Spring football has opened for a majority of schools, and the excitement of college football is in the air again.
Granted, it is quite a while before we reach the opening kickoff of the 2009 season, but there seems to be certain team who we can already project to be contending for the BCS title in the coming season.
There are many things that can occur between now and August that could substantially affect these projected results, but I predict we will see a lot of the same players, and perhaps a few new faces contending for the better bowls. This, then, is a projection of potential team power, not a prediction of actual results.
To the chagrin of many college football fans, I am projecting Florida to repeat as National Champions. The Gators are pretty much loaded and return the vast majority of their starters, including Tim Tebow. They have tremendous depth in terms of talent and will once again, punish their opponents.
LSU took a step back last year and I hope you enjoyed it. I believe the Bayou Bengals will return to their previous form this year. Last year they had to overcome not having a seasoned quarterback, which won't be the case this year.
Though they had some losses in players, they have sufficient depth and talent to win the SEC West and make another run at the SEC Championship Game, which they will lose to Florida.
Georgia should surprise some people this year. Everyone expects Georgia to have a down-year with the loss of Stafford and Moreno, but all Georgia needs at quarterback is someone to manage the game and not make mistakes.
With great recruiting classes over the last four years, they have the talent on campus to play well enough to be in the mix this year, but they won't make it to a BCS Bowl.
Texas will be back. I'm sorry Oklahoma fans, but Texas wins the shootout in Dallas again this year, as well as the Big 12 South. They are loaded as well this year and with the boy wonder, Colt McCoy, back at quarterback, the Longhorns will find themselves in a BCS Bowl this year.
They return 16 starters.
USC will again assert themselves in the Pac-10. How can they not? They are annually deep in talent at virtually every position. The biggest question they have this year is at quarterback, and that isn't much of a question for them.
I expect that Mitch Mustain, a strong-armed, intelligent quarterback that transferred from Arkansas will be their starter. He is the latest "heir to the throne" of the next greatest USC quarterbacks.
Oklahoma will again have a great team, Unfortunately for them, the Big 12 South Division can easily be rated the second most difficult conference, behind the SEC, in all of Division I football.
Stoops and his troops will more than likely find themselves in a BCS Bowl again over the Big 12 North predicted champion Nebraska, but not one that leads to a chance at the national championship.
Will they win that game? Based on their previous results, I would have to say no. But they are "due" to win, regardless of who they play. Bradford and his cohorts have an axe to grind.
Rich Rodriguez and his Michigan Wolverines were much maligned last year. Obviously, the results were not what anyone expected. With tremendous recruiting classes to lean on in the past four years and 17 starters returning, Michigan is my pick to win the Big Ten.
There is a lot of talent on that team. Yes, you heard me correctly. Ohio State falls from glory and Rodriguez shows why he was hired at Michigan. You'll see Michigan in the Rose Bowl next year.
California will be the second best team in the Pac-10 next year. Returning 15 starters, this team will win most of their games and, in fact, may only lose to USC. With Oregon and Oregon State producing less next year, it is left to Cal to challenge the King of the Hill, USC.
However, they won't be successful in doing so. They will have a good team and find their way to a good bowl game, but it won't be BCS in stature.
Tennessee will be revived as a program. Even though there have been several offseason public relations "faux pas" by their new head coach, Lane Kiffin, the Volunteers have a lot of talent on campus.
They have averaged a top 20 recruiting class the last four years, according to the combined rankings of both Scout and Rivals. They return only 14 starters but tend to be deep in talent.
Will Kiffin make the most of it? He should, the talent is there for them to be more successful than last year. They are my pick to come in third in the SEC East behind Florida and Georgia.
Then there is Arkansas. Who would have thought that the much maligned Bobby Petrino could bring Arkansas back this quickly? With recruiting classes that have averaged No. 28 over the past four seasons and with Petrino's enhanced recruiting class this past year, the Hogs come into this season with unanticipated depth at several positions.
They also posses a young defense that was schooled in the SEC last year.
With a remarkable 19 starters returning and Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett at quarterback, as well as tremendous depth at running back and wide receiver, this team is poised to surprise not only the SEC, but the masses.
Arkansas will be better than anyone expects. The SEC West will probably be decided between LSU and Arkansas, in the last game of the regular season in Baton Rouge. Arkansas will lose to LSU but get a good, mid level bowl. This is my "sleeper pick" of the season.
Virginia Tech will be solid again this year and much of that has to do with Frank Beamer. He may be the most under-appreciated coach in all of Division I. They will win the ACC over Florida State and it really won't even be a contest. Tech returns 16 starters and will breeze their way to the ACC title and a BCS Bowl.
Notre Dame should be back, as they have the talent on hand, provided that Charlie Weiss can get out of the way. There is some doubt about this since he has chosen to take over the offensive coordinator reigns for the 2009 season. Weiss may be the greatest hindrance to the Fighting Irish.
If he doesn't finish in the top 20, you can expect to see Notre Dame taking action to unseat him. Notre Dame should be good this year. If not, expect changes to be made in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus.
Ohio State, as stated earlier, falls from grace, unseated by Michigan. They have fewer returning starters and an almost equal recruiting class to Michigan. Finally, the Buckeyes fall out of a BCS Bowl. They'll get a good bowl but not what they have been accustomed to in the past.
UCLA may be the surprise team of the nation. After lackluster results over the past several years compared to their recruiting classes, this team is my No. 3 pick in the Pac-10 under the leadership of Rick Neuheisal. They will still get beat by Cal and USC, but you can expect to see them in a bowl this year.
Nos. 15 through 18 will, in terms of potential overall power, be a battle between Auburn, South Carolina, Alabama and Ole Miss.
Auburn has a new offensive coordinator in "Spread Offense Guru" Gus Malzahn. With new head coach Gene Chizik, who was a very successful defensive coordinator at Texas prior to taking the head job at Iowa State—the place where you choose to go to die as a head coach—I expect to see the meshing of two great schemes.
The first year will be the most difficult due to the change, but after the first year, Auburn will be back contending for the SEC West.
South Carolina is a school with a very talented head coach and a very talented group of players. Their defensive coordinator is among the best in the nation, but for some reason they have failed to perform to expectations.
While they will be good and have games where they over-achieve, I expect that South Carolina, as in the past, will not meet fan expectations. It might be a good time for Spurrier to go back to work on his golf game. They'll get a minor bowl.
Alabama fans can expect to be less than happy this year after last year's showing. 'Bama fans tend to be maniacal and with the embarrassing loss to Utah last year, they will want blood if Saban doesn't have them in a BCS Bowl again this year, and win it. Saban goes on the hot seat this year.
Though they have a lot of talent, they only return 13 starters from last year's team and they have to find a quarterback who can make the offense move. 'Bama gets a minor bowl, but doesn't live up to the expectations of their fan base.
Ole Miss is the "sexy pick" for everyone this year after their surprising showing of last year. They do have 17 starters back from last year including their quarterback, Texas transfer Jevean Snead.
Some of their players made the decision to not go early to the draft, harboring hopes of a SEC Championship and a BCS Game this year. That could happen if everything falls just right. Houston Nutt certainly has an easy schedule and the easiest in the conference next to Alabama.
But Nutt-coached teams have a tendency to not focus at the right time. They tend to get up for big games, but not so much for the lesser games.
Who knows what can or will happen this year? If Ole Miss can remain appropriately focused for each game as it comes, they have the talent to surprise and perhaps have a shot at the SEC West. If they do, that deciding shot will come when they play Arkansas in Oxford.
Florida State is another team with tremendous talent that has not produced as they should have. They are absolutely laden with talent, but they will not overcome Va Tech for the ACC. How any team could have the talent base that they do and not be in the hunt for a national championship every year, is beyond me.
Bobby, retire while you are ahead. FSU gets a bowl, but a minor bowl. Bobby Bowden is an icon of college football. My greatest wish is that he retires with honor before he is forced out.
West Virginia will win the Big East this year, but they are not the West Virginia we all remember. Was Rich Rodriguez their heart and soul? Not sure. Time will tell. With only 13 returning starters they will have to battle Pitt for the Big East, but I predict they win and get a bowl bid.
That is my top 20 predictions in terms of potential power ratings for teams for the 2009 season. We'll see how it plays out, but I am excited, as I hope you are, that we are one day closer to that opening kickoff.
That's my view, from outside the boundaries.