2012 CFN Preseason Rankings - No. 6 to 10
Florida State QB E.J. Manuel
Florida State QB E.J. Manuel
Posted Aug 20, 2012

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

Preview 2012 - Rankings

BCS Title Contenders - No. 6-10

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2012 CFN Preseason Rankings  
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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.

10. Michigan Preview

Why Michigan Should Be No. 1: There's a chance that Denard Robinson and the offense is just that good and has progressed just enough to be able to slip by Alabama in the opener. If that happens, then it's Game On for the national championship expectations. The running game should be among the most explosive in America - even if it probably won't look like it against the Tide - while the defensive back seven should be the program's best in several years.

Why Michigan Isn't No. 1: There's still a lot of tweaking to be done. Michigan might have improved by leaps and bounds since Brady Hoke took over, but the receiving corps is still a bit iffy, the special teams are shaky, and the receiving corps should be merely average if Roy Roundtree isn't back to form after undergoing minor knee surgery. This might be a Rose Bowl-bound team if everything breaks right, but Robinson and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint won't be enough to carry the team to Miami.

Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back
Relative Weaknesses: Receiver, Defensive Line

What to watch for on offense: The receiving corps. The offensive line has to replace some key parts, but it's a good-looking group that just needs a little bit of tweaking to be as good as or even better than the 2011 version. The running game should rock with Robinson and Toussaint as electrifying and as deadly as any rushing tandem in the country, however, they need more from the receivers to help keep the safeties from cheating up. Roy Roundtree has to be better after a strange drop-off in production from his great campaign two years ago. Jeremy Gallon has tremendous potential, but he has to show he can explode, while the tight ends are unproven with Kevin Koger gone.

What to watch for on defense: A fantastic back seven. There doesn't seem to be too much concern from the coaching staff about the rebuilt line that loses some key parts, but it's still asking a lot to be as good as last season's veteran front four was. Fortunately, the back seven has the potential to be outstanding with Kenny Demens leading a good group of linebackers that started to come into their own down the final stretch of the season. The secondary is loaded at corner and excellent at safety, but all the experience has to translate into more big plays and more picks.

9. Georgia Preview

Why Georgia Should Be No. 1: The Dawgs might have the right mix to get through a relatively favorable SEC schedule and be in the hunt for the national title. Aaron Murray could turn out to be the SEC's best quarterback, but it's the defense that should carry the team with loaded front seven that should be among the best in America against the run. It shouldn't take too many points to come up with wins.

Why Georgia Isn't No. 1: There are just enough holes to keep the Dawgs from finally rising through the ranks and playing for it all. The running backs are suspect, the special teams a bit iffy, and the offensive line isn't up to snuff compared to some of the loaded front fives in the West. Georgia can get back to the SEC championship game, but there are too many concerns to get to No. 1.

Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Linebacker
Relative Weaknesses: Running Back, Offensive Line

What to watch for on offense: Massive shuffling on the O line. The Isaiah Crowell-less running back situation will be fine as long as the blocking is solid, and the passing game should be dangerous and efficient as long as quarterback Aaron Murray stays upright. The problem is that the battered and injured offensive line from last year only gets back two starters and might not have the right combination figured out until the last minute. Is David Andrews good enough to handle the job at center? If he's not, then top guard Chris Burnette will probably have to move to the middle. Will star recruit John Theus be able to step in and produce right away at one of the tackle jobs to allow Kenarious Gates to move around where needed? Will JUCO transfer Mark Beard push out Dallas Lee from the left guard job? Fortunately, there's plenty of versatility to play around with and lots of options to get the best five blockers on the field, but losing projected starting tackle Kolton Houston - who was declared ineligible - takes away a key cog.

What to watch for on defense: The patching of the leak in the secondary. The pass defense was among the best in America last season, partly because the Bulldogs didn't exactly deal with a slew of high-octane bombers, but the SEC opener at Missouri at September 8th will be a dangerous test while Tyler Bray and Tennessee on September 29th will be dangerous. If all goes according to plan the Dawgs will have everyone back in place in the defensive backfield by the time the Vols come to town, but they're going to be without corner Sanders Commings, All-America safety Bacarri Rambo and possibly corner Branden Smith for the Missouri showdown. Former receiver Malcolm Mitchell looks like a keeper at corner and Shawn Williams is one of the SEC's best strong safeties, but the loaded secondary will be in the spotlight over the first part of the season.

8. Wisconsin Preview

Why Wisconsin Should Be No. 1: The Badger running game is still going to be dominant with Montee Ball leading a loaded backfield behind a typically loaded Bucky line. While the offense will continue to steamroll over everything in its path, the defense will also shine and could be the best in the Bret Bielema era by far. If the defensive line can be passable, this really might be the year the program comes up with a truly special national title run.

Why Wisconsin Isn't No. 1: Who's going to catch the ball? UW could probably come up with a winning season without ever throwing a pass, but replacing No. 1 target Nick Toon will be a problem. As good as the defensive back seven might be, the great linebacking corps has speed issues.

Relative Strengths: Running Back, Offensive Line
Relative Weaknesses: Receiver, Defensive Line

What to watch for on offense: Danny O'Brien and the passing game. No one's asking him to replace Russell Wilson after one of the greatest seasons by any quarterback in college football history, but it would be nice if he came close. The running game will be as good as ever, and maybe even better with so much running back talent returning and with a line full of NFL prospect, but the Badgers were special last season because Wilson was able to make the passing game shine, too. The problem is that leading receiver Nick Toon is gone, and while Jared Abbrederis is a good target, he might not be a No. 1. And then there's the question mark about O'Brien, who has to still earn the job and make it his. Joel Stave and Joe Brennan didn't exactly set the world on fire this offseason, but O'Brien will still have to audition for the part.

What to watch for on defense: A special back seven. When the world last saw the Badgers, Oregon was hitting home run after home run while making the Bucky linebackers look like they were running in mud. There's no question, though, that Chris Borland and Mike Taylor are phenomenal linebackers and they should be on the All-America short list. Once again they'll be helped by a secondary that was statistically great last season and should be even stronger with the return of talented corner Devin Smith from a foot injury. The safety tandem of Shelton Johnson and Dezmen Southward is fantastic and Marcus Cromartie could be an all-star on the other side of Smith.

7. Michigan State Preview

Why Michigan State Should Be No. 1: The defense should be the best in the Big Ten and the running game will dominate. In other words, Michigan State should be the perfect old school Big Ten team. The D should be strong enough to keep the team in every game, while the pounding ground game will ease new quarterback Andrew Maxwell into the job. The team should get better and stronger as the season goes on.

Why Michigan State Isn't No. 1: There's still a question mark about the passing game. The running game and back Le'Veon Bell should be outstanding, but Bell still has to show he can do it for a full season. The passing attack should be fine, but it might take a little bit of time. As good as Sparty might be, don't fall off your chair if Boise State comes up with the win in the opener.

Relative Strengths: Defensive Line, Linebacker
Relative Weaknesses: Quarterback, Receiver

What to watch for on offense: The passing game. The O line should be among the Big Ten's most effective and should be fantastic at paving the way for Le'Veon Bell and the rest of the good backs, and that should be enough to get the Spartans in the Big Ten championship conversation. But to win the title, the offense has to be effective and efficient through the air despite a total overhaul in the receiving corps. Andrew Maxwell is a good-looking quarterback who should grow into the starting job, and it's not like there aren't several nice receiver prospects ready to break out, but after finishing second in the Big Ten in passing and third in efficiency with Kirk Cousins throwing to B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Moore and Keith Nichol, there are some big shoes to fill.

What to watch for on defense: The potential for total and complete domination. Michigan State might have consistency issues, but it also ended up finishing sixth in the nation in total defense allowing 277 yards per game while finishing ninth against the run – Wisconsin was the only team to get more than 200 yards on the ground - and 11th against the pass. There might be a few big losses in DT Jerel Worthy and S Trenton Robinson, but the rest of defense is loaded with a great-looking linebacking corps with three excellent returning starters and a great group of ends led by William Gholston and Marcus Russ. The secondary is the one area that isn't deep, but three starters are back including future NFL corner Johnny Adams. There will be games against mediocre offenses when it won't take more than two touchdowns from the offense to come up with a win.

6. Florida State Preview

Why Florida State Should Be No. 1: It might have taken a little while, but this really and truly should be the year when Florida State comes close to being Florida State again. No, it's not going to be the team that ripped apart everything in its path during Bobby Bowden's heyday, but the talent level is tremendous, the special teams are phenomenal, the defensive will be outstanding, and E.J. Manuel might be the best quarterback you've never really paid attention to.

Why Florida State Isn't No. 1: Florida State is back! Yeah, yeah, yeah, we've all heard it before ever since Jimbo Fisher took over the reins. There's no real running game to speak of and the O line is going to be mediocre at best. The defense might be outstanding, but can it make up for the offensive inconsistencies? Coming from the ACC there's no margin for error. 12-1 with an ACC title doesn't get FSU into the BCS championship.

Relative Strengths: Defensive Line, Defensive Backs
Relative Weaknesses: Running Backs, Offensive Line

What to look for offense: The distribution of snaps. There will be an unmistakable waft of competition in the air at running back and wide receiver when the Seminoles reconvene in the summer. Four talented backs, Chris Thompson, Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and Mario Pender, are standing on equal ground in the battle for carries in the fall. All bring something different to the offense. The wide receivers are even deeper, with only Rashad Greene and Rodney Smith appearing safe in the quest for snaps. Florida State needs more pop on offense, and has about a dozen gifted athletes eager to fill the void.

What to look for on defense: A revival from the secondary. It's not as if the Seminoles defensive backs played poorly in 2011, but they weren't quite as nasty as expected. Suffice it to say that they're eager for a do-over. Considering the athletes comprising the defensive backfield, namely Xavier Rhodes and Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State ought to get its hands on a lot of balls this season. The group breaks quickly on throws, sports excellent ball skills and has no shortage of aggressiveness. With opposing quarterbacks being harried by the Noles pass rushers, there's no reason why this defense can't lead the ACC in interceptions.