College Football 2012: Predicting Who Will Win Each Conference

Joe Fitzhenry@@joefitz1014Correspondent IIJune 22, 2012

College Football 2012: Predicting Who Will Win Each Conference

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    We are officially under 100 days away from the 2012 college football season. With each new season comes shocking upsets, surprise teams and unforgettable finishes. 

    Although I'd rather forget, who won't remember Michigan-Notre Dame from 2011 and the other great games that we saw?

    Not too many people outside of Stillwater will soon forget Iowa State's thrilling victory over Mike Gundy's Oklahoma State squad last season, and even five years later, people still talk about Appalachian State over Michigan. Those are just a couple of the biggest upsets in recent memory. 

    As for the surprise teams, raise your hand if you had Kansas State winning 10 games, or South Carolina managing to win 11, despite being without Marcus Lattimore for half the season and dealing with the antics of Stephen Garcia, who was thankfully shown the door by Spurrier. 

    2012 is sure to bring more instant classics, upsets for the ages and teams greatly exceeding expectations. 

    Buckle up, it's going to be a wild ride. 

ACC: Florida State

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    I know, I know, I really shouldn't take the bait on this team for the second year in a row, but there's something I like about Jimbo Fisher's squad this year. 

    After failing to live up to expectations in 2011, the Seminoles are back at it again this year with, once again, a very good chance to win the ACC. 

    The defense, led by Brandon Jenkins and Greg Reid, is one of the best in the nation, but the fate of this team will be determined by quarterback E.J. Manuel and the offense. 

    Manuel must be more consistent for this team to achieve its goals, and the running game needs to show signs of life as well. 

    The schedule is manageable, with the toughest games coming on the road at Miami and Virginia Tech. Expect Florida State not to disappoint in 2012. 

Big 12: Oklahoma

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    If you look around this conference, each team seems to have at least one or two issues that could potentially cost them this season. 

    With that being said, the most complete team in the new-look Big 12 is the Sooners. Landry Jones is a top pro prospect for the 2013 NFL Draft, and if Bob Stoops and his staff can iron out the kinks in a couple of other areas, Oklahoma could find themselves in a BCS bowl come January. 

    Question marks abound on defense following the loss of Frank Alexander, Ronnell Lewis and Travis Lewis, and that could play the biggest role when it comes to this team. 

    Jones and company will put up plenty of points, but can the rebuilt defense stop some of the high-powered offenses in the Big 12?

    The schedule isn't exactly a cupcake either, with road trips to West Virginia and TCU, and a game against Notre Dame. 

    Nonetheless, expect the Sooners to rebound in a big way from a disappointing 2011 campaign. 

Big East: Louisville

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    I could honestly have a toddler randomly select the winner of the Big East from a hat and the pick would have as good of a chance at being right any I'd make, as someone who follows college football faithfully. 

    This is always one of the most unpredictable conferences in college football, with a surprise team seemingly always coming out of nowhere. 

    I'm going to go against what usually happens and pick last year's surprise team that came painfully close to winning the conference. 

    Charlie Strong has essentially rebuilt the entire program from scratch, and has Louisville once again being regarded as a legitimate Big East contender. 

    Teddy Bridgewater may be the best quarterback that nobody knows about, and should be even better in his sophomore year. 

    It should be enough to get this team over the top and into the BCS for first time since 2006. 

Big Ten: Michigan State

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    The Big Ten has four or five teams that have a legitimate chance to represent the conference in the Rose Bowl next January, but I'll go with one of the country's best defenses. 

    Sure, the loss of Kirk Cousins and his top four receivers will hurt, but it shouldn't derail Sparty's chances of making a splash in the Big Ten. 

    An elite defense, led by stud defensive end William Gholston, and a solid running game can carry the team while Cousins' replacement, Andrew Maxwell, gets his feet wet. 

    Non-conference home games against Boise State and Notre Dame, coupled with the typically tough conference slate, won't make the going easy, but Mark Dantonio's squad has dealt with difficult games before and has answered the bell. 

Conference USA: Houston

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    While the man pictured above isn't walking through the door anymore, Houston has the chance to be almost as good as they were in 2011. 

    There are a bevy of skill position players returning, including Charles Sims, and David Piland should fill the shoes of Case Keenum admirably. 

    Four of the five offensive line starters will be back as well, and the Cougars' high-octane attack will be exactly that once again in 2012. 

    This is the year that the Cougars make their fans forget about the bitter end to the 2011 season and take home the hardware from Conference USA. 

Mid-American: Ohio

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    Coming off their first bowl win in school history, life is pretty good for the Ohio Bobcats. 

    Well, when we're not talking about the MAC Championship game that is. In the 2011 conference championship game, the Bobcats blew a 20-0 halftime lead to Northern Illinois and thus, still remain in search of their first MAC crown since 1968. 

    2012 could be the year for that with Tyler Tettleton, a dynamic dual threat QB returning under center to lead the offense. Three other starters are also coming back on the offensive line. The playmaking ability of LaVon Brazill will be missed, but head coach Frank Solich has found some more than capable replacements in Donte Foster and Jordan Thompson. 

    On defense, losing the heart and soul in Noah Keller will certainly have an impact, but the return of seven other starters leaves hope for a unit that should be one of the best in the MAC. 

    The 2012 version of the Bobcats has the talent and makeup to win the conference, but can they win on the league's biggest stage?

Mountain West: Boise State

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    Okay, go ahead and replace the school's best quarterback and receiver ever, one of the best running backs in the country and an All-American left tackle, while still remaining relevant. 

    Seems easy, right? 

    Despite all of those personnel losses, the Boise State Broncos are still my pick to win the Mountain West in 2012. 

    Partially due to the departure of TCU, and a relatively weak conference as a whole, the Broncos should have enough talent left over to win the league. 

    Either Joe Southwick or Nick Patti is charged with filling the void left by Kellen Moore's departure, with Matt Miller expected to be the top target for whoever wins the starting job. Meanwhile, the veteran D.J. Harper steps in to replace the departed Doug Martin and finally get his shot to be the primary tailback. 

    Boise won't quite be as dominant as past years, with a defense that has been severely hit by graduation losses and the loss of the afore-mentioned offensive stars, but still expect this team to make their final season in the Mountain West a memorable one. 

Pac-12: USC

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    Lane Kiffin's squad is once again postseason eligible and is as hungry as ever to prove their worth as one of the top teams in the country. 

    The Trojans return an astounding 18 starters; 9 on each side of the ball. The biggest returnee on either side? That Matt Barkley guy. 

    Barkley turned down millions from the NFL in order to make one final run at a National Championship. 

    Playing their games in the incredibly mediocre Pac-12 South Division essentially puts this team on a crash course with Oregon to meet in the second annual Pac-12 title game. 

    2012 will be all about USC's return to glory following the ugly black marks of the Reggie Bush scandal. The toughest games on the schedule are Oregon, Stanford and Notre Dame, but expect Barkley and co. to still be favored in each one of them. 

    Simply put, this will be one of the country's best teams in 2012. 

SEC: LSU

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    The enigmatic Jordan Jefferson has finally departed Baton Rouge, and that ushers in the Zach Mettenberger era. 

    For the first time in what seems like an eternity, LSU enters the season with no quarterback competition in summer camp. Mettenberger, the former Georgia Bulldog, is the unquestioned starter and is charged with leading the Tiger attack this fall. 

    What may be the country's deepest backfield returns fully intact as well, and Odell Beckham Jr. has star potential as Mettenberger's top receiving threat. 

    The defense will be strong as usual, despite losing two first round draft picks to the NFL. In my opinion, the secondary has the ability to be the best in the country with Tyrann "Honeybadger" Mathieu, Tharold Simon and Eric Reid the players to keep an eye on. 

    All of this seems good on paper, but can LSU bring home the SEC's seventh consecutive national title?

    Anything short of a repeat appearance in the national title game is considered a disappointment by Tiger Nation. 

Sun Belt: Arkansas State

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    Gus Malzahn certainly raised a number of eyebrows when he decided to take the head coaching position at Arkansas State and proceeded to say that the program will become "The Boise State of the South".

    It all starts under center with Ryan Aplin, the Sun Belt's reigning Player of the Year, for the Red Wolves.  He returns along with his top targets Taylor Stockemer and Josh Jarboe, and will be expected to lead the team in Malzahn's first season. 

    Despite a relatively large number of departures on defense (seven starters gone), Arkansas State should still be the best team in the conference. 

    The offense is good enough to win games for this team, while the defense goes through a rebuilding year following the graduation of Brandon Joiner, the 2011 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year. 

    Expect Malzahn to make good on his promise in his first season and bring the SBC crown to Jonesboro. 

WAC: Louisiana Tech

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    Frankly, if the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs don't win a watered-down WAC this season, the 2012 season will be considered a complete failure by most of their fans. 

    With Fresno State and Nevada off to the Mountain West, the Bulldogs are left as the defending champions and the league's top program. 

    This offense will be one of the best and most exciting to watch in the country, with Colby Cameron and Quinton Patton a pair of budding stars leading the way. The unit should average more than 400 yards and 30 points per game. 

    As is the case with most WAC teams, the defense will never reach an elite level, but instead prefers a bend but don't break approach. 

    Head Coach Sonny Dykes has done a masterful job turning around this program and look for the Bulldogs to capture their second straight league crown in 2012.