College Football: One Piece of Advice We Would Give Each Top 25 Coach

Jonathan McDanal@@jdmcdanalContributor IIIMarch 18, 2013

College Football: One Piece of Advice We Would Give Each Top 25 Coach

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    With the 2012 season behind us, the lessons to be learned from the various successes and failures are set in stone.

    College football coaches are constantly getting feedback about how the last season went, because it's all over the Internet. (Whether they choose to read Internet sports articles is another question entirely.)

    Whether it's a specific piece of advice that will help them avoid the pitfalls of last season or a suggestion to help them overcome personnel losses during this offseason, here is one piece of advice we would give each Top 25 coach.

25. Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Nebraska had a great run in 2012 that almost ended in a Big Ten title with a Rose Bowl berth. Unfortunately for the 'Huskers, they fell a couple of points shy in the conference championship game.

    Nebraska is heading into the 2013 season on the short list of potential Big Ten champions. The 'Huskers also finished 2012 ranked No. 35 in total defense and No. 58 in scoring defense.

    Nebraska was either highly successful or woefully inept at stopping the opposition. The lone exception to that rule was the 36-30 loss to UCLA. That was a close game that just happened to fall the Bruins' way.

    One piece of advice: Focus on consistency.

    Nebraska is not a bad team by any stretch of the imagination. If Nebraska can keep games close, then it will have a far better shot at the Rose Bowl in 2013.

    To do that, the 'Huskers have to focus on consistent, strong play. They have all the talent in the world needed to take the Big Ten. They just need to stop spinning out of control when they fall behind.

24. Michigan Wolverines

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    Michigan finished a disappointing 2012 season with a loss to SEC power South Carolina. Most teams would kill to finish a bad season with eight wins, but most teams aren't Michigan.

    The Wolverines have a promising quarterback in Devin Gardner, and they need to move forward past the Denard Robinson era. Robinson was a great player, but he was not best-utilized in the pocket.

    Now that the Wolverines don't have to worry about a mismatch of talent under center, the future looks brighter. The final step in the process is to avoid repeating mistakes.

    One piece of advice: Constantly evaluate.

    One of the differences between successful and unsuccessful people is the ability to self-evaluate and make constant improvement toward whatever goals they have set.

    Michigan would do itself a major favor by constantly evaluating every position and making sure that it has the best combination of personnel on the field at all times.

    The Wolverines romped to 11 wins as recently as 2011. There's no reason that they can't repeat that feat in 2013, especially if they constantly ensure that their most lethal combination of players is on the field every single week.

23. Vanderbilt Commodores

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    Vanderbilt's 2013 squad will be short a quarterback (Jordan Rodgers) and a record-breaking running back (Zac Stacy) from the 2012 season.

    One piece of advice: Don't dwell on what you've lost.

    As James Franklin builds the Vanderbilt program into an SEC powerhouse, records are going to shatter each and every season while the Commodores keep improving.

    Is Stacy easy to replace? No. Did he break a bunch of records at a school that's known for being a doormat? Absolutely.

    Franklin and the Commodores have a long way to go before they're ready to consistently challenge the likes of Florida and Georgia, and that journey will include a ton of shattered records.

    If the school continues in the right direction, players like Stacy will be missed, but they will be replaced on the recruiting trail as Vanderbilt brings home more wins.

    So, the Commodores need to focus on what they have, not what's missing. Rebuilding years will come, but the structure will be stronger as each one passes by.

22. Northern Illinois Huskies

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    In 2012, Northern Illinois made it to the Orange Bowl as a one-loss BCS non-AQ school, and the Huskies were the first team ever to do that. They were also the first team ever to make it into the BCS picture from the Mid-American Conference.

    The Huskies were commanded by the nation's fourth-leading rusher, and he was also the quarterback. Jordan Lynch was an exceptional quarterback that took the Huskies to new heights.

    One piece of advice: Strengthen the trenches.

    Florida State didn't outplay Northern Illinois at every position during the Orange Bowl. The Seminoles simply owned the line of scrimmage all night long.

    The Huskies need to focus on strength, conditioning and technique on the offensive and defensive lines. If the players can get lower and gain a leverage advantage over some of the bigger linemen that come from the AQ conferences, then Northern Illinois is in for a huge season in 2013.

    Without fixing the issues in the trenches, the Huskies will not move any higher than simply getting into a top-tier bowl. With some adjustments on the lines, NIU can turn an Orange Bowl appearance into an Orange Bowl win.

21. San Jose State Spartans

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    San Jose State had a great run in 2012, and the Spartans ended the season with 11 wins. David Fales, the quarterback from 2012, will return in 2013 to lead the charge again.

    Fales and the rest of the team will be looking to earn the title "BCS-buster" next season, and there is no reason to believe that it can't happen.

    One piece of advice: Avoid overconfidence.

    While the Spartans aren't in danger of being complacent due to an overwhelming level of success, there are a few accomplishments that could creep into their minds that would ruin their team chemistry.

    The major wins over San Diego State, BYU and Louisiana Tech are the types that could convince the Spartans that they don't need to prepare for some of the smaller schools on the 2013 schedule.

    The near-win against Stanford, who went on to win the Rose Bowl, is another game that could cause the Spartans to have too much confidence.

    It may seem unlikely, but that's exactly why it should be said. Everyone prepares for the challenges they know are coming. It's the unexpected part of the gauntlet that gets us humans every time.

20. Oregon State Beavers

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    Oregon State was a strong contender for the Pac-12 title in 2012, and the Beavers fell just a few points shy of a 12-win season.

    The only game in which the Beavers were outclassed was the Oregon game. Oregon State lost that one by 24 points.

    The Beavers lost the Washington game due to reluctance. The quarterback switch was executed one interception too late for victory to be achieved.

    One piece of advice: Don't hesitate to do what it takes to win.

    Sean Mannion was back from injury, and Cody Vaz had done nothing to lose the starting gig. Quite simply, the usual starter was back to health, and the coaches wanted him in the game.

    The argument for or against that decision is for another day, but the evaluation of the game is open for debate.

    Mannion threw four interceptions in that game, and the Beavers' coaching staff gave Vaz under 10 minutes to attempt a miraculous comeback.

    Now, it's understandable to let the returning starter work out some kinks in his first game back, but it's a little ridiculous to allow him more than 45 minutes of mistakes while you watch a then-perfect record go down the drain.

    The coaches had to know that it wasn't his day when he threw the third interception at the 12:38 mark in the fourth quarter. Hesitation to pull the "normal" starter is what cost the Beavers that game.

19. Texas Longhorns

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    Texas fans don't want to think about what happened in 2012, and that's completely understandable. Texas is not living up to its rich history, and the Longhorns aren't even living up to their recent history at the moment.

    Mack Brown was a hard-nosed coach that took Texas to two BCS title games and two BCS bowl appearances just since 2004. After the 2009 title appearance led by quarterback Colt McCoy, Brown seems to be in a holding pattern.

    One piece of advice: Get out of the mental holding pattern.

    The Longhorns fanbase isn't going to sit idly by while Brown waits for the next Colt McCoy, because quarterbacks that good don't come along that often.

    Brown needs to figure out how to get back to Texas football with the tools he has at his disposal. He certainly has his hands full getting a quarterback ready to contend for a Big 12 title, but he needs to simplify the game plan.

    If he adjusts the game plan to capitalize on his players' strengths, his recruiting class rankings will begin to show on the field.

18. Boise State Broncos

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    Boise State has become a perennial BCS challenger, and the Broncos have earned the respect of their enemies in the process. (Even teams like Oklahoma have learned that Boise is not to be trifled with.)

    The Broncos had a down year in 2012 as they attempted to replace Kellen Moore at quarterback, and there's only one thing to do when you're missing a player like that: Keep playing football.

    One piece of advice: Focus on offensive timing.

    Boise State might have more growing pains, especially with the lack of explosive talent on offense last season. Luckily, the defense stepped up and finished 2012 ranked No. 8 in scoring defense.

    Boise State needs to keep playing defense the way it did in 2012, and the offense needs to get out on a field and do nothing but route-running drills with an active quarterback.

    If you can't outmatch your opponents with sheer talent, practice can level the playing field or tip the scales in your favor. If the Broncos can focus on timing to the point that completed passes are second-nature, then they can have more success than their level of talent really justifies.

    That would spell a berth in the last round of BCS bowls at the end of 2013.

17. Northwestern Wildcats

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    Northwestern took the Big Ten by storm last season, and the Wildcats were off to a 5-0 start before the rest of the Big Ten figured out they were a legitimate threat.

    Even after they were seen as a viable opponent, they finished the season on a 5-3 run that put their win total at a respectable 10 games. (Northwestern only lost one game by more than a touchdown, and that was to Penn State.)

    One piece of advice: Prepare for battle.

    The Big Ten is going to gun for Northwestern in 2013 similar to the manner it did in the last half of 2012. The Wildcats will not be able to sneak up on anyone next season.

    The good news for the Wildcats is that they can build on what they started last season and still win as many (or more) games in 2013. All they have to do is understand that next year will be much tougher than 2012 and practice accordingly.

16. Utah State Aggies

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    Utah State came close to a perfect season last year, and the Aggies only missed it by five points. If the Aggies had beaten Wisconsin and BYU instead of barely losing to each, a BCS bowl would have been a given.

    One piece of advice: Don't neglect the defense.

    Utah State's scoring defense ranked No. 7 in the nation, and its scoring offense ranked No. 26. The temptation will be to work on offense a little more than defense.

    That seems like a good idea, but that would cause the defense to slip a little bit. That's a recipe for disaster.

    Utah State certainly needs to improve its passing attack, but the defensive coordinator can't let go of the reins for a second. As long as the country's No. 7 scoring defense shows up on the field, Utah State has a shot at a perfect season.

    Improve the offense, but don't forget about what's made you a great team.

15. Oklahoma Sooners

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    Oklahoma may have had a little bit of a letdown last season against Notre Dame and Kansas State, but the Sooners are still a hopeful for the Big 12 title next year.

    Like many of its brethren in the conference, Oklahoma will be breaking in a new quarterback in 2013. Oklahoma has gotten itself a little bit of a derogatory nickname through the past few seasons: Choklahoma. (Link is to a Google search of the term.)

    One piece of advice: Play to your strengths every week.

    The only way to get rid of the bad nickname is to make it pointless. The only way for the Sooners to do that is to win the games they're supposed to win.

    If Oklahoma plays even at just 90 percent every week, then the Notre Dames and Kansas States of the world don't stand much of a chance.

    Oklahoma was in prime position to make it to the BCS title game in 2012, but they lost sight of their own style on two occasions. That resulted in two losses in the regular season.

    The Texas A&M game may have still been a loss, but it would have been a competitive loss at worst. Oklahoma is a national contender, and there is no reason that the coaches should keep finding ways to make the Sooners look silly each season.

    If Oklahoma plays to its strengths every week, three-loss seasons will be a distant memory in a couple of years.

14. LSU Tigers

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    LSU had a great 2012 run, but the season took a bad turn against Florida. The Tigers looked like they were going to make a valiant turnaround against Alabama, but an improbable comeback put LSU in the losers' corner once again.

    The Tigers finished strong with the lone exception of the Chick-fil-A Bowl's final three minutes. Les Miles' clock-management "skills" showed up to troll the fanbase once again, and the Tigers posted a crushing loss yet again.

    One piece of advice: Play a football video game all through the summer.

    Miles' inability to manage a clock is past laughable at this point, and it needs to be addressed.

    If you have ever picked up a copy of NFL GameDay, Madden or NCAA, then you quickly realized that it took finesse to play the game.

    In the early (pre-year-2000) editions of the games, victory heavily favored the offense. It was much easier to mount an attack than it was to stop one. This led to many high-scoring games that were usually won by the person who scored last.

    Those are perfect conditions to learn clock management. If you know it takes about four minutes to score, you quickly adjust your running game to make sure that you're ahead by more than a touchdown with four minutes remaining.

    That's also how you learn to call running plays even though you don't think you'll score, much as Miles should have against Clemson in the bowl game.

    You may not be able to learn how to coach a national title team from a video game, but you can learn something as simple as clock management from any one of them. You can definitely learn it in two months.

    The early editions are a little easier to set up tight late-game situations, but any edition will suffice.

13. Louisville Cardinals

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    Teddy Bridgewater and the Louisville Cardinals finished 2012 with a massive upset over the then-No. 3 Florida Gators, which put Louisville's record at 12-2.

    The Cardinals again have a good shot at running the table in 2013, and Bridgewater proved that he's got all the skill necessary to make a solid run at that title.

    One piece of advice: Unleash Bridgewater.

    Ohio, Cincinnati and Rutgers will be the toughest tests of Louisville's ability in 2013. The Cardinals need to take advantage of a tumultuous Big East.

    With everyone's eyes all over the conference to make guesses as to which team is going to drop next, Louisville can raise its stock immensely by running the table.

    In fact, it may be a perfect time for the Big East champion to make it to the BCS national championship game.

    Louisville needs to find various ways to unleash Bridgewater on the opponent. If Bridgewater gets turned loose, the Cardinals should make a mockery of almost every team in the Big East. During stronger years, that won't be the case.

12. Kansas State Wildcats

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    Kansas State was one underrated Baylor offense away from playing for (and probably winning) a national title against Notre Dame last season. Kansas State's defense played horribly during that game compared to the rest of the season.

    The Wildcats face one major hurdle in 2013, and that's the loss of quarterback Collin Klein. Klein is their best (or at least most popular) quarterback in recent memory, and he helped Kansas State to major bowl games in both 2011 and 2012.

    One piece of advice: Collin Klein is replaceable, and the team should be reminded of this.

    Klein, though he was definitely one of the best quarterbacks in the country in 2012, was not so good that he's impossible to replace.

    There will be some drop-off in 2013 at the position, but the Wildcats can afford to lose a little bit of talent there and still contend for a conference championship.

    It's not enough for the coaches to know this. They must constantly remind the team that 2013 should not be written off before every game is played.

    Remember, a lot of Kansas State's competition will also be breaking in new passers. TCU may turn out to be the Wildcats' biggest threat in 2013.

11. Clemson Tigers

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    Clemson is going to be in the same boat next season as Florida State was in 2012. Clemson has the offense and the defense to storm through the ACC much as the Seminoles did last season.

    One piece of advice: Don't expect to win; play to win.

    Tajh Boyd will be back for one more season in 2013, and the Tigers will be the best-equipped team in their conference.

    Assuming the Tigers play every game as if it's the last one they'll ever play, then the ACC title is theirs to lose.

    The Tigers have the ability to win every game on the schedule, but the ACC isn't a cakewalk. If Clemson doesn't play like the conference crown depends on it, then a team like Florida State would be glad to take it from them.

    Clemson also faces both Georgia and South Carolina from the SEC. If the Tigers can pull off those two wins, a berth in the national championship would be at the end of a perfect regular season.

10. Florida State Seminoles

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    Florida State has to replace its starting quarterback this coming season, and that's typically a daunting task. After the 2012 season's results, it may seem impossible to make up for EJ Manuel.

    One piece of advice: Trust your receivers to replace EJ Manuel.

    Florida State's receivers are more than talented enough to help out a quarterback that's a little off-the-mark. He'll have to be close but not necessarily a sharpshooter.

    If all else fails, the Seminoles can rely on their top-10 defense and their 24th-ranked rushing attack. Either way, they must approach the 2013 season as if it's an opportunity.

    If they approach it like it's a lost cause, then it will be over before it even begins. With receivers like Florida State's, that would be a shame indeed.

9. Florida Gators

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    The 2012 Florida team joined the ranks of 2008 Alabama and other teams who have recently lost games to teams they shouldn't have after losing big-time to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. (Oddly enough, that's the same bowl in which Alabama lost to Utah after the 2008 season.)

    Florida fielded the country's No. 5 scoring defense in 2012 and the nation's No. 118 passing attack. The obvious advice here is to make sure that the passing attack improves, but nobody invited Captain Obvious to the party.

    One piece of advice: Use the Louisville loss as nothing but a motivational tool.

    Constantly thinking about losing is never good. When you visualize a loss over and over, it brings more losses with it.

    The Gators need to remember that they had one of the best defenses in the country last season, and they need to remember what lost them the Louisville game.

    Remembering what they did wrong will help them overcome it in 2013. Wallowing in the loss will only serve to bring morale down past the point of no return. That won't help them at all.

8. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    South Carolina is finally in the driver's seat for the SEC East crown. Georgia draws LSU from the SEC West on the 2013 schedule, and South Carolina draws Arkansas.

    This means that the South Carolina, Georgia and Florida rivalry tribunal will most likely decide the SEC East's representative in Atlanta.

    One piece of advice: Stay calm, and kill any attitude of entitlement that comes along.

    South Carolina is far from a lock to win the SEC East. The Gamecocks would do well to avoid entering the season expecting to go to Atlanta.

    Atlanta is 12 games away, and looking past any one of those games could spell a loss. (Even to Arkansas.)

    South Carolina needs to put its playmakers in the right positions to win games. Since Georgia stands a chance of losing to LSU, South Carolina needs to make sure that it wins every game. A loss to Georgia would put the division in the hands of the Bulldogs, and any other loss would be insurmountable.

    The Gamecocks need to make sure they keep control of their own destiny. If that remains true throughout the season, then they are going to Atlanta.

    If they let entitlement creep in, then Atlanta will host a great game between two teams that aren't from South Carolina.

7. Stanford Cardinal

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    Stanford shot Oregon's Rose Bowl dreams down last season, and the Cardinal did it in convincing fashion. They held the Ducks to a scant 14 points and won the game in overtime.

    While that may not seem notable due to the overtime aspect, Oregon averaged 49.6 points per game last season. The Cardinal defense held Oregon five touchdowns below its usual total, and that's a convincing performance.

    The Ducks finished the season ranked No. 2, and Stanford finished at No. 7. This is because Stanford showed up to play most of its games while overlooking others.

    One piece of advice: Prepare as if every team is Oregon.

    Stanford lost to Notre Dame and Washington, and both losses came by a touchdown or less. Stanford had more than enough talent to drop either team, but the bigger shock was Washington.

    Stanford took down many teams that finished with better records than the Washington Huskies. The Cardinal were coming off a major win over USC the week before and lost sight of what they were doing.

    If Stanford treats every game like it's against Oregon, then there are only a handful of teams across the country that could beat it.

    If Stanford can get into the practice of treating every opponent like it's Oregon, then the Cardinal may just be the team that knocks the SEC off its throne in 2013 or 2014.

6. Georgia Bulldogs

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    The 2013 season will be Aaron Murray's last with Georgia. He's a senior, and he's leaving with or without a conference championship ring (or better).

    Georgia has come closer and closer to winning the conference title in each of the past two years, and the Bulldogs are "due" for a win if you believe in statistics.

    One piece of advice: Don't overemphasize Aaron Murray's presence on the field.

    Murray is in his final season, so there is going to be a sense of urgency within the team. However, if the team gets so wrapped up in a mentality that says "this is our last shot at a title," then it will eventually crumble under the weight of that responsibility.

    These players have one job to do: play football as best they can. Anything that serves to interfere with that focus is a problem, including overstating Murray's final year.

    If the Bulldogs can keep themselves mentally grounded, then Georgia can beat anyone on the schedule. If they get caught believing that they aren't allowed to make any mistakes, then nobody is going to have any fun watching what happens.

5. Texas A&M Aggies

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    Texas A&M destroyed a few of the country's best teams in 2012. Alabama, Oklahoma and Louisiana Tech all fell to the power of the Aggies' Heisman-winning quarterback, Johnny Manziel.

    One piece of advice: Don't get in Johnny Manziel's way.

    Manziel led the Aggies to an incredible finish in the SEC during their first season outside the Big 12, and he did it with a lot of improvisation.

    Manziel is one of the greatest raw talents ever to play during the BCS era, if not ever. Manziel should be allowed to learn as much as humanly possible about the offense, and he should run it from the field.

    Sure, the coaches can make calls for each play, but he needs to have as much play-calling freedom as he has freedom to improvise once the ball has been snapped.

    Manziel is incredible to watch, and he's as good a passer as he is a runner. Beware of crossing the line to coddling, but let him naturally be your greatest asset.

    Focus on the offensive line and the defense; leave Manziel alone.

4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Notre Dame won every game last season except the national championship game. While the Irish will have all eyes on them next season, avoiding that pressure is still not the best advice to be given.

    One piece of advice: Don't pay attention to the media. (Yes, there's a lot of irony in that advice.)

    The media may or may not hype Notre Dame up at the beginning of the season. If the Irish get off to a 6-0 start, the media will probably start to hype them even more.

    If the season goes the other direction, Notre Dame will hear nothing but snide comments about its ability to compete. This will not stop at the 2013 season, the media will most likely go back to 2012 and drag up dirt from every game the Irish almost lost and use it against the 2013 edition of the squad.

    Do not pay attention to these ramblings. They serve no purpose for you as a team other than to undermine your confidence.

    The Irish are replacing a fair number of NFL-quality players, and that is bound to be a factor in the final win-loss tally at the end of the season.

    This does not mean that you are not on the cusp of greatness. This simply means that it takes time to replace players that can play at the pro level.

    Whether it's good or bad publicity, it won't make you stronger, better or faster if you pay attention to it. Do what you do and take lessons from both wins and losses in order to improve.

    The media will be there to fawn all over you when you reap the rewards of the efforts you sow in the locker rooms and on the practice field.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Ohio State was the only team to finish the 2012 season with zero losses, and the entire college football nation took notice.

    The bowl ban is now in the past, and the Buckeyes are locked and loaded for a run at another undefeated regular season in 2013. There is one major point that Ohio State has to fix if it's going to contend for anything more than 12-0.

    One piece of advice: Fix the loose tackling issues.

    Ohio State had some good defensive performances and some horrible ones. One of the most horrible performances was against the UAB Blazers. (Ohio State beat the Blazers by only 14 points.)

    Ohio State cleaned it up at times, but that game would have been a loss without the stellar second quarter that Braxton Miller delivered.

    The point is that Ohio State won't win any major games if the Buckeyes don't fix the tackle fundamentals. The great news for Ohio State fans is that Urban Meyer is in charge.

    He was in his first season with zero recruiting classes in 2012. Now he's building his program and everyone has a year of experience. The defense will be tighter in 2013. The only question is: Will it be tight enough?

2. Oregon Ducks

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    Oregon won't have Kenjon Barner on the field next season, but it will have Marcus Mariota. Oregon survived the loss of LaMichael James during the 2012 season, and the Ducks will survive losing Barner.

    One piece of advice: Get the ball to De'Anthony Thomas.

    Mariota is excellent, and the Ducks look good to contend for the Pac-12 title again in 2013. (They barely missed out on it in 2012.)

    De'Anthony Thomas had the highest yards-per-carry average of any Oregon player in 2012 at 7.6. Thomas may or may not be the go-to running back, but the Ducks would be wise to use him as a wild card.

    He's got great hands to catch, he's got excellent vision, and he's a great returner. Don't sell him short, and do not use him less than you need to.

    He's a game-changer, and you probably only have him for 2013. He'll go to the NFL after that. You might as well pair him with Mariota and see if you can parlay the pair into a national championship.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Alabama has won three national championships over the past four seasons and two conference titles to go along with them.

    Alabama consistently loses players to the NFL and replaces them with championship-quality backups.

    One piece of advice: Tighten the secondary.

    While the past few seasons have been magical for Alabama fans who hadn't seen a national title since 1992, there is a nagging loss that has come around in each of the past two seasons.

    It's nitpicking, of course, to even offer any type of actual advice to the reigning greatest coach in college football, but those losses are a dull throb.

    National championships certainly soothe the discomfort, but another run like 2009 would be a nice break from the norm.

    In 2012, Alabama lost to Texas A&M due to a highly explosive first quarter by the Aggies. The secondary wasn't necessarily a lethal weakness, as Alabama went on to win its second-straight national championship.

    When you're discussing possible advice to one of the greatest coaches ever to walk the sideline in Tuscaloosa, "tighten the secondary" is just about the only legitimate advice to offer.

    The only other viable piece of advice would be: Keep it up.

    Saban's going to keep it up whether anyone tells him to or not.