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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Weekly Rankings

Three Days Later, 25 for 2012

This is pretty self-explanatory: as of now, prior to any late withdrawals to the N.F.L. Draft and unforeseeable coaching changes, here is Pre-Snap Read’s very, very early top 25 for 2012. How much movement will we see prior to September — or August, when the Countdown will reveal the real top 25 teams heading into the season opener? Quite a bit, I’d imagine. As of today, however, here are 25 teams I feel will rank among the nation’s best in 2012. You know the drill: each team gets a one-sentence breakdown; final 2011 ranking and 2011 records are also listed in parenthesis. Questions, comments and concerns should be listed below.

The Early Top 25

1. (2) L.S.U. (13-1, 8-0)
Unbelievably talented, and perhaps now hungrier than ever.
2. (6) Oregon (12-2, 8-1)
Only Oregon could bid LaMichael James goodbye with a smile.
3. (23) Florida State (9-4, 5-3)
Commence the bashing, but Seminoles will break through.
4. (7) Arkansas (11-2, 6-2)
SEC West will remain a mine field, but this team will be good.
5. (20) Georgia (10-4, 7-1)
The softest schedule in the SEC paves the way for the Bulldogs.
6. (18) Oklahoma (10-3, 6-3)
Three major figures are gone, but the majority returns.
7. (5) U.S.C. (10-2, 7-2)
I wonder about Trojans’ ability to beat Oregon twice in one year.
8. (1) Alabama (12-1, 7-1)
Defending champs land road dates against L.S.U. and Arkansas.
9. (12) T.C.U. (11-2, 7-0)
Look for the Horned Frogs to hit the ground running.
10. (9) South Carolina (11-2, 6-2)
Lattimore’s back, and so will be the Gamecocks.
11. (31) Texas (8-5, 4-5)
Solve the quarterback issue, reach the Fiesta Bowl.
12. (10) Michigan State (11-2, 7-1)
In a weak Big Ten, the Spartans seem the most well-rounded.
13. (4) Boise State (12-1, 6-1)
In a surprise to no one, the Broncos aren’t going anywhere.
14. (22) Virginia Tech (11-3, 7-1)
More experienced, but without Wilson and Hosley.
15. (17) West Virginia (10-3, 5-2)
And even higher should the Mountaineers stay in the Big East.
16. (13) Michigan (11-2, 6-2)
Quest for a B.C.S. repeat begins with Alabama in Dallas.
17. (21) Clemson (10-4, 6-2)
Experienced, but Tigers need to turn page on finish to 2011.
18. (25) Nebraska (9-4, 5-3)
Lots of starters are back, but does that mean anything?
19. (14) Kansas State (10-3, 7-2)
Not overly talented, not great, but coaching can’t be beat.
20. (30) Auburn (8-5, 4-4)
New quarterback and new defense will make a world of difference.
21. (33) Notre Dame (8-5, 0-0)
It’s Kelly’s third year, so it’s now or never for the Irish.
22. (29) B.Y.U. (10-3, 0-0)
A tougher schedule, but Nelson-led Cougars are deeper.
23. (40) N.C. State (8-5, 4-4)
Loved the way the Wolfpack finished; let’s see if it carries over.
24. (54) Ohio State (6-7, 3-5)
Pieces are in place for immediate success, bowl or no.
25. (34) Louisiana Tech (8-5, 6-1)
Double-digit wins shouldn’t be a problem in the depleted WAC.

Also receiving imaginary votes

26. (3) Oklahoma State (12-1, 8-1)
27. (42) Florida (7-6, 3-5)
28. (46) Washington (7-6, 5-4)
29. (11) Wisconsin (11-3, 6-2)
30. (49) Louisville (7-6, 5-2)
31. (8) Stanford (11-2, 8-1)
32. (37) Utah (8-5, 4-5)
33. (38) Virginia (8-5, 5-3)
34. (27) Missouri (8-5, 5-4)
35. (35) Rutgers (9-4, 4-3)
36. (52) California (7-6, 4-5)
37. (16) Houston (13-1, 8-0)
38. (39) Georgia Tech (8-5, 5-3)
39. (28) Penn State (9-4, 6-2)
40. (43) Texas A&M (7-6, 4-5)
41. (50) Mississippi State (7-6, 2-6)
42. (47) Iowa (7-6, 4-4)
43. (48) S.M.U. (8-5, 5-3)
44. (45) Temple (9-4, 5-3)
45. (26) Cincinnati (10-3, 5-2)
46. (87) Washington State (4-8, 2-7)
47. (44) Ohio (10-4, 6-2)
48. (55) Air Force (7-6, 3-4)
49. (32) Toledo (9-4, 7-1)
50. (15) Baylor (10-3, 6-3)
51. (65) Western Kentucky (7-5, 7-1)

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  1. BobJ says:

    Oregon will be a much better team next year. USC will be, too, though. Hopefully they’ve gotten over the tendency they had during the Pete Carroll days of shooting themselves in the foot against a conference also-ran. If USC beats Oregon at home during the regular season, then the conference title game will be in Los Angeles as well.

    The USC game is the only demanding game on the Oregon schedule next fall, but watch out for California on the road the week after USC on the road. Except for Oregon, USC is similarly unchallenged, but has Notre Dame at home to end the regular season.

    If one of these two teams finishes 12-0 and the other 11-1, having lost only to the other, will they finish 1-2 like LSU and Alabama did this year?

  2. Anon says:

    Ah, will overrating the hell out of FSU and Va Tech ever get old?

  3. Cheri says:

    Honestly? This is one of the better “way too early” rankings I’ve seen yet. I cannot agree with fsu being third, though…
    LOL at michigan having to play Alabama to open the season

  4. Lee says:

    I think everyone laughs at FSU at #3. They simply don’t have the QB or the rb’s to win it all. They will lose 2-3 like they always do. They are loaded on defense but Jimbo Fisher offenses always disappoint in big games versus tough defenses.

    They should probably be around 12.

    UF should be around 20. I think that our defense is going to be a rock. I like the Pease hire so who knows.

    LSU is going to be mean next year. Look out.

  5. what says:

    Why the hell do people get so high on FSU every year?

  6. WashingtonDCduck says:

    People are real high on Florida State because they are stacked, and after signing day this year they’ll continue to stockpile elite athletes like the Russians stockpile nukes. It’s almost unfair.

    However, they’ll pull a “Clemson” in ’12 and will probably find a way to lose inexplicably (like the ’11 loss to Wake Forest in North Carolina). Jimbo Fisher has the ‘Noles headed in the right direction, I’m not sold on their QB and I could easily be wrong but we’ll see if he can show the moxie and leadership to push FSU over the top.

    Oregon at #2? I’m a kool-aid drinking Duck but I’m not sure they’ll be in the top two but I do see them as a top five team next year. With Georgia and Kansas State both canceling contracts (home / away contracts) with Oregon, the Ducks in 2012 are left with a patsy non-conference schedule. November 5 in the Coliseum while ‘Bama visits Baton Rouge will be a special day in college football.

    Great Top 25 though, the early-bird special.

    My Top Five: (1) LSU / (2) USC / (3) Florida State / (4) Oregon / (5) Alabama

  7. Eisen says:

    I greatly enjoy reading Pre-Snap Read, and greatly respect your opinion. That said, it’s inconceivable to me that Penn State didn’t even receive imaginary votes. The Penn State roster features several stud athletes, especially in the defensive front 7, and the coaching staff just received a major upgrade—with the exception of coaches Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden*, who were retained, no members of the PSU coaching staff performed at a better than satisfactory level over the last decade. The Sandusky scandal has definitely had an adverse affect on this year’s recruiting class, which is weak in numbers (though not quality), but this recruiting class won’t hurt the on-the-field product until the 2014 season. I expect PSU to challenge for the BIG Cows division in 2012, and surprise a lot of people along the way—look for 9 wins minimum, and 10 wins likely.

    *Tom Bradley as well, but he clearly couldn’t be kept on the staff.

    Paul: Simply an oversight on my part. Bound to happen. Was working off a long excel spreadsheet, just missed the Nittany Lions. Going to slot them in and then bump Western Kentucky down to No. 51.

  8. Jesse says:

    if ej manuel doesnt play like a 7th grade qb next season, fsu will win it all. defense is loaded. what idiot said they dont have any rb’s? they have freeman, true freshman that started this year, james wilder will be the bruiser, and mario pender is gonna be the game changer. all the weight is on ej manuel tho. he didnt play to bad against notre dame, but he was horrible against oklahoma, 2 picks in red zone, on screen passes nonetheless, beyond pathetic against virginia, that loss solely on him. if they beat oklahoma and ej doesnt go down, they probably woulda ran the table with ease.

  9. Jmac823200 says:

    I’d rather see the Seminoles ranked lower but you have to see the reasoning behind this. The defense is basically full of 3 year starters and they were simply one of the best last year. The offense is average and most of the problems really stem from injuries! The offensive and QB in particular. The offensive was never a cohesive unit because of it. EJ getting hurt against OU didn’t help either. When you turn around and lose by only 5 at Clemson with a freshman QB it says a lot. That same freshman turned around the following week at Wake Forest and laid an egg. EJ, who was still hurt, tried to save it but it’s almost impossible to come back after 5, yes FIVE, turnovers. The only game FSU has no real excuse for is Virginia. If FSUs Offensive line can pull it together,they will be a VERY dangerous team. EJ hasn’t impressed me neither but I think he will be OK if they give him time. The running back are actually pretty good. If you look at the rushing number from 2010 you’d scratch your head at 2011. The starter went out with a broken back and a true freshman stepped in and played decently. Everything is traced back to the OL. Even before the starter went out the rushing was sub par and he was actually a second year player. I don’t expect his return but even without him they’ll be OK with Mario Pender coming in next year to assist Devonta Freeman. The receiver were good this year and will be great next year! If you don’t know the name Rashad Greene yet, write it down and then come back and tell me about it next year. The TE position should be fine too. Highly touted freshman Nick O’Leary should be the starter. He has shown flashes! In closing, the key to FSUs success next year is the Offensive Line!

  10. Jmac823200 says:

    offensive = offensive line

  11. NolesFTW says:

    People don’t agree with FSU starting #3, but everyone will agree with them finishing #1.

  12. Clintfsu813 says:

    @jmac823200 Excellent points. Couldnt have said better!

  13. BuccaNole says:

    I am an alum and long time fan, but I wish people would stop expecting FSU to be back until they prove they are back. These high pre-season rankings get to their heads, and they underachieve against teams they should downright beat. Hopefully the AP will have them in the lower 25.

  14. Michael says:

    Paul, I was very pleased with your self-critical rectification post in which you conceded, “But the middle of the mess suggests the following: once again, I overrated the bottom half of the B.C.S. conferences and underrated the top half of the non-B.C.S. conferences.”

    Thus am I surprised to see you do the same again with your 2012 prognostications. Of the top-25, only 2 are non-AQ, and only 9 of your 51. They’re playing football in other conferences than the self-important and structurally inflated automatic qualifying conferences.

  15. Clayton says:

    Here’s to every pre-season Top 25 list that has Notre Dame in it just for name recognition. Most over rated school / team ever. FSU at 3 is also pretty ridiculous. Can’t wait to see which school under achieves worse than the other.

  16. M says:

    FSU @ 3 seems to be the most controversial pic.

    Perhaps with justification. No team over the last decade has had such consistently high hopes and yet done so little.

    That said, the team is not the internal mess that it was in the last years of the Bowden era, and it is reloaded with talent. The ridiculous injury luck of 2011 is unlikely to be repeated for the Noles in 2012. On top of that, one of the top Ds in the entire country returns nine starters. The decimated O-line, while still likely a weak point, should be more solid as well.

    Bash the ranking while you can. A lot of people who don’t follow the team closely may end up surprised.

  17. DVPFLA says:

    As an FSU fan I am waiting to see if FSU will have a good OL. Jimbo Fisher needs to find a way to overcome the terrible decisions of 2009 and 2010 in recruiting only a total of 3 OL recruits over 2 years. FSU did recruit 9 OL in 2011 so that is a start. FSU was playing a 17 year old true freshman on the OL all year beacuse of a string of injuries and the poor recruiting decisions and poor OL coaching of what had been there before 2009.

    Those of us who follow FSU know we will go as far as the OL will take us.

    At the moment FSU plays a OOC schedule that includes WV, USF and UF. It seems WV is wanting to cancel the game. If FSU can coach up that young OL and call plays to deal the learning curve FSU will be good. The defense could become a force of nature in 2012 and obviously the strength of the team. The NFL will be watching several players on the defense as first round talent in the 2013 draft.

    I would hope for a top ten season if the OL is healthy and moving in the right direction.

    As the lost decade has shown us, the ACC will not be respected until FSU gets back toward the top.

  18. Fritz says:

    I got linked here from Tomahawk Nation.

    I’m obviously an FSU homer.

    However, I’m not here to homer FSU… I think they will play for the conference championship this year…beyond that, however, I don’t know. Like everyone is saying, however, it is up to the offensive line. If they play alright, EJ plays good. If they play good, EJ plays great. If they play great, EJ for heisman.

    But what I am really tired of hearing about the following:

    (1) FSU only took 3 ol the past 2 years.
    Response: I don’t know how many they took, but who cares. Jimbo could have either stock piled the DL into an elite group or the OL, but with 25 signees a year you can’t have 20 of them OL and DL. So he CHOSE the DL and he told Trickett to deal with it. You don’t go from having amongst the worst defenses in the country to one of the best without over signing defensive talent.

    (2) They haven’t been coaching the ones they have well.
    Response: Not true at all. Somehow, after being injured early in his career, Zebre Sanders is the only one standing out of what was promising to be a pretty solid line: Andrew Datko, Dave Spurlock, who cares, who cares. When you lose 2 guys of THAT caliber and then lose several of their backups due to injury and then have several other peeps transfer… its depleting.

    Anyway, we will beat Miami. We will beat Florida. And everyone will forget who Clemson is before they even could remember.

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