Here’s the third version of the 2012 Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25:
1. LSU Tigers
Previous rank: 3
The Tigers finished 13-1 and reached the BCS National Championship Game with Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee playing quarterback in 2011. With juco transfer Mettenberger taking over under center, the Tigers might be balanced enough on offense to win a national title in 2012. Mettenberger showed off a strong and accurate arm during spring practice. With tailbacks Spencer Ware and Michael Ford coming back, LSU still figures to have a ground-oriented offense. At least Mettenberger gives LSU the threat of throwing the ball vertically. LSU’s schedule might be easier this coming season, too. Nonconference games against North Texas, Washington, Idaho and FCS foe Towson don’t seem nearly as difficult as last season’s non-SEC slate.
2. USC Trojans
Previous rank: 1
With 19 starters coming back from a 10-2 team in 2011, including star quarterback Matt Barkley, USC seems armed to return to national prominence. But the Trojans’ schedule seems much more difficult than LSU’s this coming season. The Trojans play Pac-12 road games at Stanford on Sept. 15 and at Washington on Oct. 13, along with a Nov. 3 home game against Oregon and Nov. 24 home finale against Notre Dame. Still, if the Trojans can solidify their defensive line they’ll be right in the mix for a BCS national championship. Opponents will have a difficult time slowing down Barkley and receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide
Previous rank: 2
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban seems determined to make sure the BCS national champion’s defense goes smoother this season. After winning a BCS title in 2009, the Crimson Tide finished 10-3 in 2010. Alabama will have to rebuild its defense after losing star linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw and All-America safety Mark Barron. Saban really likes linebackers Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson, and juco transfer Deion Blue helped solidify the secondary during the spring. Quarterback AJ McCarron said the Tide plan to open up their offense with a downfield passing game this coming season, but it’s hard to imagine them not running the ball often behind what might be one of the best offensive lines in school history.