Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 8/20/13
  The Tailgater: College Football Top 25 Breakdown, 2013 Preseason The Tailgater crew is back for another season of college football coverage, and it feels like it has been way too long since Alabama was routing Notre Dame for the penultimate BCS crown. I’m here for a fifth season of coverage with John Mitchell and Zach Bigalke, firing up the grill and cracking a brew as we take a look at how we have the top teams stacked up before the season kicks off. First, here is a look at how each of us has ranked the teams on our individual ballots: Zach Bigalke John Mitchell Matt Strobl 1. Alabama 2. Stanford 3. Ohio State 4. Oregon 5. Clemson 6. Georgia 7. Louisville 8. Oklahoma State 9. Texas A&M 10. Boise State 11. South Carolina 12. Michigan 13. TCU 14. Florida State 15. Baylor 16. Florida 17. LSU 18. Notre Dame 19. Nebraska 20. UCLA 21. Northwestern 22. Northern Illinois 23. Oregon State 24. Fresno State 25. UTSA 1. Alabama 2. Stanford 3. Oregon 4. Ohio State 5. South Carolina 6. Georgia 7. Clemson 8. Texas A&M 9. LSU 10. Louisville 11. Florida 12. Michigan 13. Texas 14. Oklahoma State 15. Notre Dame 16. Florida State 17. Oklahoma 18. TCU 19 Boise State 20. Oregon State 21. Nebraska 22. Northwestern 23. UCLA 24. Kansas State 25. Miami (FL) 1. Alabama 2. Stanford 3. Ohio State 4. Georgia 5. Oregon 6. South Carolina 7. Texas A&M  8. Clemson 9. LSU 10. Florida State 11. Florida 12. Oklahoma 13. Oklahoma State 14. Louisville 15. TCU 16. Texas 17. Michigan 18. Notre Dame 19. Boise State 20. UCLA 21. Nebraska 22. USC 23. Michigan State 24. Kansas State 25. Oregon State When you tally the ballots, here is how they combine to rank the teams we expect to compete for division and conference championships: 1 Alabama (3) 75 2 Stanford 72 3 Ohio State 68 4 Oregon 66 5 Georgia 62 6 Clemson 58 7 South Carolina 56 8 Texas A&M 54 9 Louisville 47 10 LSU 43 10 Oklahoma State 43 12 Florida 40 13 Florida State 38 14 Michigan 37 15 TCU 32 16 Boise State 30 17 Notre Dame 27 18 Oklahoma 23 18 Texas 23 20 Nebraska 17 21 UCLA 15 22 Baylor 11 23 Oregon State 10 24 Northwestern 9 25 Kansas State 4 25 NIU 4 25 USC 4 Others receiving votes: Michigan State 3, Fresno State 2, UTSA 1, Miami (FL) 1 So now that we know the teams, what do we think of each of them? Read further as we break down all 27 teams that earned at least four points in our preseason ballots; this accounts for our “Top 25″, including ties. (Each writer will be noted by his initials after each breakdown.) 1. Alabama Led by third-year starting quarterback AJ McCarron and a load of weapons at the skill positions, Alabama’s offensive will be scary. With CJ Mosley anchoring the defense along with a plethora of talent around him, Alabama is the favorite to win it all for the third straight year. (JM) 2. Stanford Returning 15 starters from the squad that knocked off Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last season, the Cardinal will look to sophomore QB Kevin Hogan to improve their overall offensive numbers (70th in scoring, 84th in total yards in 2012) in his first full season as the starter. The defense will remain stingy enough that Hogan won’t have to be a world-beater, though, and the only thing that should stand between Stanford and a shot at the BCS title is going to be Pac-12 North rival Oregon. (ZB) 3. Ohio State An undefeated campaign in his debut season was impressive, but thanks to NCAA sanctions Urban Meyer was left watching the postseason from the sidelines. Now, with a clean slate, he’ll look to duplicate that success and take the Buckeyes back to the Big Ten Championship and a BCS berth. With plenty of key elements back in action, including maturing dual-threat QB Braxton Miller and emerging superstar linebacker Ryan Shazier, Ohio State is clearly the class of the conference and one of the nation’s strongest programs. There will be a lot of new faces defensively, and the Bucks will have to avoid a stumble if they want to get to the BCS title game in Pasadena. (MS) 4. Oregon The Ducks lost head coach Chip Kelly to the NFL during the offseason, but promoted OC Mark Helfrich should enjoy a smooth transition into his new leadership role. Though RB Kenjon Barner is gone, Oregon returns plenty of talent to its top-five offense, including preseason Heisman hopefuls Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas. The defense, which must replace Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and several other key contributors, remains the biggest question mark in Eugene. (ZB) 5. Georgia Eight starters return on offense led by quarterback Aaron Murray and running back Todd Gurley. The question mark is defensively with the Bulldogs returning only three starters from last season’s team. The defense will have to mature quickly if Georgia wants to make a return trip to the SEC Championship Game. (JM) 6. Clemson Clemson’s record-setting quarterback Tajh Boyd is back again, and has 80 percent of his starting offensive line from last year intact. Throw in the dynamic Sammy Watkins and the Tigers’ offense should be highly productive. They team will need to replace RB Andre Ellington, but the only true question marks fall on the defensive side. With six top tacklers returning, Clemson has the experience to capture another ACC title, so long as the Tigers don’t revert to their old habit of disappointing in the face of high expectations. (MS) 7. South Carolina Led by Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina may have the best defense in the country, which should more than make up for their deficiencies on offense. At quarterback, either senior Connor Shaw or junior Dylan Thompson will have to step up if the Gamecocks want to win the SEC’s Eastern division. (JM) 8. Texas A&M Questions hinge on Johnny Manziel’s eligibility for next season, but if he can play then there’s none better in college football. The big question mark for A&M will be the offensive line in front of Manziel after losing Luke Joeckel, and then defensively having to replace the pass rushing presence of Damontre Moore. (JM) 9. Louisville With superstar QB Teddy Bridgewater under center and a fairly soft schedule, the Cards have a decent shot at running the table. The season opener against Ohio can’t be overlooked, but that aside, games against Rutgers and at Cincinnati are the only ones that could be considered tests. It’s hard to imagine that Lousiville won’t be the inaugural American Athletic Conference Champ. (MS) 10(t). LSU LSU was ravaged by early entrees to the NFL Draft and return only three starters defensively. There’s plenty of talent on that side of the ball, and defensive coordinator John Chavis is one of the best in the business. The fate of the Tigers’ season will hinge on senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger. (JM) 10(t). Oklahoma State Regardless of whether senior Clint Chelf or sophomore J.W. Walsh starts at quarterback for the Cowboys, they are going to score a lot of points. Their hopes of winning the Big 12 will hinge on if they can improve defensively. Fortunately for them, they get Kansas State, TCU, Baylor, and Oklahoma, potentially their biggest challenges for the Big 12 crown, all at home. (JM) 12. Florida Florida has to replace eight starters defensively, but they should be fine on that side of the ball. Can junior quarterback Jeff Driskel help the Gators score enough points on offense for them to make it to Atlanta and potentially Pasadena? The loss of Andre Debose, one of the best playmakers on Florida’s offense, was devastating to those hopes. (JM) 13. Florida State Jimbo Fisher is still trying to escape Bobby Bowden’s shadow; was last year’s 12-2 mark merely a tease, or a sign of things to come? It’s tough to tell, given how much FSU has to replace. Four o-lineman return, but redshirt freshman Jameis Winston and sophomore Jacob Coker will battle to take over for E.J. Manuel under center. Plus, the defense brings back only four starters. This will be a true test of whether the ‘Noles can reload versus rebuild. (MS) 14. Michigan With spark plug Denard Robinson gone, the Wolverines will need to find a new identity in 2013. Luckily, Devin Gardner is more than prepared to handle QB duties and both tackles are back to protect the edges. Two big questions on offense: Can Fitz Toussaint can bounce back from a serious leg injury to lead an effective ground game? And will an inexperienced interior lead to o-line struggles. Defensively, Michigan should be solid if not spectacular; Jake Ryan’s recovery from a spring ACL tear could be a big factor. Regardless, the Wolverines should vie with Nebraska for the Legends Division win. (MS) 15. TCU The Horned Frogs welcome back Casey Pachall under center after a season rehabilitating his life. Getting a second chance as a redshirt senior, Pachall could be the X-factor that leads TCU to its first-ever Big XII crown. With nine starters returning to a defense that ranked either first or second in the conference in all categories, Gary Patterson has the opportunity to lead TCU back to its third BCS appearance in five years if the offense can improve on its mediocre performance of 2012. (ZB) 16. Boise State In its first year after Kellen Moore’s graduation as the all-time leader in FBS victories for a quarterback, the Broncos stumbled in their season opener and again to San Diego State to once again narrowly miss out on a third BCS berth. Joe Southwick has a year under his belt as Moore’s replacement, though he will have to distinguish himself in a surprisingly-stacked field of MWC signal callers. Chris Petersen’s defense should remain among the ten best in college football. (ZB) 17. Notre Dame The Fighting Irish were exposed in the BCS championship against Alabama, lost several key players in the offseason and enter 2013 with plenty of question marks. But Notre Dame was also a sleeper in 2012, and while the team lost a couple of incredible defensive stalwarts it still returns eight starters from a top-ten unit that was the key cog in an undefeated regular season. If Brian Kelly can once again patch together his QB situation, the Irish could once again threaten the national picture. (ZB) 18(t). Texas Texas is talented and experienced enough to win the Big 12 with 17 returning starters from 2012, but they’ve underperformed expectations every year since they lost to Alabama in the BCS Championship. A nine win season last year was a step in the right direction, and if junior quarterback David Ash can take the next step forward, then Mack Brown could lead the Longhorns back to the BCS. (JM) 18(t). Oklahoma Are you ready for the Belldozer? With Landry Jones gone, Blake Bell is the man in Norman, and it will be interesting to see whether the hybrid (dare we say Tebow-esque?) QB can handle a full-time role. If he falters, Trevor Knight or Kendal Thompson will get a crack at the job. But perhaps more importantly, Big Game Bob Stoops needs to get his defense back on track. Last year OU ranked 64th in total D, 70th in sacks, and 89th against the rush. Without an improved presence up front, the Sooners could struggle to take the Big 12 title away from contenders like Texas, OSU, Baylor, and TCU. (MS) 20. Nebraska The ‘Huskers are expected to battle Michigan for a trip to the Big Ten title game, but having to go to Ann Arbor means a big-time road test for Taylor Martinez and company. Rex Burkhead and both starting defensive ends are gone, leaving coach Bo Pelini with plenty to do; while the offense should pick up where it left off (think top 10 rushing attack with just enough passing thrown in), the defense needs to step up, big time. Last year, the ‘Huskers coughed up better that 192 yards per game on the ground on average, including a whopping 539 to Wisconsin in the title game. (MS) 21. UCLA The Bruins stole back the battle of Los Angeles from USC last season, and Jim Mora’s crew looks like a front-runner for the Pac-12 South title once again in 2013. Brett Hundley returns to guide one of the top offenses in an offense-heavy conference, and the loss of five starters from last year’s 76th-ranked defense could prove a blessing in disguise. If they survive their trip to Lincoln on Sept. 14, the Bruins could be 5-0 when they face Stanford in a Pac-12 championship rematch on Oct. 19. (ZB) 22. Baylor We all remember what RGIII accomplished at Baylor, and Nick Florence was incredibly productive. But now the Bears turn to Bryce Petty to keep the offensive juggernaut rolling. He’ll be able to fall back on RB Lache Seastrunk, but offensive line questions loom for coach Art Briles. Still, those doubts pale in comparison to defensive concerns. Baylor’s “stop unit” was laughable last season, ranking 119th in the country and surrendering 502 yards and 37 points per game. With major flaws in the secondary, no pass rush to speak of, and a weakness against the run, Baylor has little to build on. Plus, the Bears face OU, Tech, OSU, TCU, and Texas to wrap up the year. There’s no clear-cut favorite in the Big 12, but if the Bears want the conference, they’ll need to figure out how to defend. (MS) 23. Oregon State The Beavers were one of the pleasant surprises of 2012, as Mike Riley’s offense staff managed to turn the Vaz/Mannion QB carousel into a top-20 passing attack. Oregon State returns 15 starters and plays a much easier out-of-conference schedule. They’ll still have a hard time breaking the Stanford/Oregon hegemony at the top of the Pac-12 North, but the Beavers could still reasonably reach the 10-win mark for the first time since 2006. (ZB) 24. Northwestern Pat Fitzgerald might just be the Big Ten’s best coach in terms of getting the most out of his team, and some experts are picking the ‘Cats to surprise this year. But with always-loaded teams like Nebraska and Michigan in front of them, it will be an uphill battle. Senior QB Kain Colter and senior tailback Venric Mark form a nice offensive foundation, but both the o-line and d-line are up in the air. Play in the trenches could be an issue. Worse, Northwestern has a schedule problem. Ohio State and Wisconsin open the Wildcats’ Big Ten slate, and a division matchup at Nebraska starts a tough three-game stretch that includes Michigan and MSU. Another 10-win season might be a challenge. (MS) 25(t). Kansas State Replacing Collin Klein will be tough, but we’ve learned not to underestimate Bill Snyder, who completely turned around the Kansas State program, again, in just two short years. The Wildcats still return 8 starters offensively, but must replace 9 starters on a defense that was exposed a bit down the stretch in 2012. (JM) 25(t). Northern Illinois NIU became the first MAC team to bust the BCS last season, going to the Orange Bowl only to get squeezed by Florida State 31-10. QB Jordan Lynch, who had a record-setting campaign in 2012 in his first year replacing Chandler Harnish, returns to lead a veteran offense that ranked in the top 20 in both scoring and total yards last year. Rod Carey, promoted to head coach after Dave Doeren’s defection to NC State prior to the bowl game last year, will have a tough task replacing seven defensive starters. (ZB) 25 (t). USC The Trojans have far more modest expectations after starting last year as the top team in the AP poll. USC has started to feel the effects of its NCAA sanctions, and head coach Lane Kiffin no longer has Matt Barkley to run his pro-style offense. Whoever wins the QB competition will have Marqise Lee and a slew of other skilled players to catch passes, but while the Trojans return plenty of talent they probably lack the depth to beat teams like Stanford, Arizona State, Notre Dame and Oregon State. (ZB)
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