Daily Blog •February 5, 2013

2013 Preseason Projected AP Top 10

For the past several years I have projected the preseason AP Top 10 nearly six months in advance and I have correctly projected at least nine of the Top 10 teams each year and last year I projected all 10 of them correctly on January 30, 2012, more than six months prior to it being released in August! It is one of my more popular blogs in the off-season and last year with its overwhelming popularity I decided to expand it for the first time to 24 teams on March 2. Despite it being five months prior to being released, I correctly projected all 24 teams to be among the Preseason AP Top 25 teams!  

I will mention it now and I will mention it numerous times throughout that blog that this is not MY preseason Top 14 for next year, it is where I project the AP Top 14 to come out at the start of the season.

Most AP voters usually look at a couple of criteria when they evaluate a team for the upcoming season. First they look at the number of returning starters that the team has coming back particularly at the offensive skill positions. A team that returns its starting QB and a combination of its RB and WR’s is often times more highly thought of than a team that loses its starting QB but returns its entire offensive line. Similarly a team that returns most of its starters on offense but loses a lot of its defensive playmakers usually is more highly thought of than a team that returns a majority of its defensive starters but loses its skill position players on offense.

Another factor that is heavily weighted is the performance of the team in the bowl game, which undoubtedly is the lasting image of that team in the offseason. A team coming off a huge bowl win usually is more highly thought of than a team that is coming off a bowl loss regardless of what their schedule looks like for the upcoming season.

Using these criteria and a few more, I project the preseason AP Top 10 every year at the conclusion of the previous season, which in most cases is nearly 6 months in advance. Now as you all know, a lot can happen from January to August including injuries, suspensions, transfers, etc.

In 2009, my projected Top 10 for the AP Poll was #1 Florida, #2 Texas, #3 USC, #4 Oklahoma, #5 Alabama, #6 Virginia Tech, #7 LSU, #8 Oklahoma St, #9 Ohio St and #10 Mississippi. The actual AP Top 10 was #1 Florida, #2 Texas, #3 Oklahoma, #4 USC, #5 Alabama, #6 Ohio St, #7 Virginia Tech, #8 Mississippi and #9 was a tie between Oklahoma St/Penn St.

I nailed nine of the ten teams that appeared in the Preseason Top 10 with the only exception being LSU/Penn St and I may have had something to do with that. It’s interesting to note that of the main preseason magazines, only two had Penn St ranked in the Top 10 and I had them my #1 surprise team and ranked #5. Most had Penn St out of the Top 10. Perhaps since I had them rated so high in my magazine, it influenced a few voters across the country, bumping them into the Top 10.

In 2010 I projected the preseason AP Top 10 would be #1 Alabama, #2 Ohio St, #3 Boise St, #4 Oregon, #5 Texas, #6 TCU, #7 Iowa, #8 Florida, #9 Nebraska and #10 Virginia Tech.

The actual AP Top 10 was #1 Alabama, #2 Ohio St, #3 Boise St, #4 Florida, #5 Texas, #6 TCU, #7 Oklahoma, #8 Nebraska, #9 Iowa and #10 Virginia Tech.

For the second year in a row I nailed nine of the ten teams that appeared in the Preseason Top 10 with the only exception being Oregon/Oklahoma, which I can defend easily.

First, at the time I wrote my projection back in early February Duck QB Jeremiah Masoli was not yet suspended. With Masoli still in the fold at that point Oregon had 17 returning starters including RB LaMichael James and Masoli in the backfield. The Ducks clearly would have been a preseason Top 10 team and probably Top 5 had Masoli not been kicked off the team. Even without Masoli Oregon was still rated #11 in the preseason poll.

The team that I did not have in my projected AP Top 10 was Oklahoma (#7) and if you have purchased the 2010 magazine or listened to one of my radio shows across the country you know I thought very highly of the Sooners as I had them ranked #1. Like Penn St in 2009, perhaps since I had them rated so high in my magazine, it influenced a few voters across the country, bumping them into the Top 10 despite the Sooners having five losses in 2009 and the fact that they did not even finish in the final AP Top 25.

I also am pleased that six of the 10 teams were ranked in the exact position that I projected including the Top 3 in Alabama, Ohio St and Boise St. I also had Texas, TCU and Virginia Tech ranked in their exact positions in the poll.

In 2011, I projected the preseason AP Top 10 would be #1 Oklahoma, #2 Alabama, #3 Oregon, #4 LSU, #5 Stanford, #6 Texas A&M, #7 Boise St, #8 Florida St, #9 Oklahoma St and #10 South Carolina.

The actual AP Top 10 was #1 Oklahoma, #2 Alabama, #3 Oregon, #4 LSU, #5 Boise St, #6 Florida St, #7 Stanford, #8 Texas A&M, #9 Oklahoma St and #10 Nebraska.

For the third year in a row I nailed nine of the ten teams that appeared in the Preseason Top 10 with the only exception being South Carolina/Nebraska, which I can defend easily.

First, when I released my projection back in February of last year South Carolina QB Stephen Garcia was still on the team and was not suspended which would end up costing him the spring and summer with the team. With Garcia’s status up in the air at the time of the AP ballots being due in late July and early August, South Carolina was dropped a bit giving way to Nebraska. The Cornhuskers meanwhile were my pick to win the Big Ten in last year’s magazine, which probably influenced a few voters as well.

Last year on January 30, my projected preseason AP Top 10 for 2012 was #1 LSU, #2 USC, #3 Alabama, #4 Oregon, #5 Oklahoma, #6 Georgia, #7 Michigan, #8 Florida St, #9 Arkansas, and #10 South Carolina.

When the AP poll came out more than six months later in August it read: #1 USC, #2 Alabama, #3 LSU, #4 Oklahoma, #5 Oregon, #6 Georgia, #7 Florida St, #8 Michigan, #9 South Carolina and #10 Arkansas.

This time I nailed a perfect 10 for 10 giving me a 4-year run of hitting 37 out of the 40 teams (93%) six months in advance!

While naturally some teams fell a spot or two including LSU who lost All-American Tyrann Mathieu prior to fall camp, all ten of the teams were there in my projection even prior to signing day and spring practice.

Now to this year….again this is not MY preseason Top 14 for next year, it is where I project the AP Top 14 to come out at the start of the season.

No. 10 Louisville-Despite playing in a non-power conference, the Cardinals clearly fit the mold of a preseason AP Top 10 team. First, they return a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater who threw for 3,718 yards with 27 touchdowns and 8 interceptions as a sophomore last year. In addition to Bridgewater, they also return their top two rushers and top four receivers from a year ago and their only significant loss on defense was cornerback Adrian Bushell. Second, they are coming off an impressive 33-23 Sugar Bowl win over SEC power Florida that had them skyrocket to No. 13 in the final AP Poll.  Finally they have arguably the easiest schedule of all the 2013 contenders as their non-conference schedule includes Ohio, Eastern Kentucky, Florida International and Kentucky and play a Big East schedule that is basically a glorified CUSA at this point. Add it all up and the Cardinals should be favored to win all of their games in 2013.

No. 9 South Carolina-The Gamecocks are off back-to-back 11-2 seasons finishing in the AP Top 10 each year despite losing star running back Marcus Lattimore to injury mid-way thru both seasons. The future continues to look bright for the Gamecocks as they return most of their key players including quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson along with their leading receiver in Bruce Ellington. On defense, star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who is arguably the best player in the country regardless of position is back. The non-conference schedule is daunting, but both North Carolina and Clemson have to travel to Columbia along with Florida in conference play. The toughest road test is at Georgia on September 7 and they do avoid Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU from the SEC West.

No. 8 Florida-While the Gators did finish the season with a disappointing loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, it is hard to ignore their terrific regular season, which featured four wins over teams that finished in the final AP Top 15. The offense figures to be much improved with Jeff Driskel back at quarterback. While the defense loses arguably its best player at each level the good news is that it looks like Muschamp will be bringing one of the nation’s best recruiting classes to fill the void and don’t forget that defensive end Ronald Powell will be back after missing all of last year with an ACL injury. The schedule is brutal with non-conference games against Miami and Florida State and they must travel to South Carolina and LSU in SEC play.

No. 7 Notre Dame-Losing 42-14 in the BCS National Championship to Alabama probably knocked the Irish from being in the 2013 preseason Top 5, but they still will return 14 starters including quarterback Everett Golson who figures to continue to make significant progress in his second year as a starter. While they lose their star on offense in tight end Tyler Eifert and defense in linebacker Manti Te’o, the Irish look well-stocked on both sides of the line of scrimmage as offensive tackle Zack Martin and nose guard Louis Nix both announced their return along with defensive end Stephon Tuitt who recorded 12 sacks a year ago.  Like most years, the schedule is tough with home games against Michigan State, Oklahoma and USC along with road games at Michigan and Stanford, however, the Irish beat all five of those teams last year and many felt they were a year ahead of schedule in their 12-1 finish.

No. 6 Georgia-The Bulldogs are a clear example of a team that fits my projected AP Top 10 criteria. First, they welcome back quarterback Aaron Murray who announced his return for his fourth year as the starter after leading the Bulldogs to a school-record 529 points in 2012. Georgia also returns their dynamic duo of freshman running backs in Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley along with several key receivers.  They capped off their 11-2 season with a 45-31 win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl after taking Alabama to the wire in the SEC Championship game. While the defense will have to rebuild, an argument could be made that Georgia has one of the best offenses in the country and it will need to be effective early with matchups against Clemson, South Carolina and LSU all coming in the first four games. 

No. 5 Texas A&M-No team in the country may have ended the season on a hotter run than the Aggies, who after their upset win at No. 1 Alabama in November, saw their quarterback Johnny Manziel become the first freshman to take home the Heisman Trophy and then followed it up by destroying Oklahoma 41-13 in the Cotton Bowl to finish No. 5 in the final AP Poll. In 2013, the Aggies naturally bring back Manziel who accounted for an SEC-record 5,116 yards of total offense and their No. 2 rusher in Ben Malena along with their leading receiver in Mike Evans. Offensive tackle Luke Joeckel and defensive end Damontre Moore announced their early departure to the draft but tackle Jake Matthews surprisingly announced his return and a quick look at the schedule shows the Aggies avoiding Georgia, Florida and South Carolina from the SEC East while they also get the defending champs at home in week three.

No. 4 Oregon-The Ducks would have probably been a slam dunk for the No. 2 spot had head coach Chip Kelly decide to stay in Eugene. Even with his departure, the Ducks still look like one of the favorites in 2013 as they return quarterback Marcus Mariota, who had an incredible 32-to-6 TD-to-interception ratio in his first season as a starter. While the Ducks will clearly miss running back Kenjon Barner, who ran for 1,767 yards, but they do return the explosive De’Anthony Thomas along with seven other starters from the top scoring offense in the NCAA. On defense, they lose their top two tacklers in linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso but despite another coaching change, defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti will continue to lead the Ducks on that side of the ball. The schedule is manageable as they avoid USC and Arizona State and get UCLA at home from the Pac-12 South. For the fourth year in a row, it looks like the Stanford game (November 7th in Palo Alto) will be for the Pac-12 North Title and a win there could have the Ducks playing for it all in 2013.       

No. 3 Stanford-After an overtime loss at Notre Dame, the Cardinal won eight straight games to close the season highlighted by their road win at No. 2 Oregon in November and a 20-14 triumph over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. 2013 could be the year the Cardinal take another step and not just make their 4th straight BCS bowl, but finally play for the National Title as they welcome back 15 starters including quarterback Kevin Hogan who was the key in their win streak down the stretch. The defense should be one of the best in the country as Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner and Shayne Skov all announced their return for their senior seasons. The schedule has them playing most of their key games at home including games against Arizona State, Washington, UCLA, Oregon and Notre Dame while Oregon State and USC are their toughest road games. The Cardinal have clearly survived the losses of head coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Andrew Luck and it looks like David Shaw has this program here to stay among the nation’s elite.

No. 2 Ohio State-Despite the NCAA probation, Urban Meyer’s first season in Columbus was a smashing success finishing a perfect 12-0 and No. 3 in the final AP poll and it looks like the Buckeyes will continue to ride that momentum into 2013. First, they welcome back quarterback Braxton Miller who figures to be one of the Heisman favorites after a season in which he had 3,310 yards of total offense and will look to be improved in the passing game. He will have plenty of talent surrounding him as No. 2 rusher Carlos Hyde and their top two receivers Corey Brown and Devin Smith all return along with key offensive lineman Andrew Norwell and Jack Mewhort. The Buckeyes do have to replace their entire starting defensive line, but Meyer has done a great job of recruiting at that position in his short tenure while the D’s other stars in linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby should help fill the void as the young lineman mature. The schedule clearly sets up for success as the non-conference features Buffalo, San Diego State, California and Florida A&M while in conference play they avoid both Nebraska and Michigan State while hosting Wisconsin and Penn State. The two toughest hurdles look to be road trips at Northwestern and at Michigan.  

No. 1 Alabama-How do you top becoming just the second school since World War II to win three National Titles in four years? How about by becoming the first program ever to win four in five as the Crimson Tide clearly look poised to do so in 2013. It starts with the return of quarterback AJ McCarron who has played brilliantly in each of the last two National Championship games and he is surrounded by some of the best skill position players in the country in running back TJ Yeldon and wide receiver Amari Cooper. The only question on offense is how they replace center Barrett Jones, guard Chance Warmack and tackle DJ Fluker on the offensive line. The defense also loses nose guard Jesse Williams, cornerback Dee Milliner and safety Robert Lester but linebacker CJ Mosley shockingly announced his return as the Tide just continue to reload on that side of the ball after leading the nation in total and scoring defense each of the last two years. The schedule also is manageable with an opener against Virginia Tech in Atlanta followed by a bye week before the revenge game against Texas A&M at Kyle Field. The rest of the schedule is a walk in the park with key games against Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tennessee all at home not to mention two weeks to prepare for a home game against LSU. Add it all up and the Tide look just as strong if not stronger than last year’s team.

Here are the teams that just missed the cut:

#11 Clemson-I agonized a couple of days between South Carolina, Louisville and Clemson at the #9 and #10 spots but decided to go with the Gamecocks and Cardinals. First, all three teams return their quarterbacks and many of their key performers on defense. However, the tie-breaker to me came down to schedule as South Carolina who has owned Clemson as of late, gets the Tigers at home while Louisville on the other hand plays a cakewalk schedule in non-conference and conference play and Clemson also has to play Georgia in non-conference action. Still, the Tigers have solidified themselves quite nicely the last few years under head coach Dabo Swinney, They are off a 11-2 2012 campaign highlighted by their comeback win over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Quarterback Tajh Boyd announced his return for his senior season and he will still have the super talented Sammy Watkins to throw to. They did lose their other outstanding wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins who led the team with 1,405 yards and 18 td’s early to the NFL as well as running back Andre Ellington who topped the 1,000 yard mark. Unlike their non-conference schedule, they do catch some breaks as they get Florida St and Georgia Tech at home and avoid North Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech from the Coastal division.

#12 LSU-Arguably no one in recent history lost more production to the NFL Draft than the Tigers who saw a record-11 players declare early. The losses are massive especially on the defensive side of the ball, which will see the loss of arguably its top 5 or 6 players. It starts with Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery at DE and continues with their best LB in Kevin Minter followed by CB Tharold Simon and S Eric Reid. On offense, quarterback Zach Mettenberger does get back his top two rushers and top two receivers and the OL will have to do a much better job of protecting him after allowing 32 sks (9.0%). The schedule is very difficult starting with the opener against TCU in Arlington, which could be more like an away game and they also pull Florida and Georgia out of the SEC East. They do play Alabama and Texas A&M both in November but conveniently get a bye week prior to both games.

#13 Florida St-My pick to win it all last year came within one fourth down stop away against NC State (blew a 16-0 HT lead), of starting the season a perfect 11-0. Even with that disappointment, they still would go on to win 12 games and win the ACC and the Orange Bowl. The Noles look to continue their run back among college football’s elite but will have to do so in 2013 without quarterback EJ Manuel who incredibly won four bowl games as a starter. It looks like Clint Trickett, Jacob Coker and Jameis Winston will battle it out to replace him but whoever the starter is, they will be surrounded by plenty of talent specifically at the wide receiver spot and will be taking snaps behind one of the best offensive lines in college football for 2013. On the other side of the ball, they lose several key players from last year’s No. 2 total D including All-American DE Bjoern Werner and lost DC Mark Stoops to Kentucky. Head coach Jimbo Fisher has recruited well lately so I don’t think the cupbard is bare and the ACC Atlantic title will probably be decided with a road trip to Clemson as the Noles avoid Virginia Tech and North Carolina from the Coastal division.

#14 Oklahoma/TCU/Texas/Oklahoma St or Boise St–Since we are releasing this a week before signing day, I think the #14 spot will come down to either the team that comes out the preseason favorite to win the Big 12 with it being between four teams (OU/TCU/TX/OKSt) or it could also possibly go to Boise St who looks like the clear favorite to win the MW as they are much more experienced than last year’s team which finished 11-2. All five of those teams will clearly be preseason AP Top 25 teams and I will be releasing my Preseason Projected AP Top 25 once again in early March after hitting on all of the teams a year ago.

There you have it my projected AP Top 14 for this season. Don’t be surprised if you check back in early August six months from now and find that I hit at least nine of the ten teams for a fifth straight year!