The Daily's college football top 25 countdown: Nos. 20 to 16
2012 preseason top 25
College football season is fast-approaching, and we here at The Daily are releasing out own preseason top 25. We will release five teams a day for the rest of the week, finishing with our top five Friday. Up today: Nos. 20 through 16.
No. 20 Oklahoma State
The big question in Stillwater: What will the program be like without offensive playmakers Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon? The Cowboys aren't left empty-handed since junior running back Joseph Randle returns to help lead the OSU offensive youth. Randle finished with 1,216 total yards and 26 touchdowns last season despite playing behind the Weeden-to-Blackmon play calls, but now the Cowboys will look to the veteran back to help keep them in tight games. Combine that with eight starters returning on defense and the Cowboys become a team that no Big 12 opponent should overlook.
No. 19 Clemson
Each year, there seems to be a team that somehow squeaks out impossible wins and becomes an unexpected title contender near season’s end. And then, sure enough, that team’s luck runs out, and its true colors are exposed. Clemson was that team last year. The Tigers began the season 9-1 before dropping three of their last four games by a combined score of 141-59, including a 70-33 Orange Bowl trouncing at the hands of West Virginia. But with the arrival of new defensive coordinator Brent Venables of Oklahoma fame and the return of the Tigers’ triplets — junior quarterback Tajh Boyd, senior running back Andre Ellington and sophomore receiver Sammy Watkins — Clemson hopes to capture its second consecutive ACC crown.
No. 18 Texas
Kansas State and Oklahoma State have each had Texas' number in the previous two seasons, but this year, the Longhorns are stacked on both sides of the ball to make things interesting in the Big 12. Defensive ends Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat, along with senior safety Kenny Vaccaro, anchor a defensive squad that returns six starters from last season. Both of Texas' top running backs — sophomores Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron — return with an important year under their belt. Sophomore quarterback David Ash also returns with important experience after finishing his first year with 1,068 yards passing and will most likely start under center for a Longhorn offense that has struggled lately to find its identity out on the field. But this could be the season coach Mack Brown proves why he deserves to be one of the highest-paid coaches in college football.
No. 17 Virginia Tech
The Hokies have made a habit of quietly producing a quality football team each fall. Over the past decade, only Boise State, Oklahoma, Texas, LSU, USC and Ohio State have more wins than Virginia Tech — a testament Hokies coach Frank Beamer, the longest-tenured active head coach in college football. Last year, Virginia Tech lost only three games, falling one win short of its fourth ACC championship in five seasons. The Hokies lost their stud running back and a pair of top receivers in the draft, but Tech returns 6-foot-6, 254-pound junior quarterback Logan Thomas. The hulking Thomas passed for more than 3,500 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, in addition to leading the team with 11 rushing touchdowns.
No. 16 Michigan State
The Spartans are always a threat in the Big Ten. When only four teams — Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska — should pose any threat to Michigan State, they shouldn't have any trouble being fifth best in the conference at the very least. They do have to replace quarterback Kirk Cousins; however, junior Andrew Maxwell has shown productive flashes backing up Cousins and looks to be prepared for a starting role. Maxwell will have the use of sophomore wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett, who recently received a waiver from the NCAA that will allow him to forgo sitting out one year after transferring from Tennessee. Big Ten games are often tight, low-scoring affairs in which a good kicking game can make a big difference, and Michigan State's Dan Conroy is one of the conference's best.