2012 CFN Preseason Rankings - No. 11 to 20
Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
Posted Aug 20, 2012

2012 CFN Preseason Rankings - No. 11 to 20 - BCS Contenders

Preview 2012 - Rankings

BCS Contenders - No. 11-20

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2012 CFN Preseason Rankings  
Preview 2012 | 1 to 5 | 6 to 10 | 11 to 20 | 21 to 30 | 31 to 40 | 41 to 50
51 to 60 | 61 to 70 | 71 to 80 | 81 to 90 | 91 to 100 | 101 to 110 | 111 to 124 
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There's one very important distinction in the CFN preseason rankings: these are based on how good the teams are going into the season and NOT how they're going to finish. Some teams have easier schedules than others, some get tougher road games and some will need a little bit of time to jell, meaning they might be better than their final record indicates. Going into the year, these are how good the teams appear to be from No. 1 through 124.

20. Clemson Preview
Relative Strengths: Wide Receiver, Quarterback
Relative Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Defensive Backs

Justify The Ranking: The offense should be among the most dangerous in the ACC with a loaded receiving corps and a terrific quarterback in Tajh Boyd to lead the way. The defense will be good enough to get by and the special teams will be the difference in at least two games.

Why The Ranking Isn't Higher: It's all about consistency with the Tigers. They'll be good enough to beat anyone on the schedule on a given day, but there will always be the fear that another Orange Bowl-like clunker will be just around the corner.

What to watch for on offense: The attack to keep a Pistol in its holster. As if the high-powered Clemson attack wasn't scary enough already, it's now installing versions of Nevada's Pistol offense, which is designed to augment power running games and confuse defenses. In fact, coordinator Chad Morris spent part of his offseason in Reno to learn more about the system from guru Chris Ault. The alignment calls for the quarterback to line up in a shortened shotgun, with the running back directly behind him. Since opposing linebackers are less likely to detect the flow of a play, it gives a one-step advantage to the running back. RB Andre Ellington with a one-step edge is a problem for opposing defenses.

What to watch for on defense: The final depth chart. With a new defensive coordinator evaluating his inherited talent, there was an unmistakable air of competition during the spring. Clemson will use the summer to decide starters at five different positions, nose guard, defensive tackle, weakside linebacker and both safeties. And that was before the true freshmen have arrived on campus. The staff is hopeful that the uncertainty at so many positions will push the contenders to new heights in the weight room and on the practice field.

19. West Virginia Preview
Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Receiver
Relative Weaknesses: Running Back, Defensive Line

Justify The Ranking: Explosion, explosion, explosion. The passing game will fit in nicely in the high-powered big 12, and head coach Dana Holgorsen knows how to crank up the attack a few levels. The Orange Bowl blowout over Clemson wasn't an aberration and could be a glimmer of what the Mountaineers might do in their new league.

Why The Ranking Isn't Higher: Consistency. Remember, it took a late field goal just to get to the Orange Bowl. There was a blowout loss against Syracuse and way too many close calls. Good teams win the tight ones, but now it's going to be harder to get through the close games against the improved competition. This will be the type of team that can look national title-good against Oklahoma, but lose to Iowa State.

What to watch for on offense: 5,000 yards passing? That might seem a bit ambitious considering only two teams did it last year – Houston throwing for 6,301 and Oklahoma State cranking out 5,034 – but the Mountaineers threw for 4,509 yards last season and now it'll be involved in even more shootouts. Geno Smith is entering his third year as the starter and he has all of his top weapons returning. Tavon Austin caught 101 passes, Stedman Bailey ripped off 1,279 yards and 12 scores, and Ivan McCartney caught 49 balls. The team finished sixth in the nation in passing averaging 346 yards per game, but now that it's in a league with last year's No. 2 (Oklahoma State), No. 4 (Baylor), No. 5 (Oklahoma) and No. 7 (Texas Tech) attacks, throwing for 385 a game might not be that crazy.

What to watch for on defense: The 3-4 really being like another 3-3-5. The defense went with a five defensive back set last year with Terence Garvin serving in a hybrid role, and now he's going to go from being a part-safety/part-linebacker to a linebacker who'll rush the passer and play a little safety if needed. The pass rush needs to find playmakers after losing Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin, and the secondary has to be prepared for an air raid, but no matter what the scheme, West Virginia has the athletes and the experience across the board to be fine in a league that had five teams finish 95th or worse in total defense and everyone but Texas finishing 55th or lower.

18. Ohio State Preview
Relative Strengths: Defensive Line, Defensive Back
Relative Weaknesses: Receiver, Offensive Line

Justify The Ranking: Is this going to be 2011 USC? The 2012 Buckeyes might not be as talented as last year's Trojans, but they're still going to be among the Big Ten's best teams. Ineligible to play for the conference title or go to a bowl, there technically isn't anything to play for - that could be a plus. Urban Meyer is selling the idea of treating every game like a bowl making the team the ultimate spoiler. The young team will be loose.

Why The Ranking Isn't Higher: There's a stunning lack of offensive playmakers for Ohio State. The quarterback situation is solid, but the receiving corps is mediocre and the running game could be an issue when Braxton Miller isn't on.

What to watch for on offense: The maturation of Braxton Miller. Getting more out of a looks-like-Tarzan-plays-like-Jane receiving corps would be nice, and finding more rushing options with top tailback option Jordan Hall hurting is a must, but the only thing that matters in this redshirt year for the program is how Miller looks and plays in the Meyer spread attack. Meyer gushed at times this offseason about how sharp Miller is, and the passing game improved enough to look solid at the spring game, but his running skills will be what eventually makes the offense shine. He gets a year to get the timing and the decision-making down.

What to watch for on defense: Consistency. The belief is that with experience comes consistency and with consistency comes production. At least that's the hope for a D that gets nine starters back from a not-that-bad 2011 group. The linebacking corps was mediocre, the secondary gave up too many completions, and the line didn't get into the backfield enough, but outside of getting steamrolled in the loss to Nebraska the defense held up relatively well in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Now the Buckeyes should take things to a whole other level with nine starters returning and with a ton of depth to use in a rotation. The secondary is loaded with good backups who can step in when needed, and Meyer went heavy on excellent recruits for the defensive line with a year to get their feet wet.

17. Missouri Preview
Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Offensive Line
Relative Weaknesses: Running Back, Defensive Line

Justify The Ranking: No one is expecting much with Mizzou making the jump to the SEC, but Gary Pinkel has amassed enough talent to come up with a big year on defense to go along with the always solid offense. The lines should be just good enough to hang around with the SEC heavyweights.

Why The Ranking Isn't Higher: The Tigers are going to be just good enough to be challenging throughout the SEC season, but not talented enough to win week after week after week in the brutal SEC. There will be some huge moments with lots of good opportunities, but this might be a solid team with a mediocre record.

What to watch for on offense: Can the line hold up? Finding smart and productive linemen has never been much of a problem for the Tigers, but it was a bit of a patchwork group last season and it's relying on a few hopes and prayers this year. The return of Elvis Fisher from a knee injury is a big deal, giving the line a veteran leader to work around, but the depth is painfully thin and it's not going to be the most physical unit in the SEC. It's going to be a good line, but it'll also be a finesse blocking unit that will have to prove it can handle the killer defensive lines like Florida's, Georgia's and South Carolina's.

What to watch for on defense: A tremendous back seven. The Tigers are used to getting into track meets against the high-octane Big 12 passing games, but it's going to be a different animal now in the SEC. Georgia will be able to throw the ball, and a non-conference game against Arizona State will test out the secondary, but both of those games are at home in mid-September. After that, other than maybe Alabama, there isn't another good passing team on the schedule until the trip to Tennessee to deal with Tyler Bray in mid-November. Missouri will have to change its focus a bit and be ready to get hammered on by decent ground games, and it should be able to take a few more chances with so few top-flight quarterbacks to deal with.

16. Virginia Tech Preview
Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Defensive Line
Relative Weaknesses: Wide Receiver, Offensive Line

Justify The Ranking: It's Virginia Tech; you know exactly what you're going to get. The running game will be terrific, the coaching will be peerless, and the defense and special teams will always be rock solid. Quarterback Logan Thomas is a sleeper Heisman candidate.

Why The Ranking Isn't Higher: It's Virginia Tech; you know exactly what you're going to get. There's going to be a run for the ACC title with a terrific bowl game to cap things off, but there isn't enough in the bag to win the biggest of the big games. This could be an eventual ACC champion that goes on to lose in a BCS bowl battle.

What to watch for on offense: Big wides. Virginia Tech may not be home to the ACC's best wide receivers, but they sure are among the biggest. The Hokies are going to have a chance to manhandle opposing defensive backs with their super-sized split ends and flankers. On one side, D.J. Coles and Dyrell Roberts are 6-3, 216 pounds and 6-2, 188 pounds, respectively. On the other, Marcus Davis is a healthy 6-4 and 228 pounds, with a chance to blossom into one of the league's most dangerous weapons. In short yardage and red zone situations, the receivers are simply going to box out defensive backs for the ball much the way a power forward does when there's a rebound up for grabs.

What to watch for on defense: The health of the linebackers. There are only two things capable of keeping this D from being oppressive this fall, depth in the secondary and the injuries to the linebackers. The Hokies should be feisty from the second level, but only if everyone is available. The two best players of the unit, Bruce Taylor and Tariq Edwards, sat out the spring to recover from injuries. And one of the primary contenders at whip, Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, is not quite at full strength either. This is going to be a good defense no matter what. It becomes great if the linebackers play at 100%.

15. South Carolina Preview
Relative Strengths: Running Back, Defensive Line 
Relative Weaknesses: Receiver, Offensive Line

Justify The Ranking: The potential is there to go on an SEC championship run - which means a possible national title dash - with one of the best defensive lines in college football leading a brick wall of a defense. Quarterback Connor Shaw is experienced enough to do more for the offense.

Why The Ranking Isn't Higher: It's asking for way too much for Marcus Lattimore to be 100% healthy. The superstar running back could be the difference between the Gamecocks being really good and SEC title-good. His knee won't get a full year to heal, and if he's not right, then the defense might have to pitch a few perfect games to get through the rough patches.

What to watch for on offense: The rising up of the receiving corps. Connor Shaw has been known so far as a running quarterback who can throw, but this offseason he has been a more consistent passer and he has been allowed to air it out a bit more. He'll have to make everyone around him better with top target Alshon Jeffery gone to the Chicago Bears and a whole slew of concerns at receiver. Can Ace Sanders and Damiere Byrd take their phenomenal speed and become more dangerous deep threats? Can super-recruit Shaq Roland be ready right away? Will D.L. Moore be able to use his 6-5, 198-pound frame to dominate smaller corners? Shaw should be better, but it would be nice if the receivers could help him out.

What to watch for on defense: The consistency of the run defense. Playing Navy, Citadel and Nebraska – three pure running teams – didn't help the stat sheet, but Florida was able to run a bit on the Gamecocks and it had no semblance of a passing game to worry about. Auburn ripped off 246 yards in the win and Georgia was able to move the ball on the ground. The run D was hardly a problem and it only gave up 12 rushing scores, with five coming against Navy and Citadel, but for a defense with so much talent up front and so many good, smart linebackers, it was a little bit inconsistent. The run defense can't be a little bit of anything but fantastic to have any shot of beating LSU or Arkansas.

14. Texas A&M Preview
Relative Strengths: Offensive Line, Linebacker
Relative Weaknesses: Secondary, Quarterback

Justify The Ranking: Don't sleep on the Aggies. The offense will still put up a ton of yards through the air, while the defense is as fast and athletic as any in the SEC. The pass rush might be the league's best, while on offense the line is just a notch below LSU's and Alabama's.

Why The Ranking Isn't Higher: Can the team start winning the close games it couldn't come up with last season? It's going to take a little while for all the new parts of the offense to work, the new coaching staff might need to adjust, and the secondary might not be up-to-snuff against the few SEC teams that can throw.

What to watch for on offense: Lots and lots of passing. The Aggies have always thrown the ball, but under Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury the offense will really start chucking. The problem is that the veteran and talented offensive line will have adjust a bit after jelling into a phenomenal brick wall, but the potential is there to do it quickly. A quarterback has to emerge from the talented pack with four different options – led by sophomore Jameill Showers – all able to step in and put up huge numbers. With a running game that's a big question mark because of Christine Michael's injured knee and Oklahoma transfer Brandon Williams' issue with the NCAA, it's going to be an air show for a conference not used to top passing games.

What to watch for on defense: The 4-3. Here was the problem; the pass rush was the best in the nation last year coming up with 51 sacks and camping out in opposing backfields, but the secondary did absolutely nothing with all the help getting bombed on time and again while not coming up with nearly enough key plays. This year he defensive backfield is starting almost anew and it needs even more help – if it's possible – from the front seven. The tackles might not be the mountains needed to hold up against the run against the LSUs and Alabamas of the SEC world, but the noise will come from the outside linebackers and end Damontre Moore up front.

13. Arkansas Preview
Relative Strengths: Running Back, Quarterback
Relative Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Defensive Back

Justify The Ranking: The offensive backfield is loaded for what should be one of the few SEC offenses that can bring it week in and week out. This was supposed to be the year when everything came together for Bobby Petrino with, arguably, the best defense in his era and enough offensive playmakers to blow away the week, but, of course, Petrino isn't around to make it all happen. Even so, John L. Smith can coach a bit.

Why The Ranking Isn't Higher: John L. Smith isn't Bobby Petrino. With a razor-thin margin in the SEC, the difference between contending for the West title and fighting for third could be the coaching. Smith is going to be good, but Petrino was great.

What to watch for on offense: The backfield. While the pressure might be on John L. Smith to make the SEC's top offense of 2011 be the top offense again in 2012, from all indications, the players are taking on the responsibility themselves for the team's success. Getting offensive coordinator Paul Petrino back will do wonders for the continuity, but Tyler Wilson is a senior and Knile Davis is a respected veteran who'll want to carry the load again after sitting out all of last year. The leaders are in place, the coaches are strong, and the issues at wide receiver and with some replacements on the line won't be a problem as long as the stars in the backfield can take control of the offense and the team.

What to watch for on defense: Just how well will the line hold up? The pass rush was fine, but that was with Jake Bequette cranking up ten sacks. The linebacking corps was excellent, but that was with Jerry Franklin manning the middle and eating up everything that came near him. Overall, the run defense was good and came up with a whale of a performance shutting down Kansas State cold, but the big tackles were beaten on by LSU and Texas A&M was able to rip off 381 yards and five scores. Athleticism isn't a problem, and the front seven will fly around with ease and come up with plenty of stats, but in the biggest of the big games against Alabama, LSU, Auburn and South Carolina, the tackle tandem of Byran Jones and Robert Thomas have to be difference-makers.

12. Oklahoma State Preview
Relative Strengths: Running Back, Defensive Back
Relative Weaknesses: Quarterback, Defensive Line

Justify The Ranking: The Oklahoma State offense is going to be the Oklahoma State offense. The running game is going to explode and the passing game will be more than fine even without Brandon Weeden throwing to Justin Blackmon. The defense will once again be among the best in America at taking the ball away.

Why The Ranking Isn't Higher: You don't get better by losing Weeden, Blackmon and a slew of other key offensive stars. Wes Lunt could turn out to be special, but he's still a true freshman quarterback in a loaded Big 12. The defensive line is a bit average.

What to watch for on offense: The receiving corps. All the focus and attention will be on Lunt, but he'll be fine if his receivers are strong. However, to lose a go-to playmaker like Blackmon – along with the underappreciated Josh Cooper - will be a problem unless a few of the promising prospects turn into major producers from the start. There was a thought that it could be Michael Harrison, but he's off the team meaning Charlie Moore needs to show that his strong spring game wasn't just a one shot deal. Josh Stewart has all the tools to become a key part of the puzzle, but is he a No. 1 guy? Blackmon didn't exactly come from out of the blue, but no one expected that. The Cowboys need another star to rise up.

What to watch for on defense: The pass rush. It's hard to be disruptive and force all the turnovers and mistakes like last year's defense did without a good, strong, consistent pass rush. The problem is that most of the stars of last season are gone. Former tight end Cooper Bassett has the upside and athleticism to be the one who picks up the slack, but Nigel Nicholas is a speed rushing prospect who could dominate in a specialist role. Former JUCO transfer Ryan Robinson is another pure pass rusher who showed a little bit of promise last year, while former Anaheim Angel Tyler Johnson is a mature, talented option who could shine if he stays healthy. It will take a village to make up for the loss of Richetti Jones and Jamie Blatnick.

11. Oregon Preview
Relative Strengths: Running Back, Defensive Line
Relative Weaknesses: Quarterback, Receiver

Justify The Ranking: Next. The Oregon offense was able to shine over the last few years under Chip Kelly because of the talent, but the scheme was also the key reason the program has become a national title contender. The Ducks lost some key parts, but there's blinding speed across the board to make up for some big losses.

Why The Ranking Isn't Higher: Once again, Oregon's offense will be good enough to blow away the weak and the sad, and it can be strong enough to get past almost anyone outside of the top five, but there's a wall it will hit when it goes against top teams with athletic defenses. This is a good enough team to find a way to play for the national championship, but it won't be strong enough to win it. While that's setting the bar extremely high, that's how far the program has progressed.

What to watch for on offense: Out of the shadows, and into the spotlight. USC QB Matt Barkley isn't the only Pac-12 playmaker who returned to school to care of some unfinished business. So, too, has Oregon RB Kenjon Barner. The senior thought long and hard about joining teammate LaMichael James on the list of early entries into the NFL, but opted to return for one final year instead. One of the country's most electrifying backups—and a very capable spot starter—finally gets an opportunity to be the feature back in a high-powered spread-option attack that can churn out 300 yards a game on the ground.

What to watch for on defense: Ready, set, Kiko. For much of his career, senior LB Kiko Alonso has been the million-dollar athlete who too often made the 10-cent decisions. That was then, and this is now. Since the middle of last season, the senior has operated with more focus and diligence—on and away from the field. And while he delivered a red-letter effort for the Ducks in the Rose Bowl, the program feels he has yet to peak. Alonso is a classic inside linebacker, tough, physical and highly instinctive against the run. As long as he continues to keep his eye on the ball, he's headed toward a breakout final season at Oregon.