Come on, you knew this story was coming!
With the curtain closed on the 2011-12 college football season, thanks to Alabama’s boring (and low-rated) but dominant win over LSU on Monday night at the Superdome, it’s already time to start looking ahead to next year’s title odds—the BCS National Championship Game shifts to the Orange Bowl (i.e. Miami’s Sun Life Stadium) on Jan. 7, 2013. The SEC won its sixth straight National Championship this season—and did actually lose its first BCS Championship Game after going 7-0 heading into Monday night—and oddsmakers at Bovada expect more of the same next year. LSU opened as the 4/1 favorite to win it all next season, followed by Alabama at 5/1.
LSU brings back a majority of its key players, including Heisman finalist cornerback/return man Tyrann Mathieu. But will have to break in a new quarterback as both Jordan Jefferson, who was completely ineffective on Monday night, and Jarrett Lee have exhausted their eligibility.
Former 2009 Georgia top recruit Zach Mettenberger will be the No. 1 guy heading into spring football. As the third stringer, Mettenberger played in five games this season as a redshirt sophomore but threw passes only against Northwestern State, going 8-of-11 for 92 yards and a touchdown in a 49-3 rout.
Mettenberger was dismissed from Georgia and spent the 2010 season at Butler County Community College in Kansas, where he threw for 2,678 yards with 32 touchdowns and four interceptions, leading the team to an 11-1 record. But don’t rule out him getting pushed by Gunner Kiel, an incoming freshman who is considered one of the top quarterbacks in this year’s class. He is enrolling in school early—next week, in fact—and thus could be in the mix.
Barring any NFL Draft defections, the Tigers will be bringing back just about their entire pass receiving corps. Only two LSU players who have caught a pass this year are seniors and both of those are tight ends. All of LSU’s top running backs should return. The offensive line also brings just about everyone back as only one of LSU's starting linemen (Will Blackwell) is a senior.
On defense, six of the Tigers' usual starting 11 are sophomores and one, cornerback Morris Claiborne, is a junior. It’s somewhat likely Claiborne does head to the NFL, however.
Of course, LSU has another tough SEC schedule next season, including visits to Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas. But every other game is at home, including Nov. 3 vs. the Tide.
Speaking of Bama, the Tide will return in the neighborhood of 13 of their 24 starters (including kickers) in 2012, pending underclassmen NFL decisions.
One guy expected to go pro is running back and Heisman finalist Trent Richardson, and certainly he will be missed. Presuming that’s the case, six starters should be back on offense.
Bama does lose offensive coordinator Jim McElwain (new head coach at Colorado State) and one would think that some school would finally lure away defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, especially after Monday’s performance by Smart’s unit. The Tide have a tough schedule next season with games against Michigan (at Cowboys Stadium) to open the season as well as roadies at Arkansas, Missouri and LSU.
I happen to think the best value on the board is USC at 9/1. The Trojans are postseason eligible next year after their two-year punishment and bring back Heisman-contender QB Matt Barkley, who surprised many by returning for his senior season. Arguably no team played better at the end of the regular season than USC.
Barkley will have two of the nation’s top receivers back in Robert Woods and Marquise Lee as well as leading rusher Curtis McNeal. A big loss is tackle Matt Kalil, who left early for the NFL. Eight defensive starters should be back as well. Depth could be an issue, however, because of scholarship limitations.
The schedule sets up well for Southern Cal, with both Notre Dame and Oregon coming to the Coliseum (likely it will be USC-Oregon again in the Pac-12 title game). The Trojans have to go to Stanford, but the Cardinal figure to take a huge step back without Andrew Luck.
Oklahoma was the preseason odds-on national title favorite entering this year but is 12/1 to win it next season. The Sooners got a huge boost with QB Landry Jones’ decision to return to school, although star WR Ryan Broyles will be missed. Florida State, Oregon and Georgia also are 12/1.
The Ducks lose LaMichael James but are still loaded on offense with RBs Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas and QB Darron Thomas. Other than that visit to USC, the Ducks’ schedule appears quite manageable. Georgia doesn’t have to play either LSU or Alabama during the regular season but would have to likely beat one of those two in the SEC title game, so I’m not a big fan of the Dawgs’ odds (plus, they visit South Carolina). The Noles have to travel to Virginia Tech and have a tough non-conference home game with West Virginia.
I think the Pac-12 ends the SEC’s title run next season—I lean toward USC over Oregon, only because their regular-season meeting is in L.A.
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc's Sports football picks Web site.