2012 CFN Preseason Rankings - The Top Five
Texas QB David Ash
Texas QB David Ash
Posted Aug 20, 2012

2012 CFN Preseason Rankings - The Top Five - National Title Contenders

Preview 2012 - Rankings

The Top Five

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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
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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.

5. Texas Preview

Why Texas Should Be No. 1: The defense might have lost a slew of veterans, but the linebacking corps is going to be even faster and the secondary will move at warp speed. Throw in one of the nation's best defensive lines, and good luck moving the ball on a regular basis on this group. The receiving corps is in place and the O line should be the best it has been in years. With a great group of running backs to pave the way, the offense will be steadier.

Why Texas Isn't No. 1: Is there a quarterback who can play at a national title level? It took Vince Young and Colt McCoy to get the Longhorns to the national title game, and even though everything else might be in place, the offense might not have the steady leader under center needed to get to Miami.

Relative Strengths: Defensive Line, Defensive Back
Relative Weaknesses: Quarterback, Special Teams

What to watch for on offense: Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. Mack Brown appears to still be spooked by the loss to Alabama in the national championship two years ago, with the team and the dream going down the tubes after losing Colt McCoy early on. However, the idea that it's a good thing to keep up the competition between David Ash and Case McCoy might be a negative. Ash appears to be the better of the two options, but he needs to have the No. 1 job to become the leader the offense needs. Still a sophomore, Ash needs to time to grow into his potential and he has to be able to learn from his mistakes. However, the coaching staff isn't going to be patient if he isn't getting the job done.

What to watch for on defense: Speed. Texas always has a vast array of athletic speedsters and athletic marvels, but even for a Mack Brown team this year's back seven should take on a whole other level. It's not that former linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson were bad in any way, but they were better football players than athletes. Once Steve Edmond gets a little more time in the middle, and after Demarco Cobbs establishes himself a bit more on the weakside, look out. Veteran Jordan Hicks is a tremendous talent, but he might look like he's running in sand compared to Cobbs. The secondary takes speed and quickness to a whole other level.

4. Oklahoma Preview

Why Oklahoma Should Be No. 1: Who's going to stop the passing game? Forget about the problems over the second half of last year; Landry Jones is an NFL quarterback who's going to put up Heisman-like stats. With Mike Stoops back at coordinator, and the talent in place, the defense has the potential to be the best it's been in a long, long time. If the team can be a bit more consistent, especially on D, the potential is there to play get back to the BCS championship for the first time since it was last played in Miami.

Why Oklahoma Isn't No. 1: It's Oklahoma, so it will come up with at least one total clunker just when everyone is expecting big things. The offensive line is going to be a concern all season long, and the running back situation is extremely average. The receiving corps should be terrific with the expected emergence of new star-in-the-making Trey Metoyer and the addition of Penn State's No. 1 target, Justin Brown, but it's still going to hurt losing Ryan Broyles.
Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Defensive Back
Relative Weaknesses: Running Back, Offensive Line

What to watch for on offense: The health of the line. Last year the front five allowed just 11 sacks in 583 passing attempts and helped a walk-on running back – Dominique Whaley – look like a star until he got hurt. This year, the line was supposed to be even stronger despite the loss of starting left tackle Donald Stephenson, but injuries struck this offseason with the biggest loss coming at center with Ben Habern being forced to retire. Gabe Ikard is one of the best guards in the country, while Lane Johnson is an ultra-athletic left tackle prospect who should be just fine in place of Stephenson. Daryl Williams might be the most talented blocker on the team despite being the new starter in the mix. The starting five will be fine, but the season could go in the tank in any more injuries strike.

What to watch for on defense: A better year from the secondary. It's not always fair to criticize any Big 12 secondary considering the barrage of phenomenal quarterbacks in the league. Other teams had to deal with Landry Jones, but OU had to face the No. 2 (Robert Griffin), No. 8 (Ryan Tannehill) and No. 22 (Brandon Weeden) overall picks in the 2012 NFL draft, along with Texas Tech's Seth Doege, Florida State's E.J. Manuel, Iowa's James Vandenberg, Missouri's James Franklin and Tulsa's G.J. Kinne. All things considered, the OU secondary held up extremely well, but the gaffes late against Texas Tech and Baylor are all anyone remembers. There might not be the luxury of the No. 8 pass rush in the nation like last year, but the Sooner defensive backfield should still be one of the Big 12's best units with the corner tandem of Demontre Hurst and former safety Aaron Colvin as rock-solid as they come, and with free safety Tony Jefferson one of the best all-around defenders in the country. There's depth, experience and speed to burn, but now the consistency has to be there.

3. Alabama Preview

Why Alabama Should Be No. 1: The defense not only reloaded, but it got faster. As great as Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower were, they didn't fly like the 2012 Tide linebackers can. The defensive line isn't going to give up a thing led by Jesse Williams gumming up the works in the middle. If the Tide's O line isn't the best in the country, it's in the top three. Basically, everything that worked on the way to the national championship run last year should work once again.

Why Alabama Isn't No. 1: There might be just enough big changes on defensive to be a wee bit off. Last year, as good as the D was, it didn't exactly face a who's who of big-time offenses. As good as the running backs should be, not having Trent Richardson will be a problem and the receiving corps is average at best.

Relative Strengths: Offensive Line, Linebacker
Relative Weaknesses: Receiver, Quarterback Depth

What to watch for on offense: The dominance of the offensive line. Football isn't that tough a game if your guys up front are better than their guys up front. Thanks to the return of Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones for one more year, the line is loaded with phenomenal veterans and one young blocker who could be the best of them all. If Cyrus Kouandijo is fine after suffering a knee injury last season, then he'll stick at left tackle to allow Jones to stay at center, where he practiced all offseason. D.J. Fluker is a future NFL right tackle or guard, Chance Warmack is a next-level blocker at left guard, and Anthony Steen is a pile-mover at right guard. The depth might be lacking a bit, but as long as the starting five is healthy, the bevy of speedy backs should be able to make up for the loss of Trent Richardson and A.J. McCarron should have time to make his questionable receiving corps look better than it probably is.

What to watch for on defense: The speedy emergence of the new stars in the linebacking corps. It's an easy equation for the Alabama defense. Find three strong blocks of granite to hold down the line, find four lightning-fast athletes who can swarm around the ball in the secondary, and then get four of the most aggressive and instinctive linebackers possible to make all the key plays. There's a leadership hole with the loss of Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower, but it's possible the Bama defense is even faster and more athletic without them. Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley are smart veteran who can hold down the middle, but the real star of the show could be sophomore Adrian Hubbard, a tweener with high-end pass rushing skills and burst. Xzavier Dickson is another hybrid who can be used like a defensive end or an outside linebacker. The developed linebacker depth might be lacking a bit, but the starting four will turn out to be as good as any in America.

2. LSU Preview

Why LSU Should Be No. 1: The 2011 Tigers put together one of the greatest regular seasons in college football history, and the 2012 team should be even better. Now the offense has a quarterback in Zach Mettenberger who can throw the ball on a regular basis, but he won't need to do too much with the phenomenal offensive line doing most of the work paving the way for big back after big back. The defensive front seven will be every bit as good as last year's bunch, while the special teams are going to be among the best in America.

Why LSU Isn't No. 1: You don't get better by losing Tyrann Mathieu, Michael Brockers and Morris Claiborne. The defense will be fine for those three, and the secondary is going to be fine without the Honey Badger and Thorpe Winner, but it's going to be thin. All it might take is one big loss to ruin the season, and Texas A&M and Arkansas might be able to throw on the secondary.
Relative Strengths: Offensive Line, Defensive Line
Relative Weaknesses: Receiver, Linebacker

What to watch for on offense: Zach Mettenberger. It's not an overstatement to suggest that he's the most important new starter in college football this year. Stephen Rivers – Phil's brother – is a good-looking prospect, and Jerrard Randall is a good prospect, but the Tigers can't win the national title if Mettenberger isn't a whole bunch better than Jordan Jefferson. While the bar isn't set all that high, if Mettenberger can actually provide a real, live passing game, and if all the four and five-star receiver talents can finally show what they can do, all of a sudden the dynamic might change. Remember, no one other than Alabama came close to beating LSU, so the offense should still be able to crank out 40 points on a regular basis by sticking with what worked last year, but it can take more chances because all the other aspects of the team are so strong.

What to watch for on defense: The pass rush. LSU has become known more for outstanding tackles who put up big numbers and dominant performances year after year – remember, Michael Brockers wasn't expected to blow up like he did last year – but this season could be about the ends. As always there are elite tackles to get excited about like Anthony "Freak" Johnson and Bennie Logan, but it'll be Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo on the outside who should be the game-changers. These are two NFL-caliber pass rushers who should rip apart opposing backfields thanks to all the talent o the inside taking up space and attention. With a dominant pass rush comes a great secondary, and LSU has the talent in the defensive backfield to lock-down and create big plays against passing attacks that'll struggle to keep pace with the LSU offense.

1. USC Preview

Why USC Is No. 1: The defensive line might be a little bit of a question mark, but from 1-to-22, along with the special teamers, the Trojan starters are as good as any in college football with no real weaknesses. They might have the best quarterback, the best receivers, among the strongest linebacking corps and a loaded backfield with Silas Redd - an All-Big Ten caliber running back - coming over from Penn State. Even the relative concerns - the lines - are among the strongest in the Pac-12.

Why USC Shouldn't Be No. 1: The depth is a little bit sketchy. It's not like the talent drops off the map from the ones to the twos, and everyone's backups are obviously worse than the starters, but USC could have more problems than most top teams if injuries strike. One loss will probably be the difference between playing for the national title and merely going to the Rose Bowl, but for a team with this much talent, it's BCS title or bust. Now the pressure is on and the expectations are there.
Relative Strengths: Quarterback, Receiver
Relative Weaknesses: Offensive Line, Defensive Line

What to watch for on offense: Even more use of the tight ends. Of course, Matt Barkley doesn't plan on ignoring his elite corps of wide receivers, but with Robert Woods and Marqise Lee attracting so much attention, he'll delight in using his bigger pass-catchers in the middle of the field. Channeling his inner Andrew Luck, Barkley will have access to three quality tight ends, Randall Telfer, Xavier Grimble and Christian Thomas. Telfer and Grimble combined for 31 receptions and nine touchdowns a year ago … as rookies. The former is the big-play weapon. The latter is a load, who is most dangerous near the end zone and on third-and-short.

What to watch for on defense: A proper send-off for the ends. Senior defensive ends Devon Kennard and Wes Horton have shown flashes of brilliance at times during their career, but sustained excellence has eluded both. However, now that Nick Perry is a member of the Green Bay Packers, both of last year's part-time starters have a golden opportunity to become full-time nuisances in opposing backfields. The pair has a disparate skill set, but common goals of igniting the Trojans, while supercharging their own NFL careers. Kennard is a lot more like Perry, a combustible end packaged in the body of an outside linebacker.