Darts, man. All it is, is throwing darts. You have no idea who's going to drop acid and hijack a school bus full of penguins between now and the start of the season. Although the Fulmer Cup will keep score as we move along. Speaking as a fan that just took the most crazy 12 month roller coaster ride, you just can't see these things coming. Chemistry never carries over from one year to the next and a million other reasons why last year means nothing now. So with that in mind, let's take a few stabs in the dark.
1. Georgia- With so many starters returning on defense, and so many key players returning on offense Georgia seems like a clear favorite. Not to mention they don't have to play Bama, LSU, or Arkansas during the regular season. If things have ever lined up for the Bulldogs, this is the year.
2. Oklahoma- See what I did there? After all the bitching I did about how the Sooners got all the unfounded love last season, I'm putting them this high. The reason is that I look around the Big 12 and don't see anyone that can challenge them. Texas doesn't seem ready to move back into the top spot. Oklahoma State will probably take a step back, and West Virginia may or may not be there (and other things to be considered later.)
3. Alabama- They lose a lot from last years team. But they return starting quarterback A J McCarron, and a slew of people who have been waiting their turn. Alabama's recruiting prowess is well documented, and as long as Saban has a quarterback that doesn't give the game away the Tide will always be in the mix.
4. USC- This shouldn't be happening. But with Darron Thomas inexplicably leaving Oregon for the NFL, the Trojans now become the de facto Pac 12 leader heading into 2012. They are good, but I would put them a bit lower if not for the uncertainty in Oregon. As we saw with Andrew Luck this past season, an average team can look pretty good with the right quarterback. Matt Barkley is that king of quarterback.
5. LSU- If they had anything resembling a quarterback (which changed sometime after beating WVU), they would be higher. Like Alabama, we know they have a slew of defensive studs just waiting to shine. They'll have another great season but fall to anyone that can force their quarterback to win the game for them.
6. Michigan State- They won't be expected to be a great passing team with Kirk Cousins and the majority of the receiving corp graduating. But they return the bulk of their offensive line, running back LeVeon Bell, and a brutal defense. I don't know if there's anything that could make Mark Dantonio smile more than this.
8. Oregon- Still very talented without Thomas. Bryan Bennett was serviceable in his stints replacing Thomas. But there's just a bit of uncertainty that makes the Ducks a bet I'm willing to avoid.
9. Arkansas- Another team with a senior quarterback returning. They get Alabama and LSU at home this year. But had several key losses on defense that might keep them out of SEC west contention.
10. Florida State- I know everyone thought last year was going to be the year the Seminoles returned to the top of the ACC. But this is the year...maybe. If we've learned anything over the last ten years, it's that no one really wants to win the ACC title but Virginia Tech. If FSU can go into Blacksburg and get a win, this may be the year.
11. West Virginia- I know a lot of people would like to see the Mountaineers higher than this. I would too. But the uncertainty of what the defense is going to look like next year as well as what conference we'll be playing in makes it difficult.
12. Clemson- If Kevin Steele hadn't spent the entire second half looking for his happy place under extreme pressure from the bombs being dropped on his defense, I could move them higher. But he still hasn't found that happy place and neither have the Tigers.
13. Michigan- There's every reason to believe that Michigan will be better in 2012. But not better than Michigan State.
14. Oklahoma State- There are a lot of losses from the 2012 team. Mainly at quarterback and reciever. Oh, and special teams coach. But they should have enough to make a run at Oklahoma.
15. Kansas State- Bill freaking Snyder! Doing things Ron Prince could only dream of. Lots of close games and lots of things going their way in 2011. The type of things that don't normally transfer from year to year. Still, the Wildcats return a lot and should contend for the Big 12 title.
16. Wisconsin- They'll be good enough to finish third in the Big 10 and that's about it.
17. Louisville- Depending on where West Virginia ends up, this is the Big East front runner.
18. Texas- Too much talent not to get a mention. But they still have serious issues on offense in an offense heavy conference.
19. Cincinnati- Questions at quarterback and running back. But otherwise a very strong team.
20. Virginia Tech- Logan Thomas will have a year under his belt and should be much improved. But he loses a lot around him and may have to be the leading rusher and passer until the replacements of offense get on the same page.
Honorable mention lightning round
22. Boise State
24. Notre Dame