For the last six years there has been one conference that has personified excellence in college football far and away better than anyone else. As much as fans like powerful and dominating teams, there is one thing that is liked even more--knocking them off their high horse. If there was ever a season that the teams in the SEC were going to be reminded that they are mere mortals it is the coming 2012 season.
Les Miles and Nick Saban both have talented squads returning; both received No. 1 votes in the AP poll. Both Georgia and South Carolina will need to continue to improve for it to happen, but the potential is there. With so many national title contenders in one conference the quality of play in the SEC is obvious, but this year they are likely not going to be the best.
At least one team is a hands down favorite to reign supreme over college football, but there are a few other contenders as well:
USC: This one is almost too easy to call since the AP named them the preseason No. 1 and they got more No. 1 votes than LSU in the USA Today Poll (LSU has been named the No. 1 there). Not only do the Trojans have a preseason Heisman favorite in senior QB Matt Barkley, but he has his top three receivers and four of five offensive lineman back--and these guys are good. The defense will do their part in shutting opponents down giving Barkley more than enough time to work his magic.
History is overwhelmingly on the Trojans side. USC is 22-11-1 all-time against SEC opponents. Few of those games have come in recent years, but that is because every time the Trojans took on an SEC opponent they spanked them. Had the Trojans not been banned from post season play the last couple of years, the SEC dominance would have likely ended sooner.
Across the rest of the nation there is no one that looks like a front runner when it comes to national title aspirations, but there are a number of teams that if the balls bounces the right way a time or two and a couple players emerge.
Texas: Not only does head coach Mack Brown know how to recruit, the man can turn a team into competitors pretty darn quick too. The Longhorns had the No. 11 defense in the nation last year; look for them to easily be a top ten this season. They still don't have a go-to QB yet (which could hold them up), but they could also become a ball control offense and work their stud backfield of Malcolm Brown, Jay Bergeron, and Jonathan Grey as much as possible.
Oklahoma: Any team that has Landry Jones running the offense deserves to be in national title contender conversations. The problem that the Sooners will have though is that he is all they really have. Jones will be looking for a play maker to step up this season since Ryan Broyles has moved on. Bob Stoops and his brother Mike know what they are doing though, so whomever they plug in is not going to be half bad.
Florida State: It wasn't that long ago that the Seminoles were perennial national title contenders. Should they reemerge as contenders this year it will be off the backs of their defense (last season's No. 4 unit) and Heisman trophy hopeful quarterback EJ Samuel. With the majority of the defense back - including defensive linemen Brandon Jenkins and BjoernWerner, along with Xaveir Rhodes and Lamarcus Joyner patrolling the secondary - the unit will remain a top 5 defense. For them to compete for the title the offensive line is going to have to improve.
Oregon: The Ducks are a common name being tossed around as being capable of dethroning the SEC; I don't see it happening for them this year, but possibly next year. Head coach Chip Kelly only has 14 starters coming back and has to replace his top two play makers, LaMichael James and Darron Thomas. Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas will do fine at running back, but the QB spot is up for grabs right now. Should the Ducks compete, it will be largely because they are going to have a dominant defense this year that could very well give whomever the QB is time to get acclimated. If they don't do it this year though, they will do it next year.
Michigan: The Wolverines will have one of the top defenses in the nation this season especially with the entire secondary coming back. The key of course will be the play of quarterback Denard Robinson. He'll have a chance to take over the QB career rushing title this season, but for the Michigan faithful to make BCS party plans he'll need to become a much better passer (55 percent completion percentage). With the season opening up against Alabama on September 1 we'll know soon enough if the Wolverines will have a chance.
Wisconsin: The Badgers enter this conversation largely because they have the wrecking ball, Montee Ball, returning to eat up yardage for the offense. Replacing Russell Wilson will be tough, but the team has a solid hopeful in Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien. Linebackers Chris Borland and Mike Taylor will lead a strong defense that will give the offense plenty of chances all season long. For them to have a chance, Ball will need to repeat his success of last season while the defense dominates opponents. Their first test will come September 29 when they take on a very tough Nebraska team.