Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2012 season.
At schools like Florida, baby steps draw winces. In the microwave world of college football, the slow cooker is unacceptable. But Will Muschamp knows that transforming the Florida football team from what it was to what it needs to be isn’t going to happen overnight. “It’s coming,” he says. “We’re getting there. I like the guys we have. I like the team we have a lot better than the one we had last year. We’re getting better.” Just getting better, however, won’t be good enough to get these Gators to Atlanta to play in the SEC title game.
Read the full Florida Gators 2012 Team Preview
27. Kansas State
Improving on a 10-win season that ended with a trip to the Cotton Bowl won’t be easy — but don’t bet against Kansas State, which makes a habit of defying the odds. The Wildcats should be improved on offense, provided Collin Klein has improved as a passer and the offensive line comes together. The secondary is the big concern on defense. Nigel Malone is solid at one cornerback spot, but the Cats ranked 103rd in the nation in pass defense. That has to improve if K-State wants to be a serious threat in the Big 12.
Read the full Kansas State Wildcats 2012 Team Preview
28. NC State
In 120 years of football, only one NC State team has posted a double-digit win total — Philip Rivers led the Pack to 11 wins in ’02 — but given the returning talent and the relatively soft schedule, winning 10 games is a realistic goal. Coach Tom O’Brien is not prone to hyperbole, high praise or predictions, but the NC State coach likes what he sees in his team, which has combined to win 17 games the past two seasons. “The whole key, once again, is staying healthy,” O’Brien says. “As long as we stay healthy, I think we have a chance to be a pretty good football team.”
Read the full NC State Wolfpack 2012 Team Preview
29. North Carolina
The Tar Heels aren’t going to a bowl game, regardless of how many games they win, thanks to NCAA sanctions stemming from Butch Davis’ tenure as head coach. But they want to make a positive impression in Larry Fedora’s first season at the helm. They have an offense with the potential to put up big point totals, but the question is whether their defense can keep opponents from scoring even more. The combination should make for an exciting season.
Read the full North Carolina Tar Heels 2012 Team Preview
Armed with three consecutive top-10 recruiting classes, Auburn hopes to show that 2010 wasn’t an aberration but the start of a run of sustained excellence. The schedule is more favorable this season, but many of the questions that Auburn hoped to resolve during last year’s “rebuilding” remain unanswered. Frazier threw sparingly (and often to opponents) in 2011. Michael Dyer has moved on. The offensive line will be a bit deeper but just as young and inexperienced. Two new coordinators are trying to put their imprint on the team. The talent is there for the Tigers to push their way back into the nation’s top tier, but Auburn is probably a year away from becoming a legitimate threat in the SEC West.
Read the full Auburn Tigers 2012 Team Preview
While Missouri has made major strides during Gary Pinkel’s 11 years as coach, the Tigers never quite reached elite status in the Big 12. Coming off an 8–5 season and following a controversial move to the SEC, Missouri will now attempt to crack the top of the country’s most elite football conference — beginning with a Week 2 home meeting against reigning SEC East champion Georgia. The Tigers return 10 starters, plus two others who started in 2010, but the soundness of quarterback James Franklin’s surgically repaired right shoulder will figure prominently in Missouri’s hopes.
Read the full Missouri Tigers 2012 Team Preview
32. Texas A&M
The Aggies simply do not appear to have enough depth to be a serious contender for the SEC West title in 2012, but there is enough talent in place for A&M to be highly competitive on a week-to-week basis. A&M’s up-tempo offensive pace — along with its tremendous offensive line — will give opponents plenty of headaches. But the defense may cause some self-inflicted wounds. Expect the Aggies to win anywhere from six to eight games.
Read the full Texas A&M Aggies 2012 Team Preview
Utah came within a missed field goal of forcing overtime with a chance of advancing to the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game. As it was, they finished with a losing record (4–5) in conference play in their first season in the Pac-12 but remained in the South race only because USC was ineligible for postseason play. “We had a good start,” says coach Kyle Whittingham, “but we have to continue to do everything better.” Utah’s defense matched up well with most Pac-12 offenses and returns mostly intact. If the offense improves as much as expected, the Utes should rank among the conference’s top teams.
Read the full Utah Utes 2012 Team Preview
34. South Florida
Heading into its eighth Big East football season, South Florida remains on the clock. The Bulls haven’t seriously contended for a conference championship. For a change, no one is picking South Florida to win the Big East. Maybe the prognosticators don’t want to get fooled again by the Bulls. They have constantly teased throughout non-conference success, such as last season’s win at Notre Dame and a 4–0 start, only to fall flat during the Big East slate. South Florida’s progress will be predicated on quarterback B.J. Daniels’ consistency, better third down production and defensive improvement, particularly in the fourth quarter. In other words, all the elements that generally help to win games (or lose them).
Read the full South Florida Bulls 2012 Team Preview
35. Georgia Tech
A year ago, most predicted six or seven wins from a young team. The Yellow Jackets responded with eight, and it could have easily been 10. This season, nine wins and a strong shot at the ACC title are not unreasonable goals. The Jackets have experience and the sour taste of losses to rivals Virginia Tech and Georgia, as well as a seventh consecutive bowl loss, to drive them. If quarterback Tevin Washington and running back David Sims, in particular, can raise their level of play, and the defensive line delivers, there’s no reason they won’t be in the mix in the ACC.
Read the full Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 2012 Team Preview
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