My 2009 college football Top 25 poll concludes with the almighty Top 10:
2008 record: 9-4 (ranked No. 15)
Projected 2009 regular season record: 10-2 (losses at South Carolina on Sept. 24; vs LSU on Nov. 21)
The 411: The Rebels are everybody's darling to compete for a BCS berth, and with good reason. First-year head coach Houston Nutt turned around a program last season that, according to SEC standards, was bordering upon moribund status, leading Ole Miss to its most wins since 2003, an impressive blowout bowl win over Texas Tech, and a top-15 ranking.
Albeit last season's success could partially be attributed to the recruiting successes of Nutt's predecessor, Ed Orgeron, Nutt has proven to have an uncanny ability to get the most out of his players—and he'll have plenty to work with once again.
Led by Heisman darkhorse Jevan Snead (184-for-327, 2,762 yds, 26 TDs in '08) at quarterback and receiver Dexter McCluster, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound jack-of-all-trades who actually had more yards rushing (655) than receiving (625) in '08, the offense should score plenty of points to fully complement a defense that finished last season ranked fourth in the nation in rushing yards allowed (86.5) and 20th (19.0) in points allowed per game.
9. Oregon Ducks
2008 record: 10-3 (ranked No. 9)
Projected 2009 regular season record: 10-2 (losses vs California on Sept. 26; at Arizona on Nov. 21)
The 411: A top contender for the conference title, the Ducks face a brutal stretch right out of the shoot, with games against Boise State, Purdue, Utah, and California filling the September slate.
The good news: all but the showdown with the Broncos will take place in the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium, where the off-kilter designs and two-tone pattern of the artificial turf are accentuated by an endearing intimacy, making it one of the quirkiest—and hardest—places in the country for opponents to play.
If Oregon and new headmaster Chip Kelly can survive the first month of the season, the schedule sets up favorably for a shot to dethrone USC atop the Pac-10.
2008 record: 9-4 (ranked No. 18)
Projected 2009 regular season record: 10-2 (losses at Baylor on Oct. 24; at Oklahoma on Nov. 28)
The 411: Say what you will about the Okie State D, but with an offense that centers around the triumvirate of quarterback Zac Robinson, running back Kendall Hunter, and Heisman-caliber receiver/return man Dez Bryant, the Cowboys don't necessarily need to be a stone wall.
Cursed with the misfortune of having to compete with Texas and Oklahoma each season, Mike Gundy and his team always seem a step behind in the tremendously hard Big 12 South. But that all could change if the 'Boys can top Texas at home and beat the Sooners in Norman for the first time since 2001.
2008 record: 10-3 (ranked No. 11)
Projected 2009 regular season record: 9-3 (losses at Penn State on Nov. 7; vs Iowa on Nov. 14; at Michigan on 21)
The 411: Another season, more lofty expectations emitting from Columbus. The non-SEC representative in the national championship game in '06 and '07, the Buckeyes perhaps faltered a bit last season, failing to win the Big Ten title outright for the first time since 2005.
A year later, Ohio State is still considered the engine that drives the conference, but dominance may be a bit tougher to come by these days. Penn State and Iowa are beginning to re-assert themselves, and you know Michigan won't be awful again. Plus, it probably wouldn't be wise to totally rule out the Illini or Mark Dantonio's Michigan State Spartans.
Unto the same point, the duo of Brandon Saine and Daniel Herron will attempt to fill the shoes of former All-American Chris Wells at running back, all the while proving the Buckeye offense won't be a one-man dog-and-pony show comprised of quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
2008 record: 12-2 (ranked No. 6)
Projected 2009 regular season record: 10-2 (losses at Ole Miss on Oct. 10; vs LSU on Nov. 7)
The 411: In the rough-and-tumble SEC, there's minimal margin for error, making Nick Saban's pursuit of his first conference title all the more intriguing. Alabama was on absolute cruise control for much of 2008 until a hard-fought defeat to Florida in the conference championship game carried itself over to an inexplicably lopsided Sugar Bowl loss to Utah.
The consecutive losses shrouded disappointment over what was shaping up to be a dream season. And though key pieces have left, Saban's shrewd recruiting style has ensured those who have departed won't be sorely missed.
But is that enough to slip past the likes of Florida in the country's most competitive conference?
2008 record: 11-1 (ranked No. 8)
Projected 2009 regular season record: 10-2 (losses at Michigan on Oct. 24; at Michigan State on Nov. 21)
The 411: In his 44th year on the sidelines at Happy Valley, the immortal Joe Paterno leads a talented bunch that could further muddle the always-murky national championship picture.
The offense is seemingly in good hands with senior quarterback Daryll Clark and junior tailback Evan Royster, but the defense may be what separates the Nittany Lions from the rest of the pack in a crowded Big Ten.
Together with linebacker Sean Lee, who missed all of 2008 with a tear in his anterior cruciate ligament, defensive tackle Jared Odrick and linebacker Navorro Bowman give Penn State three players on the watch list for the prestigious Rotary Lombardi Award.
2008 record: 11-2 (ranked No. 5)
Projected 2009 regular season record: 10-2 (losses at Miami (Fl.) on Oct. 3; vs. Texas on Oct. 17)
The 411: With the Sooners faced with replacing four-fifths of the offensive line, it's unlikely quarterback Sam Bradford will again have the luxury of camping out in the pocket, which is something that could be tempered if oft-injured running back DeMarco Murray is finally able to prove he's able to play through an entire season unscathed.
One thing's for certain: The Sooners, with All-Americans Gerald McCoy and Travis Lewis at defensive tackle and linebacker, respectively, and All-Big 12 performer Jeremy Beal manning the end position, will be robust on defense.
Lest we are graced with another unjust tiebreaker, the Big 12 South should be a two-horse race between OU and Texas, with the winner of their Oct. 17 meeting likely to receive an advanced invitation to Pasadena for the national championship.
But as quickly as the Sooners' national title hopes could ignite with a win against their archrival, those aspirations could die even before the Red River Rivalry begins. In the three weeks leading up to their showdown with the Longhorns, Oklahoma faces stiff challenges at home from Tulsa and Baylor and on the road at Miami. And what about that season opener against potential BCS-buster BYU?
2008 record: 12-1 (ranked No. 2)
Projected 2009 regular season record: 10-2 (losses at Ohio State on Sept. 12; at Oregon on Oct. 31)
The 411: History tells us that the Trojans will still thrive despite the losses incurred at the hands of the NFL, especially on a defense that no longer boasts linebackers Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, and Clay Matthews.
But with a huge question mark glaring under center—where the winner of the starting quarterback sweepstakes was just announced to be true freshman Matt Barkley—common sense hints at a completely different scenario that includes a revenge loss in Columbus and the obligatory Pac-10 hiccup capable of derailing the quest for at least a share of the conference title for an eighth consecutive season.
2008 record: 12-1 (ranked No. 3)
Projected 2009 regular season record: 12-1 (loss at Oklahoma State on Oct. 31)
The 411: Quarterback Colt McCoy spurned the NFL to return for his senior season, and it may wind up being a smart decision. Despite unresolved issues at running back, the Longhorns are capable of beating anybody, but a potentially damaging streak of three games away from Austin begins in mid-October with the Red River Rivalry and ends with a scary (no pun intended) Halloween matchup with Oklahoma State in Stillwater.
2008 record: 12-1 (ranked No. 1)
Projected 2009 regular season record: 13-1 (loss to Ole Miss in SEC Championship)
The 411: Surprise, surprise, right? The Gators have as much, if not more, talent as anyone, but can Heisman poster boy Tim Tebow and 22 returning members of a freakish defense avoid tripping up in the fierce SEC to capture a third national title in four years?
By now, thanks to ESPN, you already know what Tebow and the Gators have for breakfast every day, so there's really no need to delve into their schedule and such.
However, if there's one number worth mentioning regarding Florida this season, it's this: $450,000. That's how much the Charleston Southern Buccaneers will receive for getting their hides chapped at The Swamp on Sept. 5 to kick off the season.
It's takes an elite program all of five seconds to agree to such a cupcake-ish season opener, but you might actually stand to win some cash from the Gators' season-opening walkthrough. Charleston Southern is in the unenviable position of facing the largest and most ludicrous point spread in college football history, which, as of early last week, stood at 73 points.
So, how do you benefit financially from a game so pathetic that it doesn't even deserve being wagered upon? You take the underdog. Dating back to 2006, Florida has beaten its last three FCS opponents by a measly average of 53 points. Weak.
Here's a scheduled breakdown of my Top 25:
Aug. 25: Nos. 21-25
Aug. 26: Nos. 16-20
Aug. 27: Nos. 11-15
Aug. 28: Top 10
Lead photo: AP/Tony Gutierrez
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