Grading the College Football National Title Contenders Based on Spring Results
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Spring is officially in full swing which means so is college football. This is the time of year when all the focus is on the national title contenders and their spring games.
The Alabama Crimson Tide have been the kings of college football for a few years now and just about everyone is working their hardest to knock them off.
The top contender to do that is Heisman winner and human-highlight reel, Johnny Manziel and the Aggies of Texas A&M. They were the only squad to beat Alabama last year.
There are plenty of good teams outside the SEC too, where teams like Oregon and Ohio State are poised to make a run at another national championship appearance.
Here are my grades for the college football national title contenders so far this spring.
Tajh Boyd is Clemson's leader.
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The Clemson Tigers went 11-2 last season and will look to contend in the ACC again next year.
They return their top Heisman candidate in quarterback Tajh Boyd. Boyd led the Tigers’ passing attack that ranked 13th overall in yards in 2012.
Their offense also brings back 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington and plenty of weapons to pass to on the outside. If Clemson is able to duplicate what they did a season ago on offense, they’ll be in every game they play.
They will be tested often however, with games against SEC powerhouses Georgia and South Carolina to open and close the season.
Everett Golson will be relied on heavily next year.
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Notre Dame will look to recapture the magic they had last season where they made a return to the national championship game.
There will be a lot of new faces in South Bend this year, with big names like Manti Te’o gone to the NFL.
The Fighting Irish return their two biggest pieces to the puzzle though, with coach Brian Kelly and quarterback Everett Golson. Golson is only in his sophomore year and will definitely continue to improve.
Notre Dame will contend for a national title if their defense produces anything close to last year’s performance, where they ranked 2nd in the country in points against.
Teddy Bridgewater could be this year's Heisman.
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The Louisville Cardinals are the favorite again to win the Big East heading into the 2013 season. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater returns to lead the Cardinals’ air attack that was ranked in the top-25 last year.
More importantly, they are returning 20 starters in total from a 2012 team that won 11 games.
The Cardinals have to like their odds again this year as their schedule is extremely favorable. The Big East is usually known as one of the weaker football conferences and this season will be even worse with the departure of more programs.
Louisville has a real shot to go undefeated and put themselves in position for a national championship.
Aaron Murray will need a big season for Georgia.
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Georgia will look to win another SEC East title next year and most of that pressure lies on the shoulders of quarterback Aaron Murray. The junior threw for nearly 4,000 yards last year while passing better than 64 percent.
Murray showed a lot of the same in the UGA spring game. He passed for 200 yards and two touchdowns, looking more confident than ever.
There’s no doubting that Georgia has a talented team on both sides of the ball and will cause problems for every opponent this year. If their defense can play well, there’s no ceiling for the Bulldogs.
They do however play in the most difficult conference in the country.
Marcus Mariota leads one of the best ground attacks.
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Oregon was one game away from returning to the national championship game, and now they find themselves with a new head coach since Chip Kelly departed for the Eagles.
Some predict that the Ducks’ offense will suffer without Kelly, but once again, the system will prove its worth.
Marcus Mariota leads the Oregon offense that was one of the most exciting and productive in football. Last year the Ducks ranked 3rd in rushing and 2nd overall in points scored.
There’s no reason Oregon won’t continue their recent success and the matchup against Stanford will determine a lot in the Pac-12.
Jadeveon Clowney is a monster.
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South Carolina has the most exciting player in college football that doesn’t touch the ball often. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is a Heisman favorite and the consensus No. 1 pick for next year’s NFL draft already.
Steve Spurrier will try to add to his Hall of Fame career with another great season behind his stellar defense that ranked 13th in points against last year.
According to the Associated Press, Spurrier said, "I think we do have the chance to have a good team. But it could go anywhere to winning season to big winning season to losing season."
In order for it to be the big season that the ole ball coach wants, he’ll need solid play from quarterbacks Shaw and Thompson, along with Clowney’s health.
Braxton Miller is another Heisman hopeful.
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The Ohio State Buckeyes are fresh off a season where they went undefeated and only missed out on a nation championship because of their postseason ban handed down by the NCAA.
Head coach Urban Meyer leads the Buckeyes into 2013 with great expectations, and with good reasons.
They won all twelve of their games last season and have a legit star in quarterback Braxton Miller. Miller was 16-of-25 for 217 yards with three total touchdowns in the Buckeyes spring game a few days ago.
Meyer’s teams always improve in their second years, and if Ohio State can do that, we’ll see them back on top.
Kevin Hogan will need to be clutch for the Cardinal.
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The Stanford Cardinal are coming off a great 2012 campaign where they won 12 games and their defense ranked 11th in the nation.
Quarterback Kevin Hogan will have the job to himself this season and has already looked good in the role, hooking up with receivers Ty Montgomery and Michael Rector for several big plays in their spring game.
The Cardinal defense I mentioned returns 10 starters and will try to repeat their success from last year that held Oregon to only 14 points at home.
If Stanford can stay healthy, look for them to contend for a Pac-12 and national championship.
Johnny Manziel is an unbelievable athlete.
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The honors for most exciting player in college football is last years’ Heisman winner, Johnny Manziel. Aggie fans are excited for the season to start so they can start reading about their prized possession on the field, rather than on Twitter.
Despite his off-the-field antics, there’s no doubting Manziel’s raw talent and game-changing ability. The Aggies ranked 4th in points last season due in large part to Johnny Football’s incredible year that calculated more than 5,000 total yards and 47 touchdowns.
In Texas A&M’s spring game, Manziel picked up right where he left off in 2012. The 20-year-old was 24-of-30 passing for 303 yards and three scores to lead his side to victory.
The game against Alabama last year showed Manziel can bring the Aggies anywhere. That SEC showdown could determine the national champ this year.
Amari Cooper is the next great receiver.
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The Crimson Tide of Alabama have easily been the best football program in the country for the past several years. Head coach Nick Saban is now a legend in Tuscaloosa, where they’ll try to win their third straight title.
Their defense was ranked first overall in points against in 2012 and have always been the backbone of the team.
Although Bama is losing several good players to the NFL, this seems to happen every year without hurting the program the following season. The Tide have tremendous depth and new stars always seem to emerge.
Quarterback A.J. McCarron is back to lead another lethal Alabama attack that scored 42 points against Notre Dame in the final game. Joining him are sophomores T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper, each of whom eclipsed 1,000 yards last year.
Alabama is far too talented to not be the favorite heading into 2013.