Now that Shark Week is over, it's time for College Football List Week. Every day this week, Pat Forde will provide a list previewing some element of the 2012 season. First up, Forde's top 25.
I don't have huge disagreements from the preseason polls, mostly because we're all just guessing at this point. And since we're all guessing, I have no problem with someone – hi, Bob Asmussen of the Champaign (Ill.) News-Gazette – voting Michigan No. 1 in the AP poll. More power to you, Bob.
People get way too wound up about the polls, and there's now an attack mentality aimed at anyone who strays from the commonly accepted wisdom. Except how do we know the commonly accepted wisdom is all that wise? Especially in August.
That being said: No, I'm not voting Michigan No. 1.
Start with the best offensive line in the nation and an experienced quarterback, and the rest is just details. The Crimson Tide has recruited well enough to fill all skill-position gaps, and you know Nick Saban always will have a great defense. Plus, someone has to prove it can beat the SEC.
The Trojans' offense will be a blast to watch, and the defense won't be bad, either, if some replacements come through on the line. Matt Barkley deserves his preseason Heisman-favorite status. College football is a more interesting place when the Trojans are in the title mix.
For the past 10 days I've heard everyone downplaying the loss of Tyrann Mathieu. Sorry, not buying it. You unexpectedly lose your most impactful player on both defense and special teams, and there will be a drop-off. All the way to third in the nation.
De'Anthony Thomas may be the national Breakout Player of the Year. That is, if 1,200 yards from scrimmage and two kickoff-return touchdowns as a true freshman still left him under wraps at all. A favorable schedule should have the Ducks undefeated going into November.
Plug a couple of holes at receiver and the pieces will be in place for the Sooners. Then again, they're almost always in place in Norman, but they find a way to lose a game or two that keeps them out of the title picture. The return of Mike Stoops as coordinator might help a defense that gave up more than 40 points three times in Big 12 play.
Denard Robinson is back for the final season of a highly entertaining college career. Can he throw it well enough to get the Wolverines to the Rose Bowl – or an even bigger bowl? We'll see. He'll be helped by a solid back seven on defense.
The wild card is the wild man himself, stopgap coach John L. Smith. If he keeps the train Bobby Petrino constructed on the rails, I might have the Razorbacks underrated – especially since both Alabama and LSU must visit Arkansas.
8. West Virginia
Last we saw the Mountaineers, they were scoring 70 points in the Orange Bowl. While that's a partial indictment of bowl opponent Clemson, it's also a validation of Dana Holgorsen's pyrotechnic offense – which returns all its key parts. Strange as it is to say, the road to the Big 12 title could run through Morgantown on Nov. 17, when Oklahoma visits.
9. Florida State
A solid decade of failing to meet preseason expectations has me ranking the Seminoles a little lower than most. Maybe this is the season that changes, with tons of experience on both sides of the ball plus a talented recruiting class plus Oklahoma off the non-conference schedule.
The Badgers' rent-a-quarterback routine might not work as well this time around, going from one ACC expatriate (Russell Wilson of North Carolina State) to another (Danny O'Brien of Maryland). But with Montee Ball in the backfield, handing off will be the first, second and third priority for O'Brien.
Once again, the Bulldogs benefit from not playing the three best teams in the SEC (Alabama, LSU and Arkansas). If they win at South Carolina on Oct. 6, I expect them to repeat as SEC East champions, and the fans will have to wait another year before trying to shove Mark Richt out of Athens.
12. South Carolina
One of the abiding curiosities of the Steve Spurrier Era in Columbia has been that his best teams have been driven by defense, while quarterback play has been spotty. Connor Shaw may be in the process of upgrading the quarterback production, and if Marcus Lattimore is 100 percent, the Gamecocks' offense finally may match the defense.
Brent Venables arrives from Oklahoma to try and salvage a defense that flat surrendered in the Orange Bowl. The offense, with quarterback Tajh Boyd, tailback Andre Ellington and receiver Sammy Watkins, only needs to fill some holes on the line to be high-octane again. The opener against Auburn should be revealing.
Replacing 11 full-time starters and jumping up in class from the Mountain West to the Big 12 makes a top-15 ranking seem a bit ambitious, but Gary Patterson has mastered the ability to reload. Find some offensive tackles and some safeties, and the Horned Frogs should be 7-0 heading into a back-loaded end of the schedule.
15. Michigan State
Mark Dantonio has stacked up enough quality recruiting classes that the Spartans should be a perennially ranked team. This season's edition is a contender despite losing stellar quarterback Kirk Cousins and just about every receiver who caught an important pass in 2011.
16. Kansas State
The Wildcats won 10 games last season largely by going 8-1 in games decided by seven or fewer points. That sort of good fortune is difficult to replicate, but K-State does have a lot of returning talent, led by Cam Newton Lite (Collin Klein) at quarterback and Arthur Brown at linebacker.
17. Ohio State
The 2011 Buckeyes were crippled by offseason mayhem and produced a correspondingly awful season. They went 6-7, with the worst offensive and defensive statistics in many years. Now Urban Meyer comes to town, plugs Braxton Miller into his spread-option offense and inherits an experienced defense. Expect immediate results.
18. Virginia Tech
The Hokies have become rather predictable under Frank Beamer. The good predictability: They're going to win 10 or more games. The bad predictability: They're going to lay at least one egg, often at home and rarely when expected, that keeps them from an elite season. Why change now?
The Longhorns are one of the toughest calls in the country. After a two-year drop from elite status, a bounceback season is expected given the talent on the roster. But there still is uncertainty at quarterback, and the much-discussed return to a power run game has been sporadic. So this is a guess.
20. Boise State
The Broncos lost everything but their blue turf – leading rusher, leading receiver, nine of their top 10 tacklers and a four-year superstar quarterback. But they still have coach Chris Petersen, maybe the best in the business, and he has quietly been stacking up recruiting classes.
Speaking of teams that lost a lot: The Cardinal is without No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck and several other high NFL draftees. But Stanford does have 1,300-yard rusher Stepfan Taylor and one of the nation's best linebacker corps to build around. Don't relegate the Cardinal to also-ran status just yet.
22. Oklahoma State
The progression under Mike Gundy has been inexorable: From 4-7 his first year to solid in his next two (7-6 both seasons) to good (9-4 in 2008 and '09) to excellent (11-2 and 12-1 the past two years). Now comes the inevitable drop, with massive losses on offense. But this could be Oklahoma State's best defense in years, so don't expect a disappearance from contender status.
The Cardinals were the youngest team in the nation last season, but came on as the kids grew up and finished in a three-way tie for the Big East title. Now, with sophomores all over the field and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater a star in the making, coach Charlie Strong could win the league outright in his third season.
24. North Carolina
The Tar Heels have a new coach to energize the offense (Larry Fedora) and a talented quarterback for him to work with in Bryn Renner. But the best thing the Heels have going for them is a sweetheart schedule – no Florida State or Clemson, and all four ACC road games are winnable (Wake Forest, Miami, Duke, Virginia).
The Utes' introduction to the Pac-12 was brutal: They lost their first four league games and starting quarterback Jordan Wynn for the year to injury. But they rebounded to win four consecutive Pac-12 games and set a positive tone for 2012. With 1,500-yard rusher John White and stud defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, plus a healthy Wynn, Utah is poised to be the league's surprise team.
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