Friday, June 22, 2012

5 Teams That Could End The SEC's Championship Run

I do not think I have to tell any actual college football fan that the SEC has been absolutely dominant over the last several years. The last non-SEC champion was during the 2005 season when Texas defeated USC 41-38. Personally, I think the SEC bias was too strong last year and Oklahoma State should have had the chance to play in the championship game but that is a debate for another day. Still, there is no debating that the SEC has been nearly unstoppable over the last six years. Their reign could continue this year as well, with LSU, Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia all pre-season top 10 teams. However, there are plenty of other teams out there that think this year is their year. I have narrowed the field down to four strong contenders and one surprise contender to unseat the SEC. I will start at the most likely and work my way down.

Will Matt Barkley and the USC Trojans be hoisting the
crystal ball at the end of the 2012 season?
1. Southern California - this is not a shocking pick for the team most likely to stop the SEC's run. Matt Barkley, arguably the best quarterback in college football and possible future number one pick, returns for his senior year. Along with Barkley, USC returns two 1,000 yard receivers in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. They also bring back their 1,000 yard rusher Curtis McNeal. All four offensive weapons guarantee the Trojans offense is going to be potent in 2012. On the other side of the ball, USC returns their four leaders in interceptions in 2011, their top five tackling leaders and their top five sack leaders from the previous year.  The Trojans defense is returning players with experience at nearly every position. With experience on both sides of the ball, USC has to be the non-SEC favorites to make the championship game. Looking at their schedule, the three hardest games for the Trojans are vs Oregon, at Stanford and vs Notre Dame. If they make it to the Pac-12 championship game, the Trojans may also have to face Oregon or Stanford again. They have a tough enough out of conference and in conference schedule to make it to the BCS Championship game, if they make it out unscathed. 

2. Oklahoma Sooners - Oklahoma will go as far as Landry Jones will take them. If he has a Heisman like year, they can make it out of the Big 12 and into the National Championship game. Similar to Southern California, the Sooners will rely on their offense to carry them throughout the season. Jones lost his leading receiver Ryan Broyles to the NFL but will still have Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds who were second and third in yards last year. The Sooners will also have their top two running backs available in 2012. If Landry Jones can keep his interceptions down, the Sooners can be a dangerous team. On the defense, Oklahoma returns their top two defensive backs, two starting line backers and three defensive lineman. If the Sooners are going to make it out of the pass oriented Big 12 they will need improved play from their defensive backs. Oklahoma's out of conference schedule is easy with their hardest game coming against Notre Dame on October 27th. Despite an easy schedule out of conference, their Big 12 conference is ridiculously hard. They play Kansas State on September 22nd, Texas on October 13th, at West Virginia on November 17th, Oklahoma State on November 24th and finally at Texas Christian on December 1st. With suck a hard in conference schedule, the Sooners could be candidates for the BCS Championship game even if they lose once. I cannot wait to see how the new look Big 12 shakes out. 

3. Florida State Seminoles - Florida State was a huge disappointment in 2011. The Seminoles started the season ranked 6th in the AP poll, but by the end had lost four games, were third in the ACC's Atlantic division and were ranked 23rd. Florida State has high hopes again in 2012 as they try to return to their prominence of the 1990s. In order to get to the championship game, they will have to rely on EJ Manuel to not only stay healthy but also have a stellar season. He has plenty of receiving help this year as Rashad Greene (So), Rodney Smith (Sr), Christian Green (So), Kenny Shaw (So) and Willie Haulstead (Jr) join soon to be star Kelvin Benjamin (Fr). The 'Noles will have to rely on their passing game as it looks like they have yet to establish a number one running back. Devonta Freeman took the most carries last year but has yet to solidify the top spot for 2012. Even without an efficient run game, they should not have a problem moving the ball. On defense, Florida State returns nine starters Brandon Jenkins (DE), Bjoern Werner (DE), Everette Dawkins (DT), Anthony McCloud (DT), Christian Jones (DE), Vincent Williams (LB), Greg Reid (CB), Xavier Rhodes (CB), and Lamarcus Joyner (S) all return. The potential star on the defensive side of the ball is defensive end Brandon Jenkins who had 8.0 sacks, 12 tackles for a loss and 41 total tackles in 2011. Florida State has also been compiling great recruiting classes over the last few years and the talent is starting to hit the field. Expect a number of freshman to contribute for the Noles in 2012. Finally, another reason to consider Florida State as possible BCS champions is their schedule. Their hardest games come Sept. 22 versus Clemson, Oct. 20 at Miami, Nov. 8 at Virginia Tech, Nov 24 versus Florida and, if they make it, Dec. 1 in the ACC Championship game where they could face Virginia Tech or Miami again. 

Will the Oregon Mascot have reason to celebrate
in Eugene this year?
4. Oregon Ducks - Oregon is our first team that will not rely on a potential Heisman candidate to carry their team. The Ducks will continue to count on their speed to win them games. They have two speedsters at running back in Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas who will make Ducks' fans forget about LaMichael James. Currently, it looks like the Ducks are headed into the fall with Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota battling for the starting quarterback job. Bennett is a the faster player between the two but Mariota has a better pocket presence. There is no doubt that Oregon and Chip Kelly will run a no huddle, incredibly fast offense again in 2012. The defense is bringing back seven starters from last year. The two biggest question for Oregon headed into the 2012 season is whether or not the Freshman can play with poise in big games throughout the season and if they can stop Matt Barkley. Oregon's out of conference schedule may be one of the easiest in the nation as they face Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech. However, their Pac 12 schedule will be difficult again as they head to Southern California on November 3 and Stanford on November 17. If the Ducks win the North division of the Pac 12 they will most likely face Southern California and Matt Barkley one more time on November 30 in the Pac 12 championship game. 

5. Kansas State Wildcats - Ah, we have made it to my surprise pick for the 2012 BCS Championship game. While I think the four teams above have higher chances than the Wildcats, they are still being overlooked headed into the season. In May, ESPN created their "way too early top 25" (there is no such thing as too early) and put Kansas State at 18th. I think by the end of the season, the Wildcats will be a top 10 team. They have a number of big games that they will need to win in order to be in the hunt for the BCS Championship game but I think they have the players to win those games. 

Will Collin Klein lead the Wildcats to the BCS
Championship game and become the school's first
ever Heisman trophy winner?
To start, I believe Collin Klein can be this year's Robert Griffin III. Anyone who watched a lot of the Big 12 in 2011 should already know about Collin Klein. Last year, the Wildcats averaged 31.8 points per game for 34th best in the nation. Klein is a dual threat quarterback who is happy to run if the pocket is collapsing. In 2011, Klein ran the ball 317 times, which was the most of any quarterback in college football (75 more attempts than the closest QB). Klein ran for 1,141 yards and 27 touchdowns, along with passing for 1,918 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2011. If Klein continues to improve he could easily surpass 50 total touchdowns in 2012. The Wildcats will have to hope Klein plays like a Heisman candidate if they want to win the Big 12. Another article will be coming highlighting some darkhorse candidates for Heisman, but right now, Klein is definitely in my top 5. It is easy to throw out Matt Barkley or Landry Jones, but Collin Klein can compete for the Heisman as well.

If Kansas State is going to make a run towards winning the Big 12, this might be their only year. Collin Klein is a senior. Their top running back, John Hubert is a Junior. Their top two receivers, Chris Harper (Sr) and Tramaine Thompson (Jr) are finishing their collegiate careers as well. Overall, the Wildcats return nine starters to the offensive side of the ball. They have a similar story on the other side with seven returning to defense. Cornerback Nigel Malone, returns for his senior year after leading the team with seven interceptions in 2011. Their top two sack leaders in Meshak Williams (7 sacks) and Adam Davis (4 sacks) also return for their senior years. Their defense will be improved again this year so many players returning. Experience will lead this team on both sides of the ball as they try to capture their first Big 12 Championship since 2003. 

Being in the Big 12, the Wildcats have a tough in conference schedule and have added Miami on September 8 to bolster their out of conference schedule. In the Big 12, K-State has to visit Oklahoma on Sept. 22, West Virginia on Oct. 20, Oklahoma State on Nov. 3, TCU on Nov. 10 and end their season by visiting Texas on Dec. 1. If Klein plays up to his potential, Kansas State could be a hard team to stop and run through the Big 12. This conference will definitely be one of the more interesting to watch this season. Conference previews will come throughout the summer. 

Notable others who could make it: West Virginia, Michigan, TCU, Wisconsin and Clemson. 

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