Summer is ALMOST over and GUESS WHAT THAT MEANS? COLLEGE FOOTBALL IS RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER! This season promises to be an exciting and promising season with returning stars and dominant programs, not to mention we have 2 returning Heisman Trophy winners and a bevy of superstars waiting to breakout.
This is the beginning of a season-long weekly breakdowns of Robert Smith Donoho III’s Top 25, Heisman Trophy Race, and Bottom 10. This will be a weekly tradition and once bowl season comes around, I will also gaze into my crystal ball and look into the bowl season future.
Without further ado, here it is: the 2009 College Football Preview Special presented by RSD3!
1. FLORIDA (13-1) RETURNING STARTERS: OFF-8 DEF-11
- Yikes is what most of the nation has to be saying right now when seeing the Gators returning 19 of their 22 starters from their National Champion team of a year ago. Urban Meyer’s crew is already talking title in Gainesville and for good reason. Tim Tebow is back, the defense didn’t lose one starter, and the schedule appears to be quite favorable for the Mighty Gators this season. First off, the offense expects to be at full force once again next season. The loss of Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy from the receiving core will be felt, but it really isn’t a monumental loss since the Gators just continue to reload. Expect Tebow to sling the ball around to his talented speedsters David Nelson, Riley Cooper, and running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. Also look out for Brandon James to make more of an impact on the offensive side of the ball next season. James is the big play man on special teams, but Urban Meyer has mentioned the use of Brandon in the receiving core for 2009. The offensive line is the only question mark for the Gator offense, but that shouldn’t be too much of a concern for Tebow. Another thing to look for on the offensive side of the ball is 5-star recruit Andre Debose at receiver. He continues to wow in summer drills and could see some significant playing time this coming season. So, that defense…the only thing you can say about this defense is that they have too many returning starters. SERIOUSLY, THE ENTIRE DEFENSE IS RETURNING? Yes SEC fans, you better beware of the 9th ranked total defense in the country returning EVERY SINGLE STARTER from a year ago. The only question mark right now is linebacker Dustin Doe, who was recently arrested in Alabama and has been suspended from the team. There’s no indication how long he will be suspended for, but honestly what’s the big deal? Just plug in another player to go along with the 10 returning starters for Florida. Mentioned before, the schedule appears to be quite favorable for the Mighty Gators. 2 warm-up games against Charleston Southern and Troy should get the Gators ready for the renewed rivalry against Rocky Top. If there are games to watch in 2009, that game on September 19th should be circled. The tough conference games include trips to LSU and South Carolina, but there’s no Ole Miss, Alabama, or Auburn on the schedule which is quite shocking but only reinforces the argument that Florida will once again be on top of the college football world in 2009, and possibly the 2nd player in NCAA D-1 history with 2 Heisman Trophies could be there as well.
2. OKLAHOMA (12-2) RETURNING STARTERS: OFF-5 DEF-9
-Why is Oklahoma ahead of Texas in my preseason rankings? I just can’t get over the question marks with Texas right now. Oklahoma looks way too steady on both sides of the ball and the loss last season in the Red River Shootout should be a motivating point for Bob Stoops in 2009. Quickly gazing over this team, there’s no reason why it could be a repeat National Championship game in Pasadena. First off, returning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford is out for blood after being bullied in the title game against Florida in South Beach. Lucky for him, he brings back his All-American buddies TE Jermaine Gresham and LT Trent Williams. Not to mention the Sooner backfield will be loaded with All-Big 12 backs DeMarco Murray, FB Matt Clapp, and senior leader Chris Brown. The receiving core takes a hit with the losses of Juaquin Iglesias, Manuel Johnson, and Quentin Chaney, but the return of Ryan Broyles and Adron Tennell will help ease the pain a bit. The offensive line is where lies the biggest question mark of the Sooner team. Only one returning starter (Williams) and 4 newbies including redshirt freshman Ben Habern at center. That’s what could be a scary situation for Bob Stoops is whether his boys can protect Sam Bradford in the pocket and block for Murray and Brown. What isn’t a question mark is the Sooner D for 2009. Oklahoma was an abysmal 68th in total defense last season, but the entire front 7 is back including All-Americans Gerald McCoy and Travis Lewis, so Bradford might have the luxury of not having to put up 50 points a game to win. The schedule could be the one thing that might stand in Oklahoma’s way. Not including the Big 12 Championship game if they make it, they have a neutral site game against BYU, a trip to Miami (FL) and road trips in Lawrence, Lincoln, and Lubbock. What this schedule will do will get Oklahoma ready for a tough end of the season run that could put OU in position for their first BCS win in their last 5 tries. In fact here’s a point I would like to make, is there a reason why everyone is so hard on Ohio State? Oklahoma has been to 4 National Championships in the 2000’s, and a total of 7 BCS games and has only won 2! Guess what? Ohio State has been to 6 BCS games, has won 1 National Championship out of 3 tries, and is 3 out of 6! So lay off the Buckeyes and put the rag on Oklahoma until they win a BCS game (Okay, as a Buckeye fan I am done ranting, my apologies).
3. TEXAS (12-1) RETURNING STARTERS: OFF-9 DEF-7
-Talent abound for Mack Brown in 2009 as he has a perennial Heisman QB in Colt McCoy back for his senior season, and his roommate and partner in crime Jordan Shipley in the receiving core. It’s easy to see how most are picking UF and UT for the National Championship next season and it’s because of the returning talent. Starting on the offensive side of the ball first, McCoy, Shipley, Kirkendoll, and Malcolm Williams are all talented receivers and capable of putting up big years. The loss of Quan Cosby will hurt, but there is plenty of returning talent for the Horns on offense. 4 of 5 O-Linemen return up front as well which includes preseason All-American Adam Ulatoski at left tackle, who will easily be a first-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. The loss of Blaine Irby at tight end for McCoy won’t be an easy loss to handle, but they can plug in more talent, I mean, it’s Texas for goodness sakes. The defense loses quite a bit of leadership in Brian Orakpo, Rashad Bobino, and Ryan Palmer, but Mack Brown was able to put in a ton of backups and the experience will be needed as the secondary is starting 3 sophomores and a junior. The linebackers will probably be the strong point with seniors Jared Norton and Roddrick Muckelroy holding down in the middle. All-conference DE Sergio Kindle was suppose to lead the Longhorn defense in ’09, but leaving the scene of an car accident doesn’t really roll well with the Austin Police Department. Texas can go on without him, but they will miss his All-Big 12 body up front if he is suspended for a lengthy period of time. Look for highly touted recruit Alex Okafor to possibly take his spot on the D-Line if Kindle isn’t back soon. The schedule is not terrible but is somewhat intriguing. A week 3 matchup with Texas Tech could be interesting after last season’s madness in Lubbock, and a 3-week hiatus from DKR with Oklahoma, Missouri, and Oklahoma State could be the proving weeks for Texas. There are a lot of question marks on this team with injuries and the law, but if they can get all of those squared away, Texas should have a pleasant season and might enjoy themselves in Pasadena for a return trip to the Rose Bowl, where they won in 2005.
4. OKLAHOMA STATE (9-4) RETURNING STARTERS: OFF-8 DEF-7
- Look anything like last season and the year before? 3 Big 12 teams in the top 5 is no joke, and either is this Oklahoma State team that plans on putting up quite a few points in 2009. The offense is EXTREMELY talented and the defense will have plenty of speed and experience returning. 2009 will see the emergence of senior QB Zac Robinson, who has been starting in Stillwater for 3 years now. The firepower at his disposal includes All-American RB Kendall Hunter, All-American WR Dez Bryant, and All-American LT Russell Okung. Not impressed yet? I am not finished. Also returning is running back Keith Toston, who backed up the 1500 yard rushing Hunter and put up almost 700 yards rushing himself. Still not put at ease? I am not done. Dez Bryant could be a darkhorse Heisman candidate with his 1500 yard 19 TD 2008 campaign and alongside him are speedsters DeMarcus Conner and Justin Blackmon. Oh and another thing? The offensive line doesn’t have one projected starter below 6’5 or 300 lbs. Yeah, that sounds like an offensive power. Expect points galore when the Pokes take the field in 2009, but also expect the defense to improve greatly after a pitiful 2008 season that saw them ranked 93rd in the nation in total defense. 6 of the 7 up front return including senior All-Big 12 LB Andre Sexton and speedy corner Perrish Cox. The schedule is where Oklahoma State might have an advantage on its rivals in the south from Austin and Norman. An opening contest at home against Georgia will be a great way to start the 2009 season and after that 3 home games and a trip to Aggieland against Texas A&M could have OSU at 5-0 heading into Missouri at home and a trip to Baylor. 7-0 after that and the showdown with the Longhorns coming to Stillwater could decide the early favorite in the Big 12 South. The November 28th Bedlam game in Norman could be the one that might decide Okie State’s fate in 2009. They can easily win out with this schedule but they can easily trip and fall down the Top 25 and be out of any sort of chance at their first BCS birth in the school’s history. What does head coach Mike Gundy think about his chances? Well, I don’t exactly know, but he is a man, and he’s now 42.
5. USC (12-1) RETURNING STARTERS: OFF-9 DEF-3
-Some people thought that USC was the best team in 2008 and it should have been the Gators and Trojans in the National Championship last season. Well USC, maybe if you would stop having brain farts in the middle of the season against Oregon State, Oregon, Cal, and OF ALL TEAMS STANFORD, then maybe you will get the respect you deserve. Next season’s schedule will be no cake walk like it was in some people’s minds in 2008, as there are 6 away games, with 4 of them being against teams in this preseason top 25. That does spell trouble, but what could be the savior is the Trojan talent returning on the offensive side of the pigskin. 9 starters return including big play receiver Damian Williams, superstar backs Joe McKnight, Stafon Johnson, and C.J. Gable, and 4 of 5 on the O-line including All-American center Kristofer O’Dowd. One guy that could make a name for himself early is the freshman QB Matt Barkley, who coach Pete Carroll says has the chance to start over penciled in starter Aaron Corp and Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain. Don’t hold your breath Trojan fans, it will be Corp starting against San Jose State but imagine if Carroll decides to start Barkley on September 12th at the Horseshoe! That could spell trouble for SC. Switching to defense, I think Pete can thank the heavens that safety Taylor Mays decided to return for his senior season. If he didn’t, USC actually could have fallen out of this top 10 that’s how much of an impact Mays could make on a defense that returns just 3 starters next season. Alongside Mays in the secondary is returning safety Josh Pinkard. Both are NFL ready and both will lay the wood on you if you come across the field. There was so much talent lost on the front 7 that I don’t even know where to begin. Well there is one spot to begin, there aren’t any seniors slated to start in the front 7 for SC. That could be an interesting thing to keep an eye on for the Trojans. As mentioned before, the schedule is a death march for USC. Week 2 is a trip to Columbus against Ohio State, Week 5 and 6 are roadies to Berkley and South Bend, after that it’s a game at home against the upset minded Beavers, after that it’s a flight to Eugene, a trip to Tempe, and then to cap that all off, 3 home games against Stanford, UCLA, and Arizona, which should help USC wind down and get to a nice bowl game. I tell ya, this schedule could be the downfall of the Trojans in 2009. It is extremely realistic to see SC at 8-4 to end the season, and even possibly 7-5, but if they get through their schedule at 10-2 or 11-1, they could see their strength of schedule make a big impact on the polls and see them make a run towards Pasadena.
6. OLE MISS (9-4) RETURNING STARTERS: OFF-9 DEF-8
-A team that could definitely take the SEC by storm next season lies in Oxford, MS. Houston Nutt has been getting this team ready for a breakout season after their surprise season in 2008 and 2009 should be a season that will make Rebel fans quite elated. On offense, First team All-SEC QB Jevan Snead (WAIT, my apologies, I voted for Tim Tebow, Snead is 2nd team) heads an offense that returns the speedster Dexter McCluster and receiver Shay Hodge. The offense will miss tackle Michael Oher, who made himself quite the rich man in the ’09 NFL Draft, but 3 of 5 return on the O-line so no worries for the Wild Rebel offense. Defense will miss run stopping nose tackle Peria Jerry, who shot up NFL Draft boards and made a name for himself in 2008, and possibly lose All-SEC DE Greg Hardy, who was recently in a car accident with teammate Dexter McCluster (who was uninjured) for an extended period of time. His status is still uncertain for the opener against Memphis, but if Ole Miss is going to have a chance in the SEC, they will need his 8.5 sacks back on the D-Line. For the time being, 6 of the front 7 are back and 3 of 4 in the secondary that held down the 19th rated total defense in the country in 2008. Now it has been quite a while since we’ve seen an Ole Miss team challenge for a highly rated position in the preseason rankings, but this team looks like it will be the best the Rebs have had since Eli came through. The schedule will be tough sledding in the early going, with 3 of the first 4 on the road including road trips to South Carolina and Vanderbilt, both of whom could upset the Rebels early on. After that, 6 of 8 home games including circled games against Alabama, Tennessee, and LSU are all big time games that Ole Miss has to win to make a run at the SEC title. As mentioned before, Florida is not scheduled and either is Georgia, so Ole Miss definitely got the right side of the coin for 2009 in terms of SEC teams they aren’t playing. One element that the Rebels won’t have is the element of surprise like they had in 2008. Teams will now know this team is dangerous and capable of running through their season with a double digit win total and possibly challenge for their first SEC title since JOHN F. KENNEDY WAS IN OFFICE! Yeah, it’s been THAT LONG. Can they do it? There’s no doubt they can, but there won’t be any shockers when they knock off a big-time program now.
7. VIRGINIA TECH (10-4) RETURNING STARTERS: OFF-9 DEF-7
- HOKIE HOKIE HI! VT will be the team to beat in the ACC for 2009 but the question will be can they get through their first 4 games unscathed? We will talk about that soon, but let’s hit the offense first for Frank Beamer’s boys. It’s probably settling for Va Tech fans that Sean Glennon has finally moved on from Blacksburg and has handed over the reins to the highly touted QB Tyrod Taylor, who we finally saw in 2008 make strides towards taking over this team this coming season. Alongside him is the power back Darren Evans (from Warren Central) who made a big impression on the Hokie faithful in 2008 and will be the starter in 2009. Weapons abound through the air for Taylor including his big tight end Greg BOOOOOOOOOOONE, with just 2 O’s. All-American guard Sergio Render will be a high draft pick in 2010 and Ed Wang at LT could be as well. 2009’s offense will depend on how well Taylor has improved his passing mechanics since he had some troubles in ’08 reading defenses and finding the open man. Luckily for him, all his receivers are back after a season playing as starters. Just in case you were wondering, Va Tech was rated 111th in the nation in passing offense. Lucky for them, Darren Evans can run the heck out of the ball. The defense will miss the services of Macho Harris in the secondary and linebacker Purnell Sturdivant, but the return of DE Jason Worilds and 6’4 safety Kam Chancellor will help ease that transition. The Hokie defense was rated 7th in the nation last season so they have a high honor to uphold in Blacksburg. As previously mentioned, the first 4 games will tell us whether or not this team is for real and will contend for another BCS birth. Season opener in the Georgia Dome against Alabama will tell us whether or not this team is for real, and then after that home games against Marshall, Nebraska, and Miami (FL) will definitely tell us for real if the Hokies can compete. Oh not to mention those pesky East Carolina Pirates are on the schedule again in a dangerous Thursday night game in the beginning of November. Now I do have one request though. IF Virginia Tech does make it to the BCS again this year, WILL THEY PLEASE PLAY A BIG EAST TEAM THAT DESERVES TO BE THERE? That was the most uneventful BCS game I have ever watched when they played Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl last season. Don’t let that happen again.
8. GEORGIA TECH (9-4) RETURNING STARTERS: OFF-9 DEF 7
-The ramblin’ wreck of Georgia Tech surprised a lot of teams last season with their option offense and big play backs in the backfield and the emergence of a power back that could be in the dark horse Heisman talks. All-American Jonathan Dwyer busted onto the scene in 2008 and ran wild through opposing defenses, running for 1328 yards and 12 TD’s. Next season might be a little more difficult since teams will not be surprised by the team from Atlanta. Next year’s offense returns all the skill position players including junior QB Josh Nesbitt who ran the option show for Paul Johnson to almost near perfection and will get the nod again in 2009. In the backfield with Dwyer are the speedy Roddy Jones and Lucas Cox, who are both underclassmen. That’s what could be scary about this team: the offensive skill players are all juniors and sophomores and could be EVEN better in 2010, but that’s for another preview. The O-line also returns 3 of 5 starters including All-ACC guard Cord Howard. The defense on the front 4 will be learning as the season goes, but the secondary and linebackers will be more than able to shoulder the load as they get in the groove of the ACC game. Derrick Morgan is the only returning starter on the defensive line and will have to guide his fellow linemen early on in the Yellow Jacket defensive ways, which are shutting down the run and getting to the quarterback on a frequent basis. The linebackers will be lead by 5’11 senior Sedric Griffin, who at 230 lbs. is an absolute hoss of a linebacker. The secondary is where it’s at next season for Tech. All 4 starters return in the secondary including All-American Rover Morgan Burnett, who will look to help out in any way he can after having the 8th ranked passing defense in the ACC in 2008. As you can see, this Georgia Tech team has the pieces to be a very highly regarded club and possibly be the team to beat in ’09, but Josh Nesbitt will have to develop into more of a passer next season to give the Jackets a chance through the air. Teams will start focusing more on stopping the ground game and that’s where GT should be able to catch defenses off guard and throw for big gains. What could be scary for Tech is there’s a perfectly good video out there of showing how to shut down the option offense, thanks to LSU and the Chick-Fil-A Bowl of 2008. The Jackets have to get that game out of their memories and look ahead to the contests in 2009 and there are quite a few big ones, including the week 2 and week 3 Thursday games against Clemson and at Miami (FL) which then are followed by North Carolina at home. There really are no weeks off in this schedule besides week 1 with Jacksonville State and Georgia Tech will be tested every single game and that is not an exaggeration. After UNC, there are trips to Starkville and Tallahassee, then home against ACC foe Virginia Tech, and then roadies to Virginia and Vanderbilt, Wake at home, a trip to Duke, and then finishing up at home against Georgia. Easily this could be the toughest schedule in the nation. There will be no off weeks for Georgia Tech, but if they can get 10 wins out of this schedule, they could be looking at an ACC championship and their first ever BCS birth.
9. ALABAMA (12-2) RETURNING STARTERS: OFF-4 DEF-9
-It was a dream season last year for the Crimson Tide, a perfect regular season with extremely impressive wins at Georgia, at LSU, and then the capper against Iron Bowl rival Auburn in a big way. But after 12 games, the post season hit and for some reason the once dominant Alabama defense that had only given up more than 21 points once all season started giving up points galore and then could not score points in return. Nick Saban hopes that his team this season doesn’t fold down the stretch like they did in ’08, but if they don’t, they will have a new quarterback to do it. Greg McElroy is John Parker Wilson’s predecessor in 2009 and he is expected to fill in well for the departed senior. Along with him the Tide will miss the services of RB Glen Coffee and big tackle Andre Smith, who both bolted for the NFL Draft (well Coffee bolted, Smith basically just jogged). McElroy will have help from experienced backup Mark Ingram in the backfield and highly touted freshman Trent Richardson who is expected to see the field in some capacity in 2009. The receiving core will have the talented 6’4 speedster Julio Jones who is once again expected to have a big sophomore season. The offensive line will have to plug a few gaps but preseason All-American guard Mike Johnson will be the guy that holds it down for the Tide. Defensively, Bama will be stronger than last season with the return of 9 starters and 3 preseason All-Americans. Nose guard Terrence Cody will be an easy first round pick next season. His 6’5 365 lb. frame has got NFL written all over it. In the middle, preseason All-American linebacker Rolando McClain who is the leading returning tackler for Bama with 95 from a year ago will be the force in the middle of the 3-4 defense for Nick Saban. The secondary will feature the speedy Javier Arenas, who is (yes you guessed it) a preseason All-American, but not for his cover corner skills as much as his kick returning prowess, which led to big plays for Alabama last season. Keep in mind, Alabama was ranked 2nd nationally in rush defense and 6 of the front 7 return from last year. Yeah, don’t expect that figure to change. The schedule is relatively easy early on for the Crimson Tide, aside from the opener in Atlanta against Virginia Tech, which once again is being played at the Georgia Dome just like the game in ’08 against the highly regarded Clemson Tigers. After that, 3 warm-up games against FIU, North Texas, Arkansas, and then a possible trap game in Lexington against Kentucky and the big one in Oxford against Ole Miss should provide some fireworks for the Crimson Tide fans in 2009. If Bama can once again get through the regular season perfect (which is definitely in the cards) they will more than likely see Florida again in the SEC title game and a National Championship birth could be on the line for Alabama, who desperately wishes to seek revenge after the poor performance in the Sugar Bowl against BCS crasher Utah.
10. OHIO STATE (10-3) RETURNING STARTERS: OFF-5 DEF-8
-It is pretty safe to say on my part as a Buckeye fan that Ohio State missed their prime opportunity to end their BCS/SEC curse last season and even gain another National Championship, but again the Bucks could not stand the heat in LA, they couldn’t beat Penn State at home, and they gave up a game winning touchdown pass with less than 20 seconds left against Texas in the ’09 Fiesta Bowl. The feelings are definitely down a bit in Buckeye land, but next season’s team promises to be another talent laden group with young stars and speed. Terrelle Pryor is the undisputed starter for the Buckeyes next season, and some around the Buckeye camp clocked him running a sub 4.4 40 during the summer, which is unheard of not only for a football player but for a QUARTERBACK! I don’t think he will win the Heisman this year, but he could set himself up to be in contention his junior season. The skill positions on the offense will be young but VERY talented. Boom Herron will take over the services for the departed Beanie Wells and there’s no concern with him starting this season. Behind him will be quickster Brandon Saine and the highly regarded freshman Jamaal Berry, who is still working out personal issues as we speak but could see some PT. The wide outs do have experience but not STARTING experience. Dane Sanzenbacher will be TP’s #1 target in ’09, and sophomore DeVier Posey, senior Ray Small, and junior Taurian Washington are all expected to be in the rotation for Jim Tressel on offense. The O-line will have a familiar face to the Wolverines when they meet in Ann Arbor on November 21st. Guard Justin Boren bolted from Wolverine country to be a Buckeye in his home state and he is projected to be an every game starter for the Bucks up front along with Mike Brewster, Jim Cordle, and Bryant Browning. The OSU O-line got a lot of criticism last season, but this year’s big uglies should be much better than last season. The defense got younger but that doesn’t mean they got worse. The departure of James Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman, and Malcolm Jenkins will be interesting for Buckeye fans since they have been starters since they were sophomores, so new faces such as Austin Spitler, Tyler Moeller, and Andre Amos will have to take over for their spots. The D-line could be the best in the Big Ten, and maybe the country with speed and power rusher Thad ‘Destroy Everything Moving’ Gibson, big tackle Doug Worthington, and big time end Cameron Heyward. The linebackers will have some youth but Ross Homan is expected to be the next great backer at OSU. The secondary will feature preseason All-American safety Captain Kurt Coleman, who in his senior campaign wants to take the Buckeyes to a BCS bowl and win. Perusing over the schedule, the obvious showdown will be week 2 when USC comes into Columbus. Before that though, the Bucks will be tested by Navy and could face a trap game in Cleveland when they face Toledo. After that, the Big Ten schedule begins with notable games at Penn State on the 7th of November, and then hosting Iowa right after that and obviously The Game ends the year. No doubt this Buckeye team can win, but they will have to grow up and mature quickly to make themselves a contender in the Big Ten.
11. CALIFORNIA (9-4) RETURNING STARTERS: OFF-8 DEF-8
-The Sturdy Golden Bears have a team that will challenge the likes of USC and Oregon next season and could make their first Rose Bowl in 50 years with strong performances against a tough non conference schedule. Next season, Cal will feature their All-American back Jahvid Best who is still wearing a chip on his shoulder after being dissed on by critics heading into 2008 and his freshman season who said he was too small to handle being a back in the Pac-10. He’s proving them wrong and doing more than that. Best racked up a team best 1580 yards rushing and 15 TD’s last season and he is expected to do even better coming into 2009. Lucky for him, he still has quite an O-line to run behind but the loss of All-American center Alex Mack will hurt. Never the less, 2 new starters on the line and a new center won’t be enough to thwart the Golden Bear running attack. Starting under center will be junior Kevin Riley, who can finally take over the starting role after being in the shadow of Nate Longshore. Riley will have senior receiver Nyan Boateng to sling the ball around to and a bevy of other receivers returning with experience. The defense which surprised quite a lot of people last season ranking 26th in the nation in total defense brings back the entire secondary and line in their 3-4 scheme. Tyson Alualu will be the guy opposing offensive lines will have to contain on the end and that’s easier said than done. The linebackers will miss Zack Follett and Worrell Williams’ leadership, but returning leading tackler Mike Mohamed inside will be the next one to take off for the Fighting Ted Heads. The secondary will be outstanding next season. Preseason All-American Syd’Quan Thompson who stands just 5’9 will be the featured shutdown corner on defense and alongside him are his mates in the back Darian Hagan, Brett Johnson, and Marcus Ezeff. Not to mention the Bears bring back Preseason All-American punter Bryan Anger to pin teams deep in their own territory. As mentioned before, the schedule will be a challenge for the Bears but it should prepare them for the tough games later in the season. Starting off with Maryland won’t be an easy task, and then weeks 3 and 4 are trips to Minnesota and Oregon, both of whom could be losses for California if they can’t step up to the plate in road trips like they had trouble with doing last season. All 4 of Cal’s losses were on the road last season. So this upcoming season will be a stern test for Jeff Tedford’s boys to see if they can handle the heat on the road. Lucky for them, they have home games against USC and Oregon State, but the end of the season will determine their place in the post season with trips to Stanford and a rebuilding Washington team. They’ve got the talent, but it will be interesting to see if Cal can be the competition they will be underdogs to.
12. LSU (8-5) RETURNING STARTERS: OFF-9 DEF-7
-Last season, yours truly was the one that called out the media and critics that said LSU was going to challenge for a National Title and the SEC championship. I was the one that said LSU’s lack of a starting QB was going to be their downfall and guess who was right…yes, me. Although this season, the Tigers will have no excuses heading into ’09 with a big win in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl to give them momentum into this coming season. The offense looks like it will hand the reins to sophomore QB Jordan Jefferson. He appears to be the one that Les Miles is comfortable with starting. His 6’4 209 lb. frame is the exact size for an SEC QB and he can also take off and run when needed. If he doesn’t succeed, there is a chance you might see touted freshman Russell Shepard get a shot running the show. The offense will be talented with Keiland Williams and All-SEC Charles Scott, but the receiving core is where you are going to get burnt when you play LSU. Preseason All-American Brandon LaFell and junior Terrance Tolliver are all big play threats and add in the lightning fast 5’5 Trindon Holliday, and this is an LSU team that could run you out the stadium. Add in 5-star receiver Rueben Randle and yikes it could be disaster for opponents. Offensive line will have to plug in a new center and left guard, but returning senior Ciron Black at left tackle is a big returnee for the LSU offense. The defense will be somewhat of a work in progress with the losses of NFLers Tyson Jackson, Darry Beckwith, and Ricky Jean-Francois, but there are still guys there with tons of experience because Les Miles rotates in a ton of players on defense. The best on the D is prized end Rahim Alem, who Tiger fans are extremely excited about. They compare him to a Dwight Freeney or if you want to stay recent, a Tyson Jackson only quicker around the end. Be on the lookout for freshman linebacker Barkevious Mingo, who not only has a really sweet name, could also make himself a major player in the LSU defense. The secondary has experience, but the question is who will step up to be the leader of this defense? There are seniors there but not many of them are returning starters. So who will be the leader? Look to either senior linebacker Harry Coleman or senior tackle Charles Alexander to anchor the fast LSU defense for 2009. LSU got the shaft in terms of which SEC teams they have to face from the east as they don’t have to play Kentucky, Tennessee, or South Carolina, but they do play Florida, Georgia, and Vanderbilt. Included on that schedule are back to back games with Florida and Auburn with a week of rest in between them. The Tigers will be looking to exact some revenge after the Gators laid a 51 on the Tigers in 2008 when they squared off in Gainesville. Add in trips to Athens, Tuscaloosa, and Oxford, and LSU could be in trouble in terms of gathering conference wins. This is another schedule that could make LSU an 8-4 or 7-5 team EASILY but if they put the pieces together quickly and early they can make a run at the west division. Les Miles teams are always fast and well prepared, but will their youth be their downfall?
13. KANSAS (8-5) RETURNING STARTERS: OFF-7 DEF-7
-The Jayhawks definitely overachieved in 2007, reaching its first ever BCS bowl and knocking off a solid Virginia Tech team in the Orange Bowl. In 2008, a more realistic and down to earth season for KU but they still looked impressive in their losses and wins against Missouri and Minnesota in the Insight Bowl. Sometimes people underestimate the amount of momentum a bowl win does for a team coming into a new season and that win for Kansas will do wonders for them next season. Next season’s schedule is much of a cake walk through the first half of the season, which should make for some good discussion on whether or not KU is good enough to compete in an elite bowl game this season. Never the less, Todd Reesing is back for his 3rd season under center for the fighting Mark Mangino’s. He will have the tenacious Jake Sharp in the backfield with him to hand the ball off to. This is where things could get dicey. Preseason All-American Dezmon Briscoe is slated to have a HUGE 2009 season. The only problem is he is listed as day to day on the KU roster not because of an injury, but because of academic issues he is currently having with the university. I fully expect him to get those resolved because without him, Kansas is a mediocre 7-5 team and not even close to the top 25. That’s how important his play is for Kansas in 2009. Along with Briscoe are big targets Jonathan Wilson and former QB Kerry Meier, both of whom are 6’3 and can haul in the high passes from Reesing. One thing to always keep an eye on with Rock Chalk is the wide receiver pass with Kerry Meier since he did start at QB when he was a freshman in Lawrence. The offensive line will have some holes to fill, but having center Jeremiah Hatch back after starting as a freshman will be big for this offense. The defense will feature another preseason All-American in safety Darrell Stuckey, but if Kansas is going to improve on their 114th rated passing defense from a year ago, their defense has got to have better play in the secondary. On the front 4, 3 of 4 return and it will be a senior laden group up front that includes big tackles Caleb Blakesley and Jamal Greene. There are 3 new linebackers starting for Mark Mangino this season, which could present a problem for Mangino with new guys in the middle, but the cast that surrounds them and the early season schedule to open up should be a good learning time for them. Now as for the schedule, out of the first 5 games, the toughest contest will probably be…well I wouldn’t say there is a tough contest. A trip to El Paso to take on UTEP is in week 2, then after that it is Duke, Southern Miss, and then Iowa State. After that, a mediocre team in Boulder, and then the big guns start showing up with Oklahoma at home and then a trip to Lubbock. There’s no Baylor or Oklahoma State on the schedule, which should be a big sigh of relief for fans in Lawrence that they don’t have to face Bryant, Hunter, and Robinson this season. Overall, Kansas is the favorite to win the North division in the Big 12 conference for 2009 so they could see an appearance in the Championship game where they will likely face either Oklahoma or Texas again for the right to the automatic BCS birth. Should be a fun season to watch for Jayhawk fans with lots of uncertainties but with one thing is for certain: KU should enjoy another warm postseason, something they are starting to get accustomed to thanks to Mark Mangino.
14. FLORIDA STATE (9-4) RETURNING STARTERS: OFF-8 DEF-6
-We all know of the off the field problems that Florida State has gone through this season and they are well documented. But there’s one thing people forget: Florida State RESIDES IN FLORIDA. That means they are still LOADED with talent and they will be entertaining to watch. 2009 will finally have a returning QB for Bobby Bowden’s crew. Christian Ponder played fairly well in 2008 and should have a decent carry over into 2009. He will definitely miss having Antone Smith behind him and the giant Greg Carr to throw to, but there are still plenty of fast and capable receivers waiting to be thrusted into the fire for FSU. One thing that I do know is that Ponder will have time to write many leather bound books when he sits in the pocket for 2009. All 5 starters return on the offensive line and what’s even more impressive is that all 5 will be back in 2010 as there are 3 sophomores and 2 juniors. The best of the bunch is left guard Rodney Hudson, who is tabbed with a preseason All-American honor. Expect him to be bigger and better next season and get a look at in the pros for the 2010 draft. Ponder will be expected to improve their 82nd rated passing offense, so Seminole fans have their fingers crossed that will happen. The defense lost a ton of talent and leadership with the departure of big names such as Everette Brown, Darius McClure, and Myron Rolle, who accepted the Rhodes Scholarship which is the highest honor a college student can achieve in academics, which is fantastic and is a great honor for not only a student but a STUDENT ATHLETE. Big ups to him. Now back to the defense. The D will center around 6’2 226 lb. linebacker Dekoda Watson, who is the leading returning tackler for the Noles. After him, Kevin McNeil will be the force on the line returning with 4 sacks from a year ago. The secondary is where the Seminoles will feel the most at ease as 3 of 4 starters return from a unit that ranked 6th in the nation in pass defense. Be on the lookout for the Rover and Free Safety Korey Mangum and Jamie Robinson to have big seasons for Bobby Bowden. Former QB D’Vontrey Richardson also makes the move to the secondary so keep an eye on him to possibly get some playing time. Looking over the schedule, FSU has Miami (FL) back on the schedule in primetime on Monday night September 7th, which will be a great game to watch after the Labor Day weekend. After that, a week 3 showdown in Utah against BYU should be a great game to watch and then FSU follows that one up with South Florida at home. And of course, the Noles end in Gainesville which could be a game Florida State could end Florida’s title chances if they keep the 45-15 ‘Soak at Doak’ fresh in their minds from 2008. Challenges still await this FSU team and they still have a lot of work to do in figuring out their situation with the NCAA, but if they can put that behind them this season, Florida State could impress some people with a successful ’09 season.
15. GEORGIA (10-3) RETURNING STARTERS: OFF-7 DEF-7
-Expectations were through the roof last season with the return of Stafford, Moreno, Massaquoi, and a fast and improving defense. For some reason when Georgia needed to count on its defense, they failed them in the big games. The loss at home to Alabama was much worse than the 41-30 score indicated, and the blowout loss to Florida was embarrassing for all of those fans in Athens. This year will be about ushering in a new quarterback and getting the defense back on track. Next season’s offense will feature senior QB Joe Cox who has been waiting for his time to finally take over under center. He loses 3 talented receivers to graduation, but super soph A.J. Green is back and sophomore Caleb King in the backfield should not be too much of a regression from Knowshon Moreno. The offensive line last season was well documented as being young and inexperienced but they performed extremely well under the circumstances. 4 of the 5 return up front including preseason All-American Clint Boling on the left side tackle. To the right of him, 4 sophomores with starting experience should make an easy transition for Joe Cox at quarterback. The defense was sort of a Jekyll Hyde look as the Bulldog D played well in the first 4 games holding opponents to 3 TD’s or less, then just got rocked by Alabama and never really recovered. This season the defense will not have shut down corner Asher Allen who bolted for the NFL or middle LB Dannell Ellerbe. No matter, 2 preseason All-Americans on the D for UGA including junior linebacker Rennie Curran and safety Reshad Jones should help out a defense that did rank 22nd nationally, but only ranked in the bottom 6 in the SEC in most of the major categories. The schedule will be no cake walk for UGA next season as it features 4 teams in this top 12 including the opener in Stillwater against #4 Oklahoma State, LSU and Florida, and then a trip to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech, a game that surely will be on the minds of most UGA players after last season’s thumping they took on the ground giving up over 400 yards on the ground to the Jackets including over 200 to Roddy Jones and 144 to Jonathan Dwyer. Mark Richt won’t be happy with a repeat performance like that in 2009 when they travel to take on GT. There are question marks on this team and the schedule has some high profile games, but if UGA wins the ones they are suppose to, and knock off a big one here or there, they could set themselves up nicely for a warm weather postseason.
16. PENN STATE (11-2) RETURNING STARTERS: OFF-6 DEF-4
-The Nittany Lions started off blazing hot last season winning their first 9 games before falling by just one point in Kinnick against Iowa and then falling to USC in the Rose Bowl. Penn State surpassed all expectations last season and this season the view is they can make it even higher, but I wouldn’t count on it. Last season’s team rested solely on the talent of the HD offense of Derrick Williams, Deon Butler, and Jordan Norwood. All 3 of those receivers have graduated and now it is up to Daryll Clark and Evan Royster to pick up the slack, and it won’t be easy. The offense has a lot of holes to plug not only at the skill positions but also on the O-line with the loss of Rimington Award winner A.Q. Shipley. The loss of Shipley will be pretty evident early on for the Lions but plug in All-Big 10 O-lineman Stefen Wisniewski and it should ease the pain for a bit. 3 new receivers are slated to start but the best of the bunch is Graham Zug who has gotten playing time before. Senior TE Mickey Shuler will also see a considerable number of catches next season as well. If the offense is going to be anywhere as successful as it was last season, it will be up to the 2-headed monster in the backfield of Evan Royster and super sophomore Stephfon Green. The defense in 2008 was monstrous ranking 8th in the nation in total defense but loses quite a bit of talent from last year’s squad. The departure of Aaron Maybin, Maurice Evans, and senior leader Anthony Scirrotto will be huge for this team coming into next season but luc