Predicting the Associated Press Preseason Top 25 College Football Poll

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistJune 24, 2012

Predicting the Associated Press Preseason Top 25 College Football Poll

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    The 2012 Associated Press Preseason poll should be released on or near Saturday, Aug. 18, which is a mere 55 days away.

    Though we all know that the early polls aren’t really indicative of how teams will actually perform in-season, they do give us a fairly good idea of who will be in the championship mix when November and December roll around.

    To illustrate this point, of the 10 teams who ultimately played in the 2011-12 BCS, eight of them were listed in the AP Preseason Top 25, and seven were among the top 13.

    The following slideshow boldly forecasts the AP’s earliest ranked survey, and therefore serves as the opening salvo in what will soon become a firestorm of debate over which teams will rise above the rest in the glorious 2012 edition of college football.

    As a note, the returning starter/experience ratings in this presentation come via Phil Steele and the recruiting stats com from Rivals.com’s comprehensive rankings.

25. Auburn

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    Though the Tigers have a bunch of issues to address before they’ll be considered a serious force in even the SEC West, Auburn returns the second-most starters in the conference from a very young eight-win product in 2011.

    Auburn’s biggest deficiencies last season were an ineffective passing offense (No. 105 nationally) and a struggling rush defense (No. 94 nationally).

    But, if you question Auburn’s spot here, remember that this team is built on recruiting classes that ranked No. 19 in 2009, No. 4 in 2010, No. 7 in 2011 and No. 11 in 2012.

24. Virginia Tech

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    Even though the Hokies return only three starters on offense, it’s nearly impossible to count Tech out of the race for the ACC each and every single year.

    Virginia Tech has won five of the seven all-time ACC Coastal crowns since the conference split in 2005, and ultimately went on to win three league titles during this same time period.

    The good news for Virginia Tech is nine returning starters to a defense that ranked No. 7 nationally in scoring last season. And don’t forget that since 1998 only once (2003) did the Hokies finish unranked in the final AP poll.

     

23. Kansas State

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    The Big 12 runner-up from 2011 returns a whopping 18 starters in 2012, but the Wildcats aren’t likely to sneak up on anyone this year.

    What may stand in K-State’s way of a repeat double-digit performance is a one-dimensional offense that ran like the wind and a pass defense that ranked No. 102 nationally.

    The other intriguing bit about Bill Snyder’s Kats is the fact they are comprised of four recruiting classes that, when originally signed, had the common link of not even being ranked in the top 50.

    They’re the only program on our list with this somewhat dubious honor.

     

22. Oklahoma State

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    Despite the loss of some serious offensive skill players, the defending Big 12 and Fiesta Bowl champs return 16 starters in 2012.

    What may decide the Cowboys' fate this season is keeping their well-oiled offensive beast moving, and improving on a defense that ranked No. 90 nationally against the run and No. 107 versus the pass.

     

21. Florida

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    Many will bemoan the Gators being listed anywhere on our list, and this same throng will no doubt chaff when Florida’s name is in the actual AP Preseason Poll.

    Though it’s completely logical to rebut Florida’s ranking by saying that it went 7-6 last season and looked ugly doing it, you simply can’t count out a squad with recruiting rankings that most programs just dream about.

    Yep, the proof is in the pudding, and the Gators' Jell-O was whipped up with the classes ranked No. 11 in 2009, No. 2 in 2010, No. 12 in 2011 and then No. 3 in 2012.

    No matter how illogical it may seem, this is a program that you can’t count out.

     

     

20. Notre Dame

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    There are several reasons why the Irish aren’t likely to receive the top-15 preseason ranking that they did in 2011.

    Start with 15 returning starters from a team that finished an uninspiring 8-5 last year and then add in one of the hardest, if not the hardest, schedule in the nation, and you’ve got the No. 20 ranking.

    If Notre Dame runs the table on its 2012 slate, it will be one of the best teams in the nation.

19. Stanford

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    Though Andrew Luck and several key players aren’t back at Stanford, the Cardinal have recruited well enough to still have a stacked talent cupboard regardless of natural attrition.

    Stanford is less likely to be in the BCS in 2012, but don’t count them out of the Pac-12 North race, and possibly more.

18. Clemson

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    Clemson returns just 14 starters in 2012 from a team that finished with a huge thud in the BCS Orange Bowl versus West Virginia.

    But don’t let the lopsided end to last season fool you into believing that the Tigers are defined by a huge loss. Instead, this is, in reality, the team that came out of nowhere to win the ACC in 2011.

    Clemson has recruited well enough to be ranked in the top 20 this season and then move significantly up the charts from 2013 onward.

17. TCU

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    Despite the Horned Frogs' historic move back to their rightful place in the “big time” and the associated difficulties, TCU will deservedly be in the preseason Top 25.

    The Toads return only 13 starters in 2012, but Gary Patterson’s success at refilling holes is unprecedented, and it will be a fight to get TCU, who hasn’t finished out of the AP poll since 2007, off this list.

16. Nebraska

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    The Cornhuskers went 5-3 in their inaugural Big Ten campaign in 2011, and with 16 returning starters this year, anything could happen.

    Nebraska has finished in the AP Top 25 each of the last three seasons, and it shouldn’t be forgotten when discussing who can beat Michigan and Michigan State to capture the second-ever Big Ten Legends title.

15. Wisconsin

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    The back-to-back Big Ten champion Badgers’ mere 10 returning starters serves as an intriguing smoke screen for a team that has plenty of depth and talent across the field.

    Wisconsin’s chances to repeat are made more realistic by the fact that Penn State is still in transition and Ohio State is not eligible for postseason play in 2012.

    The new divisional format in the Big Ten makes Wisconsin a realistic favorite to win the conference for a third straight time.

14. Michigan State

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    With quarterback Kirk Cousins gone and only four offensive starters back on campus, 2012 might seem like the year that Michigan State finally won’t surprise us by rising to the top of the Big Ten.

    But, the heart of the Sparts—their defense—returns eight first-teamers to a unit that ranked No. 10 nationally in scoring (No. 9 against the run and No. 11 against the pass).

    State doesn’t recruit like Michigan, but Mark Dantonio continues to overachieve with less highly touted talent, which makes you believe that the Spartans still can’t be discounted, especially if their defense gets cranked up again.

13. Ohio State

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    The Buckeyes' sanctioned postseason ban has no effect on their ability to win regular-season games, a task they may well be able to complete with frightening efficiency.

    Urban Meyer’s inaugural product in Columbus will feature 18 returning starters from 2011. This year's team is built on recruiting classes that, according to Rivals, rated No. 3 in 2009, No. 25 in 2010, No. 11 in 2011 and No. 4 in 2012.

    What will likely make the difference for Ohio State in 2012, regardless of the predestined early end to its season, is if it can improve on its dismal No. 79 national ranking in offensive scoring (apologies to all offended parties) and its No. 115 mark in passing yards.

12. Texas

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    The Longhorns' 8-5 finish last year was leaps and bounds better than their 5-7 mark in 2010, but still, why must we see Texas ranked in the top 15 coming into 2012?

    Well, Texas’ high hopes are all pinned on the very realness of recruiting classes that are impossible to ignore.

    The 2012 Longhorns are built on the firm foundation of the No. 5 class of 2009, the No. 3 class of 2010, the No. 3 group from 2011 and, despite the recent downturn in winning, the No. 2 class of 2012 in the Rivals rankings.

    Only Alabama can tout a higher average over the same time period, which makes it negligent to leave Texas out of the mix, regardless of how sickening or illogical it may seem.

11. South Carolina

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    South Carolina returns 14 starters to a squad that won 11 games last season and only sinned, statistically, via a pass offense that ranked No. 95 nationally.

    Despite Georgia’s very realistically rosy prognostication for 2012, the SEC East still remains wide open, and the Gamecocks are more than in the mix.

10. West Virginia

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    Even though I personally find West Virginia at No. 10 a bit inflated, don’t be surprised to find the AP quite generous to the Mountaineers in their opening balloting.

    West Virginia is riding high on its lopsided Orange Bowl victory over Clemson, and it can pad its resume with 16 returning starters to a team that has the huge unknown of a Big 12 slate to face this fall.

    If the Mountaineers are truly the team that trounced Clemson in January, they’ll be in the Top 10 for the duration. If not, look for a command performance of “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty.

9. Michigan

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    The Wolverines’ stars look, at least from the comfort of the preseason, to be aligned for a very special run in 2012.

    Michigan returns 16 starters from its Sugar Bowl title team. It is led by a class that, technically, was ranked No. 8 when recruited in 2009, and a 2010 class that was signed with a No. 20 ranking by Rivals.

    If the Wolverines are going to do it, this is their year.

8. Arkansas

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    The only good thing about Bobby Petrino’s somewhat bizarre exit from Arkansas is the fact that he didn’t actually play on the team.

    Yes, Petrino recruited, coached, cajoled and play-called the Razorbacks back onto the national landscape of college football, but he never actually threw a pass, blocked a defender or tackled an opponent.

    It would be silly to say that his exit doesn’t matter, but Arkansas is returning on-field leaders and 15 first-teamers to a team whose only losses last season were to the two teams in the BCS title game.

7. Florida State

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    Though the 'Noles arguably have an easier slate than any team ranked above them in our proposed AP sweepstakes, Florida State is still a team that has much to prove before it moves up further.

    The Seminoles haven’t finished a season among the AP Top 10 since 2000, which puts the “road back” mentality into proper perspective.

    Florida State returns 15 starters in 2012 and has recruited lights-out in recent years (according to Rivals, the No. 7 class from 2009, the No. 10 group from 2010, the No. 2 class of 2011 and then the No. 6 group from 2012). But whether or not the Seminoles can take their game to the next level remains to be seen.

6. Oregon

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    The Ducks are another squad, like TCU, who return fewer starters than others (only 13) but are led by a guy (Chip Kelly) who has been simply masterful at refilling gaping holes due to attrition.

    Oregon has won the Pac-12 each and every year of Kelly’s tenure in Eugene, which makes its top spot logical until somebody rises up to knock them down.

    What’s intriguing about the defending Pac-12 champs is the fact that they ranked No. 88 nationally in pass defense last season.

    This is something that the Ducks simply must improve if they are to keep their high-flying streak alive.

     

5. Georgia

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    If Mark Richt is going to prove that he’s still the guy in between the hedges in Athens, this is his year.

    The Bulldogs bring back 15 starters from last season’s SEC East championship squad, and most crucially they return nine from a defense that dazzled, even by SEC standards.

    Georgia’s 2011 defense ranked No. 23 nationally in scoring, No. 11 against the run and No. 10 versus the pass.

    But what really boosts Georgia’s nomination as the next SEC national championship team is a schedule that, relative to the toughest league in the game, is fairly breezy.

4. Oklahoma

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    Though Oklahoma’s high hopes coming into 2011 were ultimately dashed with three losses, the Sooners bring back a whopping 17 starters to a squad that is flat-out stacked with talent.

    With Mike Stoops taking over as DC, it seems logical to expect Oklahoma to improve on its No. 79 national ranking in pass defense, which should do nothing but improve its bid to make it back to the BCS.

3. Alabama

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    The defending national champions' worthy quest to repeat will be somewhat downgraded by some prognosticators due to the fact that they return a mere 13 starters this coming season.

    Although we could discuss the Tide’s depth by position, the real reason Alabama deserves to be in the top five is the fact that it is the undisputed recruiting champion of the nation.

    Alabama’s 2012 squad is all about a class that was technically ranked No. 1 back in 2009, No. 5 in 2010, the No. 1 group in 2011 and then, again, the No. 1 group in 2012, all by Rivals.

    Love them or hate them, the Crimson Tide are list-toppers for years to come.

2. LSU

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    LSU is in position to right the one-game wrong of 2011-12 and run the table all the way to fruition in 2012-13.

    The Bayou Bengals return 14 starters this season. That figure is far from overwhelming but needs to be quantified by pointing out that LSU returns an experienced athlete to each and every position on both sides of the ball.

    LSU’s 2012 recruiting class dipped to No. 17, but the three upper classes simply ooze with talent: the No. 2 group from 2009, the No. 6 class of 2010, and then the No. 6 group from 2011 via Rivals rankings.

    If it weren’t for that pesky SEC West schedule, LSU might get No. 1 honors in the premier of the AP poll.

1. USC

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    The Trojans should capture the AP’s top spot before a ball is snapped, and USC’s high mention has a lot of actual meat on the bone.

    Yes, perhaps the rest of the nation wants somebody, anybody to unseat the SEC from its long-term championship throne, but the 2012 Trojans are more than just a hopeful coin in the fountain.

    USC returns 17 starters from its 10-win product and has four classes that were all recruited as top-10 groups when signed, three coming in the top five.

    The Trojans did everything reasonably well last season with the exception of defending the pass, an area where they earned an almost shocking No. 102 ranking nationally.

    USC’s biggest advantage in the very real race to unseat the SEC is the fact that it plays a Pac-12 South slate as opposed to one from the SEC West.

    This difference may be enough to make the Trojans oh-so-for-real; that is, if Kiffin can really bring it all together and his defense can begin to shut foes down through the air.