It is way too early to be doing this, but I had fun doing it and I hope you enjoy reading it. I started thinking about next year in the first quarter of Alabama’s beatdown of Notre Dame last night. Things can change and will change with early departures, recruiting, injuries, and heck, spring football (guys like Johnny Manziel winning jobs!). But here is a quick glance at 2013.
1. Texas A&M– At this hour it appears OT Jake Matthews is returning to College Station with OT Luke Joeckel on the NFL fence. Perhaps the bigger obstacle for this team will be reloading in their defensive front 7 with 6 players leaving school, and among those DE Damontre Moore turning pro early. The offense will be unbelievable with Johnny Manziel, but can the defense be close to as effective?
2. Oregon- The Ducks retain Chip Kelly while losing RB Kenjon Barner and DE Dion Jordan to the NFL. If they can effectively replenish their offensive line which loses 3 starters, then the Ducks will be favored to play the winner of the SEC for the National Title.
3. Alabama- 9 teams have tried (2005 USC, 1996 Nebraska, 1980 Alabama, 1976 Oklahoma, 1972 Nebraska, 1966 Alabama, 1957 Oklahoma, 1948 Notre Dame, 1946 Army, 1942 Minnesota) to 3-peat in the AP era of college football, and all fell short. The Tide get a great schedule of Kentucky and Tennessee out of the SEC East, and LSU at home. Can they go to Texas A&M and beat Johnny Heisman? It might determine their entire season in week 3.
4. Michigan- Brady Hoke has quickly made the Wolverines back into a force nationally, and 13 starters, and an experienced two-deep returning, on top of QB Devin Gardner getting valuable playing time to close out 2012, this team will get the Irish and Buckeyes at home which could provide them the advantage they need to be a top 5 team.
5. Clemson- The Tigers must replace WR DeAndre Hopkins and RB Andre Ellington and both starting safeties, but as long as QB Tajh Boyd stays for his senior year, this team will have a chance to run the table in the ACC, if they score out-of-conference victories over Georgia and South Carolina it would be tough to keep them out of the title game.
6. South Carolina- Jadeveon Clowney will hold the fort down for a defense losing 6 starters, while the offense loses just three starters plus RB Marcus Lattimore. If they can find a passing game and someone to run hard, then they’ll be the clear team to beat in the SEC East.
7. Ohio State- Coming off an unbeaten season, Urban Meyer hauls in another great recruiting class, and with QB Braxton Miller he’ll have a team in the hunt for the National Title again.
8. Louisville- The Cardinals got to 9-0 this year, and in a Big East without Boise State, Syracuse, or Pitt, and a non-conference schedule that is comical, expect a team returning 17 starters to be up here pretty high.
9. Texas- The Longhorns offense comes back intact (9/11) just needing QB David Ash to realize his full potential. The defense must replace NFLer DE Alex Okafor, but should be loaded as the Big XII favorites in 2013.
10. Notre Dame- The defense returns largely intact minus Heisman runner-up Manti Te’o and the offense should be better given another year of training and a full offseason as the starter for Everett Golson.
11. TCU- The offseason heading into the Horned Frogs first year in the Big XII was turbulent to say the least, and they weren’t supposed to survive considering their roster and circumstances. But they did, and they’ll be better for it in 2013 with 9/11 returning on the top defense in the conference and offense that will benefit by redshirt Freshman QB Trevone Boykin being thrown into the fire this year.
12. Nebraska- On offense, they return 9/11 losing only injury-riddled runner Rex Burkhead and seldom-used TE Ben Cotton, while on defense they must replace 5 of their front-7, but based on how their defense played, that may not be a bad thing.
13. Stanford- David Shaw will return a great defense, even without LB’s Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas, and the offense should improve despite losing RB Stepfan Taylor.
14. Florida State– Replacing QB EJ Manuel will be a task, but how the Noles replace the NFL-bound defensive line will probably determine if this is too high or too low.
15. LSU- Despite losing 10 or more underclassmen early to the NFL Draft, the Tigers are well-stocked and in position to replace those studs. It will be the defensive line departees that will be difficult to match the production of in 2013 and why the Bayou Bengals probably aren’t title contenders.
16. Oregon State- The Beavers and Mike Riley surprised most of college football again by winning 9 games, and despite losing top play-maker Markus Wheaton, they’ll have another strong team in 2013.
17. Miami (FL)- Before you say something nasty about me being a Canes fan, realize Miami returns 10/11 on offense and basically 9/11 on defense. This was one of the youngest teams in college football, and if they are not on probation, will at the very least be a favorite to get to the ACC Title Game.
18. Oklahoma State- If the Cowboys can overcome losing 4/5 offensive line starters, the rest of the team is loaded, especially with RB Joe Randle appearing committed to returning to Stillwater.
19. Northwestern– Wildcats went 10-3 in 2012 and led every game going to the 4th quarter that they lost. They lose 29 seniors, but have an experienced group coming back.
20. Florida- Too low? I am not sure how Florida replaces multiple defensive studs turning pro early, and the just offense is just shaky enough I didn’t feel good about ranking them higher.
21. Boise State- The Broncos survived a tough transition year not only losing QB Kellen Moore, but 9 starters off defense, and still managed to tie for the MWC Title. Next year, they’ll be equipped to win the MWC (with their move to the Big East scratched) and win road games at BYU and Washington to make a run at an unbeaten year.
22. UCLA- Jim Mora Jr. has the Bruins on the rise after taking back LA, another strong recruiting class, and QB Brett Hundley. They do lose RB Jonathon Franklin and 6 starters off defense.
23. San Jose State- A program on the rise in the WAC will return 16 starters and QB David Fales and top wideout Noel Grigsby.
24. Georgia- The Bulldogs are poised to lose 10/11 defensive starters. I am sure they have help in the wings, but asking QB Aaron Murray and RB Todd Gurley the team to another SEC Title game is a bit much.
25. USC– The Trojans crumbled down the stretch, but on the strength of WR Marqise Lee and another stacked recruiting class they’ll be a force in the Pac-12.
Toughest omissions: Oklahoma, Arizona State, Ole Miss, Northern Illinois, Virginia Tech