Oklahoma State Cowboys (11-1) – This team is built similarly to last year’s Texas Tech squad in terms of offensive firepower, but this team can play defense just as well as it will move the ball. With offensive weapons such as quarterback Zac Robinson, running back Kendall Hunter, and wide receiver Dez Bryant, shooting for a national championship should be their ultimate goal. Mike Gundy’s squad can’t look at it from that perspective as they need to win both their division and conference first, but keep an eye out for this explosive dark horse.
Oklahoma Sooners (10-2) – One of the best teams in the nation year in and year out, Oklahoma will be just that once again with the defending Heisman trophy winner Sam Bradford at the helm. They’ve won the Big 12 title three straight times and six times since 2000, but have not won a national title since the late 90’s, a monkey that coach Bob Stoops would like to get off his back. There’s room only for two teams from any one conference in the BCS and their fate will ultimately rest on two games, the Red River Shootout and their finale versus Oklahoma State on November 28.
Texas Longhorns (10-2) – A case can be made for any of these three teams winning the Big 12, but one of them will be on the outside looking in come January and it could very well be Texas. However, Colt McCoy and the Longhorns come into this season with a chip on their shoulder about not being in the BCS Championship Game last year. Their defense isn’t as good after losing some key contributors, but don’t look for any glaring weakness to drag them down. The one concern I have about this team is the brutal stretch of schedule from mid to late October.
Kansas Jayhawks (8-4) – Remember how South Florida was No. 2 in the nation back in 2007? Yeah, so was Kansas. They finished 8-5 last year, which is by no means a failure, but they aim to get back to their top-notch status, and are led by senior quarterback Todd Reesing. Their schedule isn’t really that tough, and I would take it as a disappointment if the Jayhawks didn’t win the Big 12 North. Mark Mangino’s team has every opportunity to take this title before the rest of this conference catches up to them and get back to a nice bowl game in Reesing’s last year.
Missouri Tigers (8-4)
Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-4)
Texas Tech Red Raiders (7-5)
Texas A&M Aggies (6-6)
Colorado Buffaloes (5-7)
Kansas State Wildcats (5-7)
Iowa State Cyclones (4-8)
Baylor Bears (3-9)
Pac-10 (projected order of finish and records)
California Golden Bears (10-2) – This very well may be the year Cal is a major factor in the BCS picture. They are loaded with both experience and depth, and junior running back Jahvid Best looks to be a prime candidate for a breakout year and possibly even a sneaky candidate for the Heisman. Jeff Tedford has done a great job taking over what was at the time a sinking ship in 2002, going 59-30 since then. Everyone in this conference is chasing USC every year, but this might be the year that the rest of the Pac-10 foes can take advantage, Cal with the best shot.
Oregon State Beavers (9-3) – I like Oregon State because they always win games that they aren’t expected to (e.g. win over USC last season), making the critics look foolish come season’s end. Rather quietly, coach Mike Riley has built a program that has been beyond legitimate over the past few years, and this year his main weapon will be running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who broke out last year. Like Cal, there’s no need for the Beavers to be intimidated by the Trojans. As long as they take care of their business, they could be in the mix for a big January bowl game.
USC Trojans (9-3) – Last year, I didn’t pick USC to win the Pac-10; that didn’t work out (special thanks to Arizona State), but in all seriousness, I don’t think this team is as loaded as in years past. Palmer, Leinart, Booty, Sanchez…Barkley? It will hurt losing an entire linebacking core. By no means am I saying that USC can’t win this improved conference, but don’t expect it to be the cakewalk that everyone thinks it will be. Knowing the way I pick things, USC will probably win the national title, but it’s a gamble on my part, I don’t think they’re in the mix.
Oregon Ducks (8-4) – The coach is gone, but the program continues to move forward. They come into this season with a rank of 16, and their season doesn’t open up with a layup; it opens up on the blue turf of Boise State, followed up shortly thereafter with tests against Utah and Cal. Not too many people know about one of the nation’s most productive backs in LeGarrette Blount for a team that average 50 points a game over its last four games and nearly 40 points a game for the season. Not a conference title contender, but a solid team overall.
Arizona State Sun Devils (7-5)
UCLA Bruins (7-5)
Arizona Wildcats (5-7)
Stanford Cardinal (5-7)
Washington Huskies (3-9)
Washington State Cougars (3-9)
Florida Gators (11-1) – I’d be wary about a team that everyone is so sure is going to win the national championship before the season even starts, but if you’re going to do that with a team, this is the one to do it with. Urban Meyer is 44-9 in four seasons at Florida, with two titles and a great chance to win a third. Tim Tebow is on a quest for that same title and a second Heisman, and I would say that the talent is certainly there to do it again. Anything less than a perfect season would be a slight disappointment, and I don’t even know which game Florida will lose, but I just don’t pick teams to go undefeated.
Georgia Bulldogs (9-3) – Could Georgia be a candidate for the “year after” syndrome? They didn’t win anything of importance in the year that they should have, but now the pressure’s off for Mark Richt’s boys, but losing Stafford and Moreno is no prize. They’re still one of the premier programs in college football, winning 82 games over the last eight seasons, but with a tough opener against Oklahoma State, their BCS hopes might be dashed rather quickly. They aren’t getting by Florida; no one is, in this part of the conference here in 2009.
Tennessee Volunteers (7-5)
South Carolina Gamecocks (6-6)
Kentucky Wildcats (5-7)
Vanderbilt Commodores (4-8)
Alabama Crimson Tide (10-2) – I’m convinced that the blowout loss to Utah in the Sugar Bowl was a fluke, but sometimes devastating losses are hard to put behind programs. However, the schedule isn’t bad and the roster is loaded with talented and depth, highlighted by sophomore wideout Julio Jones, who is nothing short of an NFL prototype. Though they blew up (in a good way) the year before they were supposed to, the Crimson Tide is once again a national title threat. They and the Gators are all but write-ins for the SEC Championship Game.
LSU Tigers (9-3) – The bar in Baton Rouge is always set at championship or bust, but that might not be too realistic this year with so many good teams ahead of the Tigers in the national title picture. LSU has as much speed and athleticism as anyone in the nation, but don’t really have much certainty at the quarterback position, as the reigns will be handed over to sophomore Jordan Jefferson. They’re good enough to have a puncher’s chance in the SEC, but is that puncher Ali or Riddick Bowe? Nonetheless, LSU will have good year, but nothing over the top.
Mississippi Rebels (8-4)
Auburn Tigers (7-5)
Arkansas Razorbacks (5-7)
Mississippi State Bulldogs (4-8)
Boise State Broncos (9-3) – After 108 wins, three unbeaten seasons in the last five, and a Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma, you would think the nation would have gained some respect for Boise State. No one has. They still fly under the radar and will continue to do so until they get a chance to play for the national title. They open up at No. 14, which is no slouchy ranking, but this team always the potential to win 11-plus games. Coach Chris Petersen has lost four games in the last three seasons which is unfathomable; look for another great year in Boise.
BYU Cougars (9-3) – Though the season starts with a mountain to climb in Oklahoma, BYU should be able to get to nine wins comfortably. Another team that flies under the radar in search of perfection every year won’t get any notoriety if they don’t get into the big-time bowl game. They’ve done things the right way under Bronco Mendenhall, especially develop senior quarterback Max Hall. The Cougars are essentially in a two-horse race with Utah in pursuit of the Mountain West title, as they should be among the best non-major conference teams.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-4) – After several years of sadness and disappointment in South Bend, Charlie Weis has without question the best team he’s had in five years at ND. Jimmy Clausen is about to take the nation by storm, and the explosiveness of receiver Golden Tate will only help his development. This team is too experienced and talented not to go 9-3 or 8-4 and get back to the BCS where they haven’t had much luck recently. Their schedule is as soft as it's been in years, and anything short of eight wins would be a step in the wrong direction.
1) Colt McCoy, QB - Texas, Sr.
2) Sam Bradford, QB - Oklahoma, Jr.
3) Dez Bryant, WR - Oklahoma State, Jr.
4) Todd Reesing, QB - Kansas, Sr.
5) Zac Robinson, QB - Oklahoma State, Sr.
6) Kendall Hunter, RB - Oklahoma State, Jr.
7) Ndamukong Suh, DT - Nebraska, Sr.
8) Russell Okung, OT - Oklahoma State, Sr.
9) Gerald McCoy, DT - Oklahoma, Jr.
10) Jermaine Gresham, TE - Oklahoma, Sr.
1) Jahvid Best, RB - California, Jr.
2) Jacquizz Rodgers, RB - Oregon State, So.
3) Taylor Mays, S - USC, Sr.
4) Brian Price, DT - UCLA, Jr.
5) Rob Gronkowski, TE - Arizona, Jr.
6) Tyson Alualu, DE - California, Sr.
7) Kristofer Dowd, C - USC, Jr.
8) LeGarrette Blount, RB - Oregon, Sr.
9) Lawrence Guy, DT - Arizona State, So.
10) Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, DE - Washington, Sr.
1) Tim Tebow, QB - Florida, Sr.
2) Julio Jones, WR - Alabama, So.
3) Eric Berry, S - Tennessee, Jr.
4) Brandon Spikes, LB - Florida, Sr.
5) Greg Hardy, DE - Mississippi, Sr.
6) Rolando McClain, LB - Alabama, Sr.
7) Terrence Cody, DT - Alabama, Sr.
8) Jevan Snead, QB - Mississippi, Sr.
9) Myron Lewis, CB - Vanderbilt, Sr.
10) Malcolm Sheppard, DT - Arkansas, Sr.