Which teams are primed to dominate next year?
UPDATED RANKINGS: Way too early preseason top 25 [Post-Draft Deadline]
The 2012 season opened like any other: The internet world chock full of preseason hype, expectations and predictions.
However, the actual games, as we all know now, did not always go according to plan. The nation's preseason No. 1 team, the USC Trojans, finished their year with an embarrassing loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Notre Dame, unranked in the preseason, made it all the way to the BCS National Championship game. An unknown from the heart of Texas became the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy in Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.
The only thing the 2013 season can guarantee us all as fans is that it cannot guarantee a thing.
That said, never fear, Gamedayr Nation: The fact that a potential preseason top 25 may eventually make us all here look like idiots has not stopped us from going ahead and putting together a rankings anyways.
Take a wild guess at who's at the top of the list in the early going.
25. Arizona State Sun Devils
The Sun Devils finished the 2011 season with a 6-7 record, and improved to 8-5 in 2012.
If these rankings were based solely on how a team finishes, the Sun Devils would come in on these rankings in the top five. ASU lost five consecutive games to end the 2011 season, but figured out how to close this year. The up-and-coming Pac-12 program won on the road to beat rival Arizona in its regular season finale and stomped Navy in the Fight Hunger Bowl, 62-28.
Quarterback Tyler Kelly is going to be a junior; he is expected to build upon the 3,040 passing yards and 29 touchdowns in compiled in just his second season as a collegian.
24. Oregon State Beavers
The Beavers epitomized a resurgent Pac-12 conference in 2012. After being picked by most media outlets to finish dead last, or close to it, OSU instead reeled off nine wins for the first time since gas was sold for five cents a gallon (a completely made up factoid, don't bother Googling it).
Coach Mike Riley's squad suffered a tough 31-27 loss to Texas in what amounted to a home game for the Longhorns in the Alamo Bowl. Expect a quarterback battle between Cody Vaz and Sean Mannion this offseason, but soon-to-be sophomore running back Storm Woods to carry the load either way. Woods, as a frosh, finished with 940 yards and 13 scores on 192 carries. At 6-foot and a hair over 200 pounds, the dude is a beast.
23. Wisconsin Badgers
There are going to be plenty of new faces in Mad-town come this time next year.
After coaching for seven seasons and leading the Badgers to three consecutive Rose Bowls, Bret Bielema peace'd out, preferring the brainpower of Arkansas. In comes Gary Andersen, a highly rated coach who turned a dumpster-fire of a Utah State program into an 11-game winner.
College football's all-time leading touchdown scorer, running back Montee Ball, graduates to the NFL, meaning the uber-speedy James White will finally get his chance to shine in the always run-heavy Wisconsin offense.
With a new coaching staff, however, who knows? Joel Stave is a star in the making at quarterback, and he could be asked to shoulder a heavy load in 2013.
22. Texas Longhorns
Coach Mack Brown has seemingly been in Austin for about two-to-three years too long, according to a number of Longhorns fans.
While his teams have generally underperformed -- based on the talent the program recruits -- Brown and his squad still managed to squeeze out nine wins in a down year.
Young gun-slingin' quarterback David Ash is only going to get better, and more importantly, so will the defense. The team loses senior sack-master Alex Okafor, but Jackson Jeffcoat will be returning with a vengeance. Jeffcoat suffered a pectoral injury that sidelined him for most of the season, but he recorded four sacks in the six games he did see time in.
21. USC Trojans
It would have been alright if the worst thing to happen to the Trojans in 2012 was the appearance of a fully-clothed streaker on the playing field. However, the issue arises with the fact that the streaker ran onto the field at the Hyundai Sun Bowl -- a far cry from the BCS title game.
So why is the 2012 preseason No. 1 even ranked heading into 2013 despite a putrid season that piled Lane Kiffin embarrassment upon Lane Kiffin embarrassment?
The best of the best on the West Coast routinely heads either to USC or Oregon. This squad is simply too talented -- basically, wide receiver Marquise Lee is just too spectacular -- to not win a few games next season.
20. Michigan Wolverines
Coach Brady Hoke's squad regressed in 2012, going from a Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech in 2011 to a last-second Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina this year. However, the potential is there to finish far higher next season.
Yes, the Wolverines lose record-setting dual-threat star Denard Robinson, but at this point it has become widely understood that the program has a far better chance at reaching the level of the elite with Devin Gardner under center.
Gardner can make plays with his feet like Robinson, although without the Olympic-level speed. What is most important is that he can hit open receivers. Leading wideout Jeremy Gallon finished with nine receptions for 145 yards and two scores against a highly celebrated SEC defense. A full offseason of pitch-and-catch should do wonders for both players.
That is, if the entire team can bounce back from the being murdered by Jadeveon Clowney.
19. Nebraska Cornhuskers
The Huskers', offensively, dominated the 2012 regular season. In finishing 10-2, quarterback Taylor Martinez, running backs Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah, and the rest of the offense led the Big Ten in just about every major statistical offensive category.
However, it will not matter how Martinez and Co. fares in 2013 if Nebraska's vaunted Blackshirt D performs like it did in the team's final two games of the season. You cannot expect to give up 70 and 45 points in consecutive games and expect to win either of them. Unfortunately, both of those embarrassing defensive performances were on national television.
18. UCLA Bruins
Two fresh faces led a renaissance in UCLA football in 2012. Jim Mora Jr., looking for a new beginning, took on the coaching duties following the failed regime of Rick Neuheisel and led the Bruins to nine wins -- after winning an ugly six in 2011.
Mora groomed redshirt freshman Brett Hundley into a star in his own right, as the 6-foot-3, 223-pound Arizona native threw for 3,740 yards and 29 touchdowns.
The program loses Doak Walker Award finalist and all-time leading rusher Johnathan Franklin to graduation, and his 1,734 yards will surely be missed. That said, Mora and Hundley have this program headed in the right direction.
17. Boise State Broncos
Boise State head man Chris Petersen is one of the most highly sought-after coaches in all of college football, each and every offseason. However, all he does is simply politely decline, head back to the blue field of Boise, and win football games.
In his seven years at the helm of the Broncos, Petersen's record is a sterling 84-8.
He is 2-0 in BCS bowls, but unfortunately he and his program has had to play in (and win) three straight Las Vegas Bowls. Continued improvement out of Joe Southwick, who replaced college football's all-time winningest quarterback in Kellen Moore, will go a long way towards ushering the Broncos into a stronger bowl game.
16. Florida State Seminoles
Fifth-year senior quarterback EJ Manuel finally got what he wanted. His coach, Jimbo Fisher, also finally got exactly what he had been working for.
However, after earning the program's first ACC title since 2005, the Noles were not able to prove anything on a national level after drawing Northern Illinois in their bowl game. Not to take anything away from the stellar season NIU enjoyed, but a 31-10 drubbing did not impress or surprise anybody, unfortunately for both teams.
So now it is back to the drawing board at the quarterback position. Clint Trickett will be a junior next season and Jacob Coker will be a sophomore. There is not much experience between the two, so expect a battle for the position come spring practices.
Losing superstar defensive end Bjoern 'the Germanator' Werner to the NFL Draft and defensive coordinator Mark Stoop to the Kentucky head coaching job will not help either.
15. TCU Horned Frogs
You think your team had quarterback issues in 2012?
Coach Gary Patterson's Horned Frogs sprinted out to a 4-0 start of star junior Casey Patchall's arm. the 6-foot-5, 226-pounder threw for a whopping 948 yards with 10 touchdowns and only one pick in those four games.
However, Patchall's personal issues with alcohol abuse quickly became public fodder, and the signal caller left the team to enter rehab.
Following Patchall's exit, Patterson was forced to turn to Trevone Boykin. Boykin is incredibly talented, but only a freshman; he was only supposed to see the playing field as a change-of-pace, Wildcat quarterback in his first year.
Patterson, Boykin and the team made the best of a bad situation, and the frosh eventually threw for more than 2,000 yards on the year. With a full offseason as the team's starter under his belt, expect TCU to return to their familiar role as national powerhouse.
14. Oklahoma State Cowboys
When Cowboys coach Mike Gundy was a player at OSU, he probably could not have dreamed of the type of success he has brought to the program as the X's and O's guy. And yet, here he is, and things are only going to get better.
2012 was an expected down year following the departure of Fiesta Bowl-winning quarterback Brandon Weeden and wideout Justin Blackmon. Forced to groom new quarterbacks and playmakers, Gundy discovered that he has three quarterbacks on his roster that can win games for him -- a rare treat for any team at any level.
The Cowboys finished 8-5 overall and third in the nation with a 45.7 points per game average. That was with either junior Clint Chelf or freshmen JW Walsh and Wes Lunt throwing the football.
Gundy needs to improve the nation's No. 63-ranked defense if this team is going to take off under a full-time signal caller, whomever that may be.
13. Louisville Cardinals
Superstar quarterback Teddy Bridgewater might have the adorable, brace-faced smile of a teddy bear, but he is a fierce competitor that will play injured and make accurate throws in all situations.
He will enter the 2013 season as a favorite to make a run at Johnny Manziel's Heisman Trophy, but the Cardinals still have some holes to fill before earning national respect as an elite program.
Charlie Strong had his team prepared to a 'T' and Louisville managed to knock off SEC mainstay Florida in the Sugar Bowl. However, in order to make the leap, there needs to be a running game that at least keeps defensive fronts honest.
Teddy B cannot take the type of beat he took in his sophomore year. Jeremy Wright (824 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Senorise Perry (705 and 11) will both be seniors next season. If they want to leave a lasting mark on the history of their football program, they must improve their team's 105th-overall rushing ranking.
12. Clemson Tigers
Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd has the chance to be a hero to every youngster clad in orange gear -- not to mention a Heisman favorite -- with a huge senior season for Clemson.
The Tigers finished with an 11-2 record in 2012 and a huge upset of LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. However, a repeat of Boyd's 3,896 pass yards and 46 total touchdowns will be rendered moot if the squad's defense does not show improvement upon the team's recently completed campaign.
The team finished 47th-nationally in giving up 24.8 points per game. The unit was by no means an embarrassment, but in order to earn a BCS bowl invite, a program's defense must be above average-to-dominant.
11. South Carolina Gamecocks
The Ol' Ball Coach's squad boasts the single scariest man in all of college football in athletic freak of nature Jadeveon Clowney.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o finished second in the Heisman balloting in 2012, but if any defensive player has a shot at the nation's most coveted award, it is Clowney. As a mere sophomore, the 6-foot-6, 256-pound monster finished with 13.0 sacks and a silly 23.5 tackles for a loss.
Offensively, the team losses senior running back Kenny Miles, who filled in admirably for the injured Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore still led the team in rushing yards despite the gruesome, season-ending knee injury sustained against Tennessee.
Freshman Mike Davis finished with 275 yards on 52 attempts for an average of 5.3 yards per carry. If he can handle a full load in his second year, the pressure on quarterback Connor Shaw to make plays with both his arm and his legs will be alleviated. Shaw is heading into offseason surgery on his foot.
10. Oklahoma Sooners
All eyes will be on Blake Bell this offseason and in 2013. The departure of one of the most decorated passers in school history, Landry Jones, makes the bruising dual-threat signal caller the incumbent starter in Norman.
As always, heavy expectations will weigh on this program.
In 2012, coach Bob Stoops' crew failed to live up to them, losing to both Kansas State and Notre Dame at home. The talent is there -- it always will be -- but the winning must come with it.
9. Texas A&M Aggies
In 2012, the nation was introduced to Johnny Manziel -- or shall we say 'Johnny Football' -- the sensational playmaker who captured the imagination of college football fans near and far. Manziel became the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy after besting the marks set by Tim Tebow and Cam Newton en route to an SEC-record 4,600 total yards.
Repeating both his and his team's surprising success will not be easy. Offensive lineman Luke Joeckel is projected to be a top-five pick in the upcoming NFL Draft and junior Damontre Moore is a first-rounder as well. It will not be easy for coach Kevin Sumlin to replace Joeckel (although Jake Matthews is fantastic in his own right) or Moore's 12.5 sacks from 2012.
8. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
All eyes will be on quarterback Everett Golson in 2013.
As a sophomore starter, Golson was only expected to manage football games, finishing the year with 2,135 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
With three of the team's top four tacklers, including Heisman runner-up Manti Te'o, and both of the team's leading rushers all departing as seniors, Golson will have to continue the upward trend he showed towards the end of the regular season if Notre Dame is to have a fighting chance of another BCS title game. Golson threw for at least 200 yards in each of the final four games of the year.
7. Georgia Bulldogs
Georgia's record-setting quarterback, Aaron Murray, has officially announced his return to the Red and Black for one more go-around. The two-headed freshman monster he handed the ball off to, Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley, will also be back and better than ever.
However, despite the return of the core of the offense, this team may be losing too many defensive pieces to make a championship puzzle in 2013.
Legitimate superstar linebackers Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones are both headed to the NFL, as is 350-pound defensive tackle John Jenkins. Even with those three and the defensive backs the team is losing (senior safety Shawn Williams finished second on the team with 98 tackles and fellow senior Bacarro Rambo finished fourth with 73) the Bulldogs gave up 44 points to Tennessee, 35 to South Carolina 24 to Kentucky, and 31 to Nebraska.
The Dawgs will be the hungriest team in the country in 2013 and it will be interesting to watch the season unfold for Murray and co.
6. Florida Gators
Coach Will Muschamp's Gators ended their season on a sour note in getting lambasted by Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. Make no mistake (and Muschamp himself would be the first to admit this) the 33-23 final score is far closer than the game itself actually was.
That being said, no one can take away the type of two-season improvement a 7-6 2011 finish and an 11-2 mark in 2012 actually is. It is enormous, and it was undertaken despite the growing pains suffered by true sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel.
The extremely mobile passer with a rocket arm will have yet another full offseason to hone his skills with his underachieving wide receivers. Matt Jones is an uber-talented runner and will be a sophomore when he is expected to take over for the graduating Mike Gillislee in the backfield.
Oh yeah, and the defense that finished No. 3-overall in 2012 is going to be loaded once again, despite losing star safety Matt Elam and defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd early to the Draft.
5. Stanford Cardinal
Coach David Shaw took over for program savior Jim Harbaugh and actually did his predecessor one better. With a redshirt freshman quarterback at the helm, it was Kevin Hogan, not No. 1-overall draft pick Andrew Luck, who led the Cardinal to their first Rose Bowl win in 40 years.
The squad loses star running back Stepfan Taylor, as well as leading tacklers Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas.
However, after winning 12 games for just the second time in school history, especially when everyone and their mother expected a swift fall from grace following the departures of Harbaugh and Luck, anything seems possible.
4. LSU Tigers
Just like most years in the past decade, what's not to love about the talent and playmaking ability of the LSU Tigers? If most teams were to kick a Heisman Trophy finalist off the team prior to the season opener, the sky would have fallen in. However, when coach Les Miles sent defensive back Tyrann Mathieu packing, the squad hardly missed a beat.
Defensively, the team will send its standard group of stars to the first few rounds of the NFL Draft and then simply reload through the recruiting ranks.
Offensively, it will be quarterback Zach Mettenberger's last chance to shine at the collegiate level. After transferring from Georgia to junior college and then LSU, he was hailed as a savior, but he struggled throughout the year, finishing with 2,609 yards, 12 scores and seven picks.
He will be handing the ball off to true freshman and leading rusher Jeremy Hill, who is poised to do massive things in 2013 -- just like his team.
3. Oregon Ducks
Head coach Chip Kelly has officially turned down the NFL for the second straight season and will return to the sidelines of the Oregon Ducks.
Kelly is the architect of one of the most consistently prolific offenses in the history of football, at any level. His current quarterback, Marcus Mariota finished his redshirt freshman campaign with 2,677 pass yards, another 752 on the ground and 37 total touchdowns.
Oregon loses Doak Walker Award finalist Kenjon Barner, but in his place slides the even faster De'Anthony Thomas. Known as the 'Black Mamba', Thomas turned heads as a freshman in 2011 and continued to show off the type of speed that simply makes jaws drop in 2012. He will be a junior in 2013, and the running back duties will be his and his alone.
Kinda of makes you feel bad for opposing Pac-12 defenses.
On the subject of defense, we would talk about Oregon's, but Kelly doesn't so neither will we.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
The arrival of two-time BCS National Champion Urban Meyer from the Swamp of Florida to the Buckeye State may have resulted in a third personal title had it not been for Ohio State's self-imposed bowl ban in reaction to a memorabilia-for-tattoos scandal. The subsequent cover-up resulted in the firing of another national champion in Jim Tressel.
Led by dual-threat star quarterback Braxton Miller, OSU finished out Meyer's first season at the helm a perfect 12-0, and in no way had the team reached its full potential.
Carlos Hyde finished second, behind Miller, with 970 rush yards and 16 touchdowns. He is expected to make big moves as a senior. The team's leading receivers, Corey Brown and Devin Smith, are also both returning.
Further, each of the team's top five leading tacklers are all coming back to Columbus as well. That includes monstrous sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier, who finished 2012 with 114 total tackles.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Were you expecting anyone else?
Winners of several of the most recent BCS National Championships, the Tide simply keeps on rollin'.
The nation's leader in passing efficiency, AJ McCarron, is returning for his senior season. So is defensive captain CJ Mosley. They are not going to be seniors, but so are leading receiver Amari Cooper and 1,000-yard rusher TJ Yeldon.
Need we say more? No, no we don't.