An easy No. 1—19-of-22 starters returning on the whole team (all 11 on defense back) from the 2008 championship team. A dangerous rushing attack with Tebow, Demps and Rainey. No question about it.
Although Sanchez is gone, remember how every year USC lost a QB another one stepped up and was fine? Also, four of five offensive linemen return along with the dangerous running trio of McKnight, Gable, and Johson. Taylor Mays, five-star recruits at literally every position, and a good defensive scheme—there's no question they'll be tough on defense again.
QB Colt McCoy, his favorite target Jordan Shipley, and four starting offensive linemen return to form (again) a very good offense. UT's rush defense is always tough, and they have most of the secondary returning, which should make another great Texas defense.
Heisman winning QB Sam Bradford returns, along with RBs Chris Brown and Demarco Murray. The big question about OU’s offense is how their offensive line—in my opinion the most important part of an offense—will play despite losing all five starters. The defense returns 9 starters from a good squad last year.
5. Ole Miss
The Rebels return most of the offensive line, QB Jevan Snead (145.51 QB Rating last year, 21st in nation), and key rushers Dexter McCluster, Brandon Bolden, and Cordera Eason returning. The 2008 offense was 29th nationally in yards, 28th in scoring, and it looks to be much better in 2009.
The 2008 defense was 19th nationally in yards allowed, 20th in points allowed, and they have eight starters back there. This is all from a team that beat Florida, Texas Tech, and almost Alabama. The Rebels are extremely underrated by most people for 2009.
Alabama loses QB John Parker-Wilson, RB Glen Coffee, and OT Andre Smith from an offense that already wasn’t great, but they do have WR Julio Jones returning. Their third ranked defense loses just two starters, and should be even better in 2009. Plenty of good recruits are there to help out the Tide when they need them, too.
7. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys will probably have the best offense in the nation with QB Zac Robinson, RB Kendall Hunter, WR Dez Bryant, and most of the offensive line returning—all of that from 2008’s sixth ranked total offense and ninth ranked scoring offense. The defense returns six starters, mainly up front, so they should have a decent rush defense, but Oklahoma State might struggle against the pass.
8. Virginia Tech
QB Tyrod Taylor needs to develop into a better passer, and the return of all of VT’s receivers will help him out. He was a good rusher too, and returning RB Darren Evans will definitely help out the Hokies’ rush offense, which was good in 2008 (the overall offense was pretty bad, though).
In 2008, VT’s defense was seventh and ninth in the nation in total defense and scoring defense, respectively. It has seven starters returning, and should be just as solid as it was in 2008.
9. Ohio State
QB Terrelle Pryor returns, and had a 146.5 QB rating in 2008 along with averaging about 50 YPG on the ground. He should be much better in 2009, especially since the Buckeyes return most of the offensive line. Although they lost a lot of talent on defense, they do have seven starters returning from an already good squad, and should be very good again in 2009.
RB Jahvid Best returns after leading the Pac-10 in rushing, and should be a Heisman contender in 2009. QB Kevin Riley also returns and should be decent. The defense that ranked 26th nationally in yards allowed and 23rd in points allowed has eight starters returning. The Golden Bears are a Pac-10 contender for 2009, especially since they have USC and Arizona at home.
Georgia does lose QB Matt Stafford and RB Knowshon Moreno, but has most of its offensive line returning, QB Joe Cox (who should be pretty good), and plenty of RBs to pick from. The defense has most of its starters back for 2009, and it was one of the better squads in the nation in 2008.
Iowa’s offense should actually improve, despite losing RB Shonn Greene. RB Jewel Hampton ran for nearly 500 yards and had seven TDs with a 5.1 average as a true freshman playing behind Greene. 2008 sophomore QB Ricky Stanzi had one of the nation’s better ratings last year, and improved down the stretch.
His receivers should be very talented, along with the O-Line which has most of its starters returning. The Hawkeyes’ defense that ranked 13th nationally in yards allowed and fifth nationally in points allowed has eight starters back, including all of the linebackers from 2008.
The Tigers have Charles Scott and Keiland Williams returning with most of the offensive line, so look for a pretty good rush offense in 2009. What I’m confused about is why everyone is getting so hyped up about Jordan Jefferson—he didn’t play very much at all, and when he did he had a bad QB rating.
The defense has most of its starters back, and should be much better for this season. LSU has a lot of questions, but look out—if they answer them correctly, they could be a power.
14. Penn State
Penn State has a lot of questions—by a lot I mean more than anyone else. They were very good in 2008, but lose most of their offensive line and all of their receivers. QB Darryl Clark and RB Evan Royster will be good once again, and the Nittany Lions’ offense will be too (just not as good as 2008).
The defense loses most of its starters, but has LBs Navarro Bowman and Sean Lee back, which is a good place to build your defense around. The defense should be okay in 2009.
15. Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech has all of the rushers that made their triple-option offense work, but lose most of their offensive line. They should still have a dangerous rushing attack. The defense was good in 2009 and has six starters returning. GT needs to get some things done in the offseason, most notably to rebuild their offensive line, but should be a good team in 2009.
16. Boise State
Boise State returns QB Kellen Moore, who had a 157.1 QB rating in 2008. The hole left by RB Ian Johnson should be filled well by RB Jeremy Avery, who ran for 614 yards, four TDs, and had a 5.5 average in 2008. The defense loses over half of their starters, but should still be pretty good in 2009.
I’m not so sure about Oregon in 2009, as a lot of people are. The Ducks, in my opinion, lose way too many starters along the offensive and defensive lines to be as good as they were in 2008.
QB Jeremiah Masoli and RB LeGarrate Blount return, but they lose RB Jeremiah Johnson (you have to remember he was still more than half of the running game—Blount can’t do what these two did combined in 2008 by himself). The Ducks lose many people from a defense that struggled against the pass in 2008, but should have a decent rush defense.
BYU has QB Max Hall returning as well as huge RB Harvey Unga, so the offense should be pretty good. The defense returns most of its starters in the front seven, so look for a pretty good rush defense. The Cougars have a tough schedule for 2009, but if they can pull off some upsets, might find themselves getting a BCS at-large bid (probably not, though).
Utah loses QB Brian Johnson, a huge part of their success, but most of the offensive line returns along with RB Matt Asiata. The defense, which was very good in 2008, has nine starters back, so they should be very good once again. The Utes have a lot to compete with in 2009.
20. Florida State
Florida State’s offense has QB Christian Ponder and I think all of the offensive line returning, but they lose RB Antone Smith. The Seminoles should have a decent offense, and look to have a very good defense with eight starters back from one of the nation’s best in 2008.
Kansas’ offense looks to be one of the nation’s better ones, with QB Todd Reesing, RB Jake Sharp, and WRs Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier return from the nation’s 21st best offense. The defense, although not so great in 2009, returns 7 starters and should be much better next year.
Arizona is a team not many people look at, but since they have RB Nicholas Grigsby back (well over 1,000 yards in 2008) along with much of the offensive line and seven defensive starters (from the nation’s 24th best defense), they should be here. Watch out for them—they are a 2009 Pac 10 sleeper.
TCU loses many starters as a team, but QB Andy Dalton will help out. The defense, despite losing most of its starters, has DE Jerry Hughes back, who will be a huge asset and should make TCU’s defense much better. The Horned Frogs have a lot of questions too, but could take the MWC and possibly a BCS bid if they answer them correctly.
The Wildcats come into 2009 with QB Mike Kafka and most of the offensive line back, so they should be okay on offense in 2009. The defense was actually pretty good in 2008, and returns eight starters. Northwestern is one of many Big Ten teams with a lot of potential and could surprise some people in 2009.
25. West Virginia
Even though the offense loses QB Pat White, they have RB Noel Devine (1,289 yards, 4 TDs, 6.3 YPC in 2008) and much of the offensive line, so should be okay on offense next year. The defense was 36th nationally in yards allowed last year (11th in points allowed), and they return eight starters, so they should also be very good there next year.
They don’t have much to compete with next year, and should take the Big East fairly easily.
OTHERS CONSIDERED (in order by conference): Boston College, Miami (FL), North Carolina, Nebraska, Texas Tech, Baylor, Pittsburgh, South Florida, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan State, Purdue, Southern Mississippi, Oregon State, Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame.