As another off season of College Football material kicks off, this year marks the third year I’ll throw my hat in the ring and look at a number of topics and categories. In the process I’ll look to do everything from predicting next year’s 25 best teams, identify the games of the year, narrow down the Heisman field, identify those replacing 2012′s stars and ultimately make predictions for each league, culminating in a national championship pick. They’ll be many things I’ll be ridiculed for. There will be a number of things that will surprise some people. Ultimately you’ll come away from the next 6 months of material as ready for the college football season as I can possibly make you. While I’ll be sure to miss on things I would like to remind the skeptics I did correctly predict the same number of bowl teams preseason as Phil Steele a year ago as well as top him in BCS Bowl participants predicted before the year. Nonetheless I’m not putting out any magazines soon so keep buying his for the top preseason coverage available.
The key in any top 25 poll is understanding the premise on which the poll is based because not all top 25 polls are built the same way. Some people choose to rank teams 1-25 based on where they think teams will be ranked at year’s end. If they think a team will lose 5 games they won’t rank them. While that may seem logical I’ve never been a proponent of that style of poll and it has never been, nor will ever be, how I choose to do my top 25 polls. My polls reflect the 25 teams entering 2013 who I think are the top 25 teams on a neutral field if the country played a round-robin. If a team is likely to max out at 7 wins that doesn’t give me the urge to rank a nine-win team over them if the nine-win team is from a much weaker league. With that covered, let us jump into the top 25 for 2013 as the official kickoff of the off season coverage here at The Sports Headquarters.
However, before we jump into number 25, here’s five teams who just missed the cut:
Nebraska: Defense under Pelini has struggled mightily the past couple seasons and now has massive overhauls on both sides of the ball. I’ve never been a big Taylor Martinez guy either. One thing in their favor is a fairly favorable Big 10 schedule.
Kansas State: Defense is gutted and the offense loses Collin Klein. Last year I had Kansas State ranked in the teens entering the year but finishing 5th in the Big 12 due to the schedule set up. Bill Snyder seems to always find ways to work wonders though and there is some talent back on offense in Tyler Lockett and John Hubert.
Michigan: The offense takes some hits especially on the offensive line. Denard Robinson is gone and the running game was a disappointment in 2012. I didn’t like them at all entering 2012 and their season reflected my expectations. Nonetheless Brady Hoke has enough respect from me to not completely disregard their potential.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels lose Giovani Bernard and stud offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper but have an experienced defense coming back as well as playmakers at the wide receiver position. Larry Fedora’s offensive brains will get another chance to show its potential.
Arizona: Rich Rodriguez exceeded expectations in year one at Arizona and while Matt Scott must be replaced Austin Hill is back as well as an entire defense from 2012. The Wildcats will have to be much better on the defensive side of the ball if they want to contend in the PAC-12 South. This comes down to me thinking the QB position in Rich Rod’s system is one that can be replaced without much issue and a MAJOR IF relies on the availability of RB Ka’Deem Carey following his arrest for domestic violence. If Carey were to go or miss time, this team’s rank would take a significant drop.
With those teams now covered, lets jump into the top 25 with the #25 team in the country.
*All Returning Starters figures come from Phil Steele’s blog.
#25. Fresno State Bulldogs
2012 Record: 9-4
Conference Finish: Tied for 1st in Mountain West
Bowl: Lost Hawaii Bowl 43-10 to SMU
2013 Returning Starters: 7 offense, 6 defense
With the loss of Robbie Rouse from the backfield entering 2013, the Bulldogs would have been in a world of hurt had Derek Carr elected to forgo his senior season and bolt for the NFL draft. Yes, the younger brother of David Carr announced after the regular season finale last season that he would return for his senior season and hold off on NFL dreams despite praise from coaches around the country. There may not have been a bigger advocate for Carr to turn pro than former NFL assistant Troy Calhoun at Air Force who said after Fresno State’s drubbing of Air Force 48-15 that Carr was “as NFL ready as NFL gets.” With Carr back in the fold the Bulldogs can absorb the loss of Rouse who ran for just under 1,5oo yards a season ago including eight 100+ yard games. Marteze Waller figures to be the man to get the job for Fresno as the one carryover from 2012 who received any semblance of carries. However Rouse carried a heavy load carrying the ball 282 times a season ago. With only 41 carries in his freshman season, 28 coming in two of the six games he appeared in. Needless to say the Bulldogs will be very inexperienced at the RB position which is why the receiving core talent coming back is big.
Fresno State had seven players catch at least 20 passes last season and five of them are coming back. Included in that group is Carr’s two favorite wideouts Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse. While Burse had a more than respectable season with 57 catches for 851 yards and six touchdowns, it will be the sophomore Adams who gives coaches and defensive backs fits. As a freshman Adams exploded as an all-conference performer with 102 catches for 1,312 yards and 14 scores. After a slow start he finished the year with a TD catch in each of the final eight games and went over 80 yards in each of the final six. The Bulldogs passing attack ranked 12th in the nation a year ago and you have to wonder if the loss of Rouse will hurt that or if a unit that features four upperclassmen and Adams has another gear they can kick it into. Up front the Bulldogs return three offensive linemen but the unit must be better than in 2012 if Fresno State will live up to its offensive potential. Even with the brilliance of Rouse the Bulldogs ranked 67th in rush offense and were 78th nationally in sacks allowed, a foreshadowing for the Hawaii Bowl where SMU’s defensive line dominated them.
Fresno State’s Achilles Heel in 2012 was the front seven against the run, an area they struggled time and time again giving up 172 yards per game on the ground. Working in its benefit in 2013 is the return of Tyeler Davison and Andy Jennings, two all-conference performers a year ago. After a season in which the Bulldogs ranked ninth in the country in sacks the team, the duo up front must be more disruptive in the run game as Davison registered six tackles for a loss a year ago along with a couple of sacks. Fresno State’s staff has pushed for a more aggressive attack on the defensive front in its 3-4 scheme but it wound up exposing a linebackers core that in 2013 will only return two starters. In the secondary Fresno State will greatly miss the departure of Philip Thomas, its stud safety who doubled as the team’s top tackler and biggest ball hawk. With eight interceptions on the year Thomas was an unanimous All-American and runner-up for the Thorpe Award.
With that said the secondary does return three starters from a unit that ranked second against the pass (a little deceiving given the run defense woes), and Derron Smith now takes over the leadership role on the backside. The Bulldogs will start three upperclassmen and figure to again be a difficult group to throw on, which if the Bulldogs do get the run defense together could make this unit a group to watch come league play next season.
While the full schedule for Fresno State isn’t released we know nine of the twelve games already and can say Fresno State should enter 2013 as the favorite in its division of the Mountain West. Joining Fresno State in the “West” division are San Jose State, Nevada, Hawaii, San Diego State and UNLV. The Spartans and Wolfpack both figure to provide a stiff challenge to Fresno State with the location of the games proving pivotal. Outside the league the Bulldogs Rutgers and Cal Poly at home to open the year before traveling to play Colorado and Idaho. If Fresno State gets by Rutgers at home in the opener, it has a pretty good chance to enter league play unbeaten. A nine win season seems very plausible for this team with 10 wins not out of the equation depending how the Bulldogs address the inexperience at running back and issues in the front seven defensively.
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