College Football 2013 Predictions: Better, Worse or the Same for Top 50 Teams

Carl StineCorrespondent IJanuary 8, 2013

College Football 2013 Predictions: Better, Worse or the Same for Top 50 Teams

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    Yes, folks, that's Nick Saban, caught on camera, grinning from ear to ear.

    And he deserves it after his Crimson Tide punished Notre Dame in the national title game, 42-14.

    Saban coaches the best team in the nation, so his team and their prospects for next season head this list of the top 50 teams at season's end, along with their prospects for next season.

    For the most part, when a team is going to be better we are referring to that team's record.

    But there are a few in here that might have the same record or worse, yet have more talent and a better team, but their schedule is a little tougher in 2013 than it was this season.

    Whatever the verdict, read on for some analysis of each top 50 team going into next season and whether they will be better, worse or the same as the 2012 campaign.

50. Ole Miss Rebels (7-6)

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    The Rebels are on the right track.

    They finished the regular season with a 41-24 beating of Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl and then knocked off Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl, 38-17.

    While they still had a losing record in the SEC, there is evidence that the program is heading for bigger things in the very near future.

    Sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace, who finished the season with 27 total touchdowns, will be back and joined in the backfield by Jeff Scott, the Rebels' leading running back.

    The defense improved from 90th in the nation in total defense in 2011 to 45th this season and returns all 11 starters to the unit that was second in the SEC in sacks.

    Expect a solid season from the Rebs in 2013.

    Prediction: Better

49. Washington Huskies (7-6)

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    Washington only won seven games this season, but is primed for a big year in 2013.

    Leading rusher Bishop Sankey is returning, as is underrated quarterback Keith Price and his two primary targets.

    With another year of experience and some mild improvement along the offensive line, this offense will be much better than the pedestrian 24 points per game they scored this season.

    Couple that with a defense that has the potential to be one of the best in the Pac-12, and the Huskies are going to win at least nine games.

    Prediction: Better

48. TCU Horned Frogs (7-6)

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    The strength of Gary Patterson's TCU teams has been the defense.

    That's going to be the case in 2013, as the Horned Frogs are returning 10 defensive starters to a unit that can bring the pain.

    Stud defensive lineman Stansly Maponga is returning for his senior year and will make a bid to be the best lineman in the Big 12.

    On offense, quarterback is full of questions.

    Casey Pachall has filed to be reinstated after being suspended from the team earlier in the season, but Trevone Boykin has shown some potential at the position as well.

    Expect a battle at the position if Pachall is reinstated.

    Prediction: Better

47. San Diego State Aztecs (9-4)

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    Ryan Katz worked out at quarterback for SDSU in 2012, tossing 13 touchdown passes and only four interceptions.

    But he's not going to be around in 2013, having finished his senior season.

    On the bright side, running back Adam Muema will be back after rushing for nearly 1,500 yards in 2013 and scoring 16 touchdowns on the ground.

    Having Muema and tight end Gavin Escobar return will reduce some of the stress on whoever takes over as quarterback for SDSU.

    That said, it's going to be tough to win nine games against the Aztecs' 2013 schedule, and SDSU is going to struggle to slow anyone down on defense.

    Prediction: Worse

46. Michigan State Spartans (7-6)

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    The Spartans' offense struggled at times this year to produce, but has the potential to be better in 2013.

    Even though Le'Veon Bell and Dion Sims are leaving early for the NFL, quarterback Andrew Maxwell has shown some progress over the course of the season and will continue to do so throughout the offseason.

    Nick Hill will be an excellent replacement for Bell, and the rest of the Spartan offense will come back with more experience.

    Defensively, the Spartans are loaded and will again be hard to move the ball against.

    With eight starters returning on defense, they are going to be stingy.

    On top of that, this is a team that lost five of its six games by a combined total of 13 points.

    Prediction: Better

45. Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-5)

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    Dan Mullen's squad won seven straight games this season before losing to Alabama.

    That loss started a horrible span of games for the Bulldogs, as they lost five of their last six games, including a bowl loss to Northwestern.

    The good for the Bulldogs in 2013 includes the return of quarterback Tyler Russell and running back LaDarius Perkins and a defense that returns some playmakers.

    The bad includes the loss of leading receiver Chad Bumphis and the tough SEC schedule Mississippi State must play in 2013.

    Mullen may need to start worrying about his job after 2013.

    Prediction: Worse

44. Arizona State Sun Devils (8-5)

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    Sun Devils fans should be excited about the coming season.

    If defensive tackle Will Sutton returns in 2013, the Sun Devil defense will be primed to be one of the better defenses in the Pac-12.

    He's a force up front that makes his teammates much better.

    Offensively, Arizona State has the tools to emerge as one of the surprise teams of next year.

    Running back Marion Grice, along with his 6.6 yards per carry average, will be back, and quarterback Taylor Kelly will be improved after another offseason to progress.

    Keep an eye on Todd Graham's team next year; they have the potential to make a run at the Rose Bowl.

    Prediction: Better

43. BYU Cougars (8-5)

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    The biggest news of the offseason for the Cougars is the return of stud linebacker Kyle Van Noy.

    Van Noy scored two defensive touchdowns in BYU's bowl game victory and enters next season as one of the best defenders not named Jadeveon Clowney.

    The Cougars boast a stout front seven and will be as stingy on defense next season as they were in 2012, when the team allowed only 14 points per game.

    The offense was not exactly full of firepower and will lose quarterback Riley Nelson.

    Leading rusher Jamaal Williams will be back, and Bronco Mendenhall is going to need to lean heavily on his experienced running back.

    The BYU schedule is impossibly difficult and includes a trip to Wisconsin, as well as trips to Notre Dame, Utah State and Virginia and meetings with Boise State, Georgia Tech and Texas.

    Prediction: Worse

42. Ball State Cardinals (9-4)

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    Ball State had a much better season than many anticipated, finishing just short of 10 wins on the year.

    The offense was the key to the Cardinals' success this season and will be better in that department in 2013.

    Keith Wenning will be back at quarterback and has the potential to make a run at the MAC Player of the Year award.

    Running back Jahwan Edwards is also going to return, and after a 6.1 yards per carry average in 2012, he will be primed for an excellent season again in 2013.

    While the defense will not be better than mediocre again, the explosiveness of the Cardinals on offense will help lead the team to 10 wins.

    Prediction: Better

41. Toledo Rockets (9-4)

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    Toledo finished the season on top in rushing yards, passing yards and points scored.

    Defensively, they struggled to stop teams, but were able to outscore just about everybody they faced this season.

    Next season the offense is shaping up to be even more potent, as all the primary players, including quarterback Terrance Owens and running back David Fluellen, are returning.

    The MAC has several teams that are improving and have the potential to take the conference crown. Toledo is definitely one of the teams that could step up and make a run at the MAC title.

    Prediction: Better

40. Arizona Wildcats (8-5)

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    It's only been one season, but Rich Rodriguez has his fingerprints all over the Wildcats already.

    Running back Ka'Deem Carey was the nation's leading producer on the ground at the running back position and is going to be a Heisman candidate in 2013.

    On top of that, some of RichRod's recruits are going to be ready to contribute, and his offensive system will be in its second season.

    While there is still a long way to go for this program until they reach the Pac-12 title game, they are at least headed toward the top of the Pac-12 South standings.

    Prediction: Better

39. Tulsa Golden Hurricane (11-3)

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    The strength of the Golden Hurricane's explosive offense has been the running game all season long.

    The team put up over 240 yards rushing per game, good enough to sit at ninth in the nation in that category.

    Both Trey Watts and Ja'Terian Douglas will be returning, and this offense will be hot once again in 2013.

    Quarterback Cody Green will be back with another year of experience under his belt, and Tulsa will make another run at the C-USA title.

    Prediction: Same

38. LA Tech Bulldogs (9-3)

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    LA Tech led the nation in points scored, mainly by virtue of the third-ranked passing offense in the nation, led by quarterback Colby Cameron and wide receiver Quinton Patton.

    Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, neither of them will be around in 2013.

    It's pretty simple, really—without these two on the field, LA Tech is going to struggle to put up the same number of passing yards next year, leading to a struggle to compete for a conference title.

    Prediction: Worse

37. Texas Tech Red Raiders (8-5)

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    Tommy Tuberville decided to leave for the greener pastures of Cincinnati, but this offense is not going to skip a beat.

    Kliff Kingsbury has been excellent as the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M, helping produce the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner.

    And now he takes the reins as the head coach of the Red Raiders.

    Quarterback Seth Doege is gone, but Michael Brewer will likely take over the offense.

    He completed 70 percent of his 48 attempts this season and is ready to take over and lead this offense, which is loaded with plenty of talent to catch the ball, including leading receiver Eric Ward.

    Prediction: Better

36. Wisconsin Badgers (8-6)

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    It was a rather underwhelming season for the Badgers, finishing 8-6 and only sneaking into the Rose Bowl because Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible.

    Of course, they did win one big game, hanging 70 on Nebraska in the Big Ten title game.

    This team is primed for great things in 2013, with Gary Andersen taking over at head coach and plenty of talent returning.

    The offense returns nine starters, and even though running back Montee Ball is gone, James White and Melvin Gordon will more than replace his production.

    Everyone who caught a pass in 2012 is returning, and Joel Stave should be back at quarterback after recovering from his injury.

    The defense loses three starters in the secondary, and six starters are returning to a solid front seven.

    While a trip to the Rose Bowl will be a tough proposition, they are going to finish with a better record in 2013.

    Prediction: Better

35. Virginia Tech Hokies (7-6)

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    in spite of some bad times this season, the Hokies finished the season on the upswing, winning three straight games against Boston College, Virginia and Rutgers.

    This was the worst season in a long time for the Hokies, and many of the failures were due to lack of offense.

    Va. Tech averaged just 25 points per game, good enough to put them at 82nd in the nation in that department.

    Next season the defense will be even better, as it gains much-needed experience, and quarterback Logan Thomas returns with a chance to prove this year was a fluke.

    Don't expect a Frank Beamer-led team to stay down for long.

    Prediction: Better

34. Kent State Golden Flashes (11-3)

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    Darrell Hazell took the Golden Flashes to the postseason for the first time in 40 years.

    They lost, but still, that's progress in the right direction.

    Hazell has since departed for Purdue, and quarterback Spencer Keith is also departing after his senior season.

    Fortunately for Kent State, their strength was the rushing game, and leading rushers Dri Archer and Trayion Durham will be back for the 2013 season and primed to make a huge impact.

    With a new quarterback and coach, it's tough to see the Golden Flashes improving on this season, but a repeat trip to the conference title game and a second consecutive bowl berth are legitimate expectations.

    Prediction: Same

33. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (9-4)

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    Kyle Flood has this Rutgers team heading the right way and will again have them atop the Big East standings in 2013.

    Leading rusher Jawan Jamison is returning, as is quarterback Gary Nova and wide receiver Brandon Coleman.

    The offense is going to be very good.

    Khaseem Greene is gone, though, and Logan Ryan left early.

    That's two of the stars of this defense.

    Even so, the experience returning on offense should be enough to bolster a small dip in defensive production, leaving Rutgers near the top of the conference once again.

    Prediction: Same

32. Fresno State Bulldogs (9-4)

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    Fresno State is primed for an excellent season in 2013, with tons of returning talent.

    The defense returns eight starters and looks to be deep, except for a few positions that seem to be up in the air until practice starts.

    Offense is the real forte of this team, however.

    Quarterback Derek Carr is the reigning Mountain West Conference Player of the Year and will defend that title next season.

    The Bulldogs lose only three starters on offense and will be fun to watch next season with Carr at the helm. They have the potential to be one of the final "BCS busters."

    Prediction: Better

31. USC Trojans (7-6)

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    How could next season not be better for the Trojans?

    After starting this season ranked atop the initial college football polls, they wound up losing their bowl game and finishing outside the final BCS rankings.

    Next season, Max Wittek will likely take the reins at quarterback, and he will have some excellent receiving options.

    Marqise Lee, the most explosive receiver in the conference, is returning, as well as tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer.

    Defense is going to be a strength, as at least eight starters are returning, and possibly nine if Nickell Robey comes back for his final season.

    Prediction: Better

30. Baylor Bears (8-5)

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    When Baylor enters a conversation, the word "defense" does not come up often, unless in reference to the Bears' deficiencies on that side of the ball.

    The team is all about offense, and it shows in their stats, finishing the 2012 season fourth in the nation in passing yards and scoring and torching opponents for a ridiculous 44.5 points per game.

    Here's the issue:

    Quarterback Nick Florence is going to be gone, so there are obvious questions at the position.

    But Lache Seastrunk returns, and if he continues to produce at the level he did in 2012, he will be a Heisman dark horse in 2013.

    Art Briles knows how to make his teams productive on offense, but until they shore up the defense, the Bears are not going to make the jump from mediocre to very good.

    Prediction: Same

29. Vanderbilt Commodores (9-4)

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    James Franklin has clearly changed the culture of perennial doormat that seemed to have been ingrained in Vandy's culture.

    He's turned the team around and made them a legitimate program.

    But next year he loses leading quarterback Jordan Rodgers and leading rusher Zac Stacy.

    There is some excellent talent on defense that will be back for another year, but with Stacy and Rodgers departing from the offense, the Commodores will struggle to keep up with the better teams that they face in 2013.

    Prediction: Worse

28. Cincinnati Bearcats (10-3)

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    Tommy Tuberville's next project is going to be the Bearcats.

    This should be interesting.

    Cincinnati loses quarterback Brendon Kay as well as its leading receiver and rusher.

    Munchie Legaux will be back, and if he can work on ball security in the offseason, he will be the starter, and a good one.

    That said, the team lost a ton of talent and will struggle to keep up with conference leaders next year.

    Prediction: Worse

27. UCLA Bruins (9-5)

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    Somehow, in all the much-deserved hype about Johnny Manziel, we have seemed to overlook the stellar play of UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley.

    As a freshman this season, Hundley tossed 29 touchdowns and rushed for nine more.

    Leading wide receiver Shaquelle Evans will be back, and though stud running back Johnathan Franklin will depart for the NFL, between Jordon James and Damien Thigpen, the rushing attack will be in capable hands.

    Head coach Jim Mora took a team that went 6-8 in 2011 and led them to the Pac-12 title game and a bowl game.

    Things will get even better in 2013.

    Prediction: Better

26. Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-4)

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    In spite of the well-documented struggles he has had throwing the ball, Taylor Martinez is already Nebraska's career leader in passing, and he still has a full season left.

    He showed demonstrable progress from 2011 to 2012 in throwing the ball, making better decisions and showing flashes of brilliance at times.

    He loses two huge targets at tight end in Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton, and Rex Burkhead is gone, but Martinez has the talent, especially if he improves as much in 2013 as he did in 2012.

    Defensively, the Huskers have some major gaps to fill, and it's really difficult to see them finishing the season atop the Big Ten.

    Prediction: Worse

25. Penn State Nittany Lions (8-4)

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    The good news: Wide receiver Allen Robinson and running back Zach Zwinak will be back in 2013 along with head coach Bill O'Brien.

    The bad news: Quarterback Matt McGloin and defensive tackle Jordan Hill are gone.

    The Nittany Lions enjoyed a better season than expected in 2012, and it was inspiring.

    But things are going to start getting tough in 2013 as upperclassmen leave and recruiting sanctions start taking effect.

    Prediction: Worse

24. Oklahoma State Cowboys (8-5)

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    Oklahoma State is not known for its defense.

    That's not going to change in 2013.

    But the offense, if anything, could be scarier than this season, when the team scored 45.7 points per contest.

    If running back Joseph Randle returns, he has the potential to be one of the best backs in the country.

    Both Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh return at quarterback and have experience, while the team's leading receiver, Josh Stewart, is back as well.

    Mike Gundy has been excellent at getting his team to score, and this team will do the same in 2013, hanging a ton of points on opponents.

    Prediction: Better

23. San Jose State Spartans (11-2)

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    Yeah, the Spartans are this high in the rankings, and we aren't talking about the East Lansing variety.

    San Jose State had two losses on the season, one of them in the season opener against Stanford, which they lost by three points.

    And things are not going to be great for their opponents next year, either.

    The Spartans return stud quarterback David Fales and wide receiver Noel Grigsby to an 11-win team.

    While there are some questions on the defensive side of the ball, the returning talent on offense is significant.

    The Spartans are currently without a head coach, so there is that dynamic to consider.

    However, when you consider the 11-win season they just put together, it's tough to see that feat being duplicated, especially against an interesting schedule.

    Prediction: Worse

22. Utah State Aggies (11-2)

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    Quarterback Chuckie Keeton will be back, as will many key parts of a very solid defense.

    Leading rusher Kerwynn Williams and head coach Gary Andersen are both gone, and Williams' more than 1,500 yards rushing will be a difficult chunk of production to replace.

    That said, the Aggies are heading in the right direction and have plenty of talent remaining on the roster.

    But their schedule is no picnic, with trips to Utah and USC on the schedule, and an early-season bout with BYU on the docket.

    Expect at least three losses from the Aggies in 2013, which means a worse season than this year.

    Prediction: Worse

21. Michigan Wolverines (8-4)

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    Things are good in Wolverine Land.

    Sure, the loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl in the waning seconds was disappointing, but there are some great things to look forward to in 2013, the best of them being the sky-high potential of Devin Gardner.

    The junior quarterback displayed a wealth of talent by throwing for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns over the course of the Michigan Wolverines' final five games of the 2012 season.

    He's going to be very good next year, maybe even Big Ten-championship good—if the Wolverines can fix the offensive line.

    It's a mess and will cause problems against any decent defensive line they face.

    The same can be said on defense, where the Wolverines have show tremendous improvement, but have to replace some key players.

    Expect another season similar to this one, but in a weak division of the Big Ten, a run to the title game with one or two more wins is a very real possibility—if things gel quickly.

    Prediction: Better

20. NIU Huskies (12-2)

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    Let's not kid ourselves.

    Jordan Lynch was NIU football in 2012.

    He scored 44 total touchdowns and led the Huskies to an Orange Bowl bid.

    While it's not out of the realm of possibility, it's a huge stretch to imagine that the Huskies will make that leap again.

    They have to make trips to both Iowa, who beat them this season, and Purdue.

    Lynch should be back and will put up monster numbers again in 2013.

    But the Huskies will not make it back to a BCS game.

    Prediction: Worse

19. Boise State Broncos (11-2)

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    Now that the news has broken that Boise State will remain in the Mountain West Conference and not depart for the Big East in 2013, the offseason drama is about over for the Broncos.

    Chris Petersen defines the program, consistently shooting down rumors that he is interviewing for another job and continuing to produce a quality product on the field.

    While other programs deal with underclassmen possibly declaring for the NFL draft and coaches seeking the next big thing, the Broncos can take a break and then begin preparing for the 2013 season.

    Boise State loses 24 seniors, but has no NFL prospects that are underclassmen, and returns some very significant pieces.

    Quarterback Joe Southwick and leading wide receiver Matt Miller are returning, as are several key pieces on defense.

    The Broncos suffered an early season nonconference loss, which is unusual for them.

    With these significant contributors returning, the Broncos will be Mountain West champs, and possibly undefeated.

    Prediction: Better

18. Northwestern Wildcats (10-3)

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    Northwestern capped off a solid 2012 season with their first bowl win since the Truman administration.

    Pat Fitzgerald has done a great job of taking the talent he has available and turning out a quality product on the field.

    There is no reason to think he won't do so again in 2013.

    The 'Cats are stacked in the backfield with both quarterback Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter returning as well as leading rusher, Venric Mark.

    With the rest of the teams in their division of the Big Ten struggling a bit, another 10-win season is a very real possibility.

    Prediction: Same

17. Louisville Cardinals (11-2)

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    Heisman Trophy, meet Teddy Bridgewater. Mr. Bridgewater, the Heisman.

    The Cardinals' defense was 19th in the nation in passing defense and has the talent returning to better that number and all 11 starters returning, including some guys that are key pieces of the defensive rotation.

    Oh, and Teddy Bridgewater is returning.

    The man should be all over the Heisman radar next season and has some experience returning at running back, if Senorise Perry can get healthy and Jeremy Wright can continue to improve.

    Coming off of a massive upset over Florida in the Sugar Bowl, the Cardinals have the potential to run the table in 2013.

    Prediction: Better

16. Oregon State Beavers (9-4)

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    Oregon State is again going to be one of the better teams in the Pac-12.

    Defensive end Scott Crichton is going to be a force at the position and post double-digit sack numbers.

    Jordan Poyer is gone from the cornerback position, but Rashaad Reynolds is going to be ready to step into the limelight and be the next impact performer at the position for the Beavers.

    Offensively, the weird quarterback symbiosis that is Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion will continue, and Storm Woods will be back at running back.

    This team has the potential to win one more close game and post a 10-win season in 2013.

    Prediction: Better

15. Florida Gators (11-2)

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    In spite of an unexpected loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, the Florida Gators had a great season.

    Their only loss of the regular season, to Georgia, kept them from the SEC title game.

    When it comes to defense, the Gators left nothing to be desired, absolutely dominating opponents with stellar play from stars such as safety Matt Elam and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.

    But both of those guys declared for the NFL draft, and the Louisville offense exposed some serious flaws against Will Muschamp's team.

    The offense has got to be better next season after finishing 114th in the nation in passing, but that will be difficult with leading rusher Mike Gillislee leaving.

    Even with stud Matt Jones taking over the rushing duties, it's going to be difficult to replace Gillislee's explosiveness and production.

    Don't expect only one loss in the regular season this year.

    Prediction: Worse

14. Texas Longhorns (9-4)

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    Texas may finally break through next season.

    David Ash will be back at quarterback, and if he progresses as much from 2012 to 2013 as he did in the previous offseason, the Longhorns are going to have a very capable quarterback at the helm.

    Joe Bergeron and Johnathan Gray are back at running back and will power an extremely effective rushing attack that will help keep the offense balanced.

    On defense, if Jackson Jeffcoat gets healthy, we will see a run defense that finished 100th in the nation in yards allowed find its way back into the upper echelons of run defenses.

    Prediction: Better

13. LSU Tigers (10-3)

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    LSU's defense took a huge hit when Eric Reid, Barkevious Mingo, Kevin Minter, Tharold Simon and Sam Montgomery all declared for the NFL draft.

    It's going to be tough to replace the kind of defensive dominance that Mingo and Montgomery played on the line, and Minter was the heart and soul of the middle of this defense.

    As if that isn't enough attrition, tailback Spencer Ware and punter Brad Wing have already stated their intentions to declare for the draft.

    The good news is that the Tigers are stacked at running back, and Zach Mettenberger should provide some continuity to the offense by remaining at quarterback.

    There is a solid stable of defensive players ready to step in and fill the gaps, but there is no way to replace the experience lost by this team.

    Another three-loss season is about right for Les Miles' Tigers next season.

    Prediction: Same

12. Oklahoma Sooners (10-3)

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    Here's the thing:

    Oklahoma's going to have an incredible offensive line, loaded with all kinds of experience and depth.

    The wide receivers are talented and will be ready to produce.

    It's behind that line where things are a problem.

    Landry Jones is gone, and the quarterback position is up in the air.

    Blake Bell appears to be the guy who will be tabbed to take over, but is he ready to throw the ball 500-plus times next season?

    And then there is the defensive line.

    It's atrocious, and if they play like the inexperienced line that they are, it's going to be a very difficult season for Bob Stoops' team.

    Prediction: Worse

11. Florida State Seminoles (12-2)

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    The window for a national title may have closed for the Seminoles for the time being.

    The strength of the team has been a stout defense, but there are only four starters returning in 2013.

    Xavier Rhodes and Bjoern Werner are leaving early for the NFL, which means the entire defensive line is going to feature new starters.

    There are some guys, such as Timmy Jernigan, just waiting their turn to step in and have an impact, but the defense is going to be limited on starting experience.

    Offensively, the 'Noles are going to be tough to stop.

    Devonta Freeman will step in as full time starter, and Clint Trickett will likely take over quarterbacking duties.

    Other than that, all starters are returning.

    The offensive line will be one of the better in the nation and will help Trickett adjust to the starting role.

    Even so, it's going to be hard to duplicate a season that found the Seminoles in the Orange Bowl.

    Prediction: Worse

10. Clemson Tigers (11-2)

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    Here's the skinny on Clemson:

    If Tajh Boyd and DeAndre Hopkins come back, this team is going to be BCS national title competitive.

    If not, the Tigers will be dark-horse contenders for the ACC title.

    Both the defense and offense return seven starters apiece if Hopkins and Boyd return, and Dabo Swinney has shown that he knows how to coach.

    Roderick McDowell will likely be taking over the rushing duties for the departed Andre Ellington and will have some pretty big shoes to fill.

    The secondary needs to do something, as the safeties have been repeatedly torched for big plays, and even though there are veterans returning, changing that trend is going to be hard.

    Prediction: Same

9. South Carolina Gamecocks (11-2)

42 of 50

    Steve Spurrier has a great team to field next season.

    Quarterback Connor Shaw is coming back, as is wide receiver/return man extraordinaire Ace Sanders and wide receiver Bruce Ellington.

    All three starting linebackers are gone, but the secondary is stacked, and Jadeveon Clowney is returning to feast on opposing offenses with regularity.

    Even with all of this returning talent, the Gamecocks have a tough road ahead of them, facing three decent opponents in the nonconference portion of their schedule: North Carolina, Clemson and UCF.

    The conference slate is nothing to sneeze at either, with a trip to Georgia kicking things off.

    But even with a win at Georgia, they still must face a much-improved Vanderbilt team, Florida and Texas A&M.

    It's a long, hard road, and South Carolina will wind up with close to the same record and same level of talent as in 2012.

    Prediction: Same

8. Georgia Bulldogs (12-2)

43 of 50

    Georgia had national-title aspirations for 2013 if some key underclassmen returned for their final campaign.

    Uh...not gonna happen.

    The defense is going to be decimated by departures, and Mark Richt is going to have to replace three key players in the secondary as well as Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree at linebacker.

    There is some talent remaining, but playing in the SEC without all that talent in the defense is going to be tough.

    At least Aaron Murray is returning for his senior season.

    On top of that, the season opener is against a Clemson team that is going to be very hard to beat.

    Prediction: Worse

7. Kansas State Wildcats (11-2)

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    Running back John Hubert will be back next season, as will receiver Tyler Lockett.

    But the heart and soul of both the offense and defense are leaving.

    Arthur Brown and Meshak Williams have been the stars of the defense and will be extremely difficult to replace.

    On top of that, Collin Klein, who finished third in Heisman voting this season and has had a stellar collegiate career, will not be around to carry the offense.

    The Big 12 is up for grabs this in 2013, and K-State is going to find some tough sledding.

    Prediction: Worse

6. Texas A&M Aggies (11-2)

45 of 50

    Here's the deal with Texas A&M:

    Johnny Manziel will be back to try to defend his Heisman Trophy and become only the second player to win in consecutive seasons.

    Receiver Mike Evans is a proven stud at the position and will be primed to put up big numbers as the primary target in this offense.

    Other than that, things are looking a little slim.

    All other starting receivers are gone, and the offensive line is going to have some gaping holes to fill.

    Defensively, the team's two leading tacklers are gone, both of them from the linebacker position.

    Kevin Sumlin's offense is going to be explosive again, and with a second year in the program, Manziel is going to be tough to beat.

    But there are some serious questions, so for the time being, let's just assume that the Aggies will maintain with strong potential to trend up.

    Prediction: Same

5. Stanford Cardinal (12-2)

46 of 50

    It was a great year for the Cardinal, capped off with the team's Rose Bowl win.

    Next year leaves some questions, however.

    Running back Stepfan Taylor is leaving, and the leading returning rusher is quarterback Kevin Hogan, who only started part of this season for the Cardinal.

    For an offense predicated on the rushing game, that could be a problem.

    The middle of the defense is going to take a hit.

    You can't just replace linebacker like Chase Thomas and tackle Terrence Stephens.

    The Cardinal will have a good season in 2013, but it's doubtful they will have near as solid a season as they did in 2012.

    Prediction: Worse

4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-0)

47 of 50

    Yes, the Fighting Irish were dominated in the BCS title game, 42-14.

    But head coach Brian Kelly is back, and the Irish are bringing plenty of talent as well.

    Everett Golson is only going to continue to improve at quarterback, Louis Nix is coming back to anchor a stout defensive line and the secondary that was supposed to be a liability in 2012 should be a strength with guys returning from injury in 2013.

    A perfect season is going to be tough to match, especially with Tyler Eifert and Manti Te'o gone, but there is still loads of talent in South Bend, and another BCS bowl appearance other than the title game might be in the cards.

    I guess that would be considered a downgrade.

    Prediction: Worse

3. Oregon Ducks (12-1)

48 of 50

    This team is not slowing down at all in 2013.

    The defense returns seven starters, and De'Anthony Thomas will take over full-time duties in the backfield.

    Marcus Mariota will return for his encore season at quarterback, and with another year of experience under his belt, he is going to be scary good.

    The Ducks just missed the Pac-12 title and national championship game in 2012 by virtue of a loss to Stanford.

    Don't expect that again in 2013; whether Chip Kelly returns or not, this team is primed for a run at the national title.

    Prediction: Better

2. Ohio State Buckeyes (12-0)

49 of 50

    Buckeye fans are fired up about their perfect 2012 season and the prospect of repeating that feat in 2013.

    But let's talk about that a bit.

    All four of the Buckeye's starting defensive linemen are leaving, as are two starting linebackers and two more starters in the secondary.

    That's a ton to replace on that side of the ball, even for an Urban Meyer-led team.

    The offense will be fine; Braxton Miller is a magician with the ball, either on the ground or throwing it, and will be in Heisman discussions late into the season.

    But that defense and the gaps in it really gives one pause.

    The Big Ten is not loaded, however, and the Buckeyes face a ridiculously easy nonconference slate, which might be just enough for them to run the regular-season table again.

    Prediction: Same

1. Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1)

50 of 50

    The Alabama Crimson Tide finished the season as the best team in the nation.

    And they could be better in 2013.

    Quarterback A.J. McCarron announced in December that he would return for the 2013 season. He could change his mind, but for the time being, let's take it at face value.

    Eddie Lacy has not yet declared his intentions, but if he stays, or even if he doesn't, the Tide will have one of the best backfields in the nation.

    Defensively, the Tide lose little and have a wealth of talent returning.

    The offensive line takes a hit, with Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack leaving for the NFL, but Nick Saban has been better than anyone at identifying talent and producing top-flight offensive lines.

    The talk of a dynasty is getting sickening, but if some key guys return, the Tide will be right back in the national title game next season.

    Prediction: Same