NCAA Football: BK's Preseason Top 25 Teams for 2010
Yes, it's bloody early for this kind of list—we haven't even seen a bowl game yet!—but I've found one of the best ways to cope with the withdrawal symptoms stemming from the arrival of the offseason is to start planning for next year.
This list will change and shift once the bowls give us a better picture of teams' strengths and weaknesses, and who they'll miss next year.
But in the meantime, peruse, lament, and have faith.
College football will begin again.
No. 25: Missouri Tigers
Blaine Gabbert finished the year white-hot, but the Tiger defense was porous, allowing Baylor its lone Big 12 win on the year.
Gabbert also loses his favorite targets, seniors Danario Alexander and Jared Perry, to graduation.
A nine-win season might still be enough to win the Big 12 North, but coach Gary Pinkel needs to find his next Jeremy Maclin, or else lose more ground to Nebraska in the race for the North.
No. 24: Arizona Wildcats
The 'Cats lost defensive coordinator Mark Stoops (the forgotten Stoops brother) to Florida State, and it's a major blow for a defense that was starting to click as the season concluded.
Still, Arizona returns Nick Foles, the conference's third-best passer in yards per game, as well as running backs Keola Antolin and Nic Grigsby.
Receiver Juron Criner, who led the team with nine touchdowns, is also back to help Arizona stage another run at the Pac-10 title.
No. 23: Auburn Tigers
They'll have to replace Chris Todd and Ben Tate, but Auburn has done some outstanding recruiting under head coach Gene Chizik and offensive guru Gus Malzahn, luring five-star running back Michael Dyer to Jordan-Hare Stadium to pick up where Tate left off.
Who knows? Maybe Kodi Burns or Neil Caudle will finally be ready to pick up the pace for this team.
Auburn always fields a good defense, and Chizik's coaching prowess can only help.
However, this spot could go to Northwestern if the Wildcats upset Auburn in the Outback Bowl.
But I expect Auburn to pull off a good victory and use that as their launching pad to return to SEC West relevance in 2010.
No. 22: Arkansas Razorbacks
I'm buying Arkansas as the best of the 7-5 SEC middle of the pack on the strength of their quarterback, Ryan Mallett, who will test the questionable secondaries of the SEC all year.
In just his first season, he's broken countless Arkansas passing records, and is on pace to break more.
Combined with a solid, if unspectacular, running game and a few good hauls in recruiting, you could be looking at a dark-horse SEC West contender.
No. 21: Cincinnati Bearcats
The Bearcats lose Tony Pike and Mardy Gilyard, but sophomore Zach Collaros backed up Pike quite capably as he nursed an injury to his non-throwing arm. Sophomore RB Isaiah Pead also returns.
Plus, there's still enough talent on the Cincy defense to guide them through most of the Big East should their offense struggle.
It all depends on who takes over as coach. I like Central Michigan's Butch Jones to pick up where Brian Kelly left off.
Jones took over for Kelly at CMU, and led the Chippewas to a MAC championship in his third year as coach in Mount Pleasant.
Jones has proven himself to be a great coach of athletic quarterbacks, helping dual-threat QB Dan LeFevour become the NCAA's all-time leader in total touchdowns.
He can do the same with the athletic Collaros, taking advantage of his devastating ability on the draw play to shore up Cincy's prospects on the ground.
No. 20: Miami (FL) Hurricanes
The Hurricanes lose three-year starter Jason Fox at left tackle, and will miss starting center A.J. Trump. But the 'Canes are both a young and a tested team, and they'll enter the 2010 season as presumptive ACC challengers with no history of wilting under pressure.
Jacory Harris didn't throw well under pressure and struggled with interceptions, but all of the playmakers at wideout and tight end return.
Though the 'Canes will miss bruising tailback Javarris James, they've got two busters waiting in line in Damien Berry and Graig Cooper, who saw the bulk of the carries at tailback after James went down with an injury at Wake Forest.
No. 19: Oklahoma Sooners
A multitude of departures complicates the Sooners' outlook next year.
Linebackers Ryan Reynolds and Keenan Clayton, running back Chris Jones, tight end Jermaine Gresham, left tackle Trent Williams, and star quarterback Sam Bradford are all gone after playing significant roles for Boomer Sooner.
QB Landry Jones played well to finish the year, and the Sooners haven't been slouching in their recruiting efforts, but expectations will likely be dampened even with a win over Stanford in the Brut Sun Bowl.
No. 18: Oregon State Beavers
Replacing outstanding starter Sean Canfield and leading tackler Keaton Kristick won't be easy, and backup QB Lyle Moevao is also gone.
On the bright side, Jacquizz and James Rodgers will both return to help along sophomore QB Ryan Katz.
All told, this is a pretty young team, particularly along the offensive line. The momentum from the Las Vegas Bowl might determine whether Oregon State can stage another back-door candidacy for the Pac-10 title.
I have faith that OSU coach Mike Riley has another plug-and-play quarterback in the works. Quizz will battle Oregon's LaMichael James to be the conference's leading rusher.
No. 17: Pitt Panthers
Pitt returns Big East leading rusher Dion Lewis, but loses all three of its interior linemen on offense and both tackles on defense to graduation, and will also say goodbye to the conference's most efficient passer, Bill Stull.
That's a lot of talent to replace, but Pitt has proved to be a well-coached team, particularly on the line of scrimmage. They run a fairly simple blocking scheme with a pulling guard on outside runs.
The Wannstache has done a good job in the past of stacking bodies along the line, but the true test will be if Lewis is the real deal or just the beneficiary of a great interior game.
No. 16: Wisconsin Badgers
The Badgers haven't seriously flirted with Big Ten contention since going 11-1 (7-1 in conference play) in 2006.
They'll have their best shot at returning to relevance next year. They return conference-leading rusher John Clay and breakout wide receiver Nick Toon, as well as redshirt junior quarterback Scott Tolzien. In addition, they'll retain the services of their entire offensive line.
They lose Garrett Graham and the unblockable O'Brien Schofield, who finished the year ranked second in the conference with 10 sacks.
But, they get the Buckeyes at home and face another cake out-of-conference schedule.
2010 it is! Viva la optimism! Jump around!
No. 15: West Virginia Mountaineers
I hesitate to place the Mountaineers too high—I don't think much of Bill Stewart as a coach—but they've been able to recruit well, and they'll have no trouble replacing Jarrett Brown at QB.
Four-star dual-threat quarterback Eugene Smith, who garnered some playing time despite breaking his foot in the summer, will compete with incoming four-star prospect Barry Brunetti for the starting role.
The winner will form an imposing backfield with Noel Devine, and we might see a return to the outstanding WVU rushing attacks of yore.
Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel always fields a good defense, so I'll tentatively pick the Mountaineers to ascend to the top of the Big East again.
No. 14: LSU Tigers
I've been down on the Tigers all year, and maintain that they really shouldn't be cracking the top 10 unless they can beat Florida on the road or Alabama at home.
They're pulling in recruits like mad, but they've lost their running backs coach, and their defense hasn't even approached the standard set in 2007.
I'm still waiting for them to break through. Until then, they're barely in my top 15.
No. 13: Penn State Nittany Lions
If Evan Royster turns pro, bump Penn State down a few pegs. The Nittany Lions will need to lean on their running game while fielding an untested quarterback, either dual-threat QB Kevin Newsome or true freshman Robert Bolden.
In my mind, Joe Paterno would rather turn to stone than start a true freshman, but Newsome's premiere was a little rough, even in garbage time, so camp could get interesting.
Outside of that, the Nittany Lions have recruited well, and though they might have to part with linebackers Navorro Bowman, Sean Lee, and breakout Josh Hull, you know the next great PSU linebacker is just waiting in the wings.
No. 12: UNC Tar Heels
The Tar Heels return four draft-eligible defensive standouts to a unit that finished sixth in the nation in yards allowed.
Combined that with the breakout season of WR Greg Ellis, who returns along with QB T.J. Yates, and I feel more than comfortable putting the Tar Heels in ACC contention, if not in the BCS picture.
No. 11: Iowa Hawkeyes
Much of the Hawkeyes' preseason hype will depend on whether one guy stays or goes.
Starting tackle and All-Big Ten selection Bryan Bulaga is mulling an early entrance in the NFL draft, and his loss would be felt along the line in a big way.
The Hawkeyes also lose their other tackle, Kyle Calloway, along with interior starters Dace Richardson and Rafael Eubanks, to graduation.
A.J. Edds and Pat Angerer, outstanding linebackers who led the team in tackles, are also gone.
The rest of that outstanding defense should remain intact, but Iowa's power running game and protection scheme live and die at the line. Ricky Stanzi is back, and Jewel Hampton will be healthy, but they also may miss Tony Moeaki, an outstanding block-and-release tight end graduating this year.
Iowa showed they can coach up their three-star players, and they won't waste a minute in attempting another persistent run at the Big Ten title.
No. 10: USC Trojans
I don't like ranking USC any more than you like reading about them, but Pete Carroll is pissed off, and when that happens, his quarterback wins the Heisman.
That's likely the bar Carroll will set for his team, along with making sure they play the same outstanding defense they've been playing for six of the past seven years.
The Trojans coaching staff has hit the recruiting trail with vigor, and you can bet they'll be selling revenge as the company line all summer long. With the talent they have stocked, they'll be scary.
No. 9: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Jonathan Dwyer is gone, but Josh Nesbitt and breakout Anthony Allen are back to compete for a second ACC championship, fine-tuning Paul Johnson's triple-option attack.
The loss of Derrick Johnson along the line will hinder GT's defense, particularly with their questionable safety play, but defensive guru Johnson's system grinds time, yards, defenses, and opposing coaches into a fine paste and spreads it on Chicken in a Biskit crackers, a Johnson favorite.
In other words, they'll be fine.
No. 8: Florida Gators
Time for a complete overhaul.
John Brantley, a pro-style passer, will inherit the position of the Great One and try to mitigate the damage from Florida's early departures.
The Gators' stock will rise if the Pouncey twins, Aaron Hernandez, Carlos Dunlap, and the few others mulling early exit choose to return, but if the predicted mass exodus comes to pass, the Gators will need to rebuild from the ground up, starting on both of their lines.
They've done the recruiting; now they'll just need to do the coaching.
No. 7: Texas Longhorns
Four-year starter Colt McCoy is gone, and with him goes the identity of Texas football as we've known it.
But if the Longhorns do anything well, it is adapting, and Mack Brown's team will do plenty of that in anointing Garrett Gilbert as the next great Longhorn QB.
They lose the entire left side of the offensive line and the Perennial Great Texas Pass Rusher, but should have the talent in the bank to reload successfully. It'll be exciting to see the new face of the Longhorns—whoever that may be.
No. 6: Alabama Crimson Tide
They'll lose a lot of talent on defense to graduation, including Javier Arenas, the entire defensive line, one linebacker, and a safety (and possibly Rolando McClain), but Nick Saban has recruited outstandingly on defense.
Besides the requisite growing pains on D, the Tide return the nucleus of their offense—Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, and Julio Jones—but lose Mike Johnson at guard and Drew Davis at tackle.
They'll be the favorite to win the SEC, but there are some holes. I trust that Saban's a good enough coach to have seen them from miles away.
No. 5: Virginia Tech Hokies
Beating Tennessee will get them back to their winning ways after an up-and-down year and an uncharacteristically porous defense, but RYAN WILLIAMS RYAN WILLIAMS RYAN WILLIAMS.
The ACC freshman of the year was a 1,500-yard rusher and an inexhaustible buster.
Not to mention Tyrod Taylor, now in his senior year and with three years of experience in the system, looked good making throws on the run and scampering for a few scores of his own by year's end.
Count on the Virginia Tech defense to keep motivated and the Hokies to contend with Georgia Tech for the ACC title. Should be an outstanding game come October.
No. 4: TCU Horned Frogs
The Horned Frogs went through an unholy tear in the latter part of their schedule, complementing a ruthless passing defense with an offensive explosion courtesy of Mountain West Conference-leading passer Andy Dalton.
Dalton will be back next year, along with outstanding wideouts Jeremy Kerley and Antoine Hicks. The Horned Frogs also return the two freshmen phenom tailbacks, Matthew Tucker and Ed Wesley, who teamed up with Joseph Turner to divide the load and keep the TCU offense surging with fresh legs.
But it all comes down to the defense, and though they'll have to bid farewell to sackmaster Jerry Hughes, the TCU coaching staff also needed to replace seven starters from last year's defense, and they didn't miss a beat.
Their 2010 schedule is still taking shape, so let's hope they can schedule some brave souls from the BCS conferences and stage another run for BCS-buster extraordinaire.
No. 3: Ohio State Buckeyes
Cameron Heyward and Thaddeus Gibson should return, but the Buckeyes lose their two starting tackles, a linebacker, and both safeties from their defense and were already rebuilding after the major losses last year.
Their offense remains relatively young—Terrelle Pryor will be a junior, and his wideouts all remain. They lose Jake Ballard at tight end and Jim Cordle at tackle, but the Buckeye recruiting machine has been going strong in the Midwest, and they should have no trouble plugging in big men to run the Power-O.
Unless they get absolutely smacked in the Rose Bowl—which I don't foresee—I'd say they have a more than legitimate chance at repeating as Big Ten champs for an unprecedented seventh year.
Their home game against the Miami Hurricanes on Sept. 11 will be one of the top five out-of-conference games to watch.
No. 2: Oregon Ducks
The Ducks lose Ed Dickson at tight end, but aside from that, they return an entire offensive line that really gelled as the season progressed. Breakout tailback LaMichael James and Jeremiah Masoli, the ball-fake king, return, as do his targets, D.J. Davis and Lavasier Tuinei.
On defense, only end Will Tukuafu and tackle Blake Ferras depart, so the Ducks will rely on another scrappy crew that does just enough to get its explosive offense on the field.
Banking on such a performance is never safe, but there was no stopping Oregon once that line came together, and the Pac-10 will be grasping at straws again next year until somebody figures it out.
No. 1: Boise State Broncos
Holy crow. The Boise State Broncos lose ONE player to graduation (granted, it's shutdown cornerback Nick Wilson, a projected first or second round pick) and return their entire line on offense and defense, along with the nation's most efficient passer, Kellen Moore.
They'll be able to test this team against Virginia Tech on the road and Oregon State at home, both of which (in my mind) are projected top 15 teams to enter the year.
If Boise can avoid a cataclysmic setback in the Fiesta Bowl, keep it close, or even beat TCU, they'll enter the 2010 season in the top 10 with a legitimate chance of crashing the BCS gates in consecutive years.
Also Receiving Votes
Nebraska: I won't buy into the 2010 Huskers until they can show me they'll be able to live without all-universe DT Ndamukong Suh. Sophomore DT Jared Crick was also no slouch along the line, but the Husker offense was worse than terrible all year, and unless Bo Pelini reaches out to another OC, the Huskers will again play underdog against the big boys in the Big 12.
Stanford: Toby Gerhart was, for better or worse, the identity of this team. Andrew Luck is a fine quarterback, but Gerhart taught teams to fear the Cardinal, and though the line is back, I'm not sure what the Cardinal identity will be next year. Wait and see.
Clemson: We'll judge the loss of C.J. Spiller for this team as the season progresses, but I'm also waiting on the Tigers because of what safety DeAndre McDaniel might do. If the ACC co-defensive player of the year bolts early for the NFL, I don't want to be the one defending Clemson to an empty house.
Tennessee: Y'all got a quarterback yet? No? Please hold.