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Tuesday Top 10: The Early Preseason Top 10

Posted on: January 17, 2012 12:42 pm
Edited on: January 17, 2012 2:20 pm
 
Since this is the first Tuesday Top 10 list of 2012, I figured I'd start with the topic that'll get broached the most between now and September: my preseason top 10. My colleague Brett McMurphy wrote about his too-early rankings last week, but some things have cleared up with more top underclassmen announcing their NFL draft intentions since then. Anyhow, here goes:

1. USC: The Trojans finished 2011 with a bang, ending Oregon's long home-winning streak and thumping rival UCLA. Better still, they were the biggest winner in the NFL underclassmen derby with star QB Matt Barkley opting to remain for his senior season. Yes, they lost stud LT Matt Kalil, but the rest of the O-line, which was pretty young last year, is back and now it's a pretty deep group. Barkley also has the best 1-2 receiving tandem in college football: rising junior Robert Woods is an All-American, and there are some inside the Trojan program who think rising sophomore Marqise Lee is already surpassing him. Curtis McNeal, a 1000-yard rusher, returns, so does the entire back seven, including standout DBs T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey and their top two tacklers Hayes Pullard and Dion Bailey, both freshmen in 2011. The D-line has some guys to replace, but does return three players with starting experience and a bunch of blue-chippers who redshirted. The schedule also breaks well: Oregon and Notre Dame, the two most talented teams they'll face, both have to visit the Coliseum. I realize that it probably seems foolish to list anyone other than an SEC team in the No. 1 spot, but if there's any college QB up for such an undertaking, it's Barkley, and he's got the weapons to pull it off.
 
2. LSU:
I was tempted to have Alabama in this slot after the way the Tide dominated the BCS title game and especially after seeing how sharp A.J. McCarron was last week, but the Tigers were younger and have more key guys back. They also get 'Bama in Baton Rouge in 2012. As I wrote the other day, there is a lot of enthusiasm about Zach Mettenberger taking over the team, spurring the staff to open things up more. They're going to be loaded at RB, and despite the loss of DT Michael Brockers and CB Mo Claiborne, the Tigers are still stacked at both positions. The youngsters to keep an eye on: DT Anthony Johnson and redshirt freshman CB Jalen Collins.

3. Alabama:
Nick Saban will have a legit shot to win his third BCS title in four seasons because he'll still have a stellar O-line and a proven QB (McCarron). Eddie Lacy is also ready to be a feature back. They will have to replace most of the defense, but there is plenty of talent ready to break out in the front seven, led by powerhouse DE Jesse Williams, who is still raw but an offseason of polish should make him a nightmare for SEC offenses. LB Xzavier Dickson is also a guy that has Tide coaches buzzing after a nice freshman year. They'll have a nice test in the opener in Texas against a good Michigan team. The bad news is they do have to go on the road to face the other two heavyweights in the conference: LSU and at Arkansas.

4. Oklahoma: Landry Jones is back after what had to be a disappointing season given expectations going into 2011. It certainly didn't help that OU lost its leading rusher (Dom Whaley) and star WR (Ryan Broyles) to injury near midseason. Jones has a good group of WRs led by Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds. They do have some sizable holes in the front seven to fill, but defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is back and that is a very good thing for the defense. The younger Stoops also has a lot of talent to work with in the secondary.

5. Oregon:
Even though it was a stunner that QB Darron Thomas bolted for the NFL, his understudy Bryan Bennett is even a bit faster and a more accurate passer, and he showed some of those skills in midseason when he was forced into action. Bennett still doesn't have the seasoning in this system, but that should come, although don't rule out redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota, a raw 6-foot-4 QB who may have even better tools for this scheme. LaMichael James also is gone, but with De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner, Chip Kelly still has so much speed at his disposal, you still feel sorry for rival defenses. The interior of the O-line returns intact, which is key, and safety John Boyett is back, along with LB Kiko Alonso, one of the stars of the Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin, to anchor the D. Interesting opener against Gus Malzahn's Ark State squad, but the real game to circle is when the Ducks visit USC Nov. 3.

6. West Virginia:
After a tumultuous year, the Mountaineers kicked off 2012 in grand fashion, obliterating Clemson in the Orange Bowl by hanging 70 on the Tigers. The scarier thought is that QB Geno Smith and the bulk of those skill guys are not only back, but now they'll have added reps to get even better at the timing of Dana Holgorsen's scheme. Most of the O-line returns, and that includes standout Josh Jenkins, a three-year starter on the line who had to redshirt the 2011 season. Look out Big 12 (assuming WVU is cleared for take off in time). If not, brace yourself Big East because an ornery bunch of Mountaineers probably will be trying to hang 100 on everybody in that league on the way out the door. The thing keeping this group from being top-five caliber: WVU's D has some very good players to replace and respected DC Jeff Casteel also is gone, off to re-join Rich Rodriguez at Arizona. Still, the offense is so explosive they should be able to outscore almost everyone they face. Almost.

7. Georgia:
The Dawgs won the SEC East thanks to an improved defense but still really didn't beat anyone of the caliber that you have to beat to show they're ready to overtake the powers of the SEC West. Losing to Michigan State in the bowl game didn't help either. However, there is still a lot of reason for optimism here. The defense returns almost everyone; QB Aaron Murray is very good; young WR Malcolm Mitchell is a budding star. Isaiah Crowell looks like he could be too if he can mature. The kicking game does have to be overhauled though. Maybe the best news of all is that Mark Richt's team has about as manageable a schedule as an SEC team can have, avoiding the top three teams of the SEC West and opening with four of its first five at home.

8. Arkansas:
Bobby Petrino gets back star RB Knile Davis to go with Tyler Wilson, his gifted QB coming off a terrific first season. The defense, which has been shaky for awhile, has some very good players it must replace. And there is a new DC running the show. I do like that the Hogs get both Bama and LSU at home this year, but it's the D that still has me skeptical.

9.  TCU:
The Horned Frogs make another conference move. This one is their biggest yet, over to the Big 12 to rejoin some old friends. No doubt it is a step up in competition. Do they have enough quality depth to handle the attrition that figures to come with that? Well see, but I think Gary Patterson's program is ready for the move. In 2011, the Horned Frogs had as many key freshmen and sophomores contributing as just about anyone. QB Casey Pachall had a very good first season replacing Andy Dalton. Now, the question is, can Pachall take the next step as a leader to elevate this team even higher and do all of the detail stuff in preparation that Dalton was so good at? The physical tools are certainly there. He also has a good supporting cast led by standout WR Josh Boyce and a deep group of RBs. LB Tanner Brock is back from injury to anchor the defense along with big-play DE Stansly Maponga and a more mature secondary.

10. FSU:
After the underwhelming season the Noles had following all of the hype they had entering 2011, I swore I wouldn't give in and allow myself to rank them in the top 10, so I had them at 11. Yet, here they are. This is something we in the media need to realize: The Noles are your preseason dirty addiction. They are that ex-girlfriend who still can put it together and show up at the other side of the bar and catch your eye. And then you give in, and not long after you feel foolish for it. Anyhow. Jimbo Fisher should have a nasty defense, led by a ferocious D-line. The O-line will be better with much-needed experience. Same for QB E.J. Manuel and a young group of receivers. They do have to go to Va. Tech this year and get WVU at home.  Just Missed the Cut: Michigan, South Carolina, Ohio State, K-State, Michigan State.




Comments

Since: Oct 29, 2009
Posted on: January 20, 2012 5:55 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: The Early Preseason Top 10

Can't argue with much of this, but I would hope you would consider Utah a "two" hit wonder. You wouldn't go comparing White Snake to Great White would you? Psst. Please.
Congrats to your Tide....they now have just as many BCS victories as the Utes. Sure...they are Championships but who really cares about those kinds of things? Oh...and Asiata is the younger brother of the RB you saw running the Wildcat in '08
Thanks, and I apologize for being snippy, I enjoy Utah football and have seen them three times. (Sugar Bowl not being one of them) They are a good team, but the last two times I went to watch them,(including this years Sunbowl) I have had to endure the, "WE BEAT ALABAMA" comments.... I suppose I should take pride in the fact the another school does consider that to be a mile stone in their program, but after listening to Utah fans who try more to get under your thumb more than talk about the actual game it seems to bug. Utah was a fantastic team in 2008 and actually made our program stronger by whipping the crap out of us. If you could get the rest of the Utah fans to talk like you do, it wouldn't be so bad... And for the record, we sat on the Utah side and rung the Cowbells for them! 



Since: Mar 12, 2008
Posted on: January 19, 2012 3:11 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: The Early Preseason Top 10

Really??? It's going to be 2032 and Utah fans are still going to be saying, "Yup, we beat Alabama!" Utah was a one hit wonder, They had a great team in 2008, to compare this team to the 2008 team is a far cry from reality. I was at the Sunbowl and was amazed to see Asadia (sp?) still playing, he's like 35 years old now..... Point bieng Utah might be a National Title dream destroyer, but never a National Title contender.
Can't argue with much of this, but I would hope you would consider Utah a "two" hit wonder. You wouldn't go comparing White Snake to Great White would you? Psst. Please.
Congrats to your Tide....they now have just as many BCS victories as the Utes. Sure...they are Championships but who really cares about those kinds of things? Oh...and Asiata is the younger brother of the RB you saw running the Wildcat in '08.



Since: Jan 16, 2008
Posted on: January 19, 2012 2:28 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: The Early Preseason Top 10

It's awesome being vilified again eh T-12? However, the cherry won't be on the sundae until those twin sexual reprobates do their usual driveby...you know probiscusjackazz and chorklencolts?



Since: Aug 22, 2008
Posted on: January 19, 2012 2:13 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: The Early Preseason Top 10

Boise can talk because they win their big games, none of the other schools out west have a case.

Last time I checked, USC has been known to win a big game or two.



Since: Aug 22, 2008
Posted on: January 19, 2012 2:07 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: The Early Preseason Top 10

USC plays in a conference that doesnt know how to play Defense but they still got completely crushed by Arizona State which is a team that got crushed by Boise State after which the sports writers called them a lower tier PAC 12 team so how did they crush USC unless USC is also a lower tier team.

Since you don't seem to understand how things work with football teams (especially college teams) I will try to explain:

Most teams are not the same team at the end of the season as they are at the beginning of the season. Some teams get better, some teams get worse, virtually no team stays the same.

Teams get better for a variety of reasons. USC was a much better team at the end of the season than at the beginning of the season because they started with a very young team that had some true freshmen, redshirt freshmen and true sophomores that were either starters or saw significant playing time. The game vs. ASU was the first road game and in a hostile environment. ASU was ranked at the time and was actually favored in the game.

Arizona State, got worse as the season progressed. This happened for a couple of reasons, they had injuries and also, in my opinion, Erickson lost the team at some point during the season. The result was that Boise did not play the same ASU team that USC did. Boise was also extra motivated because of the BCS bowl snub (which I felt was completely ridiculous, how does the #7 team not get into a BCS bowl?). Had USC played ASU later in the season, it's likely that they would have beaten ASU by about the same score that Boise did.



Since: Jan 16, 2008
Posted on: January 19, 2012 2:02 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: The Early Preseason Top 10

Yeah. you guys got off way to easy and it shows. Congrats on getting the basic slap on the wrist for lying cheating and breaking tons of benefits. Should've gotten the death penalty.

Now that is funny osu fan...lol



Since: Aug 22, 2008
Posted on: January 19, 2012 1:47 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: The Early Preseason Top 10

Anybody see a proven backup to Kalil? Anyone to replace him? Barkley's going to scramble a lot more, and will get pressured more and more.

I guess you missed the part of the article where he said that the entire rest of the o-line will beback and that the o-line will actually be deeper.



Since: Aug 22, 2008
Posted on: January 19, 2012 1:43 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: The Early Preseason Top 10

USC can not run with these ducks, but the big market of LA needs the hype. Good luck and thanks for the disrespect. We will crush USC like an empty beer can on corting day at the frat house.

Do you mean like you did this season at Autzen?



Since: Apr 3, 2007
Posted on: January 19, 2012 1:40 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: The Early Preseason Top 10

@DONWARREN-4-6 "Id like to see the bowl predictions for ohio next year..WHOOPS?!?!"



Why in the world would you be interested in the predictions for the Ohio Bobcats?


If you're going to be a douche, at least get it right. 



Since: Sep 30, 2008
Posted on: January 19, 2012 1:25 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: The Early Preseason Top 10

Id like to see the bowl predictions for ohio next year..WHOOPS?!?!

I understand you're a Michigan fan trying to rub it in, but I am curious as to where people will be putting tOSU for next year.  They're coming off a crazy year, but almost everybody expects a ton of improvement for next year.  Are they top 25 worthy next year? What kind of momentum can Meyer create heading into the following year when they will be eligible to compete for a title?


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