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Depending on your point of view, 2012 is either the dying days of the old era or the dawn of a new era in college football. Ten teams will be playing in new conferences this season, yet the BCS, though in its death throes, isn’t yet ready to go away. To get to any semblance of a playoff, you have to sit through two more years of the now rancid arrangement.

But no matter what, 2012 will not be business as usual. Every conference except the Big Ten and Pac-12 – which did their own expansions last year – will see membership changes in the next 12 months, with 16 more scheduled to take place in 2013. So now we peer into all this turbulence ahead and attempt to answer the 10 most pressing questions for the upcoming season:

1. Will there be a new top dog in the Big 12?

West Virginia and TCU will replace Missouri and Texas A&M in the 10-team conference and they couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Both Oklahoma and Texas are coming off awful 2011 campaigns, while Baylor and Oklahoma State, last season’s top teams, both lost their quarterbacks in the first round of the NFL Draft. The Mountaineers, with a high-powered offense and a favorable schedule, just might win the league title in their first year.

2. Can Big East survive as a football conference?

West Virginia is gone, Syracuse and Pittsburgh are out the door to the ACC likely next season, and commissioner John Marinatto is pushed out by the conference’s basketball faction. Big East is supposed to add Temple this season and six more teams in 2013 – but some of them might opt to bolt even before they start playing, just like what TCU did. As of now, the Big East does not have a new TV pact and there’s every possibility that the basketball schools just might regain control of the conference.

3. Are Michigan and Ohio State ready to resume control of the Big Ten?

The Wolverines finished in the top 10 and won a BCS bowl in the first year after Rich Rodriguez, and the future looks bright, especially with a retooled defense. The Buckeyes will be ineligible to play in a bowl game next season but the hiring of Urban Meyer has been nearly a cure-all as he hauled in a top-five recruiting class. Ohio State won’t be able to play in the 2012 conference title game, so it will have to settle for beating their archrival to cap off the season.

4. Is Florida State due for a real renaissance?

The Seminoles were the odds-on favorite to win the ACC and a dark horse for the national title last season, but they imploded because of inconsistent quarterback play. If they can get reasonable production out of EJ Manuel or one of his challengers, coupled with a relatively benign ACC schedule, this might be the FSU’s best year since its last championship season of 1999.

5. Will ‘Bama have enough horses to chase down LSU again?

Never mind the departure of running back Trent Richardson, Alabama will have the hardest time replacing five starters on a defense that shut out LSU in the BCS championship game. Nick Saban wasted no time to reload, but trying to overcome the talent-laden Tigers in Death Valley might be asking a bit too much.

6. How might Boise State get out of its current limbo?

Boise State is having second thoughts about its impending move as the "new" Big East may still fall apart from further defections and the WAC, where the Broncos are supposed to park all their non-football teams, is coming apart at the seams. There is a possibility that they might take their Olympic sports teams to the Big West or renege on their Big East commitment altogether and remain in a reconstituted Mountain West.

7. What’s going to become the BCS after 2013?

We know this much: The current system is dead after 2013 and there will be a four-team playoff, with the championship game will be played at a non-bowl neutral site. But the devil is in the details. How will we come up with the four teams in the playoff? Where will the semifinal games be played? How will the massive new TV money pie be divvied up? We should know the answers to those questions sometime soon, as the university presidents are set to vote on the proposals.

8. How much will USC be hurt by scholarship reductions?

The Trojans are coming off a two-year bowl ban, but the scholarship bite is just getting started. USC loses 10 scholarships in each of the next three seasons and depth will become an issue for an otherwise loaded 2012 team led by quarterback Matt Barkley. Coach Lane Kiffin will need to find novel ways – and a lot of luck – to keep his front-line players healthy.

9. Who’s going to challenge Matt Barkley for the Heisman Trophy?

With perhaps the nation’s best receiving duo of Robert Woods and Marquis Lee, Barkley is widely expected to have a banner season and therefore he’s the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman. But he’ll have plenty of competition from running backs Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina) and Montee Ball (Wisconsin) and quarterbacks Aaron Murray (Georgia), Collin Klein (Kansas State) and Geno Smith (West Virginia).

10. And the team that holds up the crystal ball in Miami will be … ?

If USC can avoid the injury bug – a big if – it has more than enough talent to romp through a mediocre Pac-12 with a favorable schedule that likely includes a conference title game at home in the L.A. Coliseum. The Trojans then will get a chance to end the SEC’s six-year monopoly on the BCS title by taking on LSU in the title game in Miami, the site of their last national championship triumph in January 2005 (even if the NCAA insists that it never happened).






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