Predicting the USA Today Preseason Coaches' Top 25 College Football Poll
Like peanut butter without jelly, the college football offseason is not complete without some preseason top 25 poll prognostication.
That's what this list is all about.
The USA Today Coaches' Poll will be released in early August, which, in case you are not paying attention, is just over a month away.
This list predicts where each top 25 team will be ranked in the preliminary Coaches' Poll, and includes a bit of analysis and prediction for each team's upcoming season.
Call it an appetizer of sorts, preparing you for the feast that will be the upcoming 2012 campaign.
25. Louisville Cardinals
Yeas, the Cardinals had a better than anticipated 2011 season, finishing near the top of the Big East and just missing out on a BCS bowl game.
2012 appears to be a season in which the Cardinals make a big jump.
Charlie Strong's squad returns seven starters to a defense that allowed only 20.1 points per contest last season, while quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is returning to build on a solid freshman campaign.
Are they LSU?
But the Cardinals definitely will prove they belong in the top 25 by season's end.
24. Boise State Broncos
Neither group, Boise State fans nor Boise State haters, are going to be happy with this, but c'est la vie.
The Broncos still play in the MWC, meaning other than their season opening game at Michigan State, the schedule is loaded with cupcakes.
This will lead to a record that is better than the Broncos actually are.
However, the starters that are gone will hurt BSU in a big way.
The Broncos are dead last in the country in number of returning starters, which is a pretty good indicator of how well a team will perform.
Just ask Auburn, who won the title in 2011, returned only seven starters last season, and went from 14-0 to 8-5.
23. Auburn Tigers
The Tigers "struggled" their way to an 8-5 record last season.
This season will be better for Auburn, as they make a statement in their opener against Clemson who, while not BCS title material, can win some big games.
Gene Chizik has done a great job of recruiting, and the young talent that was on the field last season will be significantly more mature in 2012, leading to two more wins for the Tigers.
22. Florida Gators
It's very likely that Will Muschamp was watching the Florida offense when this photo op took place.
The Gators' offense was about as effective last season as a lead balloon, finishing 105th in the nation in total offense.
It's going to be a little bit better in 2012, given a little experience and some fresh blood at quarterback.
But what will really get Florida rolling is that defense.
At times last season, it was a thing of beauty, but when your offense is incredibly inept, it's very hard to maintain that level of intensity.
This led to breakdowns and poor execution at times.
In the upcoming season, a slightly improved offense will lend itself to improvement on defense, as that unit will have more time to rest, and might even have a lead or two to protect.
We can expect plenty of mistakes, as this team is still young, but the talent Muschamp has recruited will make up for some of those miscues.
21. Virginia Tech Hokies
The Hokies are right where they want to be.
Overlooked, underrated and not expected to win the conference.
Perfect position for an ambush.
Logan Thomas is returning, and has the talent to be an All-ACC quarterback.
While they return only three starters on the offensive side of the ball, nine guys return to the defense, and we all know about Frank Beamer's ability to turn defensive units into juggernauts.
While it's a stretch to see the Hokies winning more than ten games, it's foolish to count out a team that has won at least ten games every season since 2003.
20. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon are a thing of the past.
But that doesn't mean the Cowboys will absolutely tank.
It takes a pretty big imagination to picture them matching last season's 12 wins, but with Joseph Randle returning at running back, and one of the best defensive back sevens in the conference, they could surprise some of the front-runners.
Breaking in quarterback Wes Lunt will be an experience, but if he proves to be even moderately effective, this team will still be very good.
19. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
It seems as if every season, the Irish are overrated, and every season, they falter.
This season, a ranking in the bottom half of the top 25 is fair, and does not inflate expectations too much.
This defense, led by Manti Te'o is extremely talented, and has athletes all over the field.
Couple that with running back Cierre Wood and tight end Tyler Eifert, and this team has the potential to make some noise in the BCS rankings this season.
It just won't be at the top.
18. Texas Longhorns
It's almost that time again, Texas.
Time for your program to jump back near the top of the Big 12.
The running back duo of Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown will somewhat mask the awful quarterback play, and will emerge as one of the best tandems in the nation.
It's on defense, however, where Mack Brown's team will have it's bread buttered.
They return seven starters, including outstanding ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor, and will be a force to be reckoned with in a conference that is a little lacking in defense.
No. 18 is a good start for the 'Horns, allowing some room for improvement, but not assuming they will be world-beaters before they have ever set foot on the field.
17. Nebraska Cornhuskers
The Huskers had a rough inaugural season in the Big Ten last season, getting blasted by Wisconsin in their conference opener, and winding up out of the race for the Big Ten title by season's end.
With seven starters returning on each side of the ball, it all boils down to a very simple factor for the Huskers: Can Taylor Martinez throw the ball with any consistency?
If he cannot, it won't matter how well the young defense or running back Rex Burkhead performs.
16. TCU Horned Frogs
The Frogs are my sleeper pick to win the Big 12.
They get to host Kansas State and Oklahoma, and have an offense that is going to be better than most people expect.
Casey Pachall's ability to throw the ball will only get better, and with Josh Boyce on the receiving end of those passes, this offense will be putting up big points very quickly.
Gary Patterson's teams have always been predicated on a stout defense, and while the Horned Frogs lost four starters, they are going to be solid on that front once again.
Tackle Stansly Maponga is a top three tackle in the nation, and will have plenty of impact on big games.
15. Clemson Tigers
In spite of the return of Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Andre Ellington, the Tigers are in trouble.
The offensive line lost three starters, and they need to fill those major gaps.
On the defensive side of the ball, four key players are gone from a defense that allowed over 400 yards a game and was abused by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.
Hiring Brent Venables as defensive coordinator was a stroke of genius, but this defense is at least a year away for Clemson.
14. Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin has gone to two consecutive Rose Bowls and lost.
With transfer quarterback Danny O'Brien coming in to try to fill the gap left by Russell Wilson, the Badgers have a shot at a third straight trip to Pasadena.
Chris Borland and Mike Taylor led the conference in tackling last season, and the Badgers' defense was a surprising top 20 in points allowed.
Running back Montee Ball returns to continue his goal of scoring a touchdown every time he touches the ball, and with another very talented offensive line paving the way, he's in good shape to score 30-plus again.
I'm thinking something like 10 wins for Wisconsin.
13. Michigan State Spartans
Two years in a row, Michigan State has been left out in the BCS cold, in spite of having the best regular season record in the Big Ten.
This season is interesting for Mark Dantonio's squad.
The offense lost it's three leading receivers, and an extremely intelligent quarterback in Kirk Cousins.
The strength of this unit will be the running game.
On the other side off the ball, it's nearly impossible to pick out a weakness.
At every level of the defense, the Spartans have all conference performers, and there is no question they will be in the Big Ten title mix at the end of the season.
But will the offense be able to put up enough points to lead them to the title?
12. Kansas State Wildcats
Collin Klein returns, along with eight starters on offense and seven on a very solid defense.
The Wildcats, in spite of a very good season last year, seem to be flying under the radar again in 2012.
That's a mistake.
This team has the potential to win 10 or more games, especially if they can pull off an upset or two.
Never count out Bill Snyder, the man is a wizard
11. South Carolina Gamecocks
South Carolina's biggest strength, other than Marcus Lattimore, is going to be the defensive line.
Jadeveon Clowney is primed for a big year, and Steve Spurrier has been stockpiling plenty of talent, leading me to believe that this line will be one of the best in the nation yet again.
But back to Lattimore.
The man has the skills to lead the conference in rushing, and will definitely find his way into the endzone more than his share of times.
The Gamecocks have a tough road ahead of them, however, in order to reach the SEC title game.
Missouri, Georgia, LSU, Florida and Arkansas is a pretty rough slate.
10. Michigan Wolverines
Yes, the Wolverines won the Sugar Bowl.
But that doesn't mean they are back to a place of national prominence.
Brady Hoke has done a good job of emphasizing defense and returning the Wolverines to a competitive state.
Denard Robinson, for all his talent, leads the nation in September Heisman votes, but seems to fold as the season moves along.
Even so, the schedule, outside of the opening day meeting with Alabama and late season matchup with Ohio State, is extremely manageable.
Fitz Toussaint is one of the most underrated running backs in the country, and Robinson is undoubtedly going to score some points.
Whether the offense can remain consistent and not turn the ball over will determine the success of Brady Hoke's season.
9. Arkansas Razorbacks
This could be the year, Razorback fans.
The Hogs host Alabama and LSU, Knile Davis is returning from injury, the receiving corps is ridiculously talented and Tyler Wilson is set to lead the offense.
The level of success the Razorbacks will enjoy hinges solely on the play of a defense that returns six starters.
If the defense can show the ability to stop the occasional drive, the sky is the limit for this squad.
8. West Virginia Mountaineers
West Virginia is returning eight starters to an offense that put up nearly 470 yards per game in Dana Holgorsen's first year at the helm.
With Geno Smith returning at quarterback, and Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin at wide receiver, this offense is going to be explosive again in 2012.
The transition to the Big 12 poses challenges of it's own, but the 'Eers have the talent to win the conference in their first season as a member.
There is even a chance they could be a dark horse BCS title contender, given they host Oklahoma, TCU and Kansas State.
7. Florida State Seminoles
We keep hearing that the 'Noles are back, but it hasn't quite panned out that way just yet.
E.J. Manuel will have to step up his game to help the offense keep up with an absolutely loaded defense.
Whether they actually deserve this ranking hinges on how well the young offensive line continues to solidify.
6. Georgia Bulldogs
The Bulldogs are going to be a pretty good ball team.
They check in as the third SEC squad in the top six.
That defense, led by linebacker Jarvis Jones and safety Bacarri Rambo, is fierce, and will spend the season making life miserable for everyone in it's path.
Aaron Murray will challenge Arkansas' Tyler Wilson for the SEC passing crown, and Mark Richt's seat will go from "on fire" in 2011, to "chill" in 2012.
They avoid LSU, Arkansas and Alabama again, so the path to the SEC title game should be pretty clear for the Dawgs.
5. Oregon Ducks
For some reason, I get the feeling that there is going to be a ton of Duck love in the polls this season.
It makes sense.
Other than USC, the Ducks play few teams that are on the same level as they are.
De'Anthony Thomas is the most explosive running back in the game, and the defense returns six starters, as well as several guys that were key parts of last seasons' rotation.
Their schedule is manageable, and playing at Autzen usually lends itself to automatic wins.
They will earn a high ranking by season's end, but it will be more by virtue of a less than difficult schedule than how good the team actually is.
4. Oklahoma Sooners
The Sooners are in for another season similar to last year.
While Landry Jones should put up Heisman type numbers, the loss of four receivers to suspension hurts.
The defense was questionable last season, and lost some key pieces.
With West Virginia and TCU coming into the Big 12 as legitimate threats, and Texas making strides back toward respectability, the Sooners' path to the Big 12 title is just as challenging in 2012 as it was in 2011.
3. Alabama Crimon Tide
This is too high.
But those are not enough to mask the fact that Trent Richardson and Marquise Maze are gone on the offensive side of the ball, and only four starters return on defense.
It's going to be very tough to go into Arkansas and LSU and come out with wins this season.
2. LSU Tigers
The Tigers are downright scary, yet again.
That defense is made up of some of the best athletes in the country, and there are legitimate stars at every level.
The offensive line and backfield are the best in the SEC, and even with minimal production in the passing game from Zach Mettenberger, the defense has the ability to cover some of those deficits with an incredible level of elite talent.
Throw in the genius that is Les Miles, and this team is primed for another run at a BCS title appearance.
1. USC Trojans
The Trojans have inherited the torch as the next challenger to the SEC's continued dominance.
Matt Barkley's return, coupled with receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee means this offense will be potent, and the defense returns seven starters.
The losses of Wes Horton and Nick Perry on the defensive line, as well as Matt Kalil on the offensive line, are difficult to cover for, but Lane Kiffin, for all his foibles, has proven he has the ability to make adjustments.
The Trojans will not be deep, but with the talent they can field, are a threat to beat any team they face.