Power Ranking All 126 College Football Teams

Jonathan McDanal@@jdmcdanalContributor IIIAugust 27, 2013

Power Ranking All 126 College Football Teams

0 of 126

    College football's 2013 season openers are coming this weekend. Preseason Top 25 polls are coursing the veins of the Internet, and there are already questions about how accurate they are.

    Those questions are natural, because everyone in the nation is missing a major piece of information: production on the football field. However, returning starters, last year's record, existing media polls and current coaching staff do provide us with a reasonable expectation level for the 2013 season.

    Here are the predicted final rankings for all 126 college football teams for the upcoming year.

    *All scheduling information from 2012 and 2013 is from FBSchedules.com. All 2012 strengths of schedule and final ranks are from Jeff Sagarin. All 2013 strengths of schedule are from Phil Steele (h/t FBSchedules.com). All returning starter numbers are from Phil Steele as well.

126. Georgia State Panthers

1 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 125

    2012 Final Rank: No. 126

    2013 SoS: No. 125

    Returning Starters: 14 (with quarterback)

    Georgia State is still building a program. The Panthers aren't simply moving up from the FCS to the FBS, they are constructing a unit from the ground up. There will be improvement in 2013, but it won't be enough to pull them above last in the league.

    They were 224th last season, according to Sagarin, meaning there were 100 FCS teams that were better than they were. The Panthers are steadily improving, but there they still have a journey ahead of them.

125. Akron Zips

2 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 92

    2012 Final Rank: No. 123

    2013 SoS: No. 71

    Returning Starters: 14 (no quarterback)

    The Akron Zips are looking forward to the Terry Bowden era, but he needs time to improve the program from the fundamental stages. The Zips aren't a lost cause in 2013, but consistent success follows preparation.

    Preparation has just begun in Akron.

124. Massachusetts Minutemen

3 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 78

    2012 Final Rank: No. 125

    2013 SoS: No. 82

    Returning Starters: Nine (with quarterback)

    Massachusetts is among the worst teams in the FBS, but things are going to get better eventually. Right now, the Minutemen's schedule gets marginally tougher, so moving up one place to No. 124 indicates improvement, even if it's slight.

123. Hawaii Warriors

4 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 112

    2012 Final Rank: No. 119

    2013 SoS: No. 76

    Returning Starters: 18 (with quarterback)

    Hawaii is a tough team to predict. With 18 returning starters, including the signal-caller, the eye test says they'll improve markedly this fall. However, with a schedule strength that jumps from 119th to 76th, the Warriors are basically back where they started, only a little worse.

    Expect a season fraught with disappointment in 2013. The Warriors can be twice as good in 2013 and still do worse than they did last year.

122. Colorado Buffaloes

5 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 35

    2012 Final Rank: No. 117

    2013 SoS: No. 7

    Returning Starters: 17 (with quarterback)

    Colorado is staring down the barrel of one of the toughest schedules in the country, including games against Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona State in one three-week stretch.

    Even if the Buffaloes get a lot better, the odds of them coming out of the Pac-12 schedule in 2013 with more than a couple of wins are slim. Granted, this would be true of a lot of teams in the country, but this schedule is going to crush Colorado.

121. New Mexico Lobos

6 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 121

    2012 Final Rank: No. 113

    2013 SoS: No. 100

    Returning Starters: 11 (no quarterback)

    New Mexico faces a tougher schedule than in 2012, and the Lobos have to do it while breaking in a new passer. While this probably won't demolish the Lobos' ability to win a game or two, don't expect a postseason appearance with this set of obstacles in front of them.

120. New Mexico State Aggies

7 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 88

    2012 Final Rank: No. 124

    2013 SoS: No. 113

    Returning Starters: 14 (with quarterback)

    New Mexico State's biggest asset for 2013 is an easier schedule than in 2012. After finishing 124th last season, the Aggies should be able to improve upon that this fall. Granted, they aren't going to win a national title or anything like that, but winning is winning.

119. Southern Miss Golden Eagles

8 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 68

    2012 Final Rank: No. 122

    2013 SoS: No. 89

    Returning Starters: 13 (with quarterback)

    Southern Miss did not do well last season. The Eagles finished with a 0-12 record, and the only good news for them is that they have 13 returning starters and an easier schedule. They should finish marginally better than last year, but there is plenty of room for the Eagles to surprise everyone.

    A Top 100 finish isn't out of the question, but it's far too early to make that call.

118. Idaho Vandals

9 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 55

    2012 Final Rank: No. 121

    2013 SoS: No. 70

    Returning Starters: 11 (no quarterback)

    Idaho has an easier schedule in 2013 than it did last year. However, the Vandals are returning just half of their starting squad this fall, and they're breaking in a new signal-caller. These things all add up to a finish close to the same as last season.

    The easier schedule does give them a good probability of moving up in the rankings, though.

117. South Alabama Jaguars

10 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 114

    2012 Final Rank: No. 120

    2013 SoS: No. 110

    Returning Starters: 17 (with quarterback)

    South Alabama is heading into the fall with a slightly harder schedule than last season, but it's basically the same. The Jaguars still have a payday game against Tennessee in late September, and the rest of the Sun Belt slate is practically as difficult as that game.

    Arkansas State, Western Kentucky, Kent State and both hyphenated teams from Louisiana make for a rough ride this football season. The Jags will be lucky to come out with anywhere near six wins.

116. UNLV Rebels

11 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 101

    2012 Final Rank: No. 118

    2013 SoS: No. 106

    Returning Starters: 18 (with quarterback)

    UNLV will not be a major contender for the Mountain West, but the Rebels' schedule does get a tad easier in 2013. The bigger advantage for UNLV is that practically the entire starting lineup returns, including the quarterback.

    Granted, returning the 118th-ranked team isn't the greatest thing in the world, but the level of experience is vastly greater. If the Rebels play at 100 percent every week, this ranking could be rendered moot by Week 2. (Wins over both Minnesota and Arizona would definitely prove this extremely wrong.)

115. Tulane Green Wave

12 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 76

    2012 Final Rank: No. 116

    2013 SoS: No. 94

    Returning Starters: 17 (no quarterback)

    Tulane has Cairo Santos, one of the best kickers in the country. However, that won't be enough to save them from every negative situation. The Green Wave are breaking in a new passer, and that will set them back a good bit.

    Thankfully for Tulane fans, the Green Wave have an easier schedule and a lot of returning starters, even if they have a new face under center. Things should look about the same for them in 2013.

114. Army Black Knights

13 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 95

    2012 Final Rank: No. 115

    2013 SoS: No. 117

    Returning Starters: 17 (no quarterback)

    Army has a boatload of returning starters, but the Black Knights are still at a talent disadvantage compared to other FBS teams. Now that senior quarterback Trent Steelman is gone, the Knights need someone else to step up and play field general quickly.

    That deficit combined with the easier schedule will land the Knights just about where they finished last season.

113. UAB Blazers

14 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 93

    2012 Final Rank: No. 112

    2013 SoS: No. 95

    Returning Starters: 12 (with quarterback)

    The UAB Blazers had some good games last season, including a beastly performance against the Ohio State Buckeyes. (Without those two turnovers, anything could have happened.)

    Alabama-Birmingham basically has the same schedule as last season (as far as difficulty is concerned), but the Blazers are missing about half of the squad. With the quarterback returning, things should look OK, but there are still 10 missing starters.

    That will cause a bit of an issue when it comes to final ranking.

112. Air Force Falcons

15 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 123

    2012 Final Rank: No. 107

    2013 SoS: No. 105

    Returning Starters: 12 (no quarterback)

    Unlike the UAB Blazers, Air Force is missing 10 starters, including its gunner. Without the head honcho to orchestrate the offense, the Falcons will endure some growing pains in 2013.

    Last season, the Falcons had one of the easiest schedules in the country and still finished 107th. This time around, their schedule is noticeably tougher. Factor in the missing men, and you have a recipe for a potential disaster at the academy.

111. Eastern Michigan Eagles

16 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 71

    2012 Final Rank: No. 114

    2013 SoS: No. 83

    Returning Starters: 13 (with quarterback)

    Eastern Michigan is heading into the fall with an easier schedule than last year and with most of its team intact. Granted, replacing nine starters is a daunting task, but the main pieces of the puzzle are coming back.

    The Eagles will overcome early deficiencies to finish higher in the final rankings than last season. It may not be much, but it will have to do.

110. Buffalo Bulls

17 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 83

    2012 Final Rank: No. 108

    2013 SoS: No. 74

    Returning Starters: 16 (with quarterback)

    Buffalo has its work cut out for it in 2013, and things will look marginally worse for the Bulls as a result of the more difficult schedule. On the other hand, the Bulls return almost 80 percent of their starting lineup.

    If spring and summer drills worked out well, then Buffalo could be much better than anticipated.

109. Memphis Tigers

18 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 99

    2012 Final Rank: No. 102

    2013 SoS: No. 68

    Returning Starters: 13 (with quarterback)

    Memphis hits the American Athletic Conference for the first time in 2013. This directly results in a more difficult schedule for the Tigers. Helping mitigate that loss is a roster with 13 returning starters and an experienced quarterback.

    Hopefully, the Tigers can take the experience they have and keep from spinning out of control in 2013.

108. UTEP Miners

19 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 67

    2012 Final Rank: No. 111

    2013 SoS: No. 103

    Returning Starters: 11 (no quarterback)

    UTEP has an interesting situation at quarterback. Texas A&M backup Jameill Showers graduated and transferred from Texas A&M to the Miners. While he didn't see a ton of action with his previous school, he should generate some immediate improvement on offense.

    Hence, the Miners come in ranked 108th instead of worse for the 2013 preseason.

107. Colorado State Rams

20 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 85

    2012 Final Rank: No. 109

    2013 SoS: No. 72

    Returning Starters: 16 (with quarterback)

    Colorado State is entering its second season under Jim McElwain (the previous offensive coordinator for Alabama). His new scheme and experience under Nick Saban should bring great things to the Rams.

    It will take him some time to put together winning seasons, though. Colorado State finished 2012 with a 4-8 record, including a season-opening win over in-state rival Colorado.

    While McElwain has a lot of work to do, tackling a harder schedule with better results is certainly the right way to do it.

106. Florida Atlantic Owls

21 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 82

    2012 Final Rank: No. 110

    2013 SoS: No. 104

    Returning Starters: 12 (no quarterback)

    Florida Atlantic will introduce a new starting quarterback, but the easier schedule should help alleviate the issue at hand. The Owls are transferring from the Sun Belt to Conference USA in 2013, and the spread-option attack should be in full swing.

    All in all, that's an excellent fit for the offense-centric C-USA. The Owls will continue to improve slowly, but they will definitely be getting better from year to year.

105. Western Michigan Broncos

22 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 109

    2012 Final Rank: No. 98

    2013 SoS: No. 97

    Returning Starters: 10 (no quarterback)

    Western Michigan's stable of running backs is going to have to step out on the field and turn on the afterburners. With the signal-caller from 2012 gone and a questionable defense, those tailbacks are the only thing balancing out the equation for 2013.

    It is doubtful the running backs can do enough on their own to prevent at least a slight drop in the final rankings. Look for the Broncos to finish just outside the Top 100.

104. Illinois Fighting Illini

23 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 37

    2012 Final Rank: No. 105

    2013 SoS: No. 20

    Returning Starters: 12 (with quarterback)

    Illinois needs to get its turnover margin under control. In 2012, the Illini finished 110th in the country in that category. Granted, that's not the only thing they have to worry about, but it's the single biggest potential game-changing issue to work on.

    How can you win games if the opponent always gets more possessions than you do? Well, you can't, and Illinois learned that the hard way. Assuming the Illini improve in that area, a slightly better ranking is waiting in December, even after the more difficult schedule.

103. Wyoming Cowboys

24 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 100

    2012 Final Rank: No. 101

    2013 SoS:  No. 92

    Returning Starters: 14 (with quarterback)

    Wyoming was not very good last season, but they have Brett Smith under center again this fall. Smith is a highly underrated quarterback. He went 205-of-330 for 2,832 yards, 27 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 2012.

    The only issue facing Wyoming is that Smith wasn't the reason the Cowboys were ranked 101st in the FBS last season. That was the 101st-ranked total defense. The defense will hold the Cowboys back again in 2013.

102. Miami (OH) Redhawks

25 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 75

    2012 Final Rank: No. 104

    2013 SoS: No. 84

    Returning Starters: 13 (no quarterback)

    Miami faces quite a few hurdles between it and success. First, the Redhawks have to groom a new signal-caller. Second, they have to overcome nine missing players (six on defense alone).

    With only five men returning from the nation's 107th total defense, things aren't looking good for Miami. Sadly, the Redhawks will not be chasing trophies in 2013.

101. Florida International Golden Panthers

26 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 81

    2012 Final Rank: No. 106

    2013 SoS: No. 102

    Returning Starters: eight (with quarterback)

    Florida International returns three starters on defense. That's right, just three. On top of that issue, the Golden Panthers return just five on offense and no quarterback. The good news is that two starting receivers and a running back are three of those five offensive players.

    This will help them improve slightly overall, but FIU is still in a rebuilding season. Even an easier schedule won't bail them out of finishing outside of the Top 100.

100. UTSA Roadrunners

27 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 122

    2012 Final Rank: No. 95

    2013 SoS: No. 78

    Returning Starters: 19 (with quarterback)

    UTSA joins just a few other teams at the No. 1 position for returning starters with 19, including their quarterback. While that's an excellent position to be in, the Roadrunners' schedule gets considerably tougher this season.

    They'll do about as well as expected in 2013. They have to fight with Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, TCU and Texas Tech for recruits (and that's just the list of home-state teams), so they have a long journey ahead of them before finding real success in the FBS.

99. Texas State Bobcats

28 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 94

    2012 Final Rank: No. 103

    2013 SoS: No. 123

    Returning Starters: 13 (no quarterback)

    The Texas State Bobcats are in the same boat as UTSA as far as fighting for recruits, so expect some waiting before they start qualifying for postseason appearances. In the meantime, they enjoy an easier schedule this fall, and they bring back more than half of their squad.

    As Texas State improves year after year, fans just have to accept that it's not a quick process. An improvement from 103rd to 99th should at least prove they're on the right track, even if it's a slow pace.

98. Central Michigan Chippewas

29 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 119

    2012 Final Rank: No. 96

    2013 SoS: No. 90

    Returning Starters: 14 (no quarterback)

    Central Michigan lost No. 1 overall draft pick Eric Fisher in 2013. While that's an excellent pitch on the recruiting trail, it's a giant hole on the offensive line. The rest of the Chippewas are going to have to get down to business to make sure the passer stays comfortable.

    That combined with a slightly easier schedule should keep Central Michigan around the same performance tier when 2013 comes to a close.

97. Old Dominion Monarchs

30 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 119

    2012 Final Rank: No. 96

    2013 SoS: No. 90

    Returning Starters: 15 (with quarterback)

    Old Dominion is moving up to the FBS, and the transition begins this fall. While the Monarchs lost seven players this offseason, they bring back the Walter Payton Award (the "FCS Heisman") winner from the 2012 season, Taylor Heinicke.

    Heinicke is about to go up against major competition, and it will be OK. The bigger issue is on the line of scrimmage. Heinicke has the talent to burn almost any defense out there, but he can't do it if he's on his back.

    This entire season will be about his offensive line's ability to protect him. If they can do that, Old Dominion can go toe-to-toe with almost anyone in the nation.

96. North Texas Mean Green

31 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 79

    2012 Final Rank: No. 100

    2013 SoS: No. 87

    Returning Starters: 16 (with quarterback)

    North Texas is heading into C-USA, and the Mean Green are looking for some big-time wins. The major component they are missing from their roster is a true game-changing skill player. From wide receivers to running backs, everything is fundamentally sound.

    However, this is college football. Being fundamentally sound isn't going to win you championships. Yes, you have to play tight to win one, but it isn't enough just to play clean football.

    The returning experience and good, strong football should be enough to put them inside the Top 100, but it won't bring them much more than that. Recruiting and development are going to bring North Texas the winning seasons it longs for so much.

95. Boston College Eagles

32 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 40

    2012 Final Rank: No. 97

    2013 SoS: No. 36

    Returning Starters: 14 (with quarterback)

    Boston College is in a world of hurt right now, but things are going to get better soon. With Frank Spaziani gone and Steve Addazio (formerly of Temple) now at the helm, the program has hope. That's a definite step in the right direction.

    However, the first year under a new head coach is rarely as successful as the years after it. (Cases like Hugh Freeze are rare, to say the least.) The Eagles will have to endure one more year of no postseason, but 2013 may be the final year of utter disappointment.

94. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

33 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 59

    2012 Final Rank: No. 94

    2013 SoS: No. 48

    Returning Starters: 16 (with quarterback)

    Wake Forest is facing some major issues this season. First, the lack of success from last year doesn't leave much optimism about the 16 returning starters, though they could pull together and shock the conference.

    Secondly, the rest of the ACC seems to be getting better faster than the Demon Deacons. Teams like Miami, Duke, North Carolina, NC State and Clemson are grabbing headlines week after week, and Wake is conspicuously absent from the news.

    The 2013 season will be a continuation of last year, but head coach Jim Grobe has done great things at Wake (four bowl games out of the past seven years, for instance). A bowl game may not be in the cards this season, but a solid finish inside the Top 100 looks probable.

93. Washington State Cougars

34 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 31

    2012 Final Rank: No. 91

    2013 SoS: No. 26

    Returning Starters: 15 (no quarterback)

    Washington State finished 2012 with a morale-boosting win over in-state rival Washington in the Apple Cup. If that momentum can be harnessed more than six months later, the Cougars could be a dark-horse candidate for the postseason.

    After a three-win jaunt through the Pac-12 last season, they face a slightly more difficult schedule in 2013. This is not music to Washington State's ears.

92. Houston Cougars

35 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 102

    2012 Final Rank: No. 93

    2013 SoS: No. 86

    Returning Starters: 14 (with quarterback)

    Houston moves to the AAC this season, and the Cougars are still one excellent signal-caller short of contending for a conference title, just like last season. With a year of development under his belt, David Piland could be that quarterback.

    However, the tougher schedule and bevy of new uniforms lining up against Houston will throw the Cougars off their game. Even a year's worth of advancement won't make up for the fact that Cincinnati, Louisville and BYU are coming at them hard and fast.


91. Troy Trojans

36 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 98

    2012 Final Rank: No. 90

    2013 SoS: No. 108

    Returning Starters: seven (with quarterback)

    Troy is facing a rebuilding season in 2013, but they bring back the maestro of the offense in Corey Robinson. He's a solid passer, and he can lead the Trojans to more victories in spite of the personnel losses.

    Six of Troy's seven losses were by one possession last season, and Robinson's nine interceptions could have made all the difference. Assuming he brings a stronger mind to the plate in 2013, the Trojans will improve in the win-loss column, even if SoS keeps them down in the overall rankings.

90. Marshall Thundering Herd

37 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 102

    2012 Final Rank: No. 92

    2013 SoS: No. 111

    Returning Starters: 15 (with quarterback)

    Marshall is entering the 2013 season with one of the best quarterbacks in the country: Rakeem Cato. Cato went 406-of-584 for 4,201 yards, 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last season. Apart from his penchant for picks, he brings elite skill to the field every game.

    The Herd will have a good season in 2013, but the schedule strength will keep them from being ranked any higher...unless they draw a great team in the postseason and win the bowl.

89. Kansas Jayhawks

38 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 3

    2012 Final Rank: No. 87

    2013 SoS: No. 10

    Returning Starters: 11 (no quarterback)

    Kansas is heading into its second season under head coach Charlie Weis. Whether you love him or hate him, the Jayhawks are his for at least another season. With just one recruiting class under his belt, it's best not to expect too much from the 'Hawks in 2013.

    With the 10th-hardest schedule in the country, another one-win season is not an impossibility. However, if Weis gets his boys' heads on straight, a four-win season is possible.

88. Kentucky Wildcats

39 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 8

    2012 Final Rank: No. 86

    2013 SoS: No. 9

    Returning Starters: 13 (with quarterback)

    Kentucky is officially under Mark Stoops now, and things are going to get better over time. Unfortunately, it's time for the ninth-hardest schedule in the nation to start playing out now, and the Wildcats are ill-prepared.

    Stoops has a lot of work to do at Kentucky, and the fanbase should fill the stadium with hope this fall. They can start expecting real results next year. The traditional powerhouses in the SEC are not easily overcome.

87. South Florida Bulls

40 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 46

    2012 Final Rank: No. 82

    2013 SoS: No. 47

    Returning Starters: 10 (no quarterback)

    South Florida is rebuilding over half of its team, including the quarterback. With new additions to the AAC coming in 2013, the Bulls are in for a lot of disappointment.

    Fortunately, there is enough of a core returning that South Florida can still put together a Top 100 finish. Plus, with Willie Taggart (formerly of Western Kentucky) taking the reins, South Florida has a brighter future than most FBS squads.

    Look for USF to make a major statement in 2014.

86. Connecticut Huskies

41 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 69

    2012 Final Rank: No. 84

    2013 SoS: No. 63

    Returning Starters: 13 (with quarterback)

    UConn lost five players to the 2013 NFL draft, and that will take its toll this season. Fortunately, the Huskies have a solid coaching staff and a slightly easier schedule this year.

    With all of those factors considered, the Huskies command the No. 86 spot on this list. That's not much worse than last season's finish at 84th. On the bright side, as the AAC thins out in the future, UConn could be peaking at exactly the right time. We'll see soon enough.

85. Maryland Terrapins

42 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 62

    2012 Final Rank: No. 89

    2013 SoS: No. 62

    Returning Starters: 12 (with quarterback)

    Maryland has Stefon Diggs, but his presence hasn't motivated subsequent recruiting classes to take Maryland seriously. That stands to reason because there are 21 other players on the field who decide the fate of each game.

    On the other hand, Diggs could have his breakout season in 2013 and push the Terrapins into the postseason. With the signal-caller returning, look for Diggs and the rest of the offense to have a marquee year.

    Unfortunately for Maryland, the ACC is quite strong this season. The win-loss column will look better at the end of the season, but the overall rank will be practically the same.

84. Temple Owls

43 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 64

    2012 Final Rank: No. 88

    2013 SoS: No. 65

    Returning Starters: 15 (with quarterback)

    Temple is in a state of disrepair at the moment, but the Owls are always a threat to win any game of the season. If new head coach Matt Rhule will stick around long enough to see the fruits of his labor, Temple could be heading for historic seasons in the near future.

    Unfortunately, at least one more subpar season is in store for the Owls. After that, the rise should begin in earnest.

83. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

44 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 115

    2012 Final Rank: No. 85

    2013 SoS: No. 118

    Returning Starters: 13 (no quarterback)

    Western Kentucky is under new management as well, but this time it's Bobby Petrino. He's the guy who took Arkansas to as high as No. 3 in the BCS back in 2011. Western Kentucky has a recent run of success for Petrino to build on, but that doesn't change the fact that the Hilltoppers are replacing a quarterback.

    Overall, WKU will advance marginally in 2013, which is excellent considering the fact that they have lost nine players. Petrino is that good at coaching.

82. Virginia Cavaliers

45 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 53

    2012 Final Rank: No. 83

    2013 SoS: No. 27

    Returning Starters: 13 (no quarterback)

    Virginia is replacing its starting quarterback, but on-field results will prove whether that's a pro or a con fairly quickly. Michael Rocco went 161-of-266 last season for 1,917 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

    The new starter, David Watford, has got to improve upon Rocco's touchdown-to-interception ratio if the Cavaliers want to succeed in any conference. It's got to completely change if they want to win in the ACC. There are dogfights every week between teams like Miami and Florida State, and giving a team like Miami extra possessions is a death sentence for your squad.

    With the schedule getting so much tougher in 2013, expect Virginia to fall just about the same place it did last season at No. 82. This will largely be due to other teams around it getting worse, not any vast improvement from the Cavaliers.

81. Utah Utes

46 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 41

    2012 Final Rank: No. 60

    2013 SoS: No. 12

    Returning Starters: 13 (with quarterback)

    Utah has to replace defensive lineman Star Lotulelei this season, and the Utes' schedule gets much, much harder. This is a recipe for a down season that will not help team (or fan) morale at all.

    The Utes entered the Pac-12 with high hopes, but the reality of contending with teams like Oregon and Stanford is setting in. It's going to be a long process to go from being a BCS buster to a consistent winner in a power conference.

    Utah has work to do, and focusing on final rankings is not going to help anyone. The Utes just need to take the task game-by-game and approach recruiting season-by-season. After a few more years, the move to the Pac-12 will make a lot more sense to outsiders.

80. Purdue Boilermakers

47 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 48

    2012 Final Rank: No. 69

    2013 SoS: No. 4

    Returning Starters: 13 (no quarterback)

    Purdue has to endure the No. 4 most difficult schedule in the country with nine players from the 2012 starting lineup gone. This is a major setback for the Boilermakers, but the future is still bright.

    Bad seasons are going to happen in college football. It's the nature of the beast, though some teams have some sort of immunity to the principle. (LSU, Alabama and Oregon come to mind immediately.)

    Purdue can do well in 2013, but that strength of schedule is going to kick them back down into the bottom half of the league unless something completely unexpected happens.

79. Nevada Wolf Pack

48 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 117

    2012 Final Rank: No. 76

    2013 SoS: No. 56

    Returning Starters: 11 (with quarterback)

    Cody Fajardo is leading Nevada once again in 2013, but the Wolf Pack are missing running back Stefphon Jefferson. That means the fabled rushing attack will suffer greatly.

    Jefferson's absence plus Nevada's much more difficult schedule will mean a bad season for the Wolf Pack. Of course, Fajardo is worth a lot by himself, so the drop won't be nearly as far as it could have been.

78. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

49 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 104

    2012 Final Rank: No. 81

    2013 SoS: No. 119

    Returning Starters: 17 (with quarterback)

    Middle Tennessee showed flashes of greatness last season with wins over Western Kentucky and Georgia Tech. However, that same tough group posted a 45-0 loss to Arkansas State in the season finale.

    The question is which Blue Raiders squad shows up next week. Will it be the potential conference champion or the also-ran? While the Raiders look like a middle-of-the-pack finisher for 2013, they have their own destiny in hand.

77. Rice Owls

50 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 108

    2012 Final Rank: No. 79

    2013 SoS: No. 114

    Returning Starters: 17 (with quarterback)

    Rice pushed to a bowl game last season, and the Owls are bringing back a decided majority of that squad in 2013. With a marginally easier schedule this fall, expect them to overcome what personnel losses they have and repeat the feat.

    Expect quarterback Taylor McHargue to improve upon his performance from last year and toss more than just 12 touchdowns. If he also cuts down on his interceptions (five in 2012), the Owls could end up even higher than 77th.

76. Duke Blue Devils

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    2012 SoS: No. 51

    2012 Final Rank: No. 70

    2013 SoS: No. 77

    Returning Starters: 14 (no quarterback)

    Duke has to replace quarterback Sean Renfree and wide receiver Conner Vernon. The latter will be easily replaced by Jamison Crowder, but that poses a problem of its own: Who will be the second go-to receiver?

    Both Crowder and Vernon amassed 1,074 receiving yards (each, not combined) in 2012, and they helped usher Duke to the postseason. The reason that Duke's projected ranking doesn't suffer as much as it could have is motivation.

    Last season, after Duke qualified for a bowl, the team came out and played flat for the majority of the remainder of the schedule. If Duke stays 100 percent motivated in 2013, they can do just as well with less talent.

75. Navy Midshipmen

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    2012 SoS: No. 87

    2012 Final Rank: No. 78

    2013 SoS: No. 99

    Returning Starters: 11 (with quarterback)

    The Navy Midshipmen won the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy last season, but the Midshipmen look a little shaky overall heading into 2013. Sure, they are probably better than both of the other service academies, but this is about total performance.

    Navy is returning just half of its starting lineup, but master field general Keenan Reynolds will return to orchestrate the offense. Reynolds will ensure the Midshipmen see another season of success in 2013.

74. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

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    2012 SoS: No. 105

    2012 Final Rank: No. 50

    2013 SoS: No. 120

    Returning Starters: six (no quarterback)

    Louisiana Tech was decimated during the offseason. The Bulldogs' starting running back, starting quarterback and head coach are all gone, plus 14 other players from the top of the depth chart.

    LA Tech is going to drop considerably in the overall power rankings through this coming season, even with the noticeably easier schedule coming. Colby Cameron is not an easy man to replace under center, and the offense will struggle to finds its identity.

73. Auburn Tigers

54 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 2

    2012 Final Rank: No. 77

    2013 SoS: No. 18

    Returning Starters: 15 (with quarterback)

    Auburn's large number of returning starters may give the false impression of potential. The bigger asset for the Tigers is head coach Gus Malzahn. He was the offensive coordinator during the 2010 title run.

    While returning a bunch of starters is normally a good thing, Auburn went 0-8 in the SEC last season. That's not a lot of promise. However, Malzahn should be able to get these kids in championship condition in short order.

    The 2013 season is far too early to expect that, though. Improvement, however, is coming right now.

72. NC State Wolfpack

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    2012 SoS: No. 65

    2012 Final Rank: No. 62

    2013 SoS: No. 57

    Returning Starters: 11 (no quarterback)

    NC State is missing 11 starters from last season, including standout defender David Amerson and NFL-caliber quarterback Mike Glennon. That's a huge amount of talent in just two players, and NC State is missing nine more.

    The Wolfpack are heading into yet another season where the Florida State Seminoles and Clemson Tigers are expected to compete for the ACC title. While NC State was capable of beating either one of them last season (as evidenced by the win over FSU), that's not the case this fall.

    Yes, any team can beat any other team at any time, but realistically, the Wolfpack will end up around the middle of the ACC again.

71. Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks

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    2012 SoS: No. 89

    2012 Final Rank: No. 74

    2013 SoS: No. 109

    Returning Starters: 17 (with quarterback)

    Louisiana-Monroe is coming off of a historic season that included a win over then-No. 8 Arkansas. Though the Razorbacks were overrated in retrospect, they had the same team members as during the 2011 Cotton Bowl run, so the Warhawks still had to work incredibly hard to win that game.

    Quarterback Kolton Browning went 273-of-428 for 3,049 yards, 29 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season, and he'll be back under center again in 2013. He was also the team's leading rusher last season, so that's yet another factor in ULM's favor.

70. Bowling Green Falcons

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    2012 SoS: No. 120

    2012 Final Rank: No. 71

    2013 SoS: No. 115

    Returning Starters: 19 (with quarterback)

    Bowling Green went to the postseason last year, and 19 of those players are coming back for more. The Falcons have roughly the same schedule this year in terms of difficulty, and another postseason appearance is to be expected.

    Of course, with the added experience, they could end up even higher than 70th. The major hindrance for Bowling Green is its schedule strength. It's hard to rank much higher than 70th with the 12th-easiest schedule in the country.

69. California Golden Bears

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    2012 SoS: No. 10

    2012 Final Rank: No. 75

    2013 SoS: No. 3

    Returning Starters: nine (no quarterback)

    Cal is going to improve in the final rankings, even with a more difficult schedule than last season. That will be attributed to new head coach Sonny Dykes and his offensive coordinator, Tony Franklin.

    Both of them hail from Louisiana Tech, which went 9-3 last season with one of the most disciplined quarterbacks in NCAA history. While it's too much to expect Cal to contend for a conference title this year, the rejuvenation process has begun.

68. Iowa Hawkeyes

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    2012 SoS: No. 39

    2012 Final Rank: No. 68

    2013 SoS: No. 43

    Returning Starters: 14 (no quarterback)

    Iowa landed a four-win season in 2012, with five of its eight losses coming by one possession (many of those by a field goal or less). The Hawkeyes have to replace a quarterback, but that shouldn't be extremely difficult.

    Even with a new signal-caller, they should be able to piece together wins over at least four teams again. Unfortunately, the lack of experience will keep them from advancing as well. Overall, it's more of the same for Iowa this fall.

67. Pittsburgh Panthers

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    2012 SoS: No. 57

    2012 Final Rank: No. 58

    2013 SoS: No. 24

    Returning Starters: 14 (no quarterback)

    Pitt enters the season with 14 returning starters and a new face under center. With all things considered, the rebuilding season will take its toll on the Panthers.

    One of those considerations is the move to the ACC that takes effect this fall. While the strength of schedule remains almost identical, facing a slew of new opponents is not going to work out well.

    Pitt grew up in the Big East, and the Panthers are accustomed to the ways of that conference. Even with great coaching, Pitt will have an adjustment period before becoming extremely successful.

    On the bright side, a bowl bid is still more than likely, so things aren't all that bad in Pittsburgh.

66. SMU Mustangs

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    2012 SoS: No. 74

    2012 Final Rank: No. 56

    2013 SoS: No. 54

    Returning Starters: nine (with quarterback)

    Southern Methodist is another program entering a new conference in 2013. The Mustangs are joining the AAC this fall, and that will pose a problem for them as far as planning goes.

    Again, adjusting to a new conference isn't easy, even if everything on your end is geared for it. You are facing more than half-a-dozen opponents that you have rarely (at best) seen before.

    On top of that issue, SMU is missing 12 starters from last season. The Mustangs will falter a bit for the next couple of seasons before legitimately contending for conference or national recognition.

65. Minnesota Golden Gophers

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    2012 SoS: No. 54

    2012 Final Rank: No. 66

    2013 SoS: No. 53

    Returning Starters: 16 (with quarterback)

    Minnesota has almost the same schedule as it had last season, and it brings back 16 starters and a familiar face under center. The Golden Gophers are heading for another likely finish in the postseason.

    Most of the games they lost last season were decisive victories by the opponent, so a six-win season is probable. If they get a more winnable bowl pairing, there will be at least an improvement in the win column.

64. San Diego State Aztecs

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    2012 SoS: No. 107

    2012 Final Rank: No. 64

    2013 SoS: No. 75

    Returning Starters: 16 (no quarterback)

    San Diego State faces a much tougher schedule in 2013 as opposed to its 107th-ranked slate in 2012. The Aztecs were manhandled by BYU's Kyle Van Noy in the Poinsettia Bowl, but they were holding their own before he went into beast mode.

    At their best, the Aztecs are among the top teams in the country. At their worst, they are capable of posting a 28-9 loss to the Air Force Falcons. (Air Force has a run-based offense, so there is an asterisk beside that lopsided score.)

    San Diego State will have little trouble performing at the same level it did last season, so a finish right around the same total ranking is likely. However, that ranking will probably include an extra loss or two, given the schedule difficulty.

63. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

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    2012 SoS: No. 116

    2012 Final Rank: No. 61

    2013 SoS: No. 121

    Returning Starters: 13 (with quarterback)

    Louisiana has every reason to go ahead and sell bowl tickets for the 2013 postseason. The Ragin' Cajuns have been in back-to-back bowl lineups (2011 and 2012), and they return their top-notch quarterback, Terrance Broadway.

    He will lead Louisiana to another six-plus-win season before he graduates, and this will be another solid year for the Ragin' Cajuns.

62. Iowa State Cyclones

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    2012 SoS: No. 11

    2012 Final Rank: No. 54

    2013 SoS: No. 6

    Returning Starters: nine (no quarterback)

    Iowa State is facing one of the worst situations in college football: 12 missing starters and the sixth-hardest schedule in the FBS. That puts the Cyclones in a terrible situation, although a down year for the Big 12 could still help them back into a bowl.

    Iowa State isn't going to win the conference title, unless there was a miracle squad riding the bench just waiting for the starters to leave. (If that's the case, then the head coach should probably be let go.)

    One of the hardest schedules in the country with the second-fewest number of returning starters is simply a losing equation. You can crunch numbers all day long and seven wins is about the best you'll come up with for the Cyclones.

    Of course, if one of those wins is over a Top Five team, then this could be just as good of a year as 2011 was.

61. West Virginia Mountaineers

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    2012 SoS: No. 29

    2012 Final Rank: No. 47

    2013 SoS: No. 44

    Returning Starters: nine (no quarterback)

    West Virginia is in the exact same boat as Iowa State as far as its starting lineup is concerned. The only advantage the Mountaineers have over the Cyclones is strength of schedule.

    First, its straight-up easier than Iowa State's. Second, the Mountaineers have an easier schedule than last season. Those two factors hedge the personnel losses, but they don't make up for them completely.

60. Indiana Hoosiers

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    2012 SoS: No. 56

    2012 Final Rank: No. 73

    2013 SoS: No. 38

    Returning Starters: 19 (with quarterback)

    Indiana has a ton of returning starters and a host of other things working for it. The main point is a returning starter at quarterback who was injured for much of last season. This means the Hoosiers could win eight games (instead of losing that many) before December.

    Unfortunately, with the advent of Devin Gardner (Michigan's quarterback) and Braxton Miller (Ohio State's signal-caller), they still don't look good to win the Big Ten. However, that doesn't mean Indiana can't finally make a statement on something other than a hardwood court this winter.

59. Syracuse Orange

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    2012 SoS: No. 45

    2012 Final Rank: No. 37

    2013 SoS: No. 46

    Returning Starters: 13 (no quarterback)

    Syracuse lost Shamarko Thomas (SS), Ryan Nassib (QB) and Justin Pugh (OT) to the NFL draft, and those players are going to be difficult to replace, particularly Nassib and Pugh. Both were instrumental to the Orange's offensive success last season.

    The good news for 'Cuse fans is that the schedule is almost identically as difficult as the 2012 version. The bad news is that Nassib won't be there to rip opposing defenses to shreds. At least a Top 60 finish indicates a probable bowl appearance.

58. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

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    2012 SoS: No. 44

    2012 Final Rank: No. 45

    2013 SoS: No. 41

    Returning Starters: 16 (no quarterback)

    Georgia Tech finished the season with a big win over the USC Trojans. That's a win that can motivate the Yellow Jackets to real success, such as an ACC title, in 2013.

    Unfortunately, the rest of the ACC is bristling in anticipation of a depleted Florida State squad. The ACC is so wide open heading into the fall that every team is going to bring the best it has every single week.

    Even if each team slacks off for a game or two, Georgia Tech's win over USC has put a huge target on its back. That's a bad position to be in when replacing a starting quarterback.

57. Arkansas State Red Wolves

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    2012 SoS: No. 97

    2012 Final Rank: No. 49

    2013 SoS: No. 112

    Returning Starters: 12 (no quarterback)

    Arkansas State is still bringing the skill that it learned under head coach Hugh Freeze. (That success was sustained by Gus Malzahn, who is now at Auburn.) Now, the man in charge of things is Bryan Harsin.

    Harsin was the offensive coordinator (and quarterbacks coach) at Boise State for five years before spending the past two as the offensive coordinator for the Texas Longhorns. This means he was the OC at Boise when the Broncos took down the mighty Oklahoma Sooners in one of the greatest upsets of the BCS era.

    The only thing playing against Arkansas State is the loss of 10 of 22 starters, including a quarterback. That's enough to push the Red Wolves from 49th overall to 57th. The Sun Belt is an unyielding conference, and rebuilding will cost them.

56. Ball State Cardinals

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    2012 SoS: No. 73

    2012 Final Rank: No. 65

    2013 SoS: No. 116

    Returning Starters: 14 (with quarterback)

    Ball State is heading into a cakewalk of a season compared to last year's relative gauntlet. With nearly the easiest schedule in the country and a returning starter at quarterback, the Cardinals are going to have a great run this fall.

    They are going to be in the bowl season this time around, and the spot is theirs to lose. Look out for Ball State. They were overlooked last season, and look what happened.

55. Arkansas Razorbacks

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    2012 SoS: No. 9

    2012 Final Rank: No. 63

    2013 SoS: No. 5

    Returning Starters: 11 (no quarterback)

    Arkansas has a new head coach, and the Razorbacks can expect a big improvement in every aspect of the game except 10: the positions vacated by the non-returning starters. The difference between the 2012 Hogs and the 2011 edition was head coach Bobby Petrino.

    Now that Bret Bielema has stepped in, Arkansas will get more fundamentally sound immediately. However, replacing a star quarterback like Tyler Wilson is nearly impossible in one set of spring and fall practices.

    Look for Arkansas to marginally improve, but that fifth-toughest schedule in the nation is going to bite the Razorbacks hard.

54. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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    2012 SoS: No. 72

    2012 Final Rank: No. 52

    2013 SoS: No. 85

    Returning Starters: 10 (with quarterback)

    Rutgers is missing Jawan Jamison...and 11 other starters from the 2012 depth chart. The Scarlet Knights are playing their final season in the AAC, and the Big Ten is going to be even more difficult. The 2013 season is going to bring the last practically guaranteed bowl berth for a while.

    They are going to have to earn it, though. Fresno State and Arkansas (out for some serious revenge) are the two major nonconference opponents, and the conference foes aren't going to be much easier to beat.

53. Toledo Rockets

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    2012 SoS: No. 91

    2012 Final Rank: No. 67

    2013 SoS: No. 80

    Returning Starters: 13 (with quarterback)

    Toledo has more than half of its team coming back for more in 2013, and quarterback Terrance Owens is part of that crowd. The Rockets will be in the mix for the Mid-American Conference title again this fall, but the tougher schedule may get the better of them.

    While they are bringing back more than half of the squad, there are a noticeable nine players missing. It may be a tall order, but Owens will keep his interceptions under better control in 2013, and that will translate to more wins.


52. UCF Knights

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    2012 SoS: No. 90

    2012 Final Rank: No. 44

    2013 SoS: No. 88

    Returning Starters: 11 (with quarterback)

    Central Florida has one major asset this fall: Blake Bortles. The quarterback went 251-of-399 for 3,059 yards, 25 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in 2012. Those stats aren't necessarily NFL quality, considering his C-USA opposition, but they are more than good enough to lead the Knights to victory this fall.

    However, he does need more than just his own skill to produce a winning season, especially in a new conference. What he had was good enough to predict a winning season in the old conference, but the AAC is a different animal entirely.

    Look for something around 6-6 for the UCF Knights at the end of the year. It will be good enough for a bowl game because they are in one of the power conferences, but don't expect an Orange Bowl appearance.

51. Tennessee Volunteers

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    2012 SoS: No. 25

    2012 Final Rank: No. 55

    2013 SoS: No. 19

    Returning Starters: 13 (no quarterback)

    Tennessee has a bright future with head coach Butch Jones (formerly of the Cincinnati Bearcats), but the Volunteers are still going to have to replace quarterback Tyler Bray. Facing Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama every single year can take its toll, especially if you can't keep a coaching staff (or keep subordinates around too long).

    The Volunteers face a tougher schedule than 2012's this fall, but Jones will have his defense playing much more rigid defense. No, the Vols aren't going to win the SEC in his first season, but expect improvement.

    After all, Bray couldn't score enough points to get wins, even with one of the country's best arms. All the Vols ever needed was a defense that could keep opponents out of the end zone. If that happens, the offense won't need to score like Bray could just to win.

50. Washington Huskies

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    2012 SoS: No. 34

    2012 Final Rank: No. 51

    2013 SoS: No. 50

    Returning Starters: 17 (with quarterback)

    Washington has Keith Price at quarterback again. Many teams across the nation would love to have a signal-caller like him (about half of the Big 12, for instance). Price isn't the only major factor returning on offense.

    Austin Seferian-Jenkins returns at tight end, and he'll contend with guys like Colt Lyerla for the John Mackey Award (best tight end). He helped the Huskies take down the mighty Stanford Cardinal last season, and the Pac-12 had better have taken notice.

    If not, the Huskies will gladly take revenge on Boise State in the season opener and clear another path to the postseason. It's too bad that Washington isn't yet ready to consistently win over teams like Stanford.

    It would be nice to have seen them in another BCS bowl before the end of the era.

49. Kent State Golden Flashes

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    2012 SoS: No. 106

    2012 Final Rank: No. 59

    2013 SoS: No. 79

    Returning Starters: 11 (no quarterback)

    Running backs Dri Archer and Trayion Durham are coming back to lead the Kent State ground attack again in 2013, and they are huge assets to the Golden Flashes. They combined for 2,745 yards and 30 touchdowns last season.

    That's more than enough to take the bite out of losing a starting quarterback. Kent State will see more success in 2013 than in 2012, and that's saying something.

48. Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    2012 SoS: No. 49

    2012 Final Rank: No. 41

    2013 SoS: No. 33

    Returning Starters: 13 (with quarterback)

    Tyler Russell is coming back in 2013, and he'll hopefully have elevated his game a bit. Against Northwestern's underrated defense in the 2012 postseason, he tossed four interceptions that cost the Bulldogs the game.

    With Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay missing from the top of the defensive depth chart, Mississippi State is going to have a terrible time trying to keep up with SEC offenses. The adjustment period alone will keep the Bulldogs from being more than an upper-middle-class team in the conference.

47. East Carolina Pirates

80 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 110

    2012 Final Rank: No. 80

    2013 SoS: No. 96

    Returning Starters: 15 (with quarterback)

    Ruffin McNeill has been steadily improving the East Carolina Pirates since he took over, and 2013 will be more of the same. He's got 15 returning starters, including his signal-caller.

    The Pirates have a more difficult schedule this season, but it's definitely beatable with McNeill's coaching and Shane Carden's passing. Carden completed 273 of his 413 pass attempts for 3,116 yards, 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last year.

    If he can keep his interceptions in check, the Pirates will jump up the final power rankings considerably compared to 2012.

46. Cincinnati Bearcats

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    2012 SoS: No. 80

    2012 Final Rank: No. 35

    2013 SoS: No. 101

    Returning Starters: 14 (with quarterback)

    Cincinnati is under new head coach Tommy Tuberville this fall, and the Bearcats will be hoping that he can institute his style of defense quickly. If so, then the offense is more than capable of getting Cincy at least a share of the AAC title.

    Based on last season's stats, Brendon Kay should be starting. However, Kay has a shoulder injury the coaches will obviously let heal before he takes the field.

    Whether it's Kay or Munchie Legaux under center in Week 1, the 'Cats should be able to knock down a depleted Purdue squad.

45. Arizona Wildcats

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    2012 SoS: No. 32

    2012 Final Rank: No. 43

    2013 SoS: No. 52

    Returning Starters: 17 (no quarterback)

    Arizona has to replace Matt Scott, which will be tough, but he wasn't exactly NFL-ready, either. Scott went 301-of-499 for 3,620 yards, 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. While he will not be immediately replaced, expect turnovers to be the main coaching area for the new guy.

    If the team can figure out how to call relatively safe but aggressive plays, Arizona is in place to crack into the postseason. Of course, that balance between safe and aggressive is basically the Holy Grail of college football.

    Everyone wants it, but nobody knows exactly where it is until they've gone too far in one direction or the other.

44. Ohio Bobcats

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    2012 SoS: No. 124

    2012 Final Rank: No. 72

    2013 SoS: No. 122

    Returning Starters: 11 (with quarterback)

    Ohio is one of the few programs on the list to have lost a lot of personnel yet still be projected to finish strong. Even the coaches poll has it tied for 40th (with San Jose State) in the "others receiving votes" section.

    Ohio brings back Tyler Tettleton under center and Beau Blankenship at tailback. Tettleton went 228-of-367 for 2,844 yards, 18 touchdowns and four interceptions last season. Blankenship racked up 312 carries for 1,604 yards and 15 scores at the same time.

    These two will be the crux of the entire Bobcats offense in 2013, and that will put Ohio solidly in the Top 50 before season's end.

43. San Jose State Spartans

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    2012 SoS: No. 86

    2012 Final Rank: No. 29

    2013 SoS: No. 81

    Returning Starters: 13 (with quarterback)

    David Fales completed 327 of his 451 pass attempts in 2012 for a total of 4,193 yards, 33 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. His skills nearly carried the Spartans over the Stanford Cardinal in the season opener.

    Unfortunately, San Jose State is missing a large number of starters. This will almost guarantee another loss to Stanford, and it will make the games against Minnesota and Utah State a little more questionable than they may have been last season.

    On the bright side, something horrible would have to happen to the Spartans to keep them out of the postseason.

42. Tulsa Golden Hurricane

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    2012 SoS: No. 84

    2012 Final Rank: No. 46

    2013 SoS: No. 73

    Returning Starters: 10 (with quarterback)

    The good news for Tulsa is that Cody Green (QB) and Trey Watts (RB) are returning from the 2012 C-USA championship team. The better news is that they are the mainstays on offense.

    With an offense that's still built around those two, Tulsa is looking good for this coming season. A slightly harder schedule poses a problem and so does the loss of personnel. However, Tulsa is more than good enough to overcome those issues.

    None of the missing players was selected in the 2013 draft, so the lack of experience is the main concern there. Lack of talent is not an issue for the reigning champions, though.

    Look for Tulsa to have a season just as good as last year, if not a little bit better.

41. Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    2012 SoS: No. 36

    2012 Final Rank: No. 36

    2013 SoS: No. 30

    Returning Starters: 13 (no quarterback)

    Texas Tech is replacing former quarterback Seth Doege with...someone. Michael Brewer was expected to start, but he injured his back during the summer. The decision is now going to be made at game time in Week 1.

    This is a major hit to the Red Raiders' hopes for the coming season. While Brewer was a solid option under center, the other two competitors for his job (Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield) are true freshmen.

    This lack of experience is going to put the Red Raiders in a bind this fall. Don't expect the same level of success they had last season, but don't look for them at the bottom of the heap, either.

40. UNC Tar Heels

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    2012 SoS: No. 77

    2012 Final Rank: No. 42

    2013 SoS: No. 42

    Returning Starters: 15 (with quarterback)

    UNC has Bryn Renner at the helm again, and he's the trump card that has the Tar Heels ranked so highly here. His main offensive lineman, Jonathan Cooper, is gone, but that's just one NFL-quality player missing from his pass-protection group.

    The other major obstacle for UNC to overcome is the loss of Giovani Bernard. That looks like a daunting task, but it's easier than some might think. Renner will spread the ball around nicely this fall, which will open up the running game.

    Will the new tailback (Romar Morris) be as good as Bernard? Unlikely, but Morris doesn't have to be that good. He just has to take care of the ball, not turn it over and find the first-down marker consistently.

    The Tar Heels are eligible for the postseason this time around. Don't expect them to miss out on it.

39. Utah State Aggies

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    2012 SoS: No. 96

    2012 Final Rank: No. 19

    2013 SoS: No. 93

    Returning Starters: 15 (with quarterback)

    Utah State brings back the controlling majority of its starting line up from 2012, but the Aggies will have a tough time against their slate of opponents. USC, San Jose State, BYU and Boise State come in four straight weeks.

    That kind of gauntlet takes its toll on a team, even one as good as Utah State. The Aggies will finish outside the Top 25 this time around, but they will be in a bowl for sure.

38. BYU Cougars

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    2012 SoS: No. 63

    2012 Final Rank: No. 26

    2013 SoS: No. 49

    Returning Starters: 14 (no quarterback)

    BYU is a tough call. On one hand, the Cougars have Kyle Van Noy coming back, and he can win a game all by himself if he needs to. Unfortunately, the Cougars are also facing tougher competition this season.

    Moving from a 64th ranking to 49th may not seem like that big of a jump, but look at the 2012 and 2013 schedules side-by-side:

    Washington StateVirginia(harder)
    Weber StateTexas(harder)
    Boise StateMiddle Tennessee(easier)
    HawaiiUtah State(harder)
    Utah StateGeorgia Tech 
    Oregon StateHouston(easier)
    Notre DameBoise State 
    Georgia TechWisconsin(harder)
    IdahoIdaho State 
    San Jose StateNotre Dame(harder)
    New Mexico StateNevada(harder)

    Six of the Cougars' games are harder, two are easier, and the other four are roughly the same difficulty as last season. Plus, that Texas game is a lot tougher than 2012 indicated, especially if the Longhorns are fully healthy at kickoff.

    BYU will make the postseason, but it will be a much more difficult journey this time around.

37. Vanderbilt Commodores

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    2012 SoS: No. 42

    2012 Final Rank: No. 25

    2013 SoS: No. 39

    Returning Starters: 13 (no quarterback)

    Vanderbilt is missing two major components from the 2012 lineup: Zac Stacy (RB) and Jordan Rodgers (QB). The Commodores are in uncharted territory as far as success is concerned, and that's all thanks to head coach James Franklin.

    Franklin will have his boys ready to play this fall, just like in every other season he's coached. However, to expect the same level of success with the two biggest playmakers gone would be folly.

    The only marquee skill player coming back is Jordan Matthews, but there's only so much a wide receiver can do to help a team. The quarterback still has to put the ball where it needs to go.

36. Northern Illinois Huskies

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    2012 SoS: No. 118

    2012 Final Rank: No. 38

    2013 SoS: No. 124

    Returning Starters: 12 (with quarterback)

    Yes, Northern Illinois is missing 10 players. Yes, the Huskies were beaten badly in the fourth quarter of the 2013 Orange Bowl. Yes, they are returning one of the most devastating not-so-secret weapons in major college football: Jordan Lynch.

    Lynch racked up 3,138 passing yards, 25 aerial touchdowns, six interceptions, 1,815 rushing yards and 19 rushing scores last season. That was good enough to make NIU the first MAC team to crash the BCS, and the Huskies were also the first one-loss non-major squad to accomplish that.

    There are some players who can change the face of a team just by stepping onto the field. Lynch is one of them. With that and the easier schedule, look for the Huskies to possibly crash the BCS again, even with the results from last season fresh in everyone's mind.

35. Ole Miss Rebels

92 of 126

    2012 SoS: No. 18

    2012 Final Rank: No. 24

    2013 SoS: No. 34

    Returning Starters: 18 (with quarterback)

    Based on his improvements at Arkansas State, it would not be incredibly wrong to predict an SEC title for Hugh Freeze in 2013. However, you shouldn't compare the two conferences or teams head-to-head; it's apples and Orange Bowls.

    The fact is, Freeze took a 2-10 Ole Miss squad to a 7-6 record in 2012, and that's an excellent improvement. The Rebels are dark-horse candidates to join some of the best FBS teams with nine wins this season, but that's mostly wishful thinking.

    The easier schedule, the loaded depth chart and the fifth-ranked 2013 recruiting class are fueling some predictions for a shot at the SEC crown. Those are interesting predictions, but a mid-range finish in the top quarter of the FBS is more fitting.

    Besides, that will be plenty of success for Freeze to maintain his position as the unquestioned leader of the Rebels.

34. Missouri Tigers

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    2012 SoS: No. 1

    2012 Final Rank: No. 39

    2013 SoS: No. 11

    Returning Starters: 12 (with quarterback)

    Missouri is facing an easier schedule in 2013 than it had in 2012. That's a lot to stomach, considering the Tigers face the 11th-hardest slate in the country.

    The 2012 season didn't tell the true story of the Missouri Tigers, though, as they spent a lot of the year piecing together a starting lineup that was riddled with injury. This season, all players will enter healthy, and they'll have plenty of SEC experience (and game tape) to draw on for scheming.

    The Tigers won't have a meteoric rise to the top of the SEC, but they will solidify themselves as future contenders in the conference.

33. Fresno State Bulldogs

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    2012 SoS: No. 111

    2012 Final Rank: No. 57

    2013 SoS: No. 107

    Returning Starters: 13 (with quarterback)

    Fresno State has Derek Carr. Enough said. No, seriously, Carr went 344-of-511 for 4,104 yards, 37 touchdowns and just seven interceptions last year. Carr is a beast under center, and he could carry a completely fresh offense with no other returning starters to a potential Mountain West title.

    However, he doesn't have to do that. He has 12 other starters (both sides combined) returning to gun for the postseason. It's a no-brainer that the Bulldogs will get a bowl invitation, but the MWC is still tough with Boise State's defense and San Jose State's offense posing the most obvious threats.

    San Diego State and Nevada are competent competitors as well, and opening the season against Rutgers isn't going to be a picnic, either. Overall, the Bulldogs will still jump up 20-plus spots in the rankings.

    The strength of schedule, combined with the wins, will accomplish this.

32. Kansas State Wildcats

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    2012 SoS: No. 14

    2012 Final Rank: No. 8

    2013 SoS: No. 25

    Returning Starters: eight (no quarterback)

    Kansas State's overall ranking is going to take a major hit in 2013. A team can't lose a Heisman finalist from under center and expect to carry on with business as usual. Ty Zimmerman will provide some much-needed experience on the defensive side of the ball, but there are still 14 missing starters from the 2012 depth chart.

    Kansas State is rebuilding, much like most of the Big 12 conference. The strength of schedule gets easier for the Wildcats in '13, but not my much. The bottom line is that even Bill Snyder can't perform actual miracles; he's just an exceptionally good coach.

    Even great coaches have rebuilding years, and this fall is Kansas State's turn.

31. Penn State Nittany Lions

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    2012 SoS: No. 58

    2012 Final Rank: No. 30

    2013 SoS: No. 51

    Returning Starters: 13 (no quarterback)

    Penn State's quarterback situation isn't as dire as it might seem. Sure, Matt McGloin is gone, but his replacement will be stout. Whether it's true freshman Christian Hackenberg or JUCO transfer Tyler Ferguson, the Nittany Lions will have a viable signal-caller in Week 1.

    Ferguson has the collegiate experience to lead the team, even if it isn't in the FBS. If Hackenberg beats him for the job, that simply means he's even better.

    Penn State did much better than expected last season, and Bill O'Brien made a statement with that performance. Sanctions or not, Penn State is not to be trifled with. That goes for 2013, too.

30. Virginia Tech Hokies

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    2012 SoS: No. 47

    2012 Final Rank: No. 53

    2013 SoS: No. 59

    Returning Starters: 13 (with quarterback)

    Virginia Tech's success will depend on whether Logan Thomas shows up with his A-game. If Thomas comes out this fall like he did in 2011, then Virginia Tech could end up even higher then 31st overall.

    The most likely result of this season is that Thomas plays somewhere in between his last two performances. No ACC title for the Hokies but definitely a postseason appearance.

29. Baylor Bears

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    2012 SoS: No. 7

    2012 Final Rank: No. 18

    2013 SoS: No. 22

    Returning Starters: 13 (no quarterback)

    Baylor is replacing yet another quarterback in 2013. This will be the third face under center in three years. The good news for Bears fans is that the coaching staff has proven itself trustworthy.

    Baylor returns star running back (and potential Heisman winner) Lache Seastrunk to the fold again this fall, and he'll take a lot of the pressure off the signal-caller. The bigger question is whether the Bears will have wide receivers to balance the equation.

    Baylor has just as good a shot at the conference title as almost anyone else in the Big 12, and it'll end the season around the Top 25. (These predictions are for final overall power rankings. Even a Top 25 team can grade out at less than 25th.)

28. Michigan State Spartans

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    2012 SoS: No. 26

    2012 Final Rank: No. 34

    2013 SoS: No. 61

    Returning Starters: 15 (with quarterback)

    Michigan State finally returns a quarterback. Things haven't been the same since Kirk Cousins left, but he was a well-above-average field general.

    This season, Michigan State will start to really turn things around. The Spartans were just a few unlucky bounces away from winning a total of 12 games last year, and the added experience of one more offseason will help Sparty over the hump.

    Michigan State may not be a popular pick for the Big Ten title, but the Spartans are certainly worthy of that level of respect, even without Le'Veon Bell.

27. USC Trojans

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    2012 SoS: No. 17

    2012 Final Rank: No. 33

    2013 SoS: No. 35

    Returning Starters: 15 (no quarterback)

    USC's quarterback battle is still not over, and the Trojans' candidate for the Biletnikoff Award would certainly love to start working on timing with whichever gunner he'll be working with this season.

    Despite the indecision under center, which is likely to be blown out of proportion since a lot of the teams on this list don't have starters named yet, USC is in a special situation. In 2012, the Trojans were extremely disappointing, even when superstar Matt Barkley was making the throws.

    Without solid leadership from the coaching staff, this team is not going to grow in unison. Without camaraderie, the offense will not be nearly as good as it is on paper. Hopefully, the defense can make up the difference.

    There are a lot of top-notch recruits lining up on that side of the ball. If they play to their potential early, USC will be a legit contender for the Pac-12 title.

26. Oregon State Beavers

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    2012 SoS: No. 13

    2012 Final Rank: No. 15

    2013 SoS: No. 37

    Returning Starters: 15 (with quarterback)

    Oregon State has a ton of assets this year. Storm Woods will anchor the rushing attack, and both Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz are equally capable of holding down the quarterback position. Scott Crichton will take control of the defensive line again, and things will run smoothly.

    On the other hand, cornerback Jordan Poyer is in the NFL. He was one of the best corners in the game last year, even if his draft position doesn't prove it. He will not be easy to replace, and in the pass-happy Pac-12, that gap alone will push Oregon State lower in the final rankings.

    The Beavers can still make the AP Top 25 (and they probably will), but the overall power rankings will have them just outside that group.

25. Wisconsin Badgers

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    2012 SoS: No. 30

    2012 Final Rank: No. 23

    2013 SoS: No. 69

    Returning Starters: 15 (with quarterback)

    Wisconsin is the first team on the list that's projected to finish in the weighted Top 25. The Badgers return 15 starters, including the quarterback who led them to the Big Ten title last season.

    Their schedule gets slightly more difficult in 2013, but it's nothing to worry about. Even with Montee Ball gone, Wisconsin stands to improve in 2013. Utah State's Gary Andersen is at the helm now, and he brings a lot of immediate hope to the table.

    Andersen led Utah State to a No. 14 national ranking in total defense last season. Mind you, that was without anything near the talent pool he's got to work with now.

    The Badgers aren't going to grow into a national championship-caliber program overnight, but adding a stout defense to what Wisconsin already has is definitely a recipe for a whole stack of wins at the end of the season.

24. Northwestern Wildcats

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    2012 SoS: No. 50

    2012 Final Rank: No. 21

    2013 SoS: No. 45

    Returning Starters: 15 (with quarterback)

    The Northwestern Wildcats saw some serious success last season, including a total of 10 wins and one of the few bowl wins over an SEC team. (Clemson and Louisville beat LSU and Florida, respectively, for the other two.)

    The Wildcats will enter 2013 with at least the same win total as the major goal. A Big Ten title is also a natural target, but winning 10 games is still slightly easier than knocking off every one of the Big Ten's top teams, especially with the schedule.

    Ohio State and Wisconsin are sandwiched together, and Nebraska, Michigan and Michigan State are listed in a three-week stretch less than a month after the Badgers game is over.

    Northwestern's schedule strength is a little misleading, because piling the ranked teams up like that is much tougher than having a little reprieve between each of them. Fortunately for their fans, the Wildcats bring Venric Mark and 14 other starters back for the challenge.

23. Arizona State Sun Devils

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    2012 SoS: No. 52

    2012 Final Rank: No. 28

    2013 SoS: No. 31

    Returning Starters: 14 (with quarterback)

    Arizona State has 14 starters returning, including a monster named Will Sutton. He compiled 63 tackles (40 solo), 23.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, five pass breakups, one quarterback hurry and three forced fumbles last season.

    He was a one-man show at defensive end, and he'll be that again in 2013. The Sun Devils have six ranked teams on their docket this coming season, and some of the more beatable teams appear early on.

    Hopefully, the Devils can score some wins over teams like Wisconsin, USC and Notre Dame before they are dropped from the Top 25. This will help ASU get into the Top 25, and the Sun Devils are good enough to stay there if they get in early.

22. UCLA Bruins

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    2012 SoS: No. 33

    2012 Final Rank: No. 31

    2013 SoS: No. 21

    Returning Starters: 13 (with quarterback)

    Just like last season, the Arizona State vs. UCLA game is going to be a good one. (UCLA won the 2012 meeting 45-43.) Brett Hundley returns under center for the Bruins, but he will no longer be a freshman.

    His experience, combined with linebacker Anthony Barr's crucial return for one more season, will lead UCLA to even greater heights than in 2012. Granted, the Bruins did make it to the Pac-12 title game, so don't mistake this for a Rose Bowl prediction.

    UCLA will win more games, or at least look better in losses this season (back-to-back road games against Stanford and Oregon are simply not going to be pretty), and the final adjusted rankings will have it comfortably inside the Top 25.

21. Boise State Broncos

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    2012 SoS: No. 113

    2012 Final Rank: No. 40

    2013 SoS: No. 91

    Returning Starters: 13 (with quarterback)

    Boise State is a perennial contender to bust the BCS party at the end of the season. That's probably the saddest part of the looming playoff system (unless developments arise that are worse): There is no AQ/non-AQ designation, so the BCS buster will be no more.

    The Broncos still have a need at quarterback, even though Joe Southwick is a returning starter. He needs to break out and have an incredible year in order to break into the Top 10.

    Last season, he had an excellent completion percentage (66.8), and his touchdown-to-interception ratio was serviceable (19-to-7). If he can use that accuracy to gain more than 4,000 yards, then Boise can blow this prediction right out of the water.

    Unfortunately, there is little reason to believe that he'll outshine guys like Jordan Lynch (Northern Illinois) and Derek Carr (Fresno State). This may not be Boise's year for a MWC title at all, but 10 wins are still likely.

20. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    2012 SoS: No. 20

    2012 Final Rank: No. 22

    2013 SoS: No. 66

    Returning Starters: 13 (with quarterback)

    Taylor Martinez is coming back to try to throw down another Big Ten title-contending season. He landed in the conference championship game last year, but the rematch against Wisconsin did not end well for the 'Huskers.

    Martinez went 228-of-368 for 2,871 yards, 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season. While that looks OK on the surface, what made him truly great was his dual-threat status. He added 1,019 rushing yards for 10 more scores.

    When you evaluate the combined 33-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio, his hype makes a lot more sense. Martinez and Ameer Abdullah will come back to give Nebraska one of the premier ground attacks in the country.

    With an easier schedule to go with that talent, expect Nebraska well inside the Top 25 at the end of the season.

19. Michigan Wolverines

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    2012 SoS: No. 24

    2012 Final Rank: No. 20

    2013 SoS: No. 29

    Returning Starters: 12 (no quarterback)

    Michigan's quarterback situation is much better in 2013 than it was last season, especially if Devin Gardner shows up at opening kickoff looking like he did in the spring game.

    Gardner could be the missing link that makes the difference between a would-be finish in the Top 25 and an actual one. Michigan's defense seems to be its constraint right now, but to what degree won't be known until kickoff.

18. Oklahoma Sooners

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    2012 SoS: No. 5

    2012 Final Rank: No. 12

    2013 SoS: No. 2

    Returning Starters: 11 (no quarterback)

    Oklahoma is replacing its starting quarterback and is facing the second-hardest schedule in the country. The great equalizer for the Sooners is that a large portion of the Big 12 is also fresh under center.

    If everyone has the same disadvantage, it ceases to be a disadvantage. That means that recruiting, development and experience are going to be the deciding factors in a lot of the upcoming games.

    Look for Bob Stoops to have his squad right near the top of the pecking order again. A loss or two will keep the Sooners out of the BCS picture, but the Top 25 is always on the table when it comes to Oklahoma.

17. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    2012 SoS: No. 21

    2012 Final Rank: No. 5

    2013 SoS: No. 13

    Returning Starters: 13 (no quarterback)

    Notre Dame isn't completely without an experienced quarterback. Last year's starter, Everett Golson, will miss the entire 2013 football season, but Tommy Rees will be back to lead the Irish in his stead.

    Don't mistake Notre Dame's No. 17 ranking for a lack of talent. Brian Kelly is working wonders at Notre Dame, and there is plenty to work with in South Bend. However, there are key losses on offense, defense and mainly at quarterback.

    This team is not only different from the 2012 edition, but it's different from the expected 2013 squad as well. However, to think that Notre Dame is going to finish completely outside the Top 25 is a little ridiculous, especially with no on-field evidence to the contrary.

16. Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    2012 SoS: No. 28

    2012 Final Rank: No. 17

    2013 SoS: No. 32

    Returning Starters: 14 (with quarterback)

    Oklahoma State returns a valuable bunch of starters, including Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh. Both are reliable quarterbacks with the ability to win games. As such, Mike Gundy has already said, via ESPN.com, that he "[doesn't] think either one of them will be a backup in the first game."

    This means that Mississippi State will have an incredibly difficult time planning against the Cowboys. Both quarterbacks have similar experience, but they also have different styles. Walsh is the runner, and a mobile quarterback can give teams fits if they aren't properly prepared.

    Of course, a passing quarterback will flip the tables if the opposition figures out how to stop the runner. Oklahoma State has a lot going for it, and it's one of the few Big 12 teams not breaking in a new signal-caller.

    This will translate to a Top 25 finish for the Cowboys.

15. TCU Horned Frogs

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    2012 SoS: No. 16

    2012 Final Rank: No. 32

    2013 SoS: No. 17

    Returning Starters: 15 (with quarterback)

    TCU is practically a mirror image of the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The Horned Frogs return two viable quarterbacks in Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin, and they bring back more than a dozen other faces to round out the depth chart.

    Players like Jason Verrett and Devonte Fields will vault TCU to the top of the Big 12's defensive charts, and the Frogs are good candidates for the conference title. TCU was a good addition to the Big 12, and 2013 will yield even better results than 2012.

14. Florida State Seminoles

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    2012 SoS: No. 66

    2012 Final Rank: No. 11

    2013 SoS: No. 64

    Returning Starters: 10 (no quarterback)

    Florida State may have lost 11 of its 12 missing players to the NFL draft, but that doesn't mean the Seminoles are lost causes. Quarterback phenom Jameis Winston is going to lead FSU to new heights over the next few seasons, and that process will begin this weekend.

    Florida State's roster decimation needs to be viewed in light of its schedule strength to get a good bead on what it really means. The Seminoles are at the top of their class when it comes to strength in the ACC.

    Yes, most teams in the country would fall hard with 12 absentees from the previous depth chart, but the talent in the ACC isn't comparable to the SEC's depth. The Seminoles had an average final score of 39.3 to 14.7 last season. In their two losses, the average score was 21 to 27.

    Even with the new faces on both sides of the ball, fans should expect a similar season to last year. The three biggest games of 2013 are against the Clemson Tigers, Miami Hurricanes and Florida Gators.

    Florida State will win two of those and finish inside the Top 15 with a solid bowl game as a reward for a rebuilding season.

13. Miami Hurricanes

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    2012 SoS: No. 43

    2012 Final Rank: No. 48

    2013 SoS: No. 60

    Returning Starters: 19 (with quarterback)

    Miami is an underrated squad with a boatload of talent returning to the field in 2013. Stephen Morris (QB) and Duke Johnson (RB) will headline the offensive attack, and it will be too potent for many of Miami's opponents to overcome.

    While it's a little early (we haven't seen the defense yet) to predict a Top 15 finish for Miami, the ingredients are all there. It's really up to Al Golden and the Hurricanes defense to make sure this happens. Miami finished dead last in the ACC in total defense last season, and that can't happen again if the Hurricanes want to be in the ACC title game this season.

    They could have been in it last year, if not for the self-imposed postseason ban. This season, if the Hurricanes are bowl-eligible (seriously, when is the NCAA going to make that call?), they'll have a good shot. Assuming things work out well for Miami, that motivation and the relatively easier schedule will power this roster to greatness.

12. Florida Gators

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    2012 SoS: No. 4

    2012 Final Rank: No. 7

    2013 SoS: No. 1

    Returning Starters: 11 (with quarterback)

    Florida's increased schedule difficulty doesn't really matter one whit. The Gators fought all the way to the Sugar Bowl last season with one of the country's worst passing attacks.

    Even with half the starting lineup gone, Florida's more balanced offense will create many more opportunities than it had last season. However, since a lot of NFL-quality talent did take off this past draft, Florida's final ranking does project to be a little worse.

    Florida fans should always remember that 2012 wasn't supposed to be nearly as good as it was. That situation could repeat itself just as easily this fall.

11. Louisville Cardinals

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    2012 SoS: No. 70

    2012 Final Rank: No. 27

    2013 SoS: No. 98

    Returning Starters: 15 (with quarterback)

    Louisville's strength of schedule will be the biggest reason the Cardinals end up comfortably inside the Top 25 on power rankings. If the ball bounces just right for the Cardinals, this ranking could easily be equivalent to a Top 5 finish in the BCS rankings.

    With one of the easiest schedules in the AQ ranks, though, Louisville will be hard-pressed to crack the Top 10 for Sagarin's list. Of course, they give the trophies to the winners of games, so that shouldn't bother Louisville fans one bit.

    The bottom line is that Hakeem Smith (S) and Teddy Bridgewater (QB) will absolutely wreak havoc on the AAC this season, and it's the Cardinals' conference to lose at this point.

10. LSU Tigers

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    2012 SoS: No. 15

    2012 Final Rank: No. 10

    2013 SoS: No. 16

    Returning Starters: 13 (with quarterback)

    LSU has a coaching staff that's among the best in the country. With Les Miles at head coach and John Chavis at defensive coordinator, Tigers fans can once again bank on having one of the best defenses in the country.

    Offense is where things get a little muddy, but if Zach Mettenberger can harness his inner "how I played against Alabama in 2012," then LSU is a contender for everything including the national title.

    LSU's biggest obstacle is one of the nation's toughest schedules. TCU, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Texas A&M are just its preseason Top 25 opponents. The 2013 season could go either way for the Tigers, but it's a safe bet to have them anchoring the Top 10.

9. Clemson Tigers

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    2012 SoS: No. 61

    2012 Final Rank: No. 14

    2013 SoS: No. 55

    Returning Starters: 13 (with quarterback)

    Fittingly, Clemson comes into the season a hair ahead of the LSU Tigers. Both teams return 13 starters, including their quarterback, and Clemson edged LSU out in the most recent Chick-fil-A Bowl.

    Of course, Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins return to team up on offense and possibly elevate Clemson to the BCS this time around. The ACC schedule is once again winnable but difficult.

    The cross-conference schedule is where it gets a bit sticky. The Tigers open the season against the Georgia Bulldogs (the reigning almost-national champions), and they close against the South Carolina Gamecocks (as usual).

    This gives the Tigers the opportunity to go to the national championship game with an undefeated season. It would almost be inarguable, even with more than two total unbeaten units.

8. Texas A&M Aggies

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    2012 SoS: No. 6

    2012 Final Rank: No. 3

    2013 SoS: No. 28

    Returning Starters: 10 (with quarterback)

    Texas A&M is missing 12 starters from last season, but Jake Matthews (OT), Ben Malena (RB), Mike Evans (WR) and Johnny Manziel (Heisman QB) all return to ensure that the Aggies have the best chance to win anything they want.

    The SEC is not a gentle conference, nor is college football a gentle sport. Whatever is won is taken by force. In that light, Texas A&M has one of the most formidable offenses in the country, though it is decidedly light in the receiver department.

    Texas A&M is on the list of teams to watch for two reasons:

    1. The Aggies could end up as the national champions.

    2. They could completely disappoint and end up limping into the postseason at 6-6.

    Obviously, based on this ranking, the expectations are much higher than just breaking even.

7. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    2012 SoS: No. 23

    2012 Final Rank: No. 6

    2013 SoS: No. 14

    Returning Starters: 12 (with quarterback)

    South Carolina is coming off a great victory over the Michigan Wolverines in the Outback Bowl. While Jadeveon Clowney gets most of the hype for that game, it was a concerted effort by everyone, including backup quarterback Dylan Thompson.

    South Carolina enters the season with a surprisingly difficult game against the UNC Tar Heels, who will be led by rising star Bryn Renner (QB). That game is one of the easiest FBS matches on the Gamecocks' docket this fall.

    South Carolina has more than enough talent at least to make it to the SEC title game. As the year plays out, the 'Cocks may end up with the skill to win that bout.

6. Texas Longhorns

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    2012 SoS: No. 12

    2012 Final Rank: No. 16

    2013 SoS: No. 15

    Returning Starters: 19 (with quarterback)

    This rank is not a result of misplaced faith in Mack Brown. This is a direct result of the number of returning starters leading the Longhorns in 2013. First, let's get a little perspective on what 19 players means to Texas.

    Texas is returning more starters in 2013 than it had healthy starters at the end of 2012. Texas stands to make one of the most impressive resurgences in recent memory, if David Ash comes out of the gate playing like he did against Oregon State in the fourth quarter of the Alamo Bowl.

    The entire game was a triumph for the inexperienced quarterback, and the nation saw him morph into an absolute winner. Now that he's actively learned how to overcome his own self-induced adversity, he is capable of overcoming almost any team in his path.

    If the defense stays healthy as well, then Texas will finally be back in a BCS bowl for the first time since 2009.

5. Georgia Bulldogs

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    2012 SoS: No. 27

    2012 Final Rank: No. 4

    2013 SoS: No. 23

    Returning Starters: 13 (with quarterback)

    Georgia has had two chances (back-to-back) to win the SEC title game, and the Bulldogs have done better on each attempt. While the recent trend indicates they could win the 2013 edition of the game, there is a brutal schedule between now and December.

    The Bulldogs face four preseason Top 25 teams in 2013, and three of those are coming in the first four weeks of the season. Clemson, South Carolina and LSU are all going to be in the rearview mirror on Oct. 1, and Georgia does not have time to waste this season.

    Aaron Murray, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall absolutely have to come out throwing punches immediately. Georgia doesn't have a single guaranteed loss on the slate, but the Dawgs have to play all four quarters of every game.

    If you give Clemson even one extra possession, those Tigers are brutal. Just ask LSU.

4. Stanford Cardinal

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    2012 SoS: No. 22

    2012 Final Rank: No. 9

    2013 SoS: No. 8

    Returning Starters: 15 (with quarterback)

    Stanford has the skill necessary to win every game that happens in 2013, including a potential national title. Naturally, the contrary is true. With stellar showings against USC and Oregon in 2012, the Cardinal fanbase is excited about this fall.

    However, the Washington and Notre Dame games are always in the back of people's minds, too. Stanford has proven itself capable of any result on any given Saturday. Even San Jose State is going to be a rough game again this season.

    Late October to early November is the stretch that could absolutely destroy Stanford's shot at the BCS this year. UCLA, Oregon State, Oregon and USC are facing the Cardinal in four straight weeks.

    After that, there's a trap game against the California Golden Bears before the season finale against Notre Dame. This season is easily one of the most decisive in college football. An undefeated record in December would surely mean a trip to the national title game.

    Stanford had better show up to every quarter of every game. If that happens, there will be at least one shade of red fighting for the crystal football.

3. Oregon Ducks

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    2012 SoS: No. 38

    2012 Final Rank: No. 2

    2013 SoS: No. 58

    Returning Starters: 15 (with quarterback)

    Oregon has a weird pattern with Stanford over the past four years. The Ducks have lost, won, won and then lost against the Cardinal since 2009. In theory, this gives the Ducks a 50-50 chance of beating them in 2013.

    Of course, with Marcus Mariota (QB) and Colt Lyerla (TE) coming back for the Ducks and Stepfan Taylor (RB) missing from the Cardinal's offensive lineup, Oregon's chances are even better. Essentially, the winner of this epic battle will once again be the favorite for nothing short of the Rose Bowl.

    At best, the winner will represent everyone who wants to see the SEC's reign of terror take a break this winter. The Ducks defense is going to be the key to this season, as the offense is more than capable of putting up 60 points per game.

2. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    2012 SoS: No. 60

    2012 Final Rank: No. 13

    2013 SoS: No. 67

    Returning Starters: 13 (with quarterback)

    Ohio State is jointly carrying the anti-SEC banner into the first week of the 2013 season. If any Big Ten team deserves preseason recognition as a potential SEC killer, it's the Buckeyes.

    Urban Meyer built the team from 6-7 in 2011 to 12-0 in 2012 (his first season at the helm). Whether it happens in 2013 or just a few years later, Meyer will establish himself as the SEC's most dangerous foe quickly.

    He's already done it at Florida with the foundation that Steve Spurrier built, and he's following Jim Tressel at the Horseshoe. There is no denying the foundation that Tressel built, even if you don't like him personally.

    Ohio State may have a lot of skeptics heading into the fall, but don't forget that Meyer had this team playing at a level that wasn't supposed to be possible last season. If he can increase production by that amount again, then the Buckeyes would be (on paper) undefeated national champions.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    2012 SoS: No. 19

    2012 Final Rank: No. 1

    2013 SoS: No. 40

    Returning Starters: 13 (with quarterback)

    Alabama is the reigning national champion, and the Tide have won back-to-back titles and three in a four-year span. Yes, there are questions on defense, as the Tide put four players from that side of the ball into the NFL via the 2013 draft.

    However, this is Nick Saban, Alabama and a modern dynasty. It's not that the Tide are unbeatable, because of course they are. However, Saban has been a master of getting his players to ignore hype and focus on their own development.

    Alabama is No. 1 because Saban has made sure it has been there at some point during almost every season since his arrival. AJ McCarron, Cyrus Kouandjio, Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon are just a few of the offensive names fans will see in lights throughout the season, assuming they listen to Saban and adhere to the system.