Looking at this title, many are probably thinking, “This is way to early for a top 25 ranking for college football.” You’d also be wrong. It’s never to early to talk college football. Then you might say, “How the heck would he know the top 25 for next season?” Now there, you might have a point. But I’ll do some palm-reading and look in the crystal ball and do my best to figure out who should be college football’s top 25. (Quick Note: This is where I think the teams deserve to be ranked, not necessarily where they actually end up. Poll voters have a funny way of rewarding undeserving prestigious teams (i.e. Michigan) and punishing deserving up-and-coming teams (i.e. Boise State). I give equal opportunities to all.)
They are the national champions and they deserve their due at the top of the poll. I was skeptical coming into the title game, as they had already lost to LSU. They proved me wrong. Their defense played a good game and shut down a embarrassing Tigers offense. That vaunted defense who led the nation in all major defense categories returns seven starters and welcomes in the best recruiting class in the nation. QB A.J. McCarron returns and will lead another loaded Crimson Tide team to another year of National Title contention.
This LSU team had one of the most impressive regular seasons I had ever seen. They defeated Oregon on a neutral site, West Virginia and Alabama on the road, and manhandled any team that dared play them at home. The National Title game sullied many’s opinion of the team, but their season should not be forgotten. They return seven starters on both offense and defense and will make sure to address their quarterback issues in the off-season. They may not have the impressive regular season run they had last season, but that’s not too bad considering how good they were last year.
Matt Barkley was by far the most underrated quarterback in college football last season. In a season where much of the attention sat upon Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck. The Trojans signal caller quietly threw for 3500 yards and 39 touchdowns. With Barkley returning for his senior season and superstar junior WR Robert Woods only improving with experience, this offense should rival some of the best in football. The defense should hold up decently and I see the Trojans improving on a 10-2 campaign en route to a serious run at the national title.
Could a new trend be growing in college football? Landry Jones followed the trend set by Matt Barkley and Andrew Luck before him by returning for his senior season. At times, the Sooners looked like a championship caliber football team. They had a top ten offense and a top 30 defense. Had leading receiver Ryan Broyles and leading rusher Dominique Whaley stayed healthy for an entire season, the Sooners could have crashed the Title game in New Orleans. Look for a team bent on taking back the Big 12 and ending the SEC’s title run.
5. Michigan State
This one may appear to be a long shot, but the Spartans really do have some serious talent. The defense returns nine starters off of a campaign that was the best in the B1G. Sophomore DE William Gholston will give opposing quarterbacks nightmares as he may be the best rush end in the country. Though they lose QB Kirk Cousins, look for the offense to actually improve under sophomore Andrew Maxwell. Cousins, though he put together a nice senior season, doesn’t have the talent that Maxwell has. That being said, it’ll be the defense that wins this program games. Expect yet another solid season from the Spartans as they look to establish themselves on the college football landscape.
Michigan State’s Outback Bowl opponent won’t be too shabby either next season. QB Aaron Murray will lead a strong Bulldog team that returns 16 starters from their 2011 SEC East Championship season. With the talent on that roster, don’t be surprised if it happens again. Pair that with a fifth ranked recruiting class and you have a very solid roster. The competition between the Bulldogs and South Carolina for the SEC East crown will shape up to be a heck of a run. This was a young team last season and the experience this year can only help develop their talent.
7. South Carolina
Right behind the Bulldogs is their division rival, the South Carolina Gamecocks. After experimenting with the oft-suspended Stephen Garcia, the Gamecocks finally dumped him after five games and committed to Connor Shaw. Shaw will be a junior next season and will be sure to benefit from an off-season in the system. Ultra-talented RB Marcus Lattimore will return after missing much of last season with a knee injury. The fact that they went 8-2 after the Lattimore injury is a testament to the talent of this team. Look for head coach Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks to be a darkhorse of the SEC.
8. Kansas State
Aside from Baylor, the Wildcats may have been the biggest surprise in college football. Their 10-3 season seemed to really come out of nowhere. Senior Collin Klein was a dynamic, run-first quarterback who actually managed to rush for over 1100 yards and a surprisingly high 27 touchdowns. Eight starters return to an offense that rushed for 185 yards and Klein will look to improve upon his paltry 1900 yards through the air. Look for the Wildcats to find themselves back in the top 3 of the Big 12 conference.
9. West Virginia
As much as I despise the Big East in football, I have to give props to the Mountaineers. They embarrassed Clemson in the Orange Bowl and broke a BCS bowl record with 70 points. Senior Geno Smith is coming back for his senior season and will look to improve upon the 4300 yards and 31 touchdowns he put up this season. That task may be easier than it sounds as the only other teams worth mentioning in the Big East are Cincinnati and Louisville.
For most programs, losing your dynamic leading rusher would be a huge blow that would take some definite adjustment in the following season. Then again, Oregon isn’t most programs. Though LaMichael James rushed for over 1800 yards and 18 touchdowns, his loss will have little impact on the team as Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas are more than capable of filling his role. Even with the departure of QB Darron Thomas, the Ducks offense will have no issue putting up points next season. You’ll need a an extremely talented offense to beat out Oregon.
Hit the jump for the rest of Christian’s top 25…
The Rest of the Best
The Hogs are limited by being in the same division as LSU and Alabama. That being said, they still will field a top 15 squad with senior QB Tyler Wilson.
12. Florida State
Last season’s high expectations may have came a year too early. The Seminoles have the talent to walk away with the ACC title.
Junior QB Casey Pachall and the Horned Frogs will have to play solid football to keep up with the better competition in the Big 12.
Look for this ranking to slide as the Wolverines have to take trips to Nebraska, Ohio State, and Notre Dame, and Dallas to play against the defending national champions.
15. Boise State
I will never doubt the ability of head coach Chris Pederson to field a great football team. The only reason they aren’t in the top ten is because of the loss of QB Kellen Moore.
The return of QB Taylor Martinez and RB Rex Burkhead will give the Cornhuskers stability in their second season in the B1G.
The offense is still loaded with talent, even with the loss of superstar QB Andrew Luck.
The Longhorns are too talented to remain in the six to seven win range. Texas will be back after returning both quarterbacks and a number two recruiting class.
Tajh Boyd returns to a Tiger team that will look to redeem themselves after the aforementioned demolition at the hands of West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.
20. Oklahoma State
Look for the Cowboys to take a small step back after the departure of QB Brandon Weeden and WR Justin Blackmon.
21. Virginia Tech
The Hokies always seem to serve up a contender in the ACC. Look for this season to be no different.
22. Arizona State
Look for the underachieving Sun Devils to improve under the leadership of former Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham, who recently took the same job in Tempe.
Though QB Russell Wilson will be leaving the Badgers, his exit will be tempered by the return of record-breaking RB Montee Ball.
Though they lose QB Zack Collaros, Junior Munchie Legaux looked like a capable starter who has the ability to make plays with both his arm and his legs.
Junior QB Tyler Tettleton looks to improve upon the Bobcats’ 9-4 record and lead them to a MAC Championship.
Photo Credits: Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI