As we continue our countdown to the 2009 college football season, there is one thing we have neglected to do this point, and it may be the most important part of all of this. It’s time for Walker Sports first Top 25 poll of the year. Y'all know the drill just like last season, we will be keeping you up to date with our very own version of the Top 25. Remember this isn’t the AP or the coaches poll, we actually know what we are doing here at Walker Sports.
1) Florida Gators: This one was easy. The Gators are the defending champions and they have Mr. Football Tim Tebow back running the show. You can bet that Tebow will suit up and play linebacker if he thinks it will help Florida go undefeated and win a second consecutive national title. The only weak spot on the Gators team is at the offensive tackle position. If they can address that issue, as well as tame the wild expectations of Gatonation, then the Florida Gators will repeat as SEC and national champions.
2) Texas Longhorns: Ask any Longhorn fan and they will tell you they were robbed last year by the BCS. Truth be told it’s hard to argue that point. For the 2009 campaign the Texas Longhorns have all the same faces back, including a hungry Colt McCoy. Unlike last season, this year Texas has gotten some favor from the scheduling gods. If Texas can maneuver an October stretch that includes Oklahoma, Missouri and Oklahoma State, they will be in the driver’s seat to win the Big 12 and earn a shot at the BCS Championship game.
3) Oklahoma Sooners: Once again the Sooners find themselves enter the season after suffering an embarrassment in the national title game. The difference is, this time around, the Sooners are bringing back all the familiar faces. Oklahoma returns Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford, who is looking to repeat his exploits on the field. The Sooners have the most prolific offense in the history of college football. Oklahoma will score points in bunches this year, it’s just a matter of will they be able to beat Texas and keep the ship afloat to get back to the BCS Championship?
4) USC Trojans: There is no question that Pete Carroll has built one of the all time great dynasties of all time out in Southern California. However, the streak of seven consecutive years of 11-plus victories, Pac-10 Titles, and Top 4 AP finishes could come to a crashing halt this season. Last season the Trojans were run by one of the all time great defensive units. Most of the guys on that unit will be playing on Sundays come fall 2009. To add to their problems, the Trojans are breaking in a new quarterback. It's first time in a long time the starting quarterback is not set in stone. USC will get through the 2009 season based on their overall talent and sheer athletic ability. But do not be surprised if they fail to make the Rose Bowl.
5) Penn State Nittany Lions: Penn State has a great quarterback in Daryll Clark and he will be called upon to lead the Nittany Lions through a talented Big Ten schedule. If Penn State can find any production from their receivers they could have a dangerous attack. A soft nonconference schedule will allow the Nittany Lions to remain in the Top 10 for a bulk of the season, but the final month of the Big Ten schedule could prove dangerous.
6) Ole Miss Rebels: Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that starting the season at 6th in the country is a bit of a stretch, but it’s possible that Ole Miss can make some serious noise this season. In Jevan Snead, the Rebels have the best passing quarterback in the SEC (no disrespect to Tebow). Ole Miss also has a very soft nonconference that includes two FCS teams. Most importantly for the Rebels is they avoid the Florida Gators. This is especially important considering that Ole Miss was the turning point for the Gators and you can be sure they want revenge. The trick for the Rebels will be not reading their own press clippings and staying focused.
7) Virginia Tech Hokies: Virginia Tech is without a doubt the class of the ACC. Once again Frank Beamer and Bud Foster will team up to produce one of the strongest special team and defensive units in football. If the Hokies can get consistent play from quarterback Tyrod Taylor they could look to factor into the national scene. Most likely the Hokies will sludge their way through a mediocre ACC and hope for a favorable matchup in the Orange Bowl.
8) Ohio State Buckeyes: It looks like the Buckeyes will finally lose their grip on the Big Ten this season, but that does not mean they are out of the race. Terrell Pryor has proven to be a great quarterback, and one would expect he will only build on what he learned last season during his freshman campaign. In many ways the Buckeyes entire season rest on their week two game against USC. Beat the Trojans, and the OSU becomes a national powerhouse. Lose to the Trojans, and it’s another typical year in Columbus.
9) Oklahoma State Cowboys: I’ll make no qualms about it; Mike Gundy is one of my favorite coaches in college football. His 2009 Oklahoma State Cowboys are poised to reach heights that no Cowboys team has ever achieved. Senior Zac Robinson is in his third year as the starting quarterback of one of the best offenses in college football. The only reason most people failed to mention OSU last season was they were overshadowed by conference foes Texas and Oklahoma. In 2009, the Cowboys have a favorable schedule that brings all the big hitters to their newly finished Boone Pickens Stadium. If newly appointed defensive coordinator Bill Young can get his unit humming the way he did while in Kansas, the Oklahoma State Cowboys may be in for a special ride.
10) California Bears: Jahvid Best is the best running back in the nation. If it wasn’t for the likes of Tebow, McCoy and Bradford you’d be hearing about Best and his speed all season long. Nonetheless, Jahvid Best is the linchpin of a very good running attack. A rushing game that guided the Golden Bears to a nine win season last year. Cal will once again ride a solid rushing attack with a responsible passing game and find success in 2009. The key for the Golden Bears will be getting out the gates early in the Pac-10. Opening games against USC and Oregon could make or break a story book season in Berkley.
11) Boise State Broncos: Get ready for another year of watching the blue turf on the 4 Letter Network. The Broncos reclaimed their thrown as kings of the WAC after allowing Hawaii to hold the title for a season. A 12-1 campaign that ended with a bowl game lost to TCU, once again proved that Chris Peterson is one of the great coaches in college football. After an opening hit out against Oregon, Boise State has a fairly easy schedule based on their standards. If the Broncos can stay focused all season there is a chance they could make another run at a BCS Bowl game.
12) Alabama Crimson Tide: The Tide almost put together a hell of a season last year when they jumped out to a 12-0 start. However, a 0-2 finish on the biggest stages brought Bama fans crashing back to reality. This year, Nick Saban and company will look to finish what they started. The key will be getting their offensive line to become the road graters they were at the beginning of the 2008 season. If the offensive line can open a few holes the Crimson Tide have the backs and the power running game that will chew up clock and dominate opponents, couple that with an always talented Saban defense and Alabama could be dangerous in 2009. To start the season the goal will be win the SEC and let the chips fall where they may.
13) Oregon Ducks: Chip Kelly has smoothly transitioned into the roll as head coach of the Oregon Ducks. With the transition he brings a gruff no nonsense East Coast personality that he hopes will rub off on his players. Last season the Ducks finished earned 10 victories on the field and finished ninth in the coaches poll. Kelly has already told his troops he expects to win a national championship this season. While that is unlikely the Oregon Ducks do have a chance to make a run at a Pac-10 title. The key will be getting off to a quick start against Boise State in Week 1.
14) Georgia Bulldogs: There is no question that the Georgia Bulldogs lost a lot of talent to the NFL over the offseason. While the 2008 campaign is considered to be a failure, the 2009 campaign could quickly become a successful one with just a few games breaking the right way for the Bulldogs. Once again the SEC East will prove to be very difficult, with their talent pool being rather shallow, I would not expect a lot from the Bulldogs. Even this 14th ranking is a bit of a preseason gift. That being said, Georgia will reach a bowl game and you will hear some faint rumblings from the Bulldog faithful.
15) Florida State Seminoles: Overall Florida State is most likely the second best team in the ACC, and most likely the best team in the ACC Atlantic. There are some hints the 'Noles have the talent they once showcased when they were the talk of the ACC. That being said, it will be the off the field stories that will determine the outcome of the Florida Sate season. Most likely the allegations will be enough to keep Bobby Bowden distracted from the task at hand, and most likely he will step down after the season.
16) LSU Tigers: It was not that long ago that the Tigers were one of the most feared teams in college football. Winning two national titles in five years will do that for a reputation. Last season LSU finished the season with a losing record in the SEC, but don’t expect that to be the case in 2009. The Tigers success will be based on the progression of sophomore quarterback Jordan Jefferson. If Jefferson can put it all together, and link up with senior wide out Brandon LaFell and tailback Charles Scott then the Tigers could find themselves as a player on that national scene yet again.
17) Oregon State Beavers: Last year, the Pac-10 championship was practically gift-wrapped for the Beavers, but cross state rival Oregon stood in the way. In 2009, it will be tough for Oregon State to break out and earn a shot at the Pac-10 title. The main reason for a backslide will be the rebuilding of the Oregon State defense. The Beavers lost all of their starting secondary and three fourths of their defensive line. If the offense can put up some big points in the early weeks, they may be able to keep things under control while the defense plays catch up.
18) Utah Utes: Last season the Utes were robbed of the opportunity to at least compete for the BCS Championship. All Utah did was finish the 2008 season with a 12-0 record. That’s the Utes second perfect season in the last five years. In 2009, head coach Kyle Whittingham is hoping to prove to the BCS officials and the rest of the country that Utah and the Mountain West Conference are legit contenders. Despite losing some good talent, expect Utah to play with a chip on their shoulder and expect some big things.
19) Texas Tech Red Raiders: Gone are Graham Harrell and all his passing accolades. But that does not mean the Red Raiders will ground their high powered attack, not as long as Mike Leach is calling the plays. Taylor Potts is the heir apparent to take over the signal caller position. He is not at Harrell’s status just yet, but Potts has the potential to grow into another talented gun slinger. The biggest setback for Texas Tech is they are starting two freshmen at the safety positions. In a pass happy Big 12 conference, one does not want to find themselves hurting in the secondary.
20) Michigan State Spartans: The Spartans are deep with talent. Despite having to replace their starting quarterback and running back, Michigan State is returning 14 starters. Combine that with no Ohio State on the schedule and Michigan State has a chance to take the Big Ten title. Even if that does not work out for them, you can rest assured the Spartans will participate in a New Year’s Day game.
21) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: It’s time for Paul Johnson to prove to the nation that his version of the triple option offense can work in the big leagues. Last season, the Yellow Jackets finished the season ranked fourth in the nation in rushing. This year teams have seen and experienced the speed of this offense and will be better prepared to defend the option. The key will be can the boys at Georgia Tech throw some new wrinkles and new ideas into their scheme that will continue to keep opposing defenses guessing. If the answer is yes, then the Rambling Wreck could be in for a big season.
22) BYU Cougars: BYU is always a veteran and seasoned team that know how to play when they hit the field. You can believe the Cougars consider last year’s 10-3 runs a failure after all the national championship hype they received in the preseason. This year the national championship talk is quiet, but if BYU can knock off both Oklahoma and Florida State in the first month of the season, you can believe they will become a network favorite to talk about.
23) North Carolina Tar Heels: Every year North Carolina has progressed under Butch Davis. 2009 the Tar Heels will look to take the next step and assert themselves on the national scene. The key to success will be finding some production out of what has been a stagnant running game. North Carolina needs to find away to avoid being drug down into the mediocrity of the ACC if they want to shine on the big stage.
24) Kansas Jayhawks: Todd Reesing is back yet again at quarterback (doesn’t it feel like he has been around forever?). The reason the Jayhawks make the Walker Sports Top 25 is because they have a great chance to win the Big 12 North. If Reesing remains healthy, then the Jayhawks have a chance to win the Big 12 North and perhaps earn a spot in the New Year’s Day game.
25) Cincinnati Bearcats: It is possible the Bearcats are the cream of the crop in the Big East. That doesn’t mean a lot, but it does mean the Bearcats have a chance at a second trip to Miami. The Cincinnati offense will be talented enough to put up some points. Tony Pike is back yet again, and he has the skills to lead the Bearcats through the treacherous Big East. Most likely the Bearcats won’t make any noise on the national scene, but they have what it takes to ruin the Big East for everyone else.