1. LSU The Tigers will be loaded with seven starters back on both sides. I was told that of the eight new starters, other than at Alabama all eight could have started or competed for a starting job this past year at any other SEC school.
2. USC I don’t like Kiffin or the program, but Barkley is a stud and his return with all the weapons around him warrant this spot. They have plenty on defense to win the PAC 12
3. South Carolina A QB that Spurrier finally likes along with RB sensation Marcus Lattimore and a great defense makes the Gamecocks instantly a top five team.
4. Alabama The Tide lose some great players and even though they have great ones to replace them, there is still a learning curve. Not as good as LSU or South Carolina, let’s see what Nick pulls out of his hat.
5. Oklahoma Landry Jones returns along with a bevy of talent. They will own the Big 12 (TCU is wild card) and running the table could set them up for what I think will be at least three, if not four BCS schools from different conferences with undefeated seasons.
6. Georgia A roster full of explosive and young talent the Bulldogs will once again be a very good football team. Playing in the best conference in football I am sure you will hear the idiots in Athens calling out Richt, but to start #6 and have three teams in your conference ahead of you should say something.
7. Michigan State They will have one of the best defenses in the nation with the only question marks coming at QB and WR. Unlike the past in the Spartan Nation, those question marks are not with players who don’t have talent. Maxwell would have started at as many as nine Big Ten teams this year and is a star. WR is so loaded with talent among red shirts, transfers and incoming recruits that although lacking experience, the Spartans will have more raw talent at that spot then 2011.
8. Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson returns and a super defensive backfield. I expect the Hogs to get to nine or ten wins in 2012 with games at home against LSU and Alabama to be the deciding factor between a good year and a magical year.
9. TCU The Frogs have one of the top five coaches in the nation and are absolutely loaded at every position. Struggled early last year with a lot of youth, but they will be back strong as they move to the Big 12. Right behind OU they are clearly the second best team in the Big 12.
10. Florida State Seminoles This team could also go undefeated. They have so much talent and are evolving as a program from the Bowden era. I am not sold on the direction of the coaching staff yet. It has nothing to do with not liking them; I want to see them win a game because of coaching. If they can watch the staff win one for them then they are WAY under rated.
11. Michigan The Wolverines are losing some key talent, but also are bringing back some amazing skill players. Only Buckeye, Spartan and Notre Dame fans blinded by hatred for the Winged Helmet couldn’t step back objectively and not say Hoke was the coach of the year in the Big Ten. Bear Bryant once said, “A good coach can beat you. A great coach can then take your players and beat you.” There are holes, but there was last year also and no matter how much your family member Wolverine fan screams that Hoke got a team with no talent, it isn’t true. There are great players on that roster and coming in. I expect Michigan to lose more games in 2012, but to be a better team then 2011. Michigan is back to being a contender every year.
12. Kansas State I voted for Coach Snyder on my ballot for coach of the year. What an amazing job he did with the Wildcats. The question for the Cats is on defense. If they can find one it should be a lot of fun watching them in 2012 like it was in 2011.
13. West Virginia Amazing how a coach off the field can have so many issues, but his team keeps winning. They may have the offense of 2012 like Oklahoma State had in 2011. I could have had them higher or lower depending on what conference they end up in, so for now let’s just say 14th.
14. Ohio State Urban Meyer is a great coach, but he has monster shoes to fill in Columbus. Tressel owned the Big Ten and made BCS bowls not a goal, but the expectation. Unlike any school (including Florida) when he took over, this fan base wants it now and that means being better then Tressel. Can he? Who could? Year one of his system everywhere he has gone has been a weeding out and people putting them higher than 15 to me are doing the same thing they do every year with Notre Dame: voting for the program. The cupboard isn’t bare at all and Meyer inherits more talent then anywhere else he has started. Meyer is a great coach, but he isn’t taking over a fix it up type program. The pump is primed and he must get to BCS games immediately or the same people the booed Tressel EVERY YEAR will be on him.
15. Wisconsin The loss of Wilson is a monster. Still a good team. Still a lot of talent, but teams know this is the Montee Ball show. With a new QB and filling holes this looks about right to me.
16. Clemson There is a lot to replace at Clemson. A lot, but I like what they are doing. Flopped when expectations grew in 2011, so let’s see them grow up. Still a lot of talent at key skill positions.
17. Virginia Tech They have holes, but don’t they win at least double digit games each year in the land of the Hokies? Beamer is a great coach and Tech will be tough.
18. Stanford Sure they lose a great QB, but they have been stockpiling talent and have a very good staff. They will stay consistent and may not be top ten, but are top 25.
19. Boise State Some new staff, some new players, but Boise is a solid program and a good system and team. Early test against a top tier MSU, but should have another solid year.
20. Oregon I am basing this on the return of their Coach. I do not expect him back. If he somehow makes it back and doesn’t get hammered by the NCAA they have the offense scheme with some new parts, but the slight difference between them and USC is that the Trojans have a better D.
21. Oklahoma State Lose a very good QB and a great WR, but the Cowboys issues aren’t on offense. Can they ever put together a top defense? No matter what year it is, we know what the O will do, they are waiting on a D.
22. Louisville Charlie Strong is a great young coach who is doing an excellent job. This is the last year that I expect them to be this low for a while. Strong has a lot of talent and the biggest issue with Louisville is whether they can keep him when the big boys come calling.
23. Cincinnati Butch Jones is already a proven head coach who could have left Cincinnati this year for any number of jobs. They will still be very young, but with Jones at the helm they will be well coached and ready.
24. Georgia Tech Love the system that the Jackets run and I love the way they do things. I have them low to start because they failed to live up to expectations in 2011 and they could be much higher by the end of 2012.
25. Nebraska I don’t expect Bo Pelini back in 2013. They will find a way under his leadership to lose games and not play up to their talent level, but still stay in the top 25. I love that program, but selfishly for the Spartans I would love to see Pelini stay a long time.
This list is so early and it will change before I release my first top 25 of the season come August. We have transfers, spring ball, recruiting, injuries and I still have yet to go through the smaller schools with a fine toothcomb. I will, but this speaks to the popularity of college football.