The Crimson Tide might have had better talent last season, but much of it was wet behind the ears. Nick Saban needs a quarterback to come through, but overall he has the horses to win a second BCS crown in three years.
The Sooners have a quarterback in Landry Jones who could lead a team to a national title. Seven starters return on defense. Big game early on when Bob Stoops takes his team to Tallahassee to play Florida State. Other toughie is in Norman against Texas A&M.
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The Tigers won't need many Les Miles miracles (Milacles) to be a national contender this season. Only question is quarterback Jordan Jefferson, and how he will handle the transition after new offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe had to relinquish play-calling duties because of Parkinson's disease.
The Ducks came within one victory of taking home the crystal trophy last season. Powerhouse back LaMichael James is back along with quarterback Darron Thomas. Chip Kelly needs his big fellows in the trenches to come through to make another run at a title.
5. Boise State
Most of the time, you must have a great quarterback to win the national title. Boise has a great college quarterback in lefty Kellen Moore. The Broncos also have a 1,200-yard rusher in Doug Martin. Key game is the season opener against Georgia in the Georgia Dome.
6. Virginia Tech
Sophomore quarterback Logan Thomas must come through, but the Hokies have the talent on defense to take Frank Beamer's team a long way. Linebacker Bruce Taylor and defensive back Jayron Hosley are the stars. Running back David Wilson will help Thomas on offense. Tech should win the ACC.
7. Texas A &M
SEC or Big 12, the Aggies would be hard to handle in any conference. Mike Sherman has done an excellent job in rebuilding the Aggies, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill should have A&M in a position to challenge Oklahoma for the conference crown. That would be the Big 12 conference.
8. Florida State
Jimbo Fisher injected some fresh air into the Seminoles last year, but quarterback Christian Ponder is now with the Vikings. His replacement, the athletic E.J. Manuel, is already 4-2 as a starter.
9. South Carolina
Steve Spurrier finally has it going in Columbia. The Gamecocks won the SEC East last year. Star running back Marcus Lattimore returns. So does all-star wideout Alshon Jeffery, and oft-suspended quarterback Stephen Garcia. Key will be the South Carolina defense, which figures to get a boost from true freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.10. TCU
The Horned Frogs lost some key performers off last year's Rose Bowl-winning team, but Gary Patterson should again field a nasty defense. Now, he needs to find a quarterback to replace Andy Dalton. Sophomore Casey Pachall is the leading candidate. Some believe he is more talented than Dalton.
The Cardinal has the best quarterback in college football in Andrew Luck. Strike that. The best player in college football. But the program must transition from the loss of high-energy Coach Jim Harbaugh to the NFL. Key will be finding replacements on the offensive line to keep Luck on his feet.
12. Southern Cal
The Trojans are coming off an 8-5 year in Lane Kiffin's first season, but there is still plenty of talent on campus. Quarterback Matt Barkley is back, as is star wide receiver Robert Woods. If USC's defense comes through, Kiffin can have his team in position to challenge for the newly expanded Pac-12 crown.
13. Notre Dame
For those reveling in the Irish's recent struggles, the fun may be over. The ND defense figures to be rock solid. And Brian Kelly knows how to coach offense. If he can settle on a quarterback early, and wideout Michael Floyd overcomes a tumultuous off-season, the Luck of the Irish may return.
The Cornhuskers would love nothing better than celebrating their first season in the Big Ten by winning the Big Ten. The defense is strong up front, but the key is quarterback Taylor Martinez, who is often the whipping boy of Coach Bo Pelini. New offensive coordinator Tim Beck hopes to help Martinez with that.
The Badgers picked up a summer gift when former North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson enrolled as a post-graduate student in Madison. Star tailbacks James White and Montee Ball return to help the cause. Tough test will be back-to-back road games at Michigan State and Ohio State.
16. Ohio State
It's hard to know just how the Buckeyes will react to their dramatic off-season. Coach Jim Tressel is gone. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor is gone. The new man in charge is 37-year-old Luke Fickell, and no one outside Columbus had heard of him before this past spring. Ohio State still has talent. But it also has a ton of new faces.
Mark Richt is feeling a little heat down in Athens, but a freshman running back named Isaiah Crowell could turn things around for the Bulldogs. Richt already has a top-notch quarterback in sophomore Aaron Murray. Key will be the opening game against Boise State in Atlanta. A Georgia win there could propel the Dawgs to better things.18. Oklahoma State
Wide receiver Justin Blackmon is the real deal. And quarterback Brandon Weeden can get Blackmon the football. The big question in Stillwater is how well the Cowboys will adapt to the loss of play-caller Dana Holgorsen, now the head coach at West Virginia. But Weeden does have all five of his offensive line starters back. That's a good place to start.
Bobby Petrino caught a tough break in pre-season when Knile Davis, possibly the best running back in the SEC, was lost for the year to a broken ankle. A similar scenario happened to Petrino when he lost Michael Bush to a broken leg in the first game of Louisville's season in 2006. U of L still finished 12-1. But Petrino is in a tougher league now.
20. Mississippi State
Dan Mullen has the Maroon on the move. The Bulldogs blasted Michigan in last year's Gator Bowl, and return quarterback Chris Relf, plus running back Vick Ballard. Mullen did lose defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to Texas, but MSU has some talent on defense. New DC Chris Wilson needs to find some linebackers.
21. Penn State
The Nittany Lions are coming off a down 7-6 season last year, but Coach Joe Paterno hasn't lost any of his fight. He was injured early in practice, but came back quickly. He hopes the same for his team, which does have a tough close to the regular-season — at Ohio State and at Wisconsin.
Many around the Panthers were puzzled by the late dismissal of Dave Wannstedt last year. The program has talent. Now it's up to new coach Todd Graham to get the most out of that talent. Junior running back Dion Lewis hopes to bounce back from a sophomore season in which he rushed for 738 yards less than the season before.
New Coach Brady Hoke has returned some toughness and the Michigan identity to the Wolverines program after predecessor Rich Rodriguez never quite fit. Quarterback Denard Robinson won't run the football as much this season, but that might be a good thing. Hoke's biggest challenge — rebuilding a defense that was awful under Rich Rod.
24. Southern Miss
Quarterback Austin Davis threw for 3,103 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, and he's back for his senior season. Last year's team was 8-3 before a 56-50 loss at Tulsa in the league title game, then a 31-28 loss to Louisville in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl.
The Longhorns slipped all the way to 5-7 last year, so Mack Brown shook things up. Ex-Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is now directing the defense. Bryan Harsin came over from Boise State to turn the offense. Key will be quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who struggled last year.