The Coaches’ and Associated Press polls are ready to doubt the power of Alabama and the SEC, by picking Oklahoma at No. 1, but here at The Daily Beacon, we’re not so easily swayed. Alabama lost quarterback Greg McElroy, former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and talented wideout Julio Jones to the NFL, but the Crimson Tide will survive and thrive. Trent Richardson is poised to have a breakout year, finally being the No. 1 guy in the Tide’s backfield, and the third best defense in the nation last year returns 10 starters. Until a team outside the SEC wins a BCS National Championship, there’s no reason the best team in the conference shouldn’t be ranked No. 1 in the country.
Seriously, when was the last time the Sooners weren’t considered a pre-season top-five team and national title contenders? Bob Stoops once again has a talented squad that’s projected by many to win the Big 12. Led by quarterback Landry Jones and an explosive passing game, OU has won four of the last five Big 12 titles. The Sooners do have to face Florida State, Texas and Oklahoma State all on the road, but Stoops has his team poised for another conference title and potential national championship.
3. Boise State
Boise State nearly broke the non-BCS barrier and earned a national title spot last year, and looks to finally get the job done. Kellen Moore, who finished with the best passer rating in the nation last season (182.6) leads one of the country’s most prolific offenses into new territory as the Broncos make their debut in the Mountain West Conference with the likes of TCU. Boise opens the season against Georgia in Atlanta.
The Ducks fell three points shy in last year’s national title game to Auburn. This year, the fast-tempo offense of Chip Kelly is back, led by quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James. Oregon plays one of the biggest games of the college football season against LSU in Dallas to kick off the season. Games in back-to-back weeks in November against Stanford and USC also pose a challenge if the Ducks want to make it back to a BCS bowl game.
It may not be the most exciting football to watch, but Wisconsin gets it done. The odds-makers are giving the nod to the Badgers to repeat as Big Ten champions and return to the BCS to avenge a 21-19 loss to TCU in the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin’s three-headed rushing monster loses one of its key components in John Clay, but James White and Montee Ball look to keep the Badgers’ bread-and-butter running offense going. The addition of former North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson makes the Badgers a national title contender, if they weren’t already.
One of the most talented football teams, year in and year out, LSU and coach Les Miles are no strangers to crazy finishes. Just look back at the Tennessee game last year. Despite losing some key players, especially on defense, the Bayou Bengals simply reload with more talented players. A late-night brawl earlier this month has LSU starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson suspended indefinitely, and his status for the season-opener against Oregon and the rest of the season is up in the air.
Finishing last season on an eight-game win streak, including a dominating 40-12 Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech, and keeping what would have been the top pick of the NFL Draft in quarterback Andrew Luck, the Cardinals are riding high heading into this season. Stanford has to beat out Oregon, its only loss last year, to win the new Pac 12 North division if they hope to return to the BCS. The Cardinals host Notre Dame to end the season.
8. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys’ 11-2 record last year was one of their best in recent memory. A tough loss to Oklahoma in the regular-season finale kept them out of the Big 12 championship game, and Oklahoma could once again keep them from their BCS hopes in the single-division format this year. Senior quarterback Brandon Weeden returns to lead an offense that averaged 346 passing yards per game last season — good for second best in the country — and over 44 points a game.
9. Florida State
Florida State finds its way into the Top 25 seemingly every year and hasn’t lived up to expectations in the past few seasons. A 9-4 record last year showed improvement, but the Seminoles have a tough schedule to deal with, including out-of-conference foes in Oklahoma and Florida. Even if they can win the ACC Atlantic division, they’ll have to conquer Virginia Tech, who’s had a stranglehold on the league’s BCS spot as of late.
10. South Carolina
Last year, Steve Spurrier finally broke through in Columbia as the Gamecocks won the SEC East. This year, Carolina is expected to be even more improved. The Ole Ball Coach has arguably the best running back/wide receiver combo in the country with Marcus Lattimore in the backfield and Alshon Jeffery on the outside. Quarterback Stephen Garcia has had a rocky career, but now a fifth-year senior, Garcia is the most experienced returning signal-caller in the SEC. The Gamecocks also will field an underrated defense under defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. Can Spurrier work his magic again and win back-to-back Eastern division crowns?
Daily Beacon Top 10