Bleacher Report College Football Top 25: Preseason Edition

Bleacher Report PollsFeatured ColumnistAugust 13, 2012

Bleacher Report College Football Top 25: Preseason Edition

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    College football fall training camps are in full swing, and so are the opinions about which team should enter the 2012 season as No. 1 in the land. And here at Bleacher Report, we have our own thoughts on this year's Top 25.

    Welcome to the preseason edition of what will be B/R's weekly Top 25 poll. The poll features 26 voters who comprise Bleacher Report's most experienced college football lead writers, featured columnists and editors. The Bleacher Report Top 25 will be one of the earliest—if not the earliest—polls to be published following the conclusion of all games on Saturday nights. Or, in the case of some weeks, like Kickoff Weekend, after all contests have included, such as the Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech prime time matchup on Labor Day night.

    Suffice to say, every week, before the USA Today Coaches' Poll is out, before the Associated Press rankings are made public, Bleacher Report will give college football fans the first Top 25 poll of the week and a chance to debate the rankings.

    So, who will start things off atop the B/R Top 25?

    Defending champion Alabama? Maybe. But the Crimson Tide lost some top-notch players on defense and one of the best running backs in school history in Trent Richardson.

    LSU? A definite candidate for preseason No. 1 given that the Tigers' only loss last year was to Alabama in the national championship game—after having defeated the Tide at Alabama during the regular season. However, LSU dismissed Heisman Trophy candidate Tyrann Mathieu. Will that prohibit Les Miles and crew from claiming the top spot?

    Or how about USC? The Trojans are off probation, have a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, arguably one of the nation's best wide receivers in Robert Woods and now a top-notch running back after Silas Redd transferred from Penn State.

    Who will it be? Read on for the Bleacher Report Top 25 Preseason Poll.

    Note: Every team will be eligible to make the B/R poll, regardless of if they are bowl eligible or not. List of "Returning Starters" is taken from Phil Steele's blog.

Others Receiving Votes

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    Washington: 40

    Georgia Tech: 26

    Auburn: 26

    Louisville: 25

    Missouri: 12

    North Carolina State: 11

    Utah: 9

    North Carolina: 5

    BYU: 5

    Texas A&M: 5

    Baylor: 4

    South Florida: 3

    Cincinnati: 3

    Virginia: 1

No. 25: Florida Gators

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    Total Points: 58

    2011 Final Record: 7-6 (3-5 SEC)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): NR/NR/NR

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 7/10/1

    The 2011 season for the Florida Gators can be one to forget after finishing 7-6, their worst record since 1987 when they finished 6-6.

    The offense was stagnant all season, scoring 25.5 points per game and ranking No. 71 in the country. The struggle may continue into the new season as they lost two key players on offense, Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps.

    Add in the uncertainty at the quarterback position, and it could be another long season for the Gators. 

    On the bright side is the return of 10 starting players on a defense that ranked No. 20 in the country in scoring defense, giving up just 20.5 points per game.

    Head coach Will Muschamp has to be feeling the pressure of last year's season, but as long as the defense is as good as advertised, they will have a chance to better their record from a year ago.

No. 24: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Total Points: 72

    2011 Final Record: 8-5

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): NR/NR/NR

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 8/6/1

    Last season, quarterback Tommy Rees led Notre Dame to an 8-5 season while throwing for 2,871 yards and 20 touchdowns. This year he will start the season on the bench, as he has been suspended for the opener against Navy for an offseason arrest earlier this year.

    So far this fall there has been a three-way tie for the starting quarterback position. Everett Golson, Andrew Hendrix and freshman Gunner Kiel took snaps with the first team this spring.

    Notre Dame brings back a plethora of talented players on offense, including their best returning player, tight end Tyler Eifert. Eifert will most likely be the primary target after the departure of leading receiver Michael Floyd.

    Eifert ended last season with 63 catches for 803 yards and five touchdowns.

    On the defensive side, the Irish will have one of the best linebackers in the country, Manti Te'o, returning for his senior year. Te'o has 36 career starts with the Irish and will most likely be a first-team All-American.

    The one downfall for the Irish will be a brutal schedule against preseason ranked teams Michigan State, Michigan, Stanford, Oklahoma and USC.

No. 23: Boise State Broncos

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    Total Points: 93

    2011 Final Record: 12-1 (6-1 MWC)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): 8/6/5

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 3/2/1

    Nothing will be stranger than watching Boise State play this year without Kellen Moore. A staple for four years at quarterback, his departure will undoubtedly be a major concern for Boise State.

    That won't be the only problem at Boise State, as the Broncos return only six starting players from last year's 12-1 team, which is the lowest amount of returning starters in the entire country.

    So why are the Broncos even ranked? The schedule has a lot to do with it, as they are playing their last season in the Mountain West before moving to the Big East next year.

    The only team they face all season long that will most likely be ranked by season's end is Michigan State, which will be their first game of the season on August 31.

No. 22: Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Total Points: 124

    2011 Final Record: 12-1 (8-1 Big 12)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): 3/3/2

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 6/8/2

    Although the Cowboys are going to be without the services of quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon, don't count them out just yet.

    Offensively, they return plenty of firepower, as running back Joseph Randle returns. Randle ran for 1,216 yards and 24 touchdowns for the Cowboys last season.

    The quarterback situation flipped this summer, as junior Clint Chelf was thought to be the starting quarterback, but head coach Mike Gundy named true freshman Wes Lunt the starter in April.

    On the defensive side of the ball, the Cowboys return eight starting players. Even though they didn't have the best defense in the country, they still created 44 turnovers in 2011, good for No. 1 in the country.

No. 21: Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Total Points: 136

    2011 Final Record: 6-7 (3-5 Big Ten)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): NR/NR/NR

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 7/9/2

    Ohio State could be another big surprise this season, even though it is not eligible to play in a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions.

    OSU was able to snag one of the best coaches in the country when Urban Meyer came out of retirement to sign a contract to coach the Buckeyes.

    They return 16 starters on offense and defense, as well as their starting kicker and punter.

    Braxton Miller will be the starting quarterback after a successful season in which he threw for 1,159 yards and ran for another 715.

    Assuming Coach Meyer will be bringing his patented spread offense to Columbus, Ohio State could spell trouble for the rest of the Big Ten.

No. 20: Stanford Cardinal

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    Total Points: 153

    2011 Final Record: 11-2 (8-1 Pac-12)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): 7/7/8

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 6/7/1

    Stanford is another one of those teams that has a huge hole to fill at quarterback, as Andrew Luck is now the starting quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL.

    Last season, Luck threw for 3,517 yards and 35 touchdowns while leading Stanford to an 11-2 record.

    The position will now be a battle between Josh Nunes and Brett Nottingham, who have combined for just 85 yards and one touchdown in their brief careers.

    On the bright side is the return of stud running back Stepfan Taylor, who ran for 1,330 yards and 10 touchdowns last season as a junior.

No. 19: Texas Longhorns

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    Total Points: 190

    2011 Final Record: 8-5 (4-5 Big 12)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): NR/NR/NR

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 10/7/0

    Texas had an off year on offense last season when it averaged 28 points per game—No. 51 overall in the nation. It was strange seeing a normally dominant offense struggling most of the time last year.

    This season should be much improved, as the Longhorns return 10 players on the offense. However, one of the quarterbacks must step up and show some consistency throughout the season.

    Just like last season, quarterbacks David Ash and Case McCoy will be fighting for that No. 1 spot on the roster this fall. Longhorn fans can only hope that one pulls away from the other, or it could be another disappointing season in Texas.

No. 18: Kansas State Wildcats

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    Total Points: 192

    2011 Final Record: 10-3 (7-2 Big 12)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): 15/16/14

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 9/7/2

    Kansas State surprised many last season when it finished the year with a record of 10-3.

    This year you can expect more of the same, as the Wildcats return 16 players on both offense and defense.

    Quarterback Collin Klein will return after throwing for 1,918 yards and running for another 1,141. He also finished the season with 40 touchdowns (27 rushing).

    The young defense, which gave up 28 points per game, should be much improved after having a year under their belt.

No. 17: Virginia Tech Hokies

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    Total Points: 206

    2011 Final Record: 11-3 (7-1 ACC)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): 21/17/21

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 3/9/1

    Ignore the fact that the Virginia Tech Hokies are returning just three players on the offensive side of the ball. Head coach Frank Beamer is a recruiting genius that will have his Hokies competing for the ACC championship.

    It always helps when one of the returning starters is also one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC. Logan Thomas finished the season throwing for 3,013 yards while running for another 469 yards.

    What will hurt the Hokies the most is losing one of the best running backs in the country, David Wilson, who ran for 1,709 yards last year.

    As always, the defense will be as strong as ever, as the Hokies return nine players on a unit that was ranked No. 7 in the country in scoring defense.

No. 16: Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Total Points: 229

    2011 Final Record: 9-4 (5-3 Big Ten)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): 24/24/25

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 7/7/2

    There is no doubt that the Nebraska Cornhuskers will compete for the Big Ten title, as they return 14 players on offense and defense this season.

    The only thing that may hold them back is the inconsistency of quarterback Taylor Martinez. Although Martinez is a terrific dual-threat quarterback, he seemed to struggle far too many times last year.

    If he becomes more consistent, the combination of Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead could create a logjam atop the Big Ten conference.

    Burkhead returns for his senior season after rushing for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns last season.

    The defense also returns seven players and should be much improved after ending last season ranked No. 42 in scoring defense.

No. 15: TCU Horned Frogs

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    Total Points: 230

    2011 Final Record: 11-2 (7-0 MWC)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): 14/13/16

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 6/7/0

    Much like West Virginia, which also moved to the Big 12, TCU will have a much harder schedule than it is used to.

    The Horned Frogs will have to face Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma to end the season.

    Even with the harder slate, TCU still returns plenty of firepower on offense. Quarterback Casey Pachall is back after a terrific year in which he threw for 2,921 yards and 25 touchdowns.

    The Horned Frogs also return Waymon James, who ran for 875 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore last season.

No. 14: Clemson Tigers

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    Total Points: 288

    2011 Final Record: 10-4 (6-2 ACC)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): 22/22/22

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 6/7/1

    Clemson could be a surprise team again, as it returns a plethora of talent from last season’s team that won the ACC Championship.

    The offense returns quarterback Tajh Boyd, who threw for 3,828 yards and 33 touchdowns in his sophomore season. But besides Boyd, the offense also returns big-time offensive weapons Andre Ellington and Sammy Watkins, who combined for more than 2,500 yards and 23 touchdowns on the ground and through the air last season.

    The defense, which will have the services of a new coordinator, is fairly young but should be better than last season, when they gave up more than 29 points per game.

No. 13: Michigan State Spartans

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    Total Points: 330

    2011 Final Record: 11-3 (7-1 Big Ten)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): 11/10/11

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 4/8/2

    Michigan State lost a lot of talent from last year’s squad, yet voters are still confident that the Spartans will still have a great team to compete for the Big Ten title.

    Quarterback Kirk Cousins graduated last season, leaving Andrew Maxwell the probable starter. Maxwell threw just 26 passes last season, completing 18 of them for 171 yards and a touchdown.

    Le'Veon Bell will be the primary running back after a successful sophomore season in which he ran for 948 yards and 13 touchdowns.

    Michigan State's defense, ranked No. 18 in the country last year in scoring defense, will still be intact and returning eight starters.

    The Spartans' schedule is brutal though, as they face Boise State in the first game of the season, with Big Ten road games against Wisconsin and Michigan.

No. 12: Wisconsin Badgers

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    Total Points: 370

    2011 Final Record: 11-3 (6-2 Big Ten)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): 10/11/12

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 4/6/0

    If there is one team in the Top 25 that is missing the most, it may be the Wisconsin Badgers. Not only did they lose most of their coaching staff and wide receiver Nick Toon, but also one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Russell Wilson.

    Wilson threw for 3,175 yards, 33 touchdowns and just four interceptions last year. This year, they will most likely rely on Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien to lead the team.

    The good news is they still get the services of a Heisman Trophy candidate, running back Montee Ball, who ran for 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns a year ago.

    Ball has had a recent setback, as he was attacked on campus by five men and suffered a concussion.  Although he has yet to be cleared to practice, coach Bret Bielema believes Ball will be ready for the season opener.

No. 11: West Virginia Mountaineers

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    Total Points: 412

    2011 Final Record: 10-3 (5-2 Big East)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): 17/18/18

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 8/6/2

    One of the most impressive performances of the entire 2011 college football season was when the Mountaineers demolished the Clemson Tigers in the Orange Bowl, 70-33.

    West Virginia averaged 37.6 points per game last year and will be returning eight offensive starters, meaning they could be even more dangerous this year.

    Geno Smith is coming back for his senior season after throwing for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns last year.

    The only difference West Virginia will have this year is they are playing in the more difficult Big 12 Conference.

    Baylor, Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma will replace the Connecticut, Rutgers, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh on the schedule.


No. 10: Michigan Wolverines

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    Total Points: 431

    2011 Final Record: 11-2 (6-2 Big Ten)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): 12/9/10

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 7/7/2

    Quarterback Denard Robinson returns for his senior season after another statistically amazing year in which he threw for 2,173 yards and ran for another 1,176.

    Besides Robinson, the Wolverines also bring back six other starters, including running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who rushed for 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore.

    The true test will come early for the Wolverines, as they head to Texas on September 1 to face last year’s BCS champion, Alabama.

No. 9: South Carolina Gamecocks

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    Total Points: 432

    2011 Final Record: 11-2 (6-2 SEC)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): 9/8/9

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 7/6/1

    South Carolina returns seven starters on offense, including Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Lattimore, who missed the better part of last year due to an ACL tear. Lattimore is considered one of the best, if not the best running back in the country after compiling 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns in just six-and-a-half games last season.

    The Gamecocks' season will rest on his running ability; if he is not able to be at full strength by the middle of the season, they could be in trouble when they play Georgia, LSU and Florida in three straight games.

    South Carolina also has to replace superstar receiver Alshon Jeffery, who had 3,042 yards and 23 touchdowns in the three years he was a Gamecock. He skipped his senior season to enter the NFL.

    Even with the question marks on offense, head coach Steve Spurrier is a great coach and will keep his team competitive no matter what happens.

No. 8: Arkansas Razorbacks

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    Total Points: 434

    2011 Final Record: 11-2 (6-2 SEC)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): 5/5/6

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 7/6/2

    Arkansas is another questionable team, but that's because the Razorbacks lost head coach Bobby Petrino, who was fired after a scandal involving an athletic department employee and an inappropriate relationship.

    To add fuel to the fire, they also lost three receivers who had a caught a combined 2,009 yards and 15 touchdowns last year.

    Still, the Razorbacks will return the services of running back Knile Davis, who ran for 1,485 yards and 17 touchdowns last season.

    And, uh, oh yea—quarterback Tyler Wilson will also be back at the helm after throwing for 3,638 yards and 24 touchdowns last year. He and Davis alone make for a pretty potent offense.

No. 7: Florida State Seminoles

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    Total Points: 470

    2011 Final Record: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): 23/23/24

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 6/7/1

    Florida State was ranked in the top five last preseason but ended up 9-4 overall. The season was filled with injuries, and the Seminoles never really got on track.

    The offense struggled at times, and their running game was nonexistent, ending up ranked 104th in the country with just 112 rushing yards per game.

    E.J. Manuel will be the returning starting quarterback for the Seminoles after throwing for 2,666 yards and 18 touchdowns last year.

    The strength of the Seminoles is the defense, which was ranked No. 4 in the country in scoring defense last season, giving up just 15 points per game. But the defense and special teams did take a major hit when Greg Reid was dismissed from the team for violating team rules

    Reid was their best cornerback and a very dangerous kick and punt returner for the Seminoles.

No. 6: Georgia Bulldogs

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    Total Points: 484

    2011 Final Record: 10-4 (7-1 SEC)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): 19/20/19

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 5/9/0

    Georgia has a legitimate shot at winning the SEC East, as the Bulldogs play a very favorable schedule. They don't play LSU, Arkansas or Alabama this season, but that doesn't mean everything is rosy.

    The Bulldogs did get some bad news this summer, as leading rusher Isaiah Crowell was dismissed from the team due to two felony weapons violations. He later transferred to Alabama State.

    Now the Bulldogs must find a running back to fill that role, and don't be surprised if true freshman and 5-star recruit Keith Marshall gets plenty of opportunities this fall.

    Junior quarterback Aaron Murray will be back after throwing for 3,149 yards and 35 touchdowns last season.

No. 5: Oklahoma Sooners

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    Total Points: 545

    2011 Final Record: 10-3 (6-3 Big 12)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): 16/15/17

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 8/7/2

    The Sooners struggled last year to meet their No. 1 preseason ranking, but they still finished the season 10-3.

    Senior quarterback Landry Jones decided to come back to Oklahoma after posting an impressive 4,463 passing yards and 29 touchdowns.

    Although the Sooners will not have the services of All-American wideout Ryan Broyles, who took his talent to the NFL, they still have two great receivers in Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds, who combined for 1,564 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns last season.

    The Sooners return a total of 17 starters from last year’s team, making them a force to be reckoned with.

No. 4: Oregon Ducks

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    Total Points: 550

    2011 Final Record: 12-2 (8-1 Pac-12)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): 4/4/4

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 5/6/2

    You would think losing LaMichael James and Darron Thomas would put Oregon in a rut on offense.

    Think again.

    There is so much speed and talent to fill the position that Duck fans are serious when they say they will be in the hunt for the national championship.

    Last year’s backup quarterback, Bryan Bennett, looked superb when given the chance, throwing for 369 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions in just 45 pass attempts. His legs were also impressive, as he ran the ball 23 times for 200 yards.

    One of the most explosive athletes in all of college football, De'Anthony Thomas, will be back for his sophomore campaign after a stellar freshman year in which he ran for more than 10 yards per carry.

    Add running back Kenjon Barner to the mix, and you have one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the country.

No. 3: LSU Tigers

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    Total Points (first place votes): 605 (5)

    2011 Final Record: 13-1 (8-0 SEC)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches Poll/BR): 2/2/3

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 7/4/2

    Having won two BCS championships and the SEC West four times since 2000 cements the Tigers as being one of the most dominant programs in the 21st century.

    Even though they lost last year's national championship game, Les Miles is one of the best coaches in America, and there is no doubt he will lead his team to another amazing season.

    That said, there are plenty of question marks regarding the Tigers, and it starts at quarterback, where they lost both Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson. 

    That leaves junior Zach Mettenberger the presumptive starter. Mettenberger signed with Georgia out of high school before transferring to Butler Community College in 2010.

    LSU will also get the services of ex-Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden this year, as he transferred earlier this summer after the Nittany Lions were hit with NCAA sanctions.

    The defense returns four players from a unit that allowed just 11 points per game, No. 2 in the country. But therein lies their biggest loss, as 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu was kicked off the team for what Miles said was violation of team and school rules.

    That's a monstrous blow for the Tigers, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

No. 2: Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Total Points (first place votes): 609 (7)

    2011 Final Record: 12-1 (7-1 SEC)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): 1/1/1

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 7/4/2

    Outside of Alabama, fans all over the country are waiting for the Crimson Tide to tumble. The haters will have to wait a little longer, because Alabama will have a good chance of becoming back-to-back national champions this season.

    Ignore the fact that the Tide only return four players on defense. The fact of the matter is, Nick Saban is a recruiting genius and will surely reload another impressive team.

    We will find out early how the defense is when they face Denard Robinson and the Michigan Wolverines in their very first game of the season on September 1.

No. 1: USC Trojans

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    Total Points (first place votes): 632 (14)

    2011 Final Record: 10-2 (7-2 Pac-12)

    2011 Final Ranking (AP/Coaches/BR): 6/NA*/7

    Returning Starters (offense/defense/special teams): 8/7/2

    If there is one team that should scare every team in the country, it's the USC Trojans. They return a plethora of talent, including one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Matt Barkley.

    Barkley threw for 3,528 yards, 39 touchdowns and just seven interceptions last season, leading the Trojans to a 10-2 season.

    Add two of the best receivers in college football, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, and you have one of the most dangerous offenses in the country. Lee and Woods combined for 2,435 and 26 touchdowns last season.

    The defense returns seven starters and should improve, making USC one of the most balanced teams in college football.

    * USC was not bowl eligible last year due to NCAA sanctions and was not voted on by the coaches poll.

    Bleacher Report Voters: David Mayer (Poll Coordinator), Adam Jacobi, Adam Kramer, Alex Joseph, Alex Callos, Amy Daughters, Barrett Sallee, Carl Stine, Chad Robb, Daniel Hudson, David Luther, Rich Thomaselli, Eric Bowman, Erin Sorenson, Ian Berg, James Brown, Jason Fraychineaud, John Greely, Jonathan McDanal, Kay Jennings, Luke Pashke, Marty Sondermann, Max Rausch, Michael Felder, Sanjay Kirpalani, Zach Dirlam)