13. Wisconsin: Maryland quarterback transfer Danny O’Brien has had a strong preseason camp, so all expectations are that he will be able to regain his 2010 form. Head coach Bret Bielema had to reshuffle his coaching staff when coordinator Paul Chryst and a few other Badger offensive assistants departed, but a strong running game behind Heisman finalist Montee Ball will keep Bielema’s squad in every game.
14. Florida State: The Seminoles look to put behind a disappointing 2011, but to do that a running game must be consistent every week to help out quarterback E.J. Manuel. The ‘Noles should get much better offensive line play, and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops will once again have a nasty unit, one that will be helped out by a standout crop of freshmen defenders.
US PRESSWIRECasey Pachall and TCU are transitioning into the Big 12 this fall.
15. TCU: Casey Pachall exceeded expectations in his first season as the starting quarterback, and end Stansly Maponga could be the best defensive lineman that is not yet a household name. Like West Virginia, TCU should adapt well to its new league.
16. Michigan: The Wolverines face a very difficult schedule — defending national champion Alabama on neutral turf and road contests against Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State. Quarterback Denard Robinson has to limit his turnovers, and Greg Mattison must continue to work magic with the defense. Can the Wolverines’ new-look front four get to the quarterback?
17. Kansas State: Dual-threat quarterback Collin Klein was the best player in the Big 12 not named Robert Griffin III last fall, and he’ll get back many of his supporting skill players, including receiver Chris Harper and running back John Hubert. Defensively, Bill Snyder’s squad will once again be sound, especially against the run.
18. Texas: Quarterback play is still the biggest issue for the Longhorns. David Ash and Case McCoy continue to battle for the starting job, but will the Longhorns eventually have to turn to a freshman signal-caller once again? Either way, a sound rushing attack led by Malcolm Brown and a stingy Manny Diaz defense will be enough to make this squad a Top 25 team. But quarterback play could prevent the ‘Horns from bigger aspirations.
19. Stanford: Perhaps no team will be as fascinating as the Cardinal this season without star quarterback Andrew Luck, an institution on The Farm the last few years. The good news is that they’ll be able to rely on a sound ground game and a defense that returns linebackers Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov.
20. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets will be dominant offensively once again with quarterback Tevin Washington and backs Orwin Smith and David Sims working behind an intact offensive line. But who will replace big-play receiver Stephen Hill? Al Groh’s defense also must continue to make strides.
21. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers reshuffled their defensive staff a bit after the Blackshirts didn’t have the season that many expected. Despite losing linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, the defense returns a lot of key contributors from 2011. Will “T-Magic” make enough plays through the air? He’s worked on his mechanics throughout the offseason and could be primed for a big year in his second season under coordinator Tim Beck.
22. Oklahoma State: The Pokes lost offensive standouts Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, and it’s up to true freshman Wes Lunt to run the offense of coordinator Todd Monken, who will need to find star power on his unit. Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith return at running back, and Tracy Moore could be primed for a breakout year at receiver. And Bill Young gets back many of his defenders on a group that relied on the big play in 2011.
23. NC State: Quarterback Mike Glennon could be primed for a big year working behind a veteran offensive line, and the rushing game was revived late in the 2011 campaign. Defensively, the Wolfpack rely on turnovers and sacks, but replacing the starting linebacker trio will be tough.
24. Boise State: Even though the Kellen Moore era has ended, the Broncos still have Chris Petersen — one of the best head coaches in the nation. Boise is on the national map, something that hasn’t been lost on the solid recruits that have been brought in during Petersen’s tenure. There were a ton of personnel losses, but the Broncos remain the class of the Mountain West in their final year in the league.
25. Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish should be a better team than they were last season. But a brutal schedule, which features road tests at Oklahoma and USC, may not reflect that improvement in their record. The defense will continue to get even better under coordinator Bob Diaco, but the quarterback position is the biggest question mark.
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