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Preseason College Football Rankings 2012: Most Underrated Teams in Top 25

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Preseason College Football Rankings 2012: Most Underrated Teams in Top 25
Eric Francis/Getty Images
Taylor Martinez (3) should keep the Cornhuskers dangerously close to the Top 10.

The College Football Rankings are always a source of controversy in the month of August.

LSU holds the top spot in the USA Today poll, but look for the Bayou Bengals to fall as many as three spots behind the Oklahoma Sooners now that defensive back Tyrann Mathieu has elected to go to rehab for drug issues. 

Either Alabama or Southern California should claim the No. 1 ranking, with many believing it will go to Alabama due to their huge home matchup to begin the season; they play Michigan on September 1.

Regardless of who is No. 1, the Top 10 seems pretty clear-cut, with the usual Pac-10, SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten suspects there, along with one ACC team, this year the Florida State Seminoles.

It is in the No. 11 to No. 20 range where there are some bones to be picked, as all of these teams, despite returning a few stars, have glaring holes at key positions.

It is these positions that will make the difference between finishing top-20 and finishing top-five.

Here are some top-25 teams whose weaknesses are overrated and whose strengths are underrated, leaving them with a lower ranking than they deserve.

 

Virginia Tech Hokies: Preseason No. 20

The latest edition of "Beamerball" comes in at No. 20 in the USA Today polls, despite several defensive stars and arguably the best quarterback in the ACC.

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Logan Thomas could beat out USC's Matt Barkley for the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft.

Logan Thomas, who in his first year as a starter threw for over 3,000 yards and accounted for 30 total touchdowns (19 passing, 11 rushing), statistically outperformed Florida State’s E.J. Manuel a year ago.

Though he finished fourth in the ACC in passing yards behind Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, NC State’s Mike Glennon and UNC’s Bryn Renner, big things are expected from Thomas. The 6’6’’ athletic quarterback checks in at No. 4 on Mel Kiper’s 2013 NFL draft big board.

As usual, Virginia Tech boasts tremendous athletes on the defensive end as well. Cornerback Kyle Fuller has first-team All-American hopes after a 2011 season where he registered 14.5 tackles for loss.

Linebacker Bruce Taylor returns after a serious foot injury to become a force in the middle once again, and junior defensive end James Gayle is a one-man wrecking machine along the defensive line.

With solid receiving options on the outside in Marcus Davis and DJ Coles for Thomas, the only real weakness on the Virginia Tech team is the O-line.

Nonetheless, the Hokies return hard-nosed center Andrew Miller, a candidate for the Outland Trophy, given to the nation’s best interior lineman. He will look to anchor the offensive line, and should lead this strong Hokies team to the ACC title game for the third straight year, with a chance to earn a spot in a BCS bowl game.

 

Geoff Burke/Getty Images
In year No. 26 at Virginia Tech, Frank Beamer is the NCAA's active leader in coaching wins.

Kansas State Wildcats: Preseason No. 21

After going 8-1 a year ago in games decided by a touchdown or less, Kansas State surprised the college football world by earning a bid in the Cotton Bowl to play then-No. 7 Arkansas.

Led by All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson, Arkansas beat Kansas State 29-16.

Kansas State returns the key components of that strong team, and will look to regain the same winning ways that made 2011-2012 such an excellent year.

Quarterback Collin Klein led the team in passing with 1,918 yards and 12 touchdowns, and also led the team in rushing, recording 1,141 yards and a staggering 26 touchdowns.

Critics would like to see Klein throw the ball more, as he had over 300 carries in his junior year and has taken more hits than any head coach would like his quarterback to take.

While Klein leads the offense, the defense is a senior-heavy unit led by star linebackers Tre Walker and Arthur Brown.

The defense is the heart of the team, and will likely finish as the best in the Big 12 conference.

Despite all this optimism heading into 2012-13, the Wildcats were picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 in what is perhaps the best conference in the NCAA in terms of preseason rankings. With Oklahoma coming in at No. 4, West Virginia at No. 11 and Texas, TCU and Oklahoma State all ranked, Kansas State will have a very tough schedule.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Tre Walker leads a fierce Kansas State defense against the offensive juggernauts of the Big 12.

ESPN.com’s David Ubben asked Walker how the team was going to meet these challenging obstacles, to which Walker replied, “We just never quit. You are gonna see a hard-nosed football team.”

With a strong year from their defense and improved play from Klein, expect head coach Bill Snyder’s Kansas State team to finish third behind Oklahoma and West Virginia in the Big 12, even if their lucky season in terms of pulling out close games was last year.

 

Nebraska Cornhuskers: Preseason No. 16

An interesting team from a year ago that beat the best team in their conference, Michigan State, but lost badly to Big Ten foes Wisconsin and Michigan, Nebraska will look for more consistent play in 2012-13.

They were also beaten badly by South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl, 30-13, raising questions about their offense's ability to move the ball on good defenses.

Junior quarterback Taylor Martinez is in his third year running the spread offense, which is tailored well to his abilities. Though undersized a 6’1’’, Martinez has tremendous speed, as he often beats linebackers and even defensive backs around the edge.

Martinez recorded over 2,000 passing yards a year ago to go with 837 rushing yards.

If Martinez can take over games more, it will open things up for senior workhorse Rex Burkhead from Plano, Texas.

Eric Francis/Getty Images
With a name like Bo Pelini (left), your team should be close to the top 10 every year.

Burkhead is one of the top returning running backs in the nation. He registered 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns last season on only 284 carries.

This two-headed offensive monster gives Nebraska one of the best one-two punches in the Big Ten and all of college football. They should not have a problem scoring on anyone in 2012-13.

Nebraska also boasts one of the best special teams units in the league. Led by All-American hopeful Brett Maher, who handles the kicker and punter positions, the kicking game is as steady as it gets at both spots.

The Cornhuskers also have one of the best return men in the nation in Ameer Abdullah, the sophomore backup running back who took one back 100 yards as a freshman.

With at least nine wins in every season he has been in Nebraska, head coach Bo Pelini will look to get over the hump and win his first Big Ten title in 2012-13.

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