2009 Preseason Top 25
Key Returners: QB Tim Tebow, DE Carlos Dunlap, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Janoris Jenkins
With Tim Tebow coming back, along with Carlos Dunlap, Brandon Spikes, and Janoris Jenkins on defense, the Gators have what it takes to repeat as national champions.
They actually return their entire defense, and we know Tebow is going to carry the offense. They did lose speedsters Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy, but Jeffrey Demps is another one of those “fastest players in the nation” and freshman Andre Debose, whose 92-yard touchdown reception won the Award for Best Under Armour All-America Moment, is hoping to contribute as a playmaker for Tebow.
Key Returners: QB Colt McCoy, WR Jordan Shipley, OT Adam Ulatoski, DE Sergio Kindle, LB Roddrick Muckelroy
Colt McCoy is back for his fourth year as starter. He should have won the Heisman Trophy last, along with a chance at the national title, but Texas was snubbed.
The entire defensive line is gone and Sergio Kindle will move to end to replace Brian Orakpo, but the Longhorns linebacking corps and secondaries are returning with stud safeties Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas (both sophomores). This should be a solid defense this year.
On the offensive side, they have McCoy and his best friend and favorite receiver Jordan Shipley back. Tight end Blaine Irby should also be coming back from injury (*it’s now reported Irby will also miss the 2009 season with last year’s dislocated knee). Cody Johnson, Fozzy Whittaker, and Vondrell McGee are all having great workouts, and that’s a good set of running backs.
Freshman Chris Whaley is also expected to step in and gain big yards, as he’s the only running back the Longhorns recruited in the offseason. Texas also returns the best offensive line in the country, which is something Oklahoma can’t say. The big matchup will be the experienced O-Line of Texas and the experienced D-Line of OU when the Red River Rivalry renews on Oct. 17.
Key Returners: QB Sam Bradford, RB DeMarco Murray, RB Chris Brown, RB Mossis Madu, TE Jermaine Gresham, OT Trent Williams, DT Gerald McCoy, DE Jeremy Beal, DE Auston English
Oklahoma’s got the best NFL-prospect quarterback in Sam Bradford. However, they did lose four of five starters on the offensive line, and right tackle Trent Williams will be moving to left tackle. But that transition isn’t as easy as it’s made out to be, despite his previous experience with that position.
The Sooners lose their top two receivers in Manny Johnson and Juaquin Iglesias but return Ryan Broyles and top tight end in the nation, Jermaine Gresham.
They bring back their defensive line anchored by Gerald McCoy, but the secondary is a bit shaky. The Sooners do have three guys who could go in the Top 10 of the 2010 NFL Draft with Bradford, Gresham, McCoy, and running back DeMarco Murray.
4. Ohio State
Key Returners: QB Terrelle Pryor, RB Dan Herron, S Kurt Coleman
Sophomore Terrelle Pryor is the face of Ohio State and will be for the next three years. He surpassed all expectations playing as a true freshman last year, and his development is key for Ohio State’s success. Pryor must become more polished as a passer, but make sure not to hold back if he can run for the first downs.
I think Pryor needs to be opposite of Texas’ Colt McCoy. McCoy is a pass-first, run-second quarterback, but with Pryor’s top receivers gone, he’s going to have trust his own ability to make plays.
The run game loses Beanie Wells, but it’s the one area where the Buckeyes are returning a lot of experience. While Wells missed some of last season with his foot injury, Boom Herron carried most of the load and should be the featured back this year.
The defense is another question, but most experts believe it will be better without All-American middle linebacker James Laurinaitis.
The Buckeyes also lost linebacker Marcus Freeman and Jim Thorpe Award winner Malcolm Jenkins. Again, the biggest tests for Ohio State will be USC in Week Two at home, and then Nov. 7 at Penn State against the Nittany Lions’ “White-Out.”
If Pryor and the Bucks come out of Happy Valley with a W, they’ll take the Big 10 Conference and head to the Rose Bowl.
Key Returners: QB Jordan Jefferson, RB Charles Scott, WR Brandon LaFell, OT Ciron Black, DT Charles Alexander
A lot of people think LSU is borderline Top 10 this year but after seeing this LSU team play with Jordan Jefferson at quarterback, I know they’re a Top Five Team.
Jefferson is the offensive leader of the future for the Tigers and he’s got Brandon LaFell to be on the receiving end of touchdowns and Charles Scott to pound away in the running game.
They did lose a lot on defense, but Les Miles has recruited some good defensive players like Sam Montgomery, who could start on the D-Line, and their new Defensive Coordinator John Chavis is among the best. The LSU defense was shaky last year, but Chavis will sure clean things up this year.
Key Returners: S Taylor Mays, WR Damian Williams, RB Joe McKnight, RB CJ Gable, RB Stafon Johnson
USC is not going to be a dominant force in the country this year. While Oregon may be its only challenge in the Pac-10, national title contention may be out of reach until next season.
USC had history’s greatest defense last year, but has lost three of four defensive lineman, all three starting linebackers along with backup linebacker Kaluka Maiava (All four linebackers went in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft).
The one bright spot returning in the defense is safety Taylor Mays, who could have been a Top 15 pick in the Draft but chose to come back to USC.
The Trojans would have been a national contender if quarterback Mark Sanchez had returned for his senior year, but he instead left for the NFL and was drafted 17th overall by the New York Jets.
Aaron Corp is expected to be the starter for USC at QB, but the Trojans also have the highly touted Matt Barkley out of Mater Dei High School, who was recruited as the No. 1 high school quarterback. Whoever the quarterback is, Damian Williams is still around to catch passes and Joe McKnight, now a junior, might finally have his breakout year.
Key Returners: QB Jevan Snead, WR/RB Dexter McCluster, DE Greg Hardy
Ole Miss went 9-4 under Houston Nutt’s first season as coach. Quarterback Jevan Snead, the transfer from Texas, played remarkably toward the end of the season and is believed to be a Heisman Trophy candidate this year and possibly the fifth best quarterback in the country.
The Rebels lose Michael Oher from the O-Line and Peria Jerry from the D-Line, both of whom were first-round draft picks, but the defense does return pass-rusher Greg Hardy, who could be a first-rounder in the 2010 Draft.
Some key role players are back for Ole Miss including Dexter McCluster, who had the game of his life in the 47-34 win over Texas Tech in last season’s Cotton Bowl.
8. Virginia Tech
Key Returners: QB Tyrod Taylor, RB Darren Evans, S Kam Chancellor, CB Stephan Virgil
Frank Beamer’s “Beamer Ball” led the Hokies to its second straight ACC Championship and they could get a third consecutive this season. A big blow to the team is the loss of the versatile Macho Harris, but Tech returns seven starters on defense and nine starters on offense.
Safety Kam Chancellor is back and ready to have a big year to raise his NFL Draft prospectus. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor has full control of the team now and Darren Evans is back to run the ball after a tremendous freshman season where he ran for 11 touchdowns and over 1200-yards.
Virginia Tech was supposed to be contending for the national title by 2009, and now they have a shot. It’s clear that the Hokies front office is also doing all it can to help, by looking at two very tough non-conference games vs. Alabama and Nebraska to boost the Hokies’ BCS stock.
9. Oklahoma State
Key Returners: QB Zac Robinson, RB Kendall Hunter, WR Dez Bryant, OT Russell Okung, CB/KR Perrish Cox
The “Bedlam” Game could come down to second place in the Big 12 South with Oklahoma this year. That’s how good this Oklahoma State team could potentially be. Whether they live up to the talent depends on how hard they work to fix the troubles from last year.
The Cowboys started 8-1 and worked their way into the Top 10, but then lost three of their last four, giving up 56, 61, and 42 points in those three losses. Oklahoma State has talent on defense that just needs to mature.
The offense should be putting on a show again. Quarterback Zac Robinson is out to prove he’s among the Big 12’s and the nation’s best. Running back Kendall Hunter and Biletnikoff Award candidate Dez Bryant is back. Bryant could be one of the most sought after receivers in the NFL Draft if he chooses to declare after this season.
Left Tackle Russell Okung would have been a first-round pick, but he’s back to protect Robinson’s blind side and be a top 10 draft pick in 2010.
Key Returners: WR Julio Jones, RB Mark Ingram, DT Terrence Cody, LB Rolando McClain, CB/KR Javier Arenas
Alabama will be a lot better than most people think this year. Their schedule has a part in that too.
The Crimson Tide open the season against Virginia Tech, which might immediately eliminate them from national title contention. But their in-conference schedule is relatively easy, aside from a road game at Ole Miss where the defense will be tested against Jevan Snead. The only really big game the Tide have after that is at home against LSU.
John Parker Wilson is done as Alabama’s quarterback and junior Greg McElroy is expected to be the starter this fall. McElroy knows Nick Saban’s system and will be asked to be a game manager like Wilson. However, McElroy is actually the better passer.
The SEC’s reining Freshman of the Year, wide receiver Julio Jones, is back and has a year of experiencing the SEC defense under his belt. Jones was unanimously voted first-team All-SEC Preseason.
Another freshman from last year, Mark Ingram is going to be the featured running back because Glen Coffee gave up his last year of eligibility to go on to the NFL in an ill-advised move. Ingram is considered an upgrade over Coffee anyway, and more of a downhill runner, who can power through at the goal line.
The big story has always been Alabama’s defense. The Crimson Tide is returning nine starters on defense including the 362-pound All-American nose tackle Terrence Cody. Cody provides a big force up the middle that requires double teams from every offensive line.
‘Bama’s O-Line is need of improvement after its weaknesses were exposed by Utah in the Allstate Sugar Bowl last year with the absence of left tackle Andre Smith.
Special teams should not be a problem for the Tide either, as they return the nation’s best kick return man in cornerback Javier Arenas.
11. Boise State
Key Returners: QB Kellen Moore, RB Jeremy Avery, DE Ryan Winterswyk, CB Kyle Wilson
Jeremy Childs made a mistake and entered the NFL Draft looking to be a third or fourth-round pick as a junior, but I believe he went in the seventh round.
Boise has a well rounded offense that would love to have Childs back. Despite losing top receiver Vinny Perretta, they do return receiver Austin Pettis and sophomore quarterback Kellen Moore, who had a sensational freshman season as the starter.
Boise State’s defense took suffered some losses in the front seven, but corner Kyle Wilson is back to bolster what should be an exceptional secondary. Don’t forget that the Broncos did lose senior running back Ian Johnson, whose role on the team had deteriorated, but he has been a “glue guy” for the team with an extensive amount of knowledge and experience.
He provided all the leadership, but now Moore will have to step up in that role while Jeremy Avery will try to have another big season to give the Broncos a well balanced offense.
12. Penn State
Key Returners: QB Daryll Clark, RB Evan Royster, LB Navorro Bowman
The question bigger than “How good is Penn State going to be this year?” might be “Will Joe Paterno be coaching from the sidelines this year?”
Penn State is expected to have an encore season from last year with the new Spread HD offense. However, most of that firepower is gone. Quarterback Daryll Clark has lost his three top receivers in Jordan Norwood, Derrick Williams, and Deon Butler, not to mention three starters on the offensive line are going to be replaced including center A.Q. Shipley.
Defensive end Aaron Maybin moved on to the NFL as a junior and so did left end Maurice Evans. The Nittany Lions have lost a lot on defense and only bring tailback Evan Royster back as most of the offense.
Penn State’s ranking is going to be a bit generous because so many people will remember the success they had last year and overlook what they have to overcome this year. To have a shot at the Rose Bowl, they’ll have to take care of Ohio State at home and play what could be a tough game on the road at Michigan State to finish the regular season.
13. Georgia Tech
Key Returners: QB Josh Nesbitt, RB Jonathan Dwyer, RB Roddy Jones, S Morgan Burnett
Paul Johnson’s going into his second year with the Yellow Jackets, which means his first true recruiting class is coming in to run the triple-option offense. He still has quarterback Josh Nesbitt and running backs Jonathan Dwyer and Roddy Jones to run the offense that was remarkably successful last year, until it was stifled by LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
In fact, the offense returns all 11 starters from a year ago. It’s the same positive outlook on the defensive side too, as GT will return eight starters from a year ago.
However, the heart of the defensive line is gone with the graduations of Vance Walker and Darryl Richard, and also the loss of All-American end Michael Johnson to the NFL. As displayed last year, the triple-option is tough to stop, and I expect the defenses to have a tough time with it again this year. The Yellow Jackets are going to make a run at the ACC Title until the other teams can figure out how to consistently stop the option—if possible. Believe me, they’re watching a lot of that LSU game tape.
Key Returners: QB Andy Dalton, RB Joseph Turner, WR Jimmy Young, DE Jerry Hughes
This is a solid TCU team, but not the same team that had the potential to crash the BCS last year. This is not the same team that beat Boise State 17-16 in the Poinsettia Bowl last year. This is not the same team that the nation’s No. 1 defense last year.
Andy Dalton is back to run the show at QB along with top receiver Jimmy Young. But while Joseph Turner is back to run the ball, his complement, Aaron Brown, is gone.
While the Horned Frogs are still considered to be the favorite in the Mountain West Conference, their defense is going to be a big question. Can this be a top five defense again? They’ve lost 7 starters, but did retain star defensive end Jerry Hughes, who led the nation in sacks last year. But without help, Hughes can’t bolster a defense.
Jason Phillips and Stephen Hodge were in vital roles as leaders last year at linebacker and safety, but all the holes on defense are going to be filled by inexperienced players. I’m anxious to see how the defense does at defending the triple-option by Air Force. TCU has Air Force on the road on Oct. 10.
Key Returners: QB Jeremiah Masoli, RB LeGarrette Blount, LB Spencer Paysinger
The reins of the Ducks’ program have been handed down to offensive coordinator Chip Kelly. Former coach Mike Bellotti has decided to now move on and become Oregon’s Athletic Director.
Good news for Oregon: Bellotti can still make football decisions and bring in recruits. Bad news for Oregon: Bellotti won’t be on the sidelines. Oh, and Oregon lost three starters on the O-Line, the top two receivers, tailback Jeremiah Johnson, its entire defensive line and safety Patrick Chung.
All that said, Oregon is still the biggest threat to USC in the Pac-10. Jeremiah Masoli proved to be the solution at quarterback last year, and Oregon does bring back the big 240-lb. LeGarrette Blount, who complemented Johnson and scored 17 touchdowns last year while also rushing for over 1000-yards.
16. Florida State
Key Returners: QB Christian Ponder, RB Jermaine Thomas, WR Preston Parker, LB Dekoda Watson
“Christian Ponder might be the best NFL prospect in terms of prototypical NFL quarterbacks.” Yup, I said that. If Ponder can gain some kind of consistency and maintain it for an entire season, big things are to happen for the Seminoles.
With Jermaine Thomas filling the shoes of Antone Smith and a group of guys ready to fill in Greg Carr’s void, the Seminoles could make a run at the ACC title. They have Miami and Georgia Tech at home and won’t face Virginia Tech until potentially the ACC Championship Game.
Nine starters are back on offense, including the entire offensive line that showcased three freshmen and two sophomores. Florida State was the nation’s youngest team in 2008 and that only helps in the long run as six true freshmen started games last year, gaining valuable experience and exposure.
Florida State does have to revamp the front seven of the defense, though.
17. Notre Dame
Key Returners: QB Jimmy Clausen, WR Michael Floyd, WR Golden Tate
We saw the upside of Jimmy Clausen in the Hawaii Bowl last winter. That’s why he was brought in as the No. 1 recruit, and if he can maintain that form, the Irish are set for a big year. After two sub par seasons, the pressure is all on Clausen to step up his play and carry Notre Dame to a bigger bowl game.
The Irish return nine starters on offense and Clausen has both his top receivers back in Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, who should be a nice deep threat.
The defense is going to be a little shaky again, and the secondary needs some revamping. However, the Irish did not get the No. 1 defensive recruit in linebacker Manti Te’o.
The Irish start off with a good match against Nevada and then a road game to the Big House in Ann Arbor and back home to face Michigan State. Given the rest of the schedule, aside from the Oct. 17 match vs. USC, the Irish could be looking at a 9-10 win season.
Key Returners: WR AJ Green, WR Michael Moore, DT Geno Atkins
Everyone wants to know how Georgia’s offense will fare this season. “Will they be able to replace Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno?” Caleb King was the No. 2 back last year and should be the starter, but don’t expect Georgia to have a featured back.
King will probably be splitting carries with Richard Samuel and the redshirt freshman Carlton Thomas. Senior Joe Cox is expected to fill in for Stafford with recruits Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray waiting in the wings. Cox knows the system well and is being counted on to manage the offense. But the greater concern is if he’ll be protected by the offensive line that failed Stafford last year.
The line was riddled by injuries last year, and that forced a lot of shuffling in the lineup. The defense failed last season too. They didn't live up to the expectations of an SEC defense, and there’s no true signs of the defense being much better this season either.
Key Returners: QB Kevin Riley, RB Jahvid Best, WR Nyan Boateng
The quarterback controversy is over for the Bears with Nate Longshore gone, right?
Kevin Riley better not get too comfortable because the quarterback job isn’t all his just yet. Sophomore Brock Mansion was the man in spring camp and has been shooting up the depth chart. Now, I hear that he’s taking some reps with the first team offense. Mansion seems to be in competition for the starting job, or it could just be a ploy by Coach Tedford to put some pressure on Riley to perform better.
Along the offensive front, Cal has to replace just two guys, but most notably, All Pac-10 center Alex Mack. The defense lost its heart and soul in its linebacking corps.
There’s a big question mark surrounding running back Jahvid Best, arguably the best running back in the nation. Best, a top Heisman Trophy contender this year, ran for 1580 yards and 15 touchdowns last year, but underwent surgery on his left foot and left elbow and did not participate in spring ball. If Best is healthy and in top shape, he could carry the Bears to a second place finish in the Pac-10.
Key Returners: QB Todd Reesing, RB Jake Sharp, WR Dezmon Briscoe
Kansas had a disappointing 8-5 season last year and is trying to regain its 2007 form, back when they held the No. 2 ranking in the nation and beat Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
Linebacker Mike Rivera was the leader of the Kansas defense, along with James Holt and Joe Mortensen. Kansas has some tough road games against Texas Tech and Texas where it’ll be tough to stay in the game if the defense can’t come together.
Offensively, Kansas is just as explosive as any Big 12 South team. This is an offense that averaged 431-yards per game with Todd Reesing, the most underrated quarterback in college football. Reesing is also bringing back most of his playmakers with preseason All-Big 12 receiver Dezmon Briscoe, possession receiver Kerry Meier, and tailback Jake Sharp.
Key Returners: DT Ndamukong Suh, S Rickey Thenarse
The Big 12 North won’t have a clear-cut winner this season. We can’t count out Missouri and Colorado, but it should be a tight race between Nebraska and Kansas.
Looking at the schedules, Nebraska will play Virginia Tech, but their in-conference schedule has a potential trap game on the road at Baylor, and hosts Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Nebraska does not have to play Texas though, while Kansas is scheduled to play in Austin. Nebraska’s biggest strength is going to be the defense.
The North division might ultimately come down to the showdown between Kansas on Nov. 14 in Lawrence. It will be Kansas firepower vs. the Cornhuskers’ defense that brings seven back, including the defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh.
However, quarterback is always the biggest issue for a team. The battle for the starting job, to replace Joe Ganz, was supposed to be between sophomore Patrick Witt and junior Zac Lee. But Lee seems to have won the job by default as Witt has decided to transfer from Nebraska.
But don’t sleep on true freshman Cody Green who’s 6’4”, 224-lbs. from Texas. He was recruited as the best dual threat quarterback out of high school. Green could be starting for Nebraska by midseason.
Key Returners: RB Matt Asiata, DE Stevenson Sylvester
This is nowhere near the same team that went undefeated at 13-0 last year and defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Quarterback Brian Johnson, Utah’s all-time winningest player, was the soul leader of the squad and the Most Outstanding Player in the Sugar Bowl. But, now he’s moved on.
Corbin Louks was supposed to come out of spring practice ast the favorite for the starting role, but he didn’t run away from his competition and now it’s getting more intense as fall camp arrives. Freshman Jordan Wynn has been impressive and could gain the No. 2 spot, if he’s not, in fact, named the starter as a true freshman. At only 175 lbs. though, it has to be difficult for the coaches to put him in that role without working with his body more. Terrance Cain, the transfer from junior college, is also in the mix to be the next quarterback.
Utah’s offense will return running back Matt Asiata, but most of the offensive talent is gone. A big loss to the team was kicker Louie Sakoda. The Utes do return nine on the defense, losing cornerback Sean Smith and defensive end Paul Kruger (both entered the NFL Draft as underclassmen).
Utah is going to be tested early, they have the nation’s longest win streak that’ll be pushed to the limit in a Sept. 19 road game at Oregon. It could be hard for the Utes to have that same success as last year in-conference too, with road games at Mountain West favorite TCU, and BYU.
Key Returners: QB Ricky Stanzi, RB Jewel Hampton, WR Andy Brodell
The Hawkeyes are looking at a possible jump over Penn State in the Big 10, with a good year from Ricky Stanzi and six returning starters on offense.
Iowa did lose the nation’s leading rusher from a year ago, Shonn Green, but his backup Jewel Hampton is very capable of being the featured back.
The tenacious Iowa defense that boasted two shutouts last year and gave up 13 points per game returns all three linebackers and three players in the secondary, but lose defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul.
Iowa finished last season winning six of its last seven, including an impressive 31-10 win in the Outback Bowl against a very good South Carolina defense. For Iowa to keep it up though, they will have to fight through tough road games at Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State.
24. South Florida
Key Returners: QB Matt Grothe, WR Jessie Hester, RB Mike Ford, DE George Selvie
Matt Grothe and Pat White were neck-and-neck for the record of Most Offensive Yards in Big East Conference History. White finished the season with the lead, but Grothe has another year to shatter White’s record. Grothe has always had a lot of potential, but his questionable toughness and being prone to injury have slowed his career. This is the last go-about for Grothe, so he’s determined to have a big year.
The Big East might not have the most dominating teams in the country, but I think the Bulls are a team that is very capable of being in the top 25 and moving on up.
The defense took a few hits, but it did retain defensive end George Selvie, who opted not to declare for the NFL Draft. He’s looking to boost his draft stock to back where he used to be a sure first-round pick.
Selvie and Grothe, the two leaders of this team have something to prove this season, and they have to get it done. South Florida is ready to drastically improve on last year’s two wins in-conference, but away games at Pittsburgh and Rutgers could serve as potential roadblocks.
South Florida’s special teams is taking a hit with sophomore kicker Maikon Bonani missing the 2009 season as he recovers from broken vertebrae suffered in his 35-foot-fall from a ride in Busch Gardens. Bonani was very reliable as a freshman and took the starting kicker job away from senior Delbert Alvarado, who will now reclaim the spot as the team’s kicker. He is also the team’s punter.
Key Returners: QB Max Hall, RB Harvey Unga, TE Dennis Pitta
Max Hall has one last chance to lead BYU to a BCS bowl. BYU only lost two starters on defense, but the lack of offensive options will hurt Hall this year. He threw 35 touchdowns last year and was supposed to be a Heisman contender, but he fell off during the season. It’s not going to be any easier for him, as he’ll have four new starters along the offensive line and top receiver Austin Collie is leaving early for the NFL.
If anything favors the Cougars, it’s the schedule that has all the Mountain West powers, TCU, Air Force, and Utah, at home.
Others Deserving Consideration
Key Player: RB Noel Devine
They lost Pat White, but they bring back a stingy defense and have Jarrett Brown ready to take over at QB. They also have the nation’s second best runningback in Noel Devine.
Key Player: QB Taylor Potts
Stars Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree are gone, but anybody can throw for 5000 yards in that “Air Raid” offense. Potts is bigger with a stronger arm than Harrell, and he brings back WR Detron Lewis. However, their defense is going from bad to worse.
Key Player: RB CJ Spiller
Spiller could get the all-time ACC all purpose yards record this season. Don’t count out Clemson in the ACC.
North Carolina State
Key Player: QB Russell Wilson
QB Mike Glennon is expected to get playing time, too. The Wolfpack are major sleepers for the ACC title.
Key Player: QB Case Keenum
Aside from the Mountain West Conference, Houston is the best team in all the non-BCS conferences. Tough games at Oklahoma State and vs. Texas Tech, but coming off an 8-5 year, this could be that breakout year.