I was having a conversation with my brother yesterday and somehow we got on to talking college football and it made me realize it is about that time. Time to argue and disagree about who will advance in the self-admitted broken system that is the BCS to play for the championship in one of the last two seasons without a playoff. Because television dollars are too bountiful, college football is stuck in purgatory for two seasons where the champion of the sport is usually up for debate. Last year we had two teams from one conference play each other in a rematch for the title. While I’m not advocating they weren’t the best two and possibly most deserving teams, how can you make a rematch for the title when there is no playoff that affords other teams a shot? At least in a couple years we will all get what we should have had years ago and a true champion will be crowned. Until then we will focus heavily on every game this year and look at whose schedule is favorable to run the table and play for the ship.
I’ve gone through the top 300 prospects for the 2013 NFL draft, combined that with top freshman coming in and what I remember from watching the teams last year and tried to determine a preseason top 25 list. In parenthesis is the number of players in the top 300 for the 2013 NFL draft.
1. LSU: (12 + Punter) LSU fans watched Alabama come in and steal plenty of talent out of Louisiana and ended up with the 18th overall recruiting class and zero 5* guys. Obviously the roster is loaded with talent returning from an undefeated regular season, SEC championship and then getting pummeled by rival Alabama in the title game. They will be back for revenge and that defense will be scary again and redefine the term physical college defense. After being let down by Gunner Kiel, the highly touted freshman QB who committed to LSU then left for hometown Notre Dame, quarterback will be an issue. But let’s face it, it was last year too and that didn’t slow them down.
Players to watch: Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Eric Reid, Tyrann Mathieu, Bennie Logan and new quarterback Zach Mettenberger.
2. USC: (7) People in Southern California have become accustom to having a dominant program, but they have been on probation the last few years. The Trojans are ready to bounce back led by future top 5 pick Matt Barkley. His favorite target Robert Woods will probably join him in the top 10 next April. You know they will have a stable of athletic backs and a fast and physical defense to make them a title contender. They have the 8th overall class coming in featuring three 5* prospects, 2 of which are huge lineman to keep Barkley healthy and another is an additional target to throw to in Nelson Agholor.
Players to watch: Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, TJ McDonald, Wes Horton and Nickell Robey.
3. Alabama: (11) After winning his second national championship at Alabama, Coach Saban turned around and handed in the top recruiting class of 2012. In addition to his quarterback Aj McCarron coming back and Barret Jones who surprised some by skipping the 2011 draft, the Tide will feature Eddie Lacey who will make people quickly forget Trent Richardson just as they did Mark Ingram. Joining Lacey in the backfield is 5* TJ Yeldon who will combine with Lacey to help make one of the most talented backfields in the country. Fellow 5* freshman Landon Collins will be added in the secondary to make this defense even more freakishly athletic. Combine a great defense and a solid running game and you will win a lot of games.
Players to watch: Eddie Lacey, Barret Jones, Landon Collins, Dee Milliner, Nico Johnson and CJ Mosley.
4. Oklahoma: (6) After being high on some draft boards, Landry Jones returns for one more year and hopes to get Coach Stoops another title. He will have plenty around him to help achieve that goal including Kenny Stills to throw to who I think will be a great pro. Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks form a really good wide receiver corps and Dominique Whaley and Roy Finch will star in the backfield of this explosive offense. Oklahoma has the 11th overall class and only one 5*.
Players to watch: Landry Jones, Kenny Stills, Tony Jefferson and Blake Bell (6’6 250lb back up qb that excels in goal line situations.)
5. Florida St: (7) The ACC isn’t known for strong defense outside of VT, but FSU looks to change that this year. Jimbo Fischer has transitioned nicely from the Bowden era and keeps putting together stellar recruiting classes. They rank 6th overall this year with three 5* guys. Two of those high impact freshman will be added to a very deep defensive line and the other will provide a great insurance policy to EJ Manuel in top QB prospect Jameis Winston.
Players to watch: Xavier Rhodes, Brandon Jenkins, Greg Ried, Bjoern Werner
6. Georgia: (6) One program that has had to deal with as many off season issues as the Detroit Lions is the Bulldogs. They have a tremendous amount of talent, but were dealt a big blow losing Isiah Crowell to a felony weapons charge. They still have Aaron Murray at QB and will get back their wealth of talent on defense game 3. Their biggest test will be getting past SEC newcomer Missouri in the second game of the season short-handed on the road. They miss Alabama and LSU on the schedule this year and that makes many believe they have a shot at running the table. They had the 12th overall class bringing in two 5* guys.
Players to watch: Aaron Murray, Jarvis Jones, Johnathan Jenkins, Tavarres King and Bacarri Rambo.
7. Oregon: (4) The Ducks will have to replace quite a bit on offense, but return stud running back Kenjon Barner. Oregon is more a product of a system so their up tempo offense will be just fine. Many are higher on them than I am, but they benefit from a fairly easy schedule with the only road test being USC. They had a under the radar recruiting class that ranked 16th with zero 5* recruits.
Players to watch: Kenjon Barner, Dion Jordan and John Boyett.
8. South Carolina: (4) Last year I picked USC to surprise people and win the championship. I really liked their collection of talent and while they lost Ingram, Gilmore and Jeffrey they still have a collection of riches left over. Running back Marcus Lattimore, who is coming off of an ACL tear, is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to Adriane Peterson. I also want to note that the 4 players in the top 300 does not include super sophomore Jadeveon Clowney, who I feel might be the most talented defensive prospect in over a decade. Mark my words Clowney will amass more sacks than anyone in the country this year. They have the 19th ranked class in 2012.
Players to watch: Jadeveon Clowney, Marcus Lattimore, Bruce Ellington and Ace Sanders.
9. Michigan: (6) Denard Robinson is back for another year of spectacular plays with his feet and doing very little with his arm. Michigan has Devin Gardner who they like to get some snaps to spell Robinson and if he can’t show better accuracy and they start losing games because of it, I could see Gardner getting more playing time while they still find ways to get Robinson involved. They have the 7th ranked class in 2012 with two 5* guys and early on have the number 1 class of 2013, so help is on the way.
Players to watch: Denard Robinson, Devin Gardner, Craig Roh and Roy Roundtree.
10. Arkansas: (5) The Razorbacks probably have had the most embarrassing offseason when Coach Petrino was in an accident with his side piece on the back of his motorcycle and then was fired, but that shouldn’t over shadow what will be a dangerous football team. Led by Tyler Wilson who I hope my Chiefs end up drafting is poised for a big year and Coach Smith has been around the block before, so they should be just fine. They had a quiet recruiting class ranked 34th in 2012.
Players to watch: Tyler Wilson, Knile Davis, Cobi Hamilton and Chris Gragg
11. Michigan State: (6) The Spartans won a share of the Big 10 championship and finished 11-3 overall and look to build on that success. Kirk Cousins will be hard to replace, but the Spartans have changed the culture and have become consistent contenders for the Big 10 title. They had an unimpressive 41st class in 2012, but return plenty of talent from last year.
Players to watch: Le’Veon Bell, Johnny Adams and William Gholston
12. Kansas St: (3) Coach Snyder will never have a top recruiting class, this years is not even in the top 50, but that doesn’t matter. He always gets the most from his teams and out coaches anyone he faces. Collin Klein the dual threat quarterback is going into his last year and should be a dark horse for the Heisman.
Players to watch: Collin Klein and Arthur Brown
13. Clemson: (2) The Tigers only have 2 players on the NFL radar, but that doesn’t include sophomores Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, who is in my mind the most dangerous player in college football. There probably isn’t a more exciting coach than Dabo Sweeney in the country. Coach Sweeney will have this team playing right where they left off last year where they were in the top 25 in passing yards and points.
Players to watch: Sammy Watkins, Tajh Boyd, Andre Ellington and DeAndre Hopkins
14. Stanford: (3) Replacing Andrew Luck will not be easy, but Coach Shaw proved that he can continue the success that Coach Harbaugh started at Stanford. They have a very strong recruiting class ranking 5th overall and three of those guys being 5*.
Players to watch: Shayne Skov, Zach Ertz and Stepfan Taylor
15. West Virginia: (4) In its first year of real competition joining the Big 12, West Virginia picked a pretty good time to have one of its best teams in years. Quarterback Geno Smith could possibly get some attention for the Heisman and throwing to Tavon Austin should go a long way in helping that. West Virginia turned in the 48th class of 2012.
Players to watch: Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Terence Garvin
16. TCU: (4) Another team joining the Big 12 that will make the league that much more competitive is coming off an 11-2 season with a rising star in quarterback Casey Pachall leading the team. Even though they were involved in a nasty drug scandal, Coach Patterson will have his team ready to go week in and week out. They had the 37th ranked class of 2012.
Players to watch: Casey Pachall, Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson
17. Virginia Tech: (4) Many NFL scouts are touting Logan Thomas incredibly high, probably thinking he can be the next Cam Newton. While I think he will be a solid college quarterback able to dominate a game, he doesn’t have near the arm Newton showed last year, but maybe that’s just me. You know they will play solid defense and special teams and probably win 11 games.
Players to watch: Logan Thomas, James Gayle, Bruce Taylor and Kyle Fuller
18. Wisconsin: (4) While the Badgers didn’t have a top 50 recruiting class, they continued to rely on a transfer to play quarterback with this year bringing in Danny O’Brien from Maryland. While he is no Russel Wilson, they will plug him in and he will be plenty serviceable. Montee Ball will be a Heisman finalist and I’m sure will have a huge line to block for him.
Players to watch: Montee Ball, James White, Ricky Wagner, Mike Taylor and Marcus Cromartie
19. Texas: (4) If the Longhorns could get any quality quarterback play they could rise up the rankings quickly. They have an SEC caliber defense and a stable of athletes to put up points. Texas always is up there in the recruiting rankings and have the 2nd overall class of 2012 including standout running back Johnathan Gray and defensive lineman Malcom Brown.
Players to watch: Johnathan Gray, David Ash, Jaxon Shipley, Malcolm Brown (RB)
20. Notre Dame: (4) The Irish have a brutal schedule that will most assuredly keep them from double digit wins. They return plenty of talent and have the 20th ranked recruiting class, but ended up stealing local prospect Gunner Kiel who will compete for the starting job from day 1. Coach Kelly is probably starting to feel the unrealistic expectations of Irish fans.
Players to watch: Manti Te’o, Gunner Kiel, Tyler Eifert and Cierre Wood
21. Florida: (7) Still trying to regain form of the Urban Meyer days the Gators are probably in for another mediocre year. They have enough talent to start out in the top 25, but I could see them being one of the teams that won’t be in these rankings at the end of the SEC season. They do have the 3rd best class in 2012 and will need big impacts from the freshman.
Players to watch: Sharrif Floyd, Jelani Jenkins, Matt Elam, Jeremy Brown, and Dante Fowler Jr.
22. Washington: (1) The Huskies continue to improve and Keith Price might be the most unknown superstar in college football. He is an extremely efficient quarterback with mobility capable of pulling off some upsets this season. They will find out just how good they can be when they travel into the slaughterhouse that is Tiger Stadium of LSU the second game of the season.
Players to watch: Keith Price and Desmond Trufant
23. Georgia Tech: (0) Tevin Washington will return to run the triple option threat that few seem to figure out and should be the best offensive line Coach Johnson has had yet. Defensive coordinator Al Groh will have another year to institute his 3-4 scheme and they should do just fine in the ACC.
Players to watch: Tevin Washington and Orwin Smith
24. Vanderbilt: (0) The Commodores ended up 6-7 last season, but that includes the bowl loss. They went just 2-6 in the SEC, but Coach Franklin has this team going in the right direction. They miss LSU and Alabama so they at least have that going for them. Jordan Rodgers, yes Aaron Rodgers brother showed flashes that he can be the guy and with that blood line I’m sure he improved over the offseason. They also quietly had the 29th best recruiting class in the nation so the future is looking brighter than it has been in Nashville.
Players to watch: Jordan Rodgers and Trey Wilson
25. Nebraska: (6) The Cornhuskers haven’t lived up to fans expectations, but those people in Nebraska are crazy and unrealistic about their team. They have the 25th ranked class of 2012, but return a lot of players. I think the defense will sorely miss David and Dennard from last year, but will find other guys to get back to the black shirt days. Taylor Martinez will be back again to run all over the place and hopefully he has improved his accuracy in the offseason.
Players to watch: Rex Burkhead, Cameron Meredith and Blake Steinkuhler
Heisman Race: Collin Klein, Aaron Murray, Logan Thomas, Marcus Lattimore, Matt Barkley and Montee Ball.