By Nate Sarmir-TRST College Football Analyst
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10. Arkansas Razorbacks– Arkansas’s offseason started with turmoil, after Head Coach Bobby Petrino was dismissed for a very public affair, the Razorbacks got back to football. As they got back to football, it became very apparent that the Razorbacks are closing in on the reign of Alabama and LSU, and that they will have a good chance to make some noise in the SEC this year. All-Conference Quarterback Tyler Wilson (3422 yards and 22 TDs)turned down the NFL for another season with the Razorbacks, and the offense will get a boost with the return of running back Knile Davis (1322 yards and 13TDS in 2010) who returns from a leg injury that prevented his participation last season. The running back position will be a battle for Davis though because while he was out Dennis Johnson was All-SEC last year gaining 670 yards and 3 TDs. The receiving corps must be revamped, but wide receiver Cobi Hamilton (542 yards and 4 TDs) and tight end Chris Gragg (518 yards and 2 TDs) provide a solid foundation to rebuild around. New defensive coordinator Paul Haynes will have his work cut out for him in 2012, as the Razorbacks will be replacing three of their top players; Defensive end Jake Bequette, linebacker Jerry Franklin and safety Tramain Thomas. That taken into consideration, seven starters are returning to the Razorbacks defense. All-Conference punter Dylan Breeding will also stay for his senior year. Projected Record: 10-2
9. South Carolina Gamecocks– After finishing 11-2 and sweeping the SEC East for the first time in school history, Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks look to repeat in 2012. Although Georgia is favorited over the Gamecocks in the SEC East, they will have to battle the Gamecocks in South Carolina. Quarterback Connor Shaw (1218 yards and 12TDs) played well at the end of the season, and the offense will get a boost with running back Marcus Lattimore (818 yards and 10 TDs) returning from a torn ACL. Replacing receiver Alshon Jeffery is the biggest question mark facing the offense in 2012. The Gamecocks will have some stability though with Wide Receiver Ace Sanders (338yards and 2 TDs) and TE Justice Cunningham (142 yards and 1 TD) returning. The Gamecocks finished third nationally in total defense in 2011, but suffered somekey departures, including end Melvin Ingram and cornerback Stephon Gilmore.They return 7 starters including All-Conference Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.The future also looks bright at the QB position with the recruitment of PA Gatorade Player of the year and State Champion Quarterback Brendan Nosovitch. Projected Record: 11-1
8. Michigan Wolverines– With Ohio State ineligible for the Big Ten title, the balance of power in the Big Ten is clearly resting in the Legends Division. The Wolverines are the early favorites, thanks to the return of quarterback Denard Robinson (2056 yards and 18 TDs) and an improving defense. Coach Brady Hoke’s first year in Ann Arbor was a success, as Michigan won 11 games and played in a BCS game for the first time since the 2007 Rose Bowl. For the Wolverines to crack the top five, Robinson has to cut down on his interceptions (15) and improve his completion percentage (55%). The defense showed big progress under coordinator Greg Mattison, but will be replacing two key starters on the line. The Wolverines will have one of the nation’s best secondaries led by J.T. Floyd. Also middle linebacker Kenny Demens looks to surpass 100 career tackles this year. The Wolverines won’t have an easy schedule next year, as Alabama and Notre Dame await in their non-conference play, while they have conference road games against Ohio State and Nebraska. Projected Record: 10-2
7. Florida State Seminoles– This Seminoles did not have the big season most expected in 2011, but the pieces are in place to win the ACC Championship in 2012. And when youconsider the losses at Clemson and Virginia Tech, Florida State becomes an evenbigger favorite to win the ACC. The defense should be among the best in thenation with returning All-Conference players such as Defensive end Brandon Jenkins and Free Safety Lamarcus Joyner, while the young talent on offense should be improved with another offseason to work with quarterback EJ Manuel(2417 yards and 16 TDs) and running back Devonta Freeman (531 yards and 8 TDs).How well this young offensive line can develop will determine just how high Florida State can climb next season.Projected Record: 9-3
6. Georgia Bulldogs-It’s not crazy to think Coach Mark Richt could go from almost losing his job after a disappointing 2011 to contending for the national title in 2012. The Bulldogs have the pieces to contend for a top-five finish this year, starting with quarterback Aaron Murray(2861 yards and 33 TDs) and a defense that returns nearly everyone including All-Americans OLB Jarvis Jones and FS Bacarri Rambo. Improving the rushing attack, Isaiah Crowell (847 and 5 TDs), was one of the priorities during preseason practices. The offensive line will have to replace two key stalwartsin left tackle Cordy Glenn and center Ben Jones. The receiving corps looks solid with the return of starters Malcolm Mitchell (665 yards and 4 TDs)and Tavarres King (705 yards and 8 TDs). Projected Record 11-1
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