College Football Top 25 for 2012: LSU, Georgia Lead Initial Version 1.0

LAST UPDATED: FRIDAY, DECEMBER 16TH (9:48 AM): Fixed a few details that were inadvertently incorrect. For media inquiries, comments, or questions please email [email protected].

It’s very difficult to create a preseason top 25 in mid-December, but I feel like my list below is among the most accurate you will find anywhere. I plan on updating it throughout the bowl season as players decide to leave/move onto the next level, so keep checking back for the latest updates. Recruiting will also get factored in more heavily once National Signing Day draws nearer.  I also want to point out that this is a very, VERY early look at how the teams are shaping up for next season. This is only one man’s thoughts. Everyone would rightfully have different opinions about a poll like this one.

LSU1. LSU Tigers: Articles have already been written arguing that LSU could actually be better next season than this season. A quick glance of the Tigers’ roster disputes that, but at this point it’s hard not to put them as preseason No. 1 for 2012. LSU will lose both of its starting quarterbacks Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee to graduation. Zach Mettenberger, who many expected to come in and take the starting job, will be Les Miles’ starter at the position next season. The Tigers will return all three of its running backs, including Spencer Ware and Michael Ford. Wide receiver Rueben Randle could test the NFL Draft waters. Tight end Deangelo Peterson is gone, along with two starters along the offensive line. On defense, four key players graduate. Defensive end Kendrick Adams and linebackers Stefoin Francois, Ryan Baker, and Karnell Hatcher are seniors. Cornerback Morris Claiborne is all but gone to the NFL and defensive end Sam Montgomery could elect to make the jump as well.  If Montgomery returns, he will return to one of the nation’s strongest defensive lines. Defensive end Barkevious Mingo is set to return, as are defensive tackles Michael Brockers and Bennie Logan.  One thing is for sure: Star cornerback Tyrann Matthieu will be back for the Tigers.

NOTABLE SENIORS: QB Jordan Jefferson, TE Deangelo Peterson

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: CB Morris Claiborne, DE Sam Montgomery, WR Reuben Randle

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 6/6

Georgia2. Georgia Bulldogs: After a season where the Bulldogs improved throughout the season, Georgia fans should expect a great season in 2012. Starting quarterback Aaron Murray will return as an experienced junior. Running back Isaiah Crowell will also be back with a year of playing in the SEC under his belt.  Mark Richt will try to talk tight end Orson Charles into coming back, despite being the second rated TE to Dwayne Allen on a lot of NFL draft boards. The rest of the offensive line will need some work. Center Ben Jones has been the starter for four seasons in Athens and now he will move onto the NFL. Both offensive tackles graduate. Wide receiver Tavarres King will be back to lead a wide out core that will bring back its main targets. Only two defensive players are slated to leave through graduation for the Bulldogs: DE DeAngelo Tyson and CB Brandon Boykin. Linebacker Jarvis Jones, who transferred to Georgia from USC, could move onto the NFL.

NOTABLE SENIORS: CB Brandon Boykin, DE DeAngelo Tyson

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: LB Jarvis Jones

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 7/8

Oregon3. Oregon Ducks: With most of their offensive stars back, the Ducks will likely continue to score at will on most teams in 2012. QB Darron Thomas will be back, along with running backs Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. Heck, even LaMichael James could return but at this point, I consider that doubtful. James probably realizes that another injury filled year could ruin his draft stock in 2013, so he will probably leave now. TE David Paulson is a big loss, but with most of the key components back from last season’s high powered attack, don’t expect Oregon to miss a beat. On defense, six starters leave. The hardest hit area is the secondary where S Josh Kaddu, CB Anthony Gildon, and S Eddie Pleasant all graduate. Plus, CB Cliff Harris was just dismissed from the team.

NOTABLE SENIORS: WR Lavasier Tunei

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: RB LaMichael James

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 7/4

SouthCarolina4. South Carolina Gamecocks: It was almost as if the Gamecocks flew under the radar in 2011. Stephen Garcia’s abysmal play and his eventual dismissal, followed by RB Marcus Lattimore’s injury, set the stage for Georgia to win the SEC East. Next season, Steve Spurrier’s team will be right back in the mix again. Quarterback Connor Shaw returns and with Garcia out of the picture forever, he can relax and play football. Lattimore will be back as a junior. Although WR Alshon Jeffery is expected to leave for the NFL, Ace Sanders does return at wideout. On defense, the loss of Melvin Ingram cannot be calculated. He impacted every play for the Gamecocks this season, but if former No. 1 overall recruit Jadeveon Clowney reaches his potential, he will be even better than Ingram. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore could leave early for the NFL, but for now I’ll project him to return for his senior season.

NOTABLE SENIORS: DE Melvin Ingram

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: WR Alshon Jeffery

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 8/7

Texas5. Texas Longhorns: Next season could be the year where Texas finally returns to the national stage. The Longhorns return everyone on offense except guard David Snow, including quarterbacks Case McCoy and David Ash. Young running back Malcolm Brown continues to get better reach week. Quarterbacks Case McCoy and David Ash return, but one of them will have to become “the guy” if the Longhorns want to reach this ranking. On defense, only three players leave. DT Kheeston Randall, LB Keenan Robinson, and S Blake Gideon all graduate. Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, who has six sacks as a sophomore this season, will be back as a force on the Longhorns’ defensive line.

NOTABLE SENIORS: DT Kheeston Randall, LB Keenan Robinson, S Blake Gideon

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: None

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 10/8

USC6. USC Trojans: With the Trojans able to make a bowl game for the first time in the Lane Kiffin era, a lot of people will finally realize that he has been able to stabilize the USC program. In year three, Kiffin is going to field a top 15 team. Even if QB Matt Barkley leaves (here’s guessing that he will), the Trojans will still return WR Robert Woods and Marquis Lee. Plus, the Trojans are loaded at running back. The quarterback battle will be fun to watch, with Cody Kessler and Max Wittek looking like the early frontrunners if Barkley does enter the NFL Draft. OT Matt Kalil would probably be crazy not to join Barkley in the NFL Draft, because he is projected to be a top 5 pick. On defense, USC will return nearly everyone. Safety T. J. McDonald may make the jump, but other than that, nearly everyone else is back in the mix. Only DT Christian Tupou and DT Dajohn Harris graduate as starters.

NOTABLE SENIORS: RB Marc Tyler

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: QB Matt Barkley, OT Matt Kalil

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 7/9

FloridaState7. Florida State Seminoles: Once again, the Seminoles failed to reach expectations in 2011. Next season, expectations will be high once again. And yes, I realize they never reach expectations. Quarterback E. J. Manuel returns along with the ‘Noles top rusher in Devonta Freeman. Freeman will likely be the feature back for Florida State next season after sharing time with Jermaine Thomas as a freshman.  Two of the Seminoles best playmakers leave in WR Bert Reed and TE Beau Reliford. On defense, linebacker Nigel Bradham and S Terrance Parks graduate. It’s not crazy to think that DE Brandon Jenkins could jump to the NFL as a junior or that OT Zebrie Sanders could join him. For now, I’ll guess that both players stick around for their senior seasons.

NOTABLE SENIORS: WR Bert Reed, TE Beau Reliford

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: None

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 9/9

Alabama8. Alabama Crimson Tide: The Crimson Tide’s defense was tremendous in 2011, but it loses a lot next season. Seniors Josh Chapman and Nick Gentry will be gone off of a dominant defensive line, as will graduating linebackers Jerrell Harris, Alex Watkins, and Courtney Upshaw.  Junior Dont’a Hightower would almost be crazy not to leave for the NFL, since he figures to be picked within the first two rounds of the draft. Even LB Nico Johnson has a decision to make. In the secondary, DeQuan Menzie and Mark Barron—one of the nation’s top ballhawks—graduate. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick– who is almost certain to be a first round selection– and safety Robert Lester might leave as well.  Offensively, the main losses will be at receiver. Quarterback A. J. McCarron figures to improve in his second year as a starter, but he will have to manage without WRs Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks, Brandon Gibson, or tight end Brad Smelley. Running back Trent Richardson will be a first round NFL Draft pick if he forgoes his senior season, leaving Eddie Lacy in the backfield for the Tide. Alabama’s offensive line should remain intact, with Barrett Jones and D. J. Fluker leading the way.

NOTABLE SENIORS: S Mark Barron, CB DeQuan Menzie, LB Courtney Upshaw, LB Jerrell Harris, DT Josh Campman, DT Nick Gentry, WR Marquis Maze, WR Darius Hanks, C William Vlachos, TE Brad Smelley

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: RB Trent Richardson, LB Dont’a Hightower, S Robert Lester, CB Dre Krikpatrick

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 6/3

TCU9. TCU Horned Frogs: You’d have to think that Gary Patterson has had his last “down” year for a while at TCU. The Horned Frogs found a great quarterback in Casey Pachall and saw him develop as the season played out in 2011. Pachall’s best playmakers return around him in running back Ed Wesley and wide receiver Josh Boyce. The offensive line takes some hits with three starters graduating, but Pachall’s improvement should help compensate for that early on in 2012. On defense, LB Tank Carder’s graduation leaves a hole. Other than Carder, CB Greg McCoy, and S Johnny Fobbs, every other starter returns for TCU. This is a team that could be right back into a BCS bowl next season.

NOTABLE SENIORS: LB Tank Carder

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: None

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 7/8

Arkansas10. Arkansas Razorbacks: Arkansas had its moment in the spotlight this season after rising to No. 3 in the BCS before its showdown against LSU. The offense for the Razorbacks—never a problem under Bobby Petrino—should be very good again. Quarterback Tyler Wilson, a year older in the SEC, will be back as a senior. Running back Knile Davis figures to return after missing the entire season with an ankle injury. Tailback Dennis Johnson also returns. Although wide receivers Jarius Wright, Greg Childs, and Joe Adams leave, Arkansas does return Cobi Hamilton and Marquel Wade at that position. Defensive end Jake Bequette’s absence will be felt for the Razorbacks next year. Linebacker Jerry Franklin also graduates. In the secondary three starters leave, including defensive back Jerico Nelson.

NOTABLE SENIORS: WR Jarius Wright, WR Greg Childs, WR Joe Adams, S Tremain Thomas, DE Jake Bequette

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: None

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 7/6

Oklahoma11. Oklahoma Sooners: Bob Stoops’ team began the 2011 season as the nation’s preseason No. 1 ranked team and finished well out of the national championship picture. With lowered expectations, Oklahoma may surprise some people next season. Quarterback Landry Jones is projected to be a first or second round NFL Draft pick if he elects to leave. If Jones leaves, Drew Allen will likely be the starter with Blake Bell back as the short yardage quarterback for the Sooners. Wide receiver Ryan Broyles and tight end James Hanna graduate, leaving major holes offensively. Only one offensive lineman graduates—tackle Donald Stephenson. Wide receiver Kenny Stills will be back, along with the Sooners three headed monster at running back with Brennan Clay, Dominique Whaley, and Roy Finch. Linebacker Travis Lewis graduates defensively, along with defensive end Frank Alexander and cornerback Jamell Fleming. Defensive end Ronnell Lewis could also choose to move onto the NFL.

NOTABLE SENIORS: WR Ryan Broyles, LB Travis Lewis

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: QB Landry Jones

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 7/8

VirginiaTech12. Virginia Tech Hokies: Virginia Tech will return its biggest offensive playmakers next season in quarterback Logan Thomas and running back David Wilson. Including tight end Chris Drager, the Hokies lose five of six starters on the offensive line. Only center Andrew Miller returns. On defense, S Eddie Whitley—one of the best playmakers on the Virginia Tech defense—graduates to give way to a group of three sophomores at the position.  Cornerback Jayron Hosley could leave for the NFL Draft, but at this point that appears unlikely. Hosley isn’t being projected as a first round pick by most of the knowledgeable draft sources.

NOTABLE SENIORS: WR Jarrett Boykin, WR Danny Coale, S Eddie Whitley

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: None

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 4/10

Wisconsin13. Wisconsin Badgers: The Badgers one year rental on QB Russell Wilson resulted in a Big Ten championship. Now, Wisconsin will have to turn to Jon Badmayr to run the offense. Running back Montee Ball figures to return after his record breaking season. WR Nick Toon’s graduation is the biggest loss—outside of Wilson’s departure—for the Badgers offensively. On defense, five starters depart, including CB Antoni Fenelus, who lead the team in interceptions in 2011.

NOTABLE SENIORS: QB Russell Wilson, WR Nick Toon

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: None

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 6/6

OklahomaState14. Oklahoma State Cowboys: We’ll find out how much of an elite program Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy has put together in Stillwater next season. With QB Brandon Weeden graduating and WR Justin Blackmon likely going to the NFL, the Cowboys offense will look a lot different next season. It looks like Clint Chelf will be the preseason favorite to be Oklahoma State’s newest signal caller. Running back Joseph Randle will be back and will probably get the ball even more than he did last season. Wide receivers Isaiah Anderson and Tracy Moore return. Somebody will have to become the new lead receiver for the Cowboys in Blackmon’s absence. Three starting offensive lineman graduate as well. Although the Cowboys are known for their offense, Gundy’s team may have to rely on its defense more next season. Defensive ends Richetti Jones and Jamie Blatnick graduate, but every linebacker starter will return. Safety Markelle Martin is the only other loss on defense. Even kicker Quinn Sharp, who is among the nation’s best, returns for the Cowboys.

NOTABLE SENIORS: QB Brandon Weeden, WR Josh Cooper, S Markelle Martin

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: WR Justin Blackmon

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 5/8

Auburn15. Auburn Tigers: The loss of Cam Newton was as big as most of us “experts” thought it might be. Gene Chizik knows he needs better quarterback play in order to compete in the SEC West. The question for the Tigers is whether they will stick with Clint Moseley or make the swap to Kiehl Frazier, who looks every bit like the future lead man for the Tigers. Running backs Onterio McCalebb and Michael Dyer both return, as does underrated WR Emory Blake. Even TE Phillip Lutzenkirchen, who seems to catch every big touchdown for Auburn, returns next season. The Tigers defense was extremely young this season and it showed on the field. Next season, Auburn should improve significantly defensively with nine starters back.

NOTABLE SENIORS: QB Barrett Trotter, WR Quindarius Carr

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: None

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 9/9

GeorgiaTech16. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: Paul Johnson continues to win with his triple option offense. If the Yellow Jackets could have avoided a couple of slip ups to Virginia and Miami (Fla.) during the regular season, Georgia Tech could have been a real threat in the ACC.  On offense, the returning core is pretty impressive. Only running back Roddy Jones, a staple of Jones’ triple option offense, will graduate. Quarterback Tevin Washington returns with running back Orwin Smith and wide receiver Stephen Hill. The entire offensive line will be back as well. Defensively, the news is almost just as good. Defensive end Jason Peters and defensive tackle Logan Walls graduate. Linebacker Steven Sylvester and safety Rashaad Reid are also gone, but leading tackler Julian Burnett will be back, along with sack specialist Jeremiah Attaochu.

NOTABLE SENIORS: WR Tyler Melton, DE Jason Peters, DT Logan Walls, LB Steven Sylvester, S Rashaad Reid

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL:  None

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 10/7

Michigan17. Michigan Wolverines: Everyone will look at the return of quarterback Denard Robinson and project Michigan to be ranked higher than they probably should be. Running back Fitz Toussaint returns after a season where he ran for 1,000 yards and gave Brady Hoke a second running threat behind Robinson.  Wide receivers Junior Hemingway and Kelvin Grady graduate, but Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon return. The other losses, starting with the offensive line, are going to be tough to swallow. Center David Molk, one of the best in the country at his position, graduates. Offensive tackle Mark Huyge and tight end Kevin Koger—who finished third on the Wolverines in receptions this season—also leave. On the defensive line, a lot of work will be needed.  Defensive tackles Will Heininger, Mike Martin, and Ryan Van Bergen all will be missed. Cornerback Troy Woolfolk, who has started ten games for the Wolverines this season, is the biggest loss in the Michigan secondary.

NOTABLE SENIORS: C David Molk, WR Junior Hemingway, DT Ryan Van Bergen, CB Troy Woolfolk

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL:  None

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 7/7

Nebraska18. Nebraska Cornhuskers: A lot of people thought Nebraska could instantly win the Big Ten in their first year in the conference, but that didn’t go as planned for the Cornhuskers. Next year, they will enter the season among the conference favorites. Quarterback Taylor Martinez will return and hopefully develop more as a passer. Running back Rex Burkhead, one of the nation’s best kept secrets, will also return. There’s only one senior on the entire offense, tackle Jemarcus Hendrick. Nebraska has to hope that its young receiving corps—Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa, Jamal Turner—develop and become downfield playmakers, but the passing game’s improvement will start and end with Martinez. In 2010, Nebraska’s defense was a little bit of a disappointment. With seniors like DT Jared Crick, LB Lavonte David, and CB Alfonzo Denard back, Nebraska was expected to have a dominant defense again. That didn’t happen. With those three gone—along with S Austin Cassidy—Nebraska will have to rebuild the core of its defense.

NOTABLE SENIORS: DT Jared Crick, LB Lavonte David, CB Alfonzo Dennard, S Austin Cassidy

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: None

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 9/7

OhioState19. Ohio State Buckeyes: With Urban Meyer in Columbus, things are really looking up for the Buckeyes. Meyer will love quarterback Braxton Miller, who appears to be a perfect fit for Meyer’s offense.  Miller loves to run and he showed it by gaining 695 yards this season on the ground.  Carlos Hyde, a soon-to-be junior, will have to replace Dan Herron as the lead back for the Buckeyes. The biggest losses on offense are center Michael Brewster and OT Mike Adams. Meyer will need to revamp an offensive line losing three total starters. Tight end Jake Stoneburner will be back, along with receivers Corey Brown and Devin Smith. On the other side of the ball, Ohio State looks like it will return all eleven starters.

NOTABLE SENIORS: RB Dan Herron, OT Mike Adams, C Michael Brewster

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: None

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 8/11

NotreDame20. Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Year three looks like it will be now or never for Irish head coach Brian Kelly. Quarterback Tommy Rees and running back Cierre Wood will be back in the backfield for Notre Dame.  The biggest loss will be wide receiver Michael Floyd, because his 95 receptions aren’t going to be replicated by anyone on this roster next season. Wide receivers TJ Jones and TE Tyler Effert (94 total catches combined this season) will try to make up for Floyd’s loss next season. Effert could decide to go to the NFL, but at this point I’m projecting that he will return. Replacing three offensive line starters will be Kelly’s toughest challenge on offense. On defense, the Irish received great news when linebacker Manti Te’o announced he would return for his senior season. The Irish do have some major losses defensively though. Notre Dame will have to replace DE Ethan Johnson (8 starts), LB Darius Fleming (46 tackles), CB Gary Grab (2 INTs), CB Robert Blanton (2 INTs), S Harrison Smith (84 tackles), and S Jamoris Slaughter (INT). In other words, this will be a new look defense next season.

NOTABLE SENIORS: WR Michael Floyd, CB Gary Gray, CB Harrison Smith

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL:

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 7/4

Clemson21. Clemson Tigers: Clemson had an up and down year in 2010, but a lot of its main stars will return next season. Offensively, the Tigers appear set to return nearly every significant player. Quarterback Tahj Boyd will be back, along with backfield mate Andre Ellington. At wide receiver, DeAndre Hopkins and the sensational Sammy Watkins return. Tight end Dwayne Allen will probably be the only Tiger to make the NFL jump, but nobody can blame him. The offensive line will need restructuring, with tackles Phillip Price and Landon Walker graduating. Guard Antione McClain is also a senior. The defensive line will need some work, with DE Andre Branch and DTs Ronnie Moore and Brandon Thompson graduating. A lot of sophomores will be asked to pick up the slack on the defensive line, which is a scary proposition in a run heavy ACC. The only other loss defensively is CB Coty Sensabaugh.

NOTABLE SENIORS: DE Andre Branch, DT Brandon Thompson, DT Ronnie Moore, OT Phillip Price, OT Landon Walker, OG Antoine McClain

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: TE Dwayne Allen

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 8/7

KansasState22. Kansas State Wildcats: One thing is for sure: Bill Snyder’s team won’t sneak up on anyone in 2012. The Wildcats return QB Colin Klein, who will be a preseason Heisman Trophy favorite, and most of their offense. The biggest hit area is offensive line, where three starters depart. Running back John Hubert will be back. On defense, six starters return. The Wildcats will need to find replacements for safety Tyson Hartman, LB Emmauel Lamur, DT Ray Kibble, and DE Jordan Voelker.

NOTABLE SENIORS: S Tyson Hartman, LB Emmauel Lamur, DT Ray Kibble

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: None

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 8/6

Florida23. Florida Gators: Right now, it’s hard to believe the Gators were a national powerhouse two years ago. With the departure of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, Florida gets a new start on offense. Starting quarterback John Brantley graduates, but backups Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel saw a lot of playing time due to Brantley’s injuries in 2011. Speedster running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps graduate, leaving Florida with a big hole at running back. Mike Gillislee will be a senior, but he hasn’t shown the ability to carry the load for Florida during his time in Gainesville. Wide receiver Deonte Thompson leaves as well. The good news for whoever Florida’s new OC might be is that he will have a young but experienced offensive line to work with. Only center Dan Wenger graduates. Defensively, Florida looks very stout for 2012. Only defensive tackle Jaye Howard graduates, but Omar Hunter is expected to move into that spot and be successful. A team that started seven underclassmen defensively this season should now transition into a team that is loaded with defensive playmakers.

NOTABLE SENIORS: QB John Brantley, RB Chris Rainey, RB Jeff Demps. WR Deonte Thompson, DT Jaye Howard

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: None

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 7/10 

NorthCarolina24. North Carolina Tar Heels: Although North Carolina fell off the map a little after Butch Davis’ firing; the Tar Heels are still a strong team in the middle of the ACC. With starting QB Bryn Renner, RB Giovani Bernard, and seven other offensive starters back, North Carolina should be very good in 2012. Obviously, the losses of DE Quinton Coples and LB Zach Brown on defense are hard to overcome, but eight defensive starters return. Next season, it looks like ten of the eleven defensive starters will be upperclassmen. OLB Kevin Reddick could make the early jump to the NFL, but for now I’ll guess that he returns.

NOTABLE SENIORS: DE Quinton Coples, LB Zach Brown

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: None

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 9/7

BoiseState25. Boise State Broncos: This could be the first year Boise State finally shows a chink in its armor. The loss of efficient QB Kellen Moore is almost too difficult to calculate. Losing RB Doug Martin, a guy who had become a go-to-guy for the Broncos, just makes things worse. Add in that OT Nate Potter is a senior as well and it appears the Broncos will be rebuilding in 2012. Even eight starters leave on defense. Chris Peterson will want to start by finding his next quarterback, something he’s been pretty good at during his days in Boise. Right now, Joe Southwick and Grant Hedrick appear destined to battle for the position throughout the spring.

NOTABLE SENIORS: QB Kellen Moore, HB Doug Martin, WR Tyler Shoemaker, DT Byron Hout

PROJECTED TO LEAVE EARLY FOR THE NFL: None

PROJECTED RETURNING OFF/DEF STARTERS: 4/3

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