Top 10 College Football Teams to Watch in 2012

Ted Lee@@RealLedTeeCorrespondent IJanuary 14, 2012

Top 10 College Football Teams to Watch in 2012

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    With the bowl season over and done with, the focus now shifts to the 2012 season. Who will leave for the NFL draft, who will stay for their senior season and what schools will prospects sign with will be the main questions during the off season.

    Here are the top 10 teams I believe will be a threat during the season for a BCS bowl bid and the key to success for each team.

10. Virginia Tech

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    If there is one thing you can count on every year, it is that Virginia Tech will be in contention for the ACC Title. 

    After finishing 11-3, this team will have to rebuild its offensive firepower during the offseason with star running back David Wilson, four starting offensive linemen and wide receivers Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale leaving.

    The positive is that as many as nine starters on defense will be returning, adding more experience to the defensive side of the ball.

    Key to Success: Logan Thomas, QB #3

    With a tough road schedule next season, this team will only go as far as quarterback Logan Thomas can take them. The defense will be expected to perform every week—so all eyes will be on the offense and how Thomas will perform with Wilson and his top two receivers gone.

    Look for a more experienced Thomas to find new star receivers and possibly improve on the 11-3 record of this year.

9. Florida State

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    It was a disappointing year for Seminoles fans, to say the least.

    After a 9-4 finish, expect the Seminoles to be a lot better team and live up to the hype given to them at start of the 2011 season. The good news is that defensive end Brandon Jenkins and cornerback Greg Reid both passed up entering the NFL draft to return to school.

    The problem, however, lies on the offensive side of the ball. The offense must be more explosive and with another year under their belt, I fully expect them to be.

    Key to Success: Offensive line

    Florida State played four freshman offensive linemen against Notre Dame in their bowl game, the Champs Sports Bowl, after injuries depleted their squad. For their offense to be explosive next year, the offensive line must be healthy—to protect E.J. Manuel and open holes for the rushing attack. 

8. Michigan

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    Brady Hoke turned out to be the right guy at Michigan, guiding the Wolverines to a season of accomplishments. Hoke guided them to their first 11 win season since 2006 and ended the Wolverines seven-game losing streak against Ohio State. 

    Michigan will lose several linemen on both sides of the ball, but most of their key skill players will be returning. Quarterback Denard Robinson will be more experienced, and the defense will be better after their 2011 turnaround under defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.

    Key to Success: Fitzgerald Toussaint, RB #28

    We all know Robinson and Toussaint play better together. When Toussaint plays well it opens up so many possibilities for the offense and Robinson. Robinson and Toussaint both rushed for over 1,000 yards, marking the first 1,000 yard rushing tandem for Michigan since 1975.

    With their first game of the season against Alabama, Toussaint will be relied on to produce and to support Robinson. Fitzgerald Toussaint will be the key to Michigan's offense next year. 

7. West Virginia

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    Dana Holgerson showed his spread offense is fully capable of competing in the Big 12 after the Mountaineers 70-33 rout of Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl. 

    Quarterback Geno Smith will be back for another season, along with leading rusher Dustin Garrison, top receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey and eight other offensive starters. 

    Key to Success: Defense

    There's not really one key player on the defense to pick, but the defense as a whole. The Mountaineers will be replacing four starters on defense and coordinator Jeff Casteel, who went to coach at Arizona. With the journey to the Big 12, the Mountaineers will need all the defensive help they can get against the spread. 

6. Georgia

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    Georgia will be SEC East favorites in 2012, expecting to have a great defense along with an explosive offense. They will also not play against LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas for a second straight year. 

    Georgia's offense will be a lot better in 2012. Along with quarterback Aaron Murray and receiver Malcom Mitchell, look for a nice tandem with returning running back Isaiah Crowell and incoming freshman Keith Marshall. With the offense replacing three linemen, Murray will need all the help he can get. 

    Key to Success: Clutch kicker

    Replacing three offensive linemen might make it harder to keep protection and score points. The kicker will be relied on more than ever after a season where kicker Blair Walsh, who had 12 more attempts in 2011 than his junior year, converted an awful 60 percent.

    Luckily Walsh will be leaving and Georgia will have to find a good kicker for their ailing special teams. It might substitute some losses for wins.

5. Oregon

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    The three-time defending Pac 12 champions will once again be favorites to win the Pac 12 North, as well as contend for the BCS National Championship game in 2012. 

    The bad news of the offseason came from running back LaMichael James, who announced he'll enter the NFL Draft. The silver lining came when quarterback Darron Thomas announced he'll stay for his senior season.

    Thomas should have his best season in 2012, and a much improved defense in 2011 will be even better next year. 

    Key to Success: Running back tandem De'Anthony Thomas & Kenjon Barner

    With James gone, Thomas and Barner will be relied on heavily to produce the way James did on a weekly basis. The tandem will need to stay healthy and help Thomas maintain the potent offense of last year. Playing five of their first six games at Autzen Stadium should help them too. 

4. Oklahoma

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    The Sooners are not only Big 12 favorites, they are one of the top teams to play in the National Championship since the decision to return was made by quarterback Landry Jones.

    With the spread and Jones, Oklahoma fans can expect another year of a high powered offense. To be BCS contenders, however, the same must be said for the defense. 

    Key to Success: Defense

    Defensive ends Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis, along with linebacker Travis Lewis will be leaving. To compete with Big 12 teams (including newcomers TCU & WVU) and have a shot of making the National Championship, the Sooners are going to have to replace their key starters and be even better than they were in 2011.

3. LSU

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    LSU will probably be a better team in 2012 than their 2011 team that went to the championship game, and that's saying something. 

    The Tigers will have an easier schedule than the 2011 season, and are also bringing in one of the top recruiting classes. Expect Les Miles and the defense to be as strong as they were in 2011 even with key players leaving.

    Key to Success: More potent offense 

    The Tigers' offense showed its true colors in the last game of the bowl series, struggling to move the chains.

    With Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson gone, LSU will have to rely on Zach Mettenberger, or incoming freshman Gunner Kiel, to not just be a game manager, but a threat to throw the ball downfield, something Lee or Jefferson weren't expected to do by opposing defenses.

    The receivers and running backs must be able to perform and help the quarterback. The defense can't win all by themselves, and the offense must perform in 2012. 

2. USC

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    The Trojans will be the biggest threat to knock off the three-time defending champions from Oregon in 2012. 

    They were one of the younger teams during the season, with many freshman and sophomores starting. Another year under their belt and you are looking at basically the same team from 2011 but better.

    Key to Success: Matt Barkley, QB #7

    A lot of hype is surrounding this team going into the 2012 season. They are projected to win the Pac 12, be a national championship-caliber team and Barkley is projected to win the Heisman.

    This is Barkley's senior season. The Trojans will have a complete team next year with a good defense and offense, so it is all Barkley's game to lose. Everything will rely on his performance. 

1. Alabama

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    The Crimson Tide will be the defending national champions coming, and they will be losing several key players since Trent Richardson, Dont'a Hightower and Dre Kirkpatrick are all forgoing their senior season. 

    For the Tide it will be out with the old and in with new as they will be relying on their incoming class to produce.

    Key to Success: A.J. McCarron, QB #10

    Even though losing players like Kirkpatrick and Hightower would hurt a normal defense, Saban will still make the defense one of the best in the nation.

    Alabama has been spoiled the past few years with Mark Ingram and Richardson. Next year, someone will need to step up on the offense to replace the production, and that person will be A.J. McCarron. McCarron established himself as a leader of the offense against LSU in the championship game and will be the anchor of the offense I believe.

    Look for Saban to rely on McCarron more and more during the season.