Blog Entry

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: Aug 28, 2009
Posted on: January 17, 2012 3:11 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: The Early Preseason Top 10

I think you may be right in the top selections. Pretty hard to put LSU number one when they'll be starting a new QB. That always pulls down the initial rankings, usually more than one slot. Bama loses a lot of talent, sure, they're stacked but the jury is still out on how well they perform/mesh.

Schedule is a factor and it's hard to argue that conference-wise USC has an edge as well.All of this can and probably will change long before it's done. For now? Pretty accurate.



Since: Jan 25, 2009
Posted on: January 17, 2012 2:48 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: The Early Preseason Top 10

As funny as this sounds, I would add UWashington to the way too early top 10. They return just about everybody and their defense is only going to get better and healthier. The addition of Wilcox as their DC is a major, major step up in coaching talent. The offense should be even more explosive as the returning backs (minus Polk) are all rushing and receiving threats and outside of Stanford, they may have the best TE no one knows about in Austin Safarian-Jenkins. They are going to be very, very good.



Since: Jan 17, 2012
Posted on: January 17, 2012 2:46 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: The Early Preseason Top 10

Is there something going on in Georgia im not aware of..South Carolina couldnt crack the top-ten?



Since: May 30, 2007
Posted on: January 17, 2012 2:35 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: The Early Preseason Top 10

Alabama at 3? Half their starters are gone. Their defense won them the title (i.e. their offense was slightly above average). Their defense (the thing that won that title) is getting stripped (at best 5 returning starters). This is lame. I'm wasting my time even thinking about this BS.



Since: Mar 8, 2011
Posted on: January 17, 2012 2:26 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: The Early Preseason Top 10

I may be in the minority, but I would put Wisconsin in there at #10, even with them losing their QB. Their 3 losses this year were all close games, and Monte Ball is coming back. Plus, I would give the nod to a B1G team in there before FL State based on competition alone.



Since: Aug 17, 2009
Posted on: January 17, 2012 2:16 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: The Early Preseason Top 10

Where's the proof that Georgia is a top 10 team?


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