With each passing day, we inch closer and closer to the college football regular season. Sure, we are still a few months away from the actual kickoff, but the good stuff will be here before you know it.
Leading up to kickoff, every fan of every team tries to make a case for why his or her team can win the respected conference that team plays in. Usually every conference has its front-runners, but there are a few dark horses that can make a run and end up surprising all of college football.
Who would have ever thought Kansas State would have won 10 games last season or picked South Carolina to win 11 games with injuries to its Heisman hopeful running back?
With spring ball over with, the schedules released and teams heading into fall camp, every team still has questions that remain, but we have a good idea of which teams should end up separating themselves from the pack.
Here are the predictions for each BCS conference for the 2012 college football season.
I liked this Clemson team last season and like it even more this time around with 13 starters from last year returning. That includes six starters on the offensive side of the ball that averaged nearly 34 points per contest last year. To explain just how explosive this offense can be next season, they have three Heisman candidates on that side of the ball alone: Andre Ellington, Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd.
There are many concerns on the defensive side of the ball with a new defensive coordinator taking over. Brent Venables will install a 4-3 defense and will have to rebuild a defensive line that lost many key contributors. The good news on defense is that most of the secondary returns along with every starting linebacker.
Despite the issues on defense, the Tigers have a schedule that could help them win their second conference title in a row. Clemson will play Auburn in the Georgia Dome, a fast track that should benefit this offense. Other than the road game against Florida State, the Tigers will get to play Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and South Carolina at Memorial Stadium.
If Clemson can play with more consistency and avoid a letdown at the end of the year, this is a team that can compete for a possible national championship.
Reasons I Didn't Pick the Rest
Virginia Tech: Only three starters on the offensive side of the ball return and the secondary is a huge question mark. Did I mention that only one starting offensive lineman returns? Ask Florida State how that worked last season.
Florida State: Inconsistent play from quarterback EJ Manuel and no running game whatsoever. Sure, the defense will be top-notch once again, but road games against USF, Miami and Virginia Tech don't look good.
This may come as a surprise to many considering West Virginia is in its first season in the Big 12, but this program isn't new to big games. This is a team that was competitive against LSU and destroyed Clemson last season; it’s also 3-0 in BCS bowl games all time. Not to mention that Morgantown provides an SEC atmosphere that will make things extremely difficult for Kansas State, TCU and Oklahoma.
Another thing that should frighten teams in this conference is the fact that the Mountaineers return eight starters on the offensive side of the ball, a unit that averaged nearly 38 points per game a season ago. The Mountaineers may also have the best quarterback in the Big 12 in Geno Smith. The running back position could use more experience with Dustin Garrison hurt, but this is an offense that can score with the best of them, especially in a conference that isn't known for great defensive performances.
Defensively there are questions with Keith Patterson and Joe DeForest running the show and installing a new 3-4 defensive scheme. They'll also have to replace a fantastic defensive end in Bruce Irvin, somebody who led the team in sacks the last two seasons. But with that said, West Virginia is returning seven starters on defense and does have the pieces in place to repeat last year’s efforts that had this unit ranked 38th in total defense.
As for the schedule, the Mountaineers play Oklahoma, TCU, Baylor and Kansas State at their place. The only difficult road game they'll have to play is against the Longhorns and with the question mark at quarterback that may not be a big deal. Overall you just really like to like this team's talent and the favorable schedule.
Reasons I Didn't Pick the Rest:
TCU: Question marks on the offensive line and a secondary that was extremely shaky last season. Not to mention the huge culture shock switching from the MWC to the Big 12.
Oklahoma: Running back remains an issue with Dominique Whaley still injured. Quarterback Landry Jones still makes costly decisions with the football, and the defensive line lost a few key players during the offseason. Then you throw in a game against Notre Dame and road games against Texas Tech, West Virginia and TCU, and it's safer to go with the Mountaineers.
Texas: The Longhorns have the defense and a favorable schedule to surprise some people this year, but I can't pick this team until I see more consistent quarterback play.
Does anybody have any idea who's going to win this conference? It could truly be anybody as there really isn't a team that is head and shoulders better than the rest. For the most part, most of these basketball schools have the same amount of talent on the football side of things.
That is why I'll go with Louisville, a team that has a great head coach in Charlie Strong and has 18 total starters returning from last season. The Cardinals also have one of the better secondaries in the conference, and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater could easily be the best quarterback in the Big East as he enters his true-sophomore year.
Last season the Cardinals showed just how good they can be as they beat Rutgers, and then went into Morgantown to upset the West Virginia Mountaineers. This team may not win games pretty, but it is a tough-nosed team that will give itself opportunities to win every ball game.
The schedule could be a bit easier, but I'll take the veteran team that has many positives going for it and has shown consistency over the rest.
Look for Louisville to win its first conference title since 2006.
Reasons I Didn't Pick the Rest
Rutgers: New head coach, offensive line issues and road games against Arkansas, South Florida, Temple and Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh: Questions about Ray Graham's health, new head coach, revamped defense and a tough schedule that includes Virginia Tech, Notre Dame and road games against Cincinnati and South Florida.
South Florida: Inconsistency from quarterback B.J. Daniels and no true running back or wide receiver option.
The Big Ten is filled with several teams that can compete for the conference title, but I have to go with the Michigan State Spartans. Sure, this is a team that has to replace its starting quarterback and top four receivers, but eight starters are returning on the defensive side of the ball. Yes, that is a defense that ranked sixth in the country in yards allowed and third with 45 sacks.
This defense is the real deal and should give every opponent on this schedule fits once again this season.
Speaking of schedule, the Spartans get Boise State, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Iowa and Nebraska at Spartan Stadium. The only tough road games the Spartans have this season are at Michigan and Wisconsin. Michigan State has knocked off the Wolverines four straight times, and with Wisconsin suffering several key losses during the offseason, the Badgers likely won't be the high scoring team that it was last year.
While playmakers on the offense are a serious question heading into the fall, the Spartans do have a beast at running back with Le'Veon Bell leading the way. He averaged over five yards a carry last season, rushing for over 900 yards and 13 touchdowns. With six players on the offensive line that have started at least one game returning, Michigan State should have a much improved running game.
The Big Ten is a conference that is known for its tough defense and hard-fought games, so I'll take my chances and go with the team that has the best defense.
Reasons I Didn't Pick the Rest:
Michigan: Lack of playmakers around Denard Robinson, inconsistency at the quarterback position and a much more difficult schedule this time around. Games against Alabama, Michigan State and road games against Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State is tough stuff.
Nebraska: It is hard for me to pick a team that is as one-dimensional on offense the way the Cornhuskers are. They also lost nearly every difference maker on the defensive on the ball.
Penn State: New head coach, only nine starters returning and no true answer at the quarterback position. Not to mention the Nittany Lions lost four starters in the secondary which isn't going to be easy to overcome.
Wisconsin: I love Montee Ball, but Russell Wilson is no longer there to save the day at quarterback and there aren't many proven wide receivers either. Defensively the Badgers should be solid, but questions on the offensive side of the ball make me shy away from them.
The Pac-12 should be a little more competitive than it was last season, but as of right now there are only two teams that have a realistic shot of winning this thing. Those two teams of course would be the Oregon Ducks and the USC Trojans.
The reason I am going with the Trojans is because of that high-scoring offense. Sure, the Ducks can score their fair share of points as well, but this Trojan team is absolutely loaded on the offensive side of the ball from top to bottom. You have arguably the top quarterback in the country in Matt Barkley running the show and a wide receiver corps that is easily five-deep led by Robert Woods and company. The running back position is banged up, but when you have that much talent at other places, who needs a running game?
While the offense is gaining most of the attention, it's the defense that may separate USC from the rest of the teams in the Pac-12. The Trojans return eight starters on a defense that was ranked fourth in the SEC and finished tied 29th in the country with 30 sacks (the same amount as Alabama and Michigan last season).
The entire secondary and an experienced linebacker group from last season are returning. This is a physical unit that should surprise many around college football and will be one of the rare times you see solid defense in this conference.
USC should be the favorite heading into every matchup this season, and with the big matchup against Oregon taking place in Los Angeles, CA, I have to give the slight edge to the Trojans.
And probably the most shocking prediction in this whole article is having the Georgia Bulldogs win the SEC. How in the world could somebody pick an SEC East team to win this conference? Surprised? Don't be.
Sure, Georgia may not be as talented as some of the other teams in this conference, but it's not that far off. The Bulldogs also have a schedule that should pretty much guarantee them a spot in the SEC Championship Game, that's halfway there and gives me a 50 percent chance of getting this prediction, correct right off the bat. We are talking about a schedule that doesn't include Arkansas, LSU or Alabama.
As for the talent, Georgia has one of the top quarterbacks in the country in Aaron Murray. In his first two seasons he has thrown for over 6,000 yards and 59 touchdowns, heading into his third year, he should really separate himself from the pack and become one of the premier quarterbacks this sport has to offer this season.
Then we look at the running back position and Georgia has a two-headed monster leading the way in Isaiah Crowell and true-freshman Keith Marshall. Both have home-run ability and are the type of players that you must know where they are on the field at all times. These two players give the Bulldogs a balanced offense that you don't see much of in this conference.
Then, of course, the defense. While everybody was drooling over the Tigers and Crimson Tide last season, Georgia was ranked fifth in the country in total defense and were tied 15th with 35 sacks. Not to mention the Bulldogs were also ranked seventh in the country with 32 turnovers forced. That same unit returns nine starters from a year ago, making this a very balanced and dangerous club.
Georgia has a lot to like heading into the season, but will be overlooked early because of all the talent in the SEC West. Don't be one of those that ends up sleeping on this team.
Reasons I Didn't Pick the Rest:
Alabama: Inexperienced wide receiver depth, secondary lost three key contributors, running back position is banged up and a very tough schedule. This team has the talent to win it all, but can they overcome Michigan, at Arkansas, at LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn?
Auburn: Questions at the quarterback position and a defense that couldn't stop anybody from doing anything last year. Just how good will this unit be in one year after finishing 79th in the country in points allowed?
Arkansas: Off-the-field issues and a new head coach. Just how will that affect them early on in the year? Then we have the unknown with running back Knile Davis who hasn't had any contact since 2010. Add the fact that the Razorbacks do have to play LSU, Alabama, at Texas A&M, at Auburn and at South Carolina. Ouch.
LSU: The Tigers are talented enough to win this conference, but let's not act like there aren't questions heading into the season. Just how good will Zach Mettenberger be? Who will step up on the defensive side of the ball after losing six starters? Then you add a brutal SEC West schedule, and it is no guarantee this team will repeat as SEC champs.
South Carolina: Will Marcus Lattimore be himself after tearing his ACL last season? Who is going to step up at the wide receiver position? Is the secondary going to balance out after losing a few pieces and suffering injuries to current starters? Too many questions for my liking.