KC SportsNation’s Preseason Top 25 College Football Poll

TEAM (1st place votes)  Pts                         

1. LSU (1)                      97

Key returnees: CB Tyrann Mathieu, S Eric Reid, DE Sam Montgomery, DE Barkevious Mingo, RB Michael Ford, RB Spencer Ware, WR Russell Shepard, P Brad Wing

Key losses: CB Morris Claiborne, DT Michael Brockers, OG Will Blackwell, WR Reuben Randle

Sure, LSU lost some talent in the offseason – nine starters – however their defense is still full of studs and the secondary still features Tyrann “the Honey Badger” Mathieu. And, with the addition of juco transfer Zack Mettenberger, the offense – which returns the running back combo of Spencer Ware and Michael Ford, the Tigers are improved on offense without the woeful quarterback combo of Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee directing the offense, which was still good enough to go 13-1 and play the BCS National Championship Game. The Tigers will still be a run-oriented team, ball control team, but Mettenberger – who showed off a strong and accurate arm during spring practice – will be able to give the Tigers a downfield throwing threat that they did not have last year. LSU also has an easy non-conference schedule (North Texas, Idaho and FCS foe Towson), but Washington will pose somewhat of a threat.

2. USC (2)                  94

Key returnees: QB Matt Barkley, WR Robert Woods, WR Marqise Lee, C Khaled Holmes, LB Dion Bailey, LB Hayes Pullard, S T.J. McDonald, CB Nickell Robey

Key losses: DE Nick Perry, OT Matt Kalil, TE Rhett Ellison

The NCAA postseason ban ends at the right time as USC is a serious national title contender. Quarterback Matt Barkely, who skipped forgoing his senior season to chase a national title, is the leader of the pack on a LOADED roster that features 19 returning starters from a 10-2 team. Oh, and they just won the Silas Redd lottery. Redd, the Penn State transfer, will help shore up the one offensive liability – RB. Curtis McNeal ran for 1,024 yards last year and returns, but the rest of the RB’s ran for 163 yards. The offense has more returning production than the 2005 offense of Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Lendale White, Dwayne Jarrett, tackles Taitusi Lutui and Sam Baker, C Ryan Kalil and guard Fred Matua with Barkley the RB combo and receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods – owner of the most prolific receiving season in Southern Cal history.

Everyone has Nov. 3 circled on the calender for the Trojans showdwon with Oregon. The winner could likely be headed to the BCS title game, BUT USC’s schedule has other road block’s along the way. The Trojans play Pac-12 road games at Stanford on Sept. 15 and at Washington on Oct. 13 and a season and home finale against Notre Dame Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 24. In all USC, who ended last season playing the best football in the nation, plays six 2011 bowl teams.

3. Alabama                    90

Key returnees: LB Nico Johnson, S Robert Lester, DL Jesse Williams, QB AJ McCarron, C Barrett Jones, OG Chance Warmack, RB Eddie Lacy

Key losses: RB Trent Richardson, WR Marquis Maze, LB Courtney Upshaw, LB Dont’a Hightower, CB Dre’ Kirkpatrick, CB DeQuan Menzie, DT Josh Chapman

Alabama comes out of the gate playing Heisman hopeful Denard Robinson and Michigan at the Jerry Dome in Arlington, so the Tide better be ready. But, despite losing the studs that they lost from last year’s national title team, they STILL look like one of the best team’s in the nation. One of the advantages to Bama’s domination last year, was they were able to get plenty of inexperienced players snaps so they aren’t shocked when they become starters. Nick Saban does to not “rebuild,” he “reloads.” As long as Saban stays in Tuscaloosa, the Tide are Top 5 material. Guaranteed.

The offense will have to lean on QB A.J. McCarron a lot this season, he is ready for the burden? He will bring a downfield passing attack, but it’s hard to imagine them not running the ball often behind what might be one of the best offensive lines in school history. Defensively, Saban really likes linebackers Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson, and juco transfer Deion Blue helped solidify the secondary during the spring.

4. Oregon (1)                89

Key returnees: RB De’Anthony Thomas, RB Kenjon Barner, WR Josh Huff, OG Carson York, DE Dion Jordan, S John Boyett

Key losses: RB LaMichael James, QB Darron Thomas, LB Eddie Pleasant, LB Josh Kaddu

QB Darron Thomas shocked everyone by leaving school early, but two QB’s were waiting in the wings, just as Thomas was when Jeremiah Masoli was kicked off the team in 2010. Bryan Bennett played well while subbing for an injured Thomas last year, and Marcus Mariota, a redshirt freshman from Honolulu, might have an even more impressive skill set and is expected to be the starter even though Chip Kelly likely wont name a starter until the week before the opener. And, yes LaMichael James is gone, but Kenjon Barner is back and home run threat speedster De’Anthony Thomas, who strikes fear into opposing defenses everytime he steps on the field, will do plenty to help the new QB get acclimated.

Oregon’s defense must replace two starting linebackers and two defensive backs. The Ducks sets up nicely as they play five of their first six games at home and their nonconference schedule is much easier with home games against Arkansas State, Fresno State and FCS-foe Tennessee Tech. Road games at Southern Cal and California and a home game against Stanford might loom large in November. The game at USC Nov. 3 could very well decide pave the way to a BCS title game bid. Another 12-win season is likely for the Ducks, who are coming off back-to-back 12-win seasons.

5. Oklahoma                  86

Key returnees: QB Landry Jones, QB Blake Bell, RB Dominique Whaley, WR Kenny Stills, OG Gabe Ikard, LB Tom Wort, S Tony Jefferson

Key losses: WR Ryan Broyles, DE Frank Alexander, DE Ronnell Lewis, LB Travis Lewis, CB Jamell Fleming

As always, Oklahoma and Bob Stoops will be loaded with talent. Quarterback Landry Jones returns to lead what should be a high-scoring offense, but he’ll have to work without All-American Ryan Broyles, the most prolific receiver in school history. He will also have to prove that he won’t suck against good teams, notably the interceptions. If he continues to struggle in crucial situations, you may see more and more of Blake Bell, who flourished in the “Belldozer formation” and was a star in the spring taking normal snaps at QB, not just situational. Tailback Dominique Whaley returns from an ankle injury that caused him to miss the second half of the 2011 season. OU coach Bob Stoops hired his brother, former Arizona coach Mike Stoops, as his new defensive coordinator, who should help stabilize the Sooners’ secondary, which struggled in the pass-happy Big 12 last season. OU’s final three games at Big 12 newcomer West Virginia on Nov. 17, home against Oklahoma State in the Nov. 24 Bedlam game and at Big 12 newcomer TCU on Dec. 1 will probably determine whether it will be a BCS title contender in 2012. Personally, I think Stoops has plateaued in Norman.

6. Florida State           76

Key returnees: QB E.J. Manuel, WR Rashad Greene, DE Brandon Jenkins, DE Bjoern Werner,

Key losses: OT Zebrie Sanders, OT Andrew Datko, LB Nigel Bradham

Jimbo Fisher has Florida State loaded again. Are they back? Lets not get ahead of ourselves, first they’ll have to win the ACC and get back to the BCS before we label them as back. They’re going to have to prove it on the field. The defense, which was its strength last season, only loses two starters and could be even better than 2011 with pass-rushing monsters Jenkins and Werner and uber-athletic linebackers and defensive backs. The unit took a hit when Greg Reid who doubled as a return specialist, closing on Deion Sanders school-record return yards was dismissed from the team just last week with a “third strike” off the field arrest. Last year, the Seminoles were ravaged by injuries on the offensive line last season, and quarterback EJ Manuel was hampered by shoulder and leg injuries. If the ‘Noles can chore that up, they’ll be able to compete for an ACC title. FSU’s running game remains a concern after tailbacks Chris Thompson, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. missed most of the spring. FSU plays two FCS foes (Murray State and Savannah State) because West Virginia canceled a scheduled game after moving to the Big 12. The Seminoles also play their first four games at home and only three contests outside of Florida, so the schedule sets up nicely.

7. South Carolina          72

Key returnees: DE Jadeveon Clowney, DE Devin Taylor, RB Marcus Lattimore, QB Connor Shaw, LB Shaq Wilson

Key losses: DE Melvin Ingram, CB Stephon Gilmore, WR Alshon Jeffery, OG Rokevious Watkins

South Carolina is enjoying success they have never experienced before under Steve Spurrier. Over the past two seasons, the Gamecocks earned their first SEC East title in 2010 and first 11-win season in 2011. Similar results can be expected in 2012. Their chances might depend on the health of star tailback Marcus Lattimore, who missed the spring while recovering from a torn ACL. Spurrier said Lattimore will be ready for the start of the regular season. Quarterback Connor Shaw seemed more comfortable in the spring after he completed 70 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and two interceptions in the last four games of 2011 (all victories). The defense will need freak defensive end Jadeveon Clowney as it has to replace star defensive end Melvin Ingram and cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and C.C. Whitlock, but appeared geared to challenge Georgia for the SEC East crown. They will get their first shot in the season-opening Thursday night slate with Vandy.

8. Michigan                    63

Key returnees: QB Denard Robinson, OT Taylor Lewan, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, DE Craig Roh, S Jordan Kovacs, S Thomas Gordon, LB Kenny Demens

Key losses: DT Mike Martin, DE Ryan Van Bergen

Is Michigan back? Coach Brady Hoke worked wonders in his first season in Ann Arbor, going 11-2, earning a BCS Bowl (Sugar), beat rival Ohio State for the first time since 2003 and knocked off Virginia Tech 23-20 in the Sugar Bowl. They could do it all again this year, and have their sights on a Big Ten berth – and maybe more. Anything is possible with quarterback Denard Robinson. “Shoelaces,” a lightning fast runner who lacks an accurate arm, had a knack for late-game heroics last year, and could be in the Heisman race if it continues. Thirteen other starters return and more importantly, the Michigan defense was not the embarrassment it was under Rich-Rod. In fact, under coordinator Greg Mattison, but he’ll have to replace tackles Mike Martin and Will Heininger and end Ryan Van Bergen, the Wolverines finishes in the To reach their goals, the Wolverines will have to end Michigan State’s four-year ownership of their series. They also get defending BCS national champion Alabama in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 1 right out of the gate and plays Big Ten road games at Nebraska on Oct. 27 and at Ohio State on Nov. 24.

9. Arkansas                   61

Key returnees: QB Tyler Wilson, RB Knile Davis, WR Cobi Hamilton, OG Alvin Bailey, LB Tenarius Wright, CB Darius Winston, LB Alonzo Highsmith

Key losses: Coach Bobby Petrino, WR Jarius Wright, WR Joe Adams, LB Jerry Franklin, S Tramain Thomas

Arkansas has played in two high-profile bowls (Sugar, Cotton) the last two seasons, but now they’ll have to do it without Bobby Petrino AND they are still in the toughest division in all of football, the SEC West. That could be up to former Michigan State and Louisville coach John L. Smith, who was hired as an interim coach to replace Petrino.  He has plenty of firepower to work with on offense, including quarterback preseason All-SEC QB Tyler Wilson and tailback Knile Davis, who is coming back from an ankle injury that caused him to miss all of the 2011 season. Wilson, who threw for 3,638 yards and 24 touchdowns last season, will have to operate with a depleted WR core after the departures of Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs. Can Smith keep the high-octane offense rolling? The Razorbacks play Alabama and LSU — the only teams to beat them last season – at home this year.

9. Georgia                      61

Key returnees: QB Aaron Murray, LB Jarvis Jones, S Bacarri Rambo, DE Abry Jones, DT John Jenkins, WR/CB Malcolm Mitchell, RB

Key losses: TE Orson Charles, OT Cordy Glenn, DT DeAngelo Tyson

Georgia does not have to play Alabama, Arkansas or LSU and faces the easiest road to the SEC East title and the SEC championship game. That said, they’ll have to survive a Sept. 8 road game at Missouri. The Bulldogs were going to have to play the game without starting cornerback Sanders Commings and All-America safety Bacarri Rambo, but their multi-game suspensions have been lifted. This eases the concerns of Georgia fans, whose team always struggles early in the season and were looking at five suspended players. They join seven others coming back on defense, including All-America linebacker Jarvis Jones, Georgia figures to be as stingy as any team in the country. Quarterback Aaron Murray enters 2012 as one of the top QB’s in the SEC and with a stout defense, the Bulldogs success will hinge on Murray, but he will need freshman RB’s Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley to step up following the dismissal of incumbent Isaiah Crowell.

11. Clemson                  54

Key returnees: WR Sammy Watkins, QB Tajh Boyd, RB Andre Ellington, C Dalton Freeman, DE Malliciah Goodman

Key losses: DE Andre Branch, TE Dwayne Allen, DT Brandon Thompson, OT Phillip Price

Clemson finally made it to a BCS Bowl, earning an automatic berth to the Orange Bowl by beating Virginia Tech (for the second time) in the ACC title game, but the result wasn’t pretty – a 70-33 thrashing by West Virginia. The good news is much of the high-powered offense is back – Quarterback Tajh Boyd, tailback Andre Ellington and receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins. The bad news is, much of the defense is back. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney fired defensive coordinator Kevin Steele after the embarrassing loss to the Mountaineers and replaced him with former Oklahoma assistant Brent Venables. Venables inherits a young defense, but at least Clemson’s offense will keep it in most games. Can the defense, which allowed over 26 points per game in 2011, hold up its end of the bargin? The Tigers play at Florida State on Sept. 22 and play Georgia Tech and a rematch with Virginia Tech at home in October.

12. Michigan State         50

Key returnees: DE Will Gholston, RB Le’Veon Bell, CB Darqueze Dennard, CB Johnny Adams, S Isaiah Lewis, LB Denicos Allen, TE Dion Sims

Key losses: QB Kirk Cousins, DT Jerel Worthy, WR Keshawn Martin, WR B.J. Cunningham, OG Joel Foreman

The Spartans lost a bunch of fire power – including their two best offensive players QB Kirk Cousins and WR BJ Cunningham and All-America defensive tackle. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell figures to replace Cousins, and tailback Le’Veon Bell, who ran for 948 yards with 13 touchdowns last season, will be the feature back. The defense, which was tops in the Big Ten last season, only loses one starter. Two big home non-con games – Boise State on Aug. 31 and Notre Dame on Sept. 15 – and Big Ten roadies at Michigan on Oct. 20 and at Wisconsin on Oct. 27 are the big ones on the schedule. Sparty will be good, but they lost too much to truly contend for a Big Ten crown or be on the brink of a BCS bid like they have been the past two seasons.

13. Virginia Tech           39

Key returnees: QB Logan Thomas, WR, Marcus Davis, WR Dyrell Roberts, OG David Wang, DE James Gayle, DE J.R. Collins, LB Bruce Taylor

Key losses: RB David Wilson, WR Danny Coale, OT Blake DeChristopher, CB Jayron Hosley

Virginia Tech winning 10 games and playing in the BCS is a simple fact of life. They have won done so in each of the last eight years, the longest streak in the country. Last year, despite losing twice to Clemson, the Hokies snuck their way into the Sugar Bowl last year, where they lost to Michigan. Seemingly every season, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer and his assistants just plug in new players and move right along. But Virginia Tech faces a mammoth rebuilding job this coming season, hence their lower-than-normal ranking. The Hokies must replace star tailback David Wilson, who left early for the NFL draft, as well as top receivers Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin and four starting offensive linemen. At least quarterback Logan Thomas is back after throwing for 3,013 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season. What will he do in his second year as a starter? At 6-6, 250 pounds, he has the tools to be one of the best signal-callers in the nation. The Hokies will be very good on defense, as always, anchored by a deep defensive line, returning nine starters from a unit that was Top 15 nationally last year, but their offense figures to be a work in progress. They’ll be challenged immediately this year with a Labor Day visit from Georgia Tech.

14. West Virginia          38

Key returnees: QB Geno Smith, WR Tavon Austin, WR Stedman Bailey, RB Dustin Garrison, C Joe Madsen, S Darwin Cook

Key losses: DE Bruce Irvin, LB Najee Goode, CB Keith Tandy

The offense-first Mountaineers are going to the right league – the Big 12, where defense is sometimes an afterthought – to showcase their offense, but will also be taking a step up in competition after moving from the depleted Big East. Coach Dana Holgerson knows all about the league, being a former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator and he brings his high-powered offense, led by quarterback Geno Smith, who set a school passing mark with more than 4,300 yards with 31 touchdowns in 2011. It could be even better this year as receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin are back, along with tailback Dustin Garrison, who is coming back from a torn ACL that caused him to miss the Orange Bowl and co-runner Shawne Alston. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel left for Arizona, and new co-coordinators Keith Patterson and Joe DeForest spent the spring replacing a 3-3-5 scheme with a more traditional 3-4 defense. The Mountaineers should contend for a league crown right off the bat. Despite being seventh in the country in passing yards (341.8) and 20th in scoring (34.9 ppg) the Mountaineers somehow went 5-2 in an awful Big East and won the league via tie-breakers.

15. Wisconsin                35

Key returnees: RB Montee Ball, C Travis Frederick, OT Ricky Wagner, WR Jared Abbrederis, LB Chris Borland, DT Beau Allen, LB Mike Taylor

Key losses: QB Russell Wilson, WR Nick Toon, C Peter Konz, OG Kevin Zeitler, S Aaron Henry, CB Antonio Fenelus

There will be plenty of new faces at Wisconsin this season – from new coaches to another transfer QB – but Heisman finalists Montee Ball (39 TD’s in 2011) is back. Ball was attacked and beaten on campus, but will be ready for the season opener. He will have an entire new offensive line blocking for him, but the Badgers have a history of having a big, solid group of big uglies, so this year should be nothing new despite a new group of names. Last year it was NC State’s Russell Wilson leading the offense and handing the ball off to Bell, now it will likely be Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien, who will be Badgers coach Bret Bielema’s most experienced signal-caller on the roster the moment he arrives in Madison this summer. After losing offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and five other assistant coaches, Bielema has to acclimate a bunch of new faces with a bunch of new coaches. The Badgers also must replace star receiver Nick Toon. The offense will take a step back, and the Badgers should slide down a bit in the B1G. That said, the defense is experiences, which will come in handy against home slates with Sparty and Ohio State. The Badgers also play at Nebraska and Penn State during Big Ten play, but don’t play Michigan or Iowa from the Legends Division. The offense will take a step back.

15. Ohio State        35

Key returnees: QB Braxton Miller, TE Jake Stoneburner, RB Jordan Hall,  DT John Simon

Key losses: WR Devier Posey, OT Mike Adams, RB Dan Herron, C Michael Brewster

Urban Meyer is the new sheriff in town in Columbus, replacing interim Luke Fickell, who faced a nearly impossible task last season of following Jim Tressel and lackluster offense with a freshman QB, BUT they also performed below talent level. Now, that QB – Braxton Miller – is a year older and will be vastly improved. He was a raw talent who was already showing signs of taking steps in the right direction at the end of last season.  Now, the uber-athlete Miller will be showcased in the wide-open, Urban Meyer spread offense that must find some playmakers to help the young QB. On defense, nine starters return, including All-America candidate John Simon on the defensive line. It is young, and like the offense, will only get better. OSU plays at Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin during Big Ten play. With a surprising bowl ban announced shortly after Meyer’s hire, the Buckeyes can play spoiler in the Big Ten.

17. Texas                       31

Key returnees: RB Malcolm Brown, RB Joe Bergeron, OG Mason Walters, DE Alex Okafor, DE Jackson Jeffcoat, S Kenny Vaccaro, CB Quandre Diggs

Key losses: RB Fozzy Whitaker, LB Keenan Robinson, S Blake Gideon

Texas’ QB play last season was some of the worst in the nation, but they won some games down the stretch, thanks in part to a VERY GOOD defense and a ground-and-pound running game behind tailbacks Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown. The QB issues are not going away. Case McCoy and David Ash are still competing for the starting job, a battle that will probably stretch far into preseason camp. Neither looked very good at all last year, and if they do not improve, will hold Texas back from competing for a conference title. The Longhorns got a break from the Big 12 schedule-makers, as many of their really difficult conference games (West Virginia, Baylor and TCU) will be played at home, in addition to their annual showdown with Oklahoma in Dallas at the Texas State Fair. Fact is, Texas has more talent than just about any team not located in either Baton Rouge or Tuscaloosa, and eventually talent wins out, but for the, to rise in the rankings the offense has to improve, something I DO NOT see happening this year.

18. Boise State              29

Key returnees: RB D.J. Harper, WR Matt Miller, OG Joe Kellogg, CB Jamar Taylor, CB Jerrell Gavins

Key losses: QB Kellen Moore, RB Doug Martin, OT Nate Potter, DE Shea McClellin, DE Tyrone Crawford, DT Billy Winn, S George Iloka

With the exception of Moore, the winningest quarterback in FBS history, all of those in the “Key losses” category were drafted. That speaks volumes of the Boise State program and how well Chris Petersen developed his under-the-radar recruits. The players who will take over at Boise State signed with the Broncos after the program had proven itself to be more than a flash in the pan. They’ve worked behind some very good players, but are they ready to uphold the winning tradition those draftees helped create? We should know quickly whether the next generation is ready. Boise State opens at Michigan State, and Sparty will not allow any of the Broncos to ease into their new roles. It should be no surprise that so many are writing off the Broncos in 2012, and figuring that they won’t make their annual run at the BCS. Well, consider this: Chris Petersen is now 73-6 at Boise. The Broncos will also have to hit the road to Southern Miss in non-con.

19. Nebraska                 24

Key returnees: QB Taylor Martinez, I-Back Rex Burkhead, OG Spencer Long, WR Kenny Bell, DE Cameron Meredith, LB Will Compton

Key losses: DT Jared Crick, LB Lavonte David, CB Alfonzo Dennard

Nebraska went 9-4 last year in the first year in a new league, a league that seems to fit their style. But, the Huskers defense – which was built to face the faster Big 12, wore down late at the bruising smashmouth offense of the Big Ten. Is this the season Nebraska finally makes its move under coach Bo Pelini? The Cornhuskers have lost four games in each of Pelini’s first four seasons and they haven’t won a conference championship since 1999. That is all on the shoulders of junior QB Taylor Martinez, who said to be a “workout warrior” this offseason. For the Husker to contend for a Big Ten crown, he is going to have to be better. A LOT better. Martinez says his goal it to complete 70% of his passes this season, but he completed only 56.2 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions last season. The run-first QB will join Preseason 2nd Team All-American back Rex Burkhead, who is one of the most effective runners in the country, to form a strong running attack. But, Martinez has to produce some sort of passing game to keep defenses honest. Until we see it, there is no reason to think it will change. Nebraska’s defense also lost a star player at each level: tackle Jared Crick, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. Crick was lost to injury at midseason last year, so the Cornhuskers know how to play without him. Replacing David will be more difficult. The good news is linebackers Compton, Sean Fisher and Alonzo Whaley are all experienced seniors.

20. Notre Dame             23

OFFENSE: RB Jonas Gray, WR Michael Floyd, G Trevor Robinson, OT Taylor Dever, K David Ruffer, QB Dayne Crist (transferred)

DEFENSE: DE Ethan Johnson, OLB Darius Fleming, CB Robert Blanton, CB Gary Gray, S Harrison Smith

Remember when Beano Cook declared Brian Kelly would win a national title within three years at Notre Dame? That year is here.  So, I guess the clock is ticking. Kelly does have his best team he has had since taking over the Irish, but hopes of a National title may be a chance. The only significant loss on offense in regards to who handles the football is receiver Michael Floyd. Coach Brian Kelly is an offensive mind who will be working with a wealth of experience at RB, WR and TE.  The biggest question that needs to be answered for the Irish is who is the quarterback. Tommy Rees has almost two years of experience under center but turnover issues and lack of arm strength and dynamic play making ability has left Coach Kelly searching for answers.  It looks like Redshirt freshman Everett Golson might just be that answer.  He can run and has a strong arm, if he can prove to Brian Kelly he can take care of the ball he may very well be under center to start the year in Ireland and Rees has to begin the season with a one-game suspension. All-American linebacker Manti Te’o will be back for his senior year. The secondary is the unit that takes the biggest hit as three fulltime starters will move on. The same issues in the defensive backfield that haunted the Irish for the last 15 years are still an issue. Whlie there remains some experience at the safety positions with Zeke Motta and Jamoris Slaughter, the new cornerbacks Lo Wood and Bennet Jackson will have a lot to prove.

21. TCU                          20

Key returnees: QB Casey Pachall, RB Ed Wesley, RB Waymon James, OG Blaize Foltz DE Stansly Maponga, LB Kenny Cain

Key losses: LB Tank Carder, CB Tekerrien Cuba, CB Greg McCoy, DE Braylon Broughton

Had West Virginia and TCU entered the Big 12 last season, I wouldn’t be nearly as high on their chances in their new home. But like the Mountaineers, the Horned Frogs will hit the league on the upswing. Pachall, broke school single-season records for completions (228), completion percentage (66.5) and passing yards (2,921) in his first season as a starter. Three TCU running backs ran for more than 700 yards last season and three of its top four receivers are coming back. TCU’s defense went through some early-season growing pains last season, and five starters are coming back this year. The Froggies will be facing a new weekly grind that they are not accustomed too, but they are a perennially ranked team for a reason. They have earned it. A difficult five-game stretch to close the season will make or break the season: Oklahoma State (road), West Virginia (road), Kansas State (home), Texas (road) and Oklahoma (home).

22. Oklahoma State      18

Key returnees: RB Joseph Randle, OG Lane Taylor, CB Brodrick Brown, LB Shaun Lewis

Key losses: QB Brandon Weeden, WR Justin Blackmon, DE Jamie Blatnick

Oklahoma State was an upset loss at Iowa State away from playing for the BCS championship, and three of their best players – Weeden, Blackmon and Blatnick – are gone. Now, offensive mind Mike Gundy is going with an 18-year-old QB – Wes Lunt – over junior Clint Chelf and redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh. Lunt replaces former starter Brandon Weeden, who guided the Pokes to a 23-3 record the past two seasons and their first Big 12 championship last year. The Pokes also must replace receivers Justin Blackmon, Josh Cooper and Michael Harrison, as well as right tackle Levy Adcock. Running back Joseph Randle is a hard-runner at RB. OSU’s defense, which forced an FBS-high 44 turnovers last season, will have to play well to help Lunt get comfortable early in the season. The defense gave up a bunch of yards, and without the turnovers, OSU could be in for a middle of the road Big 12 finish.

23. K-State             16

Key returnees: QB Collin Klein, LB Arthur Brown, CB Nigel Malone, C B.J. Finney, WR/KR Tyler Lockett

Key losses: OT Clyde Aufner, S Tysyn Hartman

If you notice the only skill player listed in key returnees is QB Collin Klein. That is by design. That is all the Cats need. Klein was Mr. Do It All last year, accounting for 79% of K-State’s total offense, rushing for 1,141 yards and 27 touchdown with another 13 TD and 1,918 yards through the air. But, doing it all took a toll on Klein last season, who was playing with obvious injuries. He also carried the ball an astounding 317 times – 100 more than the slowest RB in the Big 12 John Hubert. So, can the Wildcats find some help for Klein? Linebacker Arthur Brown and CB Nigel Malone are back to lead a defense that surrendered 27.9 points per game. The Wildcats’ road schedule during Big 12 play is arduous, with games at Oklahoma, Iowa State, West Virginia, TCU and Baylor and they won’t sneak up and surprise anyone this year, not after last season, where they continually won close games late despite being outgained – sometimes drastically – by opponents. It would not be surprising if K-State finishes the year outside the national polls as the law of averages point to K-State taking a step back, losing some of the close games, but a bowl is still very likely with the Old Wizard Bill Snyder on the sidelines.

23. Stanford                  16

Key returnees: RB Stepfan Taylor, LB Chase Thomas, LB Shayne Skov, C Sam Schwartzstein, DT Terrence Stephens, TE Levine Toilolo

Key losses: QB Andrew Luck, OG David DeCastro, OT Jonathan Martin, WR Chris Owusu, TE Coby Fleener

Stanford is coming off back-to-back BCS bowl berths, despite not earning a conference title. It is going to be tough to get to a third after the loss All-American QB and top NFL draft pick Andrew Luck. Also gone are guard David DeCastro, tight end Coby Fleener and tackle Jonathan Martin, who were selected in the first two rounds. Second-year coach David Shaw hasn’t picked between sophomore Brett Nottingham and Josh Nunes to be the heir apparent at quarterback, but its no big secret that Stanford figures to be a ground-oriented team with tailback Stepfan Taylor coming back. Shaw used the recent success the past two seasons into a Top 10 recruiting class. Is it time to consider the possibility that Stanford might actually be here to stay? Stanford plays USC at home on Sept. 15 and at Oregon on Nov. 17.

25. Missouri                  12

Key returnees: QB James Franklin, WR TJ Moe, LT Elvis Fisher, DT Sheldon Richardson, LB Andrew Wilson, CB EJ Gaines

Key losses: RT Dan Hoch, WR Wes Kemp, WR Jerell Jackson, DE Jacques Smith,  RB Henry Josey (injury), TE Michael Egnew

Preparing for the 2012 football season has been like no other for Gary Pinkel and his coaching staff, as the Tigers move to a new 14-team SEC – a league that has produced the last six national champs.  The Tigers entered November last season with a 4-5 record, but won three straight and then dominated North Carolina in a bowl game to finish 8-4, heading off to the new league with momentum on its side. Junior QB James Franklin returns for his second year as a starter. There was some concern about his throwing shoulder being healthy when the season began following off-season surgery stemming from a Spring Practice injury. But, all those concerns have been put to ease as he is 100% for the start of fall camp. Franklin isn’t the protypical Mizzou QB, as he is a runner and passer, finishing 15th in total offense, just shy of 4,000 with 37 TD – third best in school history. He was less than 100 yards away from becoming only the second FBS QB with 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing. The Tigers are perceived as being a wide-open spread team that tosses the ball all over the yard, but in reality the Tigers transitioned into a more balanced offense last season, just in perfect time for the move into the SEC. Last season they finished 12th in total offense nationally and were only one of two teams that averaged both 230 yards rushing AND passing. They return six starters on both sides of the ball. On offense, three on O-line, including sixth-year left tackle Elvis Fisher is back, but Mizzou will also likely be without star RB Henry Josey, who may be forced to redshirt as he recovers from a brutal knee injury. Senior Kendial Lawrence will take over as the go-to back in his absence. Graduation took three starting receivers, but TJ Moe is back as well as youngsters L’Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas, who led the nation in fourth quarter TD catches (6) and will add the No. 1 recruit in all of the land, Dorial Green Beckham. Defensively, the Tigers are weak up front, where they have little depth at the tackle spots. The LB core returns 2 starters, including leading tackler Andrew Wilson and gets Will Ebner back thanks to a medical hardship. The secondary returns all four starters, highlighted by junior corner EJ Gaines, who set a school record with 16 pass break-ups and earned All-Big 12 honors. The thought that Mizzou is taking a huge step up in competition by moving to the SEC is a misnomer. The Tigers played in a league that has just as many athletes as the SEC does, albeit the Big 12 puts their athletes on offense, while the SEC puts theirs on defense, and had success too – winning eight games six years in a row. If you can do that in the Big 12, you can do it in the SEC. Will it take longer for the SEC to adapt to Mizzou, or vice versa? It won’t take long for Missouri to be tested in the SEC, as Mizzou host Georgia in week 2 in a night game in Columbia.

Others Receiving Votes: Florida 11, Washington 10, UCF 6, Utah 6, Auburn 4, Tennessee 2, Louisville 1, Baylor 1, Georgia Tech 1, BYU 1, Penn State 1.

*The KC SportsNation football poll is derived from our college football staff.

Conference Breakdown

SEC: 6 (5 in Top 10)

Big 12: 6

Big Ten: 5

Pac-12: 3

ACC: 3

Mountain West: 1


Some things to think about

Who is the sleeper team to watch in 2012? Who is a national title darkhorse? Who can come out of nowhere and shock the college football world?

But when trying to pick your national title winner or darkhourse teams – there are a things to consider. Preseason rankings may seem arbitrary to some of you, but every BCS National Champion has been ranked in the preseason AP Top 25. And it has been nearly three decades since an unranked team won the AP national title.

  • Only one team ranked outside of the AP Top 20 has ever won a BCS National Championship – Auburn in 2010 behind Cam Newton. The Tigers are the lowest ranked preseason team in the BCS era to win the title and are the first team outside of the top since 1990 to even clinch a share of the title. Additionally, Oregon began 2010 outside of the top 10 at No. 11 — making the 2010 BCS National Championship game the only national title contest in the last 30+ years to features two teams that began outside of the top 10 in the preseason polls.
  • Four times in 14 years has the national champ come from outside the preseason Top 10. In addition to Auburn, Oklahoma in 2000 was ranked 19th, LSU in 2003 was ranked 15th and Ohio State was ranked 13th. Only three additional teams since 1984, Notre Dame in 1988 (13th) and Michigan in 1997 (14th) and Georgia Tech in 1990 (UR), have won the national title starting outside of the top 10. And Tech didn’t claim the AP title in 1990.
  • Since 1981, the year I was born, only twice has a team unranked in the preseason gone on to win the AP/BCS national championship. The 1984 BYU Cougars and the 1983 Miami Hurricanes are the only champs to start the year outside of the Top 25 and finish on top since 1982. Technically, Georgia Tech claimed a share of the national title in 1990 after beginning the season unranked. However, it didn’t claim the AP title that year, preseason No. 5 Colorado did.
  • Four of the last five national champions were ranked in the top five in the AP preseason poll. Alabama in 2009 and Florida in 2008 were No. 5, while LSU in 2007 and Alabama in 2011 both began No. 2. In fact, 16 times in the last 32 seasons has the national champion begun the year in the top five, meaning that there is a 50% chance that LSU, USC, Alabama, Oregon and Oklahoma will win the title. It also means there is only a 50% chance that the champion comes from the other 119 teams. Both the 2003 and 1997 split champs were outside of the top five and both the 1991 champs were inside the preseason top five. The 1990 championship featured one unranked team (Georgia Tech) and one top five team (Colorado).
  • Amazingly, USC in 2004 was the last AP preseason No. 1 team to claim the national championship. In fact, since 1982, only three preseason No. 1 teams have gone on to win the title. Florida State in 1999 and 1993 were the only two other teams to match the ’04 Trojans of wire-to-wire dominance. In fact, the preseason No. 1 team in the AP poll hasn’t even played in the national title game since 2006 when Ohio State lost to Florida. More teams have lost the national title game as preseason No. 1’s than have won it in the BCS era. Yes, six trips (of 14) to the BCS title game is extremely accurate — and obviously most fanbases would take a guarenteed trip to the title game — but more times than not that team loses (2-4). Which, frankly, is all that matters. On the other hand, four of the last 12 national champions began the season ranked No. 2 in the preseason, more than any other preseason rankings by a wide margin. Eight times has the No. 2 team played in the BCS National Championship game, more than any other slot. Of the 28 total BCS title game teams, nearly 30% have started the season as the No. 2 team in the AP poll.
  • The preseason number you don’t want your team to be? Third or fourth. No team in the BCS era has won a title beginning the year ranked No. 3 or No. 4. Florida in 1996 was the last preseason No. 4 team to claim the title and Miami in 1991 was the last team ranked No. 3 in the preseason to win the big prize. So for Athlon, this knocks out Alabama (No. 3) and Oregon (No. 4). Elsewhere inside the top 10, sixth hasn’t won a title since 1997 and ninth hasn’t clinched the championship since 1992. For good measure, eleventh hasn’t won a title in the last 32 seasons.
  • What do all these numbers mean for college football in 2012? Maybe not much. But the stats do indicate that preseason polls are extremely accurate measuring sticks when attempting to pinpoint the quest for the Crystal Ball.

Here is a quick list of how each of the national champs have ranked in the preseason:

Year Team AP Rank BCS Runner-Up AP Rank
2011 Alabama No. 2 LSU No. 4
2010 Auburn No. 22 Oregon No. 11
2009 Alabama No. 5 Texas No. 2
2008 Florida No. 5 Oklahoma No. 4
2007 LSU No. 2 Ohio State No. 10
2006 Florida No. 7 Ohio State No. 1
2005 Texas No. 2 USC No. 1
2004 USC No. 1 Oklahoma No. 2
2003* LSU No. 15 Oklahoma No. 1
2003* USC (AP) No. 8
2002 Ohio State No. 13 Miami No. 1
2001 Miami No. 2 Nebraska No. 4
2000 Oklahoma No. 19 Florida State No. 2
1999 Florida State No. 1 Virginia Tech No. 11
1998 Tennessee No. 10 Florida State No. 2
1997* Michigan (AP) No. 14
1997* Nebraska No. 6
1996 Florida No. 4
1995 Nebraska No. 2
1994 Nebraska No. 4
1993 Florida State No. 1
1992 Alabama No. 9
1991* Miami (AP) No. 3
1991* Washington No. 4
1990* Colorado (AP) No. 5
1990* Georgia Tech Unranked
1989 Miami No. 3
1988 Notre Dame No. 13
1987 Miami No. 10
1986 Penn State No. 6
1985 Oklahoma No. 2
1984 BYU Unranked
1983 Miami Unranked
1982 Penn State No. 8



  1. clayton bigsby

    Mizzou is going to surprise some people……georgia will have a tougher time in columbia than people think….

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