A tough early loss can put a strain on any kind of National Championship aspirations. With a Top 10 stacked with teams facing easy schedules, any small bump in the road could be damaging.
Here are some teams that could fall early during the 2012 NCAA football season.
The Stanford Cardinal enter the 2012 season at No. 18 and trying to overcome the biggest loss in all of college football: Andrew Luck. The future NFL superstar quarterback brought leadership, character and a face for this thriving program.
Not only did the Cardinal lose their quarterback, but they also lost two major pieces to their offense in offensive tackle Jonathan Martin and tight end Coby Fleener. Martin was Luck's blindside protector and despite the criticism and scrutiny he received during the NFL draft process, Martin still provided a comfort level at left tackle. Fleener was Luck's go-to player in the receiving game.
The key losses to the Cardinal offense will hurt them in their early matchup against USC on Sept. 15. Matt Barkley and the USC offense is simply too potent for the Cardinal to keep up with.
It could be difficult for the Stanford Cardinal to hang around the Top 25 with a key loss to a conference opponent like this early on.
Who is most likely to lose first?
South Carolina Gamecocks
Like the Stanford Cardinal, the No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks will be looking to offset major losses to the NFL draft early on. The most important loss was Melvin Ingram, who played nearly every position in South Carolina's front seven at some point during his South Carolina career. His versatility gave Gamecocks' defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward freedom to attack defenses from a variety of gaps.
The losses of cornerback Stephon Gilmore and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery will also hurt the Gamecocks. They relied on their star players in some of the most important moments of their 2011 season.
The Missouri Tigers move to the SEC this year, and their big splash could be a victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks on Sept. 22.
Tigers quarterback James Franklin is poised to build on his fairly strong showing in 2011, and facing a Gamecocks defense that will be searching for an identity could be just what he needs to get comfortable playing in the SEC.
The No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers will be fighting the major losses of key offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz, as well as their own star quarterback in Russell Wilson. These losses will be difficult to replace immediately, and it will take time to find these players replacements despite Wisconsin's reputation as an offensive line factory.
The Badgers' first major test will come early on Sept. 8 against the Oregon State Beavers. If Beavers quarterback Ryan Katz has a big game and their offensive line improves the way most think it should, the Badgers could be in for a rude awakening early in their season.