Here are my ridiculously early preseason rankings for 2012. These rankings are prediction-oriented on how I see the final BCS polls shaking out. Obviously, things will change after Signing Day and Spring practices, but for now, this is how 2012 looks for my top five teams.
It was a tough call between USC and LSU at the top spot but after looking at their respective schedules, USC has a better shot of going undefeated in 2012 than LSU. Moreover, the Trojans ended their season on a high note. USC opens with Hawaii at home and then travels to East Rutherford, New Jersey to play Syracuse. So far, doable. The Trojans start conference play at Stanford, which normally would be a death sentence but the Cardinal are now without the services of Andrew Luck, Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro.
November looks like a championship schedule with Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA and Notre Dame but there's a bonus—they never leave the confines of Southern California during those last four regular season games. With 18 projected starters back and a chip-on-their-shoulder attitude, USC could be a monster this year. The Trojans would also like to help quarterback Matt Barkley get a Heisman trophy ceremony invite and send a message to the SEC that the monopoly is over.
After a perfect regular season, the LSU Tigers fell apart at the BCS Championship game and lost 21-0 to Alabama. They were thoroughly dominated by the Crimson Tide and that gives me cause for concern. Could coaching be an issue? Well, yes. The Tigers could have been one of—if not thee—best teams in college football and instead, they dropped a deuce (and a goose egg) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. This year they have to break in a new quarterback, which could be good news or bad news—depending on how you look at it—and it looks like Russell Shepard is gone, per this tweet:
@LSUShep10: Thanks for your support Tiger Nation...but I have to do what's best for my family and myself...Geaux Tigers.
Their schedule is frightful, as all SEC West schedules are. The Tigers open with a cupcake and then welcome the Washington Huskies to Baton Rouge. I expect a win, but it won’t be easy—Keith Price is a dangerous dual-threat quarterback. A date at Auburn is sandwiched between Idaho and Towson, another cause for concern—can you spell T-R-A-P? The Tigers also draw Florida (at the Swamp) and South Carolina from the East, then travel to College Station for Texas A&M, host Alabama, host both Mississippi teams and then end their regular season at Arkansas.
After a horrific two-game start in 2011, Georgia made its way back to the SEC Championship game. Granted, their 2011 schedule wasn't that daunting, but this is the SEC and you have to respect an East champion despite a somewhat disappointing division performance as a whole. The Bulldogs' defense returns almost intact.
The Bulldogs have seven games at home and a decent road schedule: at Missouri, at South Carolina, at Kentucky, at Auburn plus their usual date with Florida in Jacksonville. Their schedule has meat, but the Bulldogs also avoided drawing Alabama, LSU and Arkansas from the West. This is significant, to say the least, and should set up their season for another SEC Championship game berth.
Coming off of a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin gets that monkey off Chip Kelly's back. The Oregon Ducks are the favorites to win the Pac-12 North but they'll have to do it without running back LaMichael James. With De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner in the backfield and Darron Thomas as quarterback, there shouldn't be a drop off in offensive production.
Oregon has a very "soft" schedule compared to 2011's—there is no LSU on it. Instead, the Ducks play Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech. The Ducks drew Arizona, USC, Arizona State and Colorado from the South. Obviously, the Ducks' date with the Trojans on November 3 at the Coliseum will probably be the biggest game of the year for the Pac-12 and possibly, a preview of the Pac-12 Championship.
Alabama should be ready to go for 2012 after capturing the BCS Championship crown but they lose some key players. As of this posting, running back Trent Richardson hasn't made an announcement on his plans for 2012, but I presume he'll be playing on Sundays. The Tide could lose up to 75 percent of their starters so I hesitate to put them higher than No. 5—we all saw what happened to a depleted Auburn after they won their BCS Championship.
I do believe that defending champs are No. 1 until they lose, but the Tide's schedule is really hard to dismiss. Alabama opens with a resurgent Michigan at Arlington, Texas, hosts Western Kentucky and then travels to Fayetteville, Arkansas. Starting in October, things don't look much better with a tilt at Missouri and Tennessee, hosting Mississippi State, at LSU, and hosting Texas A&M, Western Carolina and Auburn.