College Football: Georgia Bulldogs and 5 Other Programs Due for a 2012 Letdown
You just have to love the college football preseason.
Everyone is still undefeated, energized and ready to put their mark on the upcoming season.
This year, there are plenty of teams with hopes of winning conference and even national titles, some much more legitimate than others.
Of course, only one team can win the national title and only a handful of squads will end the season with a conference title.
Everyone else is in for a letdown.
Let's take a look at some of the teams who are poised to fall short of expectations in 2012.
The summer is one time college football programs do not want to be making headlines.
When news comes out in June and July, it is usually regarding player discipline or the commitment of a blue chip recruit.
Unfortunately for Georgia, bad news has come on both fronts lately.
Henry is just one of multiple blue chippers to renege on their commitment to UGA (via Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee).
Although this obviously doesn't have an immediate impact on Georgia's 2012 season, it may be a sign of things unraveling in Athens.
If that isn't a sign, then the arrest and dismissal of star running back Isaiah Crowell certainly is, and if the situation at Georgia continues to go awry, it could spell trouble for head coach Mark Richt.
On the bright side, the Bulldogs have some capable backs lined up to replace Crowell in Ken Malcome and Keith Marshall (and possibly Richard Samuel, who was moved to fullback). But, there is no arguing that Crowell's departure will hurt.
Another positive is the return of junior quarterback Aaron Murray, who will be back for his third year starting under center for the Dawgs.
But, he will have to deal with the loss of several key pieces on the offensive line in front of him, all the while trying to improve himself.
Although he threw for more than 3,000 yards and 35 touchdowns last year, he regressed from his freshman season by throwing 14 interceptions.
Without Crowell, Georgia's season (and perhaps Mark Richt's job) will depend on the decision making of Murray.
Southern California may be the team we see at the top of the Associated Press and Coaches Polls when they are released during this preseason.
Expectations for USC are as high as any team in the country as Lane Kiffin's Trojans will be bowl eligible for the first time since they have been Lane Kiffin's Trojans.
Perhaps the best and most pleasantly surprising news of the offseason for any team was quarterback Matt Barkley announcing his return to USC.
However, the health of his best receiver Robert Woods is still uncertain, as he has been hampered by an ankle injury since 2011.
Fortunately, the Trojans will return their top running back in Curtis McNeal.
The Trojans are rightfully a favorite to take the Pac-12 title and they have one of the best shots at claiming the national title as well.
But, they will be at a massive loss on their offensive front with the departure of Matt Kalil, the No. 4 overall selection in the NFL draft, who was arguably the best offensive lineman in the nation last year.
USC will also suffer a big loss on its defensive front, as defensive end Nick Perry took his 54 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks to the NFL. The defense will also lose a solid linebacker in Chris Galippo.
Also, history will not on the Trojans' side if they do indeed garner the No. 1 preseason, as none of the last seven teams to do so finished the season No. 1.
As high as expectations are, just one loss could figure to be a letdown for USC this year.
Alabama Crimson Tide
When you win a national championship, there is only one way to avoid a letdown the following season: win it again.
For the Crimson Tide, that won't be an easy task, considering they will have to deal with more losses than any other team in the country.
Four NFL first-rounders must be replaced—running back Trent Richardson and three outstanding defenders in Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick and Dont'a Hightower.
Not to mention the most outstanding defensive player from last year's national title game, Courtney Upshaw, along with two more key defenders in Josh Chapman and De'Quan Menzie, and their top receiver Marquis Maze.
Only Alabama would still be considered a SEC and national title threat after those incredible losses.
But, 'Bama is 'Bama, and Nick Saban and Kirby Smart (arguably the best coaching tandem in college football) will lead the Tide with more inflated expectations into 2012.
The defense will somehow be talented yet again, but we just don't know how talented. Of course, Saban has recruited well but it is always tough to tell how those recruits will pan out until they actually form a unit together.
Junior Eddie Lacy will be the expected replacement for T-Rich in the Alabama backfield, and he should be a suitable replacement. But, it is tough to ask anyone to fill the shoes of Richardson.
So, a lot of pressure will be placed on the shoulder of junior quarterback AJ McCarron. Much like his QB counterpart at Georgia, Aaron Murray, McCarron will be relied on heavily, and his success will be the difference between a strong title defense and a letdown in 2012.
The only difference, I don't expect Saban's job to be in jeopardy anytime soon.
West Virginia Mountaineers
West Virginia has as much heading into the 2012 season as they have had in a while.
The Mountaineers are led by an early Heisman Trophy candidate in Geno Smith at quarterback and two returning 1,000-yard receivers, including Tavon Austin, the nation's leader in all-purpose yardage from a year ago.
They will also return a stable of capable running backs and a strong corps of defensive backs spearheaded by safety Terrance Garvin.
WVU's biggest weapon will be its explosive pass-happy offensive scheme brought in by head coach Dana Holgorsen, which has the potential to produce unheard of point totals (see: 2012 Orange Bowl).
But, West Virginia will also bring a ton of question marks into the season.
WVU's only real offensive issue may be on the offensive line, where it will have to replace two starters.
Defensively, the Mountaineers will be breaking in a whole new defensive scheme, as they make the transition from Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 to the 3-4 implemented by new defensive coordinator Joe DeForest.
Not only that, but they must do it all while replacing their interception leader Keith Tandy, leading tackler Najee Goode, and top two pass rushers Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller.
Irvin and Miller could prove to be crippling losses, as WVU will need a solid pass rush to pressure the strong passing offenses of the Big 12 conference.
Which reminds me, the Mountaineers are also making a transition from the Big East to the much stronger Big 12.
Just another minor detail which may factor in to a potential letdown in Morgantown this season.
WVU lacked consistency last year, as was evident in losses to Syracuse and Louisville, which is something that simply won't fly in the Big 12.
Consistency will be the key for the Mountaineers if they expect to contend for a Big 12 title this season.
Montee Ball made a mistake by returning for his senior season.
He had an unbelievable junior year in which he went from more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and 39 total touchdowns, tying a record set by Barry Sanders.
The Wentzville, Missouri native won't be able to match that production this year.
Much of Ball's success came because the Badgers had a dangerous and efficient quarterback.
Wisconsin is hoping that Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien will be able to slide in and lead the Badger offense just like NC State transfer Russell Wilson did last year.
But, simply put, O'Brien is no Wilson. Last year, O'Brien threw for just 1,648 yards and carried a 7:10 touchdown to interception ratio over nine games. Yes, that means 10 interceptions in nine games.
Meanwhile, Wilson threw only four interceptions in 14 games, leading him to a 191.8 passer efficiency rating. He was exactly the mistake-free efficiency machine the Badgers needed to run their smash-mouth offense and complement Montee Ball.
If O'Brien starts, don't expect him to be as effective as Wilson, and if he doesn't, don't expect Joe Brennan, the other expected contender to be as prolific as Wilson was either.
Additionally, Ball and whoever the starting QB is will have to deal with huge losses on the offensive line, which usually anchors the Wisconsin offense.
The Badgers lost the entire right side of their line, including a first and second round NFL draft pick, not to mention Nick Toon, their leader in receptions and receiving touchdowns last season.
Wisconsin will be good this year, but it certainly won't be as strong as it was a season ago, especially in what should be one of the strongest Big Ten conferences we've seen.