January 8, 2013
by Todd Helmick


Folks can say what they want about the NationalChamps.net Early Bird Preview. Yea, we know it's way too early. But like every December, take it to the bank with what is spelled out here...the Top 7 teams to start next year, when every preseason magazine and poll under the summer sun comes out, will be Alabama, Stanford, Oregon, Georgia, Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Ohio State. The order may vary, but the teams won't. Yes, LSU takes a massive drop out of that list considering ten Bayou Bengals have already declared for the NFL.

The Early Bird Preview will get revamped immediately after January 15, the last day for college players to declare for early entry in NFL Draft.

The one aspect that really sticks out with this 2013 preview is the fact that the Top 10 teams currently dotting the 2012 polls will be pretty much the same exact Top 10 teams in the 2013 polls. For one reason or another all these teams bring back the most returning players. The best explanation probably has to do with recruiting. Many lesser ranked teams heavily rely on seniors so the turnover is always much greater. These Top 10 programs rely on the best man, which many times is an underclassman.

The biggest trend NationalChamps.net can see at this point is what actually wins football games. Sure, spread offenses, big time statistics, high scoring offenses and Heisman quarterbacks now lighting up the NFL are great. However, the SEC has won seven straight national championships for a different reason. Notre Dame made this year's national championship for a different reason...great line of scrimmage, great defense, run with the ball. In fact, heading into the 2012 season, Alabama was considered as having the best offensive line unit in the country. Notre Dame was second. That is why Stanford should be an overwhelming preseason choice to push for Top 2 or 3 preseason status. Stanford head coach David Shaw has been wondering out loud why his team isn't getting the respect it deserves in the rankings. Be careful what you wish for David. Stanford now goes from being the hunter to the hunted with a target on the chest. Playing Oregon and Notre Dame on the road in 2012 were great challenges but nothing compared to the pressure Stanford will get being predicted to play in the national championship and what this team will get week-in-and-week-out now from opponents.

Looking for a team no one might see coming next year? In terms of national championship possibilities look no further than Louisville.

If the complete beat down of a highly rated Florida Gator team in the Sugar Bowl didn't wake up college football fans from around the country in regards to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and what head coach Charlie Strong is accomplishing in Louisville these days, nothing will. Beating Florida was not a fluke. Throw in the fact Louisville has 17 starters coming back and the fact the Cardinals will face another year of watered down Big East opponents (that no longer has Boise State as an option) plus a non-conference schedule that has Ohio, Eastern Kentucky, Florida International and Kentucky on the list and the makings for a title run seem very possible.

Outside national championship discussions...

1. Ole Miss - The Rebels compete in the SEC so, NO, the Rebels aren't going to be competing for a post-season trip to Atlanta. Out of everyone we evaluated from the current 2012 BCS Poll Top 75 teams, nobody else brings back 20 starters. But what sells the Rebels wasn't their big win over in-state rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl finale or the fact they return so many starters. This is about the way Ole Miss hung tough versus top SEC competition. Both Texas A&M and LSU were more than happy to come out victorious against the Rebels by less than a touchdown. The convincing bowl win over Pittsburgh only furthered the Ole Miss promise for 2013.

2. Texas - Again, another team bringing back a ton of starters. The pressure is on in Austin as the Longhorn faithful seems to believe head coach Mack Brown has been doing less with more in regards to wins vs. talent. Beating Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl carries this a step further in regards to higher expectations. The Longhorns are poised for a Top 10 push...on paper that is.

3. Miami FL - The Hurricanes just don't have any defense while ranking near the bottom of the ACC in almost every single defensive statistic. The NCAA still has an investigative cloud over the program in regards to what sanctions might be on the way. But none of this has kept head coach Al Golden off the successful recruiting path. This team, especially the defense, was extremely young. Stephen Morris is improving as a passing quarterback and the skill positions have speed and talent behind a veteran offensive line. This is shaping up to be the best offense in the ACC.

4. East Carolina - With 18 starters returning it's likely they will be the favorite to win Conference USA. Whether that can equate to a Top 25 ranking at some point remains to be seen. But non-conference opponents North Carolina, NC State and Virginia Tech better take upset notice.

5. Washington - Seattle is just waiting for something to give with the Huskies in regards to getting some Top 25 respect. The upcoming season offers a great chance to get that respect. With 18 starters coming back, QB Keith Price, RB Bishop Sankey, All-American TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins among them, this Husky team is going to make it.

From head coaches, to players leaving early, to conference realignment...nothing represents change more than what 2013 will offer. But not so in regards to King of the Hill discussions. The SEC will continue to dominate college football and this year's Top 10 will be next year's Top 10.