College Football 2012: Predicting the Year's 50 Biggest Storylines
We are inching closer and closer to the 2012 college-football season (just under two weeks), and it is never too early to sum up the entire year before it even gets started.
The 2011 season was a magical ride that featured so many electric players, and whether they returned to the college game or went off to the NFL, the programs keep on ticking.
There are always headlines that surprise us throughout the season thanks to a few injuries and/or breakout players.
Looking way ahead deep into autumn, here are the 50 biggest storylines we will be talking about throughout the 2012 season.
BCS Era Dwindles Down, SEC Still Dominating
Regardless of whether or not the SEC wins its seventh straight BCS title, the Southeastern Conference has completely dominated the landscape of college football.
Every season, there are five, six or even seven conference teams appearing in the preseason, postseason and recruiting polls/rankings.
Regardless of how you may look at it, this powerhouse conference brings the stars to Sundays and is as productive as any conference on Saturdays.
The pure excitement and joy (or hatred) of the fans around the country reflects upon the sport we all love mainly because of how dominant and competitive the SEC has become. Nothing will change in the 2012 season.
End of an Era
Well, nobody shows more non-biased love to the SEC than yours truly these days, but there hasn't been more talent outside of the SEC (same can be said inside the conference) in a long time.
Although the SEC is still as dominant as ever, you can call me crazy, because I truly believe the SEC champion will lose in the BCS National Championship Game.
There is a great chance it will be favored in that game at Miami Gardens, but the likes of Oregon, USC and Florida State should be battle-tested and more than talented enough to knock one of those juggernauts off (UGA, LSU, 'Bama).
The Return of Prestigious Programs
Yes, I truly believe we will see a ton of the more prestigious programs get back to what they love doing the most: winning!
Notre Dame, Ohio State, Tennessee and Texas all had miserable seasons last year by their standards, and the 2012 season should be kind to all four of them.
Throw in the likes of Florida State and Nebraska, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if all of said teams finish ranked inside the Top 20.
Recruiting Trail Heats Up
Many kids are getting recruited when they enter high school, and even a few grade-school students are already dreaming of their football future despite not even being old enough for a driver's permit.
Times have changed and we are all more competitive than ever, so clearly, this headline should not come as a surprise.
Penn State Has a Long Way to Go
Many feel that the Nittany Lions should no longer be playing in the Big Ten, and they will be brutal in terms of on-field performance in 2012.
They may only win one game or two, at most, in the Big Ten, ending up with a 4-8 or 5-7 record overall if they are lucky.
The recruits and all the top players from last season have left (offensively), and it may be some time before they even reach that respectable eight-win, nine-win level.
It may be a long, long time.
The Non Die-Hard Fans Will Despise 5-7 Bowl Teams
These are likely the fans that do not love college football as much as most die-hards, but many fans do not enjoy the bowl system.
That in and of itself is hilarious, since every coach and player says the bowl system is the reason why college football thrives so much, but some people will have a big beef with teams with losing records playing in December and January (pre- and post-BCS title bowls).
Certainly, they must fill all of their slots, depending on whether or not the BCS squads can get enough teams eligible to play in bowls. Still, this gives an opportunity for the non-BCS schools to partake in the postseason, which only adds more excitement in the grand scheme of things.
Four Teams Are Ineligible for Postseason
Last season, it was all about USC, but this season, we have North Carolina, Ohio State, Central Florida and Penn State who are all not eligible to play in their conference-title or bowl games due to NCAA violations.
This will certainly be a distraction, and let us all not forget about the Oregon Ducks and Will Lyles, which has certainly drawn the attention of the NCAA infractions committee.
The drama is expected to unfold in-season, which is intriguing, as the Ducks could be in the middle of another BCS title run.
Boise State and BCS Does Not Mix Well
Depending on whether or not Chris Petersen is up to his old tricks, Boise State could be challenging for plenty of future BCS bids.
One last season in the Mountain West will be interesting, because if the Broncos upset or at least keep it close against Michigan State (and finish 11-1), there is a chance they could still climb up near the Top 10.
Assuming they would have to run the table afterward to get ranked near the top of the BCS standings, the Broncos and their fanbase will feel like they've been jobbed, again. Though, it should be fairly simple if they lose a game.
While they very well could be in the running for a ton of BCS bowls (titles perhaps, too), the move to the Big East cannot come soon enough.
USC-Oregon, Two Electric Meetings
The Trojans and Ducks are likely going to see each other twice this season, and that in and of itself is exhilarating.
The thought of a rematch from last season’s thriller really is luring in both of these potential BCS-implicated matchups.
De’Anthony Thomas, Kenjon Barner, Silas Redd, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee enable us to witness the most talent, arguably, among any matchup of the entire season.
Matt Barkley and whoever starts for the Ducks (Brian Bennett or Marcus Mariota) will dazzle us, twice during the 2012 season. Fasten your seat belts for these two electrifying track meets.
Defense Wins Championships
Florida (twice), Alabama (twice), Auburn and LSU have dominated college football with their killer defenses in the last six seasons, so everybody should expect more relentless defenses to pave their ways toward greatness.
Controlling the game on defense has such a vital impact on the sport of football that it really doesn’t matter how many great skill-position players you have on offense.
Florida was sixth and ninth in total defense (2008), LSU was third and Alabama finished second and first (2011) during their respective BCS-championship seasons.
The Auburn defense was No. 60, but it caused turnovers, harassed the passer and was fortunate enough to have that world-beater by the name of Cam Newton putting up points on the board.
The bottom line is that only the top defenses survive, and it might be smart to look in the trenches in terms of which teams are pretenders and contenders in your preseason BCS analysis.
New SEC Gauntlet Brings Unforgettable Moments
Texas A&M and Missouri are going to have some prime-time games early on (UGA and UF, respectively) in the season.
There is no doubt that this powerhouse conference is the best to watch more times than not, and these two new SEC programs should make the conference all the more entertaining.
Robert Griffin III Truly Was Special
The 2011 Heisman Trophy winner had an unforgettable season, but despite all the talent the Baylor Bears are returning, it will be a struggle to reach a bowl this season.
It won’t be shocking if they find a way to reach a bowl, since they'll be more talented than a quarter of the teams that eventually end up playing in the 2012 postseason, but the schedule is one of the toughest in the country.
Nick Florence is a respectable quarterback who is expected to play well, but the offense is going to take a full step back.
They could go 6-6 if they find a way to upset one of the favorites in the Big 12 and/or defeat teams like SMU and Iowa State, but I foresee a slip-up at some point. (Note: They could play in a bowl even at 5-7.)
When Did the East Become Just as Good as the West?
Everybody on this planet, to my knowledge, will be picking the SEC West as the better division in comparison to the East.
Many will simply say it is not smart to suggest the East can compete with the West.
So, for the sake of making bold predictions, as well as surprising you like always, I truly believe the East can compete with the West this season (for the SEC title, unlike last year when the West clearly dominated) despite the fact that the West has three title contenders.
Georgia and South Carolina are right there, and the Florida Gators' defense might just have the highest upside among any team out there.
Throw in the major improvements that Tennessee will put on display, and we might just have, dare I say, three or four ranked teams from the SEC East in the Top 25?
Alabama, LSU and Arkansas, plus Auburn may do the same, but the East will make significant strides in 2012.
The Year of the Quarterbacks Continues
The amount of star quarterbacks out there is beyond absurd, as there are well over a few dozen signal-callers who mean nearly everything to their squads.
Matt Barkley, Tyler Wilson, Aaron Murray, Geno Smith, Landry Jones, Tyler Bray, Keith Price, E.J. Manuel, Collin Klein, Logan Thomas, Tajh Boyd, Denard Robinson—the list goes on for days.
All of those stud quarterbacks can break down a defense with the best of them, and they can single-handedly carry their teams to the top of the mountain.
Look for several virtuoso performances from the names above, as well as from several others that are more than capable of performing like All-Americans.
Michigan Becomes Biggest Preseason Top 10 Flop
I have been called a homer for the Wolverines after selecting them for both the top fanbase and helmet in college football, but I attempt to call it like it is.
Michigan’s Brady Hoke and his staff (Greg Mattison, Al Borges) did the best job in college in my eyes (Stanford, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, LSU and Alabama, too) last season, but they were fortunate to achieve the success that they did.
The schedule was friendly, and they prevailed in many close games (see: ND, OSU, VT). They simply will not be able to maintain in 2012.
Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State’s defenses are awfully stingy, and there is a decent chance they lose four of those five games.
I look at them going 9-4 (maybe 8-5 at worst) when their postseason bowl is complete, but many have them playing in Pasadena even though they likely will finish third behind both Michigan State and Nebraska (Yes, I watched them obliterate them last year).
A 9-4 season would likely result in a Top 15 finish, but that would fall well short of a potential Top Five finish that some envision.
Denard Robinson has been one hell of a quarterback (some compare him to Charlie Ward), but the pieces around him will not be nearly as productive as they were last season, based on the abysmal slate they have in front of them.
The Non-AQ's Spice It Up Again
Last season was all about Houston’s ability to score with the best of them, and it surely didn’t hurt to have Kevin Sumlin calling the plays for one Case Keenum.
The Cougars eventually met their match in Southern Miss, and it cost them (and their conference) approximately $6 million since Virginia Tech and Michigan stole their bid instead.
This season could be similar, with the likes of Boise State, Central Florida and SMU all primed to surprise a ton of people.
Certainly, the loss of TCU to the Big 12 hurts the dark horses' credibility, but the three above should have successful seasons. (Note: UCF is not eligible for a conference title or bowl.)
Next Under-the-Radar Superstar Wins Heisman
Matt Barkley, Landry Jones, Tyler Wilson, Montee Ball and Marcus Lattimore are pretty much your favorites to win the Heisman in 2012.
However, another superstar quarterback will emerge, and I am looking at a few that have been on underperforming teams over the last few seasons.
Logan Thomas, Aaron Murray and E.J. Manuel fit the bill this season to become hot commodities based on the potential for their respective teams to go bonkers towards a BCS push.
While I still love the chances of Barkley winning the Heisman, there is a solid chance that another under-the-radar quarterback once again rises to the occasion thanks to his team backing him up.
Michigan State Heads to Pasadena
The Spartans will scrap for every victory they earn, and Mark Dantonio’s defense will be relentless in 2012. The solid playmakers they have on defense are staggering and it should finally pay off.
Plus, Michigan and Nebraska have arguably just as many issues with their offenses (passing game) heading into the season. If defense wins championships, then Sparty will be looking just fine.
West Virginia Fits in Just Right with the Big 12, TCU, Too
The Horned Frogs are solid dark horses to capture the Big 12 title, but give me the Mountaineers' offense over any team in the conference.
Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey, Ivan McCartney and Tavon Austin will be fun to watch, and I cannot wait to see how many points they put up against even some of your more athletic and talented squads in the country.
Oklahoma, Texas, TCU and Oklahoma State are looking legit heading into the season and will give the Mountaineers all they can handle, but Smith is one of the elite passers in the game.
Plus, with his ability to plug in offensive performers and turn them into studs, Dana Holgorsen is on the verge of becoming an elite coach in the country.
Maybe they fall just short of a Big 12 title or BCS bid, but they will be there all season long at the very worst.
Mizzou, A&M Find Life a Bit More Difficult
Missouri and Texas A&M should likely go bowling since there is a chance we'll see a few 5-7 teams appear in the postseason to fill up all the allotted spots.
Still, these two new SEC programs are heading into dangerous territory, as their depth will be tested more than ever before. While I anticipate both to win six or seven games, some truly believe they can win eight or nine (mainly the fanbases).
I do not see it or buy it for a minute (at least in 2012), and the SEC will show them who is boss once November rolls around (they can both pull off a few upsets in September).
Mike Leach, Jim Mora Jr. Know What They Are Doing
Washington State and UCLA are a few programs that have struggled mightily in the past few seasons (more so Wazzu since UCLA did appear in the Pac-12 title game).
Still, the Bruins are not where they would like to be and the Cougars are just happy they can improve upon their bottom-feeding expectations now that Leach is around.
Both will likely go bowling in 2012 and these two coaches will soon bring these squads back to relevancy in the Pac-12.
College Football Is Still Where the Upsets Live
Tune in for every weekday game possible, but you better not miss out on those Thursday-night specials.
Plus, the Pac-12-title game is on a Friday night once again, and those Trojans-Ducks matchups might be more anticipated than last season’s "Game of the Century" between Alabama and LSU.
The idea that it will have more touchdowns in the first quarter also may provide a hint to what could be the game of the year in college football.
Missed Kicks Are More Annoying and Nail-Biting
Last season, so many BCS-title aspirations were dashed because of missed kicks (Boise State, Oregon, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State) and we likely will not see anything different in 2012.
Many of the top games of the year come down to kicks in regulation and overtime, and the unthinkable will occur.
Nobody thought the Trojans would go into Eugene and torch them and pull off the upset, but they did just that.
Iowa State was a three-touchdown underdog and the Sooners were favored by even more against Texas Tech (weather delay killed the crowd).
Upsets are a part of college football, but special teams have played such a vital role over the past few seasons, and don't expect that to suddenly change.
Spread Offenses Can Be Limited, but Not Stopped
There have been so many spread offenses filled with playmakers stretching the field, and they are really tough to slow down.
The pace of the game has been remarkable to watch, but the overall speed of the game is starting to change the way games on Sundays are played.
It is tough for a backup defensive back to hang with an animal of a receiver that can shred your secondary apart. Furthermore, the type of athletes we see at quarterback are only improving by the day.
I feel for those defenses that are not dominant up front, since they are leaving their defensive backs exposed to the wolves that can torch the landscape of college football.
Preseason Polls Still Tick People off
The polls are what make this sport great during the offseason, since we cannot project every minute of the day.
However, teams that are not ranked high enough during the preseason will be ticked when it costs them a spot in a conference title or a BCS bowl because some silly voters did not have any confidence in them back in August.
The bottom line is these polls are what drives the sport, since they stir up so much conversation and controversy (good drama, if that makes any sense). But if you simply win, you're fine in the end.
Lane Kiffin Will Be Typical Lane Kiffin
USC is arguably as good as it gets during the season, but many will be talking about how Lane Kiffin is still the same guy that is hated as much as any coach in the country.
Remember how he just voted his team as the top-ranked squad in the country even though he said he wouldn’t do such a thing?
Well, now that he backed out of the Coaches Poll, the fans will find other reasons to despise the coach.
Some absolutely cannot stand the guy, and it will not help that his team is loaded with talent for years to come.
BCS Complaints Continue, What Else Is New?
The fans of teams that get screwed by the BCS voters will always complain; that is just part of sports.
People enjoy complaining if they do not necessarily get their way, since they feel like they deserve so much more.
The BCS actually works (BCS title-wise). Unlike any other sport, the BCS gives us the two best teams every single stinking time.
No other sport can say that and that is why I look forward to the BCS title more than any other championship matchup.
The complaints aren’t too annoying since it comes with the territory, but the controversy is often the reason why people keep coming back for more.
College football is a fluid situation at all times, and nobody knows exactly what will happen next.
Kirk Ferentz Still Has Magic Left in the Tank
The Hawkeyes have gone under the radar a lot lately, and some of that is because they could not keep a running back on their roster even if they were paid to. But luckily, Iowa City faithful still have its program’s back.
Iowa will be much improved on the defensive side of the ball, but its comeback one season ago against Pittsburgh was a great stepping stone for quarterback James Vandenberg (trailed by 17 with under 10 minutes to go and won, 31-27).
This quarterback is set to help the Hawkeyes return to a solid, nine-win campaign, which is something no expert out there is even pondering these days (everybody has Iowa fourth or fifth in its own division and winning seven games at best).
Les Miles Has Killer Defense, but Offense Falls Just Short
The defense and special teams alone will put LSU at the double-digit victory mark this season, but they will be in three or four extremely tight ball games this season (UF, AU, 'Bama, Arkansas).
All of those are on the road (except 'Bama), and it might be too much to ask Zach Mettenberger to take control of an offense that struggled miserably down the stretch.
The Tigers' defense and rushing attack was so dominant that they did not need to thread the needle very often, but can they get away with a one-dimensional offense once again?
Sure, Rueben Randle bailed them out a bit last year, but he is gone, so Odell Beckham and Russell Shephard (Jarvis Landry, James Wright, Kadron Boone) better fill in admirably in those vital games.
If not, LSU will go from the most dominant team in the country, arguably, to one that simply fails to live up to the lofty expectations if it loses a game or two (two losses in the SEC can happen in an instant).
Arkansas Is Loaded Offensively, but Does Not Live Up to Hype Overall
There were a few games last season (Vandy, A&M, Ole Miss) where the Razorbacks were lucky to escape with a victory, but their luck will likely run out.
Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis are as good as it gets, but the defense will be tested against LSU, Alabama and in all four of their SEC road games (A&M, AU, SCAR, MS).
They should, at worst, split those four roadies, so an 8-4 or 9-3 record shouldn’t be considered a disaster.
However, being ranked in the Top 10 for all of the polls has to be considered a bit of a disappointment, even if they finish up at 9-4 (after postseason).
Nick Saban Just Finds Ways to Win
Despite only returning five starters on defense, Nick Saban, as always, will find a way to win the key SEC games.
Going on the road to face LSU, Arkansas and Tennessee (Michigan, too, at a neutral site) is not an easy slate, but the Crimson Tide have been special under Saban.
Most are banking on Alabama to eventually lose one of those battles, but I foresee another undefeated regular season heading into the SEC-title game.
All in all, Alabama looks like a safe pick to reach yet another BCS bowl in 2012.
Northwestern Finally Ends Terrifying Bowl Losing Streak
Not nearly enough people are talking about arguably the best piece of college-football trivia that is still active these days.
Pat Fitzgerald has done a fabulous job coaching up his alma mater, but the Wildcats have struggled miserably to win a bowl game.
In fact, Northwestern only has one bowl victory in its program's history and has lost its last nine bowl games. That just happens to go all the way back to 1949, which is 63 years since its last victory!
I may be picking the obvious (though they keep losing), but the Wildcats will go 7-6 and find a way to put this terrible winning drought to bed.
Brian Kelly Has a Productive Season, Inches Closer to BCS Caliber
The Irish have had major issues at quarterback since Brady Quinn went to the NFL, but this season will be a huge surprise for those that just expect Notre Dame to fall flat on its face like in recent memory.
Everett Golson could lead this program back to the promised land of the BCS, but he needs to get better with every defeat and his receivers better improve (All-American tight end Tyler Eifert helps).
Cierre Wood is due for a fabulous season thanks to a legit offensive line, but going up against Michigan State, Michigan, Stanford, Oklahoma and USC’s defenses will not be a walk in the park.
The Irish could win two of those games and be right there for a BCS bid thanks to their fanbase representing as well as any other program in the country.
They likely will still fall short of the BCS this season, depending on how well their quarterback and secondary performs in those five vital games, but Brian Kelly finally will have this program headed in the right direction (Gunner Kiel helps, too).
Chris Petersen Will Be on His Way Towards 100 Victories
With a current coaching record of 73-6 at Boise State, Chris Petersen finds ways every season to play the "us against the world” card, regardless of how many returning starters he has return.
Losing Kellen Moore, Doug Martin and the entire defensive line will be an uphill battle in 2012, but Petersen has been amazing at finding ways to shore up any holes on his roster.
This season will be no different, as Petersen is not only moving closer to 100 career victories, but another Top 10 finish (and a BCS bid perhaps) is likely to occur as well.
The Big East Finally Gets Respect, Not!
The Big East may never get respect and that statement may remain true even when the Boise State Broncos enter the conference (certainly should improve, though the losses of Pitt and 'Cuse are tough).
Louisville and South Florida are the favorites entering the season, but even if one of them emerges as a Top 15 squad, they still need to perform well in the BCS.
Millions of fans will be watching, but the main issue is they will be going up against a darn good squad.
Whether it is an ACC winner, Big 12 runner-up or perhaps a Big Ten runner-up, one of those programs will likely be ranked in the Top 10 and have a clear advantage in their matchup.
Not too long ago, Cincinnati appeared in two consecutive BCS bids and put up a fight in one of them (VT, 2008), and it (the Big East) is coming off that shellacking of Clemson (thank God for West Virginia) last season.
Still, as much as I enjoy hyping up the Big East and talking about it (I had both USF and 'Ville in surprise BCS bid contenders), they do not have the X’s and O’s nor the Jimmy’s and Joe’s to compete with elite talent in college football right now.
MAC and Sun Belt Throw Up Some Fireworks
These two conferences really stunk up the joint defensively due to their brutal non-conference slates, but they can score a ton of points.
Northern Illinois, Toledo, Western Michigan, Ohio, Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette all averaged at least 30 points per game last season (FIU will be back, too, with a legit defense).
Look for more of the same with a bunch of returning under-the-radar players (Ryan Aplin, Tyler Tettleton, Blaine Gautier, Jordan Lynch, Terrance Owens, Alex Carder).
ACC Finally Makes Improvement
Some thought last year would be the season where the ACC took a stand against the elite competition, but it still fell flat on its face, ending the season with two more losses in the BCS.
Going 2-13 in the history of the BCS is brutal, but the good times are on the way with the Seminoles, Hokies and Tigers all looking legit.
Plus, North Carolina and North Carolina State should improve alongside a few solid squads in Virginia and Georgia Tech.
One struggling conference can only make significant strides if it wins the big ones, and the ACC should do just that.
Red River Rivalry Will Live Up to Hype
This once had BCS title implications, but many are not considering the Red River Rivalry as a game with BCS implications heading into the 2012 season.
The Longhorns' defense will be among the best in the country and the Sooners' offense should be fairly explosive as well.
The Burnt Orange and Crimson Red that split 50-50 at the stadium is one of the better atmospheres in the sport, and this Oct. 13 tilt should go down to the wire, unlike last season.
Derek Dooley Turns Tennessee into Team to Watch
The Volunteers are switching to a 3-4 on defense and their depth certainly draws concerns heading into the season, but their offense is as electric as it gets.
Expect 3.5-plus-hour games when the Volunteers are playing because they will give up a ton of yards and touchdowns.
However, they will make many SEC defenses look mediocre at times, thanks to the nasty trio of Tyler Bray, Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter.
Many are looking for just a 7-6 or 8-5 type of season in Knoxville, since this is still the SEC we are talking about.
The key is if the Volunteers stay healthy in the middle stretch of the season.
If they also get any production from their improved defense, then we should be banking on a 9-4 or even a 10-3 type of season, considering the fairly soft schedule that the offense will take advantage of.
Injured Backs Look Better Than Ever Before
Knile Davis missed all of the 2011 season (ankle) and Marcus Lattimore could not finish the 2011 season after his knee injury against Mississippi State sidelined him for the rest of the year (he missed the final six games).
Still, many are questioning the workload and production from these two backs, albeit they are arguably the two most talented in the nation.
They both can gash SEC defenses with their tremendous vision, but their ability to bounce off tackles allows them to get up field with ease.
Their biggest asset (especially Lattimore) is their ability to haul passes out of the backfield, and despite opposing defenses loading up the box against them, I am banking on them returning to their previous All-American statuses.
Underclassmen Will Steal the Show
By the end of the season, Sammy Watkins, De'Anthony Thomas, Marqise Lee and Jadeveon Clowney may be considered the four best players in the country, outside of Matt Barkley.
These four are not eligible for the NFL draft until 2014, but they should be no less than consensus First or Second Team All-Americans.
Oklahoma Will Disappoint with BCS Expectations
Thanks to their storied history, seemingly almost every expert picked the Sooners to reach the BCS this season.
Having appeared in the most BCS-title matchups and the second most bowls in the BCS era (BCS bowls), most are anticipating another typical season of such.
Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU are all impressive squads heading into the season that possess a better offense and/or defense.
Plus, the Sooners do not have the easiest schedule of the bunch, which will put them on the brink of defeat in several contests.
While the expectations are not nearly as sky high as they were last year, the majority picked the Sooners to win the Big 12 and it will be tough, since the competition is as good as ever before.
The Big Ten Will Be Much Improved
At some point during the season, we should see six Big Ten squads ranked in the Top 25.
Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State and Iowa (yes) will likely be ranked at some point during the month of October.
It might not last very long, since they will be playing each other by October, but the Big Ten should only improve upon last season thanks to much better defenses and the return of talented signal-callers.
The Best Defenses All Have Two-Plus Superstar Linemen
Who has the best defenses in the country?
Look no further than the personnel in the trenches with LSU, Florida State, Texas, Ohio State, Michigan State, Georgia and whoever else it may be.
The Bayou Bengals have Sam Montgomery and KeKe Mingo, whereas the Noles have Bjoern Werner and Brandon Jenkins (both teams have interior studs, too).
Texas (Jackson Jeffcoat, Alex Okafor), Michigan State (William Gholston, Marcus Rush) and Ohio State (John Simon, Nathan Williams, Johnathan Hankins) all have ferocious rushers that cannot help but harass opposing quarterbacks.
Only the strongest survive in college football, and the teams listed above have the deepest defenses across the country as well.
When the season is over with, these teams could be be playing in January (except the Buckeyes) due to their ability to always control and dominate the opposition at the point of attack.
Being the Top-Ranked Squad in the Country Will Not Be a Safe Bet
USC and LSU may share the top spot early on in the season, and I am on the record for saying the Trojans have the best offense (WV is close), whereas the Bayou Bengals have the best defense (well, co-best with FSU).
However, I foresee both juggernauts losing at least one game this season before their conference-title games, which may come as a shocker to some who truly believe they are the best teams in the land (on paper).
The competition is simply too stiff these days, whether we are looking at the gauntlet of the SEC or having to play Utah on a Thursday night—and don't forget about the Oregon Ducks.
This doesn’t mean the runner-up squads from the SEC and Pac-12 heading into the season cannot take over for these two favorites in terms of playing for the BCS title, though (Alabama vs. Oregon wouldn’t be shocking by any means).
Madness Towards End of Season, as Usual
There will always be chaos leading up to the final BCS standings, but that should be expected these days.
USC and Oregon should be squaring off for a second time and then we have the Iron Bowl, which will be crazy.
Throw in the SEC-title game along with the ACC- and Big Ten-title games, and there is an excellent chance to witness some last-second upsets that shake up the BCS title picture.
At the moment, I have Alabama and Georgia in the SEC championship, whereas I have Virginia Tech and Florida State matching up for a second time as well (see: USC-Oregon).
In the Big Ten, I have a rematch of Michigan State and Wisconsin, albeit different results this time around.
Taylor Martinez Will Shock the Nation, Lead Huskers to BCS Bid
Perhaps Taylor Martinez never fixes his odd throwing mechanics, but the weapons around him are far from atrocious (they were just that last season).
The receivers struggled miserably last season, but the growth of several youngsters will help, and surely, Rex Burkhead has been the superstar producer for the Huskers' offense in the last pair of seasons.
Burkhead is your classic, gritty back who cannot be taken down by one man, as he breaks arm tackles with ease.
Whether it is picking up a blitz or catching the ball out in the flat, No. 22 can do it all in Lincoln. Throw in a favorable schedule (UCLA game is tricky, OSU, MSU, UW at home) and they should be on their way to a double-digit-win season.
The defense is ready to ambush the top squads at home in a few prime-time night games (see: Wisconsin, Michigan) and Martinez is ready to become a legit performer.
Lastly, we all know how well the Huskers travel and the BCS would gladly take Nebraska with one of its final picks. That is, if the Cornhuskers don’t win the Big Ten outright.
Mark Richt Finally Makes Critics Eat Crow
The Georgia Bulldogs are simply considered to be overrated or a team on the cusp of a breakthrough that is ready to play in a BCS bowl.
I have failed to hear anybody pick them to represent the SEC in the BCS national championship yet (still waiting for a bid to the BCS in general), since the games have already been decided, apparently with the West champion being thrown into every BCS-title prediction.
Georgia and Alabama will both run the table during the regular season as the top-two ranked teams in the country, but only one will come out of Atlanta and play for all the marbles.
Mark Richt and the ‘Dawgs will find a way to upset the Crimson Tide with their top-ranked defense, and thanks to Aaron Murray’s huge season, Georgia will be the surprise of the 2012 season and appear in the BCS title.
College Football’s Regular Season Is Still the Best
Perhaps it sounds cheesy to say that college football still is the best thing to watch during the fall (I love NFL, too, but CFB is truly the best), but the overall excitement in the fall air definitely is like nothing else.
The fans are filled with pageantry, but it is the regular season that makes everything flow.
Saturday’s morph into a Super Bowl-type atmosphere, as fans know full well that each game decides their favorite school's fate on the road to greatness, but even mid-tier programs in the BCS love nothing more than rooting for their beloved team every Saturday.
College football continues to entertain us more and more after every season, and the 2012 season shall once again be an unforgettable journey.
Five BCS Bowls Once Again Are Entertaining
The BCS sure gets a ton of hatred, but I cannot say that another sport entertains us more down the stretch of a regular season. Just take the fantastic finishes we saw last year in the five BCS bowls, for example.
Oregon-Wisconsin was electric and although the defenses looked lost at times, the two offenses were arguably the two best in the country.
Oklahoma State and Stanford gave us a thriller, and West Virginia is still scoring on Clemson as we speak (so it seems).
Of course, Michigan and Virginia Tech wasn’t the greatest game ever played, but the finish had plenty of drama, as it was an overtime thriller.
Last but not least was Alabama obliterating LSU, but some thought the Crimson Tide were too much for the Bayou Bengals. And they were proved right again, thanks to Nick Saban.
Expect more of the same this season, as the following five are my early projected BCS bowls:
Rose: Southern California 12-1 (Pac-12) vs. Michigan State 11-2 (Big Ten)
Orange: Louisville 10-2 (Big East) vs. Oregon 11-2 (at-large)
Sugar: Alabama 12-1 (at-large) vs. West Virginia 11-1 (at-large)
Fiesta: Nebraska 10-2 (at-large) vs. Texas 11-1 (Big 12)
BCS NC: Georgia 13-0 (SEC) vs. Florida State 13-0 (ACC)