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Fearless Rick's 2012 NCAA Preseason Top 25

Rick Gagliano | August 19, 2012

NCAA PRESEASON TOP 25 - Predicted order of finish

USC Trojans1. USC Trojans

Topping the list for 2012 is Southern Cal, after spending the last two seasons ineligible for post-season play. Matt Barkley, who could have left after his freshman year or even after setting a school record with 39 TD passes last season, opted to stay a Trojan and now returns as a senior with a team loaded for not just the PAC-12 title but an aim for the national championship.

Barkley will have an explosive offense, featuring quite possible the best tandem of receivers in the country, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.

USC also has a solid backfield, led by Curtis McNeal (6.9 ypc) and Penn State transfer Silas Redd.

The offensive line returns four of five starters and the defense will be experienced and much improved with seven returnees and a host of talented recruits.

USC's linebackers could be a key, with all three having started as freshmen under defensive cordinator Monte Kiffin.

The Trojans are expected to possibly lead the nation in scoring with one of the best offenses on the coast since the days of Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart. The big test comes November 3rd when they host Oregon, but the Trojans appear poised for a return to former glory.

Oklahoma Sooners2. Oklahoma Sooners

Bob Stoops enters his 14th year as Oklahoma's head coach with an enviable 139-34 record and will have the luxury of having 19 starters return, including quarterback Landry Jones, who almost turned pro, but decided to come back for another year of Sooner football.

Jones holds plenty of school records but wants to win a national championship, and this could be the year to do so.

Despite losing wideout Ryan Broyles, Jones has playmakers aplenty on his side and the return of RB Dominique Whaley to even out the offense.

Stoops' brother Mike is back as defensive coordinator and the hope is that he can re-ignite some spark into an otherwise lackluster bunch that was burned all too often in 2011.

The schedule is not all that difficult, with Texas and Oklahoma State in down years, but Kansas State, Notre Dame and the season finale, at TCU will be true tests.

Alabama Crimson Tide3. Alabama Crimson Tide

A year removed from the national title, the Tide will be rolling again in 2012, though the schedule is not going to be kind and there are the questions of whether Eddie Lacy can replicate the kind of running and leadership exhibited by Trent Richardson, who graduated along with most of the receiving corps.

AJ McCarron had a fine first season as a starter at QB, and should be more poised and in control of the offense this year, especially behind one of the biggest o-lines in college football.

After leading the nation in defense in 2011, the Crimson Tide only has four returning starter, though there are a host of players who saw spot duty still available to fill in and play full time.

With all the talent that's moved on since last year and a schedule which includes three tough road games at Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU, it's going to be tough for Alabama to repeat as national champs.

LSU Tigers4. LSU Tigers

For head coach Les Miles, returning only 13 starters means he'll be reloading from the heavy recruiting class that holds great promise. One of the biggest disappointments is the loss of Tyrann Mathieu, who will skip the entire season to drug rehab.

After a couple of seasons with a quarterback merry-go-round, the Tigers have settled on junior Zach Mettenberger, who has a gun for an arm and an army of swift receivers on the flanks. In the backfield, Michael Ford, Spencer Ware and Alfred Blue all rushed for over 500 yards and are all back, so the offense is going to be more balanced than ever.

The defense ranked #2, behind Alabama, last season, but could be even better, despite losing talented Morris Claiborne in the secondary. The strength of LSU's defense is up front, where they have a bevy of talented big men who can really get after it.

The Tigers may also have one of the nation's best special teams units, with punter Brad Wing, place kicker Drew Alleman and wide receiver Paul Turner, who should see action returning kickoffs.

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Oregon Ducks5. Oregon Ducks

In three years as Oregon's head coach, Chip Kelly has amassed a record of 34-6 and a national championship, but he's not satisfied with just one.

Despite losing a host of key players on offense - QB Darron Thomas and RB LaMichael James - the Ducks will be running and gunning again in 2012, behind either sophomore Bryan Bennett or redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota behind center and emergent star DeAnthony Thomas, who will line up in the backfield, as a wideout or in the slot.

While the offense will put up plenty of points - they were third in the nation last season at 46.2 ppg - the 3-4 defense will be stronger this year with more work under their collective belts and seven returning starters.

If the Ducks can find a way to win at USC on November 3rd, they could be in line for the national championship. Otherwise, they're almost certain to return to the Rose Bowl.

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South Carolina Gamecocks6. South Carolina Gamecocks

After years of knocking on the door, Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks appear ready to run right through it this season. Connor Shaw proved he was a versatile, athletic quarterback with great instinct and fleet feet, and he will be reunited with all world running back Macus Lattimore, who spent most of last season on the bench due to injury.

The Gamecocks return an incredible 18 starters, plus Lattimore, and should be well-oiled by the time they tee it up for the SEC regular season.

The defense - fourth overall nationally in 2011 - is rock solid up front with bookend DEs Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. South Carolina has to replace both starting cornerbacks from a year ago, which is a bit of a concern against the grwoing number of spread and pro-sytle offense around the league.

The schedule is loaded, with Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas as home games and back-to-back road tests at LSU and Florida, October 13 and 20, but the Gamecocks have all the tools for a successful season and a return to the SEC championship.

Georgia Bulldogs7. Georgia Bulldogs

How good is the SEC going to be this year?

So good that Georgia, which ranked third in overall defense in 2011, doesn't even get into the top five, mostly because the other two teams ahead of them last season were LSU and Alabama.

The Bulldogs will benefit from having nine defensive starters return for the 2012 campaign, including All-American linebacker Jarvis Jones, his 13.5 sacks, and just about everyone else.

Offense is a bit of a concern in Athens, even though QB Aaron Murray returns, along with his favorite receiver, Tavarres King. The line needs to replace three starters from a year ago, and it will take some time for the rotation to settle.

The best thing going for the Bulldogs is the schedule, with neither Alabama nor LSU on it. The key game for Georgia is their October 6 meeting at South Carolina, a tough place to win.

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Forida State Seminoles8. Florida State Seminoles

Picked by many experts to capture the ACC, the Seminoles will be packed with returning veterans - 18 in all - including senior QB EJ Manuel, who has a fleet of receivers who will be vying for playing time.

Chris Thompson and Devonta Freeman comprise one of the best running back tandems in the conference, if not the country. Senior Thompson missed most of last season with a back injury,but is expected to be at full speed when the season begins.

As usual, Florida State will dominate most ACC teams on defense with a huge, fast group of linemen who can get after quarterbacks and stuff the run with the best of them.

In 2011, Florida State was #6 in overall defense (274.6 ypg) and fourth in scoring defense (15.2 ppg) and should be just as good, if not even better, this year.

Michigan Wolverines9. Michigan Wolverines

Denard Robinson, one of the most exciting players in the college ranks, returns at quarterback for Michigan and the expectations are high for the Wolverines to win the Big Ten.

Joining Robinson in the backfield will be rugged running back, Fitzgerald Toussaint, who rushed for more than 1000 yards in 2011 without playing full time.

Michigan will run the ball effectively and Robinson, more mature, will have to cut down on his conference-high 15 interceptions from last season.

Defensively, seven starters return from a befense ranked sixth overall in 2011, and the Wolverines are stacked at linebackers and in the defensive backfield.

A key game will be their season opener against national champion, Alabama, on September 1. The game is at a neutral location and should give fans a complete look at what's in store for Michigan football in 2012.

Wisconsin Badgers10. Wisconsin Badgers

The pick to win the Leaders Division and possibly repeat as Big Ten champions, Wisconsin will feature an offense built around all-American running back Montee Ball and Maryland transfer, QB Danny O'Brien, who will have two solid receivers in Jared Abbrederis and tight end Jacob Pedersen.

Losing to Oregon, 45-38, in last season's Rose Bowl was no disgrace, but the game displayed some holes in an otherwise sound defense. The Badgers will have to put more pressure on quarterbacks and find some new bodies to shore up the secondary.

With Ohio State ineligible for post-season play, Wisconsin is poised for another season with just one or two losses. Key games include a September 29 meeting at Nebaska and an October 27 home game against Michigan State.

Click here for teams 11-25.

Copyright 2010, 2013, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.


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