Now that spring practice is over, focus turns to the fall. Will USC contend for the national title? Does LSU have a solid option at quarterback? What will happen at Arkansas and Ohio State? Here are our post-spring power rankings, with a few surprises that should should light up the water-cooler discussions. -- CFN Full rankings: Top 10 | 11-20 | 21-30 | 31-40 | 41-50 | 51-60 | 61-70 | 71-80 | 81-90 | 91-100 | 101-111 | Bottom 12
Projected 2012 record: 9-3 Last season: 12-1 Oklahoma State is a machine that’ll keep on rolling, but no one gets better after losing a first-round draft pick quarterback like Brandon Weeden and an all-timer of a receiver like Justin Blackmon. Welcome to the Wes Lunt era, and while the true freshman will get a few games to figure out what he’s doing against Savannah State and Louisiana-Lafayette, he’ll also have to go to Arizona. The Cowboys will be good, but they’ll take just enough of a step back to have problems at times against Texas, TCU, West Virginia and Texas Tech at home and Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Baylor on the road. Fortunately, the team around Lunt will be solid. The offensive line could be a bigger concern than quarterback by the time Texas comes to town in late September. Fortunately, there’s a nice running back in Joseph Randle to carry the attack for a while. The defense should be great at linebacker.
Projected 2012 record: 9-3 Last season: 10-3 The drama is over and the Mountaineers are in the Big 12. The problem is that it they probably would’ve won the Big East going away and would’ve been in the national title chase. Instead they’ll have to go on the road to face Texas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State, and while they’ll win their share of home games against the big boys, facing Kansas State, TCU, and Oklahoma won’t be easy. The offense is built for life in the Big 12 with QB Geno Smith and the Dana Holgorsen attack to be as explosive and as dangerous as any in the league. All the key skill players are back, and while the line has to replace a few starters, it’ll be fine. The defense is experienced, but its job will be to not be awful and let the offense do its thing. Fortunately for life in the Big 12, the secondary should be a strength.
Projected 2012 record: 8-4 Last season: 11-2 Yes, there really is a difference between Bobby Petrino and John L. Smith. The talent level might be in place to come up with a big year, but does Smith have the chops to get through a slew of dangerous dogfights? On the plus side, Alabama and LSU are home games. Auburn and Mississippi State are both better and both games are on the road, as is a date with, possibly, the East’s best team, South Carolina. QB Tyler Wilson is poised and ready to become a first-round NFL Draft pick, and even with some turnover he’ll have a good receiving corps to work with. The hope is for Knile Davis (pictured) to be healthy and ready to go behind a solid line. The defense will be good enough to get by, but will it be at the same level as the other top SEC teams?
Projected 2012 record: 11-1 Last season: 12-1 Is this the year Boise State finally takes a big step back with so much rebuilding to do? Yeah, a little bit, but it’ll still mean a double-digit win season. Ten starters are gone on defense, while the offense has to replace QB Kellen Moore, RB Doug Martin, and too many other key starters to expect a BCS appearance. There’s a chance the Broncos lose at Nevada to close out the regular season, and going to Southern Miss won’t be a layup, but San Diego State and Fresno State have to come to Boise, as does BYU in non-conference play. An opening day loss at Michigan State will end this year’s round of discussions about whether or not the team belongs in the national title chase.
Projected 2012 record: 9-3 Last season: 11-3 The Spartans should be deep in the mix for a return trip to the Big Ten Championship Game even with a major overhaul to be done on offense. Almost the entire passing game is gone, but four starters return on the offensive front to pave the way for Le’Veon Bell and projected – but already banged up - starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell. The defense loses anchor Jerel Worthy in the middle but should be devastating on the outside with William Gholston leading the fearsome pass rush. The secondary should be the Big Ten’s best and the linebacking corps will be a rock. The first half of the season is rough, but all the big games are at home with Boise State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Iowa all coming to East Lansing. And then comes the problem, with back-to-back road games at Michigan and Wisconsin followed up by a date with Nebraska.
Projected 2012 record: 10-2 Last season: 11-3 It’s Virginia Tech, so the holes will be filled, but there’s a lot of work to do on offense. The line loses four starters and most of the top skill players are gone, but there’s a chance that QB Logan Thomas (pictured) grows into this year’s superstar NFL prospect with the size, arm, and experience to make everyone around him better. Fortunately, the O won’t have to do too much thanks to a D that should be its typical dominant self with nine starters back from a young group that matured throughout last season. The line took its lumps and now should be ready to roll, while the linebacking corps should be terrific. The schedule isn’t too bad with an entire offseason to prepare for the season opener against Georgia Tech and its quirky offense. Surviving through the second half, though, will be a problem with three road games in four dates.
Projected 2012 record: 10-2 Last season: 7-6 The record will be better than the team, but the team will be really good, too. The defense that turned into such a powerhouse last year should be even better getting all four starters back in the secondary to go along with a loaded defensive front. Thanks to rising star QB Teddy Bridgewater, the offense should be fantastic with four starters returning to the line and a nice-looking receiving corps to work with. The schedule works out almost perfectly with Kentucky and North Carolina winnable non-conference home games and the one rough stretch of three straight road games against FIU, Southern Miss, and Pitt. Cincinnati and South Florida both have to come to Louisville, but going to Rutgers on a Thursday night to end the regular season just five days after playing UConn could be the make-or-break moment for a truly special year.
Projected 2012 record: 10-2 Last season: 8-5 You heard it here first. Don’t be shocked if Utah, not USC, ends up representing the South in the Pac-12 title game. The offense will be terrific with QB Jordan Wynn returning and John White the best back in the league, but the season will revolve around a defense that starts with Star Lotolelei in the middle of the line. No one will run on the loaded Utes defensive front, but the veteran secondary has to be stronger after struggling a bit too much. The schedule is as good as could be asked for. There’s no Oregon or Stanford from the North, and USC has to make the trip to Salt Lake City.
Projected 2012 record: 10-2 Last season: 11-2 Rip up any preconceived notions about Michigan if it can beat Alabama in the season opener. If Brady Hoke’s club pulls that off, then it’s game on for the national title chase even with road games at Notre Dame, Purdue, and Nebraska as part of a run of four away games in six weeks. Michigan State and Iowa have to come to Ann Arbor, but good luck in the regular season finale at Ohio State – it’ll be the Buckeyes’ bowl game. The talent level is improving to a BCS Championship Game level with a great recruiting class coming in, but will all the young players be ready to help improve the depth? Denard Robinson and the running game will roll the week after dealing with the Tide, while the defense should be fantastic in the secondary and at linebacker.
Projected 2012 record: 10-2 Last season: 6-7 Urban Meyer will have the team ready to rock and roll from Day 1, but it’ll be a building season for 2013. The Buckeyes might not be eligible for the Big Ten Championship Game or a bowl, but there’s a ton of talent on both sides of the ball and QB Braxton Miller (pictured) appears ready to blossom into a superstar in Meyer’s attack. At the same time, the Buckeyes will play loose, since there’s no pressure with nothing to play for, and angry, because Urban is will make the team that way. UCF is a dangerous non-conference game, as is Cal, but both are at home with the Buckeyes getting five home games in the first six weeks. There are only four road games and one of them is Indiana. However, going to Michigan State and Wisconsin will be beartraps. Michigan and Illinois have to come to Columbus, but the Buckeyes should win both.
Projected 2012 record: 10-2 Last season: 11-3 Here’s the little secret that Wisconsin doesn’t like to talk about over the last two Rose Bowl years: the schedules have been really soft. Oh sure, there’s a blowout over Nebraska here and a steamroll over Penn State there, but for the most part the Badgers haven’t exactly had to deal with the SEC West. The same goes for this season in what should be yet another terrific run to the Big Ten Championship Game – helped by Ohio State's ineligibility. Schedule wise, Michigan State and Ohio State both have to come to Madison. The offseason addition of QB Danny O’Brien will fill the giant hole left by Russell Wilson, and Montee Ball (pictured) will still be a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy working behind a line that has two possible first-round 2013 NFL Draft picks in Ricky Wagner and Travis Frederick. The linebacking combination of Mike Taylor and Chris Borland should be among the best in the nation
Projected 2012 record: 10-2 Last season: 9-4 Will this finally be the year Florida State lives up to its talent level and its billing? There aren’t many excuses thanks to a defense that should be among the best the program has had since its national title-level days with only two players gone off the two-deep depth chart. Quarterback E.J. Manuel has elite skills, and if he can take a step up in his production to make up for the weak running game the offense will do enough to get by, it won’t take that many points to let the defense take care of the rest. On Nov. 8, the Seminoles have to go to Virginia Tech and should be the underdog for the only time. The schedule is manageable even with five road games in seven weeks while Florida and Clemson have to come to Tallahassee.
Projected 2012 record: 9-3 Last season: 10-4 The Bulldogs are loaded. The lines are going to be terrific, the skill players are fantastic, and Aaron Murray (pictured) could be the best quarterback in the SEC if a few breaks go his way. There are superior playmakers on a strong defense led by LB Jarvis Jones and safety Baracci Rambo – even with his off-the-field issues – to be able to hang around with any team on the slate, but can the Dawgs get through the road games? The home schedule should be a relative breeze with the Georgia Tech game by far the most dangerous to worry about. Georgia is better than Missouri, but it’ll be the first SEC game in Columbia and the Faurot Field crowd will be jacked up. The Auburn trip will also be nasty meaning it wouldn’t be a shocker if Georgia lost three of their five games away from home.
Projected 2012 record: 9-3 Last season: 11-2 Is there going to be a more dangerous set of pass rushers in America than Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney? Throw in the great set of linebackers and a secondary that should be fine without CB Stephon Gilmore, and the Gamecocks defense should be devastating. The hope is for the offense to get star running back Marcus Lattimore at 100 percent to carry the running game, while Connor Shaw – if he can hang on to the quarterback job – should be steadier and should be able to wing the ball around the yard a bit more. While the team should be at least as good as it was last year, it’s going to be a fight to get through another interesting schedule. Not only is there a midseason stretch of three road games in four weeks, but the last two games are on the road at LSU and Florida after hosting Georgia.
Projected 2012 record: 10-2 Last season: 10-2 USC will be everyone’s hot team going into the preseason rankings because it’s eligible to play for something again, but it’s a whole different world once the pressure is on. After years of treading water, what will happen under Lane Kiffin when it becomes Pac-12 title or bust? There might be not be a better starting 22, but the depth is a bit thin. The D line needs some reworking and it’s never a positive to lose a left tackle as good as Matt Kalil, but there’s talent across the board. No, the problem will be when the team has to take everyone’s best shot week after week. The Trojans take to the road for four games in five weeks. While the home schedule eases up, USC also has to deal with Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA, and Notre Dame over the second half of the season. Don’t forget that as good as last year’s team was, it was blown out by Arizona State late and had to fight with bad Minnesota and Arizona teams.
Projected 2012 record: 10-2 Last season: 8-5 Texas should finally be back to being Texas again because of a wee bit of an improvement on offense. The defense will be its same old dominant self after very quietly finishing 11th in the nation. The secondary is loaded, the line is fantastic, and there are four- and five-star athletes across the board, but it’s the offense that’ll make the big difference. Assuming David Ash really is the main man at quarterback, the offense will be more consistent and should have a stronger running game to rely on. Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat should be in for a huge year, while Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom form a good corner tandem for a great secondary. And then there’s the offense. Malcolm Brown has the ability and potential to be the program’s best back since Cedric Benson, while the receiving corps of Jaxon Shipley (pictured), Marquise Goodwin, and Mike Davis could be the best Texas has had in a decade. The O line that started four underclassmen should be a rock.
Projected 2012 record: 10-2 Last season: 12-1 Alabama will be loaded again and it should be even stronger in the passing game, but can the running game continue to excel without Trent Richardson? Can the defense be the same sort of killer it was throughout last year without seven starters? Will the kicking game come through when it has to in the big games? The answer to all of the above is probably a resounding yes, but that still might mean a really strong two-loss season. The Tide has to go to Death Valley to deal with a loaded LSU. While 'Bama will be better than everyone else on the schedule, there are four other landmines against Michigan (in Arlington, Texas), at Missouri, at Tennessee and at Arkansas. RB Eddie Lacy is a playmaker who’s ready for a bigger role and the defense will quickly reload around strong safety Robert Lester and linebacker Nico Johnson. On the plus side, Outland-winning OL Barrett Jones chose to come back to join Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker to keep QB AJ McCarron's jersey clean.
Projected 2012 record: 11-1 Last season: 12-2 Everyone wants to pump up USC and assume it’s going to roll through the Pac-12 now that it’s eligible for the title, but Oregon still might be the league’s most dangerous team. The machine won’t stop just because QB Darron Thomas and RB LaMichael James are gone with more speed to burn in the offensive backfield and the Chip Kelly offense certain to be as strong as ever. The defense will be good enough to get by with Michael Clay one of the league’s best linebackers and John Boyett a special safety. The schedule is a breeze until November. Consider it a shocker if any of the first eight teams on the schedule come within two touchdowns of the Ducks, and then comes the showdown in LA against USC to kick off a run of three road games in the final four contests. However, even with a loss to the Trojans, Oregon should still play for the Pac-12 title.
Projected 2012 record: 11-1 Last season: 10-3 Every year it seems like everyone wants to push Oklahoma as a possible national title contender, and almost every year comes the disappointment from out the blue. Last season, it was Texas Tech and the collapse against Baylor that ruined any hopes of a national title run before the Oklahoma State debacle. This year, though, the potential is there to be far more consistent and far more effective with QB Landry Jones leading a high-octane offense that should roll behind a great offensive line and an emerging receiving corps. The running game will be a question mark, but backup QB Blake “Bulldozer” Bell should have a huge year and Jones should be good enough to pick up the slack. Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops should put the teeth back in the Sooner D, which gets eight starters back.
Projected 2012 record: 12-0 Last season: 13-1 If you liked the 2011 version of the Tigers, there’s a chance you’ll love the sequel even more with a killer of an offensive line paving the way for what should be the nation’s most dominant running game. The problem, though, is that the 2011 Tigers seemed to feed off the really big game-changing play to get energized, and when that didn’t happen in the BCS Championship Game, everything broke down. This year, the offense will generate more big plays down the field with QB Zach Mettenberger (pictured) pushing the action a bit more after the defenses are softened up by the killer ground attack. On the other side of the ball, Tyrann Mathieu and the defense should be dominant again even without DT Michael Brockers and CB Morris Claiborne. DE Sam Montgomery should be in the NFL right now, Barkevious Mingo will dominate on the other side, and the defensive tackle combination of Anthony “Freak” Johnson and Bennie Logan will be special. Fortunately, LSU's schedule will be far easier with Alabama coming to Death Valley and with no brutal Oregon-like non-conference games.