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THE TOP 25 FOR 2012

Jan. 16, 2012
Jan. 16, 2012

Table of Contents
Jan. 16, 2012

LEADING OFF
GOLF PLUS
Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
BCS CHAMPIONSHIP
NFL PLAYOFFS: AFC
NFL PLAYOFFS: NFC
COLLEGE BASKETBALL
POP HERRING
POINT AFTER
Departments

THE TOP 25 FOR 2012

Who says you have to wait till next year? Here's a look right now at the top teams for next season, and there's a familiar name at No. 1

This is an article from the Jan. 16, 2012 issue

1. LSU(2011 record: 13--1) With possibly seven starters back on both offense and defense, this young Tigers team will be even more dangerous next year.

2. USC(10--2) The return of quarterback Matt Barkley (right) makes the Trojans the team most likely to end the SEC's six-year BCS national title reign.

3. OREGON(12--2) Even with LaMichael James leaving, the Ducks' offense won't slow down behind the Thomases: QB Darron and RB De'Anthony.

4. ARKANSAS(11--2) QB Tyler Wilson (if he returns) and a healthy RB Knile Davis (missed all of '11 with a broken left ankle) give the Hogs a spectacular offense.

5. ALABAMA(12--1) The defending champs will have to replace at least five defensive starters and probably RB Trent Richardson, but the Tide has a stockpile of talent.

6. MICHIGAN STATE(11--3) Defensive tackle Jerel Worthy is gone, but defensive end Will Gholston (16 tackles for loss in '11) will continue to terrorize Big Ten QBs.

7. SOUTH CAROLINA(11--2) RB Marcus Lattimore, out since Oct. 15 with a knee injury, and pass-rushing freak Jadeveon Clowney will anchor the offense and defense, respectively.

8. OKLAHOMA(10--3) Quarterback Landry Jones returns, and so does his backup with a nose for the end zone, Blake (the Belldozer) Bell.

9. GEORGIA(10--4) All-America outside linebacker Jarvis Jones will be the SEC's—and perhaps the country's—best defender.

10. TCU(11--2) Behind quarterback Casey Pachall (25 passing TDs in '11), the Horned Frogs will be in the hunt for the conference title in their first year in the Big 12.

11. MICHIGAN(11--2) Expectations in Ann Arbor will be at their highest since 2007, with one more year from quarterback Denard Robinson.

12. WISCONSIN(11--3) Quarterback Russell Wilson is gone, but running back Montee Ball's return gives the Badgers a shot at a third straight Big Ten title.

13. WEST VIRGINIA(10--3) Whether in the Big East or the Big 12, the Geno Smith--led offense will put up big numbers and around 10 wins.

14. CLEMSON(10--4) On a team with much young talent, the passing combination of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins could be the nation's most productive.

15. KANSAS STATE(10--3) QB Collin Klein and the Wildcats will not catch teams by surprise next year. Expect a slight drop-off.

16. NEBRASKA(9--4) The Cornhuskers have major holes to fill on defense but will be able to run the ball behind hard-nosed I-back Rex Burkhead.

17. FLORIDA STATE(9--4) Receiver Rashad Greene leads a young offense that started five true freshmen en route to victory in the Champs Sports Bowl.

18. VIRGINIA TECH(11--3) If the Hokies untap the passing potential of 6' 6" QB Logan Thomas, they will play for the ACC title again.

19. BOISE STATE(12--1) Quarterback Kellen Moore and 13 other senior starters are gone, but the Broncos will reload with talent from strong recruiting classes.

20. STANFORD(11--2) The loss of quarterback Andrew Luck and all-conference offensive linemen David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin will knock the Cardinal down in the Pac-12 pecking order.

21. TEXAS(8--5) Running backs Joe Bergeron, Malcolm Brown and '12 commit Johnathan Gray will give the Longhorns a smashmouth offense.

22. NOTRE DAME(8--5) Linebacker Manti Te'o (team-high 128 tackles) anchors a D that will also have experienced ends Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt—both freshmen in '11.

23. AUBURN(8--5) A young defense that allowed the most yards in school history (5,304) will be much more experienced with nine starters back.

24. BAYLOR(10--3) With Heisman winner Robert Griffin III most likely gone, coach Art Briles will have to prove his mettle as a quarterback mentor with the unheralded Nick Florence.

25. GEORGIA TECH(8--5) The Yellow Jackets bring back all five linemen and top running backs David Sims and Orwin Smith, from the nation's No. 2 rushing offense.

PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH