While the 2010 college football season is still eight months away, January is never too early to start. Since it's hard to predict who the 25th best team in the country is even during the season, I don't see much of a point of picking a top 25 eight months beforehand.
A top 10 is much more logical in January, and therefore, here goes my very early preseason top 10 for 2010.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
This is by far the easiest pick. The Crimson Tide return starting quarterback Greg McElroy and Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. The defense will be a strong point once again, even with linebacker Rolando McClain leaving early for the NFL.
Other than LSU, the Tide shouldn't have much competition in the SEC besides LSU and rebuilding Florida. They can start their season off strong with a win over Penn State in Tuscaloosa.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
With a Rose Bowl win over Oregon, Terrelle Pryor proved why he was such a heralded recruit coming out of high school. While he isn't all the way there yet, Ohio State's sophomore quarterback proved that he can pass the ball, and he looks like a legitimate Heisman contender in 2010.
The defense will be outstanding once again, and if the Buckeyes can get past trips to Iowa, Wisconsin, and a home game against Penn State, they may be looking at a National Championship berth next season.
3. Boise State Broncos
I've been a Boise State doubter ever since their Fiesta Bowl win against Oklahoma. And while I'm not a total believer yet—and may not be, even with an undefeated season—the Broncos deserve some love.
The only problem is, they won't go to the National Championship.
I see Iowa and Ohio State being undefeated heading into their November 20 meeting, meaning the winner of that game will head to Glendale.
But the good news for the Broncos is that if the Rose Bowl loses the Big Ten champion to the National Championship, the top-ranked non-Big Six team heads to Pasadena. And while it could be better, the future looks a little rosier for Boise State.
4. Iowa Hawkeyes
I know, I know, it's Iowa. They can't be this good.
But this year's Orange Bowl proved that the Hawkeyes are elite. The entire defensive line, including All-American caliber defensive end Adrian Clayborn, returns, and so does most of the secondary, possibly giving Iowa the best defense in the nation.
The offense should be better, as Jewel Hampton, who rushed for nearly 500 yards behind Shonn Greene, will be back after missing 2009 with a knee injury. Add him to the rushing duo of Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher, and the Hawkeyes may have more running backs than they know what to do with.
Quarterback Ricky Stanzi will be better, and has possibly Iowa's best receiving duo in recent history, Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, to throw to. Allen Reisner and incoming freshman CJ Fiedorowicz will be solid at tight end as well. The offensive line needs some reconfiguring, but Riley Reiff looks like a star in the making, and Kirk Ferentz always has good offensive lines. Bottom line: Look out for Iowa in 2010.
5. Texas Longhorns
America, meet Garrett Gilbert. The freshman was thrown onto the big stage in the National Championship game when Colt McCoy when down with an injury. And all things considered, Gilbert was fantastic. He showed tremendous poise and has a lot of potential. Plus, he was able to throw fairly easily in the second half against the tremendous Alabama defense.
The Texas defense loses some key players, such as Sergio Kindle, but the Longhorns should reload on that side of the ball, especially with defensive coordinator Will Muschamp leading the charge. Look for Texas to win the Big 12 once again and head to Glendale for the Fiesta Bowl, or maybe even play a week later.
6. Oregon Ducks
After taking the nation—well, at least the West Coast—by storm this season, most of the Oregon offense returns to a unit that could be college football's best in 2010. Jeremiah Masoli and LaMichael James have a chance to lead the outstanding Duck offense back to the Rose Bowl, and maybe even to Glendale a week later.
The only thing that could hold this team back is defense. The Oregon defense was less than impressive last season, and may not improve much in 2010.
As we saw in the last round of BCS bowls, defense still wins championships, and the Ducks need to figure that part of their game out. If they can, Oregon has a decent chance to play for the National Championship.
7. Virginia Tech Hokies
For a team that's normally all about defense, Virginia Tech showcased a very good offense in 2009. The running back tandem of Ryan Williams and Darren Evans will be one of the best in the country. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor will return for his senior season and the Hokie offense could end up being one of the best in the country.
But Virginia Tech is in new territory, with a defense that may hold the team back. The Hokie defense returns only five starters from 2009, but defensive coordinator Bud Foster is one of the best in the business and he should be able to field a good unit in Blacksburg.
8. TCU Horned Frogs
After the 2010 Fiesta Bowl, I have a hard time believing TCU is ready for the big time. Sure, the Horned Frogs have tons of talent, and probably are a better team than Boise State. But TCU choked on the big stage and may have cost itself a BCS bowl berth in 2010.
But on the bright side, almost the whole team returns. Losing Jerry Hughes will hurt the defense, but the offense will be even better next season with quarterback Andy Dalton leading the way once again.
9. Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin proved itself during the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl with a win over "faster" Miami. The Badgers offense did what it does best—winning the time of possession game and running the ball. With running back John Clay returning next season, 2010 looks very bright for the Badgers. Quarterback Scott Tolzien returns, but Wisconsin has to find someone to throw to with the loss of tight end Garrett Graham.
The defense looks a little shakier, losing defensive end O'Brien Schofield and returning only six starters, but Brett Bielema should field a good unit again in 2010.
10. Oklahoma Sooners
I might be terribly wrong for putting the Sooners here, but I believe in this team. That is, I believe in this team when Landry Jones is on top of his game.
If the young quarterback can keep his composure and play smart football in 2010, the Sooners will have a very good season. But if he is as inconsistent as he was in 2009, don't look for things to get any better in Norman.
The offensive line should be good, with all five starters returning, as should the defense, especially the secondary. But Landry Jones is key to this team, and it should be interesting to see if he progresses in 2010.
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