Will Nick Saban lead Alabama to another BCS championship in 2012?
After months of anticipation, the 2012 college football season is now ready to kick off, and you can definitely feel the buzz emanating from every corner of the country.
The days of debating are over, and it’s time to finally see which teams and players are really ready for the spotlight this fall.
This could potentially be one of the wildest college football seasons that we’ve seen in years, and it’s certainly no easy task to try to definitively forecast what’s going to happen.
Still, I figured I might as well give it a try.
Here’s 100 predictions for the 2012 college football season.
I know I've bashed Tyrann Mathieu on a few different occasions in the past. But honestly, I was really starting to appreciate the so-called "Honey Badger" just days before the news came down that he was booted from the LSU football team.
Mathieu may have been overrated by the media, and he certainly wasn't deserving of an invite to New York City as a Heisman finalist last year, but you can't deny the impact he had on LSU's defense in 2011.
Sure, he may have been small, and sure, he definitely wasn't a lock-down cover corner, but Mathieu always found a way to be around the ball and make a momentum-shifting play.
Not only will the team have to deal with his departure, it will also have to figure out how to replace NFL draft picks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Taylor—two other starters from last year's secondary.
With so much turnover from last year, the Tigers could definitely experience a drop off in the defensive backfield this season after ranking eighth nationally in pass defense in 2011.
Eric Reid may be the best safety in college football, but new starting corners Tharold Simon and Jalen Collins are certainly going to have some big shoes to fill.
No college football player has totaled more than 2,800 all-purpose yards since former Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin accomplished the feat back in 2008. (Last year's leader, Tavon Austin, finished with 2,574 total yards.)
The player that'll have the best chance of reaching that milestone this season is Oregon's dynamic, dangerous and versatile playmaker De'Anthony Thomas.
Thomas is a true triple threat who can do major damage as a runner, receiver and returner. He proved that last year as a true freshman when he finished seventh in the country with 2,235 total yards (595 rushing yards, 605 receiving yards, 983 yards on kick returns and 53 yards on punt returns).
The speedy 5'9'', 173-pound sophomore averaged a whopping 16 yards per play in 2011, and he scored 18 total touchdowns.
Although he'll have to share carries with fellow back Kenjon Barner this season, you can bet that the Oregon coaching staff will figure out every possible way to get the ball in Thomas' hands as much as they can in 2012.
He's truly a home-run threat who's capable of picking up huge chunks of yardage any time he bursts into the open field.
The future certainly didn't look bright for Georgia last season when the Bulldogs were sitting at 0-2 after consecutive losses to Boise State and South Carolina.
Luckily, however, quarterback Aaron Murray proved that he was ready to be a true team leader, and he rallied his fellow players and helped guide the Bulldogs to 10 straight victories and an SEC East division title.
The 6'1'', 211-pound junior threw for over 3,100 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2011, and he made some major strides after an up-and-down first season as a starter the year before.
Murray now looks like he's ready to rise to an elite level in 2012, and he should have Georgia right in contention for the SEC championship this season.
South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore and Arkansas' Knile Davis were both expected to challenge Trent Richardson and Michael Dyer for the SEC rushing title in 2011. However, both Lattimore and Davis experienced season-ending injuries that knocked them out of the race.
Lattimore's knee and Davis' ankle will be two of the most scrutinized body parts in college football this year. Nevertheless, if both players are healthy and ready to compete, they should be two of the most productive rushers in the country in 2012.
Both backs have the potential to be high first-round picks in the 2013 NFL draft, and it will be interesting to see just how well they bounce back this season.
As the face of the No. 1-ranked team in both major preseason polls last offseason, Landry Jones was built up to be one of the early favorites to win the Heisman Trophy.
Many were expecting Jones to lead the Sooners to both a Big 12 championship and a BCS national title in 2011, but he managed to accomplish neither, and a late-season collapse really hurt his once highly-thought-of draft stock.
Jones clearly made the right decision to return to Norman for his senior year. Now, he'll be playing with something to prove after hearing plenty of criticism last season.
Over the last two years, he's completed 64 percent of his passes and combined to throw for over 9,100 yards and 67 touchdowns.
The 6'4'', 218-pound senior has already solidified his status as one of the top pure passers in college football. Now, Jones will be looking to show everyone that he can lead the Sooners back to Big 12 glory in 2012.
After rushing for over 1,900 yards, scoring 39 touchdowns and finishing fourth in the Heisman voting last season, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball really had nothing left to prove at the college level.
That's why many simply assumed that he would declare for the 2012 NFL draft as expected and earn millions as a second-round draft pick.
Ball shocked everyone, though, when he announced that he would be returning to Madison for his senior season.
It could be a move that the talented back ultimately regrets.
The Badgers aren't of the same caliber that they were when they rolled through the Big Ten and into the Rose Bowl last season. Plus, it's going to be almost impossible for Ball to replicate the individual success he had as a junior last year.
It's likely that Ball will ultimately regret his choice to not capitalize on his amazing 2011 performance when he could.
The SEC will be home to some of the most dominant defenses in college football this season.
Teams such as LSU, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina are all loaded with star defenders. But if you're looking for the conference's premier defense, then you're going to have to go to Athens to find it.
That's because Georgia's defense returns nine starters and 12 of the top 13 tacklers from a unit that ranked fifth in the nation in total defense last year.
Nose tackles John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers, defensive ends Abry Jones and Cornelius Washington, linebackers Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and Michael Gilliard, cornerback Branden Smith and safeties Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo are some of the best players at their respective positions in the country.
In fact, Jarvis Jones, Jenkins and Williams could each be All-American performers this season.
With so much top-notch talent and experience returning, it's going to be extremely difficult for any opponent to find consistent success against this stacked group in 2012.
During coach Chris Petersen's six-year tenure at Boise State, the Broncos have averaged an astounding 12 wins per season, and they haven't won less than 10 games since the 2005 season, the year before Petersen took over.
That type of consistent dominance is simply remarkable, but if ever there was a year that the team could slip back to the pack, this would be it.
The Broncos return just seven starters from last season, including just two on defense. They'll have to replace six NFL draft picks, including first-round selections DE Shea McClellin and RB Doug Martin, as well as legendary quarterback Kellen Moore, who was arguably the greatest player in school history.
With a schedule that includes opponents such as Michigan State, BYU, Southern Miss, Fresno State, Wyoming, San Diego State and Nevada, it certainly wouldn't be shocking if Boise State failed to reach 10 wins in 2012.
It takes a truly special player to make a huge impact at a BCS school as just a true freshman, but every season, there are always a few players who step up and stand out in their first year.
Last season, Clemson WR Sammy Watkins and Oregon RB De'Anthony Thomas were the two big freshman sensations of 2011.
This year, the freshman to watch is Oklahoma WR Trey Metoyer.
The Sooners lost the most productive receiver in school history, Ryan Broyles, and they'll need a player like Metoyer to step in and play a crucial role in the offense right away in 2012.
The 6'2'', 198-pound freshman is a former 5-star recruit out of Texas' Whitehouse High School who spent this past year at Hargrave Military Academy.
Metoyer is an athletic and explosive receiver who should fit in perfectly in Oklahoma's pass-heavy attack.
Here's a look at 10 other freshmen to keep an eye on in 2012.
Maryland WR Stefon Diggs
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota (Redshirt Freshman)
Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon
Oklahoma State QB Wes Lunt
Louisville LB Keith Brown
Miami RB Duke Johnson
Missouri WR Dorial Green-Beckham
West Virginia WR Jordan Thompson
Georgia RB Keith Marshall
Texas A&M RB Trey Williams
I've grown to really love college football since I decided to give the whole sportswriting thing a shot back in 2010, but the one side of the game that has really bothered me, as I'm sure it has many other fans, is the constant scandals.
Every month, it seems there's a new major scandal plaguing the sport.
Last season started on a terrible note with the messy realignment rumors, and it ended on a much more tragic note with the shocking Penn State scandal.
It sure would be nice to focus on all the great things that are happening out on the gridiron for a full season, instead of all of the disturbing things happening off of it.
The corruption, greed and overall shadiness that has invaded the world of major college athletics over the last decade has simply become overwhelming. Many of the people who occupy the most powerful positions have stooped to new lows to make sure they get as much of the cut of the billions of dollars of annual revenue as they possibly can.
College football's tremendous growth in popularity over the last few years has been amazing to watch, but it's also taken the sport to a breaking point.
With so much money at stake, there will always be rule-breaking. That's just the reality. Hopefully, though, there can be a shift in the collective consciousness within the sport. Hopefully, we can eventually get back to the days when the headlines were about the great teams and players from around the nation instead of about the crooked cheats that represent everything wrong with what the sport has become.
It may be asking a lot, but let's hope that we can survive the 2012 college football season without any major scandals.
"Where the heck did this kid come from?" is a common question that many Big 12 fans were asking themselves last year, as they watched Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein take the conference by storm in 2011.
Klein helped transform the Wildcats from a preseason afterthought into a 10-win, top-15-ranked team.
The athletic dual-threat signal-caller proved to be one of the most dangerous running quarterbacks in the country, as he totaled over 3,000 yards of offense and accounted for 40 of his team's 52 total touchdowns.
With Klein returning, Kansas State will once again be a team that no opponent will want to deal with this season.
The Wildcats are certainly capable of contending for a Big 12 championship this year if they can work out some of the kinks in their passing game.
If you're looking for an early dark-horse Heisman contender for the 2012 season, then Klein's your guy.
Oregon's offense may have lost its two leaders from the 2011 season—quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James—but the Ducks should still have one of college football's most explosive offensive attacks.
That's because Chip Kelly made the wise decision to start intriguing redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota at quarterback.
Mariota may not have any game experience, but from the flashes he showed during offseason practices, it looks like he's got the chance to develop into a huge star in the years to come.
The 6'4'', 211-pound Hawaii native is a better overall passer than his predecessor Thomas. Plus, he's got the mobility and athleticism to be a perfect fit for Oregon's spread attack.
On paper, Michigan's 11-2 record from last season obviously looks great, especially since it includes the school's first win in a BCS bowl game since 2000.
But when you dig deeper and look at the schedule the Wolverines faced and realize that they beat just one ranked team in the regular season, it clearly seems a lot less impressive.
Yes, Michigan somehow came away with a victory over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl, but the team didn't even belong there in the first place, and it's a game in which the Wolverines were thoroughly outplayed.
Now, as we turn to the 2012 season, many are pronouncing Michigan as being "back" and ready to contend in the Big Ten under the guidance of second-year head coach Brady Hoke. However, this is a team that could very quickly be exposed as a fraud.
The team's best player, QB Denard Robinson, may be a great highlight-reel runner, but he's a mediocre passer at best, which was evidenced by his Big Ten-leading 15 interceptions and his lousy 55 percent completion percentage, which ranked 98th nationally in 2011.
The reason the team was able to find so much success last season was due to the improved play of the defensive line, but that's a unit that lost three key starters from 2011.
Michigan's schedule is one of the toughest in college football this season, as the slate includes 10 teams that played in bowl games last year.
Alabama, Notre Dame, Illinois, Michigan State, Nebraska, Iowa and Ohio State will all be looking to knock off the Wolverines in 2012, and there's a good chance that Hoke's crew will be exposed as a pretender by the time November rolls around.
After making the switch from guard to left tackle for the 2011 season, Alabama's star offensive lineman, Barrett Jones, was on the move once again this offseason.
Jones has now kicked inside to center to fill the void left by the departed William Vlachos. That means that the defending Outland Trophy winner won't just have a chance to be a repeat winner of college football's top offensive line honor; he'll also be in contention for the Rimington Trophy, which is awarded to the nation's top center.
The 6'5'', 302-pound senior could have been a high pick in the 2012 NFL draft had he decided to declare, but instead, he returned to Tuscaloosa to once again be the leader of college football's strongest offensive line.
USC hasn't been eligible for any type of postseason play during the two years of the Lane Kiffin era, and you know what that means? These Trojan players aren't used to having the target on their back.
Sure, Kiffin's crew clearly has the talent to compete for a national championship. The question is, though, do they have the heart?
Let's not forget that this is the same team that got throttled and embarrassed at Arizona State last season and also fell on the road to Stanford.
This year, new media darling Matt Barkley and his teammates will have to head out on the road to Stanford, Utah, Washington, Arizona and UCLA, which could all be tricky tests.
Plus, they'll have to square off with defending conference champion Oregon at home.
Ultimately, USC will end up losing two regular-season games in 2012, just as it did last season.
One of USC's losses will come at the hands of Utah in Salt Lake City on Thursday night, Oct. 4.
Nationally-televised Thursday night road games have proven to be awfully tricky for highly-ranked teams in recent years, and the Trojans very well could end up being the next victim.
That means that if both USC and Utah end up finishing 10-2, which is certainly possible, that it would be the Utes who end up winning the Pac-12 South instead of the highly-favored Trojans.
While Utah may have struggled in its first season in the conference last year, winning just seven regular-season games and just four league games, it's still a team that will be very dangerous in 2012.
With 16 returning starters, including potential All-Conference standouts such as QB Jordan Wynn, RB John White, WR DeVonte Christopher, DT Star Lotulelei, DE Joe Kruger, LB Trevor Reilly and SS Brian Blechen leading the way, watch out for Utah to challenge USC for a division title this season.
If Utah does reach double-digit wins in 2012, the two players who will receive the most national recognition are QB Jordan Wynn and RB John White.
Wynn has dealt with injury problems during his collegiate career, but when he's been healthy, he's shown some tremendous flashes of his potential.
White, on the other hand, was one of the most productive backs in the country last season, finishing ninth in the nation with 1,520 rushing yards and scoring 17 total touchdowns in 2011.
Matt Barkley and his Trojan teammates were the ones who hogged up most of the preseason publicity this summer.
In the end, though, it could be Wynn, White and the Utes who end up stealing away their spotlight this fall.
Over the last five years, only one college football player has scored more than 30 touchdowns in a season. That, of course, came last year, when Wisconsin RB Montee Ball scored a whopping 39 total touchdowns.
This year, there are actually a few players who are capable of reaching that tremendous milestone, and the one with the best shot will be Oklahoma State RB Joseph Randle.
In his first season as a starter last year, Randle rushed for 1,216 yards on just 208 carries (5.8 yards per carry), caught 43 passes for 266 yards and finished fourth in the country with 26 total touchdowns scored.
Since QB Brandon Weeden and WR Justin Blackmon have both moved on to the NFL, the supremely skilled 6'1'', 191-pound junior will now become the focal point of Oklahoma State's offense in 2012.
Look for Randle's already stellar production to improve this season, as he has the chance to put up some truly monster numbers.
From 2001 through 2009, Texas averaged an amazing 11 wins per season. However, over the last two years, the Longhorns haven't looked like the once-dominant force that used to steamroll through the Big 12 year after year.
After a pitiful performance in 2010, in which the team won just five games after starting the season ranked in the top five in the preseason polls, Texas wasn't much more impressive last year, winning just eight games.
The problem has been that after having two of the most successful quarterbacks in college football history—Vince Young and Colt McCoy—running the show, the Longhorns have had trouble finding a stable signal-caller.
Sophomore David Ash has now been handed the reins of the offense, but he definitely doesn't have to be a star in order for the team to win games.
With running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron both returning, as well as receivers Jaxon Shipley, Mike Davis and Marquise Goodwin, Ash has the supporting cast he needs to find success.
Plus, it will obviously help that the defense will feature seven potential All-Big 12 performers: defensive ends Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat, linebackers Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond, cornerbacks Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs and safety Kenny Vaccaro.
If Ash plays well enough, the Longhorns have the type of elite talent on defense to compete with the likes of Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kansas State for a Big 12 championship in 2012.
As far as pure natural physical ability is concerned, there may not be a quarterback in the country that can compare to Florida State's E.J. Manuel.
Manuel is a former highly-rated recruit out of Virginia Beach who was forced to wait his turn behind Christian Ponder for the first few years of his career, only appearing in spot duty when Ponder was injured.
The 6'5'', 240-pound senior finally got his shot to be the full-time starter last season, and many were expecting him to lead the Seminoles to an ACC championship.
The reality was, however, that Florida State turned out to be one of the most disappointing teams of 2011, finishing just 9-4.
Now, the pressure is on Manuel to make the most of his potential and physical skills and lead his team to the promised land this season.
With his combination of size, mobility, arm strength and accuracy, Manuel has the chance to finally become the star in 2012 that everyone originally predicted he would be when he first arrived in Tallahassee back in 2008.
In each of the past two seasons, we've seen an athletic dual-threat quarterback take college football by storm. In 2010, it was Auburn's Cam Newton. Last season, it was of course Baylor's Robert Griffin III.
This year's dual-threat QB is Missouri's James Franklin.
In his first season as a starter last year, Franklin proved to be a dynamic and dangerous playmaker, throwing for over 2,800 yards, rushing for 981 yards and accounting for 36 total touchdowns.
The 6'2'', 225-pound junior is without a doubt one of the most talented quarterbacks in the country.
Now that the Tigers have moved to the SEC East, Franklin will have the big stage he needs to show the college football world just how great he really is.
Arkansas is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball for the 2012 season. The Razorbacks' offensive quartet of QB Tyler Wilson, RB Knile Davis, WR Cobi Hamilton and TE Chris Gragg is one of the most dangerous in the country.
The problem is, now that disgraced former head coach Bobby Petrino is gone, the team will be led by one of the most mediocre head coaches in college football, John L. Smith.
Smith was just 22-26 at his last head coaching stop at Michigan State, and he fits the same mold as late former West Virginia coach Bill Stewart—overall good guy, but just not head-coaching material for a big BCS school.
Arkansas could very well end up being this year's version of Texas A&M. Last year, the Aggies were considered to be a top-15 contender before the start of the season, yet they managed to win just six regular-season games.
Mike Sherman was arguably the worst head coach in college football last season, and it wouldn't be surprising if Smith turns out to be equally as incompetent in 2012.
Arkansas has the talent to compete for an SEC championship this season. However, the Razorbacks just don't have the right leader to guide them there.
It's not often that an offense loses a running back who was a first-round NFL draft pick, its two top receivers and four starting offensive linemen without experiencing a severe drop off in production the following season.
Virginia Tech just might be able to survive all of those departures, though, given that the Hokies have one of the most talented quarterbacks in college football, Logan Thomas, back to lead the offense.
Last year, Thomas showed that he was one of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, as he totaled over 3,000 yards of offense, accounted for 30 total touchdowns and led the team to 11 wins and an ACC Coastal division title.
The athletic 6'6'', 260-pound junior will obviously miss players like running back David Wilson, who led the ACC with 1,709 rushing yards in 2011, and receivers Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin, who combined for 121 catches.
Still, if players such as RB Michael Holmes and WR Marcus Davis step up, as well as the new starters up front, Thomas should be able to guide the Hokies back to the ACC championship game in 2012.
Justin Hunter was on his way towards putting together an outstanding sophomore campaign in 2011 before he sadly suffered a torn ACL in Tennessee's third game of the season. After spending months working his way back to full health, Hunter will now re-enter Tennessee's offensive huddle with something to prove in 2012.
Hunter has only caught 33 passes during his college career, but he's shown plenty of glimpses of his enormous potential during his time in Knoxville.
The 6'4'', 200-pound junior possesses simply amazing athleticism and body control for his size, and he has the ability to separate and create game-changing plays when called upon.
If Hunter's knee proves to be strong enough this season, the big, sure-handed receiver has the chance to be one of college football's top offensive players in 2012.
It may not be long before you start to hear first-round NFL draft pick buzz surrounding his name.
It certainly didn't take very long for QB Geno Smith, WR Tavon Austin and the rest of the West Virginia offense to adapt to new head coach Dana Holgorsen's Air Raid-style system.
In Holgorsen's first year in Morgantown, the Mountaineers ranked 15th in the nation in total offense, 13th in scoring offense and sixth in passing offense, as they averaged 469 yards and 37 points per game in 2011.
Smith, especially, proved to be a perfect fit for Holgorsen's offense. Last year, he completed nearly 66 percent of his passes for 4,385 yards and threw 31 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions.
The scary thing to think about is that the strong-armed 6'3'', 214-pound senior will now return with an even better knowledge and grasp of the offensive scheme for the 2012 season.
With Smith, his explosive receiver duo of Austin and Stedman Bailey and six other starters returning, the West Virginia offense has the pieces in place to do the same things we saw the Oklahoma State offense do in 2011.
While we may not see them score 70 points in a game again like they did in the Orange Bowl against Clemson back in January, West Virginia clearly has the firepower to light up plenty of scoreboards this season.
If their defense can hold steady, the Mountaineers will have the explosive offense it takes to challenge for a Big 12 championship in 2012.
Jake Locker was expected to be the home-state hero who would turn around Washington's struggling football program when he arrived on campus as a highly-touted 4-star recruit out of Ferndale High School back in 2006.
Locker never lived up to the hype during his time as a Husky, though, and it didn't take long for his successor, Keith Price, to make Washington fans forget all about him.
Last year, Price stepped into the starting role and thrived, completing nearly 67 percent of his passes for over 3,000 yards and throwing a school-record 33 touchdown passes.
The 6'1'', 202-pound junior's most memorable performance came in the Alamo Bowl against Baylor, when he outdueled Heisman winner Robert Griffin III.
In that game, he totaled 477 yards of offense and accounted for seven of the team's eight touchdowns in the 67-56 defeat.
Price will now have the opportunity in 2012 to emerge as the program savior that many thought Locker would be.
In each of the past two seasons, there has been an Illinois defensive lineman who has risen up from relative obscurity to become a first-round NFL draft pick. In 2010, it was defensive tackle Corey Liuget. Last season, it was defensive end Whitney Mercilus.
This year, the player that could continue that streak is hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker Michael Buchanan.
Even though Mercilus received most of the publicity for his All-American campaign in 2011, Buchanan actually deserved plenty of praise for his performance last year.
The 6'6'', 240-pound senior totaled 8 sacks and 64 tackles, including 14 tackles for loss in 2011.
Buchanan has the physical makeup to develop into a coveted 3-4 rush linebacker prospect this season.
The former 4-star recruit out of Illinois' Homewood-Flossmoor High School has the size, explosiveness off the edge and the strength at the point of attack that NFL scouts are searching for, and his name could go flying up draft boards over the next few months.
Braxton Miller is the type of athletic dual-threat quarterback that would seem to be a perfect fit for Urban Meyer's shotgun-based spread offense. However, Miller is going to need some time to develop and learn all the nuances of that system.
After assuming the starting role three games into the 2011 season, the former 5-star recruit ended up having an up-and-down freshman campaign, as he completed just 54 percent of his passes and won just four games as a starter.
Miller may be one of the best running quarterbacks in the country, and he should come up with a few fantastic highlight-reel runs in Meyer's offense this season. However, he still has a long way to go before he becomes a complete game-changing quarterback.
Since Ohio State isn't eligible for the postseason this year, the 6'2'', 210-pound sophomore can treat 2012 as a learning experience. It's likely that Miller will make his fair share of both great plays and terrible mistakes this season.
Auburn's defense had to break in a bunch of new starters last season. That inexperience certainly showed, as the Tigers ranked next to last in the SEC in both scoring defense and total defense, giving up 28 points and 408 yards per game in 2011.
Luckily, all of those new starters are now experienced veterans who should form a much stronger defensive unit this season.
Auburn's defense won't be on the same level as the likes of Georgia, LSU, Alabama, Florida or South Carolina. But the Tigers will have enough difference makers at all three levels to make a drastic improvement in 2012.
DE Corey Lemonier, LB Daren Bates and CB T'Sharvan Bell will be the key leaders, but there are plenty of other defenders to watch out for as well, such as defensive tackles Jeffrey Whitaker and Gabe Wright, linebacker Jake Holland and safety Demetruce McNeal.
Last season, N.C. State cornerback David Amerson set an ACC record by picking off an incredible 13 passes.
The 6'3'', 194-pound Amerson showed NFL scouts that not only does he have the type of rare size/speed combination to be an elite cornerback prospect, he also has superior coverage ability and ball skills as well.
After an All-American performance in 2011, it's doubtful that many quarterbacks will be eager to test Amerson again this season.
That means that he won't have nearly as many chances to make a play on the ball in 2012.
Still, even if the talented junior corner's interception total drops considerably this season, Amerson's still done enough already to warrant being a top-10 pick in next year's NFL draft.
Many male college football fans were heartbroken when they initially heard that reporter Erin Andrews would be leaving ESPN.
Andrews was a beloved figure in the college football world, and her presence on the sidelines during prime-time games will certainly be missed.
Luckily, there's a new talented, blond sideline reporter that fans can ogle in 2012, and her name is Samantha Steele.
Now, I'll be honest. Personally, I'm more of a Cassidy Hubbarth fan myself. But even I'll admit that Ms. Steele deserves some major praise for her work, and obviously, it doesn't hurt that she's particularly easy on the eyes.
Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner is one of college football's most intimidating defenders, and he's got the chance to become one of the sport's biggest star defenders of the upcoming season.
Last year, Werner stepped out of his teammate Brandon Jenkins' shadow and proved to be an equally disruptive difference maker for the Florida State defense.
The 6'4'', 260-pound junior used his incredible strength to overwhelm nearly anyone that tried to block him in 2011. He ended up finishing the season with seven sacks, 11 tackles for loss and eight pass knockdowns.
Werner is a German native who only played two years of high school football in the United States, and he hasn't even come close to reaching his full potential yet.
The powerful pass-rusher should grow into one of college football's most dominant defensive ends in 2012.
Purdue probably isn't ready to contend for a Big Ten title this season, but the Boilermakers have the talent it takes to pull off an upset that could shake up the overall conference race in 2012.
With many key starters returning from last year, including future high NFL draft picks such as defensive tackle Kawann Short and cornerback Ricardo Allen, Purdue is definitely a team that no opponent will want to have to square off with this season.
Two of the conference's preseason favorites—Michigan and Wisconsin—will have to travel to West Lafayette in early October, and it wouldn't be surprising if one or even both of them ends up falling to an experienced and athletic Boilermakers squad.
Last year, Mike Glennon had some huge shoes to fill, stepping in for ACC Offensive Player of the Year Russell Wilson, who transferred to Wisconsin during the offseason. Nevertheless, Glennon managed to quietly put together one of the most solid performances of any quarterback in college football.
The 6'6'', 232-pound senior didn't receive much national recognition, but he did complete 62 percent of his passes for over 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns and lead the Wolfpack to eight wins, including the school's second straight postseason victory.
Glennon is a tall, prototypical pro-style pocket passer who has the size, arm strength and intangibles for which NFL scouts are searching.
He could ultimately become a coveted commodity if he finishes his college career off with a strong senior season in 2012.
Florida vs. Georgia
In the words of legendary wrestling announcer Jim Ross, "This one's going to be a slobberknocker."
Georgia and Florida are two teams that despise each other, and that venom has resulted in some extremely physical games in recent years.
This year's matchup should be no different.
These are two of the toughest and most physical defenses that you're going to find in college football this season, and because of that, you're likely going to see some helmets flying around when the Bulldogs and Gators square off down in Jacksonville on Oct. 27.
For the past two years, Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor has been one of the most underrated and underappreciated players in college football.
That'll happen when you line up in the same backfield as college football's most recognizable player.
Now that star quarterback Andrew Luck has moved on to the NFL, though, Taylor should finally begin to receive the recognition that he truly deserves as one of the best backs in the country.
After rushing for 2,467 yards and scoring 28 touchdowns over the past two seasons, the 5'11'', 215-pound senior will now be the focal point of the Stanford offense in 2012.
Although Taylor will miss offensive linemen David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin opening up holes for him, he should still be one of the most productive rushers in the nation this season.
The media may not have former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu to fawn over this season, but that won't be a problem since there will be plenty of other great cornerbacks to focus on in 2012.
N.C. State's David Amerson may be the most talked-about player at the position, but here's a list of other cornerbacks that should be stars as well this season.
Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks
Michigan State's Johnny Adams
Texas' Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs
Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown
Wake Forest's Merrill Noel
USC's Nickell Robey
Kansas State's Nigel Malone
Ohio State's Bradley Roby
Arkansas' Tevin Mitchell
Purdue's Ricardo Allen
Alabama's Dee Milliner
Florida State's Xavier Rhodes
Iowa's Micah Hyde
Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum
Georgia Tech's Rod Sweeting
Oregon State's Jordan Poyer
Florida's Marcus Roberson
LSU's Tharold Simon
Rutgers' Logan Ryan
Michigan's Blake Countess
Baylor's Ahmad Dixon
Tennessee's Prentiss Waggner
Wisconsin's Marcus Cromartie
Washington's Desmond Trufant
Connecticut's Blidi Wreh-Wilson
Oklahoma's Demontre Hurst
Clemson's Bashaud Breeland
Oregon's Terrance Mitchell
North Carolina's Tim Scott
Texas A&M's Dustin Harris
San Diego State's Leon McFadden
Missouri's E.J. Gaines
UCLA's Aaron Hester
Georgia's Branden Smith
Houston's D.J. Hayden
Arizona's Shaquille Richardson
In his two years as a starting quarterback at Nebraska, Taylor Martinez has won 19 games, totaled 5,559 yards of offense and accounted for 44 touchdowns.
That certainly hasn't made him immune to criticism, though.
Now that he's entering his second season in offensive coordinator Tim Beck's system, Martinez may finally be ready to take the next step towards stardom this season.
The 6'1'', 200-pound junior has already gained a reputation as one of the most dangerous running quarterbacks in the country, but his passing prowess is still somewhat lacking.
With potential stars such as RB Rex Burkhead and WR Kenny Bell surrounding him, Martinez will have the type of supporting cast he needs to finally become a well-rounded playmaker in 2012.
It doesn't seem like many SEC fans are expecting league newcomer Texas A&M to be a big threat this season, and many publications picked the Aggies to finish near the bottom of the loaded West division in 2012.
Admittedly, losing starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the No. 8 overall pick of this year's NFL draft, as well as starting running back Cyrus Gray and wide receiver Jeff Fuller certainly hurts. But new head coach Kevin Sumlin will still have plenty of talent to work with this year.
RB Christine Michael and WR Ryan Swope will be two of the best offensive players in the conference. Plus, the offensive line, led by offensive tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews—two potential future first-round NFL draft picks—and senior center Patrick Lewis, will be one of the best units in the nation.
The defense may be a bit thin in the secondary, but the front seven, which features standouts such as defensive end Damontre Moore and linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart, is definitely impressive.
If redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel can pick up the offense quickly, the Aggies could easily surpass their modest expectations in their first ever season in the SEC.
LSU's running backs
LSU has the luxury of having four running backs on its roster—Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard—that would each start for most other schools in the country.
There's no arguing that the Tigers have the deepest and most talented stable of running backs in the country for the 2012 season.
The team's rushing attack should be one of the most powerful and potent in college football this year.
After averaging 202 yards on the ground per game last season, it's likely that LSU will put up even bigger rushing totals in 2012, especially since it will have one of the best offensive lines in the country, led by potential All-American tackles Alex Hurst and Chris Faulk.
Ware, Ford, Blue and Hilliard are all big, strong, physical runners who should really wear down opposing defenses this season.
Tyler Bray only played in seven games due to a thumb injury last season, yet he still managed to throw for 1,983 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Assuming that the 6'6'', 215-pound junior can stay healthy for a full season, he clearly has the arm talent to throw for over 4,000 yards this year.
Bray may miss his top target from last season—suspended receiver Da'Rick Rogers—but he should form a strong bond with junior receiver Justin Hunter in 2012.
The tall pro-style passer knows that this is a crucial season in which NFL scouts will be focusing on his performance every single week. Therefore, it should be very interesting to see how he responds to the pressure and if he can step up and make the most of his tremendous potential.
After sitting out two years following his messy departure from Texas Tech, Mike Leach has returned to the coaching spotlight, taking over a Washington State squad that has won just nine total games over the past four years.
If you're a true college football fan, then you know that Leach has never been the type of coach who's afraid to say what's really on his mind.
He's probably been advised to tone down his tongue just a bit given his controversial exit from the game back in 2009. Nevertheless, Leach should still provide some very entertaining quotes during his first season in Pullman since the Cougars are sure to have a few bad performances in 2012.
Tyler Russell and Dan Mullen
Mississippi State is still an off-the-radar program in the SEC, but the Bulldogs could really open some eyes and take a major step forward in 2012.
Since arriving before the 2009 season, head coach Dan Mullen has been trying to get the offense to resemble the powerful attack that he led at Florida, but he just hasn't had the quarterback that he's desperately needed.
Now, Tyler Russell will get the shot to prove that he can run the offensive show with efficiency.
Russell only completed 53 percent of his passes for over 1,000 yards last year, but he did show some very intriguing flashes of his natural ability at times.
The 6'4'', 220-pound junior is a former 4-star recruit who has the skills to become a dangerous playmaker under Mullen's tutelage.
With running back LaDarius Perkins and receivers Chad Bumphis, Arceto Clark, Chris Smith and Joe Morrow surrounding him, Russell has the talent at his disposal to become one of the biggest breakout stars in the SEC in 2012.
Notre Dame is one of those schools that you either love or hate, and boy, the Irish have sure gained a whole lot of haters in recent years.
Many fans have simply grown sick of the media constantly pumping up the team into something it's not.
Third-year coach Brian Kelly was supposed to be the one who stabilized the program and returned it to national prominence, but instead, the Irish have won just eight games in each of the past two seasons.
Now, it's time for Kelly to either put up or shut up.
Since Notre Dame will be playing an insanely tough schedule that includes marquee matchups with big-name schools such as Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, Stanford, Oklahoma and USC, the Irish are again going to receive plenty of publicity this season.
It remains to be seen, however, if they'll actually deserve it.
West Virginia may be the new Big 12 team that's receiving most of the preseason hype, but let's not forget about the league's other new addition, TCU.
The Horned Frogs have averaged 11 wins per season for the past seven years, and they've consistently been one of the strongest non-BCS programs during that time.
Now, Gary Patterson's squad will get the opportunity to prove its worth against some of the best competition that college football has to offer.
Even though the Horned Frogs return just 10 starters from last season, they have a bunch of players who could make a name for themselves in the conference this year.
QB Casey Pachall, RB Waymon James, WR Josh Boyce, OG Blaize Foltz, DE Stansly Maponga, LB Kenny Cain and CB Jason Verrett will be some of the best players at their respective positions in the league this season.
This team has the talent to beat anybody on its schedule in 2012. The question, though, is, can TCU handle the grind of having to battle a BCS foe every week, or will the Horned Frogs eventually get worn down by the bigger, faster, stronger opponents they'll have to deal with this season?
Landry Jones is Oklahoma's starting quarterback, but the Sooners' secret weapon this year could turn out to be his backup, Blake Bell.
Bell, or the "Belldozer," proved to be a valuable weapon last season as a part of Oklahoma's jumbo package, as he scored 13 touchdowns on just 44 carries in 2011.
The 6'6'', 254-pound redshirt sophomore is a big, strong, athletic quarterback who is certainly tough to bring down.
Don't be surprised if Bell ends up playing a similar role in 2012 to the one we saw Tim Tebow play during his freshman year at Florida during the Gators' run to a national championship.
USC's Robert Woods was the Pac-12 receiver that garnered the most preseason publicity and attention this summer. However, Cal's Keenan Allen is actually the conference's premier pass-catcher for the 2012 season.
Allen is one of the most physically gifted receivers that we've seen at the college level in the last decade, and he'll enter the upcoming season with a ton of momentum after a stellar sophomore performance last year.
The 6'3'', 210-pound junior was one of the most productive receivers in the country in 2011, catching 98 passes for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns, even though he had to deal with inconsistent play from his half-brother, QB Zach Maynard.
If Maynard can improve his consistency this year, there's no telling what type of numbers Allen will put up in 2012.
There's no doubt that Allen has the potential to be a top-10 pick in the 2013 NFL draft, and he may just be the best overall receiver in college football this season.
Last year, LSU had college football's most decorated defensive backfield, but this season, it will be Texas that puts out the best secondary in the country.
The Longhorns have one of college football's best cornerback combos, comprised of 6'0'', 180-pound junior Carrington Byndom and 5'10'', 200-pound sophomore Quandre Diggs, as well as one of the best safeties in the country in 6'1'', 218-pound senior Kenny Vaccaro.
Vaccaro and Byndom both have the potential to be high picks in the 2013 NFL draft, and Diggs also has a future playing on Sundays some day.
The Longhorns gave up just six yards per pass attempt last year, which ranked ninth in the nation.
The secondary should be even stronger in 2012, and Byndom, Diggs and Vaccaro should all receive national attention this season.
Miami lost a ton of talent from a team that went just 6-6 last season, including six NFL draft picks.
The Hurricanes will be young and inexperienced at some key positions on both sides of the ball this season, which is why 2012 will likely end up being a rebuilding season.
With a schedule that includes Kansas State, Georgia Tech, N.C. State, Notre Dame, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Virginia and South Florida, it's tough to see this team matching last year's six-win total.
Still, even with possible sanctions looming from the Nevin Shapiro scandal, coach Al Golden has this team moving in the right direction, and a more experienced Hurricanes squad should be a factor in the conference once again in 2013.
If you happen to be a fan of offensive football and high-octane passing attacks, then make sure you tune into the mega-matchup between Oklahoma and West Virginia on Nov. 17.
These two teams combined to average 77 points per game in 2011, and it definitely wouldn't be shocking to see them surpass that total when they meet up in Morgantown this season.
Hopefully the scoreboard operator at Milan Puskar Stadium is ready for a busy night.
WR Sammy Watkins was Clemson's undisputed offensive MVP in 2011, as he enjoyed a breakout freshman campaign, catching 82 passes, totaling 1,450 yards of offense and scoring 13 touchdowns.
Watkins better be ready to share the spotlight in 2012, however, since RB Andre Ellington seems like he's ready to have a truly dominant senior season.
Ellington has a whopping 5.8 yards-per-carry average for his career, and he's scored 27 total touchdowns over the last three seasons.
The explosive 5'9'', 190-pound senior made the most of his opportunity to be the main man in the backfield last season, as he totaled 1,287 yards of offense and scored 11 touchdowns in 2011.
Look for Ellington to take his game to an even higher level this season, now that he has a year's worth of starting experience under his belt.
With Ellington, Watkins, QB Tajh Boyd and WR DeAndre Hopkins all returning, the Tigers will have one of the most powerful offensive attacks in the country in 2012.
The Big 12 lost its two biggest star receivers from the 2011 season—Justin Blackmon and Kendall Wright, who were both first-round picks in this year's NFL draft.
Luckily, the league is welcoming in two new potential stars for 2012—TCU's Josh Boyce and West Virginia's Tavon Austin, who should both be able to fill the voids left by Blackmon and Wright.
Boyce is a speedy 6'0'', 203-pound junior who caught 61 passes for 998 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011, while Austin is a 5'9'', 174-pound senior who finished with 101 receptions, 1,186 receiving yards and 11 total touchdowns last year.
The two explosive pass-catchers will now each be looking to make a name for themselves in their new league in 2012, and it shouldn't take long for either of them to make a major impact this season.
James Franklin and Zac Stacy
Vanderbilt hasn't won eight games in a season since 1982, when the Commodores finished 8-4.
That 30-year drought may just come to an end in 2012, though.
Last year, coach James Franklin led the team to just its second bowl game of the millennium in his first season at the helm.
Franklin's squad will welcome back 15 starters for the 2012 season, including potential All-SEC performers such as RB Zac Stacy, WR Jordan Matthews and DT Rob Lohr.
There are seven opponents on the 2012 schedule—Northwestern, Presbyterian, UMass, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Wake Forest—that the Commodores could definitely beat.
If they win all the games they're supposed to, maybe pull off an upset and then win a bowl game, Vanderbilt has a real shot to reach eight wins this season.
Georgia Tech has ranked either first or second in the nation in rushing offense in each of the past three seasons. Now, it looks like the Yellow Jackets should have the most productive ground game in the country in 2012.
Quarterback Tevin Washington and running backs Orwin Smith and David Sims are an exceptionally talented rushing trio that combined for nearly 2,300 rushing yards and 32 rushing touchdowns in 2011.
Washington, Smith and Sims are all perfect fits for coach Paul Johnson's old-school Flexbone triple-option offense.
The fact that the Yellow Jackets don't have a wide receiver on the roster that caught a pass last year will likely prompt the team to focus on the running game even more in 2012.
After finishing second in the nation in rushing offense with an average of 316 rushing yards per game in 2011, Georgia Tech should be able to reclaim the top spot this season.
I have a fondness for tough, physical, throwback-type middle linebackers who love to hit, and this year, one of my favorites is Oklahoma's Tom Wort.
After the departure of linebacker Travis Lewis, Wort will now be one of the key leaders of the Sooners defense in 2012, and he should thrive.
The 6'0'', 229-pound junior may not a super-sized middle 'backer, but he definitely knows how to find the football and knock down ball-carriers, which he proved last season by racking up 71 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
You can tell that Wort loves to hit and get physical, and he should really lay the wood in 2012.
All I know is that any time you've got the Ultimate Warrior taking time out of his day to give you motivational speeches, you've got to be one awesome dude.
Every year, it seems that at least one player from one of the non-BCS conferences steps up and becomes a first-round NFL draft pick.
In 2009, it was Northern Illinois DE Larry English.
In 2010, it was Fresno State RB Ryan Mathews, Idaho OG Mike Iupati and Boise State CB Kyle Wilson.
In 2011, it was Temple DE Muhammad Wilkerson.
Then, of course, this year, it was Memphis DT Dontari Poe and Boise State's Shea McClellin (DE) and Doug Martin (RB).
The non-BCS prospect that will likely climb up draft boards this season is SMU DE Margus Hunt.
Hunt is a 6'8'', 280-pound senior who possesses a rare combination of size, athleticism and power that you just don't see very often.
His three-sack performance against Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl this past January got everyone talking, and he's since gained quite a buzz in NFL scouting circles.
The Estonia import will likely be one of the most impressive "workout warriors" in the 2013 draft class, and by the time next April rolls around, it wouldn't be shocking if we're talking about Hunt as a potential top-15 NFL draft pick.
Everyone made a big deal about RB Silas Redd transferring from Penn State to USC this offseason, but they seemed to forget that the Trojans already had a capable running back in Curtis McNeal.
Last year, McNeal rushed for over 1,000 yards on just 145 carries, the lowest total of any back who eclipsed the milestone in 2011, as he averaged an extraordinary 6.9 yards per carry.
The 5'7'', 180-pound senior certainly isn't the biggest back in college football, but he has a strong, powerful frame, tremendous running instincts and outstanding vision and balance.
McNeal will likely be extra motivated by the arrival of Redd, and he'll be looking to show this season that he's still the top rusher in Los Angeles.
Redd may be one of the biggest stars of the USC offense in 2013, but it will be McNeal who once again leads the Trojans in rushing in 2012.
After leading Connecticut to the school's first ever BCS bowl game in 2010, coach Randy Edsall bolted Storrs for what he thought would be a better job at Maryland.
As it turned out, the Terps were abysmal in 2011, finishing just 2-10. Edsall has to be wondering what he got himself into, since he certainly doesn't appear to be a good fit for the program.
While the Terps may still gain attention for modeling Under Armour's awful uniforms this season, it's highly doubtful that they'll be able to improve on their win total in 2012, and they could easily end up being the worst BCS team of the season.
Robert Griffin III and Art Briles
Baylor's offense lost the school's only Heisman winner, quarterback Robert Griffin III, and their all-time leading receiver, Kendall Wright, as well as last year's leading rusher, Terrance Ganaway. However, all hope is not lost.
Yes, it's true, the Bears offense will obviously miss RG3, Wright and Ganaway this season, but that doesn't mean that they still won't have plenty of firepower in 2012.
RB Lache Seastrunk, a former blue-chip recruit who sat out this past season after transferring from Oregon, looks like he could develop into a dynamic playmaker.
Plus, the Bears still have plenty of dangerous receivers such as Terrance Williams, Tevin Reese and Lanear Sampson.
New starting quarterback Nick Florence may not be in the same class as Griffin, but he's got a strong enough supporting cast to keep the Baylor offense producing at a high level in 2012.
It's surely going to be a strange season at Penn State this fall. Team will likely experience plenty of bumps in the road and disappointing outcomes.
Since the NCAA decided to overstep its bounds and punish those who had nothing to do with the atrocities that were committed in years passed, there's now no light at the end of the tunnel for the Nittany Lions seniors due to the postseason ban imposed on the program.
Still, this is a group that has always played with pride, and players such as Jordan Hill, Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti will make sure that their teammates are ready to compete every week.
With no chance of playing in a bowl game this year, the team's figurative "Super Bowl" will instead be the home finale against Wisconsin.
The Badgers really took it to a distracted and emotionally drained Penn State team last year, beating the Nittany Lions 45-7.
With revenge on their mind and the motivation to end the season on a high note, don't be surprised if Penn State ends up shocking Wisconsin on Senior Day in Happy Valley on Nov. 24.
DE Robert Nkemdiche will enter his senior season at Georgia's Grayson High School as the top-ranked prospect of the 2013 recruiting class.
There's no mystery about where he's going to play his college ball, though.
Back in June, Nkemdiche announced that he wants to play for Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers.
As we've seen in years past, however, a verbal commitment is certainly not set in stone, as plenty of top-ranked players have switched schools before National Signing Day.
Nkemdiche received a lot of negative publicity over the summer after an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution insinuated that he was trying to work out a package deal for his teammates to get scholarship offers from Clemson.
With so many recruiting rumors floating around from the message board crowd these days, it's hard to know what to believe anymore.
Still, one thing's for sure: No one would likely be surprised if Nkemdiche's recruitment turns into a bit of a soap opera in the months leading up to National Signing Day, especially since one of his other top suitors, Ole Miss, just so happens to be the school for which his older brother Denzel plays.
Duke hasn't played in a bowl game since the 1994 season, when the Blue Devils lost to Wisconsin in the Hall of Fame Bowl. However, the team might just have the talent it needs to now win the necessary six games it takes to become bowl eligible in 2012.
17 starters are returning from last season, including key veteran leaders such as WR Conner Vernon, LB Kelby Brown, QB Sean Renfree and FS Walt Canty.
This is the best overall team that fifth-year head coach David Cutcliffe has had during his tenure.
With a schedule that includes winnable games against FIU, NC Central, Memphis, Wake Forest, Virginia and Miami, Duke fans might just get the opportunity to finally take a postseason trip this season after waiting 18 long years.
Oregon State had only experienced one losing season in the first seven years of coach Mike Riley's tenure in Corvallis. However, the Beavers have had losing seasons in each of the past two years, winning just eight total games during that time.
Last year's three-win performance, which included an overtime loss to FCS school Sacramento State, was a complete embarrassment for both Riley and his players. But the good news is that the team should be able to get back to its winning ways in 2012.
Fifteen starters return from last year, including the potentially explosive passing combination of QB Sean Mannion and WR Markus Wheaton.
While no one will be expecting the Beavers to contend with in-state rival Oregon in the Pac-12 North division this season, this is still a team that has the talent to make it back to the postseason and maybe even pull off a surprise upset in 2012.
A.J. Klein and Jake Knott
Last year, Wisconsin's Chris Borland and Mike Taylor were the most productive linebacker tandem in college football, as the two Badgers combined to rack up 293 total tackles.
This year, though, Borland and Taylor will have some stiff competition for that honor, as there are some truly terrific tandems to watch out for.
Here's a look at some of college football's top linebacker duos for the 2012 season.
Iowa State's A.J. Klein and Jake Knott
Wisconsin's Chris Borland and Mike Taylor
Stanford's Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov
Alabama's C.J. Mosley and Nico Johnson
Michigan State's Denicos Allen and Max Bullough
USC's Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard
Florida's Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic
Rutgers' Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais
Tennessee's A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt
Missouri's Zaviar Gooden and Andrew Wilson
Iowa's James Morris and Christian Kirksey
Virginia Tech's Bruce Taylor and Tariq Edwards
Georgia's Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree
Michigan's Jake Ryan and Kenny Demens
South Florida's DeDe Lattimore and Sam Barrington
Arkansas' Alonzo Highsmith and Tenarius Wright
Oklahoma State's Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey
Penn State's Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti
Auburn's Daren Bates and Jake Holland
Texas A&M's Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart
Oregon's Michael Clay and Boseko Lokombo
Connecticut's Sio Moore and Yawin Smallwood
Oklahoma's Tom Wort and Corey Nelson
Maryland's Kenny Tate and Demetrius Hartsfield
Texas' Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond
Kansas State's Arthur Brown and Tre Walker
BYU's Kyle Van Noy and Brandon Ogletree
Clemson's Corico Hawkins and Stephone Anthony
SMU's Ja'Gared Davis and Taylor Reed
Syracuse's Marquis Spruill and Dyshawn Davis
Florida International's Winston Fraser and Jordan Hunt
Alabama has produced back-to-back running backs—Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson—who ended up being first-round NFL draft picks. The Tide might just be able to make it three in a row if new starter Eddie Lacy plays up to his potential in 2012.
Lacy has some big shoes to fill—Richardson ran for over 1,600 yards and scored 24 touchdowns in 2011—but he happens to be a terrific fit for Alabama's downhill power-rushing attack.
Last year, the sturdy 6'0'', 220-pound junior only carried the ball 95 times, but he made the most of his limited opportunities, averaging over seven yards per carry and scoring seven touchdowns.
Since he'll be running behind college football's most talented offensive line this season, Lacy will now have the chance to put up some huge numbers just like his predecessors, Richardson and Ingram, did.
With Lacy and fellow backs T.J. Yeldon, Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart all combining forces, Alabama should once again have one of the top-ranked rushing attacks in the country in 2012.
Tommy Tuberville will enter his third season as Texas Tech's head coach with a lot to prove after the Red Raiders failed to make a bowl game last year for the first time since 1999.
The team received a ton of publicity for beating No. 1-ranked Oklahoma in Norman, but Tuberville's squad struggled down the stretch after that, losing its last five games, including a disgraceful 66-6 blowout home loss to Oklahoma State.
That kind of effort won't be tolerated in 2012, and if Tuberville can't turn things around, his figurative coaching seat is going to start to get pretty hot this season.
Michigan State's William Gholston is one of the most talented defenders in college football.
He's also one of the sport's most fiery players. The problem is, he let his passion get the best of him when the Spartans squared off with in-state rival Michigan last season.
Gholston had two egregious personal fouls in that game, which left many onlookers to question his maturity and his sportsmanship.
As far as pure talent is concerned, the 6'7'', 278-pound junior certainly possesses the potential to be a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. But first, he's going to have to prove to scouts that he's grown up and learned to channel his anger more constructively this season.
Hopefully, Gholston will be recognized for his outstanding pass-rushing skills in 2012 instead of his after-the-play antics.
Minnesota has been a Big Ten cellar dweller in each of the past two seasons, as the Golden Gophers have won just three games each year. However, that could definitely change in 2012.
QB MarQueis Gray is one of the most underrated players in the country, and he could be ready to have a breakout performance this season.
The team's first six games are against UNLV, New Hampshire, Western Michigan, Syracuse, Iowa and Northwestern. If the Gophers manage to get on a roll, it wouldn't be surprising if they ended up winning six straight to start the season in a similar fashion as Illinois did last year.
The bad news is that the late-season schedule is a whole lot tougher, with matchups with Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska and Michigan State.
Still, even if the team finishes 6-6, Minnesota would have a shot to make it to its first bowl game since 2009, and coach Jerry Kill would certainly take that at this point.
Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley
Florida defensive linemen Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley were two of the biggest names of the Gators' top-ranked 2010 recruiting class.
The two of them really started to play up to their enormous potential in 2011, as they combined for 83 tackles and three sacks last year.
Both players showed indications of their potential to develop into dominant difference makers in the trenches this season.
Floyd and Easley are two of the most athletic and versatile defensive linemen in the country, and they're the type of disruptive forces that could really make the Florida defense a special unit in 2012.
Last year, QB Teddy Bridgewater arrived at Louisville as a heralded 4-star recruit out of Miami powerhouse Northwestern High School, and he quickly proved to be deserving of the hype.
Bridgewater stepped into the starting role a few games into the season and ended up leading the Cardinals to a share of the Big East championship as a true freshman.
The 6'3'', 218-pound sophomore completed 64 percent of his passes for over 2,100 yards and threw 14 touchdown strikes. It was a performance which earned him numerous postseason accolades including freshman All-American honors.
Now that Bridgewater has proven that he can handle himself, the coaching staff should let him off the leash in 2012 in order to make full use of his superb physical ability.
Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham are both thoroughly despised by their former teams' fanbases.
This offseason, though, the two head coaches have been welcomed with open arms at their new schools—Arizona and Arizona State.
After sitting out a year following a dreadful three-year stop at Michigan, Rodriguez looks re-energized and ready to turn the Arizona offense into a high-octane spread attack. Graham, on the other hand, hopes that he'll be at Arizona State for the long haul after making three previous head coaching stops since 2006.
While neither of their teams will have the talent it takes to compete for a conference championship in 2012, both Rodriguez and Graham should be able to show encouraging flashes of what's to come under their watch to please fans and quiet their critics this season.
Ole Miss mascot
After finishing 1-7 in SEC play in 2010, the Ole Miss Rebels hit a new low last season, finishing 0-8 against league competition.
Sadly, it looks like the team is destined for the same fate again in 2012.
New head coach Hugh Freeze was a solid choice to come in and rebuild the program, but right now, he just doesn't have the talent to compete with the rest of the conference.
With a brutal conference schedule that includes Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, Arkansas, Georgia, Vanderbilt, LSU and Mississippi State, Rebel fans better have plenty of bourbon and scotch on hand at their tailgates, because it's going to be another long, embarrassing season.
Oregon fans have been waiting for WR Josh Huff to put together a breakout season since he first arrived in Eugene as a highly-touted 4-star recruit out of Texas' Nimitz High School back in 2010.
Huff has yet to come close to living up to his full potential, however, as he's combined to catch just 50 passes for 733 yards and five touchdowns in his first two seasons.
Now, the athletic 5'11'', 205-pound junior will be expected to be the team's go-to receiver in 2012.
If he can stay healthy and focused, Huff should finally be able to put his tremendous physical skills to good use this season.
New starting quarterback Marcus Mariota is going to need a clutch receiver that he can rely on in the passing game, and Huff seems like he's ready to finally develop into the dependable weapon that Ducks fans have been hoping for.
Louisiana Tech faces three BCS opponents—Texas A&M, Illinois and Virginia—within the first few weeks of the season. All three teams better come to play, because the Bulldogs are not a team to be taken lightly.
Potential standouts QB Colby Cameron and WR Quinton Patton will be the leaders of what should be one of the strongest passing attacks in the country in 2012.
Plus, there are plenty of other difference makers sprinkled all over the field, with the most notable examples being NFL prospects OT Jordan Mills and DT Justin Ellis.
The boys from Ruston gave TCU all it could handle in last year's Poinsettia Bowl, and they will likely pull off at least one major early-season upset in 2012.
You literally would not have been able to find a defense that was worse than the one Kansas put out on the field last season. The Jayhawks somehow managed to rank dead-last in the nation in both scoring defense and total defense, as they gave up an average of 43 points and 516 yards per game last season.
What was so surprising about the unit's absolutely embarrassing performance was the fact that Kansas actually had some quality defensive players such as safety Bradley McDougald, edge-rusher Toben Opurum and linebackers Steven Johnson, Tunde Bakare and Darius Lewis.
The problem was, the defense just could not figure out how to play together, which is something that new head coach Charlie Weis and coordinator Dave Campo hopefully focused on this offseason.
Kansas will by no means have a great defense this year. But with veterans like McDougald, Opurum and Bakare back to lead the way, the Jayhawks should at least be able to avoid another disastrous performance in 2012.
Last year, Colorado ranked last in the Pac-12 in scoring offense and next to last in total offense, averaging just 19 points and 346 yards per game in 2011.
With a new quarterback and an inexperienced group of wide receivers, it doesn't look like the Buffaloes offense will be much better this season. There is, however, at least one player who will be worth watching in 2012, and that's running back Tony Jones.
Jones didn't get the chance to really prove himself as a freshman last season, as he was forced to spell senior Rodney Stewart, who received the majority of the carries.
Now that Stewart's gone, though, the former 3-star recruit out of New Jersey powerhouse Don Bosco Prep will finally have the opportunity to show what he's made of in 2012.
Ten of the 20 most productive passers from the 2011 season are gone, but Fresno State's Derek Carr, who ranked 15th in the nation with 3,544 passing yards last year, will be back.
Carr attempted just 446 passes during his sophomore campaign, which was the fifth-lowest total of those top 20 passers behind Robert Griffin III (402), Andrew Luck (404), Tyler Wilson (438) and Kellen Moore (439).
This year, though, Carr's total number of attempts will likely increase as he becomes the trigger man of new coordinator Dave Schramm's spread-style offense.
The 6'3'', 205-pound junior is one of the best pure passers in college football, and now that Fresno State is expected to throw the ball more often this season, he'll have the opportunity to put up huge passing numbers.
Here's a look at 15 other quarterbacks that will vie to be the top passer of 2012.
West Virginia's Geno Smith
Arkansas State's Ryan Aplin
Western Michigan's Alex Carder
Arkansas' Tyler Wilson
North Carolina's Bryn Renner
Oklahoma's Landry Jones
Texas Tech's Seth Doege
USC's Matt Barkley
Tennessee's Tyler Bray
TCU's Casey Pachall
Washington's Keith Price
Clemson's Tajh Boyd
Oregon State's Sean Mannion
Ohio's Tyler Tettleton
Washington State's Jeff Tuel
North Carolina may not be eligible to win the ACC championship or play in the postseason this year, but the Tar Heels are certainly still going to be worth watching in 2012.
The one player to really focus on this season will be explosive running back Giovani Bernard.
After returning from a knee injury that kept him out his entire freshman year, Bernard played like he had something to prove last season, as he rushed for 1,253 yards on just 239 carries, caught 45 passes for 362 yards and scored 14 touchdowns.
The 5'10'', 205-pound redshirt sophomore is clearly one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in college football.
Bernard has a chance to truly shine behind a North Carolina offensive line that will be one of the strongest units in college football this season, and he should be able to put up some big rushing totals in 2012.
Here's a look at 15 other running backs that will be looking to take home the rushing title in 2012.
Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle
Connecticut's Lyle McCombs
Wisconsin's Montee Ball
Buffalo's Branden Oliver
Utah's John White
Nebraska's Rex Burkhead
Arizona State's Cameron Marshall
Stanford's Stepfan Taylor
Pittsburgh's Ray Graham
Colorado State's Chris Nwoke
South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore
Clemson's Andre Ellington
Texas A&M's Christine Michael
Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell
Arkansas' Knile Davis
A MAC receiver has led the nation in catches in two out of the last three seasons, and that trend will likely continue in 2012 if Miami of Ohio's Nick Harwell performs as expected.
Harwell had a huge season last year, catching 97 passes for 1,425 yards and nine touchdowns.
With QB Zac Dysert returning, the 6'1'', 193-pound junior could put up even bigger numbers in 2012, and he may end up as the most productive receiver in the country this season.
There are plenty of other wide receivers who are set to put up big numbers this year as well, so here's a look at 15 other players that are capable of leading the nation in receiving in 2012.
California's Keenan Allen
West Virginia's Tavon Austin
Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton
Texas A&M's Ryan Swope
USC's Robert Woods
Clemson's Sammy Watkins
SMU's Darius Johnson
Washington State's Marquess Wilson
Arkansas' Cobi Hamilton
TCU's Josh Boyce
Tennessee's Justin Hunter
Louisiana-Lafayette's Javone Lawson
Oregon State's Markus Wheaton
Duke's Conner Vernon
Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis
Jadeveon Clowney arrived at South Carolina with some almost impossible expectations to live up to, given that he was arguably the most hyped high school football recruit of all time.
Clowney certainly didn't let the pressure faze him, however, as he put together an outstanding freshman campaign in 2011, notching eight sacks, 11 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles.
The 6'6'', 256-pound sophomore is a true physical freak who has all the skills it takes to develop into college football's most dangerous pass-rusher this season.
There are going to be a ton of outstanding defensive ends to watch in 2012, but Clowney may just end up being the cream of the college football crop.
Here's a look at 30 other players that are also destined to put up big sack totals this season.
LSU's Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery
Texas A&M's Damontre Moore
Georgia's Jarvis Jones
Illinois' Michael Buchanan
Michigan State's William Gholston
Florida State's Brandon Jenkins and Bjoern Werner
Texas' Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor
TCU's Stansly Maponga
Oregon's Dion Jordan
Kansas State's Meshak Williams
South Florida's Ryne Giddins
Virginia Tech's James Gayle
Auburn's Corey Lemonier
Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu
SMU's Margus Hunt
San Jose State's Travis Johnson
Washington's Josh Shirley
Mississippi State's Denico Autry
UCLA's Datone Jones
Stanford's Chase Thomas
Michigan's Craig Roh
Clemson's Malliciah Goodman
USC's Wes Horton
Ohio State's John Simon
South Carolina's Devin Taylor
Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald
Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt
Boston College tackling machine Luke Kuechly led the nation in total tackles in each of the past two seasons.
Now that Kuechly's in the NFL, though, there is guaranteed to be a new tackling king in 2012.
One 'backer who should really pile up the stops in 2012 is East Carolina's Jeremy Grove.
Last year, Grove had an outstanding introductory campaign, totaling 122 tackles, including 45 solo stops. It was a performance that helped earn him numerous freshman All-American honors.
The 6'1'', 230-pound sophomore is back to man the middle of the Pirates defense once again, and this year, he'll be looking to become a true national star.
Here's a look at 15 other players that are also capable of leading the nation in tackles in 2012.
Ball State's Travis Freeman
Wisconsin's Chris Borland and Mike Taylor
Iowa State's A.J. Klein and Jake Knott
Iowa's James Morris
Notre Dame's Manti Te'o
Tulane's Trent Mackey
Rutgers' Khaseem Greene
Mississippi State's Cameron Lawrence
San Jose State's Keith Smith
Virginia Tech's Bruce Taylor
Western Kentucky's Andrew Jackson
SMU's Ja'Gared Davis
Penn State's Gerald Hodges
Although the 2013 NFL draft won't technically take place until late next April, almost four months after the college football season is over, the 2012 season will be the stage for prospects to show off their skills. It's likely that we'll probably know who the No. 1 pick will be by the time the season ends.
USC QB Matt Barkley will start off as the consensus favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft. However, it wouldn't be surprising if Barkley were eventually surpassed by another talented signal-caller by the time the season's over, especially if he fails to lead the Trojans to a Pac-12 title.
The one top quarterback prospect that will be the most intriguing to watch this season is Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas.
Thomas is the type of big, athletic, dual-threat quarterback that possesses all the skills to develop into an elite pro prospect, similar to recent top prospects such as Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton.
The 6'6'', 260-pound junior has the size, arm strength, athleticism and overall playmaking ability that scouts are looking for.
If he continues to refine his accuracy, work on his decision making and develop his all-around game, there's no telling just how high Thomas' stock could climb this season.
If he leads the Hokies to an ACC championship and shows that he can put the offense on his shoulders, he could even end up being the No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft.
"With the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Arizona Cardinals select Logan Thomas, quarterback, Virginia Tech," is a statement that you could hear come out of Roger Goodell's mouth next April.
With so many NFL teams now currently employing either a base 3-4 defense or certain 3-4 defensive packages, light and explosive edge-rushers are becoming some of the most coveted commodities in the draft.
One standout collegiate pass-rusher who perfectly fits the mold of a future 3-4 outside linebacker is LSU's Barkevious Mingo.
Mingo, who racked up eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss in his first year as a starter in 2011, has only been playing organized football since his junior year in high school, and he's still noticeably raw and unrefined.
Still, his natural physical gifts are simply remarkable, and you can bet that scouts have already taken notice.
The 6'5'', 240-pound junior still needs to add some bulk to his slight frame, but he's clearly got the physical makeup and skill set to become the top 3-4 rush linebacker prospect in the 2013 draft class.
Even though I expect big things from rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, I still believe that the Indianapolis Colts will end up with the No. 2 pick in next year's NFL draft, and they could certainly use a young pass-rusher like Mingo to groom for the future.
If Matt Barkley had declared for the 2012 NFL draft like many were expecting, he would have almost certainly been the No. 3 overall pick, most likely going to the Miami Dolphins, who would have traded up to get him.
That means that even if Barkley doesn't end up as the No. 1 overall pick next year but still ends up in the top three, then it would be tough to say that returning to USC for another season was a bad decision.
The 6'2'', 230-pound senior has had an outstanding career with the Trojans, and he has all of the physical skills and leadership intangibles to be a franchise signal-caller at the next level.
While he may not be a so-called "sure thing" like his former conference counterpart Andrew Luck, Barkley would make a team like the Oakland Raiders very happy if they could scoop him up with the third overall pick in next year's NFL draft.
Les Miles and Nick Saban
Neither of the two matchups between last year's two top-ranked teams, Alabama and LSU, came close to living up to the hype, especially that atrocious BCS championship game.
Something tells me, though, that this year's showdown in Baton Rouge on Nov. 3 will definitely make up for last year's snoozefests.
The Tigers and the Tide have both been somewhat weakened on the defensive side of the ball since last season, which means that we should see a few more offensive fireworks from both teams this time around.
Who knows if the two squads will be undefeated when they square off this year, but it obviously wouldn't be surprising if this game had national championship implications on the line.
When all is said and done, Alabama will prove to be the superior team. The Tide's coaching staff are simply better across the board, and they'll have the players ready for the stress they'll face from the rowdy crowd at Tiger Stadium.
Prediction: Alabama 27, LSU 23
Alabama vs. LSU may be the most anticipated game of the 2012 season, but it just so happens that the second-biggest game of the year—Oregon at USC—will take place on the same day.
After last year's 38-35 defeat at home, the Ducks will have revenge on their minds when they head to Los Angeles this season.
Oregon's offense will have had two months to gel, and it should be ready to explode on the big stage.
USC's defense will be improved in 2012, but the question is, will the Trojans be able to slow down quarterback Marcus Mariota, running backs Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas and wide receiver Josh Huff?
The answer to that question is no. On Nov. 3, Oregon will prove that it's still the best team in the Pac-12 by knocking off the preseason favorite Trojans.
Prediction: Oregon 36, USC 31
I originally wanted to pick Houston to win the Conference USA title this season, thinking that the Cougars had not just the talent (even after losing QB Case Keenum and WR Patrick Edwards) but also the motivational factor after being embarrassed in last year's conference championship game and watching head coach Kevin Sumlin move on to bigger and better things.
Then, however, I began looking at this SMU team, and I became very impressed with what the Mustangs were bringing to the table.
Sure, Garrett Gilbert is a crapshoot at quarterback, but running back Zach Line is one of the toughest players you're going to find in college football, and receiver Darius Johnson knows how to produce at a high level.
On defense, they've got standouts such as defensive end Margus Hunt and linebackers Taylor Reed and Ja'Gared Davis.
I've always liked June Jones as a head coach, and I think he's assembled a talented group down in Dallas that should definitely be able to compete with the likes of Houston, Central Florida, Southern Miss and Tulsa for a C-USA championship in 2012.
Even though Boise State lost an incredible amount of talent from last season, it appears that most analysts still seem fine with picking the Broncos to be the kings of the Mountain West this season.
Not me, though. In my view, newcomer Nevada is the league's team to beat this season.
Dual-threat quarterback Cody Fajardo is one of college football's hidden gems. Plus, he's surrounded by potential NFL-caliber talent on both offense (WR Brandon Wimberly, OG Chris Barker and OT Jeff Nady) and defense (DT Cortez Woods, LB Jeremiah Green and SS Duke Williams).
When the Broncos head back to Reno on Dec. 1, I expect the conference championship to be on the line, and ultimately, I think the Wolf Pack will have something to celebrate again this year just like they did on that memorable night back in 2010.
It's not often that you say a team that finished just 5-7 actually had the talent to win its conference, but that was the case with South Florida last season.
The Bulls had the talent to compete for a Big East title in 2011. The problem was, they just couldn't figure out how to close out games, as five of the team's seven losses last season came by just six points or less.
This year, the Bulls return 15 starters, including potential All-Big East performers QB B.J. Daniels, OG Mark Popek, DT Cory Grissom, DE Ryne Giddins, LBs DeDe Lattimore and Sam Barrington and CB Kayvon Webster.
If Daniels can finally figure out how to play up to his potential on a consistent basis in 2012, South Florida should be able to top Louisville in what will likely be a heated race to the school's first ever BCS bowl game.
Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Wisconsin appear to be the four top contenders for the Big Ten championship going into the 2012 season.
All four teams have intriguing talent on both sides of the ball, but the squad that has the best shot to win the conference crown this year is last year's Legends Division winner, Michigan State.
The Spartans may have lost veteran three-year starting quarterback Kirk Cousins, as well as receivers B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol, but they welcome back the league's best defense and one of the top running backs in the country, Le'Veon Bell.
New starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell doesn't have to be a star for the team to win 11 games again in 2012. He just has to be efficient and realize that he'll have a great running game and defense to rely on.
Michigan State will have to play both Michigan and Wisconsin on the road in consecutive weeks near the end of October, but the rest of the conference schedule is definitely manageable.
If the Spartans beat the Wolverines and Badgers, there's no reason that they shouldn't end up back in Indianapolis with a shot at a Rose Bowl berth.
There appear to be two legitimate contenders in each of the ACC's two divisions this season.
In the Atlantic Division, Clemson and Florida State will slug it out for supremacy, while Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech will battle for bragging rights in the Coastal Division.
After a hard-fought season, ultimately, Florida State and Virginia Tech will end up in the conference championship game in Charlotte.
It seems that the Seminoles have the more talented overall team on paper, but the Hokies have proven in years past that they know how to find ways to win. Coach Frank Beamer has won four conference championships and six division titles since guiding Virginia Tech into the ACC back in 2004, and he'll have another championship-caliber group in 2012.
QB Logan Thomas is one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and the Hokies defense is loaded with playmakers at all three levels.
If Thomas can take the next step in his development this season, it's tough to see any other team in the conference knocking off the Hokies in 2012.
You can make the argument that six different teams—Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas and West Virginia—could win the Big 12 this season.
On paper, though, no other team in the conference has the amount of top-tier talent on both sides of the ball that Oklahoma does.
The Sooners may have been the most disappointing team of the 2011 season, but that should only provide QB Landry Jones, LB Tom Wort and the rest of the players with extra motivation.
Admittedly, it hasn't exactly been a smooth offseason in Norman, as injuries and suspensions have taken their toll on the team.
There's still enough talent left, however, for Oklahoma to make a run at both a Big 12 championship and a national title in 2012.
Ultimately, this should be one of the most interesting and entertaining conference races this season.
Oregon has won three straight conference championships and 34 total games during the Chip Kelly era, yet the Ducks won't enter the 2012 season as the league favorites, even though they're coming off an impressive Rose Bowl victory.
Instead, USC has now become the media's favorite once again, which is just fine with Kelly and his players.
Kelly knows that even without QB Darron Thomas and RB LaMichael James, he still has the offensive firepower to compete with any team in the country this year.
Unlike recent Oregon teams, what makes these Ducks so dangerous is the strength of the defense.
DE Dion Jordan, FS John Boyett, LB Michael Clay, CB Terrance Mitchell and DT Taylor Hart are some of the best players at their respective positions in the country, and they'll form a solid defensive nucleus in 2012.
With new starting quarterback Marcus Mariota and running backs Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas taking over, the Oregon offense will still have the explosive athletes it needs to light up defenses once again this season.
These days, it's almost impossible to win four consecutive conference championships, but the Ducks have the talent on both sides of the ball to pull it off in 2012.
This offseason, Alabama has had to figure out how to replace eight NFL draft picks, including four first-round selections. However, with the way Nick Saban and his staff have recruited in recent years, there are plenty of talented reinforcements who have been awaiting their shot to shine.
The offense will obviously miss the presence of last year's third-place Heisman vote-getter, RB Trent Richardson. However, the Tide should be fine with a deep stable of backs, led by Eddie Lacy, running behind the strongest offensive line in the nation, led by Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones.
On defense, Mark Barron, Courtney Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower and Dre Kirkpatrick will all be missed, but there's more than enough talent to put together another top-10 defense in 2012.
NT Jesse Williams, DE Damion Square, LBs Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley, CB Dee Milliner and SS Robert Lester will all be joining their former teammates in the pros some day soon.
You simply won't find a more talented or a better-coached team in the nation than Alabama this season.
If second-year starting quarterback A.J. McCarron can transform from game manager into true offensive leader, it's tough to see any other SEC team taking down the Tide in 2012.
LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Arkansas all have the talent to make a legitimate run, but in the end, Alabama will prove too powerful.
A quarterback has won 10 of the last 12 Heisman trophies, and that trend will continue in 2012.
As we've seen in years past, it obviously never hurts to be the quarterback of the No. 1-ranked team in the country, which bodes well for Alabama's A.J. McCarron.
McCarron may not be the best player in college football. Nevertheless, if he leads the Tide back to the BCS Championship Game again this season and puts up impressive numbers along the way, he should definitely earn the respect of voters.
Oregon super-weapon De'Anthony Thomas may be the best overall player in college football, but McCarron could be the one who ends up taking home the hardware when all is said and done.
Here's a look at the five players who will end up in New York City for the Heisman ceremony in December.
1. QB A.J. McCarron, Alabama
2. RB De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
3. QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma
4. QB Aaron Murray, Georgia
5. QB Collin Klein, Kansas State
ACC champion Virginia Tech and Big East champion South Florida will meet in the Orange Bowl this season.
The Hokies have been down to Miami three times in the last five years, so they know the territory well.
South Florida, on the other hand, has never been to a BCS bowl game before, so it should be a great achievement for the Bulls.
In the end, QB Logan Thomas and the Hokies defense will prove to be just too much to handle for a Bulls team that has yet to play on this type of big stage.
Back in the 2006 Sugar Bowl, West Virginia pulled off what was considered to be a huge upset by beating heavily-favored Georgia, 38-35.
I'm sure coach Mark Richt and the Bulldogs wouldn't mind getting some revenge, and if they win the SEC East and prove that they're the second-best team in the SEC, they might just get their chance.
Even if West Virginia doesn't win the Big 12 this season, the Mountaineers are still a great draw with a ton of fans, and a BCS bowl game like the Sugar Bowl would love to invite them as an at-large.
It would be great to watch West Virginia's explosive offense match up with Georgia's powerful defense in New Orleans, but in the end, the Bulldogs would prove to be just the better all-around team.
Oklahoma has participated in three of the last six Fiesta Bowls, but the Sooners have won just one of those matchups.
They'll be looking to improve their success in the desert with a victory over ACC Atlantic division winner Florida State in January.
The Sooners will probably slip up once this season, knocking them out of the BCS Championship conversation, but the team should still be able to win the Big 12 title and make it into the Fiesta Bowl.
QB Landry Jones, the Offensive MVP of the 2011 Fiesta Bowl, will be looking to end his career on a positive note and improve his draft stock, and he'll try his best to really toast the Florida State secondary in this one.
Even if USC fails to win the Pac-12, I still wouldn't be shocked if the Trojans got a BCS bowl invitation as long as they manage to qualify in the top 14 of the final rankings, just as Michigan and Virginia Tech did last year.
If Pac-12 champion Oregon makes it to the BCS championship game, the Rose Bowl would love to have USC as a fallback team to pair against Big Ten champion Michigan State.
The Spartans haven't been to a Rose Bowl since 1988, while the Trojans have been to five since 2004.
Ultimately, QB Matt Barkley will be looking to put a nice cap on his college career.
More importantly, Barkley will also be looking to impress NFL scouts one final time, which should give the Trojans the extra boost they need in front of a predominantly West Coast crowd.
Since the BCS system began back in the 1998 season, no team has ever repeated as a BCS national champion.
That will change this season, though, as the Alabama Crimson Tide will hoist its third crystal ball in the last four years with a victory over Oregon down in Miami Gardens on Jan. 7.
If you thought 'Bama fans were smug before, you haven't seen anything yet.
Prepare to hear the word "dynasty" from the Tide faithful on a regular basis next offseason.