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2012 NFP College Football Preview

A comprehensive guide to the new season. Dave Miller

Print This August 29, 2012, 11:00 AM EST

The 2012 college football season officially kicks off Thursday night with the headliner being South Carolina at Vanderbilt. Steve Spurrier has his best South Carolina team yet, but James Franklin's Commodores could be a tough "out" at home despite the game shockingly not being a sellout.

In other action Thursday night, Mike Leach goes home to BYU where his Cougars of Washington State will try to spring an upset in Provo, while Jim L. Mora makes his collegiate head-coaching debut when his UCLA squad travels to Rice.

The action continues Friday night with Boise State facing yet another opening test, this time against Michigan State in East Lansing. Imagine the star power in this one if the teams had met last fall? Tennessee and N.C. State will also do battle in the Georgia Dome in a huge opening contest for Derek Dooley, the Vols head coach who enters a make-or-break 2012 campaign.

And before the Georgia Tech-Florida State Labor Day night showdown on Monday, there are plenty of intriguing games on the first Saturday of the season — Alabama-Michigan, Clemson-Auburn and Southern Miss-Nebraska are just a few that stand out.

Of course, you can always keep up on all of the college football news across the nation by checking out my College Football Report, which will keep you updated on the latest happenings in the world of college football.

With that in mind, let's dig in and get set for a new season...

Week 1 conference power rankings (in case you missed them this week)

Big East

1. Louisville, 2. South Florida, 3. Pittsburgh, 4. Rutgers, 5. Cincinnati, 6. Connecticut, 7. Temple, 8. Syracuse

ACC

Logan ThomasUS PRESSWIREIf Logan Thomas and Virginia Tech can beat Clemson on the road, they could be primed for a big year.

1. Virginia Tech, 2. Clemson, 3. Florida State, 4. Georgia Tech, 5. N.C. State, 6. Virginia, 7. North Carolina, 8. Wake Forest, 9. Miami, 10. Maryland, 11. Duke, 12. Boston College

Big Ten

1. Michigan State, 2. Wisconsin, 3. Michigan, 4. Nebraska, 5. Ohio State, 6. Iowa, 7. Illinois, 8. Purdue, 9. Northwestern, 10. Penn State, 11. Minnesota, 12. Indiana

SEC

1. Alabama, 2. LSU, 3. Arkansas, 4. South Carolina, 5. Georgia, 6. Florida, 7. Missouri, 8. Tennessee, 9. Auburn, 10. Texas A&M, 11. Vanderbilt, 12. Mississippi State, 13. Kentucky, 14. Ole Miss

Big 12

1. Oklahoma, 2. West Virginia, 3. TCU, 4. Kansas State, 5. Texas, 6. Oklahoma State, 7. Baylor, 8. Texas Tech, 9. Iowa State, 10. Kansas

Pac-12

1. Oregon, 2. USC, 3. Stanford, 4. Washington, 5. Utah, 6. UCLA, 7. Cal, 8. Washington State, 9. Arizona, 10. Oregon State, 11. Arizona State, 12. Colorado

Non-BCS

1. Louisiana Tech, 2. Southern Miss, 3. Arkansas State, 4. Boise State, 5. Houston, 6. Ohio

Impact freshmen: Players who could become household names by the end of the season

WR Trey Metoyer, Oklahoma: Metoyer gives quarterback Landry Jones another top option besides Kenny Stills. He possesses the explosiveness to get down the field and was the talk of the offseason from many people close to the program.

RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama: Eddie Lacy will likely get the majority of the carries with Trent Richardson moving on to the NFL, but Alabama's 2011 Mr. Football will get a chance to receive a good number of handoffs because Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban likes to spread the wealth. Yeldon will also battle Dee Hart for reps, but Hart could have a bigger impact on special teams as a returner.

WR Stefon Diggs, Maryland: Diggs was one of the top receivers in the Class of 2012, and he decided to stay in-state and play for the Terps. And because receiver was a sore spot in 2011, Diggs will get immediate playing time. But his true value could be on special teams, where he will get to return kicks.

WR Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri: It might be a stretch to consider DGB the closest thing we have seen to Calvin Johnson and Randy Moss at the college level. But the 6-6, 220-pounder, who was the nation's top recruit last year, has all of the physical tools to be a dominant receiver from day one in the SEC as long as he can beat press coverage.

WR Deontay Greenberry, Houston: Don't forget that Greenberry shocked Brian Kelly and Notre Dame by signing his Letter of Intent on National Signing Day and sending it to Houston, which must replace five of its top six receivers. Expect Greenberry to be a major contributor right away with David Piland at quarterback.

RB Michael Holmes, Virginia Tech: No matter who departs Blacksburg and moves onto the NFL from the running back position, head coach Frank Beamer always has one ready to step in and produce. Enter Holmes, who earned top offensive newcomer honors during the team's spring practice, showing the coaching staff that he has very good vision and can excel at blocking.

QB Wes Lunt, Oklahoma State: The Cowboys' freshman signal-caller makes this list because it's tough to imagine head coach Mike Gundy and offensive coordinator Todd Monken choosing him as the starter if they didn't have confidence in the young QB's maturity. It will be intriguing to see how Lunt adjusts to running a major-college offense and to see if the unit remains prolific despite the losses at receiver, led by stud Justin Blackmon.

RB Duke Johnson, Miami (FLA): While senior Mike James will be the starter in Coral Gables, the 5-9, 183-pounder is very fast and is good catching the ball out of the backfield, so he will see the field immediately as a nice complementary option to the bigger James.

LB Joe Bolden, Michigan: The strength of the 2011 Michigan squad was the defensive line, but that won't be the case in 2012. Bolden, a quick east-to-west outside 'backer, has a chance to become a big part of the back seven for the Wolverines.

CB/S Travis Blanks, Clemson: The Tigers need help in the secondary, and new defensive coordinator Brent Venables received some immediate aid in the form of the playmaker Blanks. He will get tons of work at nickelback because he fits at both cornerback and safety.

LB Jabari Hunt-Days, Georgia Tech: Yellow Jackets defensive coordinator Al Groh will give Hunt-Days a long look at inside linebacker because Daniel Drummond will likely miss the season opener due to a suspension.

S Landon Collins, Alabama: The Crimson Tide are re-shuffling their secondary after losing three of four starters from their national title team. Collins should see action immediately in the safety rotation, particularly at strong, because he has good instincts, athleticism and is a big hitter.

DE Arik Armstead, Oregon: Ducks head coach Chip Kelly finally landed his standout defender on the recruiting trail this past February, so it will be interesting to see if Armstead could make an immediate impact in Nick Aliotti's defense. If he can have half the impact that De'Anthony Thomas had last year on offense, Aliotti and Kelly will be ecstatic.

NFP 2012 preseason All-America first team
NFP 2012 preseason All-America second team

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