13. TCU: Casey Pachall exceeded expectations in his first season as the starting quarterback, and many of the Horned Frogs' starters return — including a stout front four on defense — from a younger and more inexperienced team in 2011. Like West Virginia, TCU should adapt well to its new league.
14. Wisconsin: The major question is whether Maryland quarterback transfer Danny O’Brien can regain his 2010 form — if he can beat out Joel Stave. Coordinator Paul Chryst and a few other Badger offensive assistants are gone, but a strong running game behind Heisman finalist Montee Ball will keep Bret Bielema’s squad in every game.
15. 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.
ICONDenard Robinson and the Wolverines face a difficult opening test.
16. Michigan: The Wolverines face a very difficult schedule — defending national champion Alabama in Arlington, Texas, 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.
17. Texas: Quarterback play is still the biggest issue for the Longhorns. David Ash looks like the starter for now, but will the ‘Horns be forced to use true freshman Connor Brewer? 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.
18. Kansas State: Dual-threat quarterback Collin Klein was the best player in the Big 12 not named Robert Griffin III, and he’ll get back many of his supporting skill players. Defensively, Bill Snyder’s squad will once again be sound, especially against the run.
19. Stanford: Perhaps no team will be as fascinating as the Cardinal next 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 next year 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 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?
22. 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, but the quarterback position is the biggest question mark.
23. Oklahoma State: The Pokes lose 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. Bill Young gets back many of his defenders on a group that relied on the big play in 2011.
24. Auburn: The Tigers are intriguing next season because new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder will have every starter back except one. Losing offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, however, will have the biggest impact. Running back Onterrio McCalebb will return as the unit looks to find stability at quarterback.
25. 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.
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