Top 10 2012 storylines: Are 'Horns, 'Noles back? Can USC snap SEC streak?

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By the close of business on Wednesday, everybody will be in pads and preseason practice will finally be in full swing. It's just one man's opinion, but here are my top 10 storylines for the 2012 season:

1. The SEC goes for its seventh straight BCS championship: The streak has to end sometime, right? But with five (No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Alabama, No. 6 Georgia, No. 9 South Carolina, No. 10 Arkansas) SEC teams in the top 10 of the preseason coaches' poll -- one of the polls used in the BCS standings -- you have to figure that one of them will survive and make it to South Florida on Jan. 7. Now, of course they are going to beat each other up. Here are the games each of those five SEC teams has against the other four:

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 LSU (3): Oct. 13 vs. South Carolina; Nov. 3 vs. Alabama; Nov. 23 at Arkansas.
 Alabama (2): Sept. 15 at Arkansas; Nov. 3 at LSU.
 Georgia (1): Oct. 6 at South Carolina. For the second straight season Georgia does not play Alabama, LSU, or Arkansas.
 South Carolina (3): Oct. 6 vs. Georgia; Oct. 13 at LSU; Nov. 10 vs. Arkansas.
 Arkansas (3): Sept. 15 vs. Alabama; Nov. 10 at South Carolina; Nov. 23 vs. LSU.

2. USC can beat Oregon once. But can the Trojans beat the Ducks twice? Everybody loves Southern California, and with good reason: The Trojans have a 3,500-yard passer (Matt Barkley), two 1,000-yard receivers (Robert Woods and Marqis Lee) and two 1,000-yard rushers (Curtis McNeal and Penn State-transfer Silas Redd). But in order to win the Pac-12 championship the Trojans are going to probably have to beat Oregon twice: on Nov. 3 at the Coliseum and again in the Pac-12 championship game, which will also likely be in the Coliseum if USC wins the first meeting. The games will be about a month apart. That's a tall order.

3. Landry Jones and life without Ryan Broyles: The Oklahoma quarterback threw for 4,463 yards, 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last season. But the record shows that after Ryan Broyles, the NCAA's all-time receiver with 349 catches, blew out his knee in the ninth game against Texas A&M, Jones did not throw a touchdown pass the rest of the season.

As fate would have it, Jones is going to be fine without Broyles in 2012. There are plenty of receivers at Oklahoma, including the next star, Kenny Stills (61 catches, 849 yards). Our Matt Hinton reported earlier that Penn State receiver Justin Brown (35 catches, 517 yards) is now coming to Norman and that two suspended wide receivers -- Jaz Reynolds (41 catches, 715 yards) and Trey Franks (22 catches, 196 yards) -- have now been reinstated.

4. Florida State tries to reclaim the glory days: Let's get one thing straight. From 1987 to 2000 Florida State had 14 straight finishes in the final top four, including two national championships (1993, 1999). That kind of run is never going to happen again. It's just too hard to stay on top in today's college football. But Florida State can get back into the national championship discussion this season if they can do one thing: run the ball. The Seminoles just couldn't do it a year ago, averaging 3.3 yards per attempt and giving up 40 sacks. They started five freshmen on the offensive line in the bowl game against Notre Dame. It remains a huge area of concern for coach Jimbo Fisher.

5. Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke: It ain't Woody and Bo, but it could be very, very good: Ohio State and Urban Meyer can't go to a bowl game this year and can't play for the Big Ten championship. But, by Woody Hayes, they will have the opportunity to beat Michigan (11-2 in 2011) when the Wolverines go to Ohio State on Nov. 24. When he was at Florida, Urban Meyer learned in a hurry that it was important in recruiting to crush your biggest rivals (5-1 vs. Florida State, 5-1 vs. Georgia, 6-0 vs. Tennessee). Urban is a rock star coach. Brady Hoke, a lunch pail guy, is the perfect coach for Michigan. This is going to be fun.

6. West Virginia won't have to adjust to the Big 12: The Big 12 will have to adjust to West Virginia. Yes, you read that right. Dana Holgorsen lit up these guys when he was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. I haven't seen a Big 12 defense that will slow down the Mountaineers as long as Geno Smith (4,385 passing, 31 touchdowns) is healthy and pulling the trigger. Now going to Texas on Oct. 6 might be a little dicey, but by all means circle Nov. 17 when Oklahoma goes to Morgantown. To quote the late, great Georgia radio voice Larry Munson: "Man, is there going to be some property destroyed tonight!"

7. Can John L. keep the Hogs out of the ditch? We are simply not going to be able to take our eyes off of Fayetteville, Ark., this season. Arkansas is the preseason (coaches') No. 10 team in the country and would probably be higher if Bobby Petrino had taken up golf instead of motorcycling. Now 63-year-old John L. Smith has the task of navigating a talented team and an enthusiastic fan base through a schedule that has both Alabama and LSU both coming to Donald W. Reynolds Razorbacks Stadium. Can he do it? And if he does do it, will he be invited back?

8. A pivotal year for Texas and Mack Brown: Brown averaged 10.6 wins in his first 12 years at Texas, including a pair of 13-win seasons and a national championship (2005). Then the wheels came off in 2010 (5-7). He revamped the coaching staff to get a lot younger and finished 8-5 in 2011. Now we find out if Brown has gotten things turned around and if Texas will be a contender again. If the Longhorns can just get decent -- not good, just decent -- quarterback play, they'll be in the hunt because the defense of Manny Diaz is just going to be awesome.

9. The Pirate, Rich Rod, and Charlie: How I love to see new coaching faces in new places. I have no idea if Mike Leach can win consistently at Washington State, but they damned sure won't be boring. And the man can flat coach up a quarterback. Rich Rodriguez was not a good fit at Michigan but he's a perfect fit at Arizona and in the Pac-12. He's got a shot in his first year in Tucson because Matt Scott is a pretty good quarterback. Kansas went from 12-1 Orange Bowl champs in 2007 to 2-10 in 2011. Turner Gill got the boot and in comes Charlie Weis. Hard to see a lot more wins, but with Dayne Crist -- his former quarterback at Notre Dame -- Weis has a shot. And speaking of new faces in new places: How deep do we get into the season before the Bobby Petrino return rumors start to surface?

10. Wither Penn State? The Penn State coaches and kids are saying all the right things. There is no doubt they will play hard. Bill O'Brien is a first-rate man and a first-rate coach. But now that the exodus of players has started, you have to wonder how long that coaching staff can hold this team together. The good news is that there is a chance for a pretty decent start with Ohio, Virginia, Navy, Temple, and Illinois in September. But your top running back (Silas Redd, USC) is gone. The guy who started the 2010 and 2011 seasons at quarterback (Rob Bolden, LSU) is gone. Your top returning receiver (Justin Brown, Oklahoma) is gone. Boston College coach Frank Spaziani, a Penn State grad, said it best: "It's a Greek tragedy. People have to watch."

The Tony Barnhart Show begins Aug. 28 on The CBS Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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