Predicting What the 2013 College Football Preseason Top 25 Will Look Like

Jonathan McDanalContributor IIIDecember 9, 2012

Predicting What the 2013 College Football Preseason Top 25 Will Look Like

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    The conference champions have all been named, the bowl slots are all filled, and the 2012 season is almost over. 2013 is just around the corner, and so are the 2013 preseason rankings.

    From the NFL draft to the graduation ceremonies that will cripple some programs, there are many factors that play into the preseason rankings. Coaches leaving programs to go elsewhere, coaches getting fired and coordinators getting promoted are just a few of the other factors.

    In this article, the number of graduating seniors, the number of projected first-round NFL draftees and the current recruiting class rankings will be laid out for each projected top 25 team. Here are my predictions for the preseason AP Top 25 and the reasoning behind each one.

    *Information from cfbstats.com (number of seniors on each team), cbssports.com (number of draft-eligible juniors) and collegefootball.ap.org (current AP ranking) was used in forming this article.

25. Boise State Broncos

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    Number of seniors departing: 24

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: None

    Current AP ranking: No. 20

    Current recruiting class rank: Not ranked in the top 40

    Chris Petersen is the Boise State Broncos, and he is the trump card that puts them in the preseason rankings. (Assuming the departure rumors are all indeed just rumors, of course.) There may be a little bias that keeps them in the rankings throughout the season, but the Boise State Broncos have put up the win-loss records to appear in the postseason rankings almost without exception.

    After the Broncos' performance this season, they will likely enter the preseason rankings a bit low in 2013. But don't expect them to stay there. 2012 was a rebuilding year for the program, and 2013 should see them contending for the Big East's automatic BCS bid at the end of the season.

24. Ole Miss Rebels

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    Number of seniors departing: 22

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: None

    Current AP ranking: Not ranked

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 21

    Ole Miss had a 2-10 season in 2011, hired Hugh Freeze in 2012 and had a 6-6 season in his first year. Math would say that he could go for a 10-2 run this coming season, but common sense says differently.

    The bottom line is that Freeze turned the Arkansas State program around, and he's doing the same thing at Ole Miss. The difference is that he now has access to some of the best recruiting tactics in the nation by being in the SEC.

    Freeze should have done enough that people will consider Ole Miss a potential top-25 team. The Rebels can earn their way up the standings or mess it up; it's their choice.

23. Baylor Bears

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    Number of seniors departing: 23

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: None

    Current AP ranking: Not ranked

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 25

    Baylor should have stumbled after losing Robert Griffin III to the NFL after last season. The Bears apparently didn't read that article. Fans of Baylor have just enjoyed a seven-win season that was unexpected, to say the least.

    Baylor has earned at least a preseason ranking for its efforts this season, and coming in at No. 23 is far from an unreasonable request.

22. UCLA Bruins

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    Number of seniors departing: 19

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: None

    Current AP ranking: No. 17

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 18

    UCLA came close to winning the Pac-12 this season, and did it by outplaying the USC Trojans in the Pac-12 South Division all season long. USC dropped from preseason No. 1 to unranked throughout 2012, and the UCLA Bruins did not mind that one bit.

    UCLA was a 6-8 team at the end of the 2011 season, and that was because of the fact that the Bruins played in the Pac-12 title game instead of the USC Trojans, who were still under sanctioning.

    Jim Mora took a 6-8 team to a bowl in his first season with the Bruins. This time, it was a completely legitimate bowl bid that did not require a waiver. There is little reason to believe that he cannot do even better next season.

    However, the pollsters will require UCLA to earn its way up the polls again in 2013. They will land somewhere around the No. 22 spot when the preseason list is released.

21. Virginia Tech Hokies

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    Number of seniors departing: 17

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: None

    Current AP ranking: Not ranked

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 16

    Virginia Tech usually finds itself somewhere in the preseason rankings, whether or not the fans all agree. That's because the Hokies always recruit good talent, which puts them in prime position to contend for the ACC title.

    The issue usually lies somewhere during the season, when Virginia Tech drops a game it shouldn't lose. After that, the Hokies either rebound (like in 2011) or they collapse (like in 2012). That doesn't stop them from having a talented roster that merits preseason ranking. However, the Hokies will probably not show up in the preseason top 15 this time around.

20. Texas Longhorns

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    Number of seniors departing: 15

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: None

    Current AP ranking: Not Ranked

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 7

    Texas has a top-tier recruiting class...again. Just like every season, Texas bolsters its roster with a lot of talent. The Longhorns have failed to capitalize on that over the past few seasons, with the exception of 2009.

    Texas has a decided advantage over many other programs this season, though, as it only loses 15 seniors. The Longhorns do not look like they will lose any juniors to the NFL, either. The roster should be stacked, and the quarterbacks should iron out a lot of kinks through the spring and fall practices, too.

    Texas should round out the top 20 when the previews start rolling in.

19. Oregon State Beavers

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    Number of seniors departing: 15

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: None

    Current AP ranking: No. 15

    Current recruiting class rank: Not ranked in the top 40

    Oregon State will enjoy a little bit of a reward for its excellent season in 2012. Only losing 15 seniors is a bright spot on the Beavers' preseason resume, and the trajectory of the program is still upward.

    Oregon State may or may not have a season as successful as 2012 next year, but props will be given where they are due. The Beavers will be in the preseason poll, and the No. 19 slot looks quite fitting from an analytical standpoint.

18. Michigan Wolverines

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    Number of seniors departing: 18

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: One

    Current AP ranking: No. 19

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 5

    Michigan took a long time to figure out that it had a lethal tandem of running backs in 2012. The Wolverines spent the majority of the season letting one of them thrown the ball.

    Now that the staff is much better at talent analysis, Michigan should land inside the top 20 of the preseason rankings. Yes, No. 18 is a far cry from the preseason No. 8 ranking the Wolverines enjoyed in 2012, but it would be right.

17. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Number of seniors departing: 30

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: None

    Current AP ranking: No. 23

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 33

    Nebraska only dropped three games this season, and one of them was the Big Ten title game. After having defeated Wisconsin once already this season, that conference title game result was absolutely unexpected. Still, Nebraska finished the regular season with 10 wins. That's better than a lot of teams could manage this year, especially Wisconsin.

    Nebraska may have had a few bumps along the way, but the 'Huskers actually proved more on the field than some teams ranked higher than they are right now. The preseason rankings will rectify that situation by putting them a little higher than they finish this season.

16. Wisconsin Badgers

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    Number of seniors departing: Nine

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: None

    Current AP ranking: Not Ranked

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 30

    Wisconsin may not currently be ranked, but their performance in the Big Ten title game will leave a lingering impression on the voters for next season's preseason rankings. The Badgers lose a minuscule nine seniors this year, and there are no expected early departures.

    The Badgers are losing their trump card, Montee Ball, this year, but they can still win without him. It will be more difficult, but they should still enjoy a preseason ranking slightly above the Nebraska Cornhuskers. (The 'Huskers lose 30 seniors, and that will be taken into account.)

15. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    Number of seniors departing: 22

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: None

    Current AP ranking: No. 11

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 13

    South Carolina finished the season strong even without the legendary Marcus Lattimore. While the Gamecocks lose some serious talent to graduation, there is no one that will be leaving the program as a junior. (At least, no one should leave early.)

    Steve Spurrier is busy building a program at South Carolina akin to the one he built at Florida in the 1990's. That has proved to be true so far, and a preseason top-15 ranking is in order for the two-loss Gamecocks.

14. Kansas State Wildcats

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    Number of seniors departing: 28

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: None

    Current AP ranking: No. 7

    Current recruiting class rank: Not ranked in the top 40

    Kansas State loses some great seniors this season, such as Collin Klein, but the Wildcats will still have the most important ingredient from their successful 2012 run: Bill Snyder.

    Snyder is doing amazing things at Kansas State, and even a rebuilding year will not stop him from fielding a potential top-15 team. It will be up to the Wildcats to prove the pollsters right, but the No. 7 team will not fall far from January to August.

13. Oklahoma Sooners

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    Number of seniors departing: 21

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: None

    Current AP ranking: No. 12

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 20

    Oklahoma seems to be the Big 12 favorite almost every season, especially since Nebraska left the conference. While the Sooners will be losing Landry Jones, that is simply in line with almost the entirety of the Big 12.

    Kansas State is losing Collin Klein, Baylor losing Nick Florence and West Virginia is losing Geno Smith. That will even out the playing field at the top of the conference quite nicely for the Sooners.

    Oklahoma should not enter the season at No. 4 like last year, but a preseason ranking somewhere around its current ranking is completely believable.

12. USC Trojans

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    Number of seniors departing: 20

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: None

    Current AP ranking: Not ranked

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 2

    USC enjoys one of the finest geographical recruiting advantages in the country, and it has a storied history to assist. The Trojans' current No. 2 recruiting class proves that is still alive and kicking this season.

    The Trojans won't enter the season as the national championship favorite in 2013, but they will still be considered one of the best teams in the nation. The good news is that a spring and fall set of reps with Max Wittek should prove to be the difference for the offense.

    Against Notre Dame, there were clear synchronization issues between the receivers and the quarterback. With a synced offense, there's no reason the Trojans can't contend for the Pac-12 in 2013. The pollsters will recognize that and put USC just outside the top 10.

11. Stanford Cardinal

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    Number of seniors departing: 32

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: None

    Current AP ranking: No. 8

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 36

    Stanford lost Andrew Luck (quarterback) and Coby Fleener (tight end) between 2011 and 2012, and the Cardinal still made it to the Rose Bowl this season. That was Stanford's rebuilding year.

    The Cardinal may still end up coming behind Oregon in the preseason polls, but that situation will iron itself out on the field again if that is the case.

    Stanford's David Shaw has just proved that he did not need Luck to win the Pac-12, he just needed a lethal offense while he waited for the defense to gel. Now that the Cardinal have a stout defense, the offense has time to gel.

    2013 could be a special year for Stanford, and it will start with a preseason ranking well inside the top 15.

10. Clemson Tigers

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    Number of seniors departing: 12

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: None

    Current AP ranking: No. 14

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 15

    Clemson is only losing 12 seniors from its roster after January. With no real threats to leave early for the NFL, Clemson should enter 2013 with all the ingredients for a top-10 appearance in the preseason polls. Getting by Florida State and a couple of other good ACC squads will once again be Clemson's gauntlet for the BCS bowls in 2013.

    After finishing the 2012 regular season with only two losses, even a loss to No. 8 LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl should not stop the ACC Tigers from a top-10 start.

9. Florida State Seminoles

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    Number of seniors departing: 20

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: One

    Current AP ranking: No. 13

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 11

    Florida State will probably lose Bjoern Werner to the NFL after this season, but that is all still speculation at this point. That will be a tough loss to deal with, but it is only one player. No matter how good one player is, he's still replaceable.

    The Seminoles will be banking on that in order to ride a preseason No. 9 ranking to a potential national championship next year. The ACC teams are getting better, and that will prepare FSU much better for the rivalry bout with the Florida Gators.

8. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Number of seniors departing: 28

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: None

    Current AP ranking: No. 1

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 4

    Notre Dame will lose one of the two best players in college football this season: Tyler Eifert and Manti Te'o. Those two, along with 26 others, will graduate from Notre Dame.

    On the bright side for Irish fans, Bryan Kelly will still be there with his No. 4 recruiting class in tow. Notre Dame will not enter the season as a title favorite, or anything, but the Irish will be close enough that an undefeated season would likely put them in the championship bout.

    A No. 8 start is much higher than they started in 2012, so that should make the Irish more than happy with what has happened during Brian Kelly's early years.

7. Texas A&M Aggies

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    Number of seniors departing: 20

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: Two

    Current AP ranking: No. 10

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 10

    Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel will be the spark that ignites the Aggies' top-10 start to next season. After being just two scores shy of being a national-championship contender this season, Kevin Sumlin's crew will be recognized for all the work they did in 2012.

    An appearance in the preseason top 10 will mean that the new kid in the SEC has only one job to do to make the final BCS title game: win. If the Aggies win out from the No. 7 spot, a berth in the national championship game is all-but guaranteed.

6. Georgia Bulldogs

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    Number of seniors departing: 16

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: One

    Current AP ranking: No. 6

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 9

    Georgia has gotten a little boost from the rest of the SEC East. Florida's unexpected one-loss performance was an unexpected augmentation of Georgia's strength of schedule.

    Next season, Georgia will enter near the top of the rankings behind only one other team from its own division. That discrepancy will straighten itself out, just as it does every season.

    Georgia still has to prove that it can win big games consistently, but the fact that the Bulldogs are consistently finishing near the top of the BCS rankings will keep Mark Richt in his job for a little longer. (There is not anyone better that's currently available, anyway.)

5. Oregon Ducks

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    Number of seniors departing: 16

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: None

    Current AP ranking: No. 5

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 23

    Oregon will enter the preseason as the favorite to win the Pac-12 yet again. While the Ducks faltered this season, they were only one Stanford loss away from a likely Rose Bowl appearance (if not the national title game). Marcus Mariota played so well this season that many may have forgotten that he's a freshman.

    Next season will be the true test of what he's made of, and his junior year should be even better. Next season's Stanford game might have a different outcome. The voters will take all this into account, and Oregon will be the recipient of a top-five start to the 2013 season.

4. Florida Gators

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    Number of seniors departing: 13

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: None

    Current AP ranking: No. 4

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 1

    Florida, not Georgia, will be the favorite to represent the SEC East Division in the conference title game next year. After this year's performance, there's little reason to question that.

    Florida "should not" have been anywhere near the top 10 this season, and the Gators got as high as No. 2 before losing to Georgia by eight points. Next season's offense will be considerably better than it was during the first half of 2012.

    If that proves to be true, the Gators may quickly become a national-championship favorite in 2013. A top-five start is all-but guaranteed, though.

3. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Number of seniors departing: 16

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: Two

    Current AP ranking: No. 2

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 3

    Alabama will be ranked inside the top three to start out the 2013 season. Alabama is competing in the national championship for the third time in four years, Nick Saban is still in charge and the offensive coordinator will have a whole year under his belt when next season starts.

    The biggest factor is Nick Saban. It has gotten to the point where Alabama loses large amounts of talent to the NFL every season. While the Tide may or may not be the third-best team in the nation, the last four years will weigh heavily into the voters' minds.

    Alabama will get a top-three start for its efforts.

2. LSU Tigers

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    Number of seniors departing: 11

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: Three

    Current AP ranking: No. 9

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 8

    LSU was 12 points shy of being the undefeated SEC West Division champion in 2012, and that was after being decimated by personnel issues. There were kids ruled ineligible, players drafted, a key player ousted from the program and more that led to LSU being a shell of the program it was in 2011.

    If you combine LSU's 11 graduating seniors with its three potential draftees, there are still only 14 people leaving the program. If Zach Mettenberger's improvement continues through the offseason, LSU will have little issue entering the season as the favorite to win the SEC. (Yes, even over Alabama.)

    They were one win away from it this year, and the pollsters will remember that. Regardless of whether Alabama wins this season's national championship, LSU will be the preseason favorite to represent the conference in the next national title game.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Number of seniors departing: 22

    Number of junior first-round NFL prospects: One

    Current AP ranking: No. 3

    Current recruiting class rank: No. 6

    Ohio State could have contended for the Big Ten title in 2012, were it not for sanctions levied against the program. Facing the Nebraska Cornhuskers on that day would surely have gotten the Buckeyes to at least the Rose Bowl, if not the national championship game.

    Urban Meyer took a 6-7 team from 2011 all the way to a 12-0 record in 2012. While Ohio State loses a lot of talent to graduation, Meyer is running one of the most potent offenses in college football. He does not sacrifice defense to do it, either.

    Ohio State may or may not enter 2013 as the national championship favorite, but it would be surprising if the Buckeyes were any lower than No. 2. It makes complete sense that Ohio State will be the voters' baby, like USC was in 2012.

    Ohio State hopes that preseason No. 1 ranking will not turn out to bite it like it did USC, though. Meyer is one of the trump cards in college football today, and he is at his dream position with the Buckeyes.

    Considering what he did at Florida, imagine what he will do at a school he loves infinitely more than the Gators. Ohio State will be the preseason title favorite, based on the trend from 2011 to 2012.