With two weeks of the college football season already gone, we’ll take a quick conference-by-conference look at the teams to keep an eye on throughout the 2012 season.
Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)
Predicted Atlantic Champ: Florida State – QB EJ Manuel leads an offensive attack that features a solid receiving corps along with RB duo James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman. The No. 4 scoring defense in the country returns nine starters, including star CB Xavier Rhodes.
Coastal Champ: Virginia Tech – Like FSU, the Hokies return nine starters on a defense that ranked No. 7 in scoring a year ago. However, the offense has been almost completely overhauled, the biggest loss being Giants first round pick, RB David Wilson.
Don’t Sleep On: Clemson – A Sept. 22nd matchup at Florida State will go a long way in determining who wins the ACC Atlantic division. Eager to move on from their 70-33 Orange Bowl beat down from West Virginia, the Tigers survived a week one scare from Auburn. QB Taj Boyd, RB Andre Ellington, and WR Sammy Watkins lead a high scoring offense.
Champ: South Florida – They travel to Louisville on Oct. 20th. The winner of that game has the inside track to the conference championship. A balanced offensive attack is led by duel threat QB B.J. Daniels, who enters the season with nearly 8,000 career all-purpose yards and 58 TDs.
Don’t Sleep On: Louisville – This is a two-team race, Louisville has a softer schedule.
Legends Champ: Michigan – The Legends division champ will undoubtedly come from the state of Michigan and I give the Wolverines the edge for one reason; QB Denard Robinson. After a horrible performance at defending National Champion Alabama to begin the season, Robinson recovered versus Air Force with 426 total yards and 4 TDs.
Leaders Champ: Ohio State – It is clear the Wisconsin Badgers miss former QB Russell Wilson, who won the starting job for the Seattle Seahawks as an NFL rookie. Coach Urban Meyer will not tolerate mediocrity. The key to his offense and ultimately the Buckeyes success is Sophomore QB Braxton Miller.
Don’t Sleep On: Michigan State – Gone are QB Kirk Cousins and WR BJ Cunningham, however, RB Le’Veon Bell could be in for a monster season for the Spartans.
Champ: Oklahoma – The Sooners will have to contend with Texas and Kansas State for the conference title, but my edge goes to Oklahoma, mainly because of their huge advantage at the QB position. Landry Jones enters the 2012 season with 9,000 more career passing yards and 75 more passing TDs than David Ash and Collin Klein (Texas and Kansas State’s starting QBs) combined.
Contender: West Virginia – College football is close to making no sense whatsoever. I cannot get over the fact that the Mountaineers and TCU are in the Big 12 and Texas A&M is not??!! But whatever, money is the root of all decisions in the game today, so Big East or Big 12, West Virginia is still a very good football team. QB Geno Smith leads the Air Raid offense; ask Clemson if it’s any good!
Contender: Texas – With stars like DEs Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat, CBs Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs, and FS Kenny Vaccaro, the Longhorns have one of the top defenses in the nation. If they can get things clicking on the other side of the ball, watch out.
Don’t Sleep On: Kansas State – While Klein, mentioned above, is not much of a pocket presence, his 27 rushing TDs last season were good for second in the nation, only behind Wisconsin’s Montee Ball (33). However, as quickly as Klein and the Wildcats can put points on the board, the Wildcat defense can give them up just as quickly. The must fix that problem if they plan on competing with the big boys.
North Champ: Oregon – The Ducks backfield of QBs Marcus Mariota and Bryan Bennett along with RBs De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner probably could have medaled in the 4×100 meter relay at the London Olympics. That’s how fast they are…crazy fast. The story for the Ducks, as always, will be whether or not they can stop anybody. In their two losses last season, they gave up 39ppg.
South Champ: USC – Like the Ducks, the Trojans are clear-cut favorites in their division of the Pac-12. What can you say about QB Matt Barkley and WRs Robert Woods and Marqise Lee other than WOW! With the addition of Penn State transfer RB Silas Redd, the rich just get richer. Mark Saturday, Nov. 3rd on your calendar. That’s when the Trojans host Oregon, a game that’s sure to be a shootout.
Southeastern Conference (SEC)
East Champ: South Carolina – How effective RB Marcus Lattimore can be after returning from an Oct. ACL tear will have a big impact on how far the Gamecocks go. However, unlike his high-scoring offensive teams Coach Steve Spurrier became known for while at Florida, Spurrier’s defense is what the Gamecocks are known for. DE Jadeveon Clowney and FS D.J. Swearinger are his best on that side of the ball.
West Champ: Alabama – The defending champs shredded Michigan to the tune of 41-14 on opening weekend. The Crimson Tide may have lost five players to the top 35 picks of April’s NFL Draft, but teams like Bama don’t sit around and feel sorry for themselves. With Trent Richardson gone, the rushing attack will be more balanced. QB AJ McCarron looks to top 3,000 yards and 20 TDs for the first time.
Don’t Sleep On: Georgia and LSU. The Bulldogs and Tigers boast two of the top defenses in the nation and we all know what that can do when it comes January. The last six national champions all hail from the SEC. In those six championship games, they have given up an average of just 15.3ppg.
Because they refuse to join a conference and I’ve been a Fighting Irish fan as far back as my memory goes, Notre Dame gets their own special section in my preview. Yes, it’s been 19 years since the Fighting Irish have been able to string together back-to-back 10 win seasons, so we won’t waste a ton of time here. With a ridiculously hard schedule that includes games @ #10 Michigan State, @ #5 Oklahoma, and @ #2 USC as well as home games versus #17 Michigan, #21 Stanford, and #25 Air Force, don’t expect the Irish to finish the season with more than 8 or 9 wins. Irish fans looking for bright spots will point to a very solid defensive front four and one of the top LBs in the nation, Manti Te’o.
For those of you who are disappointed to have seen nothing on our undefeated Minnesota Gophers (2-0), we’ll dedicate next week’s entire column to them.