Originally posted on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 1/16/12

Alabama may be the defending BCS National Champion, but the Crimson Tide suffered some serious talent loss following that 21-0 dismembering of LSU.

That doesn't mean Nick Saban won't reload in Tuscaloosa, but eight months before the 2012 season begins there are five teams ahead of Bama that return more talent than anyone else in the nation.

Oregon

Even with the unexpected loss of quarterback Darron Thomas to the NFL, the Ducks should be loaded with speedy, athletic players.

Oregon finally got over the BCS hump by winning the Rose Bowl and Chip Kelly's team did this because of young talent like De'Anthony Thomas, Kenjon Barber and John Boyett.

Thomas and Barber will be the keys to one of the nation's most explosive offenses, while Boyett will provide leadership on defense.

Now if Kelly had convinced Thomas to stick around one more season in Eugene, the offense would run like a well-oiled machine next season. Now Bryan Bennett must get ready to take over a season earlier than expected.

Bennett saw some action in 2011, but Kelly will have him ready by fall.

LSU

The Tigers' loss of their top two quarterbacks almost feels like addition by subtraction. So what should be a glaring hole in 2012 could easily be strength as Zach Mettenberger will likely take over at QB.

LSU will have a strong running game again in 2012 with Michael Ford and Spencer Ware back after combining for 1,463 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Mettenberger will probably discover that Odell Beckham Jr. will become his favorite target.

The defense will have some holes to fill, but with DBs Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid returning the unit should be one of the best in the nation again.

It will be interesting to see if the demoralizing loss to Alabama will serve as motivation for the Tigers in 2012.

West Virginia

If the Mountaineers actually stay in the Big East I would actually predict WVU to make a run at the BCS National Championship. The toughest game would be at Florida State (a team the Mountaineers have always struggled with).

But as a betting man, I'm going with WVU in the Big 12. The weekly competition is going to be a bit tougher than the Big East.

The key may be where that Oklahoma game is played. Put it in Morgantown and WVU has a chance.

WVU's talent can't be overlooked, though.

In case you missed the Discover Orange Bowl, the Mountaineers put 70 points on the ACC champion Clemson and the WVU skill players are back.

It starts with quarterback Geno Smith, who will just get better in his second season under Dana Holgorsen. Smith also has a slew of receivers, led by Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and Ivan McCartney.

Don't be shocked if WVU wins the Big 12 in its first season.

USC

USC could have been decimated by early defections, but the only serious loss was OL Matt Kalil.

The big story was QB Matt Barkley choosing to return for Lane Kiffin even though it was clear Barkley was going to be the second quarterback taken in the draft.

Barkley took every snap in 2011, while completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for 3,528 yards and 39 touchdowns.

His top targets Robert Woods and Marqise Lee will be back as well. Barkley will also benefit from having Curtis McNeal repeat his 1,000-yard rushing performance in 2012.

While Barkley was the key player to return, USC will also benefit from the surprise return of DB T.J. McDonald.

The Trojans should once again be among the elite in 2012.

Arkansas

Until Arkansas proves it can handle LSU and Alabama, the Razorbacks won't elevate into the upper echelon.

But it just might happen in 2012.

Bobby Petrino's quarterback Tyler Wilson chose to return for his final season and that is better than any recruit he might get this year.

The other good news is All-SEC running back Knile Davis will return and hopefully be back to 100 percent after the horrific leg injury he suffered in the preseason.

The receiving corps will take a hit with the losses of Greg Childs, Jarius Wright and Joe Adams.

The Razorbacks defense was much improved in 2011, but it still didn't have enough when it came to facing Alabama and LSU.

The defense will lose some key players, including DB Tramain Thomas and LB Jerry Franklin. But the Razorbacks will be led by LB Alonzo Highsmith, DB Eric Bennett and DB Tevin Mitchel.

Honorable mention: Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, Florida State and South Carolina

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