The Daily's college football top 25 countdown: Nos. 10 to 6
2012 preseason top 25
College football season is fast-approaching, and we here at The Daily are releasing out own preseason top 25. We will release five teams a day for the rest of the week, finishing with our top five Friday. Up today: Nos. 10 through 6.
No. 10 South Carolina
The South Carolina Gamecocks had a solid season last year, finishing fifth in the stout SEC despite having their stud starting running back, Marcus Lattimore, go down with a knee injury in week seven. Like most SEC teams, South Carolina's defense is where the team really shines. Former No. 1 recruit defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is a monster, earning SEC freshman of the year and freshman All-American honors last year. Clowney had 36 tackles with eight sacks and five forced fumbles. As a team the Gamecocks were 11th in the nation in points allowed, holding their opponents to just 18.4 points a game. With the return of Lattimore and the defense only getting better, South Carolina should challenge the SEC power pack of LSU, Alabama, Georgia and Arkansas.
No. 9 West Virginia
West Virginia has lofty expectations for its inaugural Big 12 season, and with good reason. The Mountaineers have reeled off seven straight seasons of nine or more wins, boasting double-digit win totals four times during that span. In his first season at the helm, former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen seamlessly implemented his high-flying attack last year and returns to the Big 12 with the conference’s most potent offense. Another big reason for West Virginia’s high hopes is the return of nine starters — including senior quarterback Geno Smith, senior receiver Tavon Austin and junior receiver Stedman Bailey — from an offense that ranked fifth in the nation in passing last season.
No. 8 Oregon
One season removed from the Oregon Ducks’ first Rose Bowl win since 1917 and two years removed from their first national title game appearance, Oregon now faces the challenge of replacing quarterback Darron Thomas, leading rusher and Heisman Trophy-finalist LaMichael James and two of its top three receivers. The Ducks have a solid replacement for James, senior running back Kenjon Barner and return two productive receivers — electric sophomore De’Anthony Thomas and junior Josh Huff — but have an open competition at quarterback between sophomore Bryan Bennett and redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota. Bennett was projected to be Thomas’ replacement, as he received playing time in eight games last year including a start against Colorado, but Mariota outplayed him in the spring game, setting the stage for a fierce competition this fall.
No. 7 Georgia
Coach Mark Richt was on the hot seat after a shaky start last season and lackluster 2009 and 2010 campaigns, but Georgia turned things around by winning 10 straight to end the regular season before losing its final two, despite leading in both games. Sophomore running back Isaiah Crowell’s dismissal from the team hurts the Bulldogs, but the return of junior quarterback Aaron Murray and nine starters from the nation’s third-ranked defense last season, including pass-rush specialist junior linebacker Jarvis Jones, still make the ‘Dawgs a favorite to win the SEC’s weaker East division and a national title contender.
No. 6 Arkansas
Arkansas faced some very public turmoil this offseason, losing (former) coach Bobby Petrino to scandal. However, quarterback Tyler Wilson is still around, following a season where he became the first Razorback signal-caller to ever be named All-SEC first team. Wilson threw for 3,638 yards with 24 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Wilson lead an offense that was top 15 in passing yards and points scored per game. The Razorbacks have one of the toughest schedules in the country this season, facing off with Alabama, LSU and South Carolina. Wilson should be able to lead them to victory in at least one if not two of those games, and if he does, someone other than LSU or Alabama could emerge as the SEC champs.