2012 Pre-Preseason Rankings
USC QB Matt Barkley
USC QB Matt Barkley
Posted Jan 19, 2012

The CFN 2011 Pre-Preseason No. 1? Alabama. No. 2? LSU. The season just ended, but who are the best-looking teams going into 2012?

CFN 2012 First Look Rankings

The Top Ten

2011 CFN First Look Rankings
The Top 10 | Rankings 11-25 | Rankings 26-50
- Rankings 51-75 | Rankings 76-100The Bottom 20

2011 CFN Final Season Rankings
The Top 10 | Rankings 11-25 | Rankings 26-50
- Rankings 51-75 | Rankings 76-100The Bottom 20

- CFN 2011 FINAL Rankings, Top  25

2012 CFN First Look Rankings
The Top 10 | Rankings 11-25 | Rankings 26-50
- Rankings 51-75 | Rankings 76-100The Bottom 24

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It might seem way too early, but considering the returning starters and the teams coming back, before Signing Day and spring ball, where does everyone stand? Here's CFN's first look at all the teams for 2012. The First Look Ranking is based on how good the teams appear to be at the moment.

10. Florida State (9-4)

Let's try this again. Florida State was just about everyone's sleeper team to play for the national title last season, but the offense didn't do enough in key situations and the D wasn't special enough in the biggest games. This year, though, it's time to really and truly be as good as projected thanks to a defense that won't allow a thing. This could be the best Seminole defense in a decade only two players off the two deep depth chart done; no one will run on this line.

Offensively, quarterback EJ Manuel as the size and the skill set to go from good to top-ten-overall-draft-pick good, but he could use some help from the receivers. The running game was abysmal last year, but the line gets three starters back and Devonta Freeman is a promising young back to work around. Kicker Dustin Hopkins will be on the Lou Groza short list.

9. Michigan (11-2)

One more year. It might take one more season for Michigan to truly be back to being Michigan, but everything is on the right track with one of the nation's top recruiting classes coming in and a great base of talent in place to work around. Denard Robinson is back for one more season before he becomes an NFL receiver, but he'll lose target Junior Hemingway and he'll have to run– especially in the opener against Alabama – behind a line that has to replace center David Molk and right tackle Mark Huyge. Fitzgerald Toussaint flew under the national radar last season, but he should be among the nation's top running backs this year.

The defense that made tremendous strides should go to another level in the secondary that returns three starters. Jake Ryan and the linebacking corps are talented and could be potentially terrific with more help on the way, but the line needs help with Mike Martin and three starters gone.

8. Texas (8-5)

Enough is enough. The defense that led the Big 12, and finished 11th in the nation despite playing in a conference loaded with top offenses, will be fantastic. It's deep, talented, and full of next-level playmakers even with tackle Kheeston Randall, MLB Keenan Robinson, and WLB Emmanuel Acho gone. 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. David Ash is expected to take the starting quarterback job by the horns, but he'll have to fight to keep it. Malcolm Brown has the ability and potential to be the program's best back since Cedric Benson, while the receiving corps of Jaxon Shipley, 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. The biggest loss might be clutch kicker Justin Tucker.

7. Arkansas (11-2)

The Hogs just so happened to be in the toughest division in college football and lost to the nation's two best teams. Under Bobby Petrino, though, the talent level is getting to the point where it's time to knock off an Alabama or LSU and get to the SEC title. This could be the team to do it if a few playmaking receivers are found early on to replace Jarius Wright and Joe Adams. Most of the offensive line returns, to protect quarterback Tyler Wilson, who provided a big boost by deciding to return for his senior season. If Knile Davis is healthy and ready to go, the running game could be the SEC's best.

The defense loses a few heart-and-soul types like end Jake Bequette and linebackers Jerry Franklin and Jerico Nelson, but just enough key players return to prevent a disastrous drop-off. Unlike other SEC teams, Arkansas will have the offense to make up for any defensive issues.

6. Oregon (12-2)

Assuming head coach Chip Kelly doesn't chip out – sorry – and take the money grab of an NFL coaching gig, it'll be more of the same for one of college football's new superpowers. LaMichael James is off early to the NFL, but there's more where he came from with speed to burn in the backfield thanks to the return of Kenjon Barner and the expected expanded role for receiver/runner De'Anthony Thomas. Losing James will still hurt, but the biggest hit is at quarterback where Darron Thomas stunningly chose to take off early for the NFL. Bryan Bennett isn't going to come in cold, but he has to prove he can run the attack like Thomas did.

The secondary will lose some key parts and the linebacking corps has to replace both starters on the outside, but Kelly has proven over the last few years that coming up with fill-ins isn't a problem. Michael Clay will emerge as a star in the middle after leading the team in tackles, and John Boyett is a terrific free safety who'll be in the mix for all-star honors.

5. Oklahoma (10-3)

Let's try this again. As always, Oklahoma has the talent and the potential to win the national title, but will this finally be the season Bob Stoops can get the program over the hump? Getting Landry Jones back for his senior year was a huge piece of the puzzle, and welcoming back Mark Stoops as an assistant coach should put the bite back in the D. Four starters return to an underappreciated offensive line, but the O needs Roy Finch and others to step up and shine for the ground game until Blake Bell can pound it in. Jaz Reynolds and Kenny Stills should blow up and be among the nation's best receiving tandems.

The defense that broke down in key parts last year loses leader Travis Lewis at linebacker and has to go on without pass rushing end Frank Alexander, but eight starters are back with good depth expected on the line and in the secondary to form a good rotation. Michael Hunnicutt should be among the nation's top kickers, while Tress Way is an all-star caliber punter.

4. Georgia (10-4)

It wouldn't be Georgia without a few early entries into the NFL draft, but tight end Orson Charles is the only big loss this season with free safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Jarvis Jones coming back. The defending SEC East champs are loaded on offense with quarterback Aaron Murray having a more mature receiving corps to throw to and a burgeoning star in Isaiah Crowell – if he can stay in one piece – to handle the rushing workload. The O line that's been a work in progress for what seems like a decade has even more retooling to do, but that's nothing new for head coach Mark Richt. It's going to be fine.

The defense should be a next-level killer losing just one starter – corner Brandon Boykin – and with depth to spare. The line will be a brick wall if 2011 superstar JUCO transfer John Jenkins can be the NFL nose tackle he was expected to be right away last season, while Jones could be the SEC's best pass rusher from his outside linebacker spot. Both kickers – placekicker Blair Walsh and punter Drew Butler – are gone after tremendous careers.

3. Alabama (12-1)

Remember, the Tide had to replace Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, and Julio Jones in 2011, so the idea of losing starters – and offensive coordinator Jim McElwain - isn't exactly going to cause a major panic for Nick Saban and his program. Star running back Trent Richardson turned pro, but Eddie Lacy is a big playmaker who's ready for a bigger role. The linebacking corps will need to be remade with Dont'a Hightower taking off early, Courtney Upshaw done, and C.J. Mosley a question mark at the moment considering the horrible injury he suffered in the BCS championship.

On the plus side, Outland-winning tackle Barrett Jones stunningly chose to come back to join Chance Warmack to anchor the left side to keep BCS championship hero AJ McCarron clean, while D.J. Fluker is back at right tackle. The young receivers who looked so strong against LSU should play a bigger role, and they might need to make the passing game stronger to overcome early problems for a defense that lost seven starters. Even so, the D will quickly reload around strong safety Robert Lester and linebacker Nico Johnson.

2. LSU (13-1)

The Tigers won't be as good, but that might only bring them back to the pack just a little bit. Rarely does a national title-level team lose its starting quarterback and become better because of it. Jordan Jefferson had a good second half of the regular season, but his problems against Alabama showed just how much the offense needs more of a passing threat under center. Enter Zach Mettenberger, a transfer from Georgia who was the presumed front-runner for the Bulldog starting job two years ago before having some off-field issues. He has a phenomenal stable of running backs to hand off to, while the offensive line that was so dominant over the season gets enough starters back to be a killer again. Rueben Randle left early, but the passing game got a break with Russell Shepard reversing field and choosing to come back for another year.

The defense will be almost as nasty with Anthony Johnson, and Bennie Logan forming a solid defensive tackle pair, but losing Michael Brockers hurts. The linebacking corps loses both starters on the outside, and star corner Morris Claiborne took off – Tyrann Mathieu isn't eligible yet to leave – but Les Miles has stockpiled enough talent to not have too much to worry about.

1. USC (10-2)

After a brief hiccup for a few years, it looks like it's back to business as usual for the mighty Trojan program. Depth might be a bit of an issue after a few years of sanctions, but from 1-to-22 this will be among the most talented and athletic teams in America. The difference will be in the experience. Getting left tackle Matt Kalil back for one more season would've been nice, but the return of Matt Barkley to quarterback the loaded attack makes up for it. Robert Woods and Marqise Lee form the nation's best 1-2 receiving punch, while the backfield is loaded with option.

Defensively, the return of huge-hitting safety T.J. McDonald for his senior year means the starting back seven will return intact, led by a trio of sophomore linebackers that can flat out fly. The one concern is a defensive front that has to replace both tackles and loses pass rushing end Nick Perry a year early to the NFL, but this is one areas stockpiled with big-time prospects.

2012 CFN First Look Rankings
The Top 10 | Rankings 11-25 | Rankings 26-50
- Rankings 51-75 | Rankings 76-100The Bottom 24

- Follow us on Twitter ... ColFootballNews