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? We've already counted down from 10 to 6, here are the top 5:
2011 Record: 10–3
Ranked Number 1 in the 2011 preseason poll, Oklahoma finished a disappointing 16th. QB Landry Jones passed for 4,463 yards and 29 TDs, but also threw 15 interceptions. Jones and RB Dominique Whaley (627 rushing yards) must limit their mistakes in 2012. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, who led the Sooners' D during their 2000 national championship season, returns to OU after eight seasons at Arizona and should have a big impact. With just one tough road game — the regular season finale against TCU — expect the Sooners to have a bounceback year.
[Photo Gallery: SI Preseason All-Big 12 Team]
2011 Record: 12–2
With its quick-strike, no-huddle offense, Oregon has won three straight conference titles and is coming off its first Rose Bowl victory since 1917. Sophomore Bryan Bennett and freshman Marcus Mariota will battle for the starting QB job. RBs Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas are playmakers who can replace star LaMichael James. Oregon had the second-most sacks in the nation last season (45), thanks in part to 6' 7" DE Dion Jordan (7.5 sacks). The defense may be counted on more this year because of the Ducks' inexperience on offense.
[Photo Gallery: SI Preseason All-Pac 12 Team]
2011 Record: 13–1
Last season the Tigers were the Number 1–ranked team in the nation for 11 straight weeks, won the SEC title, and beat rival Alabama in November. But then they lost to the Crimson Tide in the national championship game. This year, they want to finish the job. The core of the Tigers' swarming defense is back with DE Sam Montgomery and S Eric Reid. Those players will keep LSU in the national title hunt again, however, losing CB Tyrann Mathieu for the season will hurt this stellar squad. The cause for concern is the offense, which is led by unproven transfer QB Zach Mettenberger and the young RB duo of Spencer Ware (8 TDs) and Michael Ford (772 yards). To erase the disappointment of last season, LSU will need those players to step up in a big way.
[Photo Gallery: SI Preseason All-SEC Team]
2011 Record: 12–1
Here's a scary thought: The defending national champions may finally have an offense that can keep up with their traditionally stellar defense. Except for center, Alabama's entire offensive line returns, including Outland Trophy–winning OT Barrett Jones. Star RB Trent Richardson left for the NFL, but junior Eddie Lacy is ready for a breakout season. QB A.J. McCarron, the national championship game's offensive MVP, is a strong leader. The defense lost some key players, but coach Nick Saban is a terrific game planner on that side of the ball. Alabama has a good chance to become the first repeat national champion since 2004.
2011 Record: 10–2
The Trojans are loaded with talent and experience. With nine starters returning on offense and eight on defense, USC has plenty of firepower back from a team that finished last season ranked sixth in the nation. Leading the charge is senior QB Matt Barkley (see page 34), who has tremendous weapons in All-America WR Robert Woods (1,292 receiving yards, 15 touchdowns) and Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Co–Player of the Year WR Marqise Lee (1,143 yards). The Trojans also have an explosive rusher in Curtis McNeal (6.9 yards per carry). On defense the sophomore linebacking trio of Dion Bailey, Lamar Dawson, and Hayes Pullard anchors a young and improving unit. USC's schedule will work in its favor. After a September 15 matchup at Stanford, the Trojans' only tough game is against Oregon at home on November 3. The pieces are in place for USC to win the national championship in January.