Guide to the 2012 college football season

College football is in for some big and, some say, much-needed

changes with the switch to a four-team playoff.

Before we get to that, there’s still a couple more seasons under

the current system; the playoffs don’t begin until 2014.

And this one will be worth watching.

There’s plenty of interesting story lines, from Penn State

trying to rebuild in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse

scandal to Urban Meyer’s return to coaching with Ohio State.

There’s no shortage of great players, either.

Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley skipped the NFL for

the chance at a national title, Michigan’s Denard Robinson is a

blur even without his shoelaces tied and Wisconsin’s Montee Ball is

like trying to tackle a wrecking ball.

Great teams? Could be a few of those, too. USC, LSU, Alabama,

Oklahoma, Oregon – the BCS could be under a lot of strain this

season with those teams all bidding for No. 1.

So to get you ready, we’ve got a rundown of some of the things

to watch out for this season.

Enjoy.

TOP TEAMS

USC. Barkley is back. So is his top target, Robert Woods. Former

Penn State running back Silas Redd was a nice addition. Postseason

eligible again, the Trojans aren’t aiming for just any bowl; they

want a trip to Miami and national championship.

Alabama. The Crimson Tide have won two of the past three

national championships. They figure to be contenders for

another.

LSU. The Honey Badger is gone. All those other NFL prospects –

such as defensive end Sam Montgomery and safety Eric Reid – should

keep the Tigers from missing him.

Oklahoma. The Sooners have a record-setting QB in Landry Jones,

a brick wall of an offensive line and with the return of Mike

Stoops, Bob’s feisty little brother, they should be good on

defense, too.

Oregon. LaMichael James and Darron Thomas are gone? Big deal.

The Ducks have plenty of other players who can fly in those new

winged unis.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Arkansas. QB Tyler Wilson and RB Knile Davis are back, coach

John L. Smith has calmed the storm after Bobby Petrino’s motorcycle

crash and subsequent firing. All Arkansas has to do now is get by

Alabama and LSU – its only two losses a year ago – which isn’t as

farfetched as you might think. Both visit the Natural state, one

early (Alabama on Sept. 15) the other late (LSU the day after

Thanksgiving)

Florida State. The Seminoles’ return to prominence has been

rumored for years. Under coach Jimbo Fisher, it may actually happen

this season.

Wisconsin. The Badgers are hungry after consecutive Rose Bowl

losses and they have Ball, one of the nation’s best running

backs.

Michigan State. Behind RB Le’Veon Bell, the Spartans could be on

the verge of breaking a Rose Bowl drought that goes back to

1988.

Texas. Mack Brown’s crew appears to be headed back to the big

stage behind a helmet-rattling defense.

West Virginia. The Mountaineers could make their first season in

the Big 12 championship worthy.

TOP PLAYERS

Barkley, USC. Projected as a high NFL draft pick, Barkley became

an instant Heisman Trophy front-runner when he announced he was

coming back for his senior season.

Ball, Wisconsin. The Badgers’ star running back changed the

pronunciation of his name from Mon-tee to Mon-tay. Whatever you

call him, dude’s good.

Robinson, Michigan. The Wolverines’ electric quarterback has

churned out more than 8,000 yards in his career, most of those the

past two seasons. Imagine what he could do if he tied his

shoes.

Geno Smith, West Virginia. The Mountaineers’ QB set multiple

school records as a junior and more could be on the way in his

final season in Morgantown.

Barkevious Mingo, LSU. Been known to train wreck offensive

linemen.

Jones, Oklahoma. He’s been around since Barry Switzer was coach.

OK, maybe not that long, but the four-year starter will leave as

the most prolific passer in OU history.

De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon. Spectacular as a freshman last season

and will likely get more touches this season now that James is in

the NFL.

Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina. Back from a torn ACL last

season, he should be one of the nation’s top running backs this

year.

BIG GAMES

Sept. 1, Michigan vs. Alabama at Cowboys Stadium, Arlington,

Texas. The annual opener at Jerry Jones’ funhouse has had some

great matchups in the past. This one could be the best of the

bunch.

Sept. 15, Alabama at Arkansas. Winner could get the inside track

on a national-title run.

Sept. 22, Michigan at Notre Dame. Last season’s epic finish

makes this a must-watch.

Oct. 13, Oklahoma vs. Texas in Dallas. The Red River rivalry

continues after all the conference shuffling and could become epic

again with these two teams on the rise.

Oct. 27, Notre Dame at Oklahoma. A rare meeting between power

programs.

Nov. 3, Alabama at LSU. We may not get sucked into calling it

the Game of the Century again, but it still figures to have

national-title implications.

Nov. 3, Oregon at USC. Triple digits in combined points is a

possibility with all those playmakers on the field.

Nov. 24, Michigan at Ohio State. Meyer is running the Buckeyes

and Michigan appears to be back. This rivalry could be heating back

up.

THE NEW GUYS

There was quite a bit of turnover in the coaching ranks over the

offseason, with some pretty big names landing in new places. Here’s

a few:

Bob Davie, New Mexico. Away from coaching for a decade, Davie

tries to turn around a program plagued by embarrassments on and off

the field under Mike Locksley.

Todd Graham, Arizona State. The fast-talking Texan has done

everything right in Tempe so far, soothing concerns about bouncing

around while building excitement for the program. All that’s left

is to win some games.

Mike Leach, Washington State. His offenses are always

entertaining. So’s his mouth.

Meyer, Ohio State. Burned out no more, the two-time national

champion coach returns to the sideline with one of the country’s

premier programs – and too many references to an Urban renewal.

Bill O’Brien, Penn State. The former o-coordinator of the New

England Patriots might have the toughest job in the country.

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona. RichRod’s three-year run at Michigan

didn’t go so well, but he has Tucson buzzing about football again

with his suped-up offense.

Smith, Arkansas. The Razorbacks needed someone to smooth over

the ugliness of Bobby Petrino’s firing. The even-keel Smith should

be a good fit.

Charlie Weis, Kansas. Weis’ first stint as a head coach petered

out at Notre Dame. The Jayhawks are hoping he can turn around a

program that languished under Turner Gill.

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