The Gators could be on the cusp of greatness (again) or on the verge of disaster (again). The offense was M.I.A. last year averaging a paltry 328.7 total offensive yards per game. To put this in perspective, the New Mexico Lobos averaged only 30 yards less per game -- with nowhere near the talent -- than Florida. Former head coach Urban Meyer recruited well so it's not like the cupboard is bare here, but if Florida doesn't seriously challenge for the SEC East, current head coach Will Muschamp might need to update his resume. Florida needs its speedy swag and chomp chomp back.
David Shaw has done an excellent job after the post-Jim Harbaugh era but the real test is this year -- quarterback Andrew Luck and offensive linemen David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin are all gone. The Cardinal's running game will be strongly featured -- they return their top three rushers -- while they break in a new quarterback, but how will this team play "keep up" with teams that can score quickly and often, such as Oregon, Washington State or USC? Moreover, the Cardinal's pass defense is a huge concern that only adds to the intrigue.
Remember when quarterback Jake Locker left for the NFL and everyone predicted gloom and doom for the Huskies? Last year Keith Price made us forget all of that and this year he could be a sleeper Heisman contender. The Huskies' first test will be on September 8 when they travel to Baton Rouge and take on the LSU Tigers, but we still won't know if the Huskies can defend against a prolific offense until they take on a Pac-12 team like Oregon or USC in mid-October. Until then, the projection for this team is somewhat of a mystery.
Have you written off Boise State yet? Many will do just that because of Kellen Moore's departure -- they're probably the same experts who wrote off Boise State when Jared Zabranksy, Moore's predecessor, left. Head coach Chris Petersen reloads better than anyone, but this year will be a monumental task. Only three starters from the offense and two from the defense return. Petersen also lost offensive coordinator Brent Pease and two assistant coaches. This would be a rebuilding year for most teams in the same position as Boise State but Petersen is the X-factor that gives one pause. The lost talent and leadership are hard to ignore. Then again, so is Petersen's track record.
Last year the Longhorns did OK, and by OK we mean they lost to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State as well as Kansas State, Baylor and Missouri. This year they only lose four starters on offense so everybody is back from an 8-5 team that averaged less than 400 yards per game. The starting quarterback position is still unknown, and when you factor in that none of their passers finished in the Top 100 quarterback rankings last year, there is an unsettling feeling about this team. Is it gut-check time for the Burnt Orange Nation?
Last year the Irish went 8-5 but they did struggle against some mediocre teams, like 4-8 Boston College and 6-7 Pittsburgh. This year the Irish have a more difficult schedule that includes Michigan State, Michigan, Miami (FL), Stanford, Oklahoma and USC. The Irish can quash the criticism if they beat USC. With 11 safeties listed on the Irish's roster (according to the South Bend Tribune), they should be able to slow the Trojans' passing game down. Still, their No. 1 priority should be improving their horrific turnover margin of -15 from a year ago. In their annual spring game, the Irish offense was intercepted three times and lost three of four fumbles.
Talented, experienced, mystifying and frustrating -- those adjectives pretty much sum up the under-achieving Bulldogs in the last few years. Their upper-classmen (classes of 2008, '09 and '10) are or were members of two top 5 recruiting classes and one top 25 class yet the results haven't always matched. There have also been some off-the-field issues and looming suspensions for some key defensive players, yet we're also hearing a lot of, "Just look at all of that talent on the team." Yep, lots of talent. Expectations should be sky-high, but will the Dawgs meet them? The bandwagon will be full but the exit doors are ajar in case of emergency.
Count yours truly as one of the analysts who fell for the Seminole preseason-hype the last two years. Injuries, coaching changes and the ACC curse have impacted the Seminoles, so this year is their year, right? Quarterback E.J. Manuel had a solid 2011 but he needs to stay healthy -- he was injured in the Oklahoma game and missed the Clemson game, both of which were losses. The giant question mark is the O-line, where battles are won or lost. Florida State allowed an average of over three sacks per game (good for a 112th in the nation) and over six tackles for loss of yardage (89th) per game last year. Their running game (104th) spanked out a little over 112 yards per game. If the line play improves, the Seminoles should win the ACC. But if it doesn't, say hello to another Champs Sports Bowl.
The school's pristine image took a major blow when allegations that former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky sexually abused minors surfaced last year. The damage has been devastating to the alleged victims and their families, but there is also collateral damage. The Nittany Lions lost a handful of recruits and legendary coach Joe Paterno was dismissed and later succumbed to cancer. The uncertainty over the team was readily apparent in the spring -- although Matt McGloin was named starting quarterback by head coach Bill O'Brien, none of the quarterbacks competing for the starting spot bowled anyone over. There are other position issues as well, but what really makes Penn State such a question mark is all in the players' heads. How will they react with so much turmoil surrounding the program?
While most fans realize that football is cyclical and every team has its ups and downs, Miami football has been in a slump for almost a decade. There's also an NCAA investigation that has a potentially devastating punishment looming down the road, but that hasn't kept the recruits away. Miami does well in its own fertile backyard. This year the team loses six starters from each side of the ball and the all-important quarterback spot isn't nailed down yet -- it's either Stephen Morris (five starts) or Memphis-transfer Ryan Williams. Any questions?
The Tigers have moved to the SEC but the thrill may be gone after their fans let that 2012 schedule sink in. Missouri's notable games include Georgia, Arizona State, at South Carolina, at UCF, Alabama, at Florida, at Tennessee, Syracuse and at Texas A&M. Ugh. Quarterback James Franklin had a fantastic 2011 season, rushing for 981 yards and 15 touchdowns and passing for 2,872 yards and 15 touchdowns. A strong running game and great defense are key ingredients to winning the SEC. For what it's worth, Mizzou had a top 10 rushing offense last year but they also return only five defensive starters. The class of 2012's No. 1 overall recruit was Dorial Green-Beckham, a true freshman this fall. He will be pressed into service early and his baptism by fire will commence on Sept. 8, courtesy of the Georgia Bulldogs.