Never too early for a look ahead. Here's a breakdown of the favorites to win the 2012-13 national championship. Any chance someone ends the Southeastern Conference's stranglehold on the title? LSU and Alabama again start at the top.
Les Miles has repeatedly said the 2011 team was actually built for 2012. Alarming, considering how well the Tigers played until the final game. LSU recently landed a quarterback, too. But will Gunner Kiel be ready for action as a freshman? If not, plenty of defensive youth prowling to keep the Bayou Bengals in low-scoring games. Tyrann Mathieu and Sam Montgomery are juniors in 2012.
The defending champs will lose a lot on both sides of the ball. But here's the thing: The guys replacing the outgoing players were all blue-chippers, and Bama is currently No. 1 in most services' 2012 recruiting rankings. You might not have heard of the youngsters yet, but you can bet a handful will be stars right away and have the Tide right back in the national title mix. Quarterback A.J. McCarron looked this week like he's ready for a big junior season.
Lane Kiffin got Matt Barkley to come back on the basis of what the team could do in 2012. It was enough to sell Barkley, who likely would have been a top-10 pick. Barkley's best receiver, Robert Woods, is back and so is the bulk of the Trojans' defense — but that has sometimes been a sore spot for USC. Don't discount the fact that this team, fresh off probation, now has something to play for.