The SEC has captured six straight BCS championships. This year they had both teams in the game. I am not sure how they can top that next season, but can they duplicate it?
Most of the big underclassmen decisions have been made already, but still others will make up their minds leading up the deadline on January 15th. The two teams most likely to lose players between now and then: LSU and Alabama.
The rest of the field could feel a pinch here or there, but most of the key figures have made their intentions known. The two SEC schools with the best chance to continue the streak are LSU and Alabama, but they are also going to lose some big-time talent and face obstacles next season. South Carolina could be a sneaky sleeper pick, as could Georgia. Arkansas has to beat both LSU and Alabama, but at least play both at home next year.
Here is my EARLY preseason picks, and how I rank the teams I think can end this run of titles for the SEC.
TUCK’S (Non-SEC) TOP TWELVE FOR 2012
1. USC- Keeping QB Matt Barkley puts Lane Kiffin’s team as one of best team’s for 2012. USC is expected to return its leading rusher, top three receivers, four starting offensive linemen and five of its top six tacklers. The Trojans were one of the country’s younger teams this past season, with 10 freshmen and sophomores starting. Looking ahead they get Oregon at home this year, and then perhaps a second time in the Pac-12 Title game.
2. Oregon- Losing RB LaMichael James sucks, but having Barner and Thomas to turn to does not. QB Darren Thomas keeps getting better and better in the passing game and they return 7 starters on defense.
3. West Virginia- Although they don’t want to, it appears the Mountaineers will stay in the Big East and may consider themselves lucky on the football field if they do. The schedule there will be much easier and path much clearer. QB Geno Smith comes back. He is one of nine offensive starters returning and the defense brings seven back.
4. Texas- The Longhorns had arguably the deepest freshman class in America this year and will welcome in another solid class. The offense should be much improved, and the defense remains tough, although losing a couple of their best players.
5. Oklahoma- Perhaps they should be higher on the list with Landry Jones returning, but they disappointed a lot of folks this year. They lost NCAA record-setting WR Ryan Broyles during the season, and for good now, and also lose Alexander, Lewis, and Lewis off the defense. Their schedule is also tougher than the Horns.
6. Florida State- Another disappointment in 2011 that could take it all in 2012. The Noles defense returns 9 starters next year, and should again be one of the country’s best. Can QB EJ Manuel and the offense take it to the next level? Going to Blacksburg and Miami will be two tough hurdles in the ACC.
7. Michigan- The Maze and Blue must feel great if the transition year for Brady Hoke ended them up in the Sugar Bowl. The offense will again be a beast. The back seven returns intact on defense, but replacing Martin and improving the front four is the toughest task. And then there is that game against Alabama to open the year. The Wolverines will find out right away where they stand.
8. Clemson- The Tigers freshman class helped push them to an ACC title this year. Can Dabo’s encore be better? The athletes return, but the bulky guys don’t. They lose 3/5 on the offensive line and do not return a player who registered a sack this year. They get to go to Tallahassee this year too.
9. Washington- The Huskies lose a great tailback early to the draft in Chris Polk, but rising QB star Keith Price will be one of 7 back on offense. DC Nick Holt was blamed all year for the defensive problems, and was fired at year’s end. 7 starters return, and we’ll find out with the new coach if that is a good thing, or a bad thing. They have to win at Oregon, and beat USC and Stanford.
10. Virginia- The Cavaliers were 3-9 in 2009, 4-10 in 2010, and finished this year’s regular season 8-4 before a bowl loss to Auburn. Mike London is quickly turning around the program and has a fine recruiting class lined up for this year. Replacing 3 defensive linemen and all 4 starters in the secondary will be challenging, but with better coaching and depth the Wahoos may continue to climb.
11. Notre Dame- Retaining Te’o and Eifert was huge for the rapidly improving defense. The QB situation is still a mess and losing WR Michael Floyd will be the biggest problems for the offense. The talent is beginning to pour into South Bend, the problem in 2012 are trip to Michigan State, USC, and Oklahoma. Yikes!
12. Virginia Tech- Frank Beamer and the Hokies are always present and accounted for. They have won at least 10 games in 8 straight seasons. Losing RB David Wilson to the draft early and their top two WR (Boykin and Coale) will hurt, but they always find replacements. The more worrisome problem will be losing 4 starters off the offensive line. The defense is loaded and returns 10 starters and the schedule is easy, again, and they get FSU at home.