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Alabama No. 1 on early top 10 list for 2013

By Chris Huston | College Football Writer
Alabama is the early favorite to win another Crystal Ball in 2013. (US Presswire)

We're only a few hours removed from the end of the 2012 season, but it's never too early to get started on 2013.

Here's a way-too-early top 10 for next season:

1. Alabama -- You're kidding yourself if you don't think this is where the Crimson Tide will start out come fall. And why shouldn't they? Bama returns most of its key contributors on offense, including quarterback AJ McCarron, running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon (unless Lacy opts for the draft) and rising star receiver Amari Cooper. The defense will be loaded as usual and, of course, there is coach Nick Saban for opposing teams to deal with. Alabama is the best team until proven otherwise.

2. Texas A&M -- If not for a bad second half against Florida in the season opener, it might've been the Aggies holding aloft the Crystal Ball on Monday night. Look for the Aggies to make a serious run at the national title in just their second year under coach Kevin Sumlin. They have the best player in the country in Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, and Sumlin has done a great job surrounding him with big-time talent, including wide receiver Mike Evans. All-American tackle Luke Joeckel won't return, but equally talented bookend Jake Matthews might, and in any case this program has enough Manz-mentum to overcome their loss. An early test looms when the Aggies host defending champ Alabama in Week 3.

3. Oregon -- Everyone just knew Chip Kelly was heading to the NFL. Except he didn't. He'll stick around Eugene to lead another potent Duck team that is loaded on both sides of the ball and coming off a No. 2 national ranking. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, hybrid running back De'Anthony Thomas and perhaps the best Oregon defense of the Kelly era return with their innovative head coach to terrorize the Pac-12 once more.

4. Stanford -- The Cardinal really took off after switching from Josh Nunes to Kevin Hogan at quarterback, finishing with their third consecutive 11-win season and a Rose Bowl victory. The strong-armed, mobile Hogan returns along with what should once again be one of the best offensive lines in the country plus a legion of talented running backs. More importantly, most of Stanford's elite defensive front seven is back. The Cardinal are going to be in the national title mix for the foreseeable future.

5. Georgia -- The return of Aaron Murray for a fourth season as starter means this Bulldog offense will be absolutely loaded with 10 of 11 starters returning. Sophomore tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall might be the best backfield tandem in the country, and they'll be running behind a veteran offensive line. If Georgia can rebuild its secondary and find a playmaker to replace the departing Jarvis Jones, it should once again represent the SEC East in the conference title game.

6. Ohio State -- Urban Meyer led the Buckeyes to a 12-0 record in his first season as coach, and he has the players on hand to do it again. Junior quarterback Braxton Miller is the Heisman front-runner, and he should be unstoppable in his second year in Meyer's offense. Ohio State has been recruiting well, which is good since it must replace its entire front four on defense. If the young talent steps up on that side of the ball, another title could be in the works for Meyer.

7. Clemson -- This ranking is contingent upon quarterback Tajh Boyd returning for another season. If he does, the Tigers should once again field one of the country's most potent offenses. Look for wide receiver Sammy Watkins to return to his freshman form and team with DeAndre Hopkins to comprise the nation's best receiving duo (if Hopkins doesn't declare for the draft). Clemson must rebuild its secondary, but there aren't too many teams on its schedule that it can't out-score.

8. Notre Dame -- Despite the brutal shellacking that it suffered at the hands of Alabama, this is still a program on the rise. While Manti Te'o -- the heart of the defense -- departs at linebacker, the backbone of the unit is still in place. All-star candidates Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix return for at least one more year on the defensive line. Everett Golson should be better at quarterback and, if the Irish can find a running back from their highly-touted recruiting class to replace Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, the offense should be pretty good in Brian Kelly's fourth season.

9. TCU -- The Horned Frogs had a drama-filled season in their first go-round in the Big 12, but things should settle down a bit this fall. If former quarterback starter Casey Pachall returns from a drug suspension, he'll give the offense another option in addition to Trevone Boykin, who replaced Pachall and did an admirable job at quarterback in 2012. Look for the defense to rebound from an off year and become one of the best units in the country -- it's led by uber-talent Devante Fields at defensive end.

10. Louisville -- Almost everyone is back from a team that went 11-2, including a romp over Florida in the Sugar Bowl. The headliner is junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who should be on the short list for the Heisman in the fall. If the defense can take a step up, this could be a dark-horse title contender.

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