2012 Projected AP Top 24!!!
For the past several years I have projected the preseason AP Top 10 nearly six months in advance and I have correctly projected at least nine of the Top 10 teams each year. It is one of my more popular blogs in the off-season and this year with its overwhelming popularity I have decided to expand it for the first time to 24 teams! I will mention it now and I will mention it numerous times throughout today’s blog but this is NOT MY preseason Top 24 for next year, it is where I project the AP Top 24 to come out at the start of the season. I have also strategically projected 24 teams and not 25 because I feel confident that all 24 of these teams will be in the preseason Top 25 while leaving room for a wildcard team that could slip into the Top 25 due to injuries, suspensions, transfers or preseason magazine projections.
Most AP voters usually look at a couple of criteria when they evaluate a team for the upcoming season. First they look at the number of returning starters that the team has coming back particularly at the offensive skill positions. A team that returns its starting QB and a combination of its RB and WR’s is often times more highly thought of than a team that loses its starting QB but returns its entire offensive line. Similarly a team that returns most of its starters on offense but loses a lot of its defensive playmakers usually is more highly thought of than a team that returns a majority of its defensive starters but loses its skill position players on offense.
Another factor that is heavily weighted is the performance of the team in the bowl game, which undoubtedly is the lasting image of that team in the off-season. A team coming off a huge bowl win usually is more highly thought of than a team that is coming off a bowl loss regardless of what their schedule looks like for the upcoming season.
Using these criteria and a few more, I project the preseason AP Top 10 every year at the conclusion of the previous season, which in most cases is nearly six months in advance. Now as you all know, a lot can happen from now to August including injuries, suspensions, transfers, etc. If you want to see how I have performed with my Top 10 projections refer to my January 30 Blog. Also it should be noted that a couple of teams have been moved up or down to reflect what has happened since that last blog, which includes national signing day.
Now let’s take a look at this year’s projected Preseason AP Top 24 and keep in mind again these are NOT MY preseason Top 24 teams!
#24 Florida-The Gators have had two sub-par seasons finishing 8-5 and 7-6 in 2010-11 but 2nd-year HC Will Muschamp looks to have the Gators on the upswing. They return 10 starters from a defense that allowed just 299.5 ypg last year and one of their keys to their season will be if they can get better QB production from Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel.
#23 Oklahoma St-Mike Gundy has done a tremendous job here and while they lose their starting QB Brandon Weeden and WR Justin Blackmon, Gundy was in a similar position two years ago losing two of his “triplets” in QB Zac Robinson and WR Dez Bryant and the Cowboys would respond with an 11-2 season. Expect good production from the QB position no matter who lines up behind center as Gundy and the Pokes are becoming one of the more consistent programs in the country.
#22 Texas-Similar to Florida, the Longhorns have had two sub-par seasons but looked poised to rebound in 2012. They again have one of the top defenses in the country, signed a great incoming frosh class including another PS#1 RB in Johnathan Gray and the big question remains whether or not they can get better QB play from David Ash or Case McCoy.
#21 Boise St-The Broncos lose their 4-year starting QB in Kellen Moore who won an NCAA-record 50 games and they also lose RB Doug Martin who could go as high as the 2nd round in the upcoming 2012 NFL Draft. However, HC Chris Petersen is 73-6 in his first six seasons and the Broncos, no matter who fills in at the skill positions, will be the media’s favorite to win the MW.
#20 Stanford-Yes, the Cardinal lose all-everything QB Andrew Luck and two possible 1st Round DC on their OL. However, the Cardinal signed arguably their best recruiting class in school history which includes RB Barry Sanders, Jr and three of my Top 10 PS#OL. While they will be hard pressed to duplicate the 23 wins they have had in the last two seasons, 2nd-year HC David Shaw seems to have this program in reload rather than rebuild mode.
#19 Nebraska-You have to expect that Nebraska will be more familiar with their conference opponents this year. The Cornhuskers have lost four games in each of Bo Pelini’s first four seasons but their 2nd-year in the Big Ten will see them return both QB Taylor Martinez and RB Rex Burkhead along with seven starters on defense.
#18 Ohio State-While the Buckeyes will not be eligible to go to a bowl game or be ranked in the coaches’ poll like USC the past two years, they still have the opportunity to be highly ranked in the AP poll this year. The Buckeyes signed a Top 10 class loaded with DL and QB Braxton Miller, who led the Buckeyes in rushing last year as a true frosh is a perfect fit for Meyer’s spread offense.
#17 Virginia Tech-Last year the Hokies were my #1 Surprise Team and finished the regular season 11-1 and in the Top 5. While they lose RB David Wilson early to the NFL Draft this year, QB Logan Thomas returns for his second year as the starting QB. VT has won at least 10 games eight straight seasons and the Hokies should once again be the preseason favorites in the ACC Coastal Division.
#16 Wisconsin-The Badgers lose their dynamic QB in Russell Wilson but keep in mind they also went to the Rose Bowl the prior year with Scott Tolzien at QB. This year Heisman candidate RB Montee Ball returns after scoring 39 TD’s in 2011 and Wisconsin has won at least nine games in 5 of Bielema’s first six seasons as HC.
#15 TCU-The Horned Frogs take a big step up in competition this year moving to the Big 12 after a dominating run in the MW/CUSA which saw them win at least 11 games in seven of the last nine seasons. While three of their expected returning defensive starters were recently expelled from school, the Horned Frogs on paper seem ready for the challenge returning record-setting QB Casey Pachall, their top three RB’s and their top two WR’s.
#14 Clemson-Yes the 70-33 Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia will hurt the Tigers in the minds of many AP voters but they do return QB Tajh Boyd and the electrifying Sammy Watkins. Dabo Swinney has done a solid job recruiting the past couple of seasons and will bring in new DC Brent Venables from Oklahoma to shore up the defense.
#13 Kansas St-Last year Bill Snyder got my vote for National Coach of the Year and got the most out of his team once again with a 10-win season. This year their best players return on both sides of the ball in QB Collin Klein who accounted for 40 touchdowns last year and LB Arthur Brown who is the vocal leader of an improved Wildcat defense.
#12 Michigan St-The Spartans are a rare example of a team losing their best skill position players in QB Cousins, WR’s Cunningham and Martin and RB Baker on offense but will still be one of the preseason favorites in the Big Ten. They return eight starters back from a defense that allowed just 18.4 ppg (#10 NCAA) and HC Dantonio has led MSU to back-to-back 11-win seasons.
#11 West Virginia-In my January 30th Blog, I had the Mountaineers #10 because at that time they were still a member of the Big East. I did write that if they were to join the Big 12 for 2012 they would be taking a step up in competition and I would lower them a bit and move South Carolina into the #10 spot. With the recent release of the Big 12 schedules, the Mountaineers still don’t drop too far with the dominating 70-33 Orange bowl win over Clemson still fresh in the minds of many voters. They also return 14 starters including QB Geno Smith who should be more comfortable in his 2nd-year of Dana Holgorsen’s offense.
#10 South Carolina-The Gamecocks were #11 in my last blog, but now move up a spot thanks to WVU’s move to the Big 12 and the fact that HC Spurrier welcomes in another talented incoming frosh class. The Gamecocks do return 13 starters including QB Connor Shaw and get back RB Marcus Lattimore who missed the last six games with a knee injury. They also get last year’s SEC East winner Georgia at home.
#9 Florida St-The Seminoles were a darkhorse pick for the National Title last year but an injury to QB Manuel saw the Noles drop to 2-3 at one point in the season. FSU would respond to win seven of its last eight games including wins over Florida and Notre Dame in the bowl to cap off the season and this year they return at least 15 starters including QB Manuel and defensive stars DL Jenkins and DB Reid who passed up the NFL to return. FSU looks to also bring in one of the best frosh classes in the country and should clearly be the favorites in the ACC.
#8 Michigan-The Wolverines were one of the biggest surprises in college football last year winning 11 games and a BCS Bowl under first-year HC Brady Hoke. This year they return seven starters on offense led by QB Denard Robinson and RB Toussaint who should be more comfortable in the 2nd-year of the new offense. UM also return seven starters from a defense that allowed just 17.4 ppg (#6) which was nearly an 18 ppg improvement from 2010! Michigan finished #12 in the final AP poll and figure to be the favorites to win the Big Ten this year along with a great incoming frosh class.
#7 Arkansas-The Razorbacks were #9 in my last blog and I have seen more positive stories about a possible improved defense under a new DC. They have had their most successful B2B seasons since 1988-89 going 22-5 the last two years. This year they return 13 starters including QB Tyler Wilson and will get back 2010 All-SEC RB Knile Davis who was out all of last season with an ankle injury. Last year the Razorbacks lost only two games to the top 2 teams in LSU and Alabama (both on the road) and this year the Crimson Tide and Tigers have to travel to Arkansas.
#6 Georgia-I was one of the few people in the country last year to pick Georgia to win the SEC East over South Carolina thanks to a favorable SEC slate that had them avoiding Arkansas, LSU and Alabama out of the West and the Bulldogs would not disappoint taking home the SEC East crown. This year they return 15 starters including QB Aaron Murray, leading rusher Isaiah Crowell, their top two rec’s and a 1st-Team All-American candidate on D in OLB Jarvis Jones. They also signed PS#2 RB Keith Marshall (In for spg). Again the Bulldogs AVOID LSU, Alabama and Arkansas out of the SEC West and will be the favorites to repeat as SEC East Champs.
#5 Oklahoma-The Sooners were the preseason AP #1 team last year and clearly underachieved losing three games including a 44-10 beatdown in Bedlam. They did win their bowl game over Iowa, return 15 starters including QB Landry Jones who will play better than last year’s finish and WR’s Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds. HC Bob Stoops brings his brother Mike Stoops to coordinate the D again (DC here when Sooners won national title in 2000) and the Sooners have won at least 10 games in a season 10 times since 2000!
#4 Oregon-The Ducks have become a fixture among the nation’s elite under HC Chip Kelly with three straight BCS appearances and last year captured their first Rose Bowl win since 1916! While QB Darron Thomas and RB LaMichael James are gone, their replacements are plenty capable as QB Bryan Bennett and RB’s Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas return with some valuable game experience and the Ducks do not open with a marquee non-conference game like they did last year vs LSU.
#3 Alabama-The Crimson Tide were my pick to win the National Title last year and they did just that avenging an earlier loss to LSU by dominating the Tigers in the BCS Championship game 21-0. Nick Saban signed yet another Top 5 recruiting class and this year the defending champs return seven starters on offense led by QB AJ McCarron who played magnificently in the title game. While the defense returns only four starters from last year, keep in mind in 2010, the Tide returned only 2 defensive starters and were the Preseason AP #1 team!
#2 USC-Last year while the probation-stricken Trojans were not eligible to play in the Pac-12 title game, I picked them to be the best team in the South and clearly they were just that going 10-2 (7-2) beating their crosstown rival Bruins who were the de facto Pac-12 South Champs 50-0 in the regular season finale! The Trojans locked up their spot here with the surprising return of QB Matt Barkley who is clearly one of the Heisman favorites in 2012. He will have plenty of skill position talent surrounding him with his top 2 WR’s Robert Woods and Marqise Lee back and 1,000 yd rusher Curtis McNeal also returning. A case could be made at the end of last season that no team in the country was hotter than USC winning seven of their last eight games with a 3OT loss to Stanford their only blemish. With 15 returning starters, another talented recruiting class albeit only 15 players coming in, the Trojans clearly will be one of the favorites to take home the crystal ball.
#1 LSU-Last year LSU was picked 2nd in the SEC West behind Alabama and would go on to have arguably the best regular season in school history going 13-0 winning the SEC Championship and would beat EIGHT Top 25 teams! While the National Title loss to Alabama still stings, many of the Tigers’ star players return for 2012 including Heisman candidate DB Tyrann Mathieu along with their WR Odell Beckham, Jr and their top 4 rushers. Throw in QB Zach Mettenberger, who Miles said last year was his best pure passing QB and a home game vs Alabama and the fact the SEC has won six straight National Titles and the Tigers will be the favorites!
There you have it – My projections for the AP Preseason Top 24. As mentioned a couple of times in this article, these WILL NOT BE THE TOP 24 IN MY MAGAZINE. As you know, I tend to go out on a limb in a lot of cases and have a lot of surprise picks in my magazine. Those will be unveiled at the start of June when my magazine hits the newsstands but when the first AP poll comes out in August this year, go ahead and take this list and compare it and you’ll find that probably find at least 23 or maybe even all 24 teams in the Preseason AP Top 25 this year!