Never Too Early: 2009 College Football Preseason Top 25

James ColtCorrespondent IJanuary 9, 2009

I know that early polls are the problem with rankings when the end of the season rolls around because it creates an expectation of teams that leads to voting biases, but since they are done anyway I'm going to submit my early 2009 poll.

Obviously, not everyone has declared yet so I'll probably update once the declaration date for the NFL has passed. 

So here we go; the 2009 Top 25 are:

1. Florida

With Tim Tebow most likely coming back, who doesn't like the Gators? 19 of the Gators' 22 starters are eligible to come back, but Harvin and Spikes are expected to leave early. Still with all of the talent left the Gators will be huge Vegas favorites to repeat in 2009, as long as Superman returns that is.

2. USC

The Trojans got to enjoy having one of the greatest defenses of all time this year, and at least nine of those players will be gone for 2009, but we all know that USC simply reloads talent, especially on defense.

If Mark Sanchez returns for his senior campaign, the men of Troy will have 10 returning starters on offense, including one of the best receivers in Damian Williams, and one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country in Joe McKnight.

If USC can get motivated to play every game this year (and they will have to because they have a murderous schedule in 2009),, then they will find themselves with the chance to hoist the crystal ball.

3. Texas

Texas was a big time overachiever this year.  The experience they gained from being the hunted in 2008 will serve this team well in 2009.  Colt McCoy says he is returning to the team in 2009, and back for a sixth year will be his best friend and go-to guy Jordan Shipley.

The defensive line is suffering the most losses for the Longhorns with three starters gone for 2009, but that is a position they were deep at for 2008, and their production shouldn't drop off much.

The young Texas secondary looks to be a strength for the Longhorns in 2009, with the youngsters gaining a lot of valuable experience in 2008. A Big 12 title should be in the picture for the Longhorns.

4. LSU 

After a down year for the Tigers, I believe they will rebound nicely in 2009.  The defense looked outstanding against a Georgia Tech that tore apart fellow SEC member Georgia. Also, it looks as though the quarterback position has come into focus for the Tigers and shouldn't be a weakness for them in 2009.

LSU could throw some interesting looks next year with both Jefferson and incoming freshman Russell Shepard in the backfield at the same time. I look for LSU to claim the SEC West title next year.

5. Oklahoma

The last two games of the season were very strong showings for this Sooners defense that will return nine starters next year. If Bradford decides to jet for the NFL, the Sooners will likely have to rely on this defense to be their strong point, and then rely on a strong running game from DeMarco Murray. If Bradford returns, then we will once again see a three horse race for the Big 12 South.

6. Ole Miss

I like what the Rebels were able to do at the end of the year last year.  They will have 17 starters returning from that surprise team in 2008 including standout QB Jevan Snead, and all-purpose man Dexter McCluster. The Rebels will challenge for the SEC West crown.

7. Virginia Tech

QB Tyrod Taylor has shown that he is a big time playmaker from the quarterback position. Taylor had expected to spend the '08 season as a redshirt, but due to the lack of production from Sean Glennon, Taylor was thrust into the starter's role and brought home an Orange Bowl victory for the Hokies.

Along with Taylor the offense will return nine starters, and a host of young talent on defense that saw valuable time in 2008.  Virginia Tech should bring home the ACC title once again, and will find themselves in the BCS title hunt.

8. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys will be returning nine starters on offense including three dynamic talents in QB Zac Robinson, RB Kendall Hunter, and arguably the receiver in the country Dez Bryant.  It is possible with Texas having to travel to Stillwater that we could see yet another three -way tie in the Big 12 South in 2009, as the Cowboys will be strong contenders in that division yet again.

9. Oregon

The Ducks finished 2008 very strong and have a lot to build on, especially with their offense, for 2009. The return of Mike Belloti would help greatly as well, and having USC come to Eugene is a definite plus since USC has struggled in the state of Oregon for the past few years.

10. Ohio State

At this point my job is really getting tough. I don't know if the Buckeyes will be top ten caliber next season, but I'm having a hard time finding anyone else I believe will be. The loss of Beanie Wells will hurt the Buckeyes greatly as will the loss of Laurinaitas and Jenkins on defense.

The play making ability of Pryor may be enough to keep the Buckeyes atop the Big Ten next year, especially if he can learn to be a better passer, and not to run out of bounds so early when he runs. The Big Ten should be wide open with no real great team, but hopefully one will emerge.

11. Alabama

I'm not as sold on the upside of the Tide for 2009 like so many people are.  I think they benefited from sneaking up on people early, and then playing a bit of a soft schedule until the SEC title game.  The success of the team may depend on the return of DT Terrence Cody. I for one expect him to leave, but we have to wait and see. 

Also, of detriment besides losing their experienced signal caller is the loss of their two best offensive linemen. We already saw what happened to the Bama line when Smith was out of the Sugar Bowl. Luckily, Alabama will have an athletic QB next year because I suspect he will be running for his life quite a bit.

When, whoever the QB is for Alabama next year actually gets time to throw, he will have a huge benefit of throwing to Julio Jones. I suspect Bama will finish third or fourth in the West next year, which may be the toughest division in college football for 2009.

12. Georgia Tech

The Yellow Jackets showed the world that the old triple option play isn't dead yet, and with all their top playmakers back for 2009, the Jackets should be able to build upon their success from 2008.

13. Iowa

2009 will let us see just how valuable Shonn Greene was to the success of the Hawkeyes. Despite his loss, they will be returning eight starters on offense and seven of defense. It's amazing how in one season Kirk Ferentz went from hot seat to hot commodity. We'll see if he can stay hot in '09.

14. Nebraska

A team that flew under the radar for the entire 2008 season and somehow managed not to finish the season in the top 25, Nebraska will be one of the leading contenders for the Big 12 North title. Perhaps lost in all the other Big 12 stories of 2008 was the excellent coaching job of Bo Pelini. He took a team from 5-7 to 9-4 and a Gator Bowl victory. The biggest challenge is going to be replacing Gator Bowl MVP Joe Ganz.

15. North Carolina

Butch Davis is working his magic yet again. He is turning the Tar Heels back into a successful team; the Heels had been terrible since the departure of Mack Brown. This is definitely a team that is a sleeper to win the ACC title. The loss of Hakeem Nicks will loom large, but the Tar Heels still have a lot of talent returning for Davis in 2009.

16. Florida State

The Seminoles will have quite a bit of experience returning on offense including quarterback Christian Ponder. However, Mickey Andrews will have his work cut out for him with his defense especially in the secondary. If the defense is adequate the Seminoles may be in the hunt for a Coastal Division title.

17. Kansas 

2008 may have seemed like a down year for the Jayhawks after 2007, but they ended very strong with a win over Missouri and then the most dominating performance by a Big 12 team in a bowl game.

Highlighting the returners for 2009 will be QB Todd Reesing and WR Dezmon Briscoe. This could be one of the best pass catch tandems in the country for 2009. If the Jayhawks are going to contend with Nebraska in the North, though they need to find a way to get it done on the ground.

18. Penn State

Penn State looks to have a good shot at repeating as Big 10 champs in 2009 with the return of QB Darryl Clark and RB Evan Royster, but in the end they may just be losing too much, and have too many holes to fill. Joe Pa will certainly have his work cut out for him in 2009.

19. California

Jahvid Best will be the key to the success of the Bears in 2009.  Whenever Best goes, so will the Golden Bears of Cal. I would look for Cal in the Holiday Bowl.

20. Miami

The Hurricanes had a wealth of underclassmen play in 2008, and at times they played very well. They ended on a down note in '08, but that can be expected of young players.

I expect Miami to compete in 2009 and surprise a few folks. I think I'm starting to see the ACC rising back up.

21. Utah

The Utes will have a lot of holes to fill, but you can't completely discount the success that they had as a one-year wonder. They have built a quality program out there, and I expect to see them finish strong in 2009.

22. TCU

Always keyed by their defense the Horned Frogs will need to replace seven starters on that side of the ball, but will have DE Jerry Hughes returning. Like Utah, Gary Patterson always has a quality, perennial top 25 team.

23. Vanderbilt 

I hate myself for this one, but they do return 18 starters from a team that won their bowl against ACC runner-up Boston College. The Commodores also finally found a solid quarterback that could take them to places they have never seen in Larry Smith. Well maybe not, but another bowl game isn't out of the question.

24. Boise State

Benefiting from playing in the WAC, Boise will yet again look strong.  Their only blemish will be against Oregon, but Kellen Moore looks to be every bit as good as advertised.

25a. Minnesota

They ended very poorly in 2008, but they still return 19 starters, and do play in a weak conference.  Eight to nine wins may not be out of the question for the Gophers in 2009.

25b. Arkansas

Arkansas is my sleeper for the 2009 season. I like Ryan Mallet as the quarter back for Bobby Petrino's system. I like all of the returning players that the Hogs will have for the 2009 season. So many underclassmen saw time last year, and you could visibly see them grow every game.

The Hogs will surprise many next year, and if they get some good breaks could finish in the top 15. Of course, with their schedule being so tough they could play really well and still not make a bowl. I think they will be in between those two scenarios and finish 8-5.

Well that's my "way too early" 2009 top 25.  I did not really include SOS in my rankings, but went off of who I thought had the talent to be in these positions.

I always appreciate any feedback, and love to debate the merits of teams if you disagree with me.


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