expect a ton of shootouts with Zach Maynard, Isi Sofele and Keenan Allen all back.
No. 46: Houston Cougars (12-1, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Case Keenum, Patrick Edwards and a bunch of defensive stars will be long gone. This Cougars squad had a magical ride that most did not see being possible and it will be tough to come close to running the table with an even tougher schedule (at UCLA, Louisiana Tech).
No. 45: Pitt Panthers (6-6 Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: The entire offense is expected back and they should finally be in good hands with Paul Chryst. The Big East will once again be wide open, so look for the Panthers to at least go bowling.
No. 44: Ohio Bobcats (10-4)
Quick Take: Tyler Tettleton is one of the few layers returning on offense, but at least Frank Solich has the majority of his defensive players back. Plus, the non-conference slate should not be too tough outside of an opening day road game at Happy Valley.
No. 43: Southern Miss Golden Eagles (12-2)
Quick Take: Austin Davis is gone and so is Larry Fedora. The defense also has a ton of playmakers moving on, so I do not foresee this team as a non-AQ BCS dark horse, though they will still be respectable.
No. 42: Virginia Cavaliers (8-4, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: The Wahoos schedule is fierce and they better be geared up for Louisiana Tech, Penn State and TCU (road). A few losses before ACC play gets underway could knock the hopes of becoming a top-25 team.
No. 41: Baylor Bears (9-3, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Robert Griffin III’s decision will certainly have a huge impact on what we should expect from Baylor. If he returns, then the Bears could be Big 12 favorites, but the survey says that he is a goner with Matt Barkley and Landry Jones (likely) coming back.
No. 40: Miami (FL) Hurricanes (6-6)
Quick Take: The Hurricanes and Al Golden have seven defensive starters back and hopefully Mr. Morris can take over the reins at quarterback. Lamar Miller’s absence will be tough with Kansas State and Notre Dame both on the schedule.
No. 39: Mississippi State Bulldogs (6-6, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Dan Mullen could live up to the high expectations that some had put on the program in 2011, but his defense and cupcake city non-conference slate will put them back into relevancy.
No. 38: Arizona State Sun Devils (6-7)
Quick Take: Big Brock Osweiler will return in 2012 and the team should have some more discipline under Todd Graham. The schedule sets up nicely outside of a trip to the newest SEC member, Missouri.
No. 37: Missouri Tigers (8-5)
Quick Take: I love James Franklin and the way this squad took it to an uninterested Tar Heels team, but they will get the best from their SEC opponents. The schedule is brutal with Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Florida, Texas A&M and Tennessee (all road, save Alabama and Georgia).
No. 36: Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Collaros and Pead are both gone, which is a good thing for the rest of the Big East. However, the struggles will not be too bad, as Butch Jones seems to have a solid, consistent grasp on the program.
No. 35: Washington Huskies (7-5, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Chris Polk will likely head off to the NFL, but Keith Price has one of the better tight ends in the country back in Austin Seferian-Jenkins. If the defense can improve, they may actually become the factor that Steve Sarkisian has been waiting for.
No. 34: Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (8-5)
Quick Take: The Bulldogs hung in against a TCU team that many thought were deserving of a BCS bid. Sure, TCU looked uninterested and flat, but this pass-happy squad should be successful once again in the WAC next season.
No. 33: Toledo Rockets (8-4)
Quick Take: The Rockets will be looking great with nearly all of its offensive playmakers back. They may stick with the two-quarterback system since it has worked, but the return of Eric Page will be one of the better stories outside of the BCS conferences for 2012.
No. 32 Stanford Cardinal (11-1, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: David Shaw had a magnificent season with Andrew Luck because of all the injuries they had to go through. Even without Luck they will be relevant, though I would expect a handful of losses.
No. 31: Oklahoma State Cowboys
Quick Take: Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden will both be gone, but Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith should help out Clint Chelf.
Luckily, the defense will improve a ton and they should not struggle to play in a decent bowl.
No. 30: Penn State Nittany Lions (9-3, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Hopefully PSU can improve up on their 95th-rated passing offense because the schedule sets it up nicely for a sure-fire New Year’s Day bowl.
No. 29: BYU Cougars (9-3, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: The schedule sets up perfectly for a double-digit season and Riley Nelson is the guy that must be able to lead them to success. Seven starters are expected back on defense and star receiver Cody Hoffman should be the go-to guy in the passing game.
Boise State, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech (all on road) will be great tests.
No. 28: Michigan State Spartans (10-3, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Kirk Cousins, Joel Foreman and BJ Cunningham are all gone on offense and Jerel Worthy could declare a year early for the NFL Draft. That would certainly affect them in the rankings, but I think the defense will still be what carries this team to a bowl bid, though I could see as many as five losses (Boise State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Iowa, at Michigan, at Wisconsin, Nebraska).
No. 27: Iowa Hawkeyes (7-5, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Kirk Ferentz always has a knack for turning under-the-radar seasons into special ones.
Not many expected much from the Hawkeyes this past season, but the defensive stars were not quite up to par. They lose six starters, but the depth is better than it has been recently.
Also, James Vandenberg returns in what could be the best tailback in the Big Ten next season, Marcus Coker.
No. 26: Louisville Cardinals (7-6)
Quick Take: Here is your dark-horse pick for the Big East and the BCS. Teddy Bridgewater is about to go bonkers with most of his weapons returning. Throw in a Charlie Strong defense that is gaining experience and they will have nowhere to go but up from this ranking.
No. 25: NC State Wolfpack (8-5)
Quick Take: Mike Glennon showed in the Belk Bowl how impressive he can be and his cast should only become better in 2012.
The best three receivers arguably will be gone, but the entire offensive line returns on top of his entire backfield.
The defense is slated for seven returning, but the 2012 opener could be the game that makes Tom O’Brien’s squad back into the ACC and national picture.
A victory over the Volunteers at the Georgia Dome could springboard into a possible nine- to 10-win season (including their bowl).
No. 24: Florida Gators (6-6, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: The defense is young and loaded with future stars, but the offense needs to turn the corner. If not, they will fall well short of an SEC East title.
However, the schedule starts out brutal with road trips to A&M and Tennessee.
Then they have LSU, South Carolina, Auburn and Florida State all on the road. They should get a victory somewhere down the road, but anything more than eight regular season wins would be mission impossible.
No. 23: Wisconsin Badgers (11-2, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Russell Wilson will no longer be in Madison, but how about Montee Ball? He had a season to remember and there may be no reasons to come back. The defense is all back outside of Keith Claxton and the schedule is soft as ever (like this past season, since non-con includes Northern Iowa, Oregon State, Utah State and UTEP).
No. 22: Auburn Tigers (7-5, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Michael Dyer has been a stud for the past few seasons, but should have a banner season in his junior year because the quarterback cannot possibly get any worse. They will be loaded on defense, which will put less pressure on the passing game since they will not be trailing as much.
No. 21: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-4, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Quick, name how many starters Paul Johnson is expected to have back. How about every single one.
Tevin Washington will be in his senior season and will only improve with Roddy Jones and Orwin Smith back. The defense was inconsistent at times, but the home slate is very soft and I would bank on an eight- or nine-win season again.
No. 20: West Virginia Mountaineers (9-3, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Geno Smith should be a superstar in Dana Holgorsen’s second season and the Mountaineers also have Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey back.
No. 19: Kansas State Wildcats (10-2, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Nothing against Bill Snyder or Collin Klein, but can they do this again? They proved us all wrong in 2011, but the schedule is not getting any easier, even with the losses of Missouri and A&M.
They get Miami at home but will still have to compete with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Iowa State and Baylor. The Wildcats very well could crack the top 10 in the preseason next August, but I am not drinking the purple Kool-Aid just yet.
No. 18: Texas Longhorns (7-5, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: The Longhorns are an extremely young squad, but they have a fairly soft schedule in the Big 12. Outside of a top-five Sooners squad and a solid Kansas State program on the rise, the rest of the Big 12 will be down a few notches without Mizzou or A&M.
No. 17: Boise State Broncos (12-1)
Quick Take: Kellen Moore is finally done at Boise State, but most of his former teammates will be back on offense. D.J. Harper will be back toting the rock and many solid receivers can give the Mountain West major issues.
People worry about the defense, but they reload as good as any team in the country thanks to Chris Petersen. We will once again find out how legit these BCS darkhorses are when they travel to East Lansing (8/31) in what should be one of your top non-conference games of the season.
No. 16: TCU Horned Frogs (11-2)
Quick Take: Casey Pachall should be sensational in the pass-happy Big 12 with all of his running backs returning and the majority of his receivers return as well.
If Landry Jones were to enter the NFL Draft, give me the Horned Frogs as the favorites. Their schedule has not been announced, but after the Sooners, TCU should have their way with the Big 12 in their first season.
No. 15: Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-4, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Andrew Hendrix and Tommy Rees will battle it out in what should be another tough decision for Brian Kelly to make. The schedule will not get much easier with USC and Oklahoma perhaps being the favorites to play in the BCS National Championship (save SEC).
They get a neutral-field game in their favor at Solider Field against Miami (FL). The front seven returns on defense, but the secondary is completely gone. It is now or never in the BCS for Kelly and the Irish.
No. 14: Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-3 Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Over a dozen of the starters return and Rex Burkhead is about as good as it gets.
I may have stated Mr. Coker of Iowa is arguably the best in the Big Ten, but Burkhead means the most to his team because he can take the snap or catch it out of the backfield. The schedule is great outside of trips to East Lansing and Iowa City.
No. 13: South Carolina Gamecocks (10-2, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Marcus Lattimore is a beast and should be fully recovered in time for the season opener at Vanderbilt. Georgia, LSU and Florida (UGA only home) in consecutive games should be tough in October.
Hosting Clemson in November before they must play at Clemson will surely be difficult as well. We know the defense will be among the best in the SEC, but can Connor Shaw win the close games without Alshon Jeffery?
No. 12: Ohio State Buckeyes (6-6, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: These Buckeyes could be similar to the USC Trojans from this past season. Eight home games is beyond the perfect situation for Urban Meyer to start off at.
Sure, no Big Ten Championship or BCS appearance will be possible, but Ohio State has a chance to become nationally relevant with Urban in year one.
Braxton Miller will be a stud and the defense returns nine starters. Road trips to East Lansing, Camp Randall and Happy Valley will be tough, but the season finale against Michigan should determine the Wolverines' BCS and Big Ten aspirations.
No. 11: Arkansas Razorbacks (10-2, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Tyler Wilson will love it when he has Knile Davis in the backfield, since he will be without Joe Adams and Jarius Wright.
The defense loses a few starters, but they will be more athletic and should be much more physical with both defensive tackles returning.
LSU and Alabama both come to Fayetteville (Little Rock for LSU most likely) and the only tough road games should be against Auburn and South Carolina. If they can win three of the four games, they have a great chance of playing in a BCS bowl.
No. 10: Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: This is tough to rank before the bowl game since you do not who exactly will stay or go. I have a great feeling that if they were to win the BCS National Championship that many of the defensive stars would declare a year early.
Hightower, Kirkpatrick and Barron (senior) should all be gone, but they will still be stout up front. Trent Richardson should be a top-five pick, but A.J. McCarron will let us know how much he has improved when he takes on Michigan in the season opener at Dallas Cowboys Stadium (9/1).
No. 9: Virginia Tech Hokies (11-2, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Is this the season where the pollsters finally believe in the Hokies? Logan Thomas is back at quarterback and if David Wilson returns (he should), then this squad should rank among the most talented in the country.
Everybody on defense will nearly be back assuming Jayron Hosley leaves for the NFL Draft. If he decides to come back, then give me even more stock for Frank Beamer and Bud Foster.
No. 8: Michigan Wolverines (10-2, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Denard Robinson may be the explosive quarterback in the country, but it has been the emergence of bruising tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint that has given this offense more punch. Defensively, Mike Martin departs but every other major player returns.
Throw Alabama at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in the opener and that could be game where it springboards into something more than just a trip to the Big Ten Championship.
No. 7: Clemson Tigers (10-3, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Can you even slow this offense down? I would have nightmares if I had to even line up against Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and perhaps Dwayne Allen (likely NFL-bound).
The even scarier thought is that Clemson is getting the job on the recruiting trail better than ever before and the defense should only improve.
No. 6: Florida State Seminoles (9-4, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: The 'Noles have been over-ranked almost every season as of late, but they do finally have experience (hopefully avoid injury bug).
The youngsters are now junior and seniors leaders, but depending on if a few players return (Datko, Jenkins, Reid, Hopkins), this Seminoles team should finally live up to the hype with a watered-down non-conference schedule (Florida, West Virginia).
Their comeback victory over Notre Dame could go a long way in the recruiting trail (expect top-five class) and the potential stars returning on defense may give us one of the most talented teams in America.
No. 5: Oklahoma Sooners (9-3, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Landry Jones’ decision will mean everything for this ranking and that is no disrespect to Drew Allen or Blake Bell. However, Jones is a future NFL first-rounder and I doubt the Sooners would struggle on defense again (eight starters return).
No. 4: Georgia Bulldogs (10-3, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: Aaron Murray is back and has a plethora of NFL players at his disposal. Running back Isaiah Crowell, tight end Orson Charles and wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Tavarres King should all have sensational seasons if they can stay healthy.
Also, don't forget that their SEC schedule is soft compared to South Carolina, who has it tough. If the Dawgs can get by Spurrier and the boys early on, Richt has a shot to play for it all.
No. 3: Oregon Ducks
Quick Take: Darron Thomas, DeAnthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner could and should give us the most explosive backfield when healthy. Thomas has improved as a passer and guys like Josh Huff and Colt Lyerla should become standouts in this offense.
They need to find a way to win in what should be the game of the college football season (perhaps a Game of the Century) when they travel to L.A. against the USC Trojans.
They would likely get a rematch against USC, win or lose in the first contest. I look for a return trip to Pasadena at the very worst if this team can stay healthy, but don’t be shocked if they find a way to ruin the Trojans' national championship aspirations.
No. 2: LSU Tigers (13-0, Pre Bowl)
Quick Take: The Bayou Bengals defense will be fierce once again and they could be better with even more growth and development. The schedule is tad tougher though with Arkansas, Florida and Auburn all hosting the 2011 SEC champions.
I love the chances of Les returning to the BCS National Championship in 2012, but they will not be my favorites (I expect them to be number one in August, but think they will lose a game and/or fall short of a title).
No. 1: USC Trojans (10-2)
Quick Take: Surprise! Give me Matt Barkley and this offense against even the LSU Tigers defense, because there is nobody that can shut down Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. Curtis McNeal is a budding star in the backfield.
What about the defense, you ask? Nick Perry declared early, but hard-hitting safety T.J. McDonald returns, along with star linebackers Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard.
The schedule is beyond perfect as they should be double-digit favorites in nearly every single game outside of possibly facing the Oregon Ducks twice.