We're getting geared up for the start of the 2012 college football season this week. Today we're counting down the Top 10 teams in the nation. As you'd expect, it's an SEC-heavy list, but will the best conference in the NCAA lead the preseason our rankings? Here we countdown from 10 to 6:
10. South Carolina
2011 Record: 11–2
The Gamecocks are looking to build on their school-record 11 wins from last season. Star RB Marcus Lattimore is recovered from a left-knee injury and will carry the load on offense. Junior QB Connor Shaw showed promise in winning eight of his nine starts in 2011. The Gamecocks ranked third in the nation to total defense last season but lost key players to the NFL. SEC Freshman of the Year DE Jadeveon Clowney (eight sacks) will be counted on to step up. DE Devin Taylor and DT Kelcy Quarle are good run-stoppers and should keep the defense air-tight.
[Photo Gallery: SI Preseason All-SEC Team]
2001 Record: 11–2
QB Denard Robinson is the most dynamic player in college football. His 3,349 total yards and 36 total touchdowns last year were a big reason why Michigan reached double-digit victories for the first time since 2006. The Wolverines will lean heavily on Robinson, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (1, 041 rushing yards), and an experienced defensive secondary. The biggest concern is a tough schedule with games against Alabama, Notre Dame, and Nebraska. If Michigan can win two of those games and all of its other Big 10 contests, it will be bound for the Rose Bowl.
[Photo Gallery: SI Preseason All-Big 10 Team]
8. Florida State
2011 Record: 9–4
After two straight appearances in second-tier bowls, Florida State is hoping to finally play in a BCS bowl game this season. The team's success will depend on the development of QB E.J. Manuel (2,666 passing yards), RB Devonta Freeman (579 rushing yards), and WR Rashad Greene (596 receiving yards). All three were solid last season but have room to improve. The defense that ranked fourth in the nation in points allowed and eighth in sacks is led by DE Brandon Jenkins and S Lamarcus Joyner. A national title is unlikely, but FSU will be the best team in the ACC.
[Photo Gallery: SI Preseason All-ACC Team]
7. West Virginia
2011 Record: 10–3
West Virginia's high-scoring spread offense will help the Mountaineers fit in well in their new conference, the Big 12. QB Geno Smith (4,385 passing yards, 31 TDs) is a dark horse Heisman candidate who has developed strong chemistry with WRs Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. The defense doesn't have big names, but it gets the job done. West Virginia will face a brutal stretch near the end of the season when it faces TCU, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma. But a strong offense will keep the team in the mix for the Big 12 title.
[Photo Gallery: SI Preseason All-Big 12 Team]
2011 Record: 10–4
The Bulldogs have a lot of bark on defense. Nine starters, including star LB Jarvis Jones (13.5 sacks, second in the nation), return from a unit that ranked fifth in the nation in total defense in 2011. The offense is strong thanks to QB Aaron Murray (a school-record 35 TDs), who has playmaking receivers in Tavarres King and Michael Bennett. The Bulldogs don't play powerhouses Alabama and LSU during the regular season, leaving the door open for them to make a second straight SEC championship game appearance.
[See how we ranked 1-5]