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Breaking Down the Top 8 Teams' Cases for Preseason No. 1

Amy DaughtersChief Writer IVDecember 12, 2014

Breaking Down the Top 8 Teams' Cases for Preseason No. 1

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    Though all eyes are on the Alabama Crimson Tide to be the top rated team coming into the 2013 season, there is no reason that the true No. 1 isn’t nestled somewhere else among the top tier of teams.

    Indeed, after winning back-to-back titles including destroying former No. 1 Notre Dame in this year’s championship, who wouldn’t have the Tide at the top of their listings?

    But, before we all run out and declare the 2013 race a sealed deal, keep in mind that it’s been eight years since the preseason AP No. 1 team actually won the BCS National Championship. The last time that happened was in 2004 when USC began the season ranked No. 1 in the AP and then finished as BCS champs.

    The following slideshow utilizes this open-minded approach and presents a case for eight of the top teams going into 2013 to be earmarked as the preseason No. 1 squad.

    In retrospect and based on the overwhelming evidence, you’d almost have to say that the quest to be the preseason No. 1 team  is futile and leads only to disappointment and shattered dreams.

    Early returning starter data (adjusted with the latest draft information) in this presentation comes via NationalChamps.net, recruiting class ranking data is drawn from Rivals.com and underclassmen declaring early for the 2013 NFL draft  data is courtesy of CBSSports.com.

Alabama

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    The obvious front-runner and the team voted “most likely to be ranked No. 1” in its class is the Alabama Crimson Tide. There is no good reason why the Tide should not be declared the best team in the nation coming into 2013.

    First, you’ve got the obvious stuff. There is the back-to-back national championships, recruiting numbers that are the best in the nation over the last four years, and a head coach and staff that is dead serious about winning the whole enchilada again (and again).

    As far as being more specific, Alabama deserves consideration for the preseason No. 1 spot. Even with some significant losses to the NFL Draft, the Tide will bring back six offensive starters and seven defensive starters that dazzled in 2012.

    Though these numbers aren’t overwhelming relative to other programs coming into 2013, let’s remember that the Tide brought back a mere 13 starters coming into 2012 (No. 81 nationally) but still won the BCS title. If you’re wondering how this happened in what was a “rebuilding year” think of reloading with the best stockpile of talent in the nation.

    Yes, most teams would have taken a step backwards in 2012 with the Tide’s returning numbers, but this is a team that has hauled in No. 1, No. 5, No. 1 and No. 1 recruiting classes from 2009-12 respectively.

    And if this weren’t enough, Rivals.com has Alabama’s class of 2013 currently rated at No. 3.

    In terms of scheduling for next season, the Tide have a slate that is relatively mild in SEC terms.

    Alabama opens up its 2013 campaign vs. Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome and then after a well-placed week off (remember what Saban can do with an extra week), it will travel to College Station to square off with top-ranked Texas A&M.

    Other non-conference foes are Colorado State, FCS Georgia State and FCS Chattanooga which may actually hurt the Tide’s strength of schedule rankings if things get close later in the season. LSU is a home game for the Tide, as is Ole Miss and Arkansas and even more fortuitously Alabama has drawn Tennessee and Kentucky from the East leaving Georgia, Florida and South Carolina completely off the table.

     

Oregon

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    If it weren’t for Chip Kelly bolting for the NFL in 2013, with 16 returning starters from the 12-1 product in 2012, the Oregon Ducks may have had best case for a preseason No. 1 ranking other than front-runner Alabama.

    But no matter how you slice it, this is a talented, super-explosive team and if the transition between Kelly and Oregon OC Mark Helfrich is anywhere near as successful as the Jim Harbaugh to David Shaw change at Stanford, look out.

    The Ducks bring back nine on offense next season including sophomore QB Marcus Mariota and RB De’Anthony Thomas.  The biggest concern on the big O are the loss of a pair of starting guards that anchored a line that led the No. 3 ranked rushing attack in the land in 2012.

    Defensively Oregon is due to welcome back seven to a unit that improved steadily last year finally earning a No. 25 ranking in scoring by season’s end.

    Perhaps the biggest concern for the Ducks in 2013 will be replacing two linebackers and two defensive linemen, a task that will be imperative if Oregon is entertaining any undefeated fantasies.

    In terms of how effectively the Ducks can reload, think back to last postseason when they returned a mere 13 starters and still managed to fall just a single game short of the title contest.

    And this is all the more impressive when you realize that Oregon hasn’t been like a house on fire in terms of recruiting, hauling in No. 32, No. 13, No. 9 and No. 16 classes from 2009-12.

    Since we’ve determined that the Ducks will likely have the personnel to return to the BCS in 2013, what of the schedule that will stand between them and paydirt?

    Well, the slate is doable with non-conference games versus FCS Nicholls State, at Nevada and then versus Tennessee and a draw from the South division that includes UCLA, Utah and Arizona.

    Stanford is a road affair in 2013 but Oregon State and Cal are both home games for the Ducks.

Stanford

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    After winning its first Pac-12 title since 1999 and its first Rose Bowl since 1972, why not have Stanford at No. 1 coming into 2013?

    And this prospect becomes even more intriguing when you realize how young the Stanford Cardinal were in 2012. Yes, Stanford brought back just 14 players from 2011 to 2012. Gone from the field were QB Andrew Luck and a good chunk of an offense that had blazed a fairly impressive trail to the NFL.

    This all adds up to Stanford’s success in 2012 coming off an offense that did just enough and a defense that absolutely dazzled.

    To illustrate, the Cardinal finished the season ranked No. 72 in scoring offense versus No. 11 in scoring defense and their total margin of victory last season was 149 points. This number includes blowout victories over Duke (50-13) and Colorado (48-0) which means that Stanford’s total margin of victory over the rest of its 2012 slate was a mere 64 points.

    This tantalizing statistical evidence makes Stanford’s returning numbers, seven on offense and 10 on defense look pretty sweet.

    Add in the fact that the Cardinal has recruited lights out since 2009, hauling in classes ranked No. 20, No. 26, No. 22 and No. 5 through 2012, and you’ve got a top shelf, top ranked kind of cocktail.

    In terms of the upcoming slate, Stanford will have to earn any high honors in 2013.

    Though early non-conference opponents include a good San Jose State squad and a trip to Army, the Cardinal have drawn home games versus Arizona State and UCLA and then a road trip to USC.

    Oregon is a home game, as is Cal and the kicker is the fact that Stanford will welcome Notre Dame in what may be a blockbuster finale to the regular season.

     

Ohio State

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    After going 12-0 with what was arguably a somewhat “easier” schedule in a postseason-banned 2012, the Ohio Buckeyes and Urban Meyer are set to take the training wheels off and play for real in 2013.

    So, can Ohio State run the tables again, and do they deserve a top billing coming into the season?

    Well, though the Buckeyes are set to return nine to a run-centric offense in 2013, they’re due to welcome back a mere four to a defense that bent to the breaking point in 2012. To illustrate, Ohio State finished the season ranked No. 31 in scoring defense and were No. 14 versus the run, but tanked to the tune of a No. 78 mark against the pass.

    If the Buckeyes really are for real in 2013, it’s likely an improved passing game and even more importantly a stifling defense that will make the difference.

    The good news is that Meyer’s cupboard will be stacked this season, but the bad news is that the upperclassman in 2013 will be among Ohio State’s lowest ranked recruiting products over the past several years. Yes, this season’s seniors who were technically signed in 2010 ranked No. 25 when brought in while the juniors (the class of 2011) ranked No. 11.

    But, that said, the younger groups are highly touted and among the most talented in the land with a No. 4 ranking in 2012 and then a current No. 4 ranking by Rivals.com for the class of 2013.

    As far as the 2013 schedule, Ohio State ought to have an equal chance of blowing through what is, in total, a less than heavy-duty set of foes.

    Non-conference opponents are Buffalo, San Diego State and FCS Florida A&M and foes from the Big 10 Legends include Northwestern, Iowa and Michigan; leaving Nebraska and Michigan State completely off the table.

    The annual grudge match versus Michigan is in Ann Arbor, but the Bucks have Wisconsin and Penn State at home.

     

Texas A&M

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    After blitzing its way through the SEC and winding up with a stunning 11-2 record and a Heisman Trophy, Texas A&M is officially the flavor of the month in college football.

    And, with this type of swagger and unprecedented success, why not the Texas A&M Aggies at No. 1?

    Texas A&M is set to return six starters to each side of the ball in 2013 and the Ags will have to hope that the losses at offensive line (two are gone), wide receiver (three are gone) and linebacker (two are gone) are reloadable.

    The truth is that Johnny Manziel’s success in 2012 was nothing short of fantastic, but given the fact that football is a team sport, he’ll need some solid cohorts to repeat the same sort of coup, especially in the SEC West. And oh yeah, let’s add in that nobody, including Kirby Smart and the Alabama defense, will be surprised by the Aggies in 2013.

    In terms of the caliber of talent for reloading purposes, A&M continues to recruit with great success hauling in classes ranked No. 17, No. 27 and No. 15 from 2010-12, respectively and then owning what is currently the No. 8 rated class of 2013.

    Like Ohio State, the Aggies do have the disadvantage of their upperclassmen in 2013 being the lowest ranked of their talent stockpile. Their most experienced guys may not necessarily be the most talented.

    Waiting for Texas A&M next season are a very mild quartet of in-state, non-conference opponents: UTEP, FCS Sam Houston State, SMU and Rice.

    From the SEC East the Aggies will face Vandy and Missouri meaning that Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and South Carolina are all out of the picture completely.

    A&M has Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State all at home in 2013 leaving the divisional road trips to LSU, Ole Miss and Arkansas.

Georgia

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    Alabama’s complete and total beatdown of Notre Dame in the BCS title game makes Georgia’s narrow loss to the Alabama in the SEC Championship seem even more like a hazy dream. Yes, did that game really come down to the final play and the clock or was I just in some sort of wing induced coma at the bar that Saturday evening?

    The truth is, you could make a strong argument that Georgia, not Alabama, not Oregon, not Texas A&M and not Ohio State belongs at No. 1 coming into 2013.

    Why?

    Well, first you’ve got 10 projected starters returning on offense which is quite something to a unit that finished 2012 ranked No. 18 nationally in scoring. Next, you’ve got a defense that improved all year and finished the season ranked No. 18 in scoring bringing back five starters in 2013.

    Really, reloading defensively may be the key to Georgia being back in the mix next season with the biggest hits coming to a secondary that ranked No. 8 nationally in 2012, holding foes on average to 175.6 yards through the air.

    Speaking of reloading how about recruiting classes that have ranked No. 15, No. 5 and No. 12 from 2010-12 and then a haul this year that Rivals.com currently has rated at No. 9? In the SEC only Alabama, Florida and LSU boast better recruiting numbers than do the Georgia Bulldogs over the last four years.

    The next key element to a Bulldog repeat as SEC East Champs and beyond is the schedule, a factor that certainly helped Georgia in 2012. Though the 2013 slate may not be as easy as last season’s, it is still surprisingly generous by SEC standards.

    Non-conference games include a provocative opener at Clemson, the bi-annual trip to Atlanta to clash with Georgia Tech and the easier affairs versus North Texas and FCS Appalachian State.

    From the SEC West, Georgia did draw LSU this season (at home in Athens, Ga.), but avoided Alabama and Texas A&M by picking up a road game at Auburn.

    The Bulldogs get South Carolina at home in Week 2 (making the first two weeks of the season do or die for Georgia), but will have to travel to Tennessee in 2013.

     

Notre Dame

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    In the same way that Clemson’s 2011 season ended with a momentum-killing thud via an Orange Bowl disaster, Notre Dame ended what was otherwise a glorious 2012 with a traction-ending shriek in the BCS title game.

    Really, if the Notre Dame Irish could have just looked like they were in the game versus Alabama then confidence going into 2013 could have at least been on the radar. But, instead of momentum coming into next season Notre Dame is riddled with the questions and doubt that only a horrific loss combined with nine months devoid of on-field action can bring.

    Though it doesn’t seem realistic that the Irish will grab preseason No. 1 honors, with a national media in love with Notre Dame, anything could happen, and at the very least, they’ll be in a slew of top tens and more than likely receive top five consideration.

    As far as how realistic this all is, Notre Dame brings back eight to a defense that, after the championship debacle, still managed a No. 2 national ranking in scoring. This means the Irish will be in a lot of games again because they can shut people down, especially given their schedule which we’ll address later.

    Offensively it’s safe to say that Notre Dame didn’t rip anything up in 2012, which makes the fact that it returns a projected seven starters on O neither a great triumph nor a disaster waiting to happen.

    What may hurt the worst is TE Tyler Eifert’s decision to declare early for the NFL draft; a super critical loss given the fact that Eifert led the team in receiving with 50 catches for 687 yards and four scores.

    As far as who they’ll reload the empty spaces with, Notre Dame has continued to improve from a recruiting standpoint under Kelly and their 2010-12 class rankings are quite high: No. 14, No. 10 and No. 10, respectively.

    The other bit of good news is that, as of yet, the title game fiasco doesn’t seem to have slowed a recruiting express for 2013 that Rivals.com currently has at a lofty No. 2 nationally.

    From a schedule standpoint Notre Dame’s path in 2013 won’t be easy, but it won’t be like teeing it up in a major conference either.

    Road trips this coming season for the Irish are at Michigan, at Purdue, at Air Force, at Pitt and at Stanford.

    Home games in 2013 are versus Temple, versus Michigan State, versus Oklahoma, versus Arizona State, versus USC, versus Navy and versus BYU.

     

Florida

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    The 2012 team with a serious defense, a serious lack of offense and a huge advantage in turnovers will likely be considered for a high preseason ranking going into 2013, but it’s unrealistic to think the Florida Gators will score a No. 1 rating.

    But, this is still a program that won 11 games last season, and is so stacked with talent that you almost have to consider them for whatever high honor is being handed out.

    Back on campus in 2013 for Florida are only six starters on offense and a very scary three on defense, making the entire discussion of what’s next for Will Muschamp’s boys frankly a bit scary.

    But as is the case of Alabama and Oregon, the Gators are stacked with the kind of top rated talent that skews returning experience numbers to the point that Florida could be as good or better next season as they were in 2012.

    To illustrate, Florida has scored No. 2, No. 12 and No. 3 ranked recruiting classes from 2010-12, respectively, and it currently has a hold on the No. 1 spot in the Rivals.com 2013 team rankings. These numbers stack up against anyone’s in the nation including Alabama, Texas and USC.

    From a scheduling standpoint, the Gators bid to repeat as double-digit winners won’t be easy.

    Though Florida has Toledo and FCS Georgia Southern on its non-conference slate in 2013, it also has a road trip to Miami (Fla.) and then the finale (at home) versus what should be a great Florida State squad.

    From the SEC West the Gators avoid Alabama in 2013, but they’ll play back to back games versus Arkansas at home and then at LSU on the road at the beginning of October.

    From its own division Florida gets Tennessee and Vandy at home, but the Gators will travel to both South Carolina and Missouri.

     

      

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