NOTE: This piece is by the sixteen-year old son of jonestopten. He is a year younger than the column itself. Everyone and try and be nice!
Son of Jones Top Ten Season Preview
America is pretty great: freedom, capitalism, war-heroics, innovation, Olympic glory, we like setting the bar high. Yet in this constant pursuit of happiness, the chasing of the American dream, we have failed to give our citizens the luxury of a professional sporting event on every day of the year. Sure, 363/365 days we're just fine. The MLB bleeds into the NFL, which overlaps the NHL and NBA, which both in turn welcome back baseball in the spring. However, during the dreary sports months of summer, the MLB fails to schedule a game every day (because 162 is such a nice, non-arbitrary number they like keeping it that way). They take the days off before and after the all-star break, during a time where the NBA Finals have run their course and the NFL hasn't quite kicked off. It is during these maddening summer months where football fans attempt at mastering the virtue of patience by busying ourselves with vacations, pretending we care about baseball, and (on the lucky occasion) witnessing a spectacle such as the Olympics. Well, it's hard to believe, but we made it.
Welcome back, friends, to season eighteen of the Jones Top Ten: the truth about college football since 1995.
Christopher Nolan made a movie about this football season. It's called "The Dark Knight Rises," you may have seen it. He has done this before, directing "Batman Begins" in 2005 and "The Dark Knight" in 2008. While it may appear on screen that these films are about a cape-wearing vigilante, they actually follow the story of the USC Trojans football program. In "Batman Begins" USC (as portrayed by Christian Bale) reignites their football tradition, winning back-to-back national titles and Heisman trophies. "The Dark Knight" attempts at capturing the story of USC's struggle in playing for another national title, and the rising prominence of the SEC (as played by Heath Ledger) who just want to see the world of college football burn. In the newest release, "The Dark Knight Rises," USC (still under the pseudonym "Batman") achieves eternal glory by saving the world of college football from the dark clutches of Nick Saban (as played by Tom Hardy). After watching the film, this much is clear: Christopher Nolan thinks the Trojans will claim the crystal football in 2013. So do a lot of people.
1. USC- The Trojans return 9 starters on offense, including the best QB in the nation who will have quality targets in Robert Woods and sophomore Marquise Lee. They return 8 of their 10 best OL from a unit that played well last year. On Defense, USC should return to former glory. Their front seven will be a possible question mark after losing 3 starters on the defensive line and having a LB corps that were just freshmen last year, but they return almost their entire secondary as well as acquiring a Florida transfer and JUCO pickup. Oregon at home, and most likely again in the Pac 12 championship, will be their biggest games, and depending on how the rest of the nation fares even going 1-1 against the Ducks could merit a title appearance. (Or, according to the BCS last year, it means they should play each other in the title game).
2. Florida State- It feels like FSU was a relevant football power just yesterday, yet reality tells us they haven't finished in the top 5 since 2000. It's possible Bobby Bowden slowly plunged the program into mediocrity as he aged, maybe because he just got tired of recruiting, but now that powerhouse expectations are beginning to return the Seminoles will need young Jimbo Fisher to reignite some of that coaching magic. How much magic he actually needs is debatable, considering the Seminoles will head into this season with 17 returning starters, including all 4 defensive linemen of a unit that will be this years best, 2/3 LBs (the non-returnee is a senior), and 3 DBs. SS Lamarcus Joyner would like to build on his 2nd team ACC bid from his sophomore season and could help FSU couple a menacing front 7 with a shutdown secondary. Senior QB EJ Manuel won't lose any of his top 4 targets from last year, but with a shaky backfield and OL that is far from elite he will most likely need to rev up his attempts from just over 300 in 2011 (unless the Seminoles score 20 points on the other side of the ball every game, and they might).
3. Alabama- Nick Saban still coaches there, he still recruits, and they are still deep on the defensive side of the ball. AJ McCarron should be a more than competent QB hiding behind an OL returning 4 starters, but the receiving corps and backfield could be a major issue for the Crimson Tide. They lose their top 3 WRs from last year, and the loss of Richardson will hurt them more than Bama fans would like to admit. Their defense will need to be even better than projected for Alabama to return to the national title stage.
4. LSU- As long as no other members of the LSU secondary are suspended for drug violations, they are deep enough to weather the loss of Mathieu. Their defensive line will be ferocious as they return DEs Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery who combined for 17 sacks in 2011, and they sport an experienced unit of linebackers. On offense, their OL has over 100 combined starts and should pave the way for one of the most dangerous backfields in the nation. Unproven QB Zach Mettenger will be better off the less he needs to throw, and with a very tough schedule LSU could struggle in late game situations moving the ball (kind of like how they usually do, shocking). This should be a top-5 squad, but Les Miles is not beyond any of his usual antics and it wouldn't be unheard of for this team to go 9-3.
5. Oregon- Fast on offense, solid on defense has been the mantra of late for Oregon and no signs point to that stopping now (in other words, Nike is doing just fine). Bryan Bennet will attempt to take over the reins of an offense that hopes to be anything but stagnant, but he has help from returning RBs Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, who may be the quickest player in college football. Their offense has the comfort of operating behind an experienced offensive line, and their defense returns the favor with a DL returning 3 starters as well as freshman Arik Armstead who is apparently 6'8" (I guess he doesn't have a go to low-post move). Their secondary features FS John Boyett who has a shot at being an All-American, and they have a competent set of LBs. Oregon should be able to breeze through most of their schedule until they play USC, which, if they win, will give Oregon a chance at a title game appearance.
6. Oklahoma- Remember the good ole' days when the Red River Rivalry decided the Big 12 Champion? Well, in case you don't, it was that way for 7 years until the Okies grew tired of that nonsense and whipped OU in Bedlam 2011. While the Sooners and the Longhorns probably have the best shot at a 2012 conference title, the Big 12 is anything but a top-heavy conference. Landry Jones has plenty to work with: an OL returning 4 starters, quality targets in Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds, and a supporting backfield featuring Dominique Whaley and Roy Finch who both ran for 600 last year. OU's secondary will be the 2nd best in the conference, featuring loads of experience with 4 upperclassmen and 3 returning starters. The Sooners are also capable at the line and behind it, but they are (once again) not suited to suffer any injuries to their front seven. If OU played in the Big East or Big 10 they would go undefeated, but, once again: they don't. Surviving the RRR only makes it halfway home. In their last 6 games the Sooners play the Fighting Irish, Cyclones on the road, have fun trips booked to Morgantown and Fort Worth, and play a blood-in-the-water 2012 edition of Bedlam. Like LSU, this team could face a handful of plays from being 9-3 (or they could go 13-0 and win an 8th national title).
7. Georgia- I like Georgia as this years "team that isn't Alabama or LSU but could still win the SEC", partially because the trend of labeling South Carolina and Arkansas as "that team" is getting old and they never live up to the hype. Mostly though, because Aaron Murray is coming off of back-to-back 3,000-yard seasons and freshman RB Keith Marshall is a top 5 RB from the class of 2012 (he also has a 4.1 GPA which lowers the chance of arrests on weapons charges). The loss of Isaiah Crowell will hurt UGA, but in addition to bringing in a superstar freshman to the position, Georgia returns all of the depth in their backfield. The Dawg's offense could give them a shot at an SEC upset, not to mention a ridiculously experienced defense returning 9 starters (the 2 non-returnees a junior and senior, of the 9 returnees 7 are seniors, the other 2... juniors). Combine this with a breezy schedule and the Bulldogs could be a conference championship upset away from playing for all the marbles: all of them. And they might even win a few.
8. Wisconsin- Hard to leave the team with the best player in the country out of the top 10. Until Matt Barkley or Landry Jones lead their teams to victory, or Marcus Lattimore runs for 33 touchdowns in a season (and catches 6), I will continue to assume Montee Ball is the best player in the country. Unfortunately, he will need to be even better than last year for the Badgers to shake up the BCS, as they field a, what I would call average but will simply describe as "Big 10" defense. However, if Maryland transfer QB Danny O'Brien can find somewhere to throw the ball, Wisky could score enough points every game to win the Big 10. Ball will be running behind an OL that has lost 4 All-Americans in the last 2 years, but don't worry, they still average 6'5" 321, and he could easily rush for 19 more TDs to break the career NCAA record of 73.
9. Michigan- Denard Robinson is pretty good. Good enough to win the Big 10 for the Maize and Blue? If he repeats his sophomore year and runs for 1,700 yards he just might be. Helping Robinson in the backfield is 18th century abolitionist Fitzgerald Toussaint who ran for 1,000 last year, and they will be behind a big OL returning 3 starters. The Wolverines are less impressive on D, returning only DE Craigh Roh to a front 4 that will hardly scare the corn-fed OL of the Big 10. Michigan does return all 3 LBs, 2 of which were only freshman last year, but Sr. MLB Kenny Demens, who led the team in tackles in 2011, will hope to lead the defense to perhaps above Big 10 level. Not helping Michigan's cause is an opener against the Crimson Tide (In the continuing "SEC beats teams from other conferences to start the season" series of games to remind the media who is the best conference) and road games against Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State, but they do get the Spartans at home. In what should be a tumultuous year for the Big 10, Michigan has a shot at surviving and hoping for some BCS recognition.
10-13. Florida, Arkansas, West Virginia, Texas- It feels unnecessary to rank these 4 teams, because every one of them has about an equal shot at winning their respective conference. If Will Muschamp can get it together Florida will have a strong year with improved QB play and a killer Defense. If Tyler Wilson takes the SEC by storm, and Arkansas can mature out of losing games they shouldn't, the Razorbacks should put some pressure on Bama and LSU. If Geno Smith throws for 4,000 yards again and the Mountaineers can beat OU or the Horns they will want tiebreaker discussion for the first edition of a regular-season decided Big 12 trophy. If Texas can like, score points again, their defense is more than good enough to get the Horns back into BCS discussion.
South Carolina- If Marcus Lattimore really is the next big-time SEC feature back he could win a few games for the Gamecocks and hope for some upsets. Or South Carolina could sell out every game to see their team go 8-4.
Ohio State- The Buckeyes aren't eligible for postseason play, but I don't think Urban Meyer is done and he could bring an SEC flavor to a program that hasn't seen the limelight in some time.
Stanford- The Pac 12 isn't that deep, and the Cardinal still have an excellent O-line as well as running game. On the other hand, Oregon and USC are both really good.
Michigan State/Nebraska- There is not much separation in the Big 10 and either of these teams could hop Wisky or Michigan. If the Spartans beat Michigan on the road they could find their way into the Big 10 title game.
Really Dark Horses-
Tennessee- returns 19 starters and misses Arkansas and LSU on the schedule. Don't get excited though Vols fans, you're still the poster child for SEC mediocrity as of late.
Notre Dame- may be one of the best 10 teams in the country. After they play Michigan and Michigan State, Miami, Stanford, BYU, Oklahoma, Boston College, and USC they won't be.
4th-10th teams in the Big 12- are going to have a very hard time gaining national relevance. Especially if they beat the snot out of each other.
Clemson/Virginia Tech- The media is trying to pretend that the ACC isn't a one-team conference. Good luck Tigers and Hokies, you get three shots to prove me wrong. I'll take the ‘Noles in all three.
If Vince Young were on this Texas team would it be the greatest college football team of all time? With these coordinators? Seriously. Look at the roster. [EDITORS NOTE: Zach, dad here, the 2005 Longhorn offensive line, plus David Thomas, would take this line out, stuff them in a very big sack, and you would never find the bodies...carry on...]
I'm afraid that the Big 12 might send a 2-loss team to the Fiesta Bowl and miss out on the national championship game. Someone attempt to reassure me that this won't happen.