#1 USC – The Trojans seem to be picking up where they left off a couple of years ago before the NCAA hit them with sanctions. QB Matt Barkley is a major Heisman contender (if not the very early front-runner), and head Coach Lane Kiffin seems to be quickly bringing this team back into elite status. With a relatively weak PAC-12 Conference, the biggest obstacle in their path right now is a trip to Eugene on November 3rd to play the Ducks. Can this team handle the pressure that comes along with being #1?
#2 Alabama – The reigning national champion lost a lot of players to the NFL. The offense and defense are going to have a lot of new faces, but Coach Nick Saban is one of the best out there, and he won’t expect any less than the best even from his younger players. The Crimson Tide have an early test this Saturday as they travel to Arlington, TX to meet Michigan in a key non-conference matchup.
#3 LSU – The Tigers have a lot of talent returning this year, and every one of those players is being motivated by their 21-0 embarrassment in last year’s national championship game. LSU will have a dominant defense, but the question is whether or not their offense can generate anything against the solid defenses of the SEC. As good as they were last year, the Tigers were only able to score a total of 9 points against Alabama in the two times they matched up against their divisional rival. November 3rd is lurking.
#4 Oklahoma – With Robert Griffin III, Justin Blackmon, and Brandon Weedon all off to the NFL, the Big XII is up for the taking, and Bob Stoops should be in a prime position to seize this opportunity. QB Landry Jones has decided to play one more year for the Sooners, and Mike Stoops has rejoined his brother as defensive coordinator. Even with all the great teams that have come through Oklahoma over the past decade, the fans in Norman are still looking for their first title since 2000.
#5 Oregon – The Ducks are returning 14 starters from last year’s Rose Bowl winning team. LaMichael James has moved on, but there is still more than enough firepower on that team to give any opposing defensive coordinator nightmares. Even if no one will want to admit it, every coach and player on that team is looking ahead to November 3rd when the Trojans come to town.
#6 Georgia – Last year’s SEC East champions look ready to continue the momentum they began last season. With neither LSU nor Alabama on their schedule this year, the Bulldogs look to be in a wonderful position to make a legitimate run this year. A trip to South Carolina on October 6th currently appears to be their biggest challenge, so if they can pass that test, expect those Dogs to bark up some noise.
#7 Florida St. – Year after year, Bobby Bowden consistently made FSU one the elite football programs in the country. Even after he left, those expectations still remained, and Jimbo Fisher has done his best to get his team to rise to the occasion. Unfortunately, over the past two seasons, the Seminoles haven’t been able to prove themselves when it matters. This year’s squad is full of talent, but we’ll have to see if they are finally ready to make that big step.
#8 Michigan – This season will be all about QB Denard Robinson who is one of the most dynamic players in college football – he could easily become this year’s RG3. The Wolverines might have one of the best teams in the Big 10, but they also have one of the toughest schedules with road games at Nebraska and Ohio St. along with opening the season this Saturday against Alabama at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. They will provide excitement, but a successful season in terms of a preseason top 10 ranking is looking to be doubtful.
#9 South Carolina – When Steve Spurrier was brought in as head coach in 2005, he was expected to turn a perennially mediocre program into a contender. (This is no small feat in the SEC.) While the Gamecocks made strides early on, they always seemed to be “almost there.” Then, last year, they hit two major milestones setting a school record with 11 wins and finishing in the season in the AP Top 10 for the first time in school history. If this team can use this momentum, they could have a very respectable season.
#10 Arkansas – Over just a few seasons, Bobby Petrino had instilled a confidence in his team that was lacking and had begun convincing fans that he would be able to bring the Hogs back to their former glory. With Petrino now gone, it will be up to the new head coach along with the players to focus on continuing the direction their program is headed. This is crucial if they want to have a chance at competing in a division which houses rivals Alabama and LSU.
Here are some match-ups to keep an eye out for this season:
September 1: Michigan @ Alabama
September 5: Alabama @ Arkansas
September 22: Florida St @ Clemson
October 6: Georgia @ South Carolina
November 3: USC @Oregon and Alabama @ LSU
November 23: LSU @ Arkansas
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