1. Alabama Crimson Tide Conference: SEC Returning Starters: 13
Strengths: Nick Saban. Saban is the best college football coach of today. PERIOD. Saban is a great recruiter as well as head coach. The results on the field are evident as Alabama has won 3 of the last 4 BCS titles. Alabama returns QB A.J. McCarron, RB T.J. Yeldon, WR Amari Cooper, LB C.J. Mosley, and others.
Weaknesses: Maybe complacency? Jonny Football? The loss of All-American center Barrett Jones, OG Chance Warmack, OT D.J. Fluker, NT Jesse Williams, CB Dee Milliner, and S Robert Lester certainly hurts.
Bottom Line: The Tide have great returning talent, and Saban has recruited quality guys to reload the spots that are now vacant. The Crimson Tide have a great shot to win a 3rd straight national championship.
MVP: QB A.J. McCarron
Key Game: Sep. 14-@Texas A&M
2. Stanford Cardinal Conference: Pac-12 Returning Starters: 15
Strengths: Kevin Hogan and the Stanford "D". Kevin Hogan took over the starting quarterback job from Josh Nunez in late October of last season. Hogan led the Cardinal to 8 straight wins including a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. Another strength for Stanford is that they return virtually everyone from last season's physical, SEC-style defense that was the #5 rushing defense in the nation.
Weaknesses: Loss of TE Zach Ertz and RB Stefan Taylor could prove very costly. Runningback is a position of question for Stanford in 2013.
Bottom Line: David Shaw is a great head coach. Shaw took over after the exodus of Jim Harbaugh to the NFL. Shaw has recruited well and has shown that Stanford is here to stay even after the departure of Andrew Luck.
MVP: QB Kevin Hogan
Key Game: Nov. 7-vs. Oregon
3. Oregon Ducks Conference: Pac-12 Returning Starters: 15
Strengths: Their offense. Oregon returns dual-threat QB Marcus Mariota and the explosive RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas. Both are Heisman hopefuls. The Ducks sported the #5 Total Offense in the country in 2012.
Weaknesses: Loss of RB Kenjon Barner, DE Dion Jordan, LB Michael Clay, and LB Kiko Alonso stings. Former head coach Chip Kelly's bolt to the NFL in the offseason could prove costly.
Bottom Line: Former offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich was promoted to head coach and don't think the Ducks will see much drop-off after Kelly's departure. The Ducks can put points on the board with anyone in the country. They hope to get to Pasadena in January.
MVP: RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas
Key Game: Nov. 7-@Stanford
4. Ohio State Buckeyes Conference: Big 10 Returning Starters: 13
Strengths: Urban Meyer and Braxton Miller. Current Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer won 2 BCS titles at Florida in 2006 and 2008. He isn't looking back as he led his home-state Buckeyes to a perfect 12-0 season that was marred by a postseason ban. QB Braxton Miller returns and is a legit Heisman contender.
Weaknesses: Loss of entire D-line.
Bottom Line: The defensive line shouldn't be a huge issue because Meyer is a great recruiter. Ohio State will be ultra-talented in 2013 and should win a ring or two without any NCAA sanctions.
MVP: QB Braxton Miller
Key Game: Nov. 30-@Michigan
5. Georgia Bulldogs Conference: SEC Returning Starters: 13
Strengths: The Bulldogs will field one of the best offenses in the nation in 2013. Georgia returns 5th- year Senior QB Aaron Murray, the dynamic rushing duo of RB Todd Gurley and RB Keith Marshall, a deep wide receiving corps, and what should be an even better offensive line. Murray and Gurley are both Heisman contenders.
Weaknesses: Loss of All-American OLB Jarvis Jones, OLB Alec Ogletree, CB Sanders Commings, FS Bacarri Rambo, SS Shawn Williams, NT John Jenkins, DE Abry Jones, DE Cornelius Washington, ILB Christian Robinson, and ILB Mike Gilliard. The 2013 defense is devoid of much experience to say the least. The loss of WR Tavarres King and WR Marlon Brown also hurts.
Bottom Line: Although Georgia will certainly feel some growing pains after losing much of their defense, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham believes the defense will certainly be smaller but should be more athletic. Georgia will have one of the best offenses in college football that is capable of carrying Georgia while the defense goes through an assumed transition period. Maybe the Bulldogs will win a few titles along the way.
MVP: QB Aaron Murray
Key Game: Sep. 7-vs. South Carolina
6. Texas A&M Aggies Conference: SEC Returning Starters: 10
Strengths: Jonny Manziel. Manziel led Texas A&M to last season's 11-2 record including upsetting Alabama, 29-24, in Tuscaloosa. Manziel led the Aggies in passing yards and rushing yards culminating in winning the Heisman in 2012.
Weaknesses: Loss of OT Luke Joeckel, DE Damontre Moore, WR Ryan Swope, and others.
Bottom Line: Head coach Kevin Sumlin has done a great job at A&M. Or was it Manziel? Anyway, the Aggies should have one of the best offenses in the nation and are very dangerous.
MVP: QB Jonny Manziel
Key Game: Sep. 14-vs. Alabama
7. South Carolina Gamecocks Conference: SEC Returning Starters: 12
Strengths: Steve Spurrier knows how to coach. The "Ole Ball Coach" has led Carolina to back-to-back double digit win seasons for the first time in school history. South Carolina returns unstoppable DE Jadeveon Clowney who was the #1 overall recruit in the Class of 2011. Clowney is the best defensive player in the nation, a Heisman hopeful, and a potential top NFL draft pick. South Carolina also returns the QB-duo of Conner Shaw and Dylan Thompson along with leading WR Bruce Ellington.
Weaknesses: Marcus Lattimore is gone. Lattimore was one of the best runningbacks in USC history and would have been one of the best college RBs in the nation over the past several seasons had he not been nagged by injuries. South Carolina also loses an explosive wide receiver and special teams player in Ace Sanders. The Gamecocks also lose FS D.J. Swearinger, and C T.J. Johnson among others.
Bottom Line: Sophomore RB Mike Davis looks like he can pick up the rushing load left by the departure of Marcus Lattimore. South Carolina has the talent to take the next step and reach Atlanta for the SEC Championship.
MVP: DE Jadeveon Clowney
Key Game: Sep. 7-@Georgia
8. Louisville Cardinals Conference: AAC Returning Starters: 15
Strengths: Teddy Bridgewater. This quarterback can make all the throws and will play on Sundays. He is a Heisman favorite. Charlie Strong has done a good job of utilizing Bridgewater (as in getting out of the way and letting him take the game over.) Strong was formerly a defensive coordinator at Florida when they won two BCS titles in '06 and '08. Then in 2010 he was hired as head coach at Louisville. Bridgewater still has weapons around him as in WR DeVante Parker and others.
Weaknesses: Loss of RB Jeremy Wright, C Mario Benavides, OL Alex Kupper, WR Andrell Smith, CB Adrian Bushell, LB Daniel Brown and others hurts.
Bottom Line: Teddy Bridgewater is a Heisman favorite. Louisville surprised everyone by upsetting Florida in last season's Allstate Sugar Bowl. They will be very interesting in 2013 and can play with anyone.
MVP: QB Teddy Bridgewater
Key Game: Dec. 5-@Cincinnati
9. LSU Tigers Conference: SEC Returning Starters: 13
Strengths: LSU is stacked at RB. Even with Jeremy Hill's 2013 eligibility in question, LSU sports a strong running back core of Senior Alfred Blue and Junior Kenny Hilliard. LSU also returns Senior QB Zach Mettenberger who should thrive even more under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron from the Baltimore Ravens. The Tigers return the ultra-talented WR Odell Beckham Jr. and WR Jarvis Landry.
Weaknesses: Loss of almost every starter on defense including DE Barkevious Mingo, LB Kevin Minter, DE Sam Montgomery, CB Tharold Simon, and others. LSU also loses RB Michael Ford.
Bottom Line: Although LSU should suffer with the bevy of defenders going to the NFL, head coach Les Miles aka "The Mad Hatter" is a great recruiter, and LSU still has talent on defense. The offense should be dangerous, and LSU should go far in 2013.
MVP: QB Zach Mettenberger
Key Game: Nov. 9-@Alabama
10. Clemson Tigers Conference: ACC Returning Starters: 13
Strengths: A lethal offensive attack. Clemson should have one of the top offenses in the nation led by Senior dual-threat QB Tajh Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins. Both are dark-horse Heisman candidates. Another strength is an experienced offensive line. K Chandler Catanzaro is one of the most consistent kickers in the nation.
Weaknesses: Defense. Also Clemson will have to fill the void left by RB Andre Ellington and WR DeAndre Hopkins
Bottom Line: Clemson showed that they are a serious threat after upsetting LSU in last season's Chick-fil-a Bowl. Now Dabo Sweeney and his Tigers need to take that next step and make it to a BCS game.
MVP: QB Tajh Boyd
Key Game: Oct. 19-vs. Florida State