As Army begins spring practice this week, I’ve finally caved and decided to roll out a pre-spring top 10, and yes, for accuracy’s sake I did consider Army and everything that’s changed about the Black Knights since they’ve begun their drilling.
It's also worth noting that these are gut picks without the foresight of knowing who’ll be hurt or who’ll go on an unforeseen scooter rampage and get suspended early. Onward!
10. Florida State
I really hate this pick, I do, but they have the privilege of unrivaled conference talent and playing in an ACC devoid of dominant QB play (including their own). At a certain point, they’ll just be too fast and too deep defensively for their lack of an offensive identity to bring them down.
Experienced, successful SEC QB? Check. Overwhelming number of starters returning from a mostly dominant 2011 defense? Check. Division down on its luck after a mostly lackluster season? Check.
Sure, the Dawgs will probably drop one to a lesser team early, but this team, especially with much-needed health in the backfield, could be good enough to drop only that one.
8. Michigan State
At this point, as the B1G transitions to being all Ohio State/Michigan all the time (do believe that, by the way), the Spartans still possess the saltiest defensive line in a league short of offensive experience.
Losing Kirk Cousins and the offensive skill guys they did hurts, but the most effective cure for what woes State there is a defense that will gift wrap short fields all over the place.
7. South Carolina
Combine a lot of what I said about the previous two teams and apply it to the Gamecocks—an athletic, experienced defense looks to give a newer offense (with a recovering Marcus Lattimore) a soft cushion in a winnable division. Oh, and know Jadeveon Clowney is watching. HE’S ALWAYS WATCHING.
This one might seem high, but the combination of a prolific returning QB in Casey Pachall against typically open Big 12 defenses and the return of an entire Gary Patterson defensive line should mean all sorts of new troubles for the Horned Frogs’ conference mates. Oh, and to add to what I was saying earlier, DE Stansly Maponga is ALWAYS WATCHING.
A simple case of, “Well, who else is there?,” but there’s more to like about Arkansas than there is about a lot of other teams that could be floating around in this area.
A full second year that Bobby Petrino gets with QB Tyler Wilson. Enough returning starters on defense to develop into a competitive unit in an all-too-competitive SEC West field. Perhaps most important of all, the Hogs get Alabama and LSU at home. It doesn’t mean much, but it’s certainly something.
The top four teams really could interchange with each other quite easily.
This team has three major factors in its favor. The returning speed on offense (RB Kenjon Barner, RB/WR DeAnthony Thomas, WR Josh Huff). The incoming redshirts on offense at OL and WR. Lastly, the young returning talent at all spots on defense.
This could be another special Duck team, even with coach Chip Kelly returning to Eugene after his NFL flirtation to develop a new starting QB. No early LSU also does wonders for another double-digit win season.
The Tide are clearly at the point in which the coaching staff can merely plug in a player we’ve only seen in rotation or spot duty into a starting role…and have them succeed right off the bat.
Nick Saban and staff lose all-everythings all over the field on defense (not to mention Heisman finalist Trent Richardson in the offensive backfield), but there’s simply too much talent in Tuscaloosa to think of Alabama as anything less than a top three team.
I’d love to just copy/paste what I wrote about Alabama, but things are slightly different in Baton Rouge than they are in Tuscaloosa, most importantly they’re hosting the biggest SEC game this season.
This, on top of the SEC’s most dynamic returning defensive players sporting purple and gold (CB/PR Tyrann Mathieu, DE Sam Montgomery).
Additionally, the possibility exists that somebody (probably Zach Metterberger) assumes the QB throne, which, given the struggles of last year’s signal-callers against Alabama, can’t be terrible, right?
While this may seem like an irregular notion, the Trojans are in great shape. They don’t play in the SEC. They get a new starting Oregon backfield in LA. And in their toughest road test, a tilt in Palo Alto, not-Andrew Luck will be lining up under center (throwing to not-Coby Fleener).
Do be concerned about lack of depth in the backfield and a defensive line with limited starting experience, but it’s never that difficult to say the nation’s best QB will lead his team (complete with otherworldly receivers) to a No. 1 ranking.
(You can’t imagine how much that hurt to write.)