College football is still about a month away from kicking off, but it couldn't come soon enough. Anything to give us something to talk about other than Penn State.
That's why the release of the 2012 USA Today coaches' preseason poll on Thursday was such a boon. Finally, we get to move on with our NCAA football-related lives and start talking about the future.
For anyone except Penn State fans, that definitely qualifies as good news.
The teams at the top of the polls have done nothing to earn their spots—yet. As Les Miles, coach of top-ranked LSU, told USA Today in a statement: "[We] understand that right now, it's a spot that we hold and not one that has been earned. It's a position that we enjoy. Now we have to go out and play in order to keep it."
Before LSU and the rest of the NCAA get down to business, here's a look at the teams that will live up to their billing in the upcoming season. You can see the full top-25 poll below.
Alabama (No. 2)
The reigning national champions will be right back at it again in 2012. And before long, the Crimson Tide will likely be able to tip LSU out of the No. 1 overall spot, just like they trumped the Tigers in last year's national championship game.
Unlike several of the top teams in the college football universe, the Crimson Tide didn't endure overwhelming changes or turnover during the offseason. Instead, the team that went 12-1 overall last season and 7-1 in conference play will aim to play for the championship two years in a row, even without the help of Trent Richardson, who will be replaced by junior running back Eddie Lacy.
But Lacy and quarterback A.J. McCarron won't even be the top stories for Alabama in 2012. That honor will go to the defense, a unit that allowed more than 14 points in a game just once last year—and that was in a 45-21 win over Georgia Southern.
Last season, in a 21-0 shutout of LSU in the title game, Alabama proved that defense wins championships. That approach will be the key once again in 2012.
Southern California (No. 3)
This is a huge year for USC. It finally regains its right to compete in the postseason after enduring NCAA sanctions over the last two years, and finally, head coach Lane Kiffin will have something to compete for. He'll have the help of veteran quarterback Matt Barkley to do so, as well as one very welcome new addition: Silas Redd.
As soon as the NCAA ruled that Penn State players could transfer without having to miss any time on the field, rumors swirled that Redd would defect from State College to L.A.. And those rumors proved true. On Wednesday, the star running back officially announced his decision to transfer, according to ESPN.
Redd, a rising junior, accumulated 1,241 yards and seven scores last season. Suddenly, a Trojans team that was about to enter the 2012 season without a star running back has a serious weapon in its quest to take back the Pac-12.
Now, this is a team with an excellent coach, a veteran quarterback and one of the best running backs in the nation.
Last year, USC unofficially won the Pac-12 South, but couldn't compete; now, with the sanctions lifted, no one else in the conference stands a chance.
Florida State (No. 8)
Despite being one of the (supposedly) major conferences in college football, the ACC has been mighty weak over the last several years. Fortunately for the conference, Florida State stands a very good chance of changing that tune in 2012.
Which team has the best chance of sticking around in the top 10 all season?
In 2011, the Seminoles had a solid season, finishing in third place in the Atlantic Division at 9-4 overall, 5-3 in conference play. And even despite enduring some unexpected roster fluctuations over the last couple of days, FSU aims to be right back up there again this season.
In the last couple of days, the Seminoles lost a cornerback—three-year starter Greg Reid was dismissed due to a violation of team rules, according to ESPN—and they gained a tight end, as Penn State junior Kevin Haplea elected to transfer to FSU, per ESPN. The acquisition of Haplea is particularly significant for this team, which had been running low on experienced tight ends.
The bottom line is this: As some of the ACC superpowers have crumbled of late, FSU has consistently remained in bowl contention (except for one hiccup in 2009). Given its depth and experience, it bodes to be the conference's team to beat in 2012.
USA Today Preseason Coaches' Poll
3. Southern California
7. Florida State
9. South Carolina
11. West Virginia
13. Michigan State
19. Oklahoma State
20. Virginia Tech
21. Kansas State
22. Boise State
24. Notre Dame