Clemson. S. Carolina among early top 10 for '13

BY foxsports • January 8, 2013

The confetti has barely been swept up off the Sun Life Stadium turf
after Alabama’s celebration, but it’s never too early to turn our
attention to 2013.

Can the SEC continue the longest streak for a
conference in college football history with its eight straight national
championship? With the likes of Texas A&M’s Heisman Trophy winner
Johnny Manziel, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Alabama’s AJ McCarron, the
league will have the star power at the most important position on the
field to deliver.

The big, bad SEC fields five of the 10 teams in
this early look at the teams that figure to be in the mix next season.
Keep in mind NFL defections and unforeseen coaching changes could alter
things, but here’s where things stand as we turn the page on ’12 and
look forward to the final season of the BCS.

13-1, 7-1 in SEC

All-Americans
Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and (likely) D.J. Fluker are gone up
front but the offense remains loaded with McCarron, who set an Alabama
record with 26 touchdown passes, and two 1,000-yard rushers in Eddie
Lacy and T.J. Yeldon -- though if Lacy turns pro look for Kenyan Drake
(7.0 yards per carry) to pick up the load – and wide receiver Amari
Cooper (53 receptions for 895 yards and nine TDs).

Defensively,
linebacker BCS title game defensive MVP C.J. Molsey will be among the
nation’s best, and similarly to the offense there are pieces to replace
along the line, but with a unit that returns five players with multiple
sacks it should be business as usual in Tuscaloosa.
12-2, 7-1 in SEC

Murray,
who should own every major SEC passing record by the time he leaves
Athens, is returning and he will have plenty of toys to play with in RBs
Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, WR Malcolm Mitchell and tight end
Arthur Lynch. Plus, the entire offensive line will be intact.

While
the defense does lose LBs Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree, tackle John
Jenkins and safety Bacarri Rambo, the star-studded group had its
struggles, especially late in 2012. The key here is the decision of nose
tackle Kwame Geathers, who could make this a potentially better but
less heralded D, if he puts off the NFL for a year.

12-1, 8-1 in Pac-12

Chip
Kelly spurned the NFL to return to Autzen and his offense will be as
potent as ever with QB Marcus Mariota at the controls after dazzling in
his first season, throwing for 2,677 yards and 32 TDs and all-purpose
monster De’Anthony Thomas (1,757 total yards and 18 TDs) taking over the
lead RB role with the departure of Kenjon Barner. In all, the Ducks
bring back seven players who had at least 11 receptions in ’12.

The
defense loses all-Pac-12 lineman Dion Jordan and LBs Michael Clay and
Kiko Alonso but after leading the nation with 26 interceptions returns
the entire secondary including corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
2-0 overall, 8-0 in Big Ten

The
offense should only get better in its second season under Urban Meyer
and QB Braxton Miller (1,271 rushing yards and 28 total touchdowns) and
RB Carlos Hyde (970 yards, 16 TDs) will be operating behind a line that
returns two all-Big Ten picks in tackle Jack Mewhort and guard Andrew
Norwell.

Miller’s development as a passer (58.3 completion
percentage) remains a concern, as does a defense that loses all four
starters up front. But with All-American cornerback Bradley Roby,
linebacker Ryan Shazier (a Big Ten-best 17 tackles for loss) and the
main pieces from an offense that 37.7 points per game, Meyer could
follow his Florida script with a title in Year 2.

10-3, 6-2

The
depth at running back with Jeremy Hill (755 yards and 12 TDs), Kenny
Hilliard (464 yards and six TDs), Michael Ford (392 yards) and Alfred
Blue (270) and a defense that despite its mass exodus – at least six
starting jobs are open – still boasts experience at every level, will
make the Tigers elite.

What could set them apart is Zach
Mettenberger, who showed flashes of being the QB the Tigers thought they
were getting with at least 273 yards over his last five games. At this
point he’s an uncertainty but if he finds consistency LSU figures to be
in the title mix.

11-2, 6-2 in SEC

Johnny
Manziel will make a run at Archie Griffin, the only two-time Heisman
winner, but the question is, who will be protecting him?

If
tackles Luke Joeckle and Jake Matthews return, a No. 7 ranking could be
low, but losing either, if not both, could make life difficult on
Manziel. Regardless of their decisions A&M returns its top receiver
in Mike Evans (1,105 yards and five TDs) and RB with Ben Malena (808
yards ad eight TDs) to go along with Manziel.

The defense loses its top two tacklers and the secondary allowed 250 ypg in ’12, but
Manziel and Co. that will determine A&M’s chances.

12-1

Manti
Te’o’s gone and it seems unlikely the Fighting Irish can replace a
player who tied the highest finish in Heisman history for a defensive
player. But the defense should have the talent to be among the game’s
best yet again behind All-American candidates NG Louis Nix, DT Stephon
Tuitt and LB Prince Shembo.

QB Everett Golson made serious
progress in helping the Irish reach the BCS title game, and while it’s
likely he’ll have to find another top pass catcher with TE Tyler Eifert
off to the NFL, the offense should be better with a more experienced
Golson at the controls.

11-2, 7-1 in ACC

After
averaging 41 points (sixth in FBS) and 512.6 yards (ninth) last season,
the Tigers will again have one of the nation's most formidable offenses
behind the trio of QB Tajh Boyd and WRs DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy
Watkins.

The ground game needs Roderick McDowell (674 yards and 7
TDs over three seasons), to step into the role of lead runner and the
defense, which was 71st against the pass, has to sow improvement in its
second season under coordinator Brent Venables. But with a trio of
potential All-Americans on offense, the Tigers will have enough
firepower to overcome their deficiencies.

11-2, 6-2 in SEC

Forget
the best defensive player, Jadeveon Clowney may be the best player in
the nation. Period. The Gamecocks end, who had 23 1/5 sacks and 13 sacks
as a sophomore, will again be giving SEC QBs fits and he'll be
anchoring a defense that boasts plenty of experience in the secondary.

All
three starting LBs are gone, but the real concern is with the running
game, where sophomore Mike Davis (275 yards on 52 carries) will be asked
to shoulder the load. Luckily the offensive line will be stout with
four returning starters and the QB tandem of Connor Shaw and Dylan
Thompson has shown it can deliver.


2012 record: 12-1, 7-1 in Big East

It
has been four seasons since the Big East had a team in the preseason
top 10, but on the heels of its stunning and dominant Sugar Bowl win
over Florida, the Cardinals have the potential to change all that.

Charlie
Strong's roster includes 16 returning starters, headlined by QB Teddy
Bridgewater (3,718 yards, 27 TDs and a 68.5 completion percentage). The
defense, which ranked 23rd in '12 and shouldn't lose a starter, is
severely underrated but it does remain to be seen if the Cardinals can
develop a running game (102nd last season) to go along with Bridgewater.


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